FOR Mustapha, the ship's parrot, the lure of a life before the mast proved to be a fatal attraction.
As the elegant barquentine Star Flyer ploughed majestically through the Andaman Sea, Mustapha, hampered by clipped wings, laboriously climbed high into the rigging, sadly surveyed the indulgent scene 60 metres below on deck ... then dived, beak-first into the sea.
Captain Gerhard Lickfett, a dour German master mariner unused to recalcitrant crew members – especially a mutinous parrot – immediately hurled two lifebelts overboard to mark the spot and, in a remarkable 12-minute display of seamanship, turned the big clipper ship 180 degrees, plucked Mustapha from the water and threw him in the brig to dry off.
A few days later, Mustapha did it again, to discover that parrots on Captain Lickfett's ships only live twice.
It seems that, unlike anyone else on board, Mustapha was suffering an inability to find a partner with whom to share the fantasies of sailing aboard a tall ship that had the wind in her sails and romance in the air.
The tale of Mustapha's demise was recounted to us by fellow travel scribe, Glyn May, who'd heard of it while indulging a luxurious seven-day island-hop on Star Flyer out of Thailand's Phuket.
“Mustapha had got it all horribly wrong,” Glyn said, “particularly as we heard of his demise on a night in which stars dripped out of a black sky, jazz music filled the air and endless cocktails appeared like magic.
“How the crews of spartan 19th century clipper ships must have longed for such things as they experienced the terror of Cape Horn, sails in tatters and bodies bruised and bloody.
“These greyhounds of the sea once raced their cargoes across the oceans of the world at up to 20 knots, their white clouds of billowing canvas straining for every nuance of the wind.”
Today they're the epitome of laid-back holidaying luxury.
Both Star Flyer and her sister ship Star Clipper are 110 metres long with 69 metre masts. With all 16 sails set, the sight of 3500 sq m of creamy Dacron, filled with a fair wind, is enough to stir the soul of the most dedicated of landlubbers as they ply off-beat ports in the Caribbean, Mediterranean, Costa Rica and soon, the Baltic and Scandinavia.
Flagship of the Star Clippers' fleet, Royal Clipper, is larger at 134 metres.
Replicas they may well be, but the gleaming white, steel-hulled Star Flyer and Star Clipper come complete with all the comforts of a millionaire's yacht: air-conditioned spacious cabins for 170 passengers with TV, marbled ensuite bathrooms, hair-dryer, in-house movies, satellite telephone and a unique ballast stabilising system that ensures a brimful glass of champagne stays on an even keel, even if the partying passengers sometimes do not.
The Edwardian-styled library, an oasis of solitude on a sometimes busy little ship, reeks of mellow warmth, rosewood, brass and tapestry. You can play board games or bury yourself in anything from Colleen McCullough to Jilly Cooper.
There's a piano bar and lounge with porthole-style windows that look into an illuminated swimming pool; and the plush, free-seating dining room (casual dress only) offers five courses a la carte most evenings, with an excellent selection of French and California wines, and buffet at other times.
On deck, two small salt-water pools, a tropical bar and deckchair hideaways make up the picture of soft adventure – made even easier with the attentions of the 70 crew representing 21 different nationalities.
Private groups can charter the clippers – as did the US publication Naked Magazine for its Nude Cruise around the Eastern Mediterranean that had literally proven to be Mustapha's downfall.
“Climb aboard, get naked and get ready for an unparalleled sailing adventure with 170 other naked guys,” went the promotional blurb.
“Join your naked shipmates on deck for a leisurely sail through the ancient world. Pack only T-shirts and shorts for shore excursions”.
For Mustapha, the lonely parrot, what he had suddenly found himself amongst on that Nude Cruise, was what possibly sent him tumbling from his perch.
Phone Star Clippers on 1300362599 or visit www.starclippers.com.
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