Posted on Thursday, October 21, 2010 by Peter Knego
Join Peter Knego on a seven night odyssey through the Aegean aboard Windstar Cruises’ beautiful combination diesel/sailing vessel, the MV WIND SPIRIT.
Saturday, October 16, 2010
All Photos by and copyright Peter Knego 2010 unless otherwise noted. Please click on image to view larger version.
Getting there was definitely not half the fun on this latest trek but there were at least no delays or missed connections on our eighteen hour, three flight journey from Los Angeles. Once in Istanbul, we bought our Turkish visas (USD $20), gathered our luggage and passed through customs to be greeted by the Windstar Cruises representative. Our transfer was an incredibly reasonable $15 per person for the 45 minute drive to the passenger terminal. As we rounded the bend toward the Golden Horn, I was surprised to see only Voyages of Discovery’s handsome MV DISCOVERY in addition to our sleek, combination diesel and sail powered ship, the MV WIND SPIRIT.
The WIND SPIRIT, which will be featured in detail in a forthcoming Decked!, is 5,350 gross tons and carries a mere 148 guests who are pampered by a hard working and dedicated crew of 94. For her small size, she is quite long at 440 feet/134 meters (including bowsprit) and has a relatively narrow 52.1 feet/19.8 meter beam.
We had arrived some thirty minutes before embarkation was scheduled to begin at 1:00, so I had a brief opportunity to document some of the ship’s cabins, with many thanks to hotel manager Jason Parker.
Not having seen the WIND SPIRIT in thirteen years, I had forgotten how much I liked her subdued decor, created by the renowned Marc Held (who also did the 1980s modernization of Paquet’s MERMOZ) which features a yacht-like palette of deep blues, turquoise, rich wood tones and white.
There are basically three stateroom categories, including a spacious, 222 square foot mini suite, a handful of slightly larger outsides and regular outsides like ours, number 112, on the port side of the ship’s lowest level, Deck 1. We would soon discover just how fantastically well this cabin was designed, with great use of cabinets and hidden drawers, nooks and crannies. And having two portholes at sea level would provide a unique and exciting perspective as the ship cut through the Aegean blue.
The twin mattresses were extremely comfortable, although we asked our friendly, efficient cabin steward Ram if their duvet tops could be switched for good, old-fashioned sheets and blankets.
I’m surprised the modular WCs were not replicated on other ships of the era. Like the cabins, they, too, have abundant and well situated storage space as well as large showers with massage heads.
High quality, all natural L’Occitane amenities include soap, shower cap, conditioner, shampoo, bath gel and moisturizer.
I was so happy to find a virtual pasture of greens in the welcome buffet on the terrace adjoining the small pool on aft Deck 4. Great fuel for our short walk across the Galata Bridge and through the hustle and bustle of the Golden Horn.
Even on a gloomy day, Istanbul can be one of the world’s most colorful and provocative cities.
The architectural contrasts are mind boggling. Bits of every culture and era are seemingly melded into one giant built environment. Minarets, synagogues, parking structures, grand hotels, shopping malls, fortresses, office buildings…
The waterfront is as overwhelming as it is fascinating. Fishermen, spices, pretzel vendors, fake watches and sunglasses mesh into the throng.
There’s never a dull moment for ship lovers, either. Classically proportioned caramel-liveried ferries are in constant motion, cris-crossing each other’s bows and wakes, loading and unloading as tankers, cruise ships and container ships parade through the Bosporus.
We returned to the WIND SPIRIT in time to gather our lifejackets and muster at 4:00 PM in the Lounge. Each of her three main public spaces (Lounge, Restaurant and indoor/outdoor Veranda) can accommodate the ship’s full complement of passengers.
Promptly at 5:00, with attending tug on our port side, our lines were cast and WIND SPIRIT pivoted away from the berth, heading “upstream” to catch the Bosporus flow. We turned past Louis Cruises’ newly arrived, wedge-like MV CRISTAL (ex LEEWARD), once a familiar fixture in Miami-based Bahamas party cruising.
