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Dutch wharf builds largest sailing ship in the world

Hull was constructed in Poland

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

VLAARDINGEN, the Netherlands - Impressive, imposing, immense, immeasurable. Those adjectives could be used to describe, or give an impression of the world’s largest tall ship which is being built at the Merwede shipyard in this maritime town near Rotterdam. Its launch is imminent and the 439 feet long leviathan should be ready to sail this summer as the cruise ship ‘Royal Clipper’.

Building the tall ship fits in with the centuries-old craft of generation upon generation of Dutch shipbuilders, who even now are able to build full, authentic ‘replicas’ of such 16th and 17th ships as the ‘Batavia’ and ‘The Seven Provinces’, innovative and incredible in their time. The Merwede shipyard is but one of a series of such well known operations which might no longer build the liners of an era long gone (‘Oranje’, ‘Nieuw Amsterdam’ or ‘Willem Ruys’) but have plenty of other maritime work. From building luxury yachts, immense dredgers and state-of-the-art fishing vessels to overhauls, expansions, stretching, and in the case of the Merwede, ‘filling’ a casco.

The ship will have five masts of which the tallest is 197 feet in length. In good Dutch shipbuilding tradition, a coin - in this case a gouden tientje or gold piece of ten guilders - is put in the mast well before the mast is positioned in its proper place. Together the five masts hold 42 sails with a total of 54,000 square feet of canvas, which only can be raised by manpower and without electrical winches. To add to the appeal for the passengers - a maximum of 170 on a cruise - they are invited or encouraged to participate in such strenuous labour.

Luxury galore

Manning the ship and catering to the passengers is a crew of 100. Despite the fact that the Royal Clipper is a ‘sailboat’, no luxury is spared: all around is leather and mahogany. There are six decks, three swimming pools, a three-deck atrium, bars, restaurants, lounges - one named after Jules Verne’s legendary Captain Nemo and aptly below sea level with port holes below the surface - and 21,000 square feet of open deck space.

All that of course means that sailing the Royal Clipper carries a hefty price tag. The passenger’s cost of the most economical cabin on a three-week cruise from Europe to the Caribbean will be around US$2,400, with a luxury cabin going for $8,000, labour - on raising the sails - not included.

Owner of the Royal Clipper is the Star Clipper company of Sweden-born marine entrepreneur Mikael Krafft. He bought the abandoned hull, constructed some eight years ago, from the Solidarity movement in Poland. Originally, the former shipbuilders’ union had planned to build a holiday ship for its members’ children, but lack of funds stopped construction early on. Krafft realized a longtime dream by purchasing the rusting hull and commissioning the Dutch shipyard to finish the job.

The Royal Clipper takes its example in many ways from the ‘Preussen’, a German-built clipper of similar scope, which only a few years after its launch in the early 1900s, sank after a collision in the English Channel. All tall ships built since, were midgets compared to the ‘Preussen’ and the current ‘Royal Clipper’.

Launching date of the ship is scheduled for June 3, 2000 and soon after, the ship will make its sea trials and maiden voyage. Its area of operation will be the Mediterranean and the routes to and inside the Caribbean. Curiously, the ship will sail under the flag of Luxembourg but to the naked eye that flag also is is red, white and blue.