A tall ship and a star to steer her by
Not a single electric winch or carbon fibre mast as far as the eye can see, nothing but hemp sails, wooden pulleys and gleaming brass! Beautiful and authentic old sailing ships have all you need to quench that thirst for nature, adventure and getting back to basics! Turn off the engine and let the wind carry you along.
Aboard the luxurious Lys Noir, we rediscover the beauty of the Gulf of Morbihan. Take a meditative break upon the waves.
These admirable sail boats, guardians of maritime heritage, both in materials and in navigation, offer authentic sailing.
At 109 metres from bow to stern, three decks, and a crew of nearly 60, the Sea Cloud (opposite) is truly majestic. On board, we are reminded of luxury cruises from the beginning of the 20th century.
Hoisting sails towards a sustainable future
The ship is one of the oldest modes of transportation in the world. However, we had to wait until the 19th century for the birth of the very first pleasure cruises.
This new art of travel was an instant hit, becoming a race between shipping companies to build ever faster, larger and more beautiful ships, that as a result have a more negative impact on the environment. If today, the world of cruising is reinventing itself, using green technology to reduce its environmental impact, the best solution for eco-responsible long distance travel remains, by far, a cruise in an old sailing boat.
Old sailing ships have a story to tell and are true legends.Starting with the Lys Noir, a luxurious yacht from the Belle Époque that a German prince ordered to dazzle his wife. In 1914, the yawl, this small two- masted sailing boat used for pleasure and fishing, was barely completed in the Barrière shipyard in Arcachon when it was seized by the French authorities. The prince never even got the chance to sail in her. This little jewel of elegance is today one of the rare French-built yachting sailing boats still afloat, earning it the status of “boat of national historical interest”. Its characteristic black hull, inspired by the old Gironde pilot boats, can be admired during short cruises across the Gulf of Morbihan, towards the Houat Islands and Île aux Moines. Perfect for a first toe in the water!
Belem: one of the oldest three-masted ships in Europe still in seaworthy condition and the second largest remaining sailing boat in France.
Gothenburg: one of the largest wooden ships in the world, and an exact replica of a Swedish East India Company trading ship, built in 1745.
Spitsbergen: a very comprehensive cruise lets you discover the most breath-taking sights of the High Arctic. It is not just an open-air laboratory, it is above all an astonishing view upon nature, with diverse fauna: walruses, reindeer, seals, polar bears and birds by the thousands, all punctuated by exceptional colours and lights.
Adorned with ancient instruments, true treasures of ingenuity,
the old sailing ship offers a historical dimension to sailing cruises.
A scent of adventure(s)
Aboard the Noorderlicht, the journey takes on the characteristics of a polar expedition. After a career as a lightship in the Baltic Sea, the two-masted schooner originally built in 1910 now transports adventurers through the extreme cold to break the ice off the coast of Norway, spot polar bears and whales and experience the Northern Lights. A maximum of 20 lucky passengers share the 10 cabins. Beyond a simple change of scenery, the adventure is very much a human one. Life aboard an old sailing ship offers a unique experience, synonymous with exchange, sharing and conviviality. Not to mention the stopovers, sometimes unexpected, which also bode well for pleasant surprises and make the trip a truly unique one, like this shoreline filled with thousands of sea-birds or a herd of reindeer in the distance. Thrills are certainly guaranteed! Never knowing which way the wind will carry you, or even when exactly you will arrive is what makes up much of the charm of sailing.
