“If you want to steer the ship and there’s enough water, we’ll let you go ahead.” Somewhere off Sicily, Captain Bruno proves as good as his word and leaves the ship in the unsafe hands of my Italian partner. Despite being from Genoa, the legendary Maritime Republic and shipping capital, Piermichele has sailed nothing bigger than a toy boat before. The Star Clipper comes through its first ordeal unscathed - but for the startled seabirds flung from the ship’s rigging and the swimming pool overflowing onto the teak decks. So, a success of sorts, although a career as a landlubber still looks a sensible choice.
Captain Bruno, Star Clippers’ Numero Uno, is surprisingly relaxed in the face of such nautical dramas. The self-effacing captain simply claims to be “the shadow behind the mast” on the ship. Since sailing is his life, the Captain insists he is happy to foot the bill for overflowing swimming pools, disgruntled seabirds and smashed crockery as “that’s the price to be paid for sailing a lot on a voyage, rather than running on smoother engine-power.” As the Master, he works four months on and four months off: “for four months I’m the captain, then for four months I’m a babysitter, but at sea I’m always in charge, even when I’m asleep, and never have a day off.” For the rest of us, we revel in the power without the responsibility, with the freedom to join the night watch on a whim, but to abandon the Bridge when a brandy under the stars proves more appealing.
The indulgent crew lets us help with deck duties, from raising the sails to climbing the masts (in harness) and keeping the deck shipshape. In time, even the least nautically-minded find ourselves negotiating coils of rope on the teak deck, ducking under booms, climbing up to the “crow’s nest”, hauling the sails, taking a turn at the wheel: We wander into the open-air Bridge to chat to the Captain: we watch sunsets from the bowsprit, and snooze in the bow netting, the giant hammocks suspended over the sea. By the end of a cruise, an afternoon can pass in solitude, spent leaning over railings to look at the sea crashing against the bows, only interrupted by dolphins prancing in the bow wake.
In keeping with the romance of the sea, there may be a parrot on board, perhaps perched on a seaman’s shoulder. The ship’s parrot supposedly brings a touch of Robinson Crusoe romance to any sailing – if it weren’t for the fact that the first parrot flew away off Portofino while the second one drowned while making a half-hearted bid for freedom. During an exuberant sea shanty, the bird fell off a passenger’s shoulder and, despite full `parrot overboard’ manoeuvres involving most passengers and crew, disappeared forever, its gorgeous blue-green plumage merging into the sea off the Amalfi Coast. As a funeral lament, there was a round of What's become of the drunken sailor?