I studied Espanol in school and can speak a little French and German, but have never studied Italiano. The first five minutes of my interview with Gianfranco Borzone was spent with me trying to properly pronounce his name. Finally, Gianfranco, with a smile on his face, came to my rescue and said it is pronounced "John Franco".
Gianfranco is the Chief Engineer of the Carnival Inspiration - a 70,000 gross ton Fantasy class ship. I sailed with him recently (May 1998) on the southern Caribbean itinerary - which sailed from San Juan to St. Thomas, Guadeloupe, Grenada, St. Lucia and Santo Domingo.The Chief Engineer is one of the top 3 officers on a ship. A sampling of his responsibilities include:
Gianfranco's staff of 53 is a busy bunch, and unlike the Captain, people really do NOT want to see the Chief Engineer of a ship. If the CE is visible, than usually there is trouble afoot - so, the less you see of the CE, the better!
My first encounter with Gianfranco was at the Captain's table for dinner. I think I pictured an Ernest Borgnine type character to show up - but GF was lean and trim and quite respectable in his formal white uniform. He somehow managed to be wedged in amongst the 6 female guests at our table - and later told me that this is one of the hardest parts of his job! My traveling companion Debbie found him quite charming and we enjoyed breaking bread with him and the Captain.
My next encounter with GF was later in the week. He had mentioned to me that a Carnival dignitary was to join the ship later in the week - and it turned out to be Micky Arison and his lovely wife Mattie. Micky is the CEO and Chairman of the Board of Carnival and they joined us in Grenada - where they have a home. Mr. Arison also owns the Miami Heat and since the NY Knicks knocked them out of the first round of playoffs, he had some free time on his hands.
Santo Domingo, which is the capitol of the Dominican Republic, was our last Port of Call, so on that morning I met GF and we went to his cabin/office for the 'official' interview. His cabin is up near the bridge and quite spacious - in fact, it is the size cabin you might see Robert Urich sitting in as the Captain of television's "New Love Boat".
Gianfranco Borzone was born and raised in Chiavari, Italy - which sits about 30km east of Genoa on the coast. His father was a farmer and, technically, they resided inland from Chiavari in Borgonovo Ligure, a one cow town. His father raised dairy cows and harvested vegetables.
Ligure translates to 'new village', and it was in this region of Italy where Gianfranco met his first Americans. It was during WWII and they came and stayed on his father's farm. GF was young, but he remembers distinctly that the American soldiers left his family chewing gum, cigarettes and chocolates.
His schooling from ages 6-11 was in Chiavari. In the summer of his twelfth year, GF went to a month long summer program run by a church in the region. Typically, the Priests there attempted to convince the young boys to attend the seminary school and enter the Priesthood.
Gianfranco was persuaded and began attending the seminary school. The first day at school, the boys were asked to write a theme paper on what they wanted to do in life. GF was confused so he looked at the boy's paper next to him and saw that he wanted to be a Priest. So, GF wrote that he wanted to become a mechanic. This, according to GF, was his first regrettable mistake in life. He was sent home that day.
He had a developed a strong affection for cars, and although he seldom saw cars or trucks living on a rural Italian farm 15 minutes from the coast, he knew he liked them. So, he enrolled in a low level Mechanic School and after a short while, realized he wanted bigger toys to play with.
Giovanni, his father, decided one day to take Gianfranco into Genoa to see the ships. GF was amazed at their size and that they entered and left port virtually silent. If a small car or motorbike makes so much noise, how could a big ship make none?
This visit cemented his love of ships. He wanted to work on them and learn all he could. In fact, his grandmother had visited an old ship years ago and told GF how amazed she was to see so many "watches" on the ship! GF loved watches (better known as gauges!) too, and this was his second regrettable mistake!
So at age 15, GF took and passed an examination to allow him to enter nautical school. He stayed at this school for 5 years and received a license that allowed him to become a Cadet. His father then cashed in on a contact and helped GF get a job on a ship out of Genoa.
