Cruising (and lecturing) Under Four Masts

Northwest sailors Chris and Randy Shuman are putting another spin on cruising into retirement. They wrote the following from their trailer en route or in Mexico. It’s an appealing form of cruising for sure.

About a month ago, in one of their first post retirement adventures, Chris and Randy took to the high seas for two voyages in one of the Star Clippers Sailing tall ship fleet, first a 22-day transatlantic crossing and then a 6-day Caribbean passage. Far from having to climb the yardarms, they were the onboard honored academics. Randy is an oceanographer, and was asked to give some lectures along the way. Chris taught a potpourri of creative classes. Not bad work, especially since Randy’s enthusiasm for the waters haven’t waned since entering retirement.

So, for those who could do with a little learning, relaxation and warm waters , give it a read and close your eyes. And no worries about the yardarms. The furlers up there are push-button.

The Particulars

The ship: 4-masted barquentine Star Flyer

Built 1992,Belgium

Length: 366 ft

Beam: 50 ft

170 passengers, about 70 crew

She has a sister ship, the Star Clipper, and the company has a larger full rigged square rigger, the Royal Clipper and a new ship the Flyer Clipper that is under construction.

The Star Flyer and the Star Clipper are barquentines: square rigged on forward mast, fore aft rigged on other 3 masts. 5 jibs, 5 square sails on forward mast. Square sailed are set and struck by horizontal furlers in the yards, controlled from the deck by a push button remote. The two middle masts have a staysail and a fisherman, aft mast has a triangular jigger or spanker. These are controlled from the deck by hand by the sailing crew of about 8 sailors. There is a full time rigger/sailmaker who mends sails on deck with his machine. Sails are Dacron, many built by Doyle Sails. 

Life on Board

The ship almost always has sails up but also often has the main engine running. The ship needs to meet tight schedules at ports for the guests but also wants to sail for economy and pleasure of the passengers. Most of the passengers chose this ship to experience sailing on a big square rigger.

Passengers are often longtime sailers with many Americans, Germans, Brits.  French, English and German are the official ship languages and announcements and printed materials in all three. 

The food is generally upscale, served in one dining room in one sitting. Excellent table service for dinner, great breakfast and lunch buffets.

Activities: there are basic exercise classes, shore excursions when in port, talks by the captain, mast climbing, lots of book reading, cards, beer and cocktails, lying in the sun……  The ship has on board paddle boards, a small sailboat, snorkeling gear and inflatables to take passengers to isolated beaches for water activities and barbecues.

When the weather is good passengers are able to climb out on the bowsprit netting and go aloft on the forward mast. When you go aloft you have a climbing harness and are belayed by a crew member. 

Chris and Randy

We did two cruises. Our job was to provide entertainment on sea days when there are no port visits.

The first:  22 day TransAtlantic in November 2011, starting in Malaga Spain and ending in Barbados. There were 16 sea days, including 12 days on the crossing. Ports included Malaga, Tangier, Madeira, Cadiz, Tenerife, Gran Canaria and Bridgetown. In the afternoons Randy taught oceanography and marine biology every sea day, topics such as waves, tides, currents, winds, birds, plankton, and plate tectonics.

Chris taught arts and crafts in the mornings, including drawing, paper bead making, card making and digital photography.

Second:  6 day Caribbean transit, Panama to Grand Cayman, December 2017. We were scheduled to stop at San Andres and Providencia, two Columbian island off the Nicaraguan coast. However strong wind and seas from the north slowed our progress making our course a dead beat and compromising the island anchorages. So we spent 4 days beating and finally reaching as the trades reestablished. 

On this trip Randy taught coral reef geology and ecology, waves and tides. These were relevant topics as many of the guests planned to snorkel on the trip, the large waves that we faced for days, and the contrast between the large tide range on the Pacific side of the Canal and the very small tide range on the Caribbean side.

From Chris…..

Chris at the helm.

On the transatlantic crossing the sails stabilized the ship but it still rolled a lot.  It generally was a comfortable motion and lulled us to sleep but at times we would be in the dining room and feel a big roll coming.  It was entertaining.  Everyone at the table would pick up their wine glass in one hand and water glass in another and wait until the roll subsided.  Conversation would hardly pause and then we would all put them back down.

People ask how we felt being so far from land in the middle of the Atlantic.  You don’t feel the vast space of the whole ocean because all that you can see is a 5-6 mile radius around the ship.

My favorite thing was being out on the bowsprit netting, 20 feet ahead of the ship, watching dolphins play in the bow wave. 

I also liked the early mornings when no one was on deck and as we neared the Caribbean, the occasional squalls.  We would sail into one, the wind would blow hard, the rigging would strain and the warm rain gave everything a fresh water rinse.

From Randy. . .

Randy roughing it on a square rigger.

I enjoyed being on deck and watching the crew handle the sails and rigging. Trimming the sails or setting a new sail took several crew between 5 and 20 minutes. The deck crew were mostly from the southern Indian state of Goa. I also enjoyed spending long stretches in the bowsprit netting, suspended over the waves and watching the whole ship charging ahead behind me.

One added benefit of being the lecturer was that most people knew who I was and were always stopping me with questions on deck and at meals about what they had seen on the ocean that day.


Fair winds in your land cruising, friends. We’ll have nice cold Puget Sound water waiting for you when you get back.  

Kurt grew up racing and cruising in the Midwest, and has raced Lasers since the late 1970s. He has been Assistant Editor at Sailing Magazine and a short stint as Editor of Northwest Yachting. Through Meadow Point Publishing he handles various marketing duties for smaller local companies. He currently is partners on a C&C 36 which he cruises throughout the Northwest. He's married to the amazing Abby and is father to Ian and Gabe.

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