Blount ship's have retractable pilot houses that allows them to sail under low bridges. // © 2015 Bount Small Ship Adventures
Feature image (above): Julie, Marie and Nancy Blount // © 2015 Bount Small Ship Adventures
Blount Small Ship Adventures was one of the pioneers of small-ship cruising. A shipbuilder and an inventor, the late Luther Blount started what was then the American Canadian Caribbean Line in Warren, R.I., in 1966. Blount eventually built more than 300 ships and held 22 patents.
Most of these patents allowed small ships to offer previously impossible cruises. One involvedinvolved his retractable pilot house that permits ships to sail low bridge waterways, including the Erie Canal and a bow ramp that permits passengers to go ashore virtually anywhere. He also mastered shallow draft cruising: Despite the load of 88 passengers, crew, engines, glass-bottom boats, kayaks, etc., the Blount ships have a draft of less than 7 feet.
Blount was a philanthropist, a practical marine ecologist and an incredibly energetic man. I can remember sailing with him in his 70s, when he rode up to the ship on his bicycle and spent the cruise leaping out on the bow ramp in wilderness areas and exhausting people who were likely half his age.
Blount Small Ship Adventures operates two American-flagged ships with a down-home feel and a very friendly atmosphere. The observation lounge accommodates enrichment sessions and entertainment as well as relaxing and socializing among passengers. The dining room consists of open seating at generally round tables for up to six to eight people, and traditional American food is served family style to the often older and well-traveled guests.
Luther’s daughter, Nancy Blount, is now president of the company, and she, her family and her staff continue to expand and enrich the cruises that gave Blount its reputation.
“We gave up our Caribbean season and some of the spring sailings to give our ships, Grande Caribe and Grande Mariner, some serious renovation,” she said.
These upgrades include five cabins designated for single travelers and new soft goods, all executed at the company’s shipyard on the 88-passenger Grande Caribe and Grande Mariner.
A new itinerary centered on American history launches this spring, with nine-day cruises between New York City and Washington, D.C. The line’s 2015 The Big Apple to U.S. Capital sailings visit Philadelphia, Baltimore, Annapolis, Md.; and Alexandria, Va. There is also a 12-day sailing from D.C. to Boston.
Farther west, the company has sailed the Great Lakes since the early 1980s, but this year, Blount is offering a longer itinerary: the 16-day great American Waterways cruise from Warren, Conn., to Chicago, which is very popular.
“It’s a bucket list cruise,” Blount said. “We go up the Hudson River and then take guests on the Erie Canal, which only we can sail. We show them the spectacular Thousand Islands and take them on four of the five Great Lakes.”
For those with less time, the seven-night Magical Lake Michigan circumnavigation of the lake sails between Chicago and Milwaukee, visiting the Irish culture of Beaver Island and the tulip-lined cobblestone streets of Holland, Mich., as far up as Mackinac Island.
A longer itinerary sails into Canada on a two-week trip from New York to Montreal. It takes in the Erie Canal and the Hudson, along with the Saint Lawrence Seaway and the Saguenay River. In 2016, the company’s 50th year will be celebrated on a one-time-only president’s cruise, sailing 16 days from Boston to Montreal in the fall.
Repeat passengers are important to the line: Blount’s loyalty program gives every paying passenger a free cruise after 10 paid cruises.
Blount also offers travel agents at least one educational webinar per month, and those wishing to arrange a full-ship charter should contact Nancy Blount. To set up groups, contact operations manager Cassie Doyle. Blount has a travel agent rate for fams — agents only need to contact Blount’s office to arrange it.