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If ever I have to take a slow boat to China I will choose one with a bowsprit.

It's one of the most comfortable places on earth in which I have slept.

Beneath each bowsprit - the pole that sticks out of the front of a ship - hangs a net. And it was to here that I liked to head most days while cruising from Phuket in Thailand to Singapore.

Ideally, there would have been dolphins playing beneath me. But lying there, looking down at the aquamarine Andaman Sea, or up at the giant sails billowing in warm winds, was enough.

Each time, as we bounced soundlessly from wave to wave, I snoozed easily.

But this type of cruising is very different to those giant ships that shuttle in and out of exotic ports in the Caribbean, the Med, and the Far East.

The Star Flyer, a traditional clipper on which my wife and I were sailing, accommodates no more than 170 and is much more informal.

At the end of a week I was as relaxed as I have ever been on holiday.

The cabins, comfortable without being luxurious, are air-conditioned and cleverly appointed. There's a shower in the corner, a loo next to it and a basin in front. Getting two together in there can be a lot of fun!

And the large bed was terrific. With the movement of the sea, you are literally rocked to sleep.

But not all is perfect. The two swimming pools are too small and have portholes in them which allow others to view your nether regions. If you look like my wife, that's fine. If you're my size, it's not.

Another disappointment was the food. Both the times at which it was served (not flexible enough) and the quality.

There was nothing intrinsically wrong with what was on offer - the curries were delicious and a leg of lamb that I had was superb - but it wasn't terribly exciting.

My anticipation of cruise food was that lobsters were on offer for breakfast, caviar was there for the taking and hardship was being offered NV champagne instead of the vintage variety.

Well, champers is available, but at a price. There's no caviar, and lobster (the tail part) was on offer just once. Other things need sharpening up.

Too often the ship arrived at an island, weighed anchor and waited a long time before we were ferried ashore. This was a pity as the beaches were exquisite.

I've never seen whiter sand or bluer seas and they were so remote, we were just about on our own. But promised beach barbecues did not materialise, and powerboats to take us water-skiing did not appear to be working.

Personally, I wasn't too fussed as this voyage allowed me to scuba dive. I learned the basics earlier this year in St Lucia but this diving in Ko Surin and Similan, off the west Thailand coast, was better.

It's a bit scary at first but with a qualified instructor you're taught properly and very carefully and the experience opens up a whole new world of beauty, colour and imagination.

Diving, for me, is sensual and exciting and worth all the fear that goes with it. Sharks are often nearby and there's the thought that your air could run out when you're 20 metres down.

But if you like the idea of swimming alongside ten million multi-coloured fish in an aquarium this sport has to be for you.


British Airways Holidays (tel: 01293 723 171) one-week cruise in a Category 4 Cabin (based on full board), BA flights to and from Bangkok and Singapore, plus Thai Airways from Bangkok to Phuket, all transfers and a day room in Singapore from pounds 1985 per person. The supplement to upgrade to a Category 2 cabin is pounds 189 per person.
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Copyright 1996 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Author:Whitaker, James
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Dec 28, 1996
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