Having travelled on mainstream cruise ships before, I had yet to experience a trip on a sailing ship so when the opportunity arose, I didn't have to think twice before gratefully accepting.
Stepping on to Star Clipper for the first time was an exciting prospect - new destinations and ports of call, new people to meet and swap stories with, and a completely new kind of cruise experience for me.
Feeling refreshed after a night's stay at the Sala Phuket, we checked in ashore at a hotel in Patong before embarking by tender to Star Clipper, anchored in the bay. More formality once onboard with a hand over of passport in exchange for your cabin key, the cabin steward escorted me down to the Commodore deck to my outside cabin. Suitably cosy but with plenty of storage it would be home for a week; all cabins come with ensuite shower and WC. My cabin was spotlessly clean and Fenti my cabin steward kept things ship-shape all week.
With four passengers' decks offering a range of cabin categories, mine was a Grade 3 which was forward position and had a port hole. A note to prospective travellers - these forward cabins on the lower Commmodore deck are affected by the sound of water as the ship's glides through - however after a night or two, I was soon falling asleep to the lapping of water against the hull.
December in Thailand signals the start of the dry season - and we were graced with the best of weather and calm waters all week! Typically, the tropics present you with a regular downpour and we had only one brief shower while on board one evening. Our itinerary - Northern Thailand - took us from Patong up to the Myanmar border and our first island call of Ko Surin. We took advantage of pristine waters and snorkelled, just across from the home of a community of sea gypsies (the Chao Ley) and likewise in the Similan Islands, an archipelago of nine islands, snorkelling and diving enthusiasts would not be disappointed. I took the trail to the rocky outcrop which afforded super views across the sandy bay and blue seas.
Lush and green Langkawi, the largest island we visited, welcomed us halfway through our journey. Feeling adventurous, we headed to the cable car which arises some 600+ metres above sea level - our excitement was soon quashed as the strong wind meant the facility was closed - relief to some of my colleagues though. But Mother Nature changed her mind and we were soon on our way, dangling above the forest below, to the peak.
With military precision, the crew set up a lunchtime barbecue on Ko Kradan - as we were at anchor, all the food, the barbecue, drinks, cutlery and crockery had to loaded and unloaded by tender - hats off to the crew for setting this up and enjoyed by all. Once lunch had settled, what more could we do but enjoy the clear waters with a swim and snorkel or take out a kayak to burn off the calories. Our last sea day and we are in Phang Nga Bay, famous for its limestone islands, most notable of all maybe is James Bond Island, which is reachable by taking one of the ships speedboat excursions. Staying on board, the sailors put the sails into action and Star Clipper glided and winded her way past the rocky outcrops, putting on a show for the passengers and the Thai boats that sped around us. We couldn't end the day without a beach excursion, so we anchored of Ko Hong, my favourite of all our island calls for its natural beauty. The beach is guarded by high limestone cliffs softened with foliage, where there's a short trail to explore and hopefully spot some wildlife - which I did. Imagine my surprise when a 2-metre-long water monitor casually crossed my path!
Life on board is a very relaxed affair - casual by day and night. As far as dress code goes the only formality for evenings is no beach attire or shorts. Perhaps there does need to be a warning to bring clothes with an expanding waistline as the food on board is excellent and plentiful - the a la carte menu in the evenings offered a wide choice, and my vegetarian colleague or two were very well looked after.
Time at sea can be spent hearing from the cruise directors' regular talks and lectures on various subjects most days, and the captain is on hand to chat and presents his own talks too, and the sports team supervise your ascent up the rigging to the crow's nest - highly recommended!
Entertainment is low key, with the crew presenting their own talent show, along with passenger participation of course, on one evening. A fashion show another, and a quiz night too (my team won!).
Each day ended with the sail-away, usually around sunset - the sails are hoisted to the music of Vangelis Conquest of Paradise playing across the deck - a very stirring and poignant moment to enjoy a sundowner and a lovely memory to bring home.
So, if you think traditional sailing is for you please contact me to share my experience as I can certainly recommend a Star Clipper cruise.