The Queen's Captain

October 29, 2007 -

John Heald

Very soon a very special ship will begin her very special life. She will forge many pages in the ocean liner history books and forever those pages will record that the first ever Captain of the incomparable Queen Victoria was Captain Paul Wright. Here then, is a most wonderful interview with a man who will soon stand alongside H.R.H Prince Charles and The Duchess of Cornwall on a day he and the industry will always remember.

Captain Paul Wright

1. Captain, I am sure you must be so very proud to be the Master of the Queen Victoria. Your journey to this point must have been interesting and varied. Can you tell us about your life at sea so far?

Prior to joining Cunard in 1980 I had spent the previous 15 years serving in a variety of vessel types including cargo ships, tankers, containerships, ferries, hovercraft, even had a short spell working for a company delivering tugs and dredgers to new owners. My first passenger ship was the Empress of Canada (Canadian Pacific) in 1970 – my duties as fifth officer there besides the navigational side actually included organizing deck tennis and aquatic sports -Ah! the good old days…. I was on the Empress of Canada when it was sold to the newly formed Carnival as their first ship, the Mardi Gras.

After joining Cunard I was appointed to the Cunard Countess as First Officer and served many years on that ship up to the rank of Staff Captain. I think it is fair to say that both guests and crew remember that ship with a great deal of affection. I then sailed as Chief Officer and Staff Captain on the QE2, Cunard Princess and Sagafjord. My first Command with Cunard was actually the new Atlantic Conveyor in 1993 which was Cunard’s last cargo ship, quite a difference with a total crew of 16 and approximately the same size as the QE2. My first Command on a Cunard Passenger ship was the Cunard Dynasty in the mid 1990’s. After she left the fleet I was seconded ashore as Marine Superintendent in first our New York Office which of course relocated to Miami in the late 90’s. It was then that Carnival purchased Cunard and I remained in that position in Miami for the transition. I returned to sea as Captain on the QE2 in 1999 and remained there until I was appointed alternate Master on the QM2 with Commodore Warwick. I was very much involved in the start up organization both in the Miami Office and at the Yard for several months prior to the ship entering service. After the management of Cunard fleet moved to California, I was seconded to our sister brand, Princess Cruises and spent a couple of very enjoyable years on both Sapphire and Diamond Princess. I am now very much looking forward to my appointment to Cunard’s new Queen Victoria.

2. What is your role as Captain before the hand over the vessel from the ship yard to Cunard.

My primary role and responsibility has to be that prior to entering service we are 100% confident and ready with respect to all areas of safety of the ship systems and equipment, proven crew competence in their training and safety duties and the operational readiness to receive our first guests.

3. Captain, for those of us of has experienced Sea Trials they are an amazing series of tests that the ship has to undergo. Please can you tell us what some of these tests involve and how the Queen Victoria fared?

The tests we carry out are maneuvers that hopefully we would not actually have to carry out in service. These include “crash stops” which means stopping the ship from full speed in the shortest possible distance, obtaining information on minimum turning circle distances by putting the helm hard over at different speeds and also recording the maximum heel [list] during these turns, obtaining maneuvering information and values by maximum use of thrusters and engines [Pods in QV Queen Victoria], engine endurance tests at maximum speed to prove systems, efficiency of stabilizers are proven by inducing “rolls” of the vessel, multitudes of navigational and propulsion tests are carried out, maximum speed test to meet owners specification, fast rescue craft and lifeboat launching and recovery. The list goes on but basically all these tests are to prove the design specification required by the owner are either met or exceeded. I can confidently confirm that the Queen Victoria sea trials were an outstanding success in all respects

4. Sailing the ship from the yard in Venice to Southampton will I am sure be a very special moment for you. What are some of the features that you as Captain will enjoy having at your disposal on the bridge that will make this an amazing “driving experience?”

Although the latest versions, most of the “driving experience” equipment is not unfamiliar to us so my answer has to be that it’s the “software” i.e. the well-trained and competent Bridge and Engine team personnel that will give me the greatest sailing satisfaction as opposed to the “hardware.”

5. As you sail away, you will be I am sure aware that you are becoming a part of the famous history. What does that mean to you?

I am sure it will be like my first time in command of QE2 and QM2 where I cast my mind back to my first trip to sea as a cadet on a tanker in dirty oil soaked overalls emerging out of a tank and seeing a large [at least what was large then] passenger ship [think it was the Franconia] on the horizon and thinking to myself what I wouldn’t give to be on there! To answer your question during my time in Cunard the company has been through many changes prior to Carnival purchasing Cunard it looked as though, on several occasions, that we would be ceasing to remain in business. During these periods of uncertainty we lost many good people who thought their future was better served elsewhere, so I guess I’m just glad I stuck it out.

