Hebridean Sky is seen passing Zaandam near the Hem-ferry at her passage of the Northsea Canal. She is for the first time on her way towards Amsterdam and the date of the picture is the 30th of september 2019.
In 1989, the Fearnley & Eger Group founded the cruisecompany Renaissance Cruises to create an alternative for the ever growing number of larger cruiseliners of the day. For the new line, they ordered a series of eight smaller cruiseyaughts in semi-luxury style for a small number of passengers. The ships were going to be built in two sets of four, the first four were built at the Cantieri Navale Ferrari-Signani wharf in La Spezia, Italy under the inventive names of Renaissance I, Renaissance II, Renaissance III and Renaissance IV. They had space aboard for 100 passengers and 72 crew and measures 4077 tons. These first four ships were easily identifiable due to their iconic double-winged funneldesign. This way, exhausts were deflected from the ships decks. The next set of four ships was built at another wharf, the Nuevi Cantieri Apunia at Carrera, Italy and they recieved the names Renaissance V, Renaissance VI, Renaissance VII and Renaissance VIII. They were slightly bigger with a slightly higher passenger capacity and also their design was changed from the first four ships. The reason the ships had been ordered in Italy was simple. The Italian government at the time awarded high subsidies for the domestic wharfs to stimulate incoming orders. The Italian shipbuilding industry was in high need for employment and it was hoped that the long standing shipbuilding tradition could be revived. As we all know now, that worked. At the same time the Renaissance Class of ships was built, also Fincantieri started to get new orders in, the first one was placed by Sitmar Cruises for the eventual Crown Princess and Regal Princess that were delivered in the early 1990's. Just in time for the huge cruise-boom in the 1990's for Fincantieri to become one of the largest cruiseship-building groups in the world. So those subsidies had paid off in the end.
Construction and general statistics
The later Hebridean Sky was built as the fore-last ship of the class under the name of Renaissance VII for Renaissance Cruises. As mentioned, she was built at the Nuevi Cantiere Apunia wharf at Carrera, Italy under yardnumber 1146 and laid down at the 7th of december 1989. The ship measured 90,36 meters in lenght, 15,50 meters in width and her draft reached 4,20 meters. Her tonnage measurement was 4280 and she had seven decks, available to 114 passengers and 72 crewmembers. The ship was powered by two diesel engines of MAN Burmeister & Wain design that were able to give her a maximum speed of 16,7 knots. Mostly however, she was just sailing at a modest 15,5 knots servicespeed. At the 2nd of december 1991, the Renaissance VII was delivered to her owners and registered at Palermo, flying the Italian flag.
The design of the second set of four ships was visibly different from the first four, mainly due to the other funnel design. The iconic double wing was replaced by a single stack at the most aft part of the superstructure and this stack was slightly leaning backwards. As it was higher above the aft decks, the winged design was not needed. Also, the ships larger tonnage measurement was largely due to the loss of the outside promenade. As it was learned from the first four ships, the open wraparound promenades were nog used that much and the space was instead used for larger cabins aboard the second set of ships. On the higher decks, it became possible to install private balconies too, something that became important during the beginning of the 1990's. The style was semi-luxury and this was clear in the ships interiours too. Very informal with enough space within the restaurant and also in the lounge to accomodate every passenger. Of course there was an outside pool although rather small, a nightclub, a small gym and a library. The ships really have the feel of a private yaught, with wood panneling and brass details throughout. The whole ship has a nautical style with soft hues and blended tones. Of the 59 cabins and suites, 14 have a private veranda and all are quite spacious with their own sitting areas and en-suite bathrooms provided with rainfall shower and enough wardrobe space. All suites have a minifridge, telephone and a flatscreen television and nowadays, refillable waterbottles, towelling dressing gowns and slippers are provided for each passenger.
After her delivery, Renaissance VII was chartered to the touroperator Raymond & White for cruises in the Caribbean. For them, she was renamed Regina Renaissance. She kept sailing for this operator for several years ending only in 1998. She then returned back to Renaissance Cruises under her original name and for them, she took on cruises in the Mediterranean in summer and the Indian Ocean in winter. From 1993 onwards, the ship had been reflagged from Italy to Liberia, home-ported in Monrovia.
