Michael and Margaret Bent-Marshall were left with one regret after choosing to spend their 50th wedding anniversary sailing on Star Clippers largest ship, the Royal Clipper, in the Grenadines Islands. I wish wed known how good it was, said Michael. We would have come sooner.  

The Bent-Marshalls are one of many couples that have chosen to celebrate their honeymoon on a Star Clippers sailing. And anyone who sails on the Royal Clipper can understand why -- there is no denying that the ship lends itself to romance. 

When the sails unfurled for the first nights departure from Barbados, it was nothing short of breathtaking -- the white canvas opened against a dark sky, with Vangelis 1492 -- Conquest of Paradise playing in the background. As Margaret Bent-Marshall said of that night, I didnt know it could be like that.

These massive sails are not for show; on this sailing, the Royal Clipper was powered by the wind most of the time. A stroll along the ships top deck, the sun deck, requires navigating around wooden barrels, halyard rope used to hoist the sails, and the shiny, wooden helm behind the bridge, reminding passengers that the Royal Clipper is a working sailing ship. It is also a beautiful vessel, fit with teak railings and brass touches throughout.

The ship entered service in 2000 as the largest and only five-masted sailing ship built since 1902, according to Star Clippers. Operating mostly with sail power rather than an engine means a much quieter ride. Engine buzz comes mostly from power used for electricity and air-conditioning on the ship.

Many guests marveled at how quiet it was to sit on the ships stern on one of the teak benches, where the lap of the ocean against the ships hull is the dominant sound.

A feeling of privacy in public spaces is attainable because of the 227-passenger count. It also means never having a problem finding a bench or deck chair to lounge on.

The Royal Clipper is a ship with countless nooks and niches for couples to steal away. Two balconies, just large enough for a pair, are hidden on either side of the ships bow. On the Grenadines sailing, couples often sat there, feeling very much alone, admiring the lush, green hills of islands passing by. A widows net hangs off either side of the ships stern, where guests often lounge together with only the rope between them and the sea. It is wise to empty your pockets before doing so, as one man saw his camera drop into the blue waters below.

Secluded spots ashore

At night, the ship sails quietly under the blanket of stars that emerges beyond the white sails. The sun deck is dark at night but for the small white lights along the masts. On some days, the ships stopped at secluded beaches only reachable by tender. It was possible to walk off and be alone in a cave or on a deserted stretch of sand. 

For couples looking to socialize, there is plenty of opportunity for that, too. After dinner, the open-air Tropical Bar is the place -- really, the only place -- to be. On the liveliest night of the trip, a steel drum band came onboard from Grenada while the boat was anchored just offshore. The band packed the dance floor, which on other nights saw bursts of liveliness before dying down. The two-person ship band was not much of a party-starter. Most entertainment was supplied by the crew, which invited guests to participate in a fashion show, a talent show and a round of Name That Tune.

There is also an onboard piano bar where some couples -- but never very many -- would slink into booths late at night. Groups sometimes congregated on the sun deck at night to watch the stars together and put on the occasional spontaneous sing-along.

A relaxed open-seating policy means passengers can eat anytime they want within set hours and can sit anywhere there is an empty place. There are quite a few tables for two, but groups of up to 12 can sit together.

One thing couples cant do is hide away in their rooms all day, as only the most deluxe accommodations have room service.

But if a couple prefers to stay in one night, there are televisions and DVD players in every room and an assortment of free movies to borrow. All the outside rooms are beautifully appointed with mahogany paneling, brass fixtures and marble bathrooms. There are very few balconies on this ship, but they are not really necesary, since guests can use the plentiful outdoor space as if it were their own.

Michael Bent-Marshall, 70, wore a T-shirt reading, Over the hill and picking up speed, which defined this adventurous couple well. And they said they were happy they came when they did; the Royal Clipper is not a ship for the physically challenged. There are no elevators or ramps and the stairways are narrow, steep and sometimes winding. And it is also not for anyone with a weak stomach; when the ship sails on the Atlantic from Barbados to the Grenadines, it is a choppy ride. 

Fortunately, the Bent-Marshalls have sea legs from their own powerboat, which they take on Englands inland rivers. But their boat doesnt have the deluxe suite with a balcony they enjoyed on this sailing. Michael decided to go all-out for this once-in-a-lifetime celebration.

Hes more romantic than I am, said Margaret. This was his idea.

They celebrated with cake and a bottle of bubbly on the night of their anniversary and spent every other day sitting in their whirlpool bathtub and admiring the gorgeous views off their private balcony. 

Chocolate covered strawberries and cookies on a silver platter were delivered daily to their room, which unlike the other cabins, was stocked with wine and liquor.

Like many guests, the Bent-Marshalls plan on vacationing with Star Clippers again, on the northern Caribbean itinerary. 

This has been more than we expected, said Margaret. Ill always remember this.

To contact reporter Johanna Jainchill, send e-mail to [email protected].

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