In 1989, Swedish-born Mikael Krafft founded Star Clippers, fulfilling a lifelong dream of reviving the golden age of tall ships. Today, his company operates three tall ships, the 170-passenger Star Flyer, a four-mast sailing ship; sister ship, Star Clipper; and the 227-passenger Royal Clipper, the world’s largest square rigger in service.
“We offer an alternative to mass cruising,” Krafft told us from his offices in Monaco, where he has been recovering from a mild stroke.
Krafft says his vessels have a high repeat factor of satisfied passengers who return time and again; 25 percent of the passengers are sailors, while the other 75 percent are introduced to sailing while enjoying the comfort of a tall ship.
“Sailing ships roll must less than motor ships, so you get less seasick,” Krafft says. “You really enjoy the sailing, and you get the sailing experience. We also have marine biologists on our ships so you get closer to the marine nature and the sea.”
The Monaco-based company says that in February and March of 2014, Star Flyer will operate new cruises in Cuba, including two repositioning cruises ending or originating at Cienfuegos, Cuba; one six-night cruise round trip from Cienfuegos; and five seven-night round-trip sailings from Cienfuegos. The cruises are not available to U.S. citizens because of embargoes that prohibit travel to Cuba for Americans.
Born in Stockholm, Krafft grew up around the corner from the Plyms Shipyard, one of the world’s finest yacht builders. As a child he spent a lot of his free time learning about mixing varnish and stain, the construction of wooden ships and the history of sailing.
Later on his father gave him a wooden sail boat of his own, enabling him to spend happy weeks sailing around the Swedish Archipelago. Once, he made an open sea crossing of about 20 miles to reach the Åland Islands, home to a museum ship, the four mast barque Pommern. He loved playing on that ship, and it was there that the dream of one day owning a tall ship himself began to take shape.
After graduating from the University of Stockholm with a degree in maritime law, he practiced both in Sweden and France. In 1986, Krafft moved with his wife and their two children to Brussels, where he built a beautiful schooner, taking as his model the famous 1930’s Camper & Nicholson yacht “Panda.”
He named his boat Gloria and could at last indulge his passion for the sea, sailing the Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean and the Mediterranean. The freedom, camaraderie and adventure of such a lifestyle, were all he had dreamed they would be, Krafft told us. Nothing could compare with the sheer exhilaration of sailing the open sea under full sail, which is the experience he sought to bring years later to Star Clippers.
Turning his dream into a reality took three years of intense clipper ship research, including carefully studying preserved original plans of mid 19th century vessels.
Numerous modifications had to be made to allow for modern materials, technology and engineering innovations, but with the help of a team of experienced naval architects and engineers, Krafft designed the first new clipper ship in more than 100 years. And we, as well as many others who love sailing ships, are certainly glad he succeeded.
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