Crossing the ocean on a sailing ship: Is It For You?

The following story is from Dave G. Houser's feature in All Things Cruise.

Assessing this voyage and your suitability for it, I must caution that such a crossing is not for everyone. If your sea-going experiences have been limited to traditional cruise ships you’ll have to ask yourself if you’re willing to forgo the casino action, night club shows, specialty restaurants, spa treatments, mani-pedis and daily shore excursions.

On the other hand, if you’re a sailing enthusiast you’ll definitely want to consider a Clipper crossing — nobody does it better or more authentically. Testifying to that is the fact that 61 of the 90-odd passengers had sailed previously with Star Clipper and, as I mentioned earlier, 35 had made one or more crossings. Or, it may be that you’d simply like to escape the frenetic activities of your landlocked life by surrendering yourself to the vastness and vacancy of the sea.

If you’re still undecided, ponder this from Mark Twain:

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

During his 34-year freelance career, Dave G. Houser has established himself as one of America’s most widely published travel journalists. More than 1,200 of his articles and tens of thousands of his photos have appeared in leading magazines, newspapers and online publications worldwide. He has received nearly 40 awards for his work, including three Lowell Thomas Awards. Dave has journeyed to 150 countries and is an avid cruiser, having experienced more than 40 voyages, most of them small-ship expeditions. He resides in St. Augustine, Florida.
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Cruise Diary: Crossing the Atlantic aboard a sailing ship, the Star Flyer

The following story is from Dave G. Houser's feature in All Things Cruise.

[caption id="attachment_16269" align="aligncenter" width="550"] View of Malaga from Gilbafaro Castle, Malaga, Spain.

Crossing the Atlantic on a sailing ship had been on my bucket list for many years – inspired largely by a couple of voyages I made with Star Clipper vessels Star Flyer and Royal Clipper in 1991 and 1995 respectively. When the opportunity came about to join Star Flyer on a 22-day transatlantic crossing from Malaga, Spain to Bridgetown, Barbados in October, I jumped at the chance.

To sail before the mast, following the trade winds along the same route taken by Columbus and other early explorers venturing from Europe to the New World, seemed to me a romantic and venturesome undertaking – a travel experience well beyond the ordinary.

It was my original plan to author a daily blog during the voyage, but after discovering that internet service onboard Star Flyer during such crossings is very slow, often unreliable and quite expensive (at about $8 an hour), I opted to post this report upon my return home.

Mercado de Atarazanas, Malaga, Spain.
Having never visited Malaga, in the heart of Spain’s fabled Costa del Sol, I booked a three-day stay in the city prior to my October 18 sailing. This proved to be a good decision and I heartily recommend such a pre-cruise visit to any of you who might join future fall crossings of the Star Clipper fleet. All three of the company’s vessels, Star Flyer, Star Clipper and Royal Clipper, routinely make the transatlantic crossing from the Mediterranean each October/November to reposition for the winter sailing season in the Caribbean. Here are some of my impressions and observations of the historic port city of Malaga:

[caption id="attachment_16271" align="aligncenter" width="550"] Marble-paved Calle de Marques Larios is Malaga's main shopping street, Malaga, Spain.

Malaga, like many Spanish cities, bears witness to a long and storied past. Founded by the Phoenicians more than 3,000 years ago, it was next colonized by the Carthaginians, the Romans, Visgoths and then by the Moors who held it for more than eight centuries. Finally Malaga came under Christian rule following the Reconquest in 1492. Aside from some damage and casualties suffered during the civil war of the 1930s, the city has subsequently enjoyed relative peace and prosperity.

Monuments to the Roman and Moorish times are to be seen around the city, including most visibly the Moorish Gilbafaro Castle and Alcazaba Fortress, and a well-preserved Roman Theater.

Built in the 14th century over the ruins of a Phoenician lighthouse, Gilbafaro Castle proved a good place to begin my visit as it affords a magnificent view of the city and harbor, and a good look too at Plaza de Toros de la Malgueta, the region’s top bull ring. Just below the castle sits the Alcazaba, built between the 8th and 11th centuries as the palace fortress of the Muslim governors.

I enjoyed meandering through the Alcazaba’s network of courtyards interspersed with tile and marble pools and fountains. It’s a relaxing setting, dappled in the shade of orange trees and draped with bougainvillea. A small museum houses a display of ceramics from the Muslim period and scattered all about the place are marble columns and other relics from the Roman times.

Situated at the foot of the Alcazaba, the Roman Theater rounds out Malaga’s most important archaeological collection. It was built in the 1st century BC during the reign of Augustus I and was used through the 3rd century AD. I paused to sit among the arching tiers of ancient stone – just to let my imagination wander for a moment.

