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Across the Atlantic in Style

This journal is a log of all the messages from Susie & Lance. For more pictures, please see the Gallery.

Sainte Anne, Martinique 12/18/2016

Across the Atlantic in Style

We took a rather roundabout trip back to the Eastern Caribbean this year. Rather than taking the usual red eye to New York followed by a morning jump down to St. Lucia, we opted go for an Atlantic crossing. Because we are strictly fair weather sailors, it has become clear we won't be taking Queen Emma "across the pond" (or any other large body of water for that matter). I could blame it on our advanced age or my health but the truth is that it seems an increasingly unappealing exercise in stamina and boredom (with occasional bouts of fear and exhaustion). So we decided that for the lazy sailor the best passage experience is to be had on some one else's boat, preferably one as large as possible. Accordingly we booked passage on the Royal Clipper the world largest fully rigged sailing passenger vessel for its trip from Lisbon, Portugal to Bridgetown, Barbados.

Royal Clipper at the dock in Lisbon

Royal Clipper at the dock in Lisbon

Hauling in the dock lines

Hauling in the dock lines

The trip started from Oakland headed almost due north on a brand new Boeing Dream Liner owned by Norwegian Airlines ($325pp!) Dropping south over Greenland and Ireland we landed at Gatwick Airport in southern England where we caught a flight on Monarch Airlines to Lisbon, Portugal. Sarah and Quincy had picked up a Home Away apartment big enough to accommodate themselves, us and Betsy, of our hurricane season home. Good price and well located right behind the Cathedral in the center of town and a short distance from the docks. Its only drawback was the 72 steps from the street to our flat. Lisbon is great and we had a great time just wandering around but this is a sailing blog and I will skip directly to the boat:
Susie steers

Susie steers

Large Chainplates.

Large Chainplates.

The Royal Clipper is 439 feet long and carries 54,300 square feet of sail on 5 masts. I couldn't begin to tell you how many miles of rope but it certainly gives meaning to the phrase "knowing the ropes". Each of the 42 sails has a name as does each of the many lines which hoist and control them. Every one of the 225 passengers gets a laminated chart giving the names but the only test comes on trivia night. The ship is built on the lines of the clipper ships that brought brought the upper class gold seekers to California or the Chinese tea to England with a few additional features to cater to the modern traveler: like a really big engine.

Our cabin door

Our cabin door

Cabin with towel mouse

Freshly made up with towel mouse (choclates in the evening)

Royal Clipper under sail

Royal Clipper under sail

We first met the Royal Clipper at anchorages in the Caribbean. In the winter she is a regular visitor in Bequia, St. Lucia and the Saints. In the Summer, she sails the Mediterranean Sea. This passage was the annual delivery from her summer home to her winter home. As a delivery, she is on a tight schedule and if the wind is insufficient, she motors or motor sails. We have met other passengers who sailed most of the way but that was not our luck. Most of the way the winds were light and we made fulsome use of the "iron genny."

Rug Co-op at the souk in Casablanca

Rug Co-op at the souk in Casablanca

New crew explore Marigot in the Kayak
Olives at the souk in Casablanca
Abdul's mosque in Casablanca
Abdul's mosque in Casablanca
(13th cent)

Crowded fishing port at Safi, Morocco
Crowded fishing port at Safi, Morocco

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Decorated chart
Decorated chart

Some things don't change that much at sea. Acres of teak and mahogany to be varnished and brass to be polished and constant maintenance of the boat. Some things do. Electric winches and windlasses mean the sailing can be done by far fewer crew. In fact, the biggest part of the Royal Clipper's crew is given over to running what is really a small luxury hotel. The laundry runs 24x7 and the cooks are up baking bread and waiters setting out coffee and croissants by 6 am. As with any ship, the passengers' thoughts and conversations often turn to the next meal when not given over to boats, the weather and the next port of call. Unlike on most cruise ships, there are no casinos and the entertainment home made. There were several small pools on the top deck in which one could sit and slosh to and fro as the boat rolled.

Electric windlass

Electric windlass

Elecric winch serving multiple lines

Elecric winch serving multiple lines

Every arrival and departure is quite an event on board. We left Lisbon as the sun was going down and there was a long passage down to the mouth of the harbor. We had often seen the Clippers put lights on the masts and spars and unfurl (with surprising speed) the many sails. What we learned aboard is that this is accompanied by a recording of a stirring male chorus reminiscent of the Soviet Army. Very effective.

Safi's got pots

Safi's got pots

Captain at sunset

Captain at sunset

Our first stop was in Casablanca. The night before, they showed the movie of the same name (you know it: "Round up the usual suspects"). Despite being thus primed, we opted to skip the bus tour which promised (among other things) a visit to Rick's Cafe American. Instead we just walked down the gangway and down the wharf to the older part of town where the souk (market) offered rugs, clothing, food, and much mystery and romance among its twisting passages. Customs and Immigration is all taken care of by the boat. The purser holds all the passports, the local agents come aboard and the passengers are allowed ashore with a credit card issued by the ship. We were soon adopted by Abdul. He was friendly and knowledgeable and was clearly earning his keep by keeping us from getting lost and keeping others at bay. He was well worth the modest fee we agreed on at the end.

Fine dining at sea

Fine dining at sea


Grand piano in the atrium above the dining room

Grand piano in the atrium above the dining room

The second stop was Safi, also in Morocco. It was chosen for its proximity to Marrakesh. Proximity in this case included a 3 hour bus ride each way and a tour of the town. Again we opted for a walkabout and again we were adopted by another Abdul (this time by another name). Safi is known for its pottery but we were more amazed by its incredibly congested fishing port.

Bow sprites: Susie, Betsy and Sarah

Bow sprites:
Susie, Betsy and Sarah

Tropical Bar

Tropical Bar

Third and final pre-crossing stop was in Tenerife in the Canary Islands. As the East to West sailing directions go: "head south until the butter melts and then turn west" This is the route followed by Columbus, by the slave ships and by the private yachties of today, Following Tenerife were twelve days of Sunsets ahead and moon rises behind. Twelve days of watching the water churn by and of lolling about reading, chatting or, in one case: knitting. The passengers were mostly European (Scandinavian, German and British) so we were in Linguistic heaven. They were also mostly boat people so we had much in common were able to avoid dwelling on the election of the Dingbat Tangerine. The failure of the American public to pass such a simple national IQ test put a pall on the first part of the passage but with the aid of food, drink and the sea air, we managed to carry on.

Sunset ritual aboard Royal Clipper

Sunset ritual aboard Royal Clipper

Lance and Aya wining at the Jump-up

At the dock in Barbados

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