In cruising terms, nothing embodies this spirit quite like the class of ships we refer to as the 'Hundred Club', a loose and eclectic grouping of vessels that accommodate up to a hundred guests, or thereabouts.
This niche within a niche is the sweet spot for many small ship aficionados, guaranteeing an intimacy and a camaraderie that even a relatively petite 500-guest vessel can't match. On a very small ship you can expect a highly personalised level of service, with the crew quickly getting to know your name and your favourite drink, and you'll be able to dock in the very smallest of fishing ports, hidden coves and yachting harbours.
In September we were saddened to hear that one of our favourite ships within this category, the 62-guest yacht Crystal Esprit, had been sold to an undisclosed buyer. This buyer turned out to be adventure specialist Lindblad Expeditions, who are refurbishing the ship with plans to deploy her in the Galapagos. How this ageing vessel copes with the Pacific swell remains to be seen, and once she gets there she will be competing with several other new ships in the archipelago.
Silversea's 100-guest Silver Origin recently replaced the Silver Galapagos, and is based on the same design as Royal Caribbean stablemate Celebrity Flora. In May 2022 Aqua Expeditions are set to launch their first ship in the Galapagos, the 16-guest superyacht Aqua Mare. This is smaller than we would usually recommend in the Galapagos, as you will not have the same breadth of expertise amongst your guides compared to a larger vessel, but this would be a lovely option for a small private charter.
The expedition sector is currently seeing astonishing growth, and the nature of expedition cruising is such that the majority of the new ships coming onto the market fall into the Hundred Club bracket. Aurora Expeditions' second XBOW ship, the 132-guest Sylvia Earle, launches in 2022, while the rebooted Swan Hellenic's expedition ships clock in at 152 guests.
But ultra-small ship cruising isn't all about expedition travel, and there are some intriguing new options for those who prefer a more relaxed cruising experience. Emerald's first ocean yacht, the 100-guest Emerald Azzurra, is due to make her debut in the Red Sea at the end of January 2022, and will be joined by sister ship Emerald Sakara in 2023. Emerald Sakara's first four voyages will explore the Seychelles, well worth a look for those who were disappointed by the withdrawal of Crystal Esprit from the region.
Other new warm water options include Sea Cloud's new 135-guest sailing ship Sea Cloud Spirit, which resumes operations in the Canary Islands in April 2022 after a winter break, before spending summer in the Mediterranean and Northern Europe, then crossing the Atlantic to the Caribbean and Costa Rica.
Closer to home, Hebridean Island Cruises have acquired the Lord of the Highlands, a former Aegean ferry that has undergone a remarkable transformation. Small enough to transit the intricate waters and impossibly tight locks of the Caledonian Canal, whilst still able to go to sea, albeit in the sheltered waters around Scotland's beautiful west coast, this little ship carries a maximum of 40 guests.
The refurbished interiors have the elegant feel of a vintage Pullman carriage, and you can expect the same relaxed house party atmosphere that makes cruising on the Hebridean Princess such a joy.