[caption id="attachment_16273" align="alignright" width="245"] Malaga Cathedral, Malaga, Spain.
Malaga’s Cathedral draws a lot of attention, mainly due to a quirk in its construction. Building began in the 16th century but work was halted due to a lack of funds in 1782, leaving the south tower unfinished. This led residents to give it the nickname “One-Armed Lady.” It is nonetheless an impressive structure.

Iglesia de Santiago, built in the 15th century in Moorish-Gothic style, is another of Malaga’s most important and beloved churches. It is an aesthetic masterpiece, brimming with artistry. Malaga-born artist Pablo Picasso was christened therein and the church is home as well to some of the leading cofradias (brotherhoods) who lead the city’s huge Holy Week parade. The cofradias’ gleaming silver-plated parade floats are on display there.

Without question, Picasso is Malaga’s most famous native son – and I made it a point to visit both his birthplace and an extraordinary museum dedicated to his life and work.

Casa Natal, the house where Pablo Ruiz Picasso was born in 1881, occupies a corner overlooking Plaza de la Merced and now serves as a museum housing a collection of his original works, along with books, documents and personal possessions of the painter and his family.

Just a few steps away is Museo Picasso Malaga, which opened to great fanfare in 2003 in the beautifully restored Palacio de Buenavista, a 16th century Renaissance-style palace. Brilliantly exhibited there in 12 galleries are more than 200 works – paintings, sketches, sculptures and ceramics – by Picasso, who is often described as the most influential artist of the 20th century. For me, Museo Picasso was the highlight of my stay in Malaga.

[caption id="attachment_16270" align="alignleft" width="245"] Mercado de Atarazanas, Malaga, Spain.
Another of the city’s attractions I found fascinating was Mercado de Atarazanas, a bustling market lined with stalls spilling over with local produce, meat, fish and baked goods. Housed in an iron structure typical of French markets of the 19th century, this one incorporates the original Puerta de Atarazanas, the exquisitely crafted 14th century Moorish gate that once connected the city with the port. A large stained glass window composed of scenes depicting Malaga’s history adds color and charm to the old marketplace.

My evenings in Malaga were spent dining al fresco on tapas and salad at whatever sidewalk café struck my fancy around Plaza de la Constitucion or along the busy and festive marble-paved shopping and entertainment thoroughfare Calle de Marques Larios.

On my final night I dined once again on those tasty, traditional tapas – but this evening accompanied by a rousing flamenco performance at Kelipe. This cultural center and dinner theater features a troupe of professional singers and dancers who really put their hearts into the soulful music and dance of Andalusia. The theater is situated on Calle Alamos, which, like most of Malaga’s major sites and attractions was just a short walk from my hotel, the comfortable, reasonably priced Salles Hotel Malaga Centro.

I’ll say again that electing to arrive early and spend a few days in Malaga was a smart move – leaving me in a Mediterranean state of mind – relaxed and ready for my long Star Flyer voyage.

During his 34-year freelance career, Dave G. Houser has established himself as one of America’s most widely published travel journalists. More than 1,200 of his articles and tens of thousands of his photos have appeared in leading magazines, newspapers and online publications worldwide. He has received nearly 40 awards for his work, including three Lowell Thomas Awards. Dave has journeyed to 150 countries and is an avid cruiser, having experienced more than 40 voyages, most of them small-ship expeditions. He resides in St. Augustine, Florida.

To view the original story on All Things Cruise click here.
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We've Arrived!

[caption id="attachment_16214" align="aligncenter" width="550"] Star Flyer transits the Panama Canal.

Star Clippers' Caribbean season has begun!

After two weeks at sea Star Flyer arrived yesterday at Bridgetown, Barbados, and is now en route to the Panama Canal with some amazing calls along the way including Kralendjik, Bonaire; Willemstad, Curacao and Oranjestad, Aruba.

Star Clipper and Royal Clipper will arrive in the Caribbean soon, and the fleet will spend the coming months sailing from island to island enjoying beach barbecues, pirate parties and warm, crystal waters.

Will you be joining us in the Caribbean this season? Let us know in the comments!
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And We're Off!

And we're off!

Star Flyer begins a transatlantic adventure today and is set to arrive at Bridgetown, Barbados, Nov. 9, 2014.

The very same day that Star Flyer arrives at Bridgetown Star Clipper will begin the ocean crossing journey, landing, and Royal Clipper will follow a few days later. Both Star Clipper and Royal Clipper are scheduled to arrive at their Caribbean destinations Nov. 22, 2014.

Have you ever sailed across the ocean?

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Crossing the Ocean

[caption id="attachment_16020" align="aligncenter" width="550"] Photo by guest Jan Gronbech.

