Golden Horizon Raises Sail
Leaden skies over Dover’s famous chalk cliffs had dashed hopes for the billed “sunset sailaway,” but as a gentle breeze flicked the sails of Golden Horizon and her magnificent frame nudged out of port, excitement rippled across her upper deck.
A cruise along the south coast of the British Isles had never been on my holiday agenda. For a start it would mean cruising on home turf (I live on the south coast of England) and, more to the point, hot tubs and billowing sails call for Caribbean skies and sultry Mediterranean sunsets — not the English Channel. But in a summer season where windows of short-haul travel felt like a privilege, I was simply happy to be at sea again, let alone on a ship as handsome as Golden Horizon.
Sailing on Golden Horizon
Her classic square-rigged design is based on the 1913-built France II — the second-largest commercial sailing ship ever made. This new model is the world’s largest square-rigged sailing ship, but it doesn’t take a title to fall under her spell. Criss-crossed by lines,
her 162-foot-long deck, with its museum-worthy display of polished brass, blocks and tackles, pulleys and ladders, winches and jammers, and nautical knotting, would make a ship chandler weep. Above rides a disjointed curtain of creamy sail cloth — more than 68,000 square feet of it — whipped and stitched and hanging in the breeze.
A paean to traditional seafaring, perhaps, but there are brains behind this beauty. “She was built to sail without propulsion whenever possible,” said Captain Mariusz Szalek, when I went to tour the bridge. Her maximum “under sail” speed of 17 knots is faster than the four-deck ship moves on engine power only (16 knots). Factor in the fuel saving — up to 8.8 tons per day when sailing at full power — and Golden Horizon sounds like a sustainable proposition.
Built in Croatia and operated by new line Tradewinds, Golden Horizon’s debut season should’ve taken her to the Mediterranean and Croatian coasts. It was not to be, however, and she would instead find her sea legs in the English Channel — pottering between Dover, the Isle of Wight, Portland (Dorset), Poole (Dorset), Torquay (Devon), and Harwich (Essex).
Judging by the happy faces and energetic toasting of “bon voyage” cocktails, the other passengers were as delighted as me to be “on holiday” once more, for this short Cowes Week sailing. The friendly, competent crew, beetling about like wound-up bath toys, seemed equally happy to be on the move.
When sailing full, Golden Horizon carries a maximum of 272 passengers in 140 suites and deluxe balcony and outside cabins. Dark wood veneer accented by jewel blues, reds, and gold furnishings channel a traditional nautical vibe. Two single beds in a cozy, but comfy cabin with a pair of porthole windows left little wiggle room but we found a place for everything: likewise in the bijou, shiny bathroom.
The First Morning
Our first morning dawned overcast and still. An overnight sail had taken us into the Solent, just off the port of Cowes, in time for day one of the popular Cowes Week sailing regatta. COVID restrictions kept us at sea, where our ship bobbed like a Dutch Master among Picassos, affording its passengers a front-row view of the preliminary races.
It was a good day to put the ship’s pools and Marina Deck through their paces. The marina platform opens at the stern where, under the keen eye of the water-sports team, a handful of passengers were kayaking or learning how to maneuver a stand-up paddleboard. “Sweep the paddle like an arc,” demonstrated crew member James. One by one, they all fell in. “It’s all about having a go, isn’t it?” one 70-something told me afterwards, insisting I WhatsApp my picture of him to his son.
As well as being equipped with water toys, wetsuits, and snorkel and dive gear, Golden Horizon is the first cruise ship to sail with a Deep Dive pool. Guests can sign up for a one-on-one try dive, a PADI course (itinerary permitting), or benefit from a quick dive refresher. The glass-walled tank drops 18 feet. I watched Dive Master Ash and 12-year-old Helena descend before running down to the small theater to take underwater shots for Helena’s mom.