Let’s Take the Long Way Home
At Sea; Tuesday, January 15, 2019
Dawn broke aboard Sea Cloud Cruises’ Sea Cloud this morning, turning its polished woodwork a deep amber colour. After my first 24 hours onboard, I’ve determined that sunrise and sunsets are when Sea Cloud is at her most beautiful, her woodwork, brass and steel burnished by the embers of the day.
We were steaming along under the power of the ship’s diesel propulsion plant, but hardly any vibration can be felt throughout the ship. In this respect, Sea Cloud is quite distinct from other sailing ships I’ve been on. Most lose their grace when their engines are engaged. Sea Cloud does not.
At 9:00am sharp, though, the call for “All Stop” was rung on the ship’s brass telegraph (which actually works thanks to a loving restoration in 2001), followed by “Finished with the Engines.” It was time to go sailing.
Unlike other sailing vessels, there is no computer-assisted hoisting of the sails here. Instead, everything is done by hand, the traditional way. Deckhands calmly stepped into harnesses that could clip into the ship’s rigging and scurried up the masts, ascending to impossible heights. Then, they shimmied out along the stays, releasing the sails as they went along. Watching from the starboard bridge wing, the whole thing was slightly vertigo-inducing, even from my sturdy vantage point.
After that, the deckhands raced back down the masts to set the sails. In no time, the ship’s synthetic sails (they last longer than traditional canvas) were billowing in the trade winds of the Southern Caribbean, and we were on our way to Moskito Island, British Virgin Islands.
Today was listed as a day “At Sea” aboard Sea Cloud. A day at sea aboard most cruise ships means thundering along at 18 knots. Not here. Aboard the storied decks of the Sea Cloud, we would go as fast as the winds sought to take us. Which, as it turns out, was about four knots.
Four knots isn’t very fast. In fact, unless you looked over the side of the Promenade Deck, you’d think Sea Cloud was standing still. She just pitches gently up and down in the soft tropical swell. Still, there were signs we were indeed underway: the land mass of our starboard bow continued to grow steadily larger ahead of us.
This is very much a, “Make Your Own Fun” kind of cruise – and that’s how Sea Cloud’s guests like it. Frankly, I can see why. Except a morning talk from Captain Serhiy Komakin and an afternoon lecture on pirates by guest speaker Gerrit Aust, guests were free to do as they wished throughout the day.
For most of us, that meant sitting out on Sea Cloud’s beautiful teak decks, relaxing in steamer-style deck chairs, reading a book and sipping a drink. It meant conversing with our fellow guests over lunch or teatime served on the Promenade. It meant sun-tanning, or just spending moments quietly reflecting.
Surrounded by the sea, I plowed through 204 pages of a nonfiction book. I walked the ship. I took photographs. I spent time on the bridge, which is generally open to guests, and was pleased to see so much original details were not only preserved, but in working operational condition. The ship’s gigantic brass telegraph is still serviceable, as is the original bronze telemotor that adjusts the ship’s rudder.
Most modern cruise ships have a smaller steering apparatus than my Nissan Micra, and throttle controls that look like they’re part of a video game. Sea Cloud’s telemotor and wooden-spoke wheel, adjacent to the massive brass engine telegraph, mean business.
I’ve studied ocean liners all my life. Sea Cloud may be a sailing yacht, but she’s as close as you can get these days to a living, breathing, Atlantic liner experience.
Sunset came at 1757 and with it, the start of cocktail hour up in the Lido Bar out on deck. This flowed into the Captain’s Welcome Cocktail and dinner at 1900, held once again in the ship’s gorgeous wood-panelled lounge and restaurant. Gorgeous woodwork like this just doesn’t exist on modern ships, an