Cruise: Barcelona to Lisbon on the world's largest sailing vessel

Like most self-respecting sailors, I never thought I would stoop to becoming a pampered tourist on a cruise ship. Yet for eight days, I did just that, cruising from Barcelona to Lisbon in style on Windstar's "Windsurf". I made an exception for "Windsurf" since she is no ordinary cruise ship. Along with her sister ship, "Club Med 2", she is the largest sailing vessel in the word.

"Windsurf", at anchor in light winds off Port Soller, Mallorca.
Technically speaking, "Windsurf" is not a sailing ship, but a staysail schooner, since she has only fore-and-aft sails. Her stats are pretty impressive:


Length 162m (535') at waterline; 187m ( 617') including bowsprit
Beam 20m (66')
Draft 5m (16.5')
Tonnage 14,745 tons
Sails 7 triangular, self-furling sails with surface area of 2,600m2 (26,881 square feet)
Masts 5 x 50m (164')
Power/ Engines 4 diesel electric gensets producing 7MW, powering twin 2,500HP electric motors
Speed 10 to 12 knots with engines only; up to 15 knots wind and engine assisted
Stabilizers 540kl (142,653 gallon) sea water hydraulic ballast system


(Out of interest, the largest sailing schooner ever built was the massive, 7-masted Thomas W. Lawson).

Windsurf's 7 sails are completely computer-operated via hydraulic systems. Below is a photo of one of her massive booms, and a short video showing a sail being trimmed.
Hydraulically operable boom and sheet.

You would be forgiven for thinking that the sails are just eye candy, however Captain Peter Harris assured me that Windsurf  is a genuine motor sailer. On average, sail power typically contributes 2 or 3 knots to her typical cruising speed of 8 to 10 knots. During our cruise we only turned off both motors once, during which we averaged a respectable 8 knots. Windsurf has a massive 7MW of generating capacity, but her twin 2,500HP electric motors can consume 3.7MW of that, leaving a mere 3.3MW for the ship and her complement of 300 passengers and 190 crew. In fact, the Captain mentioned that he might be forced to slow down and economize on propulsion power if passengers became too energy hungry.

It was fun to visit the bridge since, unlike larger cruise ships, "Windsurf" has an open bridge policy.

Bridge of Windsurf.
Captain Peter Harris on the bridge.
The Mediterranean was mostly flat (except for the leg from Mallorca to Valencia) and we only encountered appreciable swell once we passed Tarifa, the southern most tip of Spain, indeed Europe, and entered the Atlantic Ocean. BTW, Tarifa is a very windy spot and is the windsurfing and kitesurfing capital of Spain.

Our "Windsurf" would probably need a tidal wave to surf, and cut through the 5m Atlantic swells with ease. Her hydraulic ballast system stabilizers ensured a smooth ride with negligible heeling. If all monohulls rolled this little, I might have to reconsider my choice of sailing cats!

Although I enjoyed "Windsurf", I felt pangs of envy every time a sailboat went by. For all the luxury of "Windsurf", I'd rather be on Arriba, bumps and all.

Voyage's end, approaching the "25th of April" bridge, Lisbon.
OVER.

PS More photos of Windsurf are here.