With the march of time, the globe-trotting, 1972-built former “Love Boat” DISCOVERY (ex ISLAND PRINCESS) has transitioned from trend-setter to classic, fin-funneled beauty.
The Golden Horn was soon in the French-built WIND SPIRIT’s wake. Her tall, slender, winged funnel seems to have taken a hint of inspiration from those of the 1961-built FRANCE.
With their myriad minarets backlit by the late afternoon sun, the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia ushered us into the Sea of Marmara.
On cue and with the flip of several switches in the wheelhouse, the WIND SPIRIT began to unfurl her sails. Giant boons rolled in tandem with winches that pulled the ends of the canvas taut. The ship has four giant masts and is fitted with six billowing sails.
This would be my first cruise on a combination sail-powered ship. Windstar vessels feature an “open bridge” when at sea, conditions permitting, offering passengers a rare opportunity to see how the unique process is executed.
A small gathering defied a brisk breeze on the wings of aft Deck 5, watching as an orangish sun slipped behind a series of clouds and finally reappeared in fiery magenta, to set over the sea.
Open seating dining begins at 7:30 in the beautiful Wind Spirit Restaurant. We arrived in time to secure a nice table on the port side overlooking the sea. The settings, with turquoise glass chargers, matching water glasses, Riedel stemware, Rosenthal china and silverplate cutlery, are exquisite.
Although born in Java, kind, attentive and efficient waiter Aga now lives in Sumatra. He began his career in the early 1990s aboard Holland America’s “S” class ships but says he prefers working on board the much smaller WIND SPIRIT.
Each dinner in the Wind Spirit Restaurant begins with gorgeous fresh breads and an amuse bouche, be it a sorbet or, as shown above, seared salmon.
Starter courses include soups, salads and appetizers and entrees have a variety that should please even the most discriminating, including meats, chicken, fish and vegetarian selections. Windstar has recently revised its menus to reflect the cuisines of the places the ships visit but meat and potatoes fans need not worry, as there are also selections that do not stray too far from “home”.
Desserts are freshly made and span the gamut from cakes, crepes, tarts and flan. The chocolate souffle was the best I have had on any ship, ever. There are also outstanding ice cream and sorbet selections of the day.
The WIND SPIRIT has one dedicated entertainer in the form of talented pianist Greg Anderson, who whisked us through a double set of movie-themed “Name That Tune”. We fared dismally but enjoyed putting our jet-lagged brains to test one final time before calling it a night.
Sunday, October 17, 2010
A rare full night’s rest was a perfect way to begin our day at sea. In the wee hours of the morning, we passed through the Dardanelles and into the Aegean and were now on a southbound course towards Kusadasi. Although the forecast called for cloudy skies and possible showers, the sun beamed brilliantly on our port side.
Although I don’t usually get excited by breakfast, I nonetheless joined my companion, Mike Masino, in the Veranda. I definitely needed a “cushion” for a good blast of caffeination. Not a fan of most regular shipboard coffee, I would soon learn I had little need for it with an abundant supply of cappuccino, espresso and green tea a mere “ask” away. We settled underneath an awning on the starboard terrace just aft of the Veranda in comfortable wicker seats. Although there is a full service menu with specials of the day, I headed inside to see what was in the buffet.
I began with an omelet — lovely to see the eggs cracked open and not scooped out of a gooey carton. Let’s see, onions, tomatoes and cheese, please.
Home made granola? Seriously? OK, my light breakfast “caffeine cushion” had become a glutton’s feast. Now for some smoked salmon, tomatoes with buffalo mozzarella, two glasses of freshly squeezed orange juice…
And the caffeine was replenished frequently in various frothy forms. I could get very used to this kind of breakfast, but lunch was only two hours away…
I spent some time in a quiet corner of the lounge working on various deadlines and trying to enjoy the present while catching up on my last trek, the gala QUEEN ELIZABETH naming in Southampton. Meanwhile, Mike was putting through cleverly set up obstacles in a golf putting tournament held by the ship’s sport staff, Amanda and Taylor, in the forward Deck 3 lobby.