In 2001, the world was horrified by the brutal attacks in America on september the 11th and in the aftermath the US went to the so-called 'War on Terror', mostly aimed at the middle east and mid-Asia as that is where the attckers had their bases. Because of all unrest in the world following the attacks, the tourism and especially the more luxurious travels were severely impacted. Renaissance Cruises itself had seen hard times already and were just introducing the massive eight-ship fleet renewal and so they fell on hard times. At the same time, they were replacing their smaller eight-ship startup fleet, but not every Renaissance Cruises passenger enjoyed the new ships, that were over 30.000 tons so six times larger. The company did not recover and had to file for bankrupcy at the end of september in 2001. Sometimes it is said that the aftermath of the attacks had done them in and it certainly was the final push for their demise, but they already had severe problems at the time and it has to be seen or they were able to survive even if none of this had happened.
At the time of the bankrupcy, Renaissance VII was sailing in the Mediterranean and was arrested in Gibraltar in the beginning of october. She stayed there for two months, together with a large number of other Renaissance Cruises ships. From december onwards, the ship was relocated to Marseilles, France but stayed in lay-up. It was hoped that another home could be found for the ships soon, also to repay several creditors, but in the time the world was in, it was not that easy to just resell around ten semi-luxury cruiseships. She was eventually sold to a company named Grand Seaways who had their base in Palermo, Italy and they renamed the ship Renai I. Not much happened, though and it was only in november of 2003 that she was sold again, now her owners were listed as Sun Shipholding Ltd.-Ber located in Nassau, the Bahamas. She was brought over to Barcelona and there, the ship recieved a make-over under again a new name, Sun. In 2004, she was relocated to Drammen in Norway, where she recieved another rebuilding and in may of that same year she was sold to Mauritian Island Cruises based in Port Louis, Mauritius. It was also then that she was renamed to Island Sun and it looked that now finally she again was able to set sail. But Mauritian Island Cruises, who planned to have the ship sailing around Mauritius from Port Louis, met quite too much bureocratic resistance from the local government and had to cease operations within just a few days. The ship then was chartered out to the London-based company Noble Caledonia. They used her under the same name and her first cruise finally was able to depart from Dover to Travemünde at the 26th of june in 2004. For the 2004 summer, she had Travemünde as her base and from september onwards, she was relocated to the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. From november 2004 onwards, the ship sailed in charter for a new venture named Around The World Cruises from Port Louis to La Reunion, but after just four cruises they met problems, as the passengers were denied to go ashore at the Cargados Island at the 8th of november and the rest of the cruise was cancelled all together. A few days later, the crew was able to leave the ship but the company did not return and this was again the end of her Mauritian adventure. Instead, she was relocated to Freemantle in Australia for a series of three-day cruises, but laid-up at Singapore in january of 2005.
At the 23rd of february in 2005, the ship was sold to Corinthian II Owner, a company based in malta and homeported in Valletta under the name of Corinthian II. In fact this was part of the bigger Danish-based company Clipper Group, owners of many more smaller cruiseships. Under her new owners, the ship was now chartered out to Travel Dynamics for whom she was able to sail a number of years. In 2011, she was reflagged to Majuro at the Marshall Islands and in march of 2013, the ship was renamed Sea Explorer. In this year, she was chartered by Polar Lattitudes and Poseidon Expeditions. From october 2014 onwards, her name was slightly altered to Sea Explorer 1. Under this name, she was now sold to Hebridean Sky Shipping Ltd. and she came under the management of Salén Ship Management. Her new owner was in fact part of the Noble Caledonia company, the same ones who had chartered the ship earlier and had to abandon her after the 2004 debacle on Mauritius. At the 13th of april in 2016, the ship was brought over to Öresund Drydock in Sweden, where she recieved a large make-over and it was also then that she recieved her new name Hebridean Sky after delivery to her new company. Her name now was brought in line with the other ships owned by Noble Caledonia, also former ships of Renaissance Cruises. The former Renaissance VIII is in their fleet under the name of Island Sky since 2004 and the former Renaissance IV sails for Noble Caledonia since 2012 under the name of Caledonian Sky.