Expedition Travel by Sailing, Sailing Sea Cloud

Sailing on Sea Cloud


Nice ship, but I wish we would have sailed a little more.” Sound familiar? Unfortunately that is the common comment from those who take a voyage on a sailing cruise, with visions of relaxing on deck under sails filled and driven by nature’s wind. Mechanized, or “push-button” sailing ships, make it all too easy to push a few buttons and set the sails when entering or exiting a harbor, but the itineraries are planned for motoring cruise ships, trying to fit in as many ports as possible and leaving little time for the true sailing experience. Sailing on Sea Cloud is different. Sea Cloud is a true tall ship, built to sail, with itineraries planned to include the experience of true square-rigged sailing. Sea Cloud is the real deal.

Technically, Sea Cloud is not a ship, but a four-masted barque. In traditional tall ship jargon, a ship is a vessel with three masts, all of which are rigged with square sails that hang from yards, or spars, that are mounted on the masts crosswise to the direction of the ship. In the good old days, each of the three masts would have three square sails: a mainsail, a topsail, and a topgallant. When you “gave it the whole nine yards,” it meant that you were setting all three sails on all three yards of the ship, going full out. A ship that only had its first two masts square-rigged, and the aft mast rigged with gaff sails like Sea Cloud, is not a ship but a barque.

And because Sea Cloud was built to impress, she was built with an additional mast and a length of 109 meters (360 feet), making her a glorious four-masted barque.

It takes about 45 minutes to set the sails on Sea Cloud, an hour to take them in, and as a square rigged tall adventure cruise ship, Sea Cloud cannot sail into the wind. That means that the itineraries must be planned to allow plenty of time for sailing, with consideration for prevailing winds, and lots of latitude in time and distance for reaching the selected and prioritized destinations. The captain must consider the probable wind direction and speed, set Sea Cloud in sunrise position, and decide on which of the 30 sails to set for the optimum sailing toward the next destination.

Brace to starboard!” comes the Captain’s call to the bosun, and suddenly the decks are alive with activity. Lines wrap around capstans, mast riggers call orders, the massive yards and yardarms start to swing, and guests try to avoid the coiled lines and line-handling on the Promenade Deck while snapping endless photos through our Caribbean adventure cruises.

Hit the rig” is the next call from the Captain, and the deck crew begins to scurry aloft into the rigging and out onto the yardarms to unfurl the sails. This is the most exciting time for the guests, who can never get enough of the vicarious thrill of watching the sailors climb as high as 60 metres (180 feet) and go out on the yardarms. Guests scramble from one end of the ship to the other to try to find the best angles and lighting on the crew aloft

Set squares in order” is the next command, and like a well-oiled machine each of Sea Cloud’s three mast teams begins hauling sheets, slacking lines, and hauling halyards in a clearly orchestrated flurry of activity. We notice a marked silence as the engines are cut, and suddenly we are breathless, overwhelmed with the majestic glory of cruising under sail on a tall ship like Sea Cloud.

Inner, outer, and topmast staysails” are the finishing commands, and we shift our views to the triangular jibs and staysails that complete the scene as the sailors haul on the halyards. The entire sailing ship Sea Cloud is nothing but smiles, and unending camera shutters, as we begin to settle in to our favorite deck areas and bask in the incomparable thrill of a tall ship under sail. The Spanker Deck, the Blue Lagoon, the Monkey Deck, the Bridgewings and the foredeck all fill with delighted guests, smiling with the wonder of children, lost in an experience that in this day and age is almost unimaginable. But on the small ship adventure travel with the Sea Cloud, it’s only day one.

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