Fearnley & Eger has tapped former Commodore Cruise Line President Mark Conroy to launch its long awaited project of eight "yacht-like" vessels and is expected to position its first 100-passenger vessel in the Mediterranean next September.

The still unnamed cruise line, which plans to build four 100-passenger, 4,000-ton ships and four 116-passenger, 4,500-ton vessels, will reportedly announce itineraries and prices in early November for its series of seven-, 10-, 14- and 21-day sailings.

Conroy said that the cruise line is seeking to charge "realistic" per diems of about $400 and will position the cruise company as "a blend of adventure and cultural cruising with European elegance."

"We'll try to create a product with good food and service and interesting, worldwide itineraries and we'll target a mix of both FITs and alumni and special interest groups for incentives and full charters, Conroy said. "The key is keeping per diems at or below $400 and to offer a blend of adventure and comfort that's different and distinctive."

While Fearnley & Eger had initially planned to introduce the first ship in May 1989 and the last seven in consecutive three-month intervals, Conroy said that the first ship will operate seven-day sailings in the Mediterranean starting next September and that the first four ships will be introduced by July 1990.

Conroy said that current plans call for the second ship to be introduced in December 1989, the third the following April, the fourth in July 1990 and the final four 116-passenger, 4,500-ton vessels in six-month intervals through July 1992.

Conroy said that the new cruise line will launch seven-day sailings in the Mediterranean on its first ship in September 1989 on varied itineraries that can be "piggybacked" for either 14- or 21-day sailings. He also said that the new cruise line is seriously studying the possibility of positioning its second vessel in either China or Indonesia.

Follow the Sun

"We may position our second ship in either China or Indonesia because we want to get the message out that we'll be a worldwide operator and we may have to do that early to lay the groundwork for eight ships," Conroy explained. "The rest of our itineraries on our first four ships will probably be standard Caribbean in winter and the Mediterranean and northern Europe in summer."

Conroy said that two of the vessels have already been launched, that the third was about to be launched at presstime and that construction on the fourth five-deck vessel was scheduled to begin by late October. He confirmed that the eight-ships cost in the "range" of about $228 million and that they are under construction at the Cantiere Navale Ferrari shipyard in Lespezia, Italy.

Conroy said that he will be president and is currently the only employee in the cruise line makeshift Ft. Lauderdale headquarters and that a small marketing and sales team should be in place around the first of the year. He noted that Oslo­ based Fearnley & Eger and the Kosmos shipping conglomerate of Oslo are the major principals and that some individual investors are also involved.

The new cruise line will open its marketing and sales office in either Ft. Lauderdale or the New York area, Conroy said, and has launched a thorough name registration search to come up with a company name. He said that the name and office location should be fully in place by the time itineraries and a rough brochure are available in early November.

Luxurious Explorer-Type

Conroy also said that the new cruise line will study the possibility of positioning one of the ships in either Antarctica or South America and that the final four vessels will each be installed with a reinforced "ice class" hull. He explained that the ice class hull will give the cruise line the option of placing the ships in icy waters.

Conroy said that standard cabins on the all-outside mini-suite vessels will be 230 to 240 square feet, that there will be some variation in cabin layouts, and that cabins on two of the five-decks will have balconies with sliding doors. He added that two of the decks will include walk-around promenades.

All eight vessels will also include a high-speed tender with a very shallow draft that will hang from the ship's stern and will carry almost 50-passengers, Conroy noted, and will be able to dock in shallow yacht harbors. He noted that "one of our major selling points will be that we'll be able to call at small yacht harbors and do things that 700-passenger or 1,000-passenger ships won't be able to do."

Conroy said that the tenders will be very similar to the tender that is currently carried on the stern of the 250-passenger Exploration Starship that Exploration Cruise Lines leases from Fearnley & Eger. He said that the ships will also include a small health club with sauna, a swimming pool and a freshwater jacuzzi.

Informed sources said that Exploration Cruises was very close to signing an agreement to market and operate the eight-ship fleet for Fearnley & Eger before the deal fell apart last summer.

One source familiar with the budding operation said that "they should have lined up a marketing team a long time ago because now they only have 11 months to start their promotions."

Concentrated Effort

Conroy acknowledged that the "ideal scenario" would have been an 18-month lead-time to launch promotions before the first ship is placed into operation but stressed that the new venture would initially be selling a limited number of berths. He noted that the cruise line's agency promotions would start as soon as prices and itineraries are finalized by early November.

Conroy also said that the ships will be registered under the Italian flag in return for government shipyard subsidies, that the cruise line's deck and engine crews will be Italian and that hotel and catering staffs will be Italian, Swiss and Austrian. He added that the ships will have one-seating dining with "flexible" dining hours.

The new cruise line will create its own shore excursion program and will also work with large tour operators like Travel Dynamics in New York, Conroy noted, and large incentive houses to sell "everything from small groups of 10 to 40 up to full charters." He added that the new company also expects to create a network of 2,000 agencies and develop close ties with about 40 or 50 high volume producers.

"We hope to work with the 6,000 or so North American agencies that do a lot of direct mail and we'll try to support them in the form of co-op mailings because that's the type of promotions we'll be able to afford," Conroy said. "The whole key is to set 'realistic' per diems of about $400 from the beginning so you keep away from those lines with per diems in the $600 range."