We glide gracefully into Malta’s historic Valletta harbour, its fortified walls honeyed by evening sun. I am aboard Royal Clipper, a 400-foot, five-mast, 42-sail full-rigged vessel, the largest and tallest ship of its kind in the world — its highest mast is 54 metres. It looks like the Cutty Sark (though bigger), but it is built with every modern comfort, so that while you feel you have walked into an historical romance or pirate adventure, the food is delicious, the cabins luxurious and there are three pools, a spa, several bars and a cosy library. Royal Clipper has the added advantage of being small enough to enter ports that conventional cruise ships cannot.
I boarded in Taormina for part of a cruise that had embarked from Rome and was ending in Tripoli. The vessel can carry 227 people with a crew of 106, but it felt spacious and peaceful and it was easy to find a quiet spot on deck to lie in the sun or watch the crew up in the rigging adjusting the sails. If you want to be up among the sails, you can don a harness and climb. One day I conquered my vertigo and clambered up the rigging. We were anchored off the coast of Gozo and when I finally hauled myself shakily on to the little platform high up the mast, the view was breathtaking. Along with a few others in search of thrills, I also climbed into the nets that hang alongside the bowsprit. As we sailed from Gozo, I felt like a bird, perched up high, watching the sea rush past way below.
Whenever Royal Clipper sets sail, a piece of music by Vangelis blasts from the sound system. The rousing theme made us feel elated and part of a shared epic adventure and ‘Sail Away’ became an evening ritual not to be missed. It was impossible, even for a jaded traveller like myself, to dismiss this manipulative, potentially corny ploy entirely. I admit to being repeatedly charmed.
Most days we went ashore. In Sicily there was a ‘Godfather Tour’ of the locations where Francis Ford Coppola shot his movies and in Malta we were treated to a tour of Valletta, a city rightly renowned for its dramatic beauty, forged by centuries of siege and change. We went on to Marsaxlokk, a fishing village, and had a lavish, delicious lunch with possibly the best fish soup I have ever had, followed by a wander through the seaside market selling trinkets, lace and embroidered tablecloths.
Swedish entrepreneur Mikael Krafft founded Star Clippers in 1989. Initially the fleet operated two identical four-mast barquentines but in 2000 Royal Clipper was launched in Monaco by Queen Sofia of Sweden and is now undoubtedly the jewel in the fleet’s crown. It was my first time on a cruise and I had dreaded the crowds, swirly carpets and the organised fun. Instead I found tranquillity, courtesy and hospitality.
Star Clippers offers sailing voyages on board the world’s largest tall ships in the Mediterranean, South East Asia, French Polynesia and the Caribbean. A four-night Mediterranean sailing costs from £656 per person, including breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks, entertainment and all port calls (excludes port taxes). A seven-night sailing costs from £1179 per person. Prices are based on two sharing and exclude flights.