Have you ever dreamed of getting away and chasing the sunset on a Star Clipper ship?

Ocean Crossings are an incredible opportunity to hang back and relax for an extended period of time. Sailings range from 9 to 22 days.

There is still space available on Star Clipper and Star Flyer's 2014 ocean crossing sailings.

Star Flyer will depart Malaga, Spain, Oct. 18, 2014. From there the ship calls at Tangier, Morocco; Cadiz, Spain; Funchal, Portugal; Las Palmas, Canary Islands, Spain; Santa Cruz, Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain; and then head west, ultimately arriving at Bridgetown, Barbados, Nov. 9, 2014.

Star Clipper follows a similar route, departing Malaga, Spain, Nov. 1, 2014, with calls at Tangier, Casablanca and Safi, Morocco; and Arrecife and Las Palmas in the Canary Islands. From there Star Clipper sails west across the Atlantic until reaching Philipsburg, St. Maarten.

Have you joined Star Clippers on an ocean crossing cruise? Let us know what you thought in the comments!
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The Royal Marina

Thanks to travel agent James Bottoms for providing the photos in this post.

Watersports are an integral part of the Star Clippers experience but how do guests access the water from the deck so high? No need to walk the plank -- Royal Clipper's got a built-in marina! The marina drops from the stern of the ship and guests can take a spin in one of the zodiacs or dive in to the gorgeous Caribbean or Mediterranean waters.

This feature allows a truly special opportunity to swim in the middle of the ocean, a unique aspect of the Star Clippers experience.

On transatlantic sailings the ship stops in the middle of the ocean, many miles away from any civilization. A net is dropped for safety and guests are then able to take the plunge. Short of having a private yacht this is an experience few people are able to enjoy. In fact, if you consider the rarity of leisure ships crossing the ocean, it's something that just a select few have enjoyed throughout human history!

Star Clippers Ocean Crossing voyages happen only twice a year -- in the spring and fall -- as the fleet transitions between the Caribbean and Mediterranean and range from 14 to 22 nights.

Are you ready to take the dive? Or have you done so in the past? Let us know in the comments below!

These photos were taken by travel agent Jim Bottoms in the Caribbean.
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Captain Balanck on a Successful Crossing

If you've been following along with the blog you may have read about a group of sailing students from Belgium who joined Star Flyer to sail across the Atlantic. Their journey began in Bridgetown, Barbados, and ended two weeks later at Lisbon, Portugal. Along the way they learned a great deal about sailing on the tallest ship in the world. Captain Paul Balanck shared this letter about their experience.

The purpose of the journey was to organize a crossing for interested yachtmen where they could follow preparation courses for the exams of Yachtsmen or Yachtnavigator. At the end the possibility was given to take part in the exams on board.

It was a hell of a job but we succeeded and with a big smile! The 28th April everybody left the vessel with a satisfied impression.

Studying on a rolling sailing vessel is not the same as in a classroom ashore. Thanks to the excellent food & beverage and ship crew the studying went well.

The "slave driving" instructors pushed the enthusiastic candidates forward. Almost everybody succeeded in their exams for Yachtman or Yachtnavigater. Fighting with variation, deviation, current and tides, sun and star sextant positioning, GMDSS, sea survival, rules etc.

The ship crew participated as well with great interest.

In other words, it was an excellent combination between studying and cruising.

As a result, Cruise Travel Antwerp informed us already about a waiting list of new candidates for next year.

In the meantime all the instructors wish the succeeded yachtmen safe and lovely trips over the seas.

Signed on behalf of the Belgian instructors and participators,

Capt. Paul Balanck, Antwerp

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Cheers to the Crew!

Last summer Linda from Scorby Travel in St. Charles, IL, enjoyed a Star Clippers Ocean Crossing onboard Royal Clipper. We were so pleased to hear her impression of the sailing. Here she gives credit to our fabulous crew.

[caption id="attachment_14368" align="aligncenter" width="550"] A toast on deck. Photo from

The staff was amazing. Monya was fantastic and so patient with all of the people who were wanting the seas to be less rough! She does a fabulous job! Paolo was equally fabulous and the purser staff was so gracious and incredibly professional. Captain Sergi was so wonderful, and you can just see that sailing is completely in his blood. Loved the discussions he had about sailing and tall ships.

The entire restaurant staff was so amazing, talented, and accommodating. I loved the meal choices, the lunch buffets, the marvelous compound butters we were given each evening. Dinner was always amazing. The one I must give special recognition to was your pastry chef. His dinner and lunch creations were over the top!!!! Even though I am not a super big desert lover, there was not one day nor one meal where I did not have one of his amazing creations. I must also give the restaurant staff great praise for their ability to serve in the kind of rough conditions where chairs were tilting and glasses were breaking and they kept their professional yet jovial manner the entire time.

