Dispatch, Bali: A lesson in wind-powered sailing

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The Star Clipper under full sail.
The Star Clipper under full sail off Lombok, Indonesia. Photo Credit: TW photo by Tom Stieghorst

Cruise editor Tom Stieghorst is in Bali for a Star Clippers cruise near the Indonesian island. His fourth dispatch follows.

A good part of the appeal of Star Clippers Cruises is that its ships are at least partly powered by their sails on most voyages. When under full sail, the Star Clipper has 16 separate sails deployed.

It is an impressive sight, the white triangles of the main sails and jibs contrasting with the five square sails on the foremast. But the full complement of sails is rarely used. "The term under full sail means only one thing," said Peter Kissner, cruise director aboard the Star Clipper. "No wind."

Putting up all 16 sails is only needed when the wind is so light that every sail has to catch some of it in order to bring some movement to the 2,286-gross-ton ship.

Under better wind conditions, the number of sails is reduced. "To sail the ship fast, we don't necessarily need a lot of sails," Kissner said. Reducing the sail surface in a strong wind leads to better performance, Kissner said.

"Heeling is not good sailing," he said, referring to the wind pushing the ship off a vertical position onto its side.

The Star Clipper has a total of 36,000 square feet of sail surface when all of its sails are deployed. The tallest of its four masts measures 213 feet, which gives it about 1 meter of clearance under the Bridge of the Americas at the mouth of the Panama Canal.

The Star Clipper cruise ship has a fore staysail, an inner jib, an outer jib and a flying jib on its bow.
The Star Clipper cruise ship has a fore staysail, an inner jib, an outer jib and a flying jib on its bow. Photo Credit: TW photo by Tom Stieghorst

The ship is capable of being 100% hand sailed, although the use of electrical winches to hoist and trim the sails is a labor-saving practice often in use. At times, the sails are aided by the auxiliary engine, but at other times they aren't.

"Whenever we have the opportunity to sail the ship, we do it," Kissner said.

Kissner said that under the right wind and sea conditions, the Star Clipper is capable of sailing at about 17 knots, which is about 7 knots faster than its top speed when it only uses its auxiliary motor. But more often, the goal is to sail at 10 to 14 knots.

Kissner said that in the 17 years he's been working for Star Clippers, he's experienced the 17 knot top speed only five or six times.

"It's not that fun to sail like that," he said. "The crew is working very hard and the passengers are not that comfortable."

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