THE ROYAL CLIPPER; SAILS AND STARLIGHT AT SEA

Night falls across the masts of the mighty Royal Clipper in the Caribbean

Night falls across the masts of the mighty Royal Clipper in the Caribbean

There is something so hopelessly compelling about sailing under the stars that legions of writers have attempted to describe it for years, some more successfully than others. But there is no denying the deep, intense splendor of a night at sea beneath a canopy of twinkling, benevolent stars, perhaps garnished with a side order of moonlight from time to time.

What makes it so utterly magical and spellbinding an experience? Largely the fact that, miles from land and shorn of land based light and other pollutants, the skies are clearer by a million miles. And the result is a night sky that can often seem so full of stars that the sky resembles nothing so much as a black velvet canvas, pierced by literally millions of pin pricks in what someone once called ‘the fabric of the universe’. And the resulting view is, almost literally, electric.

How delightful, then, to kick back on a starlit sea anywhere in the world, from Trondheim to Tahiti, and back again. But for sheer, platinum chip romantic effect, the waters and skies of the Caribbean remain perhaps the most compelling visual playground on the planet, and for very good reason.

Even the biggest and most seemingly impersonal ships will provide you with a series of secluded, special vistas from which to observe this spectacular nightly phenomena gifted by Mother Nature. But even a smaller ship, operating under diesel power, will generate a certain amount of exterior background buzz that acts as a kind of subliminal ‘white noise’ against your indolent, dreamy bit of stargazing. It’s a minor point, but a valid one for all that.

But… imagine taking all that noise out of the situation, and getting the whole, silent beauty of the night to just drink in like fine wine? Short of having some magical remote control that can act as a universal volume dimmer, it seems impossible. Right?

Not quite. Just change your thinking about the kind of ship you are sailing on.

Twice now, I have lain out under fabulous, star spangled skies on the sailing ships of Star Clippers. Last week, I did just that on the aft deck of the Royal Clipper, as she surged through a calm, serene sea en route from Antigua to St. Kitts. And what was lacking was truly anything but lackluster.

With almost all of the deck lights off at the stern, all that was to be heard was the sound of the breeze kissing a forest of slowly heaving canvas sails, way above my head. Even the five giant, towering masts seemed to point like guiding fingers at the sea of twinkling, shimmering starlight that carpeted the black, endless expanse of the heavens.

With no machinery pushing the ship along, I had to listen really hard just to pick up the sound of the gentle, rolling swell lapping at the hull. But, truth be told, my attention was totally engaged by the hypnotic brilliance of the constellations as they peeped out between the masts, and the sheer brilliance of starlight dancing on water.

Seldom in decades have I been so spellbound, so in touch with the elements around me. With the air as warm as toast and the wine crisp and chilled, the solitude and sense of space wrapped itself round me like warm cashmere. Time itself seemed to stand still. Perhaps it did.

There it is. Just a moment in time; a snapshot of something so brief in the scheme of things, and yet so compelling and incredible that it is indelibly imprinted in my mind forever. A moment, frozen in aspic, that could only have been truly savoured aboard a ship like the Royal Clipper. 

To quote the great Al Green; simply beautiful.

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