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 Caribbean Cruise with Star Clippers

cruise the Caribbean with Star Clippers
Jazz all at Sea

by Richard Gilbert

Jazz and cruising might sound like a strange mixture. We assume that jazz fans and musicians prefer to enjoy their music and liquor in stationary venues and bars. But ever since New Orleans bands played on the Mississippi riverboats a century ago the partnership of jazz and water has been popular.

In the depths of winter I searched for a cruise that would include a hot climate and some lively jazz. Luckily Star Clippers, which operates the world’s three tallest sailing ships, has recently started jazz-theme cruises in the Caribbean.

My seven-night cruise on the Star Clipper to Treasure Islands started in St. Maarten where the temperature was 50ºF warmer than in London and the duty-free was the cheapest I have ever seen. As soon as I climbed on board I knew that this would be unlike any other cruise. The Star Clipper is an accurate version of historic clippers like Cutty Sark and Storm King which were called the “greyhounds of the sea” when they raced home with cargo from the Far East and Australia 150 years ago.

Mikael Krafft, the Swedish owner of the three multi-masted Star Clippers, was originally inspired to build this unusual fleet of romantic ships after trying to imagine what it would be like to be a passenger on one of the old clippers. The 439-foot Royal Clipper, Krafft’s first ship, was modelled on the German square-rigged Preussen launched in 1902.

Forget the massive cruise ships with 1,000 cabins, casinos and shops galore. With 36,000 sq. ft. of sails, four 200-foot masts and just 370 feet long, the Star Clipper has only 84 cabins. On my jazz cruise there were 90 passengers and 70 crew from 28 countries and of course an excellent six-piece jazz band.

From the moment we set sail to Anguilla, our first port of call, I had a sense of adventure instead of feeling I was in a glorified floating hotel. This tall ship has more in common with a romantic mega-yacht than a cruise ship. With generous accommodation, two small swimming pools, teak decks, two bars, excellent dining and even a massage service, there was no shortage of pampering.

Appropriately for a jazz cruise informality was the name of the game. There was open-seating in the dining-room with no nonsense about jackets and ties. Along with the à la carte dinner there was a special Jazz Menu every evening based on favourite dishes of top musicians like the Millionaire Meatloaf of Joe Henderson, Larry Coryell’s Shrimp and Pasta and the Wailers Chicken of Arthur Taylor.

Every night the versatile Inez Timmer Band played different jazz styles in the popular open-air Tropical Bar. The resident group, named after their Dutch leader and chanteuse, came from all over Europe. Their music ranged from a Bossa Nova Jazz night and a blues evening to jazz standards from great American musicals and a session devoted to Billie Holiday. The dance floor was usually packed, especially on the jazz classics’ night called “Stomping at the Savoy”.

As well as live music, the jazz theme included a percussion workshop run by ace drummer Jelle Douma and a fine illustrated talk on the blues by British guitarist John C. Marshall. The Dutch drummer persuaded 25 of us to pick up drum sticks and practice beating out his riffs in unison. OK – we didn’t sound like Buddy Rich but it was terrific fun.

Every day there was a new port of call and the compact size of the ship made it easy to drop anchor at the small British Virgin Islands like Virgin Gorda. On Jost van Dyke the dazzling White Bay Beach was the perfect venue for a barbecue accompanied by music. My highlights were the contrasting charms of unspoilt St. Kitts and the Cote d’Azur atmosphere of St. Barts with its stylish shops and restaurants. On all the islands there was a wide choice of activities, from snorkelling and scuba diving to swimming with dolphins and well-organised excursions.

The informal and laid-back atmosphere was appropriate for a jazz cruise. We were free to go on the bridge at any time and talk to the captain and his friendly crew. Novices like me were shown how to steer the ship and, with one of the crew at our side, we lined up to take the wheel. Passengers were even invited to put on a safety harness and climb the rigging to the crow’s nest.

I met jazz fans from America, Germany, Austria, France and Britain and I found that many of the passengers were also passionate sailors who owned small boats. They were intrigued by the tall ship and spent plenty of time studying it with the helpful crew. I had to admit that I could not tell a flying jib sail from the spanker but fortunately there were plenty of opportunities on board to find out.

When we were invited to help raise the sails and pull the lines we felt like 19th century swashbucklers. The original clippers didn’t have our luxury of a powered winch to unfurl the sails, but the sight of all 16 billowing sails catching the wind was breathtaking. Adding to the excitement, the dramatic Vangelis theme for 1492: Conquest of Paradise burst out of the sound system each time the sails were set and trimmed.

Every afternoon Brunon Borowka, the laid-back captain, hosted a session on the bridge for “Captain’s Story Time”. This is when he answered any questions from passengers and discussed everything from celestial navigation to the back-up engine that the ship used when wind-power was insufficient. His most unusual duty took place on the bridge near the end of the voyage when he conducted the surprise wedding ceremony of the jazz band leader Inez Timmer and her partner.

Some of the passengers regularly sail on this ship and I can understand why it must be hard to return to a traditional cruise ship once you have been on a clipper. As one frequent traveller said to me: “Those giants have no heart – and they certainly don’t have any real jazz.”

Visit Star Clippers at

Photo: Star Clipper and Star Flyer meet up in the Caribbean. Photo courtesy Star Clippers


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