Luxury small ship line Ponant has pulled off a major coup, bringing its three-masted sailing ship Le Ponant to The Kimberley in a unique partnership with the Paspaley pearl family.
The yacht, which has recently undergone a major refit to create an ultra-luxe vessel for just 32 passengers, will sail unique itineraries – and guests will be ferried to the ship using the Paspaley family’s three Grumman Mallard Flying Boats.
The arrival of Le Ponant to the iconic location will create images that will go around the world. The flagship of Ponant’s small-ship luxury expedition fleet will join Le Laperouse and Le Soleal to create a major player in one of Australia’s most picturesque regions and will undoubtedly attract high-end world tourism.
The Kimberley is a hugely competitive market, with Coral Expeditions, APT and True North sailing there – and Scenic’s ultra-lux Eclipse yacht will also be in the area in 2023.
However, a three-masted sailing ship is an entirely new experience. And coupling that experience with the Paspaley seaplanes creates an amazing sense of luxury that others will find it hard to replicate.
The idea to bring the sailing ship to Australia came from Ponant Asia Pacific Chair Sarina Bratton, who approached the chair of the French company which owns the fleet with a plan to have the ship year-round with cruises in The Kimberley from April to October, and in South East Asian regions like Rajah Ampat in Indonesia, PNG and Melanesia for the remainder of the year.
Le Ponant, at 89 metres and built in 1991, offers 16 staterooms and suites with one crew member per guest and a dedicated chef preparing fine gastronomic food showcasing the local culinary heritage.
She has habitually sailed the Mediterranean – and getting her into Australia was no mean feat. She features a marina for Zodiacs, kayaks and glass bottomed boats, a wellness space for spa, massage and yoga, and the Le Diamant panoramic restaurant.
Ms Bratton told Cruise Passenger at the launch of Le Ponant’s first visit Down Under that she presented the idea to Ponant, part of the Groupe Artemis company which owns a huge portfolio of brands including Gucci and YSL, earlier this year. Despite the extraordinary nature of the plan, the company quickly approved it.
“This unique experience will see the third ship of the Ponant fleet to be based in the Asia Pacific region showcasing Australia, promoting sustainability at sea and creating compelling travel experiences in barefoot luxury,” she said.
Prices will range from $3,000 per night, and the vessel is expected to attract both Australians and international guests, with some families already suggesting they might charter her.
Ponant’s director of Expeditions Mick Fogg said the size of the sailing vessel meant it would be free to plot its own course through The Kimberley’s many small-ship locations.
“We have created these very special sailings with flexile itineraries allowing us to design the best possible experience for guests…each voyage will offer a combination of iconic locations and hidden gems,” he said.
He told Cruise Passenger a sailing ship offered a slower pace to enjoy the beauty of the destination as well as the ability to visit locations that others couldn’t.
The vessel will operate out of Kuri Bay – owned by the Paspaley family, former investors in Ms Bratton’s own luxury expedition line, Orion. The bay is home to the family’s fleet of three vintage Grumman Mallard flying boats.
The planes will ferry guests to and from their embarkation points. The seven and eight night itineraries begin on April 7, 2023, and feature journeys from Kununurra to Broome.
Le Ponant attained global headlines in 2008 when she was seized by Somali pirates and her 30-strong crew were taken hostage. There were no passengers on board.
The hostages were released and French special forces tracked down the pirates and recovered some of the ransom money paid for the crew’s release.
The vessel has recently left the shipyard after a major refit to reduce the number of staterooms and make her even more sustainable and environmentally friendly.