Working sail at large

The two largest windjammers ever built are almost sisterships in size and power: both more than 400 feet in length, both with five masts flying squaresails. One ship, however, was built long ago in the twilight of the age of sail. The other was finished this year and combines the beauty of a large sailing ship with the sophistication of modern sailhandling gear.

The mighty Preussen was the first. Launched in 1902 to the order of Germany’s House of Laeisz for the Cape Horn nitrate trade, the 482-foot full-rigger, biggest in history, had a tragically short sea life. She broke up ashore in 1910 after colliding with a steamer in the English Channel.

Royal Clipper is the second. The Luxembourg-flagged and Preussen-inspired windship, new earlier this year from a Rotterdam builder’s yard, plies Mediterranean and West Indies water at the high end of the passenger cruise business.

Last July I joined the tall vessel in London for her eight-day, 1,900-mile delivery voyage to the south of France. She had docked briefly at the British capital before continuing to the Med for the start of summer cruise service. The ship’s schedule called for an October transatlantic run to her winter base, Bridgetown, Barbados, and next spring she’ll make the eastbound return for a second cruising season out of Cannes, France.

Royal Clipper is the brainchild of a 54-year-old Swedish shipping entrepreneur, Mikael Krafft. His company, Star Clippers, Inc., has European headquarters in Monaco and a U.S. marketing office in Coral Gables, Fla.

Krafft, who grew up with boats and ships, is best known in yachting circles as former owner of the 125-foot staysail schooner Gloria. He has long argued that despite the pace of global travel there is useful – and profitable – work for sailing ships to do.

In 1991 and 1992 he built a pair of 170-passenger barkentines to test the point. The four-masted, 360-foot twins, Star Flyer and Star Clipper, soon proved successful as money makers in the growing niche market for people who could be weaned from gargantuan seagoing hotels, the industry staple, and attracted to sailing vessels.

A few years ago, his imagination fired by Preussen, he decided to raise the stakes, modeling a completely modern and luxurious full-rigger along lines of the old Cape Horner. And by doing so – at a publicly announced cost of $55 million, but possibly more – he created the biggest true sailing ship afloat anywhere today.

An unfinished hullKrafft says he found a sailing ship hull lying unfinished in a yard in Gdansk, Poland. “It was exactly what I was looking for,” he told me during the July passage to France. “I had, of course, Preussen in mind. We cut away some of the superstructure, also bow and stern, and were left essentially with a central box, ideal for my purposes.”

To complete the ship Krafft assembled a design team that included the naval architects Zygmunt Choren of Gdansk and Robert McFarlane of Monaco. Choren counts among his credits the full-rigged training vessels Dar Mlodziezy (Poland) and Mir (Russia), both three-masters; McFarlane was lead architect for Krafft’s first two sailing ships. Royal Clipper’s rounded stern and classic clipper bow were added in Gdansk; in early 1999 the hull was towed to Rotterdam’s Merwede Shipyard for superstructure, masting, rigging and fitting out. Donald Starkey of London, noted stylist of megayachts, planned the interiors. The 26 squaresails, 12 staysails, three jibs and a gaff-rigged spanker – 54,000 square feet of Dacron, an acre and a quarter – came from the lofts of Doyle Ploch (pronounced PLOH) Sailmakers of Clearwater, Fla.

While similar to Preussen in rig and size, Royal Clipper is hardly a clone of the German workhorse. For one thing, Preussen’s sail area exceeded the Clipper’s by 6,000 square feet. For another, against Preussen’s overall length – jib-boom to stern – of 482 feet (147 meters), Royal Clipper stretches 437 feet (133.22 meters). The newer ship’s vital statistics also include tonnage of 5,061 gross register and a 54-foot beam, numbers in this case virtually identical to Preussen’s. But where Preussen’s hull was a giant steel cargo-container drawing 27 feet (loaded), Royal Clipper, with fairer underbody scantlings at bow and stern and a passenger vessel’s lighter displacement, draws only 18 feet.

