Spellbound, we watch a breathtaking ballet taking place in the rigging of SeaCloud II, high above our heads. The black-clad figures of the crew become smaller and smaller as they climb ever higher then inch along the Windjammer’s spars, unfurling thousands of metres of sailcloth. All we can see of the crew is their feet dangling from dizzying heights, while to them we are just tiny dots on deck. But they are not looking at us, they are focused on their tasks. Each manoeuvre is perfectly-executed in the hands-on traditional manner of tall ship sailing. No automation here.
Suddenly, with a snap and crackle, all 30 sails – 3,000 square metres billow into life. With the wind in her sails SeaCloud II dances across the sapphire waters of the Mediterranean in the wake of ancient navigators, merchantmen, and pirates.
We are on the exquisite three-masted Windjammer SeaCloud II on an eight-day voyage sailing from Barcelona to Oporto. Factor in Spain’s alluring Andalusian cities, Malaga, Cadiz and Jerez de la Frontera, through the Strait of Gibraltar into the Atlantic and up the coast of Portugal to Lisbon and Oporto, and our itinerary is almost a semi-circumnavigation of the Iberian Peninsula.
The SeaCloud story is a compelling one. The first SeaCloud is a legend with links to the White House. She was built in 1931 by mega-rich socialite and heiress to the Post Cereal fortunes, Marjorie Merriweather Post and her husband Edward Hutton. Built in 1931, SeaCloud was the largest, most fabulous private yacht ever built. After a succession of owners, she has been carefully restored and fastidiously maintained to this day. (Another of Marjorie’s trophies was Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida. The sprawling estate and sumptuous accommodations were purchased by Donald Trump, embellished and converted into a private club which is now referred to as the Winter White House).
Enter SeaCloud II. Although there are nearly 70 years between the two yachts, SeaCloud II brings together the best of both worlds: the gold-plated luxury of her older sibling with the amenities of a modern cruise ship, while still remaining an authentic windjammer (the hand basins and fixtures in our cabin are indeed gold, and so too is the service!).
German-owned Sea Cloud Cruises attract a savvy, well-heeled clientele made up of mostly European, North American and Antipodean couples. The predominant language is German but everyone speaks English and the crew is international. All guests share one thing in common – a love of sailing with no luxury spared. There are marble fireplaces, ornate ceilings, beautifully-detailed wood panelling, and every indulgent comfort imaginable.
SeaCloud II has 47 cabins, 16 junior suites and two owner’s suites with four-poster beds. The décor throughout is tasteful twenties retro-style. The yacht accommodates 94 guests and an expert, attentive crew of 60. The dining room is open-seating within a harmonious, not-too-formal environment. The quality and freshness of the food is meticulous and perfectly-presented. Locally-bought fish and seafood are outstanding. Weather permitting, many guests choose the informality of dining or simply hanging out on the Lido Deck.
In port, many guests prefer to amble about at leisure, or join a group excursion if the attraction is further afield. In Malaga, we meander around the old quarter which is a seductive mix of Moorish and western architecture, cobbled streets, tapas bars with serrano hams hanging from the rafters, flamenco posters, the strum of guitars and the superb Picasso Museum (Malaga was Picasso’s birthplace).
The ancient port city of Cadiz provides access to Jerez de la Frontera which gave the world sherry and exceptional horsemanship at the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art. This time round, we are keen to learn more about Jerez’ most famous export at Bodegas Tradicion where we taste all manner of sherries including 45 yr old Amontillados and Olorosos, and are stunned by the owner’s private collection of paintings by Goya and Velasquez that were surely worthy of Madrid’s Prado Museum.
On sea days, guests appear perfectly content to slump in a chaise on deck and watch the deck crew perform their myriad tasks, chat to the Captain in the wheelhouse, lounge in the library or listen to the very fine piano player, cruise director and raconteur.
Now in Lisbon, Portugal’s ubiquitous blue and white azulejos (tiles) delight whether on building facades, decorator cushions, even railway stations. It doesn’t take long before we are utterly charmed by the city’s slightly-faded elegance as we peruse art-nouveau and art deco shopfronts, old-style cafes, gorge custard tarts, and take a vintage tram ride. Back on board, we salute the intrepid Portuguese navigators as we sail past their monument bound for Oporto, an exploration of this picturesque city and its greatest gift to the world – port. More tastings await. •
Photography by Maggy Oehlbeck.
From 30 October to 07 November 2018, Sea Cloud Cruises’ two windjammers SeaCloud and SeaCloud II will create a fascinating spectacle of Tall Ship Sailing by following the same course from Valencia to Casablanca. The six-day cruise will provide stunning photo opportunities as well as the lure of historic ports including an exclusive evening visit to Granada’s World-Heritage Alhambra.