January 18, 1998

Breezy Going When The Wind’s Blowing Right, This Cruise Ship Turns Off The Engines

Stanton H. Patty Special To Travel
 

It could make you believe in magic carpets. A crimson sunset lights Istanbul’s sky-stabbing minarets like candles. The high notes of a Muslim prayer call soar above the cranky cacophony of automobile horns.

Wind Spirit eases from its pier.

Capt. Henning Heltberg gives the signal - and then, with just a whisper of sound, Wind Spirit’s sails unfurl.

Jody Kass, a passenger from New York, wraps her arms around her husband as the sails fill with wind.

“This is just too much to put into words,” she says.

Wind Spirit … a cruise ship with sails.

There are sailboats and there are cruise ships. Wind Spirit is some of both.

Most of the time, the 148-passenger, 439-foot-long ship is powered by three diesel engines. But when the wind is right, the skipper shuts down the engines and raises Wind Spirit’s sails.

“That is the best time,” Heltberg says. “This ship can sail!”

And sail it does, on week-long itineraries between two of the world’ s ancient treasures - Istanbul and Athens.

Seattle-based Windstar Cruises has four of these beauties: Wind Spirit, Wind Star, Wind Song, Wind Surf. They roam through Europe and the Caribbean.

From early May to mid-October next year, both Wind Spirit and Wind Star will be deployed on a lazy, zig-zag route through the holiday islands of Turkey and Greece.

Ports of call include 3,000-year-old Ephesus, once the largest city in the Roman empire; Rhodes, where medieval walls enclose Crusader castles and markets festooned with gold; Bodrum, a sunny, laid-back resort town on the Turkish Riviera; Santorini, the Aegean pearl that some say may be the site of the lost continent of Atlantis; Mykonos, a tourist-trampled, but still photogenic Greek town where the local Hard Rock Cafe bills itself as the “Acropolis of Rock.”

It’s a cruise through history, an odyssey along the paths of Homer, Aristotle, Socrates, Alexander the Great, Antony and Cleopatra, Tamerlane, Emperor Constantine, Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, St. Paul and others.

But history never was served up like this in school.

The daily routine aboard consists mostly of fun in the sun.

Between shore excursions, there is an assortment of “toys” for launching from the ships’ water-sports platforms. Water skis, sailboards, kayaks, etc.

For those who suffer twinges of calorie conscience, the liners have fitness room with exercise machines. Crew members also lead morning walks (eight times around the deck equals one mile).

Don’t bother to pack an evening gown or tux.

The dress code is what they call “casual elegance.” That means, please no tee shirts, shorts or tennis shoes at dinner.

Chefs prepare elaborate meals, with entrees ranging from lobster to prime rib. But they also offer sensible “heart healthy” choices.

Weather permitting, breakfast and lunch are served topside, on deck, under patio umbrellas. Evening meals are in The Restaurant, a convivial, country-club-style dining room.

No table assignments or first and second sittings, as on big cruise liners. Choose your own tablemates.

If you happen to miss a meal while touring or snorkeling, just call room service. No charge.

There’s one problem with all this: The Turkey-Greece cruises usually are sold out.

If you do manage to get aboard, the adventure may play like this:

Day 1 - Wind Spirit sails southward at sunset from Istanbul and the continent-splitting Bosphorus. Europe to starboard; Asia to port.

It’s “happy hour” in the lounge. Sharon Benton, a ship’s entertainer, is singing, “The summer wind came rolling in across the sea. It lingered there….”

Wind Spirit still is under full sail.

Day 2 - At sea all day.

Wind Spirit threads through the Dardanelles, the narrow strait connecting the Sea of Mamara and the indigo Aegean Sea.

Barbecue lunch on deck today. Ribs, burgers, salads, desserts. There’ll be a fashion show later. Time out for sunning and reading on the Pool Deck.

Blood pressures are plummeting.

(“I notice that you are taking fewer and fewer notes,” says my first mate).

Day 3 - Ephesus.

Wind Spirit sails into a flaming sunrise on the way into Kusadasi, Turkey, the port for Ephesus.

Ephesus blitzes the mind. Once this city of white marble was the most important commercial and religious center in the world.

It is said to be the best-preserved city of ancient times. Yet, only about 10 percent of Ephesus has been excavated.

“God knows what wonders may yet lie under the olive trees,” says a tour guide.

Let your imagination run.

Here are the streets where the conquering Alexander walked; where Antony and Cleopatra were welcomed with a torchlight procession. Ruts cut by Roman chariots still are visible in the marble paving blocks along the Arcadian Way.

Here is the Great Theater, where St. Paul preached (Acts 19:29). And it is said that Mary, the mother of Jesus, came to Ephesus with St. Paul toward the end of her life and died here. St. John also is said to be buried near the old city.

Old and new may not mix in Ephesus.

A high-volume Guns and Roses rock concert cracked the foundations of the Great Theater. The beloved arena remained closed three years for repairs.

