By HUNTER DAVIES
I hadn't planned to take another cruise.
After doing three I felt I'd had the cruise experience, and gained about two stone. You tend to stuff yourself more at sea. There are not many things to do, and also they put on such good spreads.
But then our neighbours told me about their trip on a sailing ship, a real one, with masts, which was much smaller than normal cruise ships with much nicer passengers.
Let the breeze take you: Star Clippers offers a different sort of cruise
If I was giving up cruising, surely I shouldn't quit until I'd had a true sailing experience? Why, you even get to climb up to the crow's nest and can pull the odd rope.
So I booked a five-day voyage in the Med – and got a tattoo. I decided an anchor would be the right symbol, so my tattooist, Amelia, Googled up a selection.
I went with Star Clippers, a Swedish company that has three sailing ships, the biggest of which is Royal Clipper. It is the largest and only five-masted full sailing ship to have been built in the past 100 years and carries just 227 guests in elegant but relaxed luxury.
It looked unreal at first sight in Malaga, a backdrop from a movie. I half felt they would pack away the sails and turn on the engines once out of sight of land. Just to make sure they were real, I went round touching the masts and the wooden bits supporting the sails – never did get their names.
In the old days, such a ship would have 100 crew just looking after the 42 sails. On Royal Clipper, they cheat a bit, using electricity to move the yards, but the sails themselves are moved by hand.
About 20 staff are responsible for the sails – out of a total of 106. Which made my voyage even more luxurious, as there were only 67 passengers.
It was all so relaxed. There was none of that Achtung! Achtung! of announcements you get on most cruises. Or corny Fifties entertainment by aged professional dancers and singers. Evening fun was self-generated, with the crew singing songs and organising games.
Setting sail at dusk was a wonderful experience, sitting on deck behind the bridge, watching the captain and crew doing what sailing-ship crews have done for hundreds of years.
As the sails went up, billowed out, and we slowly moved away, they played that Vangelis theme tune from the film about Columbus. Oh, it was awfully romantic.
I don't fall for that emotional stuff, being a cynic, so I sat down beside a large Danish woman and started rabbiting on. 'Vill you pleeze shut up,' she said. I didn't quite hear at her first, then she said it again. How jolly rude, I thought. A total stranger. Good job I am not easily insulted.
Then she suggested I had been drinking. What an insult. I had had a very good dinner, but I had also taken some seasickness pills which made me a bit woozy.
I never took any more – and had not the slightest trace of sickness. The ship was incredibly stable and I never felt uncomfortable, even with high winds and waves lashing against the portholes.
They do have engines as well, which were eventually turned on. In the Caribbean, pottering between little islands, they reckon to be under sail for at least 70 per cent of the time, but crossing the Atlantic or dashing down the Med, they are only 40 per cent under sail, as they have a tight schedule and can't muck around with tacking.
From Malaga we headed first to Palma in Majorca, where I didn't fancy the excursions. But a fellow guest said he had very good friends who ran a hotel outside Palma, at Illetas.
The Hotel Bon Sol turned out to be one of the most attractive hotels I have ever seen. It's family-run and filled with antiques, having started as a small boarding house on a cliff in 1953. There's even a tunnel to its own beach.
In Minorca, I also struck lucky, exploring Mahon on foot with two other passengers, then getting a taxi to a little empty beach called Sa Mesquida. It turned out to be a nudist beach. So that was fun, especially for them, getting a good look at my tattoo. Before it faded.
Yes, you probably guessed. It was a henna tattoo, done by one of my dear granddaughters. They last only a couple of weeks and what with the sea air, the swimming and looking up at people climbing to the crow's nest – not me, too scared – I think it faded more quickly.
But some passengers, after a few drinks, did say 'Hello, sailor . . .'
A four-night Mediterranean cruise on Star Clippers (, www.starclippers.co.uk) costs from £828 per person. Rooms at Hotel Bon Sol start at £86pp B&B, www.hotelbonsol.es.
Source: Daily Mail, UK.