In the pecking order of existing tall ships, length alone puts Royal Clipper in a class by herself. Among her closest rivals for square-rigger LOA honors are the magnificent Russian schoolships Sedov (ex-Magdalene Vinnen, Kiel, 1931) and Kruzenshtern (ex-Laeisz liner Padua, Wesermünde, 1926). Both are four-masted barques, with Sedov rated at 385 feet and Kruzenshtern 376. By contrast, the U.S. Coast Guard’s 3-masted training barque, Eagle (ex-Horst Wessel, Hamburg, 1936), has an LOA of 295 feet. The famous English tea clipper Cutty Sark (three-masted full-rigger, Dumbarton, 1869 – now a museum ship berthed at Greenwich, England) measures no more than 280.Many miles of rigging

Topside, Royal Clipper’s standing rigging – all of it stainless steel – ranges five miles; running rigging, for the most part Dacron line, another seven. On fore, main, middle, mizzen and jigger masts the ship flies squares in a sequence of five, six, six, five, and four. On main and middle masts, for example – they tower 197 feet above the waterline – they are: course, upper and lower topsail, upper and lower topgallant, and royal. All but two of the Clipper’s squares furl like hydraulic windowshades into hollow aluminum yards. Push-button control pods spotted along the deck are the big labor savers. Operated by one or two of the mates, they brace the yards and set and strike the Dacron. Still, sheets and clewlines as well as jib and staysail running gear have to be hauled by hand from power winches and belayed to pin rails. And more for passenger edification than for any practical reason, main and jigger courses lack roller deployment; to set and furl, sailors lay out on footropes along the 90-foot yards. Out of a crew of 105 – most fill hotel and galley slots – a 20-strong deck gang of ABs, ordinaries and riggers handles the sail work.

Save for yards, helm, binnacle, cap rails and 20,000 square feet of outside teak decking, the Clipper is steel to the trucks. Mock gunports, blue-painted on white, give her a vaguely antique look. The ship’s design speed is 17 to 20 knots under sail, 14 under power. The auxiliary powerplant, a linked pair of 2,500-horsepower Caterpiller diesels, is geared to a fully feathering four-bladed screw. Separate generating plants supply massive electrical needs for lights, air conditioning and water making – this last a daily conversion of up to 120 tons a day of salt to fresh. Clipper is built to a Lloyd’s-confirmed top rating of 100 A-1 Plus, and her lifesaving and firefighting gear meet standards set by the International Convention of Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS). Two motor lifeboats have a capacity of 300 passengers and crew; 10 inflatable liferafts hold another 200. Interior spaces are equipped with smoke alarms and high-fog sprinklers. At least 50 firehose standpipes are scattered throughout the ship.

Belowdecks, 114 cabins and suites accommodate 228 passengers. Amenities include health spa, library and mini shopping plaza. A spectacular atrium filters sunlight through a glass-bottomed swimming pool to the triple-deck bar-lounge and dining room.Electronics in the pilothouse

The vessel’s nerve center is a roomy pilothouse straddling the fore end of the open, or sun, deck, between fore and main masts. Under wraparound rectangular windows a waist-high console houses engine, autopilot and bow-thruster controls. Grouped around a three-inch toggle, or “joystick,” for manual steering, is a collection of nav equipment including a JRC Doppler log (speed-and-distance run) and the main Anschütz gyro. Twin JRC radar units reading to 24 miles flank the console.

On the open deck a few feet aft, a paired set of eight-spoked wooden wheels, used primarily for harbor approaches, turns windjammer-style on a single shaft. The helmsman’s instrument layout is so arranged that gyro, wind-direction and rudder-angle repeaters can be taken in at a single glance. Affixed close by is a 406 MHZ McMurdo Marine E3 EPIRB, and redundant sets of engine controls and Anschütz repeaters cluster on pedestals at the outer bridge wings. A backup steering station graces the poop – a concession to windship tradition. The wheel is teak; the oak-and-brass binnacle cradles a Cassens and Plath magnetic compass.

Command of the new full-rigger will rotate initially between Gerhard Lickfett, 63, of Hamburg, and Ulrich Pruesse, 57, of Newport, R.I. Both are German nationals; both have long experience in sail.

Lickfett, the senior captain, is one of a handful of mariners trained in sail to still command a sailing ship. He began his career in 1954 as a cadet on the four-masted barque and ex-Laeisz Cape Horner Passat (Hamburg, 1911). Nine years later he earned his German unlimited master’s ticket. For 25 years he served as mate and master in Hapag Lloyd steamships, shifting back to sail in 1988 as master of a three-masted topsail schooner, then as chief mate of the four-masted passenger-bark Sea Cloud (ex-Hussar, Kiel, 1931). He joined Mikael Krafft’s Star Clippers, Inc., in 1991 as skipper in succession of the two barquentines, Star Flyer and Star Clipper.

