Recently, I saw press release from Star Clippers, a company I follow with some interest, given that its owner, Mikael Krafft, has managed to commodify tall ships and turn them into a viable tourist business. They already have a fleet of three, one of which, the Royal Clipper, already holds the distinction of being the largest five-masted ship in the world. Now they’re building one that’s even bigger, complete with 300 staterooms, a watersports complex and a tropical bar for “evening entertainment” that we can assume goes beyond some drunk dude strumming “Sloop John B” on the guitar.
New Building No. 4, as it’s currently being termed.
One thing, though, really gets me about Star Clippers. One of their selling points in the advertising literature to potential passengers is that they can watch the “perfectly harmonious” crew working together in the “effortless grace and precision” that you can only witness in the “timeless art” of tall ship sailing.
[Pardon me for a second.]
The most recent tall ship I sailed on dates back from the early part of the century, when it was a working cargo ship. From the outside, it’s pretty much a hunk of junk. The much-nicer interior has been completely redone, but in an old style. Someone owns it, of course; I think a couple of Dutch businessmen. But it’s more a floating museum than anything; a traveling token of history. People do pay to sail on it, but whatever cash they fork over could never, ever equal the experience they’re getting. Most importantly, onboard, no one’s a passenger. There’s guest crew and professional crew, but we’re all crew. You steer, you haul, you climb. You sail. There’s no science or art about it. Nothing exact, anyway. There are people getting hit in the head by wooden blocks, sails ripping apart, engines malfunctioning, toilets backing up and overflowing, paint cans blowing over and dripping all over the deck. Tacking (sailing into the wind) is such a labored ordeal you have to try it three times to get it right. Believe me, for lack of a better term, you see how the sausage is made.
In fact, if you tried to describe to a professional sailor that anything about what he or she does is “graceful” or “precise,” they’d just laugh in your face. An actual sailor I knew well, when I was frustrated with everybody on board telling me what do, assured me “Most of the guys on this ship don’t know shit about sailing. And neither do we.” (Meaning the professional crew, of course). I felt better after that. Because the fact is, you can sail for decades, but you’re always learning, and there’s always more to learn. That’s the sea.
It makes me kind of sad that the passengers on Star Clippers may debark at their destination and without ever really understanding that.
Meanwhile, some guy in Florida is also building the world’s largest superyacht, one that includes space for two helicopters and your own private submarine (which you have to provide yourself). He’s says $750 million is a “good negotiating point.” (LOL.) There’s room for 50 passengers and 100 crew–huh?
Artist’s rendering, apparently.
When we were in the Azores, walking back to our ship from the pub (you can guess what that means), “the boys,” i.e. the permanent crew, and I were pointing and laughing at the “yachties” who had anchored in nearby slips. One of them stole someone’s expensive sneakers sitting on deck and hurled them over the seawall.
It was almost graceful.