Tall Ship fleet still expanding
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Tall Ship fleet still expanding

Ever since Capt Mike Burke founded Windjammer Barefoot Cruises in Miami back in 1947, there has been great interest in travelling in a tall ship. While this year has seen the final demise of the pioneer Windjammer company, more new ships are on the way.
Not only has Sea Cloud Cruises ordered a new Sea Cloud Hussar but Star Clippers have announced a new square-rigger that, if built, will be even bigger. Meanwhile, the Arabella of Newport, the Caledonia of Halifax and the Stad Amsterdam offer yet more choice and a number of sailing opportunities are also on offer in the Greek Isles.

The Sad Demise of a Pioneer - Windjammer Barefoot

For six decades, Burke's pioneer Windjammer Barefoot Cruises operated a fleet of second-hand reconditioned sailing ships carrying between 60 and 100 passengers each from various islands in the Caribbean before going out of business a year ago. For several years they also operated a supply ship that ran from the Bahamas in the north to Trinidad in the south and also carried passengers on her rounds to resupply the fleet.
This ship, the Amazing Grace, was a former Trinity House lighthouse supply vessel and was a favourite of many.

In April, the remaining Windjammer operations were closed down and its assets sold off while the Legacy, Mandalay, Polynesia and Yankee Clipper are laid up seeking new owners. Although it happened ten years ago, the start of the company's demise was the loss of the 282-foot Fantome off the coast of Honduras in Hurricane Mitch in October 1998, a tragedy in which all 31 crew members perished and the ship was uninsured.
Law suits followed and to complicate matters tax authorities were claiming unpaid back taxes. The company was reconstituted, but the more recent story is of mismanagement and family squabbles (Burke had three sons and three daughters, all but one of whom was involved at some point).

Mismanagement meant that as the company began to run out of funds it started to use prepaid cruise deposits as operating funds, thus running into further financial trouble, from which it was unable to extricate itself. Ships had their passenger certificates withdrawn due to lack of maintenance, suppliers went unpaid, ships were arrested and crew payrolls not met.
Since suspending operations a year ago, and despite an attempt to relaunch with the Legacy last November, passengers who have booked and not travelled have not received refunds and are not likely to, a very unhappy ending to what had once been been a happy, thriving operation.

Meanwhile, although Windjammer may be gone people looking for good replacements have a reasonable choice.

Sea Cloud Cruises

Top of the line, five-star and founded in 1978, Sea Cloud Cruises has now been around for thirty years. Its first ship, the 359-foot Sea Cloud, was built by Krupp in 1931 as as the three-masted barque HUSSAR for E F Hutton, a gift for his wife Marjorie Merriweather Post of Post Cereals fame. After a 1935 divorce, she renamed her yacht SEA CLOUD and during World War II she operated for the US Coast Guard as the ocean weather ship IX.99.
From 1955 until his assassination in 1961, she became the Angelita, yacht of Presidente Trujillo, dictator of the Dominican Republic. And after years of lay-up in Panama, in 1978 she was finally brought back to Germany and converted at Kiel into a cruising yacht, re-entering service in 1979 able to carry 68 passengers in top luxury.

In 2001, the line added the 384-foot Sea Cloud II, which like her fleetmate has a sail area of over 32,000 square feet but can carry 96 passengers. The Sea Cloud II was built in Spain and is soon to be followed by yet another luxury sailer. The 445-foot Sea Cloud Hussar, which will carry two of the names of the original yacht, is also being built in Spain for delivery in the autumn of 2009.
This new three-master will carry a full 136 passengers in utmost luxury and will take the title of world's largest square rigger from the Royal Clipper.

Today's Sea Clouds, like the River Clouds which cruise inland rivers, are operated by Hansa Treuhand of Hamburg but can be booked in many different ways, the ships being operated at different times of the year by several charterers in varying markets. Hansa, founded in 1983 and with headquarters in the Ballindam, now operates a fleet of 65 container ships, refrigerated ships and gas and oil tankers.

Windstar Cruises

Next in line, Windstar Cruises was started by Norwegian entrepreneurs in 1987 with a fleet of three 440-foot sail-assisted vessels, the Wind Song, Wind Spirit and Wind Star, each with a capacity for 148 passengers. The 21,500 square feet of sail on these four-masted ships are computer-assisted and rise to a height of 185 feet above the sea. Two more ships had been planned but instead of completing them, in 1987 the Norwegians sold a half interest in Windstar to Holland America Line, who increased this to full ownership in 1988.

Although the Wind Song was lost to fire in Tahiti in 2002, another new ship, the five-masted Wind Surf, had been added to the fleet in 1997. Formerly the Club Med I, she is a much lengthened 614-foot version of the original trio, from the same Le Havre shipyard.
As modified by Windstar the 26,910 square foot sail area Wind Surf carries 308 passengers, or more than twice as many as the other two.