His first sea duty was aboard the Vittorio Veneto - an old American Liberty ship. After his first glance at this boat, GF was less than enthusiastic. In fact, he remembers saying "Mama Mia Papa!!"
These boats were built in the States to transport goods over to Europe. They were basically built as "one way" cargo boats - so they were neither pretty nor sturdy. Many of these were built, and almost none made the journey back across the Atlantic. But, it was Gianfranco's' first ship and he was ready to work.
The ship was carrying scrap metal - "certainly nothing sexy about that cargo," according to GF. He worked hard and said that the first time he was actually on the outside of the ship was one week after boarding. He was the only Cadet on his ship and he endured the next six months. In one long continuous voyage, the ship visited South Africa, Norfolk, Cuba and the Black Sea. The cargo varied from scrap metal to carbon.
He then went on to study again to become a 3rd and 2nd Engineer - which took nearly 18 months. Gianfranco worked on merchant ships from 1961 till 1982. He married and divorced in this period and left with the rank of Chief Engineer.
He had enough of being on the water and wanted to try a land-based job - so he turned to selling insurance. This certainly was different and instead of being stowed below in the hull of a ship, he was in an office meeting lots of people. One client had been a passenger on a cruise ship and talked him into applying to the cruise lines. And since he needed a few more years to qualify for a pension, he thought this might be a good idea.
In 1987, he landed as the 1st Engineer aboard the Homeric, which is now Holland America's Westerdam. Home Lines was the owner of the Homeric and after 2 years with them, they were bought by Holland America Line.
Next stop was with Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines. RCCL was having a new ship built in France, so Gianfranco spent the next 20 months watching the Nordic Empress being built from the bottom up. Since RCCL's senior crew is Norwegian, the Italian ball around his ankle became too big and GF instead found himself employed with Carnival in 1990.
He entered again as a 1st engineer aboard the Ecstasy (yes, the same Ecstasy that caught fire in July 1998), the second in the Fantasy-class ships. In 1997 he became the Chief Engineer and was sent to Kvaerner Masa-Yards to supervise the completion of the Inspiration. According to Gianfranco, "it is better to see the ship built and to know her inside and out than to inherit a ship".
After we finished the interview in his cabin, Gianfranco graciously took me, Debbie and Dr. Ed on a wonderful tour of the ship's 'basement' where we saw everything from the engines to the propeller shafts. There is an enormous amount of heavy-duty, hot and noisy equipment down below that provides a smooth and comfortable sailing week after week after week. And it is the Chief Engineer who has ultimate responsibility for the comfort of your vacation.
In fact, GF recalled two stories where his expertise was a bit stretched. One was when a woman went snorkeling and complained to the Chief Engineer that she saw no fish. The other was years ago when a plumber came on board as a passenger and demanded that a thermostat be placed in his room so as to ensure his ultimate comfort!
This brings us full circle to where Gianfranco is today - he is the well-schooled and very experienced Chief Engineer of the Carnival Inspiration. During the tour of the high tech Engine Control Room, GF looked at his young crew and said that while he wasn't allowed outside the Vittorio Veneto's engine room his first week at sea, his current cast of crew members enjoys the DISCO every night!
In a society where change is the accepted norm, it was refreshing to meet someone with such entrenched values and ideals. Gianfranco Borzone is a true gentleman of the sea and an important asset to Carnival Cruise Lines. He told me of his favorite destination - Haiti Plague - a small beach in St. Tropez in the south of France (along with the Cote D'Azur, Paris and the rest of France). If by chance your future travels take you there and you notice a happy, relaxed, good looking Italian speaking gentleman - it just might be Gianfranco!
Doug Terhune is quite the experienced solo cruiser and is a regular columnist and reviewer for the SeaLetter. His Ship Tips columns are very popular with our readers.
Doug's special interest is interviewing various officers on his cruises, including this interview and interviews with the Tropicale's head chef, and the Grandeur of the Sea's Captain. To find all of Doug's SeaLetter columns and cruise reviews, visit our SeaLetter COLUMNISTS Index.
Doug is always interested in your comments and suggestions and may be reached at: Doug@sealetter.com.
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