Although engorged from breakfast, there was no way we were going to miss lunch in the Veranda. While at sea, I am normally hard-pressed to find a decent olive oil and vinegar to dress my salads with but on the WIND SPIRIT, there were almost too many choices. Quel dilemma!
And the desserts? There was homemade baklava, chocolate mousse cake, several tarts and puddings and a choice of six toppings for the ice cream…
As most passengers lolled about in deck chairs and lounges, pursuing the art of relaxation, we decided to drop in on the open bridge. The second officer was demonstrating various aspects of the radar. With calm seas and the sun beaming off our bow, I asked if it would be OK to go to the bowsprit to get a view of the WIND SPIRIT plunging through the water.
Although the request is probably not made very often and probably not something Windstar Cruises would encourage, we were escorted to the fo’c’sle by a deck officer.
If I wanted to go past the mast on the bowsprit, I would need to get harnessed up. Alright then, anything for a good shot…
In moments like this, I would never trade what I get to do for anything in this world.
It was such a thrill to aim my cameras down at the WIND SPIRIT’s elegant prow as she calmly sliced through the blue Aegean.
I was already a fan of executive chef Ronald Waasdorf when we signed up for the second galley tour of the day. Such a small kitchen to provide such a great variety of food but it helps when there are only 148 passengers to cater to versus two, three or four thousand.
Monday, October 18, 2010
My first visit to Kusadasi was in October of 1992 on board Sun Lines’ dashing MV STELLA OCEANIS. I remember “peeking” out the porthole of our tiny cabin to see the magical ACHILLE LAURO approaching, just as the latter caught a bit of the pink sunrise on her ribbed bow plating.
On that sunny day almost two decades ago, I was soon bussed off to the splendors of Ephesus for a mid morning tour of some of the most impressive Roman ruins the world has to offer. I returned to Ephesus and the supposed House of the Virgin Mary a few years later on Royal Olympic’s grand OLYMPIC (ex EMPRESS OF BRITAIN) and have since enjoyed not doing so, although Ephesus is a “must see” under any normal circumstances.
Sometimes Kusadasi is overwhelmed with cruise ships and others, like today, it hosts only a visitor or two. Regent’s spacious, five star SEVEN SEAS MARINER would, as WIND SPIRIT’s good captain, Andrew Walsh joked, make a great “wind break” for us in the neighboring berth.
And so she did! I found it amusing to hear fellow WIND SPIRIT passengers exclaim just how BIG the MARINER was and that they would never want to be stuck on such a huge vessel. I guess the OASIS OF THE SEAS need not apply here…
“So what did you do today?” a fellow passenger would later ask. “Well, I went to Starbucks and posted photos and text to a website, checked my e-mails and eavesdropped as best I could on large groups of Dutch and German tourists in a swirl of their cigarette smoke while rain occasionally splattered on the canvas roof above.” Make no mistake, I was happy to have that cheap, high speed connection and a comfortable chair from which to work, although I only achieved a fraction of it before it was time to head back to the WIND SPIRIT.
Mike dropped by after his tour of Ephesus (it was his first time since our visit in 1992 and he wanted to see the since uncovered Terrace Houses). He took a short walk over to the fortress for a shot of Kusadasi (and by special request for this blog, one or two of the ships).
We were back aboard in time for a quick snack by the pool, then headed forward as the Captain Walsh and the pilot maneuvered WIND SPIRIT out of Kusadasi. Captain Walsh had served aboard Blue Funnel Line’s gallant MV CENTAUR and, I was very pleased to learn, is a regular MaritimeMatters visitor.
