An Interview with Captain Mercer

December 18, 2008 -

John Heald

Hello Everyone

I am sure all of you have been enjoying the brilliant blog. The current author of this fantastic look behind the crew only door of the Holland America flagship is of course the incomparable Captain Mercer. So, I thought you might like to know more about him and therefore I proudly welcome to the blog the Master of the Eurodam and future Pulitzer prize winning journalist……………..Captain Mercer.


1. Captain. Let’s go back to the start of your career and can you tell us about your journey that led you to be Master of the Eurodam.

I am often asked if other members of the family went to sea, the answer being ‘no’; I was the first that I know of, (unless some distant relative roamed the oceans in search of booty and plunder).

I started my career in 1968, as an apprentice, with the British & Commonwealth shipping company and stayed with them until I sat for and obtained my Master’s certificate in late 1979. By that time, the 84 ships of their fleet had dwindled to a mere few. Fate always seems to play her hand with me, in regard to employment that is. On the train to my apprentice interview, the gentleman sitting opposite me in the same train carriage, was a Captain with the company I was being interviewed for. In 1979, when I was considering my career options, I met my Marine Superintendent on a train and by the time got off at Chester railway station, I had decided to leave, the prospects were not good.

I had a young family, so decided to join a Ferry company. In those days, all their Deck officers had to have Masters certificates, so I moved to Kent and plied the English Channel routes, first as 2nd officer and culminating in command in 1988, I stayed with them until 1994.

At that time, disillusioned with the way matters were going with Management style and Work schedules, I left and joined the Channel Tunnel group as Terminal Manager.. This was fun, however I missed the sea and fortuitously, I was contacted a year or so later by an agency which had been tasked with recruiting British officers for Holland America. They were looking for a British captain who had considerable ship-handling experience and wouldn’t put big dents in their lovely new ship ☺. Well, here I am, almost 14 years later.

2. This I know is going to be a nearly impossible question to answer but………if you were to write the most basic of job descriptions for today’s cruise ship Captain, what would it look like?

In short: CEO, Lawyer, Priest, Father Confessor, Human Resources Director, Psychiatrist, Mediator, Entertainer and Comedian.

Seriously though, the captain has enormous legal powers and is responsible in all aspects of his ship. The captain has absolute command. He holds the safety of his vessel, his guests and crew in his hands.

Captain Stubing has a great deal to answer for. I have yet to meet a captain who walks his decks with gorgeous blondes on his arm, cocktail in hand and parties all day. (Should you happen to know of one, do let me know, I’ll send them my resume) ☺

3. What has been the most rewarding moment so far in your career

There are several I can think of, however the most vivid one is the day I took my ship to sea as Master for the first time.

4. And, the most challenging?
When I was working for the Ferry Company. It involved an incident in which lives were lost. The challenge was mental rather than physical; I lost 30 good friends and went to innumerable funerals. It broke many of my associates and almost broke me. It was in the days before counselling was a recognised form of therapy. We were on our own, left to deal with it as best we could. I was lucky, I got through it, others didn’t.

5. What would you say are the most important changes that have occurred in the last few years that have made your job of navigating a ship like the Eurodam that much easier

First and foremost it would be the introduction of Electronic Navigation systems. I used celestial navigation for the first 12 years of my career. Now, with the advent of Global Positioning Systems, (satellites), even an amateur could navigate an ocean. I would have to say that being the prudent seaman I consider myself, I would add that these are aids to navigation, they are not foolproof and many of the traditional methods are still very important.

The changes I have seen are mind-boggling. The bridge equipment, computerisation, propulsion systems, would be unrecognisable to a seaman 30 years ago. For example, my first ship, built in 1950, had a gyro compass that looked as if it were driven by steam and took up the space of an entire room. Now, you can (almost) fit one in the palm of your hand.

6. Holland America has a certain something , something special that makes it so popular the world over…….what in your opinion is that special something.
One could put 2 identical ships next to each other and yet they would be different because of their crew. It is the crew that makes a ship and we in Holland America have wonderful Indonesian and Filipino crew, so first and foremost, this is what sets us apart and above all others. Close behind comes the décor and ambience of our ships, we take our position as a leader in Premium cruising very seriously and this is reflected in way in which our ships are designed and managed; everything from the artwork, the fresh flowers and the classic styling are superb.

7. The social side of being a Captain on a cruise ship is very important. What are your social responsibilities onboard
Please refer this question to Captain Stubing……..

A very important aspect of a Captain’s position is that of ‘being seen’, by both guest and crew alike, so this is an important social function. I have ‘Introductions’, when I introduce the ship’s senior staff on stage, cocktail parties and social gatherings such as ‘Meet the Captain’, when guests can ask any questions they like; well almost any question………..

8. Now to the blog. Firstly let me congratulate you on your brilliant writing and I like thousands of others am a regular reader. Can you tell us about how often you write and what you personally enjoy about sharing your Captain’s log with us all

Thank you for the compliment, John. Coming from you it is praise indeed. Until I took command of the ‘E’, I hadn’t even read a blog, even though I consider myself very much computer literate. It was a new world for me and although I keep a journal, baring one’s soul to the world was a new experience for me. I find ‘journaling’ very therapeutic actually, however I am taking it in small steps. I love your blog, it has me laughing out loud and there’s nothing like a British sense of humour.

The Eurodam’s blog is somewhat different, less personalised and more to do with events on our lovely ship.

There is nothing I would like more than to inform our readers of some of the more ‘interesting’ aspects of shipboard life, however it is a very fine line we tread.

I try to write at least twice a week, however recently I have lapsed, mainly because I have had other matters to deal with. I am nearing the end of my contract and soon go on leave, so paperwork is occupying more of my time than usual.

9. How do you relax onboard and what are your shoreside hobbies
‘Relaxing’ is a difficult term, one never completely relaxes, it’s a 24/7 position. Even if I were to go ashore, one can never completely relax, ironically, in today’s legislative environment, a captain might still be considered responsible even if he is 2 miles away on a golf course.

Onboard I enjoy reading and amateur photography. At home it is an entirely different matter. I love golf, (although after some time at sea, the results are not what one would wish for). I am fortunate that I have grass-flats near my house and you will find me out on them in the early morning, fly rod in hand, trying to catch the pesky trout and redfish. I have a small boat and enjoy going out with friends, coolers and all, for a jaunt.

10. Finally and as is tradition it is time for you to tell us your ultimate Captain’s table. Let’s start with the menu. Please choose your favourites from the Eurodam restaurants and private dining facilities.

Choice of 2 appetisers

Pate de Fois Gras
Streetside Pot Stickers, from our Tamarind restaurant

Choice of 2 main courses

Beef Wellington
Hoisin lime-glazed Sea bass, again from the Tamarind

Choice of 2 deserts

Dutch Apple pie
Ginger banana bread pudding, with tempura bananas and caramel sauce (Tamarind)

You may well realise by now, that our Tamarind restaurant is superlative! ☺

Now your table companions

Somebody from the cruise industry

Micky Arison and his wife, Madeleine. Several years ago, in the company of my wife and several of her girlfriends, I had the pleasure of sharing a table with them. The evening was both entertaining and extremely enjoyable.

Your favourite actor

Sean Connery

Your favourite actress

Catherine Zeta Jones

A beautiful lady

I’d be hung from the yardarm if I didn’t write, my wife.

Someone to make you laugh

Tommy Cooper

Someone from history you wish you had met

Blackbeard. I would love to know where he buried all that loot…..

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.