In February 2007, Holland America, as part of a Carnival Group sell-off of niche cruise operations, sold Windstar to Ambassadors International for $100 million and as a result a number of changes have been made in overseas representation. Ambassadors International also own the old Delta Queen and America West operations, although these have since been put up for sale. Meanwhile, Windstar continues to be marketed as high end product.

Star Clippers

Star Clippers followed in 1991 with two fully-rigged barquentines, the 360-foot Star Clipper and Star Flyer, built in 1991 and 1992 and carrying 170 passengers each under 36,000 square feet of sail on four masts. The company was formed by Belgian-based Swedish-born Michael Krafft, who has been involved with small ships since he was a child.
In 1991, when he sailed his Star Flyer into Miami for the first time she became the first commercial sailing ship to cross the Atlantic in many years, one of the few sailing ships to have entered the Port of Miami under full sail and the tallest sailing ship afloat, at 226 feet high.

So popular did these ships prove that a third, much larger, ship, the 440-foot Royal Clipper, with a sail area of 56,000 square feet, was added to the fleet in 2000. A five-masted square-rigged vessel, she carries 228 passengers. Her design is based on the five-masted square rigger Preussen of 1902.
While the first pair were built in Belgium, the Royal Clipper was completed in Poland on an already-existing hull and, less tall than the other two, her masts reach 197 feet.

A year ago, however, news broke that Star Clippers was considering ordering a fourth ship, a new 518-foot vessel modeled on the France II, the world's largest sailing ship when launched in 1912, for delivery in 2010. With 68,350 square foot of sail, her masts would stretch 217 feet into the air and she would carry 296 passengers.
If built, she would take away from the Sea Cloud Hussar the title of world's largest square rigger, but to date no order has been announced.


A relative newcomer to the world of tall ship cruising is Classic Cruises of Newport, operating the 160-foot three-masted schooner Arabella. In the summer the Arabella can be found in New England, visiting Newport, Nantucket, Martha's Vineyard and the Maine coast. In the early autumn she cruises Chesapeake Bay.

By winter, the Arabella operates in the Caribbean, sailing from St Thomas, St Martin or Grand Turk to the British Virgin Islands, St Kitt's, St Bart's, St Martin, Nevis and the Turks & Caicos. This 40-passenger US-flag vessel operates primarily 5- and 6-night itineraries and is very much larger than the rest of the Maine coast windjammer fleet.
Sailing by day and anchored at night, passengers get to experience both the on-board and overnight shore experiences that are often not possible on a large cruise ship. Breakfast and lunch are served on board while passengers are left to make their own arrangements for dinner.

The Caledonia and the Stad Amsterdam

With its 245-foot 77-passenger barquentine Caledonia, Halifax-based Canadian Sailing Expeditions has been operating 7- and 10-day tall ship cruises from Halifax, Newfoundland and Quebec City. The new Canadian-flag vessel went into service in April and will enter the Great Lakes trades as well next summer.

Like the Arabella, the Caledonia will operate in the Caribbean, sailing 7-night cruises from Tortola, St Maarten, St Lucia, Antigua and Grenada. Converted from the seaworthy hull of a British-built trawler, the Cape Harrison, and dating from 1947, this ship most closely follows the style adopted by the once-successful Windjammer Barefoot Cruises.

Yet another interesting option is the Dutch-flag Stad Amsterdam, a 250-foot clipper ship commissioned in 2001. With 23,680 square feet of sail, the 28-passenger Stad Amsterdam leaves Rotterdam on November 13 and then Las Palmas on December 1 for St Martin, for a season in the Caribbean. Next spring, this very handsome ship will visit Boston, leaving there on April 23 for her return Transatlantic trip to Europe.

With tall ships from New England, Canada and the Netherlands gathering in the Caribbean this winter, there will still be plenty of windjammers to sail in in addition to the more upmarket Sea Cloud, Star Clippers and Windstar ships, and this can only be good news for followers of sail.

Around the Greek Isles

On the other hand, if you'd like to cruise the Greek Isles in more economic ships, there are still opportunities there to sail in several ships operated by Greek-owned Zeus Cruises, now operating under the name Variety Cruises. Probably the best-known of these is the three-masted 177-foot schooner Panorama, which can carry up to 54 passengers, launched in 1993, she features all-en suite cabins. On the other hand, the 144-foot wooden-hulled schooner H&B carries 42 passengers. Along with these the 1992-built 62-passenger Galileo and the 1991-built 49-passenger Viking Star offer a traditional Greek experience.

Wherever you might want to sail, there is still a world of possibilities that seems to be expanding bit by bit as the cruise market grows. And in today's stressful times, what better way to get away from it all than under the stars?

(Source: By Mark Tré - Cybercruises.com)

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