6. Once in Southampton the ship’s company will prepare the vessel for the naming ceremony and to receive the Royal Couple. Are you rehearsed in Royal protocol before you meet Prince Charles and The Duchess of Cornwall and just between me and you and the near 1 million readers…………………….are you nervous?

After 40+ years at sea I really do not have any nerves surviving!! Seriously, I was honoured to be able to escort the Duke of Edinburgh around the QM2 during the naming ceremony of that ship [Commodore Warwick escorted Her Majesty the Queen] so it will not be the first time for me meeting Royals. I am indeed looking forward to meet the Duchess of Cornwall and Prince Charles. She is Duchess of my home County {Cornwall] so I might get chance to discuss a reduction in my property taxes! – only joking of course… In fact we have a contracted organization that guides us through Royal protocol

I have to admit during the QM2 Inaugurals my nerves were shot on two occasions, the first being when I was asked/instructed to be filmed dancing with Mary Hart [of Entertainment Tonight] alone in the Queens Room during our first call in Southampton. They had all these cameras pointed at our dancing steps and not exactly being a Fred Astaire you can imagine my discomfort especially after I was told her legs are insured for a million bucks each! Actually she was a tremendously nice lady who made me feel very relaxed.

The second time my nerves got the better of me was when I had the honour of ringing the closing bell at the NYSE during QM2’s first call in New York. At the podium I was given a 15 second warning for pressing the bell button and watch the clock and don’t screw up because there are 150 million people who watch this event! I pressed it and the bell rang right on time to my relief although I was told after it would have rung anyway even if my finger had been a little slow! Fortunately the market closed significantly up that day – I would have been mortified to have been associated with a crash!!

7. Once the pomp and circumstance is over the ship will start her voyages. Are there any particular ports of call you are specifically excited to bring the ship to and if so ….why?

I didn’t have to think about this one. The reception we received at Hamburg when I brought the QM2 in on her Maiden call there was nothing short of absolutely unbelievable. If the reception for Queen Victoria’s arrival there is half as amazing then I will be happy. The Germans are just so enthusiastic about ships – especially Cunard Liners.

8. Having been on the vessel twice now I feel that she has a very special “something.” What are to you some of the guest areas of the vessel that give her something incomparable?

Like you John, I share your feelings and it’s hard to single out a specific area. I was personally struck by the “intimacy” of all the public areas and I think it would be hard to find an area that doesn’t have a “Wow” factor.

9. How do you like to relax? What do you do to take yourself away from the world of being Master of Cunard’s latest liner?

I have a thirty foot sailboat at home in Cornwall which I would really like to use more than time and weather here allows. I have now spent more on it than it cost but that’s what goes with deciding to buy a boat on a nice sunny day! I used to really enjoy scuba diving on shipwrecks. Pottering in the garden and planting things [which never seem to survive] in a home in Spain is one of my greatest relaxations.

10. As is customary with these interviews can you please fill in your guest list for your dream Captain’s table with names from the past or present.

ONE GUEST FROM THE WORLD OF SHIPS AND CRUISING

After reading your blog on your visit to Queen Victoria I would invite you John. Your enthusiasm for the ship and how you envisage the atmosphere on board when the vessel comes into service was exactly what we try so hard to achieve for the guest experience with Cunard.

ONE ACTOR

Denzel Washington – never made a bad movie.

ONE ACTRESS

Has to be Sigourney Weaver – just loved those “Alien” movies!!

ONE ACADEMIC

Patrick Moore – TV astronomer – even the most reluctant stargazer would be enthused by his enthusiastic presentations of the sky at night.

ONE PERSON FROM THE SPORTS WORLD

Ian Botham [X Cricketer] – still high profile in the public eye [at least in the UK]

ONE PERSON TO MAKE THE TABLE LAUGH

Louise Rennison. Louise is an ex stand up Comedienne turned writer of humorous teenage books. She has traveled on both QM2 and QE2 transatlantic because she doesn’t fly and is a delightful table companion who has never failed to have everyone at the table in stitches whatever political, social, religious persuasion her tablemates might be from.

ONE OTHER PERSON OF YOUR CHOICE

Christianne Amanpour of CNN.

Hi, I’m John, and this is my blog. So please don’t mistake my opinions — or those of my dear friends, fans or commenters — for those of Carnival Cruise Line or Carnival Corporation. My apologies in advance for anything I may say that upsets you, but this disclaimer covers Carnival and puts the blame directly on me………….. bugger.