Don’t look down!
The crowd on deck was ribbing me as I hung precariously from a rope ladder halfway up one of the masts of the sailing ship Star Flyer.
It was a highlight of a day at sea: A chance to climb up into the crow’s nest on the foremast—that’s the front mast in hearty sailor-speak—for a 360 degree view of the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Costa Rica.
Climbing into the rigging is actually easier than it looks and perfectly safe.. I’m strapped into a harness that’s bit like a big diaper and it’s tethered to a sturdy metal safety line. It’s not the most elegant rig but it makes it impossible to fall.
It also helps that I’m climbing the rigging with the wind to my back. Never trying to fight the wind is one of the first lessons sailors of old learned when they had to scamper up the lines to unfurl sails on the nineteenth century clipper ships that were the inspiration for the ships in the Star Clippers fleet.
The trickiest part is getting the hang, literally, of the rope ladder. It’s made of heavy ropes knotted together to make foot rungs that are more like loops that don’t feel all that solid beneath our feet. You have to make sure you step squarely into each step on that means you do have to occasionally look down. Fortunately I’m not afraid of heights. In fact I found it exhilarating to get a cloud view of the ship’s deck and the sea and sky.
It’s one of several experiences at sea that are impossible or taboo on other cruise lines. In addition to mast climbs and pulls up into the rigging on boson’s chairs there’s the weird feeling of walking out on netting right to the end of the bow sprit and be able to stare bck at the bow cutting through the waves.
On Star Flyer you get the run of the ship and can chat with the captain and the crew as they’re going about their work. You can even get a chance to put a firm hand to the wheel and feel just what it takes to steer a big sail ship on a straight course.
And of course there just aren’t that many sailing ships anywhere that that take passengers any more.
I was also getting a virtuous feeling from being on a vessel that uses eco-friendly wind as a power source. There’s still an engine, for generating power but much of the actual push is from the 22 sails catching the wind.
Being under sail is a beautiful sight to behold, especially at sunset when people gather to look for the green flash as the sun hits the horizon.
It’s a different kind of cruise indeed.