As soon as we entered the straits off Samos, the seas took on an especially ominous look. We had entered a very unstable weather pattern with high head winds that would slow the WIND SPIRIT on her course to Rhodes. Arrival was delayed from 10:00 AM to 12:45 PM in anticipation. And yet, despite what I am told by one of the ship’s officers, were hurricane force winds, we barely felt a thing on the ultra-stable WIND SPIRIT. No need for the “zines”, “mines”, wrist bands or patches….
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
Force Five, Six, Seven, perhaps? Although things on the WIND SPIRIT felt pretty stable, Poseidon’s seas and wind swirled angrily around her. A lapse in judgment found me ordering today’s banana pancakes special, setting the stage for a cloudy, hypoglycemic mental state that would match the skies above. But they tasted so good!
We headed up to the bridge to see how things were shaping up with our approach and also to confirm, that, indeed, it was the island of Simi off our port side.
As two red tugs assisted the elderly MIRAGE I (ex BOLERO, etc.) to her berth, we hove to in Rhodes roads, awaiting our turn. An outbound Hellenic ferry plunged into the abyss of sea and yet WIND SPIRIT seemed to hold her own, occasionally pitching as Captain Walsh steered her bow into the oncoming rollers.
Despite my yearning for a dramatic photographic opportunity, only a hit of spray flew over the fo’c’sle bulwarks. Finally, the tugs came to our assistance and led the WIND SPIRIT into port, but not before she spun gracefully around, port side to berth.
After lunch, which included delicious, fresh Greek salad and a chicken gyros, there was time for tea in the shelter aft of the Veranda during a momentary appearance of Helios.
Mike headed off with a group of fellow shipmates to Lindos while I decided on pursuing another internet iliad, first taking up residence in the comfort of the Lounge to jot down some notes. Somehow, as I did, LE DIAMANT had slipped into the berth across from us.
When I finally disembarked, howling winds were whipping the harbor into a fury, thrusting all of its visiting hulls into a prolonged plunge against the pylons. I stopped by to get a few views of LE DIAMANT and the interesting MIRAGE I, the latter operating for Israel-based Mano Cruises and surely on borrowed time.
Inside the walled city in the park by the seahorse fountain, I found abundant free and fast wifi to begin a spree of posts and photo uploading. All well and good for an hour or so until the skies began to crack and rumble. The bird that had pooped on my shoulder finally darted out of the treetops and the cats that were lazily swatting at now fled flies had slinked off to shelter. Only a few more photos to go, but then I realized my laptop would make a wonderful conductor for a nice bolt of lightning and packed it all in. There was no escaping the deluge that followed, so I huddled under an awning as local shopkeepers and restauranteurs raced to get their wares inside.
When a lull came, I covered up the cameras and laptop with my sweatshirt and ran back to the ship. Even the old port where the Colossus of legend stood, was buffeted by the stormy sea. It was nice to be back on board WIND SPIRIT but the irony was, that while tied up to the pier, she was moving more than ever.
I had an abbreviated run on the ellipticals, got up to the Lounge to catch the tail end of the local folkloric show and then bee-lined it outta there before the line dancing began. Opa!
As the rain pounded Rhodes, we enjoyed an alternative dinner in Candles (normally only served on the open terraces but actually inside the Veranda tonight). Candles is the ship’s reservations only, non-tariff steakhouse venue and offers a fixed menu that also includes a fish of the day and chicken.
After mulling the chicken dish, I opted for the orange roughy doused in lemon juice and a baked potato on the side. As ever, the food and service were top-notch.
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
When I opened the curtains to white-capped gray seas, I was certain our call at the Turkish port of Bodrum would be abandoned. A tender bounced like a cork in the swells but the steady WIND SPIRIT held her own and soon, the skies began to clear.
As this was my first visit to Bodrum, I wanted to do the tourist thing and see its famous castle. I rode the tender back and forth for some shots of the ship and then gathered Mike for the short ride to shore and a walk through a crescent of seaside cafes to town. If the happy, fat dogs we encountered are any indication, Bodrum is populated by a kind-hearted people who like to eat well.
