Prior to sailing I had been fixated on the Covid protocols and requirements, all the while trying to predict what they would be. In hindsight, I shouldn't have worried. As soon as I embarked and was shown to my cabin, I immediately fell into my old cruise routine: check out the room, pop my head round the bathroom door, then explore the ship whilst I waited for my luggage. Exploring in a mask didn't diminish my excitement, especially as it was a ship I'd never sailed on before, from a cruise line that has only just launched.
In fact, I had just boarded the world's largest sailing ship, the 272-guest Golden Horizon, for a short hop from Portland Harbour to Dover, with two nights to get a taster of brand new line Tradewind Voyages. I have to say my first impression was particularly good. Spotting the ship you're about to join is always exciting, but seeing the five masts rising above the harbour was particularly special. Stepping aboard, it wasn't just the smartly dress crew that impressed. The dark woods and rich tones of the interior spaces immediately conveyed the nautical pedigree of the ship. The stunning multi-level dining room, topped by the piano bar, offered a space that seemed to defy the diminutive size of the ship, with the central atrium illuminated by the light pouring in through the glass-bottomed pool sitting directly above the grand central captain's table.
My Deluxe Cabin was decorated in the same style as the rest of the ship, and a dramatic seascape hung over the bed, a theme that was repeated throughout the ship with paintings and nautical knick-knacks adorning the corridors. The room had a comfortable seating area, small balcony and good size bathroom with Jacuzzi bath.
Although Golden Horizon is a new ship, some design choices seemed slightly retro. The use of a shower curtain was a little puzzling, and the space taken up by the bidet could have been put to better use, but there was an real charm about the décor, with little touches like the octopus candelabra found in the suites.
The impressive deck space is complemented by a small bar with seating, which made the perfect spot to while away the early evening sunshine under the huge masts. Here we watched the huge sails slowly unfurl to a score specially composed for the ship. At sea the following day, the sails took on a luminescence in the bright sunshine, an amazing sight that quickly attracts attention, as was demonstrated by the fact that a small plane circled us several times in order to get a better look.
The facilities on board centre around the water, and at their heart is the marina, which can be deployed from the aft of the ship. As well as the 12 stand-up-paddleboards, which double as wind surfers, there are 4 dinghies, 9 double and triple inflatable kayaks, and long, short and winter wetsuits. Chargeable activities include the Seabobs and diving, with the intention to offer a variety of PADI courses on board, depending on the itinerary. To aid this there is a dedicated dive pool accessed from the upper deck, with windows through to the function room for entertaining views. Other facilities include a small gym, spa, and a library that could have been used as a set for Hornblower, along with a boutique and a small whisky and gin bar.
And what of those Covid protocols? Well, they were little different to those that we have become so used to in everyday life. All guests took a rapid antigen test portside before embarkation, a simple 30-minute socially distanced process organised by Tradewind Voyages. Masks were worn by staff when social distancing was not possible and guests were asked to do the same when moving about the ship. Masks were not needed when dining, seated in the bar or when outside, and different households were able to dine together, so it was very similar to 'normal', just without a buffet. In fact, I quickly forgot all about the protocols and enjoyed being at sea under sail. It was just a shame it wasn't for longer!