Ocean water in your blood is inherited - I am convinced of that. If you look at your great seagoing navigators of the world, they hail from only a few countries: Italy, Greece, Norway, Sweden and, Miami . . . . Technically, I guess you'd have to say that the really good ones all "end up" in Miami!!!
But navigating the oceans is historically a talent that is handed down from one generation to another. This is the case of our captain of the Grandeur of the Seas, Captain Ulf Svensson. His father was a chief engineer in Sweden - working for 50 years and lastly with the Johnson Line. As a young man, our captain spent 6-8 weeks every summer on ships in northern Europe. He knew he had salt water in his veins even back then.
He loved the technical part of the ships the best of all, but close behind was the galley - after all, this is where all the food came from! I had asked him if in his childhood he had ever been seasick, for the waters of northern Europe could get fairly rough, and he pointed out that his ONLY seasickness came one time when he was 15. This Captain does not wear the patch or take Dramamine!
At the ripe age of 15 1/2, the captain began his shipping career aboard a general cargo ship. He opted not to finish high school due mainly to his love for the ocean and ships. On his first stint, he spent 3 months at a time at sea, which is quite a long time for anyone, let along a 15 1/2 year old boy.
He spent a few more years at sea before he became an Able Seaman for a year. His next venture was to Botswana for 6 months on a cargo ship - and I happen to think 10 days is a long time to be away from home . . . .
When he turned 19, he was drafted into the Royal Swedish Army and spent approximately 1-1/2 years in training before he headed off to the Merchant Marine Academy in Gothenburg for over 3 years. In 1960 he was promoted to 3rd Officer on a cargo ship and in 1964 graduated from the Academy. Upon receiving his Masters License in 1966, he spent 2 years working for a luxury car ferry liner that journeyed between Sweden, Spain, and England. There the work schedule was working 6 weeks and off 6 weeks. Next was working as a Staff Captain on the Lindblad Explorer for just less than 2 years. The Lindblad did adventure expeditions and held 90 passengers.
Then the captain found himself working in Japan as Chief Engineer of a Roll-On Roll-Off ship - or better known as a "Ro Ro" ship. Three of these ships were built in Japan. The routes were mainly in the Pacific (China) and by now the Captain was developing quite the resumé. His talents were obviously noticed, and in 1985 he became Captain of a Ro-Ro ship. (Please, no breaking into song here!)
And if you think our captain had left out anywhere in the world in his travels, he just about covered that in his next duty, which was aboard a research ship in Antarctica. The ship was owned by the Indian government and the Captain spent 14 weeks on and 14 off.
Skip ahead a few years and in 1993, the captain took over Royal Caribbean's Viking Serenade - his first duty as captain of a luxury cruise ship. From there he went on to take charge of the Nordic Empress and supervised the building of the Grandeur of the Seas for three months. He has now been captain of the Grandeur since November of 1996.
Since we were on the eastern Caribbean itinerary, I asked the captain if he could make some general comments about the ports. In St. Thomas he noted the extended dock and the increase in shops - especially near the docks. "Putting passengers closer to their offshore destinations is very important," he said.
In reference to Labadee, Royal Caribbean's jewel of Haiti, I was surprised to learn that only one time in his realm as captain had the weather made it impossible to tender passengers. Coco Cay is in the middle of the ocean and is more vulnerable to rough seas, but here again, very few times has any of the line's captains been unable to tender their passengers onto their private island in the Bahamas.
"In San Juan, the docks need to be extended and the harbors need to be dredged," said the captain. Apparently San Juan has been discussing adding an additional dock to allow more ships to call there.
The Captain and his wife hosted several of us in his suite one evening before dinner. They spoke of their two children and their marriages (one quite recently) and when I asked Ulf about retirement, he looked around at his beautiful surroundings and indicated he was extremely content doing what he was doing. I cannot blame him - to be at sea on a luxury ocean liner with no grass to cut and snow to shovel, ahhhhhh, THAT is the good life!
The Grandeur of the Seas is as nice of a ship as any afloat today in the ever-growing cruise ship flotilla. We had perfect weather (I think the captain darted a few showers one day), the food and service were excellent and we had the good fortune of letting a veteran of the seas drive us home.
Doug Terhune is quite the experienced "solo cruiser" and is a regular columnist and reviewer for the SeaLetter. His monthly "Ship Tips" columns are very popular with our readers.
Doug's special interest is interviewing various officers on his cruises, including interviews with the Tropicale's head chef, the Inspiration's Chief Engineer, and the Sensation's Captain. To find all of Doug's SeaLetter columns and cruise reviews, use the SeaLetter Search Engine entering "Douglas Terhune" as your search phrase.
Doug can be reached at: Doug@sealetter.com.
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