A MAN-EATING dragon is staring in my direction. It looks hungry.
Scared? Well, now you come to mention it . . .
I am on the Indonesian island of Komodo, which gives its name to the giant, leathery lizards that roam free here. They don’t fly or breathe fire but you wouldn’t want to run into one on a dark night, just the same.
“They have only killed ten humans in the past 40 years,” Captain Sergey says, perhaps hoping to reassure guests at the welcome party on Star Clipper, a sleek four-masted sailing ship that turns heads wherever she goes.
She has 36,000 square feet of canvas and a team of svelte young men to hoist the sails. Talk about romantic.
Especially as Vangelis’ stirring Conquest Of Paradise plays each time we set sail. With this rousing clarion call, we dash to the top deck to watch the wind fill the sails. By day three, everyone is an expert sailor.
“He needs more foresail,” one passenger whispers to me, waving an empty wine glass vaguely at the sails before going down to the outdoor bar (the only bar, in fact) to fill up.
Brits are in the majority on my cruise, alongside Americans, Aussies and Germans. We had joined in Bali for this eastbound, island-hopping cruise. It promised a lazy week of sea, sand and sailing in sizzling 30C temperatures.
With plenty of time for dragon-spotting, of course. Owned by a cruise line called Star Clippers, the ship has a yachting-casual dress code and holds 170 passengers in cosy cabins.
But who wants to sit inside when you can relax beneath billowing canvas, or bask in a net hanging from the bowsprit listening to the gentle swish of the waves below?
Or learning to tie knots with the captain? As we set sail, cruise director Andrea goes through a few dos and don’ts.
Do feel free to help the crew hoist the sails. Do feel free to visit the bridge. Don’t climb the masts until we say it is OK. That wasn’t a joke.
Three times during the cruise, a harness comes out so the gung-ho among us can monkey 67 feet up a rope ladder for a view of the ship from the crow’s nest.
First stop after Bali was Santonda, a volcanic island that rewards a steep hike up a crumbling path with stunning views out to sea, followed by a cooling dip in the calm waters below.
Then it is back into the ship’s lifeboats, which ferry us to and from shore each day, up comes the anchor and we are off towards Komodo Island. My fellow passenger Steve, a big reptile fan, flew all the way out from the UK to see the dragons.
So imagine his joy as we set off in search of the fearsome beasties. “Stay together behind me,” warns ranger Jiahadin.
He is armed only with a stick, which doesn’t fill me with confidence given these reptiles are not known for being friendly. They grow 10ft long and eat deer, pigs — even their own young. In fact, juvenile Komodos live up trees until they are old enough to stand and fight or swift enough to leg it.
As the sun beats down, we trek for a couple of hours along some dusty paths, encountering hapless deer destined to be dragon fodder — then spotting four of the giant lizards, including the fearsome fellow I am sure was eyeing me up.
With dragons seen, it is time to return to the serious business of topping up the tan, snorkelling and scuba diving. You can borrow snorkels, masks and fins for free but scuba gear costs extra.
Experts and beginners are put through their paces by Canadian instructor Rene, who lives on the islands.
While others shelled out 45 euros a time for 45-minute dives, I went for a massage with Marietta (56 euros for an hour) in what passes for a spa on Star Clipper.
Forget all that fancy marble on other ships. This is a tent on the top deck with an electric fan to keep us cool. In the circumstances, it is just perfect.
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We enjoy an afternoon on Pink Beach, named after the coral sand tinted by minuscule bugs called foraminifera, then take our pick from a couple of nearby islands, Meno and Trewangan.
But we find out Star Clippers has kept the best for last — a day on Nanggu, a gorgeous do-nothing island with soft, white sand, warm waters teeming with tropical fish and a beach BBQ prepared by the ship’s chefs.
With an hour to go before sunset, we climb back into the lifeboats and watch from afar as the crew hoist the canvas and Star Clipper sails past, Sergey and his officers waving as they balance on the bowsprit. There is not a harness in sight. Now that is yachting-casual.
GETTING / STAYING THERE: A seven-night eastbound cruise round-trip from Benoa in Bali on Star Clipper is from £1,565pp departing June 13 2020 including all meals and port taxes.
Flights and transfers extra.
See starclippers.co.uk or call 0845 200 6145.
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