A Star to Steer the Wind Star By
“When I was
fifteen years old, I went to sea,” says Antony Gilbert (like a
character in a Charles Dickens novel). We meet the handsome third
navigation officer in the bridge of the Wind Star where he is on duty
this second night of a cruise from Istanbul to Athens. The sky is clear
and filled with stars.
“I try to explain what it’s like to be on the
bridge on a night like this. But I can’t,” he tells us.
“Sometimes when there’s a bright moon, there will be a rainbow
in the sky. Sometimes dolphins will pass by.” He turns from the
window into the darkness of the room and smiles in our
direction. “You’ll see things at sea you’ll never ever see on
If Anthony is bewitched, it’s
understandable. We, too, have been under a spell that began the
previous afternoon when, after the preliminaries of signing in,
being shown to our stateroom, unpacking a bit, and joining the
rest for safety and lifejacket drills, we went up on deck to see
the ship’s great white sails unfurl while, to the stirring
strains of the Vangelis score from “1492,” the Wind Star set
sail. The combination of sails against a blue sky, the sea
sparkling in the sunlight, and a triumphant chorale – it was
enough to set the heart throbbing.
This is our first cruise. Although consumed by
wanderlust and having accumulated and redeemed six figures-worth of
frequent-flyer miles over the decades, we had until now resisted the
allure of being at sea beyond an overnight ferry ride or day-long
sailing excursion. The huge cruise ships we’d see in many a harbor
seemed too overwhelming.
And then we received a postcard from a friend
picturing a long, sleek sailboat, four tall sails aloft, pure white
against a background of sky and sea. “Greetings from Mykonos and from
Wind Star, our hotel in the Aegean,” she wrote. The Greek island we
knew; the hotel in the Aegean was something new. “Think of it as a big
sailing yacht,” she told us when she returned.
And that was the start of some reconsideration which
ended with us standing on the upper deck of a 400-foot-long cruiser on a
glorious June afternoon, holding on to the rails, faces to the wind, as
it sailed down the Bosphorus between European and Asian Turkey and into
the Sea of Marmara.
When we awoke the next morning, we were moving through
the Dardenelles, passing before long, within view of Gallipoli when
Captain Chris Norman, over the ship’s speaker system, pointed out the
battlefields, military cemetery, and simple monument in the classic
Greek style and relayed the heart-breaking story of the nearly
nine-month-long World War I campaign that cost so many lives and
resulted in such major political consequences. History, we would come to
see, would be a major sub-text of our one-week journey.
||Totally renovated and refurbished
in time for the 2012 season, the Wind Star has 73 attractive
staterooms with ocean views, queen-sized beds, flat-screen TVs,
and DVD players in a configuration so intelligently and
efficiently designed that there is ample space for storage and
comfort as well as such touches of luxury as an array of
oversized L’Occitane toiletries.
after our arrival, we were escorted to our stateroom by Tom, a
friendly young man from the Philippines who told us he would be
our steward throughout the cruise, always on call whenever
something was needed. He proved true to his word.
Totally renovated and refurbished in time for the 2012
season, the Wind Star has 73 attractive staterooms with ocean views,
queen-sized beds, flat-screen TVs, and DVD players in a configuration
so intelligently and efficiently designed that there is ample space for
storage and comfort as well as such touches of luxury as an array of
oversized L’Occitane toiletries.
Soon after our arrival, we were escorted to our
stateroom by Tom, a friendly young man from the Philippines who told us
he would be our steward throughout the cruise, always on call whenever
something was needed. He proved true to his word.
Meeting Tom and then other service personnel in both
housekeeping and dining reminded us of a conversation we had with the
general manager of a property in Paris some time ago where he
encountered what he called “Courtesy Culture.”
“There was a softness, a gentleness and pleasantness
to the people on staff,” he told us. “All of them were so polite and
courteous. I never forgot them.”
The hotel manager would undoubtedly be delighted to
meet the crew aboard the Wind Star. Many are from Southeast Asia; all
embody the “Courtesy Culture” he described.
