Orion Expedition Cruises founder and managing director Sarina Bratton will leave the business next month after the cruise line was sold to US-based small ship operator Lindblad Expeditions.
Orion, in which Bratton held a minority stake, was acquired for an undisclosed sum by Lindblad and will begin itineraries under its new owners in March 2014.
Bratton will leave when her existing three year contract ends on April 19.
"I am ecstatic at the deal. It's the next step in the growth of Orion," Bratton told Travel Today. "There is always a good time to exit a business. We had a number of global international business approaching us wanting to acquire our company and that is testament to what we have built. I am very very proud of that.
"I am also leaving at a time when we have the strongest forward sales in our history. I am leaving on a high."
Bratton revealed that she told the board two years ago that she "did not want to continue working 24/7" beyond the expiry of her current contract.
"I had the clear intention of not staying beyond April 19 this year, so the sale of the shareholding and the contract coming up has come around at the right time. It is amicable and timely," Bratton said. "I have got the company to this stage and now it is up to Lindblad to take it to the next stage."
She said Lindblad, which partners with the National Geographic on their expedition cruises, have an accomplished track record.
"It is never easy to walk away but I am handing the tiller to someone who has been in the sector for a long time and is well respected," Bratton added.
Since 2008, Orion has been jointly owned by US private equity firm KSL Capital Partners and Cruise Ferry Master Fund (CFMF), a division of German shipping bank DVB.
CFMF holds a 60% interest in Lindblad.
Bratton said the exit of KSL after five years is in keeping with normal practice of private equity.
"There was an expectation KSL would exit between 2011 and 2013," she said.
Bratton declined to comment on whether KSL were satisfied with the return on their investment.
"You will have to speak to them," Bratton said. "From my perspective I am happy and satisfied with the outcome."
Lindblad Expeditions owns five ships and charters a further five and operates cruises to a variety of destinations.
President and founder Sven Lindblad said: "We are extremely excited about the opportunity to offer global expedition cruising to Australians and we intend to bring the full weight of our experiences and that of National Geographic to the Orion organisation and the ship.
"Sarina has created something quite wonderful in her nine years at the helm. We respect both her and her team immensely for what they have accomplished.
"It is our job to ensure that the Orion travellers continue to receive remarkable travel experiences, both on Orion and our other ships."