[caption id="attachment_14370" align="aligncenter" width="550"] A cocktail demonstration at The Tropical Bar. Photo from

Loved the various activities: the carom games with the staff, the trivial pursuit Olympics, the knot tying with the bosin, the King Neptune ceremony, it was all wonderful...

On the last evening, I stood on the bridge (the seas were incredibly rough) and was so teary eyed thinking that this was my last night on what I can only describe as again a life changing experience! I reflected back to the first night when I and about seven other passengers stayed awake until 4am just being at one with the sea and the stars. That last evening and the first time the full sails were put up will be memories that are permanently etched in my memory bank of some of the most incredible moments of my life!
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Crossing the Ocean in Good Company

Last summer Linda from Scorby Travel in St. Charles, Ill., enjoyed a Star Clippers Ocean Crossing onboard Royal Clipper. We were so pleased to hear her impression of the sailing. Here's an excerpt from her correspondence detailing the company of the other passengers.

[caption id="attachment_14364" align="aligncenter" width="550"] Photo via

Let me tell you that the crossing was one of those "life changing" was simply amazing!!!!!!!!!

The passengers were a good portion from Europe lots of German, French, a few from Spain. I think there were only something like 90 total. We had this fabulous vessel all to ourselves. There were not that many Americans and I remember boarding that first day and thinking "wow I never thought there'd be so few Americans." When I travel I am generally with family, other clients, or friends. So it has been awhile since I was alone. While that is nothing I am the least bit uncomfortable with, it still forced me to engage in more conversations that ended up being so incredibly meaningful and simply amazing. I have made several what I am sure will become lifelong friendships with now friends from Scotland, Germany, and France.

The Company could not have been more fabulous, and even with the language barrier (it forced me to begin to dig up my high school French and minimal Spanish) which was great fun! The people were simply amazing, in so many ways. Their non-pretentious nature, their interesting lives, their previous travels, their former or present occupations. All of these were what made for incredibly interesting conversations and evenings that never ended until 1 or 2am. We had such a great time...

Stay tuned to hear what Linda had to say about the crew.
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Star Flyer's Rare Glimpse: Total Eclipse at Sea

On Sunday, Nov. 3, 2013, a rare hybrid solar eclipse occurred. Star Flyer guests are on an Ocean Crossing journey and stopped to witness this natural phenomenon.

Check out this slideshow featuring images of the eclipse as seen from the deck.

The ship took a planned early morning stop at Latitude 18º 06, Longitude 039º, to observe the eclipse.

This eclipse was called a hybrid because it is an annular or ring eclipse as it begins, then becomes a total eclipse. For most of the world it appeared as a partial eclipse, but from Star Flyer's location in the Atlantic Ocean the eclipse was total, creating an unforgettable experience, and unrivaled photo opportunity.
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Top Travel Books

What do you think are the best books to read while traveling?

Imagine you are on a Star Clippers ocean crossing and have day after day to relax in the bowsprit net and read. What books do you consider to be the best of the best for traveling?

Below are the top 20 travel books as voted by Goodreads users. Contemporary fiction, trilogies and adventure reads made the list. Do you agree with the voters at Goodreads? Let us know in the comments!

20. A Thousand Splendid Suns

by Khaled Hosseini

19. The Shadow of the Wind (The Cemetery of Forgotten Books, #1)

by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

18. The Angel's Game (The Cemetery of Forgotten Books, #2)

by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

17. Meeting With Christ and Other Poems

by Deepak Chaswal

16. The Orphan Factory (The Orphan Trilogy, #2)

15. Memoirs of a Geisha

by Arthur Golden

14. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest (Millennium, #3)

by Stieg Larsson

13. The Da Vinci Code (Robert Langdon, #2)

by Dan Brown

12. Perking the Pansies - Jack and Liam move to Turkey

by Jack Scott

11. The Ninth Orphan (The Orphan Trilogy, #1)

by James Morcan

10. The Help

by Kathryn Stockett

9. The Time Traveler's Wife

by Audrey Niffenegger

8. Fiji

by Lance Morcan

7. The Girl Who Played with Fire (Millennium, #2)

by Stieg Larsson

6. Shantaram

by Gregory David Roberts

5. Blue Coyote Motel

by Dianne Harman

4. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Millennium, #1)

by Stieg Larsson

3. Eat, Pray, Love

by Elizabeth Gilbert

2. Sleeping People Lie

by Jae De Wylde

1. Kilingiri

by Janan Gray

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