Masted vessels represent niches within a niche By Rebecca Tobin / March 23, 2004 Share 1 -- MIAMI -- Tall ships, masted vessels, sailing ships: Whatever you call them, these types of vessels offer passengers a distinctly different experience than their cruise-ship cousins. "This is still the unique product," said Tom Russell, Windstar Cruises' senior vice president of sales and marketing, adding that Windstar's reputation as an atypical cruise line is the likely reason for its "good number" of first-time cruisers.But even though masted ships are solidly within their own niche, each line has its own identity and passenger base.In addition, there are even smaller niche versions of tall ships, such as the ultraluxury Sea Cloud vessels and masted ships that cater to a mainly European clientele.Windstar CruisesThe three-ship Windstar fleet offers a sailing vacation for passengers without the need for them to get involved in the intricacies of actually sailing the vessel.Windstar's sails are computer-controlled, and engines can render the use of sails a purely cosmetic enhancement."We offer the romance of the sailing experience without the relative inconvenience and discomfort associated with that experience," Russell said. "Our ships don't list, there are no ropes lying around."Windstar recently finished a major refurbishment project that spiffied up the 308-passenger Wind Surf and produced major changes on the 148-passenger Wind Spirit and Wind Star.The Wind Surf's lounge and furniture were retooled, and color schemes were darkened slightly, Russell said. The line added the Terrace Bar, which Russell said was ideal for private cocktail parties; in the evening, it's available as a cigar bar.The Star's and the Spirit's main lounges, cabins, lobbies and small gyms were completely redone; flat-panel TVs have taken the place of hanging televisions in the cabins.The Wind Star sails the Tahitian islands year-round, and the Wind Surf and Wind Spirit offer winter Caribbean and summer Europe itineraries.Windjammer Barefoot CruisesWhere Windstar's upscale yet casual-minded passengers likely would lounge around in khakis and deck shoes, the Windjammer name suggests its passengers likely would toss the shoes and pad around the open decks. Guests can even trade their beds for sleeping bags under the stars.Windjammer's four masted ships are smaller and several years older than Windstar's or Star Clipper's vessels. It's oldest, the Mandalay, was built in 1923.Its promotional material promises a "down-island groove" and touts its open decks as a place to "lounge, sunbathe, read, socialize, dance and party from sunup to sundown." Wine with dinner is included, as is the line's own rum-based concoctions.The 72-passenger Mandalay, the 67-passenger Yankee Clipper, the 112-passenger Polynesia and the 119-passenger Legacy sail the Bahamas, the Caribbean and Panama.Between June and August, the Legacy and the Polynesia offer supervised kids activities through the line's Junior Jammers program.Star ClippersIf Windstar is luxury sailing and Windjammer is, well, barefoot cruising, Star Clippers falls somewhere in the middle: A casual sailing experience for experienced cruisers."We find a lot of people are boating enthusiasts," said Mark Carlson, the line's marketing director. "[They want] to be able to stand on the bridge and be involved with the sailing. People are welcome to ask permission to give us a hand."Star Clippers' three ships don't have casinos or big show lounges. Carlson said the business of sailing is part of the allure.The line's 227-passenger Royal Clipper and the 170-passenger Star Clipper are based in the Caribbean in the winter, and the 170-passenger Star Flyer is homeported out of Thailand; in the summer, all three are in the Mediterranean, sailing from Rome; Cannes, France; and Athens, respectively.To contact reporter Rebecca Tobin, send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.