Cruise ship interview - - Celebrity Summit - - Celebrity Cruises - - Captain Nikolaos Frantzis
Captain Nikolaos Frantzis gives a
mariner’s view of Celebrity
Richard H. Wagner
Captain Nikolaos Frantzis is the master of Celebrity Summit.
This is a popular ship and in 2010, she undertook a popular
itinerary, sailing from Bayonne, New Jersey in New York
harbor to Bermuda. "This is my first assignment on a
Millennium class ship. I am pretty happy to be here because
this is a different ship for me and also a different itinerary."
Driving the Summit
To understand just how different Summit is, it is necessary to
contrast her against more traditional cruise ships. Since he
started with Celebrity Cruises in 1996, Captain Frantzis has
served on six Celebrity ships beginning with the Horizon,
Celebrity's first ship. However, his longest association was
with Celebrity Mercury where he spent four years as Staff
Captain and four years as Captain. During that time he saw
many far flung and exotic destinations as the Mercury took him
to Alaska, Hawaii, French Polynesia, the Bahamas and through
the Panama Canal. "It was a very good experience for me.
And, as a captain, I had a very good connection with the ship."
Mercury is the third ship in Celebrity's Century class. (See
Celebrity Mercury profile). At 77,000 gross tons, she is a
mid-sized cruise ship. "It is very nice. It was a very good
construction. Mercury has four diesel engines, variable pitch
propellers and two big rudders. The ship was quite
Stern thrusters and bow thrusters give the Mercury the ability
to move sideways, which makes docking the ship and
undocking (i.e., leaving the pier) much more easy.. However,
the key to her maneuverability lies with her two rudders. Each
"rudder consists of two flaps - - a huge one and a smaller one.
If I say to the quartermaster, starboard 20, it means the first
flap will go 20 degrees but the second flap will go up to 55
degrees. So that makes the Century class ships very
maneuverable. [This can only be done during docking] not
when the ship is underway at 20 knots because [it would injure]
the vessel pretty badly."
Although Mercury only entered service in 1997,
technologically, she is based upon a much different concept
than the Celebrity ships that have followed. In fact, the next
class of ships built by Celebrity, the Millennium class, featured
advanced technology that is still cutting edge a decade after the
first ship in the class entered service. Celebrity Summit, is the
third ship in the Millennium class.
"On the Summit, we have two gas turbine engines and azipods -
- a very big difference."
Gas turbine engines are used on modern warships and are
relatively more compact and efficient than is a diesel engine
power plant. "They give you more power. To have the ship at
the maximum speed of 24 knots, I can have a total of 67,000
horsepower or 50 megawatts. Because they burn marine gas
oil - - a very purified gasoline similar to jet fuel oil - - I have
zero emissions, no emissions at all Of course, it is very
expensive. Marine gas oil is very expensive."
Indeed, because of the expense of burning marine gas oil, the
Millennium class ships were all retro-fitted with an additional
diesel engine, which is used primarily to produce power when
the ships are in port.
Azipods replace both the rudders and the traditional propeller
shafts used in ships like Mercury. The propulsion mechanism
for the ship is housed in giant pods suspended below the hull of
the ship. On the front of the pod is a propeller that is
connected to an electric motor inside the pod. The electric
motor gets its power from cables that go to the gas turbines,
which are located inside the hull of the ship.
"This ship is very maneuverable because the azipods can
rotate 360 degrees. Summit does not have stern thrusters like
the Mercury has. She is also a little heavier than the Mercury
because she is bigger. But that is okay because I have much
more power at the stern because of those azipods. Also, here I
have three bow thrusters. They can produce 9,600 horse
power, which is a lot - - it is like two tug boats. I have the
power of two tugboats - - that is huge." This system enables
Summit to dock and undock usually without the assistance of
In Bermuda, the local authorities require that all cruise ships
have a tugboat standing by during docking and undocking just
in case. "Bermuda is in the middle of the Atlantic and all of a
sudden you can have winds from 25 knots up to about 50.
With those winds, we might have some troubles. I needed [a
tugboat] just once so far. When I was maneuvering the ship
away from the pier, I had 40 knots winds off the starboard side.
The tugboat assisted me, for five or ten minutes, with my bow."
The wind also must be considered when approaching or
leaving Bermuda. These islands are surrounded by reefs and
cruise ships have to approach and exit through a channel that
runs the length of the island chain. "There are spots in the
channel that are very tight, and next to us we have shallow
waters, I mean really shallow waters like 3, 4, or 5 feet, which
is nothing. Definitely the wind is affecting me but this is my
job, I have to compensate for the wind at all times. So for
instance, if my true course is 26 degrees, in order to
compensate for the wind, maybe the ship's heading is different,
maybe 30 degrees - - four more degrees to starboard in order to
compensate for the wind."
