New cruise line Tradewind Voyages has launched the spectacular five-masted ship Golden Horizon and Our Man On The Ground was on the inaugural sailing.
“This has been my dream since I was a boy,” says Captain Mariusz Szalek as he looks up at Golden Horizon’s creamy sails spread over five masts that with a surface area of 6,400 square metres – enough to cover a football pitch.
It’s a far cry from the dinghy he first sailed in his native Poland which had a three-square-metre sail. Captain Szalek, who hails from Poland and first sailed a tall ship in 1985 when he was a student at Gdynia Maritime University, is now at the helm of the world’s largest square-rigged sailing vessel. A near replica of the 1913 vessel French II, it attracts lots of attention wherever we go. Even in Cowes, the yachting capital of the world where all manner of craft from sleek gin palaces to heritage boats are commonplace, locals take photos from the shore and curious sailors draw alongside for a closer look.
Tradewind Voyages was created to launch this spectacular ship onto the cruise market and aims to sail up to 70% of the time across the sailing season, with itineraries curated to follow the sun and make the best use of prevailing winds and ocean currents.
“The definition of a sailing ship is one that can do more under sail than engines,” explains Captain Szalek as I chat to him outside the wheelhouse. Both seasoned sailors and landlubbers will find out all manner of fascinating facts and figures during their time on Golden Horizon. Unlike most cruise ships, where officers and passengers rarely mix, the ship operates an ‘open bridge’ policy where guests are welcome to talk and chat to officers as long as they are not involved in navigational manoeuvres, such as arriving and departing from port.
“Golden Horizon can reach a speed of 17 knots under sail and some 14 knots through the engines,” he continues, as the deck crew busy themselves around ropes and winches to set the sails attached to masts of up to 62 metres.
It was certainly a spellbinding moment when the sails were raised for the first time as we sailed out of Dover on Golden Horizon’s maiden voyage along a stretch of the UK coast. They slowly unfurled to stirring ‘sailaway’ music that was special composed for Tradewind Voyages. It was a thrilling sight and an experience utterly different from anything you get on mainstream cruise ships. I’m sure I wasn’t the only person to feel the hairs stand up on the back of my neck.
Carrying a maximum of 272 passengers in cabins that all face the sea, including some with balconies and some for solo travellers, it’s easy to get to know your fellow shipmates, too. They’re an interesting bunch on our cruise; many with a passion for sailing, some that have had naval careers and others simply looking for a cruise experience with a real difference. Tales are swapped over late afternoon canapés and cocktails and continued with sundowners at the Pool Bar. And with free-flowing complimentary wine and beer at lunch and dinner in the main restaurant, it’s probably no surprise the on board vibe is so convivial.
For those who can drag themselves away from the ship there are optional for-fee excursions in every port. On our maiden voyage many chose to stay on board and soak up the ambiance of an extra special sailing on a unique ship that, on the surface, harks back to the golden age of sailing. There is polished wood and gleaming brass throughout and nautical prints and framed maritime prose line the walls. These blend effortlessly with contemporary amenities for modern-day seafarers including USB charging points, Wi-Fi, tea and coffee making facilities.
Meals are served in the handsome two-deck dining room that forms the heart of the ship that’s filled with natural light from the swimming pool overhead. The food is good with varied choices each day, including vegetarian and vegan options, and an ‘always available menu’ of salad, chicken, fish or steak. Lighter bites are available in the Horizon Grill which is outside on the Main Deck and a great spot on fine days. Eagerly awaited canapés and cakes are served daily in the Piano Lounge at teatime, and along with the early riser’s breakfast there’s no danger of going hungry.
On Golden Horizon the whole experience revolves around the vessel itself, so don’t expect all-singing all-dancing entertainment. There’s a resident pianist and musical duo, quizzes, informative talks and films in the function room. By the end of the week, I know the difference between a jib and a square sail, how nautical speed was first gauged from a piece of rope with knots tied at equal distances and, most importantly, when the sun was over the yardarm to justify the first drink of the day, which is fortuitously much earlier than I had thought!
If you’re feeling energetic there’s a gym and the chance to try your hand at deck quoits, knot tying and curling. For an extra buzz the ship has a marina platform, which is used when conditions allow, with free watersports equipment such as snorkels and paddleboards that are free to use. Particularly innovative is the 4.35 metre dive pool where passengers can have a taster scuba diving session or take the complete plunge and embark on a PADI-certified course.
One day I treat myself to a deep tissue massage in the spa, where passengers can also find a steam room, sauna and novel snow grotto to cool off. Unlike many large cruise ships where treatments are cookie cutter affairs – often with the masseuse commenting on my knotted shoulder muscles which makes me feel even more stressed and then followed by an equally tense full-on hard sell to buy products – this one is as different as the ship itself. The expert therapist personalises the treatment as without any withering comments he pinpoints spots that need the most work, even wrapping my customary chilly feet in warm towels. It was blissful.
Back on deck I have a final conversation with Captain Szalek. Since 2007 he has been master of some of the tallest and largest passenger sailings in the world and he’s certainly at the pinnacle of his career, in every sense, on Golden Horizon. But tells me he still has one ambition left.
“It is my dream to sail Golden Horizon around Cape Horn,” he says. Now that really would be something for him to write home about.
Tel: +44 (0)808 239 9289
On Board Facilities: One restaurant, casual al fresco dining, four bars, swimming pool, sun deck, spa, gym and free Wi-Fi.
Number of Cabins: 140 cabins
Price Band: Medium to high
Insider Tip: If you’re celebrating a special occasion or simply want to push the boat out, book one of the owner’s suites. There are just four of these 53 square metre suites, with balconies, located in a great spot towards the front of the ship on the upper deck. They have a large separate sitting room and bathroom with a bathtub. Perks include butler service, 24-hour room service, daily canapés, complimentary laundry and minibar.
Reviewer’s Rating: 8/10
Factfile: Golden Horizon offers cruises in Europe, the Mediterranean, Arabia, Indonesia and Australasia. Fares cover all meals, drinks with lunch and dinner, Wi-Fi, flights, transfers and gratuities. The seven-night Venetian & Adriatic Discovery itinerary along the Croatian coastline, taking in the Kornati Islands national park and with stops including Pula with its Roman ruins, the fishing port of Rovinj and Venice, starts from £1,649.
Known as the ‘River Cruise Queen’, Jeannine Williamson is an award-winning travel writer, cruise expert and our cruise correspondent, who has clocked up thousands of nautical miles.
Photographs by Tradewind Voyages and Jeannine Williamson