Meet the man at the helm
Luxury Scotland caught up with Ken Charleson, Managing Director at Hebridean Island Cruises, and quizzed him about the Hebridean Princess as well as his top Scottish sailing destination.
Tell us about the history of the Hebridean Princess?
She was commissioned by the Scottish Office in 1962 at the height of the Cold War and built at Hall Russell in Aberdeen. She was one of three sister ships, of which she is the only survivor. They were built as Citadel Ships to be used by the Government and Royal Family in case of nuclear attack. Launched as MV Columba in 1964, she was leased and operated as a car ferry by MacBrayne, later Caledonian MacBrayne, from 1964 until she was retired in 1988. She was then sold and converted to Hebridean Princess, with her first sailing being May 1989. Therefore, she continues to sail the waters of Scotland’s west coast and Western Isles, the waters she was built to sail. Now she sails with just a maximum of 50 guests, in somewhat more comfort, than the 50 cars and 870 guests she used to be able to carry.
What made you choose to work in the hospitality industry?
While studying Civil Engineering at Strathclyde University I took a part time job behind the bar in my local hotel and thought it was wonderful and exciting. I then explored how you progressed within the industry and transferred to the Scottish Hotel School, part of Strathclyde University and studied for my degree in Hotel Management.
What do you enjoy most about your role?
Being part of a unique product and seeing so many returning guests. Around 75% of our guests have sailed with us before, which is very satisfying.
What makes the Hebridean Princess so unique?
The ship itself is the destination, she is one of a kind. I do really believe however that it is our staff that make her unique. Both the on board crew and the office staff who are the guests’ first point of contact when making their bookings, all provide a service which is both personal and professional and this makes us stand out from the crowd.
What size of crew do you have?
We have 37 crew and at least one on-board guide on the ship at any one time. Many of the crew work three weeks on and three weeks off which means we require two people in most positions which can be a challenge.
Which is your favourite Scottish itinerary and why?
We operate around 38 cruises each season and many of them are different each year. For me personally it is any itinerary that includes St Kilda. This is the most remote part of the British Isles and Britain’s only double UNSECO World Heritage Site. It is truly spectacular and the wildlife, some of which is unique to the archipelago, is stunning.
Any particular plans / hopes/news for 2022?
I think our hopes are the same as the rest of the hospitality industry - to have as normal a year in 2022 as we can following the last two years. We had to stop operating in March 2020 with the first lockdown and were not permitted to start sailing again until 19thJuly 2021, that is a long time not to see our guests.
Any special offer you’d like to make to the Luxury Scotland database for a 2022 booking?
We have very limited availability in 2022 but we would be happy to offer Luxury Scotland Database 5% off any 2022 Hebridean Princess cruise.
For more information, visit the Hebridean Island Cruises website here.