September 25, 2006

From `Dallas' to war to daughter's wedding, commodore has seen plenty aboard ships

From `Dallas' to war to daughter's wedding, commodore has seen plenty aboard ships

Sunday, September 24, 2006
ABOARD THE QUEEN MARY 2 -- Arguably, no one knows more about transatlantic cruising than Cunard Line Commodore Ronald Warwick, who retired after 36 years at sea, including serving as Master of the Queen Mary 2. Warwick made history when he reached the position of Captain of the Queen Elizabeth 2, because in doing so he followed the footsteps of his father, who also captained that ship. The Commodore sat down for a chat with writer Fran Golden aboard the QM2.
GOLDEN: What are the most common misconceptions for first-time passengers about doing a transatlantic crossing?
WARWICK: I think the most common one is that people think they are going to be bored. And if you sort of define that more by saying whether it's the males or females who think they are going to be bored, it's probably the males. Typically the man is dragged aboard by his wife and then effectively dragged ashore by her at the other end because he's enjoyed it so much. That's happened time and time again.
GOLDEN: What are some of the challenges you've encountered on your hundreds of transatlantic crossings?
WARWICK: We do have the challenges of the weather. The weather in the Atlantic can be horrendous at times but other times it can be just like it is today, like a pond.
GOLDEN: Have you seen icebergs? Rogue waves?
WARWICK: Well, we had a rogue wave several years ago on the QE2, a 90-foot wave. We knew it was going to be very bad weather because we were crossing the path of a hurricane. We had expected 40- to 50-foot waves and everyone was told that. And we got this rogue wave. But the ship was built very strongly so there was only superficial damage to the vessel and no one was injured. And most people slept through it as it occurred at 2 in the morning. As far as ice is concerned it has always been my policy to plot a course around 20 to 25 miles south of any known ice (we get the ice forecasts from the International Ice Patrol and several weather stations). I can't recollect ever seeing any icebergs.
GOLDEN: What has surprised you in terms of how ships have changed over the years?
WARWICK: I have to say I was very surprised when Carnival Corp. took over this company in '98 and announced they were going to build another transatlantic liner, because if you had asked me prior to that time I would have said the QE2 was the last of the ocean liners. But obviously Carnival realized that by building a bigger ship (QM2) and using economies of scale and introducing all the new technology, they can run a very, very efficient operation. So I am very pleased to have been proven wrong.
GOLDEN: You've had a lot of celebrity passengers over the years. Do you have a favorite?
WARWICK: There's one man who sticks out in my mind more than the others and that was a chap called J.R., remember him? J.R. Ewing. Larry Hagman. This is going back a few years but he was the man women loved to hate in that `Dallas' thing. But he came on board QE2 with his wife and daughter and in real life he is totally the opposite. He was so generous with his time. He stopped and had millions of photos taken with strange females on his arm and it was really nice to see.
GOLDEN: What was the hardest part about being a captain?
WARWICK: The hardest part was remembering names with thousands of passengers a week. Otherwise, there's nothing really hard.
CC: What are some of your most memorable experiences as a captain?
WARWICK: I was chief officer of the QE2 when we went to the Falkland Campaign in 1982 and that was a fascinating experience -- not withstanding the reason for going -- to go from being a passenger ship to a troop carrier. The amount of work that took place to convert it was incredible -- to see this magnificent ocean liner converted to a different role working with the Royal Navy. And then there is actually, being appointed Captain of the QE2, which was my burning ambition once I joined the Cunard Line. To have actually achieved that in 1990 was very, very special. And officiating at the marriage of my daughter (on the ship) in Boston. Also being in the shipyard for the construction of this ship, and the keel-laying, and taking this ship out for the first time and the naming ceremony with the Queen of England. It's all been very special.

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