“And,” says Luran, the tour guide, “some of the men around here are still grumbling about the good old days when we were expected to spend all of our time waiting on them.

“We say, ‘Tough luck, guys.”’ Iced tea awaits on the Pool Deck aboard Wind Spirit.

Day 4 - Rhodes.

A dramatic city, a favorite with passengers. Almost year-round summer weather. Stone walls draped with roses and bougainvillea.

Some visitors choose to climb the 365 slippery marble steps to the summit of the 4th century B.C. Acropolis in nearby Lindos.

Lindos town is a postcard, with snow-white, sugar-cube houses ringing the Acropolis like tiers on a wedding cake. But this day Lindos is packed with thousands of visitors.

“Not for us,” say Peter and Janice Winterfeld, Wind Spirit passengers from Huntington Beach, Calif.

Instead, the Winterfelds rent motorbikes in Rhodes ($5 U.S. an hour) and find a secluded swimming beach.

“We’re not much for group therapy,” Winterfeld says.

Day 5 - Bodrum.

A charmer. The scimitar harbor is decked with graceful charter vessels the locals call “wooden boats.” There is a fairytale castle for a back drop.

This may be the “sleeper” of the itinerary.

Take the day off - the whole day.

Book a snorkeling tour aboard one of the “wooden boats.” If you bargain well, the price works out to about $10 U.S. apiece.

Or just stroll along Bodrum’s seaside promenade until you find a shady outdoor cafe.

Back by Wind Spirit, five passengers are riding a bucking torpedo from the ship’s “toy chest.” It’s a sausage-shaped craft towed by a motorized Zodiac. Looks like fun.

Yawn….

“Cappuccino, please,” says the first mate.

Day 6 - Santorini.

Wind Spirit anchors to a buoy in the deep, dark caldera of a volcano that exploded back in 1500 B.C.

High above, hanging 1,000 feet over the harbor, is a crenulated clifftop crowned with a whitewashed village called Thira.

Was this the Atlantis described in Plato’s dialogues?

They’ll tell you so up top, at the Atlantis Hotel. Well, it’s a good story.

Regardless, there may not be a more spectacular setting in all of the Greek Islands.

To get from harborside to Thira, the visitor has three choices: Hike the near-vertical, switchback road, ride a reluctant donkey up that same road, or catch a ride on Santorini’s new aerial tram.

“Don’t worry,” says Alexander, the mule driver.

Wind Spirit sails away at midnight under a sky full of stars. The lights of Thira, up on the cliff edge, are like a string of jewels.

Passengers are line-dancing on the Pool Deck.

Oh, my achy, breaky heart.

Map of area

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story:

IF YOU GO

General: Two Windstar ships - Wind Spirit and Wind Star - will sail Turkey/Greece itineraries from May 9 through Oct. 17 this year. Saturday departures are scheduled, alternating between Athens and Istanbul. First departure will be May 9, from Athens, aboard Wind Star.

The ships carry 148 passengers each. Both are equipped with six sails, flying from masts topping out at 204 feet above the waterline.

Passenger cabins are identical throughout the four-deck ships - with the exception of one larger “owner’s cabin” aboard each vessel.

Note: There are no elevators.

Fares: Cruise fares are $4,565 a person, double occupancy. Early booking discounts, ranging from 20 to 30 percent (depending on the season), are offered. Air fare is additional.

Suggestions: Summer weather can be scorching, and walking in ancient ruins may be on slippery and uneven surfaces. Pack light clothing, sun screen, a sun hat and comfortable walking shoes.

Drink only bottled water ashore. Passengers can purchase bottles of spring water aboard the vessels.

Details: Windstar Cruises, 300 Elliott Ave. W., Seattle, WA 98119. Phones: (800) 258-7245 or (206) 281-3535. Fax: (206) 281-0627. Web address: windstarcruises.com

This sidebar appeared with the story: IF YOU GO General: Two Windstar ships - Wind Spirit and Wind Star - will sail Turkey/Greece itineraries from May 9 through Oct. 17 this year. Saturday departures are scheduled, alternating between Athens and Istanbul. First departure will be May 9, from Athens, aboard Wind Star. The ships carry 148 passengers each. Both are equipped with six sails, flying from masts topping out at 204 feet above the waterline. Passenger cabins are identical throughout the four-deck ships - with the exception of one larger “owner’s cabin” aboard each vessel. Note: There are no elevators.

Fares: Cruise fares are $4,565 a person, double occupancy. Early booking discounts, ranging from 20 to 30 percent (depending on the season), are offered. Air fare is additional.

Suggestions: Summer weather can be scorching, and walking in ancient ruins may be on slippery and uneven surfaces. Pack light clothing, sun screen, a sun hat and comfortable walking shoes. Drink only bottled water ashore. Passengers can purchase bottles of spring water aboard the vessels.

Details: Windstar Cruises, 300 Elliott Ave. W., Seattle, WA 98119. Phones: (800) 258-7245 or (206) 281-3535. Fax: (206) 281-0627. Web address: windstarcruises.com


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