Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Seabourn Quest's 2012 World Cruise Captain Geir-Arne Thue-Nilsen: A Captain's Captain...And A Really Nice Person!


Experience. 
Responsibility. 
Duty. 

This is what is expected of the Captain Geir-Arne Thue-Nilsen during the Seabourn Quest’s Inaugural World Cruise which started on January 5, 2012.  But what the Seabourn guests and crew have received is much more. 



Captain Geir-Arne is a special breed; a special person.  He is more than a captain that says “Hello” as he is passing by or a sought after dinner host.  He is more than the captain with the great cameras, artistic photographs, and an endearing accent.  He is a captain that, having worked his way from the bottom up, understands and appreciates the needs and nuances of those that he commands…and takes the responsibility of being a Seabourn captain not only seriously, but to heart.


But what makes him this great captain, and one that I would be extraordinarily comfortable sailing with (yet again!), is summarized by a single comment he made to me during my interview with him on the Seabourn Quest as she was preparing to depart on her 2012 World Cruise.  He said, “Management is a pyramid, but not the way most people think of them.  My pyramid is upside down.  I am the point and then come my officers.  We support everyone on our ship:  the crew, the staff and our guests.”

In other words, Captain Geir-Arne sees himself as not only being responsible for, but the foundation, of the ship and her “family”.  He walks the ship with a smile and says hello to the crew, acknowledging them by name, congratulating them on promotions, high fiving another.  But one thing is very clear when you see the crew:  They know who the captain is and they know Captain Geir-Arne runs a very tight ship.  (And now you know why I have not referred to anyone working “under” him.)

There are many captains that believe arrogance, or abusiveness, is the way to make crew perform.  I have been around many of them, and have seen the consequences.  You see resentment and jobs not being performed as well as they could (Why should they if they aren’t going to be acknowledged or the captain is going to find something wrong anyway?) and, unfortunately, leads to mistakes.  But Captain Geir-Arne just doesn’t do that.  Take a look at his photography website:  http://www.captain-ga.com.  It is filled with photographs of his staff and crew, from Hotel Manager to deckhand, so that their loved ones can not only see them, but can see that they are well cared for.  I know, first-hand, how much these sort of things matter.



So how did this extraordinary captain come to be the master of the most luxurious World Cruise ship on the seven seas? 

Captain Geir-Arne Thue-Nilsen started out fishing from small boats in Norway and found that being on the water gave him peace of mind.  After four years as an infantryman in the Army, it was back to sea; but not on ships:  Oil Drilling Rigs.  He spent one year on the Ekofisk oil field in the Norwegian sector of the North Sea about 200 miles (320 km) southwest of Stavanger and then three years on the Ross Rig.  This now well-polished cruise ship captain spent his time as a Roughneck (hard manual laborer in dangerous working environs) and then a Derrickman (an extremely dangerous job handling piping and rigging from near the top of a derrick).

Being most observant, Captain Geir-Arne told me, “From the top of the derrick I noticed during the summertime that quite a few cruise ships ‘came by’ to have a look at us.  I knew that they would be [in] calmer seas during wintertime and probably more comfortable than here in the North Sea during fall and winter storms.”  So he applied to the Norwegian America Line in 1978.  He was offered employment almost immediately and joined the Vistafjord as an able-bodied seaman in 1978 and began to rise through the ranks.

Feeling the need to know more, the captain took time to attend Masters and Horten Engineering Academy (obtaining an engineering degree) and worked on cargo ships for the next five or so years.  He then he returned to the cruise industry being employed by Cunard as Staff Captain on the Sagafjord, Vistafjord and then the Royal Viking Sun.  When Cunard and Seabourn combined synergies he continued as Staff Captain of the newly renamed Seabourn Sun and then in May 2002 became Captain of the Seabourn Legend. 


Since then Captain Geir-Arne Thue-Nilsen has been the master of every other Seabourn ship (Pride, Spirit, Odyssey and Quest)…except the Seabourn Sojourn.

So now that we know the person, it is time to talk about his thoughts concerning the 2012 World Cruise of the Seabourn Quest…and a few other things.



What do you love about World Cruise guests?  “I know the majority of our World Cruise guests from previous cruises.  Since we are together onboard for a rather longer period than other cruises, we all get to know each other much better and enjoy each other.  It is special to see the World, or at least a large part of it, in ‘one go’ together.”


What World Cruise ports are you looking forward to?  “On this World Cruise it is the first time for the Seabourn Quest, her Guests and Crew for almost all of the ports, so I am looking forward to every one of them.  Of course the big cities have a lot to offer and are always exciting, including overnights in Rio, Cape Town, Ho Chi Minh, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Dubai.”

Note Captain GA's signature red and green (port and starboard) socks!  (You might otherwise never see them!)
What World Cruise ports are new to you?  “Jamestown on the island of St. Helena; Walvis Bay, Namibia; Maputo Mozambique; Le Port in Reunion; Male in Maldives; Georgetown in Malaysia; and, Keelung in Taiwan.”

Are there any special tours, experiences or photographs you are looking forward to enjoying along the way?  “I haven’t had a chance to look into any tours just yet, but I am very much looking forward to getting a good collection of pictures for the entire Seabourn Quest’s first World Cruise. As we all know that sometimes pictures can say more than 1000 words. 

















I will try my utmost to get a few special pictures of all the places we visit and pictures of all of the crew that is doing the entire world cruise together. I will also take many crew pictures with wishes to their friends and families back home.”

Are there any navigational or logistical challenges?  “Weather-wise we should be doing very well for the entire cruise so I don’t see any challenges there.  Sometimes the pilots, such as sailing into Shanghai, who can be a challenge due to language difficulties. Of course, any new ports are in itself a challenge as I have no prior experience with them, but I am comfortable that myself and the ship’s officers will be properly prepared…as always.” 

Related to that, and ignoring “Pirate Alley” and the Panama and Suez Canals, what cruises in Seabourn’s brochure are the most challenging as the ship’s captain from a navigation and seamanship perspective?  “Pilots in China can sometimes be a challenge due to language problems and sometimes you might have three of them at the same time up on the bridge and all of them "screaming" at each other (very loudly and in Chinese, of course). Sailing the Saigon river or up the river to Bangkok you have to watch the pilots very closely as some of them don't manage to handle the ship through certain sharper turns. (I have had to take over the driving at least 4-5 times in the last 10 times up the rivers.)  Also sailing the river up to Seville in Spain as sometimes the water in the river is very low - meaning we are almost touching the mud banks in the river - slowing us down and making the steering a little more difficult.”

 If you could take off your uniform and be a guest on a Seabourn ship for several weeks, where would you like to cruise and why? “I would definitely take the World Cruises!  I also love areas like Alaska, Norway fjords, sailing in to Stockholm, Sweden (Baltic Sea cruises), South America cruises, Panama Canal cruises, and the South Pacific islands too. It could be on any of the Seabourn ships as all the people working onboard our ships are so dedicated, professional and good-hearted human beings.”



I would like to thank my friend, Captain Geir-Arne Thue-Nilsen, for taking the time to allow us to get to know him just a bit better and to understand the things that make this Captain - and a Seabourn World Cruise - so special.