It was a pleasure to connect with Dr Kenneth Grant, whose two areas of expertise suddenly coincided in our strange coronavirus year, to find out.
The Highlands and Islands of Western Scotland provided an idyllic backdrop for Ken's childhood, before he graduated from medical school in Edinburgh to travel to Ethiopia as a paediatrician for Save the Children, then retrained in tropical medicine, carving out a career for himself as a public health expert working in low and middle income countries around the world.
Returning to Scotland's west coast to relax between stints overseas, Ken loved to sail with his old friend Andy Thoms, and this laid the foundations for an intriguing business partnership, as founders of the tiny Majestic Line.
"Fifteen years ago, hospitality in this area was not like it is now. We loved to sail, walk and climb in the region and wanted to show others just how beautiful it is. But there was nowhere for people to stay, or to eat. So we bought a boat," explained Ken. "It was a little bit of a leap of faith, but we just wanted to share the experience."
Andy's background as an architect meant he was well able to envisage the refitting of the small 24-metre fishing vessel which became Majestic's first vessel, the Glen Massan. A second followed, and then the two traditional vessels were followed by two newbuilds, whose stabilisers enable them to cruise further afield, to St Kilda for example, or even the islands of Orkney.
The unique appeal of these tiny vessels is that they can get away from the crowds, sailing up lochs and into bays that no other cruise ship can access. With good chefs, and top quality ingredients, locally sourced and beyond fresh (the prawn boats come alongside to deliver), the Majestic Line vessels command a high level of loyalty, helped by the varied itineraries, encouraging guests to return year after year.
The Majestic Line was one of the few cruise lines to operate in 2020, and Ken's background in epidemiology was essential when planning a safe return to service. The fact that 2021 is already nearly sold out bears testament to a continuing appetite for travel by sea.
A lifetime of exploring the region has put the team in a great position for itinerary planning, and the Skipper will sit down with the passengers each evening, learning more about their particular interests, in order to tweak plans for the following day. Keen walkers, for example, might be set down in the morning and picked up for lunch, ten miles later. Others are happy to simply sit and watch the world go by, spotting wildlife and soaking up the scenery.
I wondered what lessons Ken and Andy had learnt over these last years. "We've found out what really works," answered Ken, "and that you are only as good as your last cruise. There's no point sitting back and thinking you've cracked it, you need to be 100% all of the time. That level of customer care and quality assurance is easier to achieve when you are operating a small company." Here at Mundy, we couldn't agree more!