Crossing the Atlantic on a sailing ship had been on my bucket list for many years – inspired largely by a couple of voyages I made with Star Clipper vessels Star Flyer and Royal Clipper in 1991 and 1995 respectively. When the opportunity came about to join Star Flyer on a 22-day transatlantic crossing from Malaga, Spain to Bridgetown, Barbados in October, I jumped at the chance.
To sail before the mast, following the trade winds along the same route taken by Columbus and other early explorers venturing from Europe to the New World, seemed to me a romantic and venturesome undertaking – a travel experience well beyond the ordinary.
It was my original plan to author a daily blog during the voyage, but after discovering that internet service onboard Star Flyer during such crossings is very slow, often unreliable and quite expensive (at about $8 an hour), I opted to post this report upon my return home.
Having never visited Malaga, in the heart of Spain’s fabled Costa del Sol, I booked a three-day stay in the city prior to my October 18 sailing. This proved to be a good decision and I heartily recommend such a pre-cruise visit to any of you who might join future fall crossings of the Star Clipper fleet. All three of the company’s vessels, Star Flyer, Star Clipper and Royal Clipper, routinely make the transatlantic crossing from the Mediterranean each October/November to reposition for the winter sailing season in the Caribbean. Here are some of my impressions and observations of the historic port city of Malaga:
Malaga, like many Spanish cities, bears witness to a long and storied past. Founded by the Phoenicians more than 3,000 years ago, it was next colonized by the Carthaginians, the Romans, Visgoths and then by the Moors who held it for more than eight centuries. Finally Malaga came under Christian rule following the Reconquest in 1492. Aside from some damage and casualties suffered during the civil war of the 1930s, the city has subsequently enjoyed relative peace and prosperity.
Monuments to the Roman and Moorish times are to be seen around the city, including most visibly the Moorish Gilbafaro Castle and Alcazaba Fortress, and a well-preserved Roman Theater.
Built in the 14th century over the ruins of a Phoenician lighthouse, Gilbafaro Castle proved a good place to begin my visit as it affords a magnificent view of the city and harbor, and a good look too at Plaza de Toros de la Malgueta, the region’s top bull ring. Just below the castle sits the Alcazaba, built between the 8th and 11th centuries as the palace fortress of the Muslim governors.
I enjoyed meandering through the Alcazaba’s network of courtyards interspersed with tile and marble pools and fountains. It’s a relaxing setting, dappled in the shade of orange trees and draped with bougainvillea. A small museum houses a display of ceramics from the Muslim period and scattered all about the place are marble columns and other relics from the Roman times.
Situated at the foot of the Alcazaba, the Roman Theater rounds out Malaga’s most important archaeological collection. It was built in the 1st century BC during the reign of Augustus I and was used through the 3rd century AD. I paused to sit among the arching tiers of ancient stone – just to let my imagination wander for a moment.
Malaga’s Cathedral draws a lot of attention, mainly due to a quirk in its construction. Building began in the 16th century but work was halted due to a lack of funds in 1782, leaving the south tower unfinished. This led residents to give it the nickname “One-Armed Lady.” It is nonetheless an impressive structure.
Iglesia de Santiago, built in the 15th century in Moorish-Gothic style, is another of Malaga’s most important and beloved churches. It is an aesthetic masterpiece, brimming with artistry. Malaga-born artist Pablo Picasso was christened therein and the church is home as well to some of the leading cofradias (brotherhoods) who lead the city’s huge Holy Week parade. The cofradias’ gleaming silver-plated parade floats are on display there.
Without question, Picasso is Malaga’s most famous native son – and I made it a point to visit both his birthplace and an extraordinary museum dedicated to his life and work.
Casa Natal, the house where Pablo Ruiz Picasso was born in 1881, occupies a corner overlooking Plaza de la Merced and now serves as a museum housing a collection of his original works, along with books, documents and personal possessions of the painter and his family.
Just a few steps away is Museo Picasso Malaga, which opened to great fanfare in 2003 in the beautifully restored Palacio de Buenavista, a 16th century Renaissance-style palace. Brilliantly exhibited there in 12 galleries are more than 200 works – paintings, sketches, sculptures and ceramics – by Picasso, who is often described as the most influential artist of the 20th century. For me, Museo Picasso was the highlight of my stay in Malaga.
Another of the city’s attractions I found fascinating was Mercado de Atarazanas, a bustling market lined with stalls spilling over with local produce, meat, fish and baked goods. Housed in an iron structure typical of French markets of the 19th century, this one incorporates the original Puerta de Atarazanas, the exquisitely crafted 14th century Moorish gate that once connected the city with the port. A large stained glass window composed of scenes depicting Malaga’s history adds color and charm to the old marketplace.
My evenings in Malaga were spent dining al fresco on tapas and salad at whatever sidewalk café struck my fancy around Plaza de la Constitucion or along the busy and festive marble-paved shopping and entertainment thoroughfare Calle de Marques Larios.
On my final night I dined once again on those tasty, traditional tapas – but this evening accompanied by a rousing flamenco performance at Kelipe. This cultural center and dinner theater features a troupe of professional singers and dancers who really put their hearts into the soulful music and dance of Andalusia. The theater is situated on Calle Alamos, which, like most of Malaga’s major sites and attractions was just a short walk from my hotel, the comfortable, reasonably priced Salles Hotel Malaga Centro.
I’ll say again that electing to arrive early and spend a few days in Malaga was a smart move – leaving me in a Mediterranean state of mind – relaxed and ready for my long Star Flyer voyage.
I was among the first of 96 passengers on hand at Malaga’s stylish new Palm Grove Terminal at Pier 1 to board the gleaming white 360-foot-long four-masted barquentine Star Flyer – designed after the speedy clipper ships that ruled ocean trade in the 19th century.
Easing out of Malaga into the Mediterranean just as dusk was giving way to a star-filled sky on Saturday, October 18, our departure was accompanied by a chorus of crew members singing Salve Regina, an ancient seaman’s hymn said to be from the time of Columbus. It was an emotional moment for passengers – brimming with enthusiasm and anticipation of the long voyage ahead.
Before getting into details of the voyage, let me describe the vessel that carried us safely and with minimal discomfort more than 3,500 nautical miles across the Atlantic Ocean.