The Alternative to Huge Cruises? 3 Masts, 28 Sails and Wind Power -

The Alternative to Huge Cruises? 3 Masts, 28 Sails, and Wind Power

News Jun 3, 2024

From the helm of the grand three-masted schooner, the Sea Cloud Spirit, the captain proclaimed the words we had all eagerly anticipated.

“Hoist the sails!” he commanded, cutting the engines and positioning the vessel so his 18 deckhands could ascend the rigging and unfurl the ship’s impressive 44,132 square feet of sails manually.

Sea Cloud Spirit
Source: Adventure Life

Like nimble acrobats, the crew climbed the masts to the uppermost sails, nearly 200 feet above us. The ship’s captain, Vukota Stojanovic, emphasized that this was not merely for display. “Whenever we have the chance to sail, we sail,” he asserted.

For the next hour, the crew labored with the ropes until the 28 sails were fully extended, harnessing the wind and propelling the 452-foot-long ship — the largest passenger sailing vessel where the sails are raised manually — toward its inaugural destination, Portofino, Italy.

At a time when cruise ships are increasingly outfitted with amenities like water parks and basketball courts, the 136-passenger Sea Cloud Spirit, with its classic clipper design and wooden decks, stands apart. It is the newest addition to the Hamburg-based Sea Cloud Cruises fleet and, while it is the largest, the company aimed to ensure ample space for passengers to connect with the sea.

“Everywhere you are on the ship, it feels like you’re on the water,” said Amelia Dominick, 71, a retired real estate agent from Cologne, Germany, on her third voyage aboard the Sea Cloud Spirit.

I embarked on a four-night “taster sailing” from Nice, France, to the Ligurian region of Italy, intended to entice passengers into booking longer cruises. Here’s what I experienced.

The Ship and Cabins

The Spirit offers numerous luxuries and comforts, including a fitness center, library, hair salon, and a spa with a Finnish sauna overlooking the ocean. The deck layouts are spacious, with secluded spots for privacy and relaxation.

Source: Sea Cloud

Sixty-nine spacious cabins feature windows that open to the sea. My room, a junior suite on the third deck, had two large arched windows, mahogany furniture, a balcony, and a comfortable seating area. The marble bathroom was opulent, with a gold-plated sink and a large jetted bathtub.

Sea Cloud Spirit
Source: Sea Cloud

The refined interior design is inspired by the original Sea Cloud, built in 1931 for Marjorie Merriweather Post, the American heiress of a major food corporation, with glossy wooden panels and gold accents. The Sea Cloud was the largest private sailing yacht in the world before Post donated it to the U.S. Navy for use as a weather vessel during World War II. The four-mast, 64-passenger ship has since been restored to its former splendor and will sail across the Aegean and Adriatic this summer.


The experience felt genuine — even before the sails were set — with a thorough safety drill. On most cruises, the drill involves watching a safety video and signing in at an assembly point. But here, passengers donned life jackets and walked through emergency scenarios, including rationing food supplies and fishing from the lifeboat.

Each day, the sails were set, even in heavy rain and winds over 30 knots. Guests usually invited to participate in the rigging were not able to this time due to the weather conditions.

Sea Cloud Spirit
Source: Port of Hamburg

“It was incredible to see the effort involved in setting and lowering the sails and to feel the wind power driving the ship so quickly without engines,” said Malte Rahnenfuehrer, a 50-year-old psychologist from Zurich, traveling with his partner and two children.

The Captain

It is uncommon for cruise passengers to see the captain after the initial welcome drinks or gala dinner. But Captain Vukota Stojanovic was a constant presence throughout the cruise, from setting sails to acting as a lifeguard and mingling with guests.

Originally from Montenegro, Captain Stojanovic piloted container ships for years. When he was invited to helm the original Sea Cloud nearly a decade ago, he hesitated due to his lack of sailing experience. Even after mastering the ropes — all 340 running rigging ropes on the vessel — he was unsure. “I grew to love the sailings, the boats, the crew, the lifestyle, but I still felt I belonged on container ships,” he said. “It would be a significant adjustment, especially because I would have to shave every day,” he joked.

Capt. Vukota Stojanovic

Eventually, he accepted the role and diligently learned to sail and operate the ship. Today, he maintains an “open bridge” policy, welcoming passengers to visit the control room, even during challenging weather.

“The crew and the passengers are all part of the experience, and I like to meet people and receive their feedback,” Captain Stojanovic said.


Sea Cloud Cruises aims to adopt a “gentle” approach, using wind power to propel its ships whenever possible, even if it requires changing course for optimal weather. When sailing is not feasible, the Spirit is equipped with two diesel-electric engines that run on low-sulfur marine diesel fuel. The company is also collaborating with ports that have shore power capabilities to connect to local electricity.

Onboard, there is an emphasis on reusable bottles and paper straws, and crew members separate solid waste to be compacted and removed when in port.

Excursions and Activities

We stopped in Portofino, San Remo, Italy, and St.-Tropez, France, anchoring offshore and reaching land by tender — a contrast to the large cruise ships with their loud horns and thick exhaust plumes.

For passengers wishing to swim (there is no pool), the crew marked an area in the water with floats and an inflatable slide. The water was cold, but many passengers took the plunge from the swimming deck. Guests could also take “Zodiac Safaris” around the ship to view it from the water.

Excursions included food and wine tours, e-biking, and beach trips. In Portofino, passengers could explore the sights independently, including the Castello Brown Fortress and the lighthouse on Punta del Capo rock. There was ample time to dine onshore as the ship did not depart until 11 p.m. Over the summer, the Sea Cloud Spirit will sail to Spain, Portugal, France, and the Azores, among other destinations. In November, she will head to St. Maarten in the Caribbean for the winter.

Sea Cloud Spirit Itinerary
Source: Cruise Mapper

Wherever the vessel travels, said Mirell Reyes, president of Sea Cloud Cruise for North America, the company strives to “avoid the crowds and ports where large cruise ships offload thousands of passengers.”


Oliver Hughes

Oliver has over 15 years of experience in travel journalism. He focuses on European travel, providing expert reviews of vacation rentals and cultural experiences across Europe.