Yen, who is from Indonesia, was to become our
consistent server and friend. We met Yen at Veranda, the informal
indoor/outdoor dining venue for breakfast and lunch housed in a great
window-wrapped salon and surrounding deck area. We would come out on
deck in the freshness of a morning, look out to a new view –the Wind
Star did much of its traveling by night -- and there would be Yen, at
the ready to set a seaside table with flatware wrapped in cloth napkins
and a pot of excellent Indonesian coffee.
The options for breakfasts were virtually limitless:
Greek yogurts, cereals, smoothies – a different flavor every day, muesli
with raisins, nuts and currants, smoked salmon and capers, cheeses,
miniature bagels, croissants, breads and muffins of endless variety,
many-flavored home-made marmalades, jams, and peanut butters – all
arranged on a huge multi-level buffet. At the same time, white-hatted
chefs stood behind cooking stations preparing eggs any way you wanted
them, biscuits with gravy, pancakes and French toast, tortillas with
scrambled eggs, and assorted omelets.
Yen got to know our preferences in short order: every
day one of us would help herself to the smoked salmon and a smoothie,
the other relied on Yen to bring him eggs and blueberry pancakes or
French toast – a splendid way to start the day.
Lunches followed the same routine, only now the buffet
tables would be laden with tureens of gazpacho and papaya bisque, an
amazing salad bar particularly suited to a make-your-own Greek salad
with a variety of olives, lentils, and cubes of Feta cheese. An
assortment of wraps, hamburgers, turkey and chicken burgers, hot dogs,
and sausages were part of the offerings along with a fabulous pasta
station where spaghetti carbonara, Pasta Genovese, et al, and a range
of crepes were created before your eyes. And for one of us, there was
the delight of an irresistible bread pudding –the centerpiece of an
otherwise lavish dessert display.
Dinner on Wind Star is a more formal affair held in a
large, elegant space that reminded us of ocean-liners we’d seen in
movies. The multi-course menu changes every night, but one could always
count on an antipasto, an appetizer of shrimp cocktail, scallop ceviche,
or the like, soup (an excellent lobster bisque one night), salad, such
entrées as lamb kabobs, Basque chicken, grilled sea bass, pan-fried
Dover sole, and steak along with many choices of vegetables, and
desserts like strawberry compote, crème brulé, and apple strudel.
We would walk into the dining room, and Gusman Wysyama
would be there at the entrance, overlooking the scene and extending a
warm welcome. The dining room manager, a study in Asian serenity, is
from Bali. He was working at a local hotel seventeen years ago when his
brother, home for a holiday from his job with the Holland American line,
asked him “How would you like to go to sea?”
“I would, very much,” said Gusman, who confesses to a
life-long romance with the ocean, whereupon his brother told him,
“Come, I will help you.”
“I worked myself up from serving in the crew dining
room to my present position,” he told us. “From the start, I have loved
this company. They take care of everything: medical checkups, flights
to home and back again. At first, I did the 10 months on, 2 months off.
But as an officer, now I do 6 months on, 2 ½ months off.”
The difference in schedule makes for a marked
improvement in the dining room manager’s life, as well as that of his
wife – who is a doctor, and their ten-year-old son. “I could bring my
wife and son on board, but I prefer for them to have a normal life.”
Buddy at the piano
|Gusman and Yen are friends. “Yen
is very popular,” Gusman said. “I’m his boss but he’s also my
friend. On a small ship like Wind Star, all of us are like
Spend a week on Wind Star, and
everyone begins to feel like family. Passengers and crew -- we
all got to know one another. The easiest place to connect was in
the lounge where we gathered for information sessions and then
hung around to listen to Roy John Johnstono, Jr. – known to one
and all simply as Buddy -- on the piano. While, understandably,
the Georgia native was partial to “Georgia on My Mind,” Buddy
could play any song you asked him to – most of the time. And in
the rare case that the request was for an unfamiliar tune, all
you had to do was hum a few bars (like the Noel Coward ballad
“I’ll See You Again”) and Buddy would get it and in a few
minutes have a full, lush arrangement that was then added to a
repertoire with as many choices as the breakfast buffet.
