Star Flyer was built in 1991 for Star Clippers as a four-masted, 170-passenger, tall clipper ship, technically a square-rigged barkentine. The ship currently ranks, along with its sister Star Clipper, as the loftiest tall ship in the world, with a mast that rises 226 feet high. Both ships, along with their bigger sibling, Royal Clipper, and a future ship, Flying Clipper, under construction, are the realization of a childhood dream of Swedish entrepreneur Mikael Krafft, and apart from the German-owned Sea Cloud ships, are the only authentic square riggers in the world offering a comfortable cruising experience (as opposed to the many sail training tall ships, where you sleep in bunks and have to sail the ship). This is the point of Star Clippers: You don't have to do any work at all, although you can play sailor by hauling on the ropes every now and then with the crew, or climbing the mast, under supervision.
Sailing on Star Flyer is like stepping back in time to a golden era when clipper ships ruled the waves. The unfurling of the sails, to the stirring "Conquest of Paradise" by Vangelis, is a highlight of each day, and passengers can live out their nautical fantasies on the teak decks swabbed by crew dressed in jaunty blue and white sailors' uniforms or sunning in the nets hanging off the bowsprit.
Although the ship is motorized, Star Flyer's engines are switched off as long as conditions permit, and the crew unfurls 36,000 square feet of billowing sails to capture the winds that can propel it along at a comfortable 8 to 10 knots, with a maximum speed of 17 knots (under engine power the maximum speed is 12 knots). On a typical cruise, the vessel relies exclusively on sail power around 25 to 35 percent of the time. Simply standing on deck, watching the ship sail out of port never fails to be one of the most popular, and most romantic, onboard activities, day after day.
Because it takes a certain type to embrace the sailing experience on a small ship, shipmates tend to be kindred spirits -- active, open to new experiences, not at all stuffy or spoiled -- and after a few days passengers really begin to click. And suddenly, the trip is that much better for all the new friends you get to share it with.
Star Flyer sails in the Western Mediterranean in summer and the Caribbean and Cuba in winter, offering repositioning voyages across the Atlantic twice a year. The ship's laidback atmosphere and its focus on sailing and water sports dovetail nicely with the Caribbean experience, or with the beaches in the Mediterranean; the company's itineraries favor lesser-known ports where possible, or beaches where the ship can drop anchor and ferry passengers ashore by tender. The Mediterranean itineraries feature plenty of popular ports, too, such as Cannes, Monaco, Valletta and Rome; the ship is also moored off Monaco every year for a special Grand Prix sailing.
It can't be forgotten that there is a less idyllic side to sailing. Rough seas and bad weather can turn sea days into nightmares of seasickness and cause the ship, like any other, to delay or cancel its arrival into port. Although the vessel has stabilizers, a Star Flyer cruise is best for relatively hardy sailors as there is still considerable movement in rough seas -- if you're prone to motion sickness, opt for a larger ship where motion is much less. Unlike on some mega-ships, you never forget you're on a sailing vessel when you're onboard Star Flyer -- but most of the time, that's a good thing; and because the ship was built for "real" sailing, it cuts through the water beautifully.