From the tips of the masts to the depths of the diving pool Golden Horizon offers a unique way to explore the world, Jeannine Williamson explores it all.
“Do you snore?” asks Craig Smith as I wriggle my way into a wetsuit. It might be a surprising opening gambit, but my hesitant response that I have allegedly been known to at times elicits a positive reaction. “That’s good, it means you are used to breathing through your mouth,” he says with a smile.
Next I perch on the edge of Golden Horizon’s 4.35 metre dive pool Craig runs through the equipment and techniques that will come in useful for my taster scuba diving session, which include pretending to be like a baby orangutan kissing its mother as I get to grips with getting my lips around the mouthpiece that will enable me to breathe underwater. A few minutes later we are submerged in the pool – a unique feature on the ship and akin to a human aquarium as the glass walls and base are visible to anyone in the conference room or shop. But I’m far too engrossed to notice, and Craig’s sense of humour and professionalism makes the whole thing great fun.
Back on deck, Craig, who works as a diving instructor on the Costa del Sol, said: “It is really unusual to have this type of facility on a cruise ship. It gives beginners loads more confidence to learn in a confined environment than at sea and passengers can go on to take a PADI course during their cruise combining dives in the pool with sea dives.”
I joined Golden Horizon’s inaugural sailing along the British coast before the vessel follows the wind, ocean currents and sun to different climes. The pool is one of the many experiences that make this a one-of-a-kind vessel. Operated by new line Tradewind Voyages, the vessel is the world’s largest square-rigged sailing ship with five masts soaring towards the sky to a height of 62 metres and 35 sails totalling 6,400 square metres – enough to cover a football pitch.
When conditions allow, Golden Horizon is propelled by the wind to speeds of up to 17 knots, faster than it can achieve under engine power. I never tire of watching the crew members set the sails; an operation involving, to the unqualified eye, an intricate web of ropes – or lines to give them their nautical name – and winches. It is a truly spectacular sight.
From the outside, Golden Horizon, which was built at the Brodosplit Shipyard in Croatia, is a near replica of the 1913-built ocean vessel, France II. Inside the surprising capacious and almost Tardis-like there is an expanse of gleaming wood and shining brass fittings that combine retro nautical styling with modern day comforts.
Far more than just a means of getting from A to B, the experience is based around the ship. Indeed, some passengers preferred to stay on board at various ports of call rather than opt for the excursions offered in every port.
In keeping with the whole character of the ship, the daily activities, of which there are plenty, are low-key. You can expect dawn exercise sessions on the open deck, lectures on seafaring and the history of the destinations visited, knot tying classes, deck quoits, and music from the resident duo and pianist who plays a striking white grand in main lounge.
Various experts join cruises and in our case they included David Graham, the chairman of GlenWyvis Distillery, who cut a dash as he walked around on deck in his kilt. Originally Golden Horizon’s maiden voyage was due to visit Scotland, but restrictions on cruise ships meant a rearrangement of plans.
Instead, David hosted engaging whisky tasting sessions off the coast of England and told the story of the distillery in the Scottish Highlands that was established in 2015, almost 90 years since Dingwall’s last distillery closed in 1926. GlenWyvis revived the town’s distilling tradition, made its own history by offering locals and whisky-lovers shares to become the first-ever community-owned distillery. They brew boutique gin there, too.
If you’re feeling energetic, Golden Horizon has a marina deck that extends from the back of the ship and includes complimentary snorkelling, paddleboarding, kayaking and windsurfing. For those who prefer to relax, there is a well-stocked library and games room. It should be noted that you need to be fairly active and mobile to make the most of the ship, as there are no lifts.
When it’s time to eat, Golden Horizon has a magnificent dining room spread over two decks, big enough to seat all 272 passengers and open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Earlybird pastries and fruit are served at the 24/7 tea and coffee station in the lounge bar, and al fresco dining is available in the Tropical Bar. One of my favourite spots was the convivial pool bar on the sun deck; a great spot to meet passengers and watch the sunset. My fellow shipmates, many of them silver travellers, were an interesting crowd, including retired Royal Navy officers and yachtsmen as well as those with no sailing experience who simply want to experience the thrill of sailing on a tall ship.
Unlike large ships, where it is a rarity to meet – let alone talk to – the captain and officers, this is the norm on Golden Horizon. They are happy to chat all things nautical and unless the ship is leaving or entering port, or carrying out technical manoeuvres, passengers can even go into the wheelhouse. Captain Mariusz Szalek’s first experience with a square-rigged sailing ship was in 1985 when he was a student at a Polish maritime university. He told me it was a dream come true to be at the helm of Golden Horizon.
When it’s time to for bed, the 140 cabins reflect the nautical vibe of the rest of the ship, range from singles to four large suites with balconies. The majority of them have portholes, which really adds to the atmosphere.
On the last night I have no idea if I snore, but with the motion of the ship I am once again gently rocked like a baby into a deep sleep. And Golden Horizon certainly is a ship to dream about.
Golden Horizon sails in Europe, the Mediterranean, Arabia, Indonesia and Australasia. Fares include meals, snacks, drinks with lunch and dinner, Wi-Fi, flights, transfers and gratuities. This September the ship will explore the Croatian Islands with three voyages from Split to Venice. Part of the Owner’s Collection of itineraries, the seven-night Venetian & Adriatic Discovery cruise starts from £1,649.
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Tradewind Voyages.