Few seafarers have the breadth of experience of Captain Paul
Wright. Moreover, although he has commanded some of the
most famous passenger ships in the world including Cunard's
Queen Elizabeth 2 (QE2) and Queen Mary 2 (QM2), Wright
seldom talks about his accomplishments. Rather, he prefers
listening to others; particularly people who have a good sense
of humor. His relaxed style puts people at ease and so he
receives the friendship as well as the respect of guests and co-
Captain Wright was inspired to go to sea listening to a
relative who was a seafarer. After completing his cadetship
on tankers with Shell Oil in the late 1960s, Wright went to
work for Canadian Pacific Line in its passenger ships. The
most famous of these ships was the Empress of Canada. "She
was a nice ship. We were doing Liverpool to Montreal in the
summer. We used to go up to Bell Harve, through the
icebergs. Then we used to cruise out of New York in the
winter down to the Caribbean."
Caribbean cruising was still in its infancy. "There were
hardly any ships down there, maybe one, maybe two."
Moreover, "it was amazing just how little there was [for
passengers to do] on there." (See a daily programme from the
Empress of Canada)
This ship, however, would go on to lead a revolution in
cruising, not under her original name but as the Mardi Gras,
the first ship of Carnival Cruise Lines. The ship was
purchased from Canadian Pacific by Carnival's founder Ted
Arison and another firm. The first months of operation gave no
hint of the success that was to follow and so the other firm
offered to sell its interest to Arison's company. "From what I
understand, they paid a dollar for it and they took on a million
dollars debt for the Empress of Canada."
The reason that the Empress of Canada was up for sale
was that Canadian Pacific was exiting the passenger ship
business. Because of commercial passenger jets, CP's
transatlantic passenger service was no longer viable.
"I spent some time with CP after the passenger ships. I
was on their container ships, CP Discoverer, Voyager
"After Canadian Pacific I spent a long time on all sorts of
ships. I was on container ships, hovercraft, general cargo,
bulk carriers, dredgers. - - I don't think there was anything I
wasn't on. Then I did some delivery jobs. I took a 150 ton tug
across the North Atlantic in winter." Of course, all of these
experiences broadened and refined Wright's seamanship skills.
To Cunard Line
One day an officer he was working with told Wright that there
were some openings at Cunard. “I thought that would be nice
for a change. So I joined Cunard as a First Officer in 1980. I
spent about eight years on the Cunard Countess. I started as
First Officer and left as Staff Captain."
Cunard Countess was 17,495 gross tons and carried 750
passengers. She spent the great bulk of her time cruising the
Caribbean. "You could set your watch by it. It was San Juan,
an island every day apart from Sunday, and back to San Juan
on Saturday. It was a nice run. There were just a few other
ships around - - the Carla C, the Daphne, and the old Sun
Princess. It has changed quite a bit since then" he smiles.
Wright's next assignment was as the Staff Captain of the
Sagafjord (24,000 gross tons). Whereas the Countess had
been a mass market cruise ship geared toward the British
market, the Sagafjord had been purchased by Cunard from
Norwegian American Line and still retained much of her
Norwegian atmosphere. Indeed, all of the officers were
Norwegian. "I was the first Brit. They were suspicious at
first but they soon realized that I was just a simple seaman,"
Next, Wright became the Staff Captain of Cunard's
flagship, the Queen Elizabeth 2. The QE2 was yet another
culture change, being bigger, more formal and more
international than Cunard's other ships. "Cunard had a very
eclectic fleet - - the Sagafjord, the Sea Goddesses, the
Countess and Princess, and the QE2."
In 1993, Wright was given his first command: a Cunard
ship but one that relatively few people have sailed upon - - the
Atlantic Conveyor. It was Cunard's last cargo ship; a giant
container ship that replaced the Cunarder of the same name that
had been lost in the Falklands War. "She was as big as QE2
but you go on there and there are only 15 people onboard. It
was so different"
"My first command of a passenger ship was on the Crown
Dynasty." This was a 20,000 gross ton mass market cruise
ship, which Cunard chartered for a brief period in the 1990s.