In addition to increasing maneuverability during docking and
undocking, the azipods also make the ship more efficient when
she is underway. In a traditional system, the propeller is at the
end of a propeller shaft and faces the stern of the ship. The
propeller pushes the ship through the water. Because the
propeller is on the front of the pod in an azipod system, it pulls
the ship through the water. Whereas in the traditional system,
the propeller is biting into water made turbulent by the
propeller shaft and its supporting struts which precede the
propeller through the water, the propeller in an azipod system is
biting into undisturbed water. "It is preferable to pull. This
way, I have better performance of the propellers. The actual
movement of the ship is much better pulling rather than
The azipod system does, however, require a captain to adjust
his thinking. "If I say to the quartermaster starboard 10, he is
going to put the wheel starboard (right) 10 degrees. The actual
movement of the azipods, however, will be to port. But the
movement of the ship will be to go to starboard. This is
because [the pods are] pulling the stern [thus making the] the
bow go to the right. I am pulling the stern to port, to the left,
so the bow is going to starboard. You have to keep that in your
Even though Summit's technology was cutting edge when she
entered service, "The technology is being constantly updated at
all times." Indeed, "as far as I know the Solstice class ships
[Celebrity's latest class] have very similar technology and
bridge equipment to what I have here."
Commanding the Summit
Driving the Summit is not a one man operation. Indeed, most
of the time that the ship is at sea, the captain is attending to
other duties and the bridge is staffed by the ship's navigational
officers. When docking or undocking, the captain is on the
bridge but "there is also the staff captain and the navigation
officer to assist me. I tell them 'Don't feel comfortable just
because I am on the bridge - - you have to continue to do your
jobs. You are my back-up; you have to support me - - that is
why we are two or three officers on the bridge."
While Captain Frantzis enjoys maneuvering the ship himself, he
does allow his officers to drive subject to his supervision. "It is
my personal philosophy and also the company's philosophy to
train the staff captain in order to be able to take over at any
time. The captain, for instance, could have an accident and
somebody would have to take over immediately. Apart from
the staff captain, I train the safety officer. The safety officer
has three and a half stripes and holds a captain's [license] as
"So sometimes, if I feel comfortable with other officers, I will
step back and let them do the maneuvering but before I do I
will give them instructions and explanations on how I am
thinking, on what is my philosophy because there is a kind of
philosophy and technique behind this maneuver. Most people
see a ship coming into port and getting along side, [and think] it
is easy. But behind this there is a philosophy, experience,
"If I feel comfortable, I will allow a three-stripe officer to do
the maneuvering. But, of course, I would start with undockings
primarily. Undocking the ship is easier than dockings. Going
towards the land, the pier, is more complicated. Leaving the
pier, going away from the pier, is easier. So most probably, I
would start with undockings and then easy dockings. Then I
will increase the difficulty level."
Commanding a cruise ship involves more than driving the
ship. The captain is ultimately responsible for the services
provided by nearly 1,000 crew members including waiters,
stateroom attendants, engineers, doctors, and others. Captain
Frantzis is pleased with the guests' reaction to Summit's crew.
"On a daily basis, I meet guests who tell me how happy they
are to be onboard, sailing with Celebrity Cruises. Usually, they
congratulate me for my staff's performance. Especially on this
ship - - people telling me thank you for a nice cruise, your crew
is very friendly, they satisfy our needs at all times."
The crew's performance bears a direct relation to how they are
treated. "We have a brand new management style. If we feel
that something needs to be corrected, we sit down and talk in a
nice friendly way. And our crew really appreciates that and
that makes them feel comfortable with us. It does not matter if
we have stripes and officers' uniforms. They like that
somebody takes good care of them and this is our philosophy.
We want our crew to be happy. We want them to do their job
Both bearing the company paint scheme,
Celebrity Mercury (above) looks similar to
Celebrity Summit (below). However,
technologically the ships are quite different.
Captain Frantzis at the welcome
Because of the possibility that strong
ocean winds might suddenly arise,
Summit is secured at her berth in the
Bermuda Royal Naval Dockyard with 22
Captain Frantzis leds members of his
crew in waving good-by to the passengers
at the end of one cruise.
Captain Frantzis introducing Summit's senior
officers at a formal night reception.