It was in the lounge that Travis LeMarche, the young
destination manager from Edmonton, Canada who became smitten with
wanderlust after a high school trip to some of the same ports the Wind
Star would stop at during this voyage, prepared us for the following
day’s shore excursion. In his casual, easy-going manner, Travis would
project visuals on a huge flat TV screen while describing the history
and highlights of each stopover, the various touring and activity
options available, and the best places to shop and eat.
At night, the ship would stream through the darkness,
often aided by sails unfurled, arriving by morning at a new port. Each
of the five ports was bathed in the particularly beautiful Aegean light
and shared a past where the Greek and Roman worlds of antiquity and the
Byzantine and Ottoman civilizations that followed were still visible and
|One could simply get off the ship when it
was docked at port, or board the regularly run tender when it
was at anchor further out for a swift ride to shore. Hours could
be whiled away in aimless or self-directed exploration, taking
in the universally spectacular scenery, frequenting the shops,
lazing on the beach, or watching the crowds pass by from a table
in a sidewalk café. On the other hand, one could choose from a
range of activities that included tank diving and other sports
activities, cruising through little coves on wooden sailing
boats, luxuriating on the private beach of a five-star hotel,
hiking to the summit of the Santorini volcano, or touring one
of the many ruins, restorations, and archeological treasures in
the heart of the ancient world accompanied by an expert guide.
of volcanic island Santorini
As long-time would-be classicists, our favored choice
consistently fell into this last category. And so we signed up for a
tour of Ephesus, the city on the road from Kusadasi, famed for its
magnificent ruins, excavations, and restorations including the single
remaining pillar of the Temple of Artemis and the remains of the Roman
Library of Celsis. The remains of the Mausoleum of Mausolus, one of the
Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and the underwater archeological
museum were two of the highlights of our private tour of Bodrum aided by
the input of a taxi driver who showed us an ancient amphitheater sitting
off a main road, virtually unnoticed and unannounced.
On the island of Rhodes, we were deeply moved by a
visit to the oldest synagogue in the world. And on the Cycladic island
Delos (reached by boat from Mykonos), we traipsed across what had been
sacred space to the ancient Greeks, the reputed birthplace of Apollo and
Artemis, and the site of sanctuaries and shops where people came to
worship the gods and buy them gifts.
Exploring the ruins, excavations and restorations of
this UNESCO World Cultural Heritage island where, according to our
scholarly guide Kriton Piperas, Socrates and Plato would undoubtedly
have strolled, we got a sense of the overall history and place of Delos
from around the seventh century B.C., through the period of Roman
domination when it became a seaport, and on to the eighth century A.D.
when war left the island ruined, and completely abandoned until the 17th
century when some Greek archeologists came upon its buried treasures.
Ephesus – ruins of the ancient library are in the distance
oldest synagogue in the world on the island of Rhodes
Once again, it was a quick turnaround from past to present when
we caught the last tender out of Mykonos, boarding the Wind Star
in time to get ready for the big event: Barbeque Night.
Multiple grills had been set up on the upper
level of the aft deck where chefs were preparing a feast of
barbequed meats, grilled vegetables and succulent lobster tails.
People gravitated to deck-side tables to sit with friends they
had met over the past few days. At our table, Tom and Margaret
Bullock were telling us how they came to be aboard. “My boss had
been on eleven Wind Star cruises,” Tom said. “I had worked for
him for fifteen years, stuck with him through thick and thin.
Now he came over to me, handed me a brochure and said ‘I want to
send you on a Wind Star cruise. Pick one out.’”
Tom and Margaret were from the wine country near San
Luis Obispo, California. Vic and Janet, professors at Yale, were from
New Haven, Sandy and Don and their son James came from Austin, Texas.