"She was a nice ship. We were doing Alaska cruises."
Captain Wright then went shoreside as Cunard's Marine
Superintendent. In 1996, Trafalgar House, which was then
Cunard's parent company, was purchased for its engineering
holdings by the Norwegian industrial firm, Kaverner. The new
parent made it clear from the outset that it was not interested in
running a passenger ship company and thus Cunard was up for
"Everybody was coming in looking at the company and we
didn't know what was happening. Most of the companies that
were coming in were asset strippers. It was a real strange
time. People were moving on. I was very close to it myself
[but I decided] to hang on."
A white knight arrived in the form of Carnival
Corporation, which purchased Cunard in 1997. "Fortunately,
Carnival came in - - if it hadn't I'm sure Cunard would not be
around now. At one stage it looked like we would fizzle off
into nothing. It was very close before Carnival came in."
Commanding QE2 and QM2
After two years ashore, Captain Wright returned to sea in
1999 as captain of QE2. "It was something I had always
wanted since joining Cunard. I remember my first sailing from
Southampton, you hear that whistle go - - there is nothing like
it. You think of the history, the beautiful traditions."
He brought a relaxed, people-oriented style of command
with him that was popular with both guests and crew. "It
wasn't the traditional [style]. I couldn't be that sort of person.
Everybody has different ways of operation. We are all
individuals. There is room for all sorts of styles."
Captain Wright was in command of QE2 for the
international review of naval and civilian ships during the
2000 Fourth of July celebrations in New York harbor. He was
also in commanded when QE2 became the first civilian ship to
enter New York after the September 11, 2001 attacks.
Meanwhile, Carnival Corporation was planning to build a
new transatlantic liner to take over the transatlantic service
from the aging QE2. While new cruise ships were sailing out
of the shipyards seemingly every week, no one had built an
ocean liner for some 30 years. Such a ship had to be stronger
than a cruise ship in order to handle the rigors of the North
Atlantic and more powerful than a cruise ship in order to have
the speed needed to make a crossing in a reasonable time.
The result of this planning would be the Queen Mary 2, the
largest ocean liner ever built. Captain Wright was assigned
to oversee her construction in St. Nazaire, France. After QM2
entered service in early 2004, Captain Wright became one of
her first captains. "I spent the first 18 months or so on her
alternating with [Commodore] Ron Warwick."
"You look down the back end through the bridge window
and you think she is . . . big." Nevertheless, "she is more
maneuverable than the QE2 and she is a great sea ship. "
"She feels like a liner inside. You have traditional things
like the Grills, which people appreciate. The traditional bars
- - The Golden Lion always seems to be heaving; the Chart
Room is always nice. I think the Britannia is a beautiful
restaurant - - very imposing and impressive when you go in
In addition, the new ship was built to include all of the
features that the public had come to expect on a modern
passenger ship. "I think it was a very astute move by Micky
Arison [Carnival Corporation CEO] to have balconies on
QM2. Everyone was saying: 'You can't have balconies on a
transatlantic liner.' But he insisted. I think it has paid off.
People do want balconies. Balconies are so important to
There was also the addition of new features such as the
first planetarium at sea. This physical plant was enhanced by
an unrivaled enrichment program. The final result was that
"the ship is a destination as opposed to the ports."
During this time, Captain Wright commanded QM2 on her
maiden call to Hamburg, Germany. An estimated half million
people turned out to watch the ship sail down the Elbe river.
Captain Paul Wright on the bridge of Queen Mary 2
Cruise ship interview - - Cunard - - Queen Mary 2 - - Captain Paul Wright - page 1
Above: Cunard Countess
Above: Queen Elizabeth 2.
Below: Capatin Wright on the bridge wing of
OF THE QUEENS
A Conversation with
Captain Paul Wright,
the first person to have
commanded three Cunard
Richard H. Wagner
The Queen Mary 2.
The Empress of Canada became Carnival
Cruise Lines first ship, the Mardi Gras. (Photo
courtesy of Carnival Cruise Lines).