Tradewind Voyages’ chief executive Stuart McQuaker talks Lucy Huxley through the new line’s plans
Stuart McQuaker has been sailing since he was eight years old.
Because of his love of the sea, he joined the Royal Navy and became a commanding officer of HMS Northumberland, and commander and executive officer of HMS Illustrious.
He later worked for the Ministry of Defence in charge of port operations, before entering the commercial world of sailing, as chief operating officer of Saga Cruises.
Most recently, he was working for the Nigerian Ports Authority in Lagos. Until, that is, he got a call from Croatia from a headhunter for privately-owned company, the DIV Group.
“I was approached back in October last year,” he recalls. “They were looking for a CEO for a cruise company. I thought I’d take a look and the defining moment for me was when I got the information that the vessel was the biggest square-rigged sailing ship in the world.
“The sea and sailing are my passion. I’ve done nothing else. The opportunity to combine the professional side of me with sailing was just too great. I wanted to be part of it.”
A new cruise line, Tradewind Voyages, was born and on January 1, 2020, McQuaker, armed with just a desk, computer and phone, set about recruiting a team and creating a business.
Some well-known faces from the cruise industry were quick to come on board, including Jeremy McKenna – formerly of NCL and P&O Cruises – to oversee sales; Amanda Norey (nee Darrington), formerly of Royal Caribbean and Kuoni, to run marketing; and Oliver Hammerer, formerly of Carnival UK and Holland America, to look after the product.
A total of 15 staff are being recruited to launch and run the new venture, which has big ambitions, according to McQuaker.
“It’s clear the owner has aspirations for up to four ships,” he revealed. “It’s already started the process.
“Assuming this goes well, we’ll look to cut steel on the next ship in about a year’s time. And we will be doing our own thing a bit more [next time]. Being a tall ship with traditional sails, we would retain the feel of the hull, but we would be having a significant look inside and we would make it 10 meters bigger,” he revealed, adding that this was all possible, since DIV Group also owns its own shipyard.
For now, the Tradewind Voyages team are focused on their first ship, the 272-passenger, five-masted Golden Horizon, which is set to sail in May next year, offering an initial nine Northern European voyages from Harwich and Glasgow in 2021, before transferring to Asia in the autumn.
The ship, which has a polar classification, is then expected to feature destinations including Australia, the Indian Ocean, Japan, Alaska, the Americas and the Pacific Islands in late 2021 and 2022.
Commenting on the itineraries, McQuaker said: “Our starting point is the old-fashioned admiralty routing charts, which are available for around the world for the different months. And they show in a traditional, non-electronic way, where the winds are going to be coming from, and what the currents are going to be doing at different stages in different parts of the world.
“Because our philosophy is about using the wind and the currents to power the ship, we start with those charts, and we look at where is nature taking us. Nature’s designing the itinerary,” he said.
After its initial ex-UK series, McQuaker described Golden Horizon’s route.
“The ship will sail through the Suez Canal, stopping at a number of places on route, around the bottom of Yemen up to Muscat. Then we’ll go across to the west coast of India and we’ll be there at a time when the currents will be leading us south.
“The wind will be helping us we’ll just gently, slowly meander our way down the coastline alternating between iconic ports and beautiful remote beaches, before popping around the bottom. We’ll go onto Sri Lanka; to the beautiful Andaman Islands, and then down the Malacca Straits as far as Singapore.
“For the significant majority of that route, we’re going to be helped by nature, and that’s what we believe people will be wanting to do,” he said, commenting that more sustainable travel was a growing trend, and that Covid-19 would also make people hanker after less crowded and more remote holiday options.
“In terms of the pandemic situation, we all, across the industry, have to see where that’s going to go. But I do genuinely think, where people might have concerns about going on a cruise but really want to, they might look at a smaller ship, very much focused on large spaces of open deck. I think they will look at what we’re offering and think, ‘Well, you can’t get much more fresh air and an isolation than this’,” he said.
“We’re not taking the ship to the places with the massive cruise terminals and the hustle and bustle of thousands of people vying to get on and off hundreds of buses. We’re going to remote places with a small number of passengers. So I think when they see these vast teak open decks, people will feel ‘now this is different’.”
McQuaker added that he was in the very early stages of looking at his land excursions.
“We will be seeing a sustainability element and an eco-element to these that will sit more comfortably with our ship and with the sort of people that are going to want to come and sail with us,” he said.
McQuaker said Tradewind Voyages was focused solely on the UK & Ireland as a source market at this stage, and that he expected 95% of sales to come via the trade.
“The plan is to sell this beautiful ship 95% through agents. We will have capability to access some direct sales, but in the main, we are hoping agents and their customers will be excited by something new and fresh coming to market,” he said.
McQuaker said he hoped to invite as many agents as possible to see Golden Horizon when she is in the UK next year.
But until then, he described what it is like to sail on a 35-sail sailing ship, to whet their appetites.
“This fabulous, majestic sailing ship can sail at a good speed and has beautiful open decks that people can sit on and watch the sails, pulling their weight; taking the ship forward.
“There’s something very different about a sailing ship to a large, power-driven ship and there’s a moment when you come out of harbour, the sails are being unfurled, which could be quite noisy, especially in a good wind. So it’s a noisy experience, there’s a bit of rattling going on. And then the ship either turns or the sheets are pulled in and the sails fill, and they billow out and suddenly there’s a bit more peace,” he said.
“And then the ship lifts a little out of the water because sails tend to pull the ship up out of the water, whereas, propellers drag the ship down into the water, so you get this really uplifting feeling. And then you can feel the strain on the halyards and the shrouds and the sheets, and maybe hear a little bit of tweaking of very tight ropes.
“When you couple this with the shutting down of the engines as the wind starts to move this amazing vessel forward, and it’s just a really special moment of being at one with the elements; and just the peace and calm of those wonderful seas and oceans that we’ll be taking the ship to.”
And McQuaker stressed that Golden Horizon would be offering a luxury experience.
“We’ve even made some adjustments to the ship to recognise that to give the sort of experience we want our guests to have, to give them the right service levels, we felt we needed to rebalance a little bit between the number of passengers and the number of crew available.
“And so unusually, we have chosen to take some of the passenger cabins out of the inventory and we’ll be using those for some of the lucky crew who are going to get a very nice cabin. But it means that the bar service and the dining room services, and the housekeeping services can all just be at a slightly higher level than perhaps was originally conceived,” he explained.
Urging agents to get behind the launch, he concluded: “The ship speaks for itself. I’ve yet to meet somebody who has heard about what we’re going to do, and particularly seen some of our promotional video material, that hasn’t just immediately fallen in love.”