My sunglasses did not fare this latest journey well, so we stopped in a local boutique and got a replacement pair for 5 Euros. As we were the first customers of the day, the vendor curiously refused to take the bill from my hand, asking that I drop it onto the display for good luck.
So off to the castle we went. For a mere entry fee of 10 Turkish Lira (5 Euros) per person, one can see as much as the heart desires. Follow the red arrow for the detailed tour and the green arrow for the abbreviated version.
Amphorae, anchors, several shipwrecks, displays of ancient glassware and more can fill the vast part of a morning or afternoon. As I wanted to get back to the ship for a chance to utilize the marina, I tried to keep our visit short, but succinct. It was a green arrow day.
After lunch, Taylor gave us a nice zodiac ride alongside the ship so I could get some optimal views, then we stowed the cameras, donned bathing suits and hopped onto a kayak for a good row off the stern.
Then, we hopped into the almost nippy but still magnificent blue water for a swim around the marina and its large foam floats. As Mike went off for a ride on the waterskis, I took a less coordination-required ride on the tender in search of, you guessed it, wifi.
I settled in at a smoky cafe by the sea, sipped a Turkish coffee and did my usual blog thing, then ran back to the terminal to catch the last tender back to the ship. All in all, it was a pretty full day, which we capped off with a delightful bottle of Veuve Clicquot.
Thursday, October 21, 2010
I hadn’t planned on waking up at 4:30 but that is what the gods had in store, so I grabbed the laptop and started typing away as Mike snored in the neighboring berth. A couple hours and a thousand words or so later, I peeked out the portholes at the ominous cliffs of Santorini’s caldera. The seas were calming as we entered the shelter, passing hundreds of feet below the twinkling lights of Oia. Within thirty or so minutes, we were pivoting into the anchorage underneath Thira Town. When I next peeked out the window, two ships were approaching, so I gathered the cameras and dashed out to Deck 4, hair still smashed and eyes especially bleary.
Oceania’s rakish REGATTA was very slowly making her way across our bow and Costa’s imposing COSTA FORTUNA was smoldering in our direction. Although I must admit, her black-topped yellow paint can funnel is quite impressive, I don’t get why, whenever I see this particular ship, she is belching black fumes into the air. Very dramatic for photos, but are they feeding her coal?
It was her 3,000 passenger complement that concerned me the most, considering we would soon be vying for space with it in the cable car to the top, where I intended to seek out an internet cafe, get some work done and then head back to the ship to ditch the laptop and hopefully head off to the headlands of Oia.
As much as I Iove Santorini, it is poorly equipped to handle more than one or two mid-sized cruise ships at a time. There are two options to get to the top of the caldera, the donkey trail (slippery, full of donkey droppings and blistering hot on a typical summer day) and the cable car (usually requires a long line and a princely 4 Euros each way). With laptop and cameras in tow, we chose the latter option.
Although there were no cafes with wifi overlooking the caldera, we did our best to find one, stopping to take photos of the ships below. No matter what it takes getting there and then, once there, trying to navigate the masses of humanity, the views from the caldera never cease to amaze. And there really is no better place to photograph a ship.
We found a relatively friendly internet cafe in the town square, uploaded and updated, then returned the computer to the ship. After a quick lunch in the Veranda, it was back on the tender (they ran ever 30 minutes back and forth, unlike some lines where tender service is only offered upon the ship’s arrival or departure), back in line for the cable car and then off to hunt for the local bus to Oia. Of course, timing is of the essence and our essence was way off as there was no bus for almost ninety minutes, so we walked around a bit more, then finally piled into the bus. The ride, itself, is quite an experience with the aisles packed to the rafters as a cranky man pushes through and pokes (literally) each passenger for the mere 1.4 Euro fare, while the bus careens around the island’s precipitous highway.
When we arrived, Oia (pronounced “ee-ya”) was almost deserted. Shop keepers puffed cigarettes and sipped espresso, staring through a blur of mobiles, scarves, pottery and other tchotchkes. We climbed to the very end, seeking that ultimate photo.
