Part One: Captain Oprey's career
Part Two: Commanding the Queen
With keen enthusiasm, Captain Oprey cites three reasons why Queen Mary 2 is different than any other ship. First, “she was built and designed specifically to uphold all of the traditions the company has, which goes back 170 years or more.”
Because tradition is so important at Cunard, to learn about the company’s traditions, Captain Oprey has turned to people such as Stephen Payne, the naval architect who designed QM2 and John Duffy, the legendary hotel manager who served on the original Queen Elizabeth, was synonymous with the Queen Elizabeth 2 and who recently retired from QM2.
“Having only been here a year, I can’t turn around and say I’m a Cunarder. I can’t talk in my speeches with the experience of the people who have been here for many years. I wish I had come here 20 years ago and become a Cunarder. I am not a great one for reading it and just saying it; I want to experience it and then say it from my own heart. That will only come in time.”
Second, “she is different as well in that she is an ocean going liner. She is built for the Atlantic. She is what it says on the label - - she is built as a transatlantic liner.”
Third, “she is in the public eye all of the time.” Because she is the heir to the Cunard tradition and the heritage of the great transatlantic ocean liners, QM2 has a unique public reputation that extends beyond the cruise ship industry. In addition, her participation in public events such as the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations places her in the spotlight more than other passenger ships.
The unique nature of the ship places additional demands upon her commanding officer. “You have to be very aware of what she is and you have to be very conscious of what you do. It’s a greater responsibility in my mind than any other ship that you can command.”
“What I have to do in the time that I have got here is to retain what [QM2] has got. It goes back to what she is; she is a traditional ocean liner. First and foremost, you have got to try and keep that. To try and make it something that it is not, to try and go with the rest of the market and be something different would be completely wrong. So the first thing is to uphold the tradition of what the ship is and what the company is.”
However, one of the traditions that has enabled Cunard to survive for more than 170 years is the ability to reconcile respect for the past with the ability to adapt to the demands of contemporary life. The best illustration of this is the life of QE2, which continuously evolved over the course of her 40 years in service.
“I was very fortunate during the world cruise to go across [with John Duffy] to QE2 in Dubai. I walked around with him and he told me quite a lot about how things changed. That ship went through several different transitions to keep going. When you think back and look at it, how clever they were as a company to manage to survive.”
This difficult balancing act remains a challenge for Cunard today. “They have got to keep the tradition of the ship. They have got to find ways of keeping what this ship is all about going. [At the same time], they have got to find new ways of taking the ship forward. They have done all the things with RADA, Julliard, songwriters at sea and the three-D cinema but they can’t let the product settle as it is. They can’t be complacent.”
This does not mean that Cunard should just follow whatever passing fad that becomes popular in the cruise industry. Any changes made to QM2 have “got to be something sophisticated to make [them] work and have got to have of a lot of elegance.”
“One thing I would really like to see is to try and encourage some of the famous people back to the ship. If you look back through the history of the company, you see all the film stars and politicians [that have sailed with Cunard]. We had George Bush and Barbara Bush onboard recently. They were really very friendly, very approachable to everybody onboard.” Other notable names traveling recently on the ship included Edwina Sandys and rock legends Roger Daltry and Roger McGuinn. “I just think that that would start to instill another era.”
Some changes are forced upon the ship by external forces. For example, historically, the shipping companies emphasized speed and vied to have the fastest ocean liner on the Atlantic While QM2 remains faster than any liner or cruise ship in service today, the high cost of fuel keeps her from using her speed except on rare occasions. This is because there is much greater fuel consumption at higher speeds.
“They schedule this ship to operate on seven day [crossings] now, which is on average 22.6 knots or so. [But during the world cruise], I put everything on coming down from Dubai to Muscat. We did just over 28 knots. If there is a need to do it, we do it. We are a liner service, we have to be there at a certain time.”
“We are no different than any other business. We have to be careful how we spend. Fuel as it is right now is extremely expensive. What the company can achieve in fare prices has to be balanced against what we spend on fuel and everything else. If you don’t make these decisions, something is going to go. It is better to look at the business now, manage it properly and operate the ship as efficiently as you can to sustain what we have.”
As captain, Oprey is responsible for the efficient operation of the ship on a day-to-day basis. This involves providing leadership to over a thousand crew members.
“When I came here I found that with the crew that we have, you could almost let [the ship] run itself because they are dedicated to what they do. They are Cunard/White Star; they are trained that way. You only have to see how they operate in the restaurants to know that they are pretty committed to what they do.”
“With regard to leadership, I tend to look at it as I’ve got a team that I work with and the team is the important part of the ship. We have our senior management team meetings and our executive team meetings and I use what I hope is a skill in trying to get the best out of those guys. I like to think that I am approachable. I know when I have got to make a decision and they all know that too. And I know when I have to put my foot down a little bit harder and they know that too. Being able to listen, being able to encourage people to do things, take ownership of things and take the initiative to me is what my style of leadership is all about.”
Captain Oprey introducing the senior officers during a reception on Queen Mary 2.
"I like to be out and be seen. I think that is another part to your role. I’m always ready to stop and have a chat. If you are not prepared to do that then don’t bother coming, go and work on a cargo ship."
Cruise ship interview - - Cunard Line - - Queen Mary 2 - - Captain Kevin Oprey - - page 2