Evocative and luxurious
The polar opposite of the old wooden navy and its rustic armada of bisquines, pinnaces, shallops and other barges, the Sea Cloud is a legendary yacht which offers the ultimate experience in luxury cruising. And its epic history is certainly an incredible bonus! After having carried the elite of the 1930s across all the seven seas of the world, the immense and sumptuous sailing boat of the wealthy American Hutton couple served in turn as a floating diplomatic palace, a weather station and a submarine hunter. Bought in 1955 by the dictator of the Dominican Republic, Rafael Trujillo, it was finally repatriated to Hamburg in 1978 to be transformed into a five-star cruise ship. When it is not gliding into the ports of the Mediterranean, this marvellous four-masted ship is setting sail for the Caribbean, transporting a handful of cruise passengers (64) to the ports of small, little visited paradises: deserted coconut beaches, Creole villages and small colourful fishing ports inaccessible to liners loaded with thousands of passengers. Adding to the unique intimacy of this chic odyssey is the refinement of the original decor, the cuisine and a crew that knows how to look after its passengers. On the teak deck, seeing the sailors bustling about under the gigantic masts and unfurling the white sails by hand is an unforgettable spectacle.
Former fishing vessel, the Lola of Skagen, has a rig designed to optimise its speed.
The Sea Cloud, a majestic four-masted ship, is an invitation to escape.
The Black Lily, with its black hull and its gaff rigging extending over its two masts characteristic of yawls, brings back the elegance of the sailing of yesteryear.
In the top-siders of a sailor
But a cruise is not just for relaxation, it can be more active too! To learn how to manoeuvre and share in the values of seamanship, there is nothing better than boarding the Lola of Skagen.
An old sea bass born in Denmark in 1919, the Lola is made of oak and is of a strong character, due to having fished in the North Sea. From Saint-Denis d’Oléron or Douarnenez, the century-old cutter now heads for the Charente, Anglo-Norman or Breton islands. Hands on the halyards, hoist the mainsail, stay-sail and jib, use the compass and sextant, learn the art of nautical knots, observe the stars and hold the helm... During very much “hands on” cruises, experienced and passionate sailors are on hand to teach you the basics of old-fashioned navigation. It’s the adventure you always dreamt of as a sailor or sailing ship captain!
With a design based on a model of the Preussen of 1902, the Royal Clipper is one of the largest traditional sailing ships still afloat. No less than five masts support its 42 sails, propelling it across the Adriatic Sea from Venice.
Nose to the wind
Nothing but the sound of the wind in the sails, the creaking of the wood and the lapping of the waves on the hull. And suddenly, silence... a moment of bliss in total harmony with nature, eyes captured by the blue waves and the infinite horizons. And then, the sailing boat, responsive, snatches you without warning from your contemplative reveries to offer you unparalleled sensations of speed due to the force of the wind on the sails. The pulse quickens and settles into a rhythm. On deck, with the salty sea air filling your nostrils, you feel more alive than ever.
It’s a beautiful feeling too, when the fins of playful dolphins cut gracefully through the waves in chase...
Between music, travel and writing, Natasha Penot is the author of numerous travel guides and articles on tourism.
She has been travelling across Europe for more than twenty years, from the Iberian Peninsula to Scandinavia, notebook in hand.
5 pieces of advice
1 - Reserve well in advance
Old sailing ships are not gigantic floating hotels. Places are limited and some cruises may sell out more than a year in advance. This is often the case, for example, for polar expeditions, which are quickly booked out.
2 - Leave at the right time
To benefit from ideal sailing conditions, choose the Atlantic and European coasts in summer and the more exotic destinations like the Caribbean in winter.
3 - Make a date
Nautical festivals and events are a great opportunity to come and admire old sailing ships, or even to climb aboard them and explore. The Ostende à l’Ancre festival in Belgium (June), the Maritime Festivals of Brest and Douarnenez (July), the Working Sails festival in Granville (August), the old sailing ship festival and the Sailor’s Song Festival in Paimpol (August) are all unmissable events.
4 - Pack a few books
Two years on the forecastle by Richard Henri Dana, The Odyssey of Endurance by Ernest Shackleton, The boatthat wouldn’t float by Farlay Mowat... between ports, immerse yourself in these stories of maritime adventures aboard old sailing ships. Captivating!
5 - Take the hot with the cold
On the water, the feeling of temperature can be different. Plan ahead because, even if the weather conditions look ideal, they can change very quickly.