There was the requisite image of the arches and the long shadow cast by the lowering sun. Time to linger on a promontory and listen to the gurgle of the sea, watch as photographers posed their subjects in the perfect backdrop and just wander a labyrinth of stone walkways.
And then, we were cursed by the caldera sphinx. Suddenly, our tranquil, almost spiritual solitude was invaded by the busload. An international walk of life clogged every stone step or slowly meandered two or three abreast in the narrow passages, chatting, browsing and acting utterly unaware of anyone that might simply like to simply get past their clump of humanity.
We escaped by heading to the less traveled east, where there were few vendors, cafes and wine tasting opportunities. The views were backlit but just as breathtaking.
It was time to catch the bus back to Thira Town but not before capturing the regal REGATTA on her way out of the caldera.
The post-sunset exodus from Thira Town was on and the queue for the cable car was out of control. We opted for the walk down the donkey trails, stepping and sliding our way through stone and ooze to just barely make the 7:20 tender back to the WIND SPIRIT. At least there were some nice vantages of the ships below (which now included Louis Cruises’ AQUAMARINE and CRISTAL).
Back on the ship, I was thrilled to see the box of moist hand towels in the entryway.
The gala barbecue on aft Deck 4 had just begun. Everything under the stars had been laid out in a feast that would have made Dionysos proud.
Grapefruit breasts and melon torsos, a fantastic array of salads, sea food, cheese, and more.
There was even a sacrifice to the gods.
And, then, she rose above the cliffs in a swirl of misty clouds. It was all so perfectly staged and tasty, too!
Although our Windstar cruise was nearing its end, we still had Mykonos in the morning.
Friday, October 22, 2010
The chilly Mistrals were in full force during our day at Mykonos. On a fine summer day, a taxi to Paradise Beach might have been in order. But today would give me another chance to settle in a corner of the lounge with a cup or four of green tea, peeking out the window for any incoming ferries or cruise ships. After lunch, I took the shuttle to town and parked at the BluBlu Cafe for a couple hours. The seas were being whipped into a gray, white-capped frenzy. We would have a good ride tonight!
At 5:00 PM sharp, we began to maneuver away. A high speed ferry came bolting into port, discharged a load of passengers, and careened past us, much to the amazement of anyone on deck. The straits between Mykonos and Tinos were particularly rough. The open bow was a bit too much but from the shelter of the wheelhouse, we watched as WIND SPIIRIT plunged gracefully forward. Even her durable stabilizers were no match for the seas ahead.
When the chief officer said the speck on the horizon was the AQUAMARINE, I just had to get some footage of the pioneering, former Royal Caribbean ship in her element. Of course, as I clung, facing outward from the wing, the best wave of all came from behind and drenched me. My sea legs managed to get me to dinner intact but after that, I retreated to the cabin to pack and snooze.
Saturday, October 23, 2010
Nothing worse than the final morning of the cruise. At least Piraeus greeted us with a full moon as the THOMSON CELEBRATION maneuvered behind us. A sea of ferries had just finished their busy summer season and were laid up all around the harbor, some to return next year and others, not.
So, it was time to say good bye to the WIND SPIRIT’s wonderful staff and crew. One final cappuccino in the Veranda from friendly, Djakarta-based Ram, who began his sea faring on the SS ROTTERDAM in 1984, and then it was off to battle the taxi vendors for a ride to our hotel and our next adventure.
We returned to the Piraeus headlands late that afternoon to watch as WIND SPIRIT unfurled her sails and journeyed off to Italy on a special charter before working her way west into the Mediterranean then across the Atlantic for her winter season in the Caribbean.
Very special thanks: Vanessa Bloy, Martin Cox, Mike Masino, Jason Parker, Captain Andrew Walsh
End Of Wayward On The WIND SPIRIT Sea Treks
Updated: October 25, 2010