A Tale of a Sea Cloud Voyage: The Magic Was in the Sailing
When Cathy Jackson entered her Sea Cloud cabin, she burst into tears.
“Don’t you like your room?” implored the steward. “You don’t like the white?”
Quite the contrary, she replied. “I love it! I feel as if I were inside a wedding cake!”
Her husband Clay had surprised her with Cabin No. 1, the lavish personal quarters of none other than Marjorie Merriweather Post. Cathy said she felt like a princess.
The Sea Cloud is that kind of ship: a one-of-a-kind fairy tale masterpiece of marine design. Built in 1931 and still going strong, the four-masted bark is the world’s last authentic square-rigged luxury sailing yacht.
Since I am an old sailor, I jumped at the chance to sail the Sea Cloud, and arrange for a lively group of Society of International Railway Travelers guests to join us. It was a huge success.
Our route was a dream: from Dubrovnik, Croatia down the Dalmatian Coast to Athens, Greece. We sailed the Adriatic, the Ionian and the Aegean seas. But it was the ship itself that lured me away from my familiar railway haunts.
As befitting a multi-millionaire’s yacht, the Sea Cloud is a work of art on water. And the 84-year-old, 360-foot sailing ship is surprisingly comfortable as well.
From the smallest cabin to the 8 original “guest cabins” below decks to the two owners’ suites – the aforementioned white-and-gold Mrs. Post confection and the darker, decidedly masculine quarters of Marjorie’s then husband, E.F. Hutton – most were masterpieces of planning as well as décor.
Our twin-bedded room had ample storage space in a variety of lockers, and bureaus and under the beds as well as a large hanging closet — with 22 hangers.
The marble bathroom was small but efficient. It had multiple brass towel racks, pegs and hooks, ample storage space under the sink for toiletries, and a powerful shower that rivaled most on land.
The food also was ample and delicious, reflecting the cuisines of the areas through which we passed: Croatia, Montenegro, Albania and Greece.
Fresh-from-the-seas fish, octopus, calamari, shrimp, scampi and more – not to mention the freshest salads and local cheeses and fruits were staples of the cruise.
A smoked ham, for example, came straight from a smokehouse atop Montenegro’s mountains. The Croatian wines — both whites and reds — were fabulous.
No one possibly could have gone hungry. Nor could they complain about the very well-stocked bar on the lido deck.
“Bebot” Roldan, a 33-year Sea Cloud veteran, is a master “mixologist.” And he’d stocked his bar with many a premium spirit, including “Carlos Primero,” a favorite brandy of IRT’s guests Olga & Orlando Herrera and José and Maria Becerra Martin. Their fame for warm hospitality and friendship quickly spread to our entire group (we were 14 in all).
The Orient-Express of the Seas is how I’ve described the Sea Cloud, based on its rich history and stunning décor. But the similarity also can be seen in the professionalism of the personnel.
The Sea Cloud’s captain and crew, coupled with the dedication of the Lindblad team, made for an even more seamless experience.
When the young deck hands weren’t scampering up the rigging to set the sails, they were varnishing, painting and repairing, and doing the thousands of other tasks sailors have done for centuries. And they did it all with smiles and enthusiasm.
Meal and cabin service was equally professional and warm. And it would be hard to find anyone more enthusiastic than Tom O’Brien, the congenial and professional Lindblad expeditions leader, who seemed to live and breathe the romantic life of square-rigged sailing.
The Sea Cloud is a remarkably stable ship. We encountered rough seas one or two times. But her relatively small size – she carries a maximum of just 64 passengers – means she can duck into coves and inlets too shallow for the big cruise ships.
We covered an amazing amount of territory in just 10 days. We visited quaint villages, vibrant harbors and a host of World Heritage Sites from ancient Greek and Roman times. (Click here for our itinerary.)
Best of all were the voyage’s final two days, which were reserved for “pure sailing.” Captain Sergey Konstantin ordered his men aloft to set our principal square sails. Suddenly, the ship’s auxiliary engines fell silent.
And there we were, much like the square-riggers of old: our bow cutting through the waves, the wake roiling from the stern and the ship’s standards snapping smartly in the stiff breeze.
For the strong-willed few who made it up to catch the sunrise (I did so only once), it was a magical sight to see the dawn come up over the Aegean with the ship under full sail.
The effect was mesmerizing. This was the way it used to be: in Marjorie Merriweather Post’s time – and for much of maritime history.
Reviews from Society of International Railway Travelers guests were raves. They’re not giving up their love of train trips — but they loved this ship.
“What a great trip!” said R. Fisher, of Arlington, Va., in an email earlier this week.
“I loved the shore excursions, as always…But the thing I’ll remember is being aboard that ship. And watching the sailors unfurl the sails, and the way the sails billowed and flapped. What a sight. It’s one I never expected to experience. All thanks to IRT.”
Comparing notes with others on board, I learned that most passengers booked the Sea Cloud one to two years before departure. We blocked space on the journey two years before our group journey, to give you an idea of the demand for space on the ship.
If you want to sample this amazing small-ship venue, please call us right away for 2021. 2020 is waitlist-only. Other itineraries on Sea Cloud — Dubrovnik-Naples, Sailing the Caribbean, more — have wider availability.