They were but a few of the interesting people in the multi-generational
crowd from across the United States we spent time with and got to know.
Lingering over coffee as the sun set and night was
beginning to fall, we were surprised when suddenly there was music in
the air. It was Buddy at the grand piano which had been moved out of the
lounge onto the deck. Soon dancers, all wearing identical yellow
shirts, emerged in time to the beat. In a minute, we recognized them.
They were the cooks, the stewards, the servers -- a chorus line of the
wonderful people who had made this week possible, demonstrating that
beyond the talents we had observed all week, they could sing and dance
like members of a Broadway cast.
Soon, after an energetic and spirited rendition of
“YMCA,” they were joined by others from the Wind Star family, the deck
and navigation officers, the engineers, Jason Parker – the hotel manager
from Vancouver who grew up planning to be an orthodontist like his
grandfather until he realized what he really wanted to do was cook and
went on to become a chef at Wind Star, moving up before long to being
into in charge of everything on board.
The group was into a complicated line dance now. We
spotted Travis and his wife, the stunning guest service manager Krysti
LeMarche (the couple had met and fallen in love seven years ago on a
cruise out of Rome), the attractive WindSpa trio who make passengers
feel good and look good as well, Dr. Jake, from the Philippines, who
treated a nasty cut one of had, and Windstar’s new product manager
Melissa Witsoe out of Seattle, who came aboard to experience the
excursions and come up with new ideas (organizing a dinner on the site
of the library in Ephesus is one of them).
SCENES FROM BARBEQUE NIGHT
Left to right: Travis LeMarche, Melissa Witsoe and guide Ozgur
Manager Jason Parker
Night: Krystie Le Marche is bottom left
Our favorite: Yen
|How difficult it was after such an evening,
after such a week to disembark at the port in Piraeus the next
morning. But there was no time to linger or look back as our
departure flight from Athens was scheduled to leave at 10:30.
It was 7:30 already; we had yet to be driven to the airport, go
through customs and security and be ready to board in less than
Once again the Wind Star was on top of
everything. Breakfast was served at 6:30 that morning. Our
luggage had been collected the night before. And no sooner was
the ship cleared at the dock, when we were brought to a limo,
driven through the streets of Athens, and escorted by the driver
to the point of check-in at the airport.
Friends: Tom and Margaret Bullock
It was, without exaggeration, royal treatment. We
easily made our flight. But really, when we thought about it, there was
no need to worry. Travis had reassured us everything would work, and as
we saw again and again, Travis is as good as his word.
And so ended a perfect week. For long, we had avoided
so much as the idea of taking a cruise. Now we cannot wait to go on
another – of the Wind Star variety that is, small, intimate, informal,
with serious attention to detail and an environment where everything
That last night, the dancing continued seemingly into
the wee hours with passengers joining in, ending – at last – when the
score of “1492,” the music played when the Wind Star first set sail a
week ago came over the speakers followed by the cast singing a poignant
refrain that ended:
“We are sailing,
We are sailing home again ‘cross the sea
We are sailing stormy waters to be near you, to be
But now, back home in New Hampshire, it is part of a
poem by John Masefield that speaks most clearly to us:
“I must down to the seas again
To the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship
And a star to steer her by . . .”
Photographs by Harvey Frommer
# # #
About the Authors: Myrna Katz Frommer and Harvey Frommer are a wife and husband
team who successfully bridge the worlds of popular culture and traditional
scholarship. Co-authors of the critically acclaimed interactive oral histories
It Happened in the Catskills, It Happened in Brooklyn, Growing Up Jewish in
America, It Happened on Broadway, It Happened in Manhattan, It Happened in
Miami. They teach what they practice as professors at Dartmouth College.
They are also travel writers who specialize in luxury properties and fine dining
as well as cultural history and Jewish history and heritage in the United
States, Europe, and the Caribbean.
about these authors.
You can contact the Frommers at:
This Article is Copyright © 1995 - 2012 by Harvey and Myrna Frommer. All rights