Pruesse, like Lickfett, is an alumnus of Hamburg’s prestigious Maritime Academy. A Hamburg native, he holds a German unlimited master’s license, served in steam as an officer with North German Lloyd, moved to sail in the 1980s as master of a 114-foot Gruber-designed schooner, Aschanti of Saba. In 1995 he was named master of Star Flyer; he transferred to Star Clipper a year later.

On the trip I made, Lickfett was in command. A courtly, unassuming mariner, tall and thin and with a craggy weathered face, he speaks fluent English, and English is the ship’s working language. Of a polyglot complement of deck officers, chief mate Sergey Paschenko, 39, hails from Sevastopol, in the Ukraine; second mate Igor Andreev, also 39, is from the Black Sea port of Novorossysk, Russia; and second mate Tim Heiremans, 25, is from Antwerp, Belgium. The ship does not designate a separate third officer. Paschenko is a muscular sailor of the old school. He holds a Russian unlimited master’s ticket, is a former chief mate and relief master of the Russian training ship Khersones, sister of the Choren-designed full-rigger Mir. He sailed as chief mate in both Sea Cloud and Krafft’s Star Clipper before winning a billet as mate of Royal Clipper. He stands the four-to-eight watch at sea, and oversees deck maintenance.

Second mate Andreev, small and slight, with short-cropped hair and a military mustache, trained in the Russian three-masted bark Tovarisch, near sister of the U.S. Eagle. A graduate of the Novorossysk Maritime Academy, he served in Norwegian tankers and holds a Norwegian unlimited chief-mate’s license. He joined Star Clipper as second mate in 1998. Like Paschenko, he moved to Royal Clipper while the ship was under construction in 1999. His sea watch is 12 to four, and he doubles as nav officer.

Heiremans is a stocky six-footer who holds a Belgian unlimited second-mate’s ticket. He is a graduate of the Nautical Academy of Antwerp, joined Star Clipper as a deckhand in 1997. He was elevated to Royal Clipper as an officer in 1999. He adds oversight of ship safety to eight-to-four watchkeeping at sea.The passage south

Our July voyage south from London to the Med was in generally light winds, Force 3 to 5. With a delivery date to meet, we motorsailed most of the way. Aboard in addition to the crew and a handful of journalists were 150 shoreside workers – painters, welders, glaziers, carpet fitters – putting finishing touches to decks, cabins and dining room. We ate in shifts in the crew’s mess. Twice we rendezvoused with supply barges to pick up shipyard gear: once off the Isle of Wight, the second time in the fairway at Vigo, Spain. In Gibraltar we tied up inside the breakwater to board tools and spare parts.

Clearing the Thames estuary on the first leg, we ran south to Dover, then west and southwest to Wight and the French coast. By the third day, Ushant (Ouessant) abeam, we headed into the Bay of Biscay. The wind was northeast, freshening to 15 knots. We bowled along at 17 and a bit with all squares set and the usual engine assist. The ship rolled and pitched easily through a quartering sea – a stable platform.

In succeeding days the big windjammer tracked south across Biscay to Finisterre and Cape de Roca. A military jet buzzed us. A helicopter rubbernecked. Once, a southbound containership altered course for a closer look. We turned the corner at Cape Saint Vincent, on the southwest coast of Portugal, bearing off east-by-south toward Gibraltar and the Med. Voyage almost done, it was our last evening at sea: warm, windless; the horizon a knife’s edge. The sun had set; the sails came in. The yards crossed under a dome of dusky blue. In the pilothouse, Capt. Lickfett pencilled GPS readouts onto the chart. A weatherfax put us in a high between a pair of lows. “Wind later maybe,” Lickfett said. “Maybe not.”

With his dividers the master ticked off miles to go. He had slowed the ship to nine knots to avoid arriving at Cannes before sunup. “Six a.m. off the west breakwater,” he said.

Lickfett’s forefinger traced a path on the chart past Genoa, Leghorn, Anzio, Naples. It stopped at Capri. “Here,” he said, turning to me. It was as if he had stumbled on an icon or a metaphor of the sailor’s life – seaman as wanderer; the lure of the land. “Here is where Odysseus heard the Sirens’ song.”

Alan Littell is a nationally distributed travel journalist with a special interest in maritime history. He lives in western New York.

By Ocean Navigator