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Romance and Adventure Aboard a Tall, Tall Ship : Star Clipper vessels ply Mediterranean waters by winter, travel the Caribbean in summer.


PORTOFINO, Italy — Talk about romance: We were aboard the four-masted Star Clipper, one of the two tallest sailing ships in the world, anchored off this idyllic Italian village. We recognized our view of gardens and villas as the setting used for the lushly romantic new film "Enchanted April."

"Tall ships represent romance to a woman, adventure to a man," said a thoughtful-looking man from Florida standing beside us at the rail.

For this seven-day cruise, the passengers aboard the Star Clipper did seem to have amour on their minds. Most were couples over 30--except for one pair of German honeymooners and a solo English woman devoted to sailboats. Half of us were Americans, the other half Europeans from Belgium, Germany, France, Sweden and Switzerland. We had boarded in Monte Carlo and visited Calvi and Porto Vecchio, Corsica, and Elba, Portovenere and Portofino, Italy. Scheduled calls in Bonifacio, Corsica, and Porto Cervo, Sardinia, were canceled because of strong winds. And we spent part of every day under sail.

The Star Clipper, which made its debut in May of this year, and the Star Flyer, its twin sister ship launched the summer before, are the two tallest sailing ships in the world, with masts reaching 226 feet. Each carries a maximum of 180 passengers and is 360 feet long, with 36,000 square feet of sail.

Unlike Windstar Cruises' four-masted ships with computerized sails, the Star Clipper vessels set sails from the deck with some mechanical assistance.

Both Star Clipper ships cruise the Caribbean in winter, the Star Flyer from St. Maarten and the Star Clipper from Antigua. This past summer, the Star Clipper was in the Mediterranean sailing from Nice and Monte Carlo; next summer, the Star Flyer will be positioned in Nice for similar seven-day Mediterranean cruises.

Deck areas aboard the Star Clipper are surprisingly open and spacious for a sailing vessel, with two pools, one aft surrounded by a sunbathing deck and a smaller one amidships. Passengers are allowed to lend a hand with the sails if they wish. When seas permit, the ship anchors for swimming, sailing and windsurfing from the gangway. Informal classes in navigation and sail handling are also offered.

There is no dress code on board. During our sailing, some passengers put on fashionable casual clothes for dinner while others wore shorts or jogging suits.

Because there is no children's playroom and deck areas are cluttered with potentially dangerous lines and cables, the vessels are inappropriate for small children. And since there is no elevator and some stairways are steeply pitched, the ships aren't suitable for mobility-impaired travelers.

Public rooms are limited to a quiet, wood-paneled, book-lined library, its walls hung with paintings of sailing ships, and a piano bar with built-in, white-leather sofas.

Breakfast and lunch are served buffet-style with both hot and cold dishes; dinner menus offer two choices of appetizers, main dish and dessert, plus soup and salad.

Bar prices are on the high end, with bottles of the house table wine at $14, the cheapest on the wine list, and cocktails priced at $5.

As on most sailing ships, cabins are trim and compact but comfortable enough. While a few designated cabins have fixed double beds, most have twin beds that can be put together to make a double bed. There's also a built-in desk/dresser, a stool and generous closet hanging and shelf space, along with a built-in safe.

Bathrooms have showers only (except in the eight top-category cabins, which have Jacuzzi tubs) along with built-in medicine cabinets and hair dryers.

While most cabins are outside, there are three standard inside cabins and eight economy insides. The latter, priced seasonally from $995 to $1,395 per person, double occupancy, for the seven-day sailing, have upper and lower berths and plain bathroom walls instead of the marble facing in the other bathrooms. Prices for the standard outside cabins run $1,395-$2,045 per person, depending on season, deck location and furnishings. The top-priced deck cabins, at $2,095-$2,495, include mini-refrigerators.

For brochures about the Star Clipper and the Star Flyer, call (800) 442-0551.

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