To be on the deck of a cruise ship at sunrise is always a memorable occasion. What makes it an unforgettable experience is when, for those precious few minutes, the early sun paints the sails on the ship with a marvellous orange light and you lean over the bow watching the dolphins riding the wave.

Sails and cruise ships? You’re probably thinking I’m talking about tiny yachts but trust me and read on and you’ll discover a whole element to luxury, niche cruising and one company that gets a huge return booking element from its customers.

Star Clippers are renowned worldwide for their service and the experience they offer their passengers of comfortable, crewed sailing on traditional clipper ships, built to uncompromising yacht safety, with the elegant surroundings of a private yacht of a bygone age. At the present time the company has three ships in their fleet and all are modern, high-tech re-creations of the classic clippers that dominated the oceans of the world in the 19th century.

To me, however, the real beauty is that because these vessels are smaller than conventional cruise ships, they can call into ports untouched by the larger craft. This was certainly true of our trip on Royal Clipper around The Windward Islands, where we dropped anchor in tiny inlets to spend time snorkelling or lying on the empty beaches of isolated islands such as the Tobago Cays and the coast of Martinique.

Clipper Records

Royal Clipper holds the Guinness World Record as being the biggest five-masted ship in the world and is the 227-passenger flagship of the fleet

The two smaller ships, Star Flyer and Star Clipper, take 170 passengers each, with a crew of 70, while Royal Clipper boasts a crew of 106.

The fact the passenger count is so small compared to the thousands found on bigger ships means you really do get to know your fellow travellers. And the two minutes it takes to walk around the ship along its elegant corridors and up and down the Edwardian-style staircases means you can’t fail to meet and talk to everyone else.

So what do get for your money that makes it so different from a normal cruise ship? There are no entertainments, cinemas or Broadway musicals on board but there are 1,800sq metres of open deck area and three swimming pools (admittedly not that big), one with a glass bottom that filters light down through a three-level atrium to the Dining Room below.

There’s an indoor-outdoor Tropical Bar near the stern which was the place everybody met up and where the ice melted extremely quickly for all of us; an elegant Piano Lounge; a library; and a watersports platform at the stern that was lowered when the ship was at anchor and from where we canoed, dived and swam in the Caribbean or went water ski-ing or windsurfing. There is also an underwater Spa and Lounge, offering hairdressing, massage and beauty treatments in rooms with underwater portholes.

However, the real difference that makes Star Clippers such a unique experience is that you are not just a passenger but you have the opportunity should you so wish to become part of the crew and, indeed, get under the skin of these magnificent vessels.

In my short time on board I helped the crew put up the sails, learned various knots, watched as the captain talked us through turning her through 360 degrees, held the wheel, learned about navigation and even helped swab down the decks on one occasion!

Clipper Dining

Dining aboard Star Clippers is something of an experience itself. The chefs create themed menus, according to the areas the ships are cruising, and vary the menus using local fish and other produce where possible.

Our Jamaican chef Devon had been with Star Clippers around 20 years.