sailing the high seas in new york

| 14 Sep 2015 | 03:54

If you ever forget that Manhattan is an island, Hornblower Cruises and Events serves as a reminder, whisking revelers away on the Hudson every day and night. The company has six luxury vessels docked at Pier 40 in the West Village and Pier 15 at South Street Seaport, hosting every type of event from lavish weddings to after-work happy hours to sightseeing excursions.

Cameron Clark, the company’s vice president and general manager, works up to seven days a week overseeing a staff of 300 and multiple events sometimes taking place simultaneously. As a mechanical engineering student at California Maritime Academy, he started with the company in 2001 as a server, and, as he jokingly puts it, they haven’t been able to get rid of him since.

It is only fitting that Clark named his first child Kai, after the Hawaiian word for ‘sea.’ He calls his son, who was born in February, one of their frequent cruisers. “We live down in the Financial District ... . Part of my wife’s regular routine is to pack up and head down to Pier 15,” he explained. “They have lunch and jump on a sightseeing boat and go out for a cruise.”

Hornblower is fairly new to the city. How did it get started here?In 2012, we decided to bring the Hornblower brand to New York. In 2007 and early 2008, Hornblower entered the marketplace under the brand Statue Cruises, which took people to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. We focused our energies there, always knowing that we wanted to introduce a business that began in California as a hospitality company. It took a few years before we were able to build new vessels and develop a product that we thought made sense in the marketplace and bring it here. Since then, it’s only been a startup, so as in most startups, it’s been a lot seven-day-a-week operations. We decided to expand our operations to Pier 40 in the West Village and Pier 15 in the South Street Seaport. We’ve gone from a startup in 2012 with a handful of employees to over 300 in 2015.

What’s the difference between Pier 40 and Pier 15 as far as what is offered?Pier 40 in the West Village we designated principally as the location for our private events. Our higher-end public products, such as our premium dinner cruises and champagne jazz brunch cruises, are sailing out of that location. Pier 15 in the South Street Seaport, on the other hand, is where we’re running our one-hour sightseeing cruises throughout the day, which are really tourist driven. And also our cocktail, happy hour and entertainment cruises, which are the more affordable price points, are out of that location.

Walk us through a typical day of events. Yesterday, we had our crew show up at a little before 5 a.m. They started preparing food for that day for our dinner cruises, while another team prepared to get our sightseeing cruises underway. So by 9 a.m., two vessels left here at Pier 40 to head over to Pier 15, where over the course of the day, they carry over 3,000 passengers for sightseeing. While those vessels were running out of Pier 15 during the day, our team was prepping to get our first cruise out at 11 a.m., which was a bat mitzvah on the Hornblower Hybrid. That cruise went out at 11, came back, and then we prepared it for a wedding on the second deck and a public dinner cruise on the main deck. During the entire day, our team was prepping for a grandiose wedding of 340 passengers on the Hornblower Infinity, which included décor, a seven-piece band, flower arrangements and custom table design. The Sensation went out yesterday afternoon for a lunch cruise with a church group, then it came back and turned over and went down to Pier 15 and ran a cocktail cruise at night. That’s what an average Saturday would look like.

You started your career with the company while still in college. How did that come about?I was studying mechanical engineering there and we had an individual from the HR team for Hornblower show up at our campus and say, “We’re looking for cadets and students who’d be wanting to work on our vessels during the school year.” And I said, “Sounds like a lot of fun. I’d get paid. I’d get to play on the water. Sign me up.” And they haven’t been able to get rid of me since! I did leave shortly after college and went to work for Matson and American President Line. Companies sailing from the pacific west coast to Hawaii and Singapore respectively. I had an amazing opportunity to come back to work with Hornblower and I couldn’t pass it up. I realized it wasn’t for me and had an opportunity to come back and work for Hornblower. Funny story, my mom is a flight attendant and actually ran into Terry MacRae (Hornblower’s CEO) on a flight and they got to talking. And by the end of the conversation, he said, “Have your son call me when he’s back from sea.”

Hornblower is committed to the environment and started Respect Our Planet. Tell us more about that.That was a passion project of mine and the owners that was started back in 2004. We’ve always been environmentally focused. Our CEO, Terry, actually has an engineering degree in environmental sciences. Before starting Hornblower, he worked for a company that did emission controls for factories. So his roots are on the environmental side, so we’ve always been focused as an organization, in doing good things, but it wasn’t until early 2000 that we formalized it and took it to the next level. That revolved around international environmental standards ISO 14001. We set standards on fuel consumption, emissions reduction and trash diversion. Then we thought that 14001 environmental standards sounds pretty boring to employees. So we started Respect Our Planet to get them engaged. It’s an integrated system to support quality, safety and environment. If we can’t respect our crew and treat them well, we won’t be able to respect our guests and treat them well, and we certainly won’t be able to respect our planet.

Even though we’re entering into the colder months, your boats are still going out. What events do you have coming up in the fall and winter?It seems that people think that past August, boat activities are done because it’s getting cold. But we do have activities year-round. We have great cruises in the fall — foliage, Halloween, Thanksgiving. And a whole series of festive lunch and dinner cruises heading into the holidays around Christmas. Of course New Year’s. It’s a spectacular way to celebrate, on the water.

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