White Sails in the Sunset

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compagnie du ponant
Compagnie du Ponant operates Le Ponant, a three-masted yacht that would stir Jack London’s soul. This Marseilles-based cruise line is essentially a more traditional cruise line operating out of and into some of Europe’s most celebrated ports, but Le Ponant exemplifies the concept of “barefoot cruising.”

This year, the 32-suite vessel is a familiar sight on Caribbean waters where it makes a regular 7-night cruise to Martinique and St. Martin.

During the voyage, guests have the option of assisting the crew on the intricacies of tall ship sailing, or they can merely sit back and enjoy the voyage. One of the more popular spots on the ship is its high platform built just above sea level from where guests can watch sea life and Caribbean panoramas unfold.

According to Terri Haas, Ponant’s chief commercial officer, “We decided to bring this authentic sailing yacht to the Caribbean for the first time in many years to offer our guests a true sailing experience to exquisite destinations like the Virgin Islands, French and West Indies and the Grenadines.”

During stops, these destinations delight visitors with virgin lush rainforests where eco-adventures await. Some choose to find a relaxing hideaway in coves where the forests literally stop at the water’s edge while others will dip their toes into island life by visiting colorful towns accented with outdoor markets and sidewalk eateries where the rhythm of steel drums add a jovial and melodious soundtrack.

The ship has large sun decks and an open-air restaurant and because of its compact size, passengers feel like they’re sailing on a private yacht. This is a cruise that pampers with personalized service with a staff-to-guest ratio of one to two. There’s a library, a Turkish bath, beauty salon, fitness center and a platform for diving and snorkeling.

On average, Ponant’s rates start at $2,300 pp, depending on the itinerary and category. The majority of its itineraries are seven nights, with some sailings between four and 15 nights.

maple leaf adventures
The Pacific Northwest has beauty to spare, and one of the most stirring sights along its rugged coastline is that of the Maple Leaf, a 92-ft. schooner owned and operated by the award-winning cruise company of the same name, with sails in full bloom.

This is cruising at its purest along one of the world’s most spectacular coastlines, where visitors never fail to leave without having sensed that they have established a close bond with the awesome natural beauty of the Northwest.

The Maple Leaf, the type of vessel that legends are made from, was built in 1904 in Vancouver, British Columbia, from yellow cedar, Douglas fir and mahogany. It has been refitted with the latest modern conveniences and cuts a fine figure while plying the waters off British Columbia’s feral coast, Alaska’s Inside Passage and during excursions into the Haida Gwaii Archipelago, where visiting the islands is a rare experience.

Once known as British Columbia’s Queen Charlotte Islands, Haida Gwaii is made up of 150 islands on the western edge of North America. The wildlife is so odd and diverse that scientists have dubbed the islands “The Canadian Galapagos.”

On land passengers on board the Maple Leaf will be exposed to a unique experience. The ship anchors off seaside villages where guests receive a first-hand glimpse of an ancient and obscure Native American culture and of unoccupied ancient village sites on islands looming above rugged beaches.

Cruises generally run from five to eight nights, with some stretching for 11 nights. Prices for the all-inclusive trips range from approximately $2,000 pp dbl for a 5-night cruise to about $6,000 for a cruise that takes in British Columbia and Alaska. Meals, beverages and snacks are included as well as shore excursions, guides and the use of kayaks and other amenities.

According to Maureen Gordon, Maple Leaf’s owner and co-manager, the cruises are a “superb experience combining natural history, wilderness adventures and close-up encounters with whales, dolphins and other marine mammals.”

In addition, the line has expert guides who take passengers to view grizzlies, brown and black bears and, occasionally, even the extremely rare white spirit bear, neither a polar bear nor a grizzly, of which only an estimated 10,000 exist.

Gordon adds that a cruise on Maple Leaf consists of “an opportunity to help sail and steer a classic tall ship. It’s ‘barefoot cruising’ at its best, except that it’s more accurate to call it ‘gumboot cruises,’ as the voyages are really more natural history expedition cruises by sailing ship. And we wear boots a lot during the shore excursions.”

If anchoring in remote wilderness havens that people never access and on wild beaches with no cities around for hundreds of miles is one’s idea of a rewarding cruise, Maple Leaf offers it, plus what Gordon says is a “true understanding of what life is like on the Northwest coast.”

archived related articles:

Sailing the Galapagos Islands (April 2012)

contact information

Compagnie du Ponant: (888) 400-1082; en.ponant.com/travel-agent-centre

Maple Leaf Adventures: (888) 599-5323; mapleleafadventures.com

Star Clippers: (305) 442-0550; starclippers.com/us/media-area.html