Captain Nick Bates has been  driving Cunard passenger ships
for most of the last 35 years.  As chief officer, staff captain and
later captain of Queen Elizabeth 2, he played an important part
in the QE2 story.  In addition, he sailed on and/or commanded
most of the other Cunard ships of the late 20th century.  Most
recently, he has commanded Cunard’s flagship, the
incomparable Queen Mary 2, bringing with him a unique style
of command that delights guests.

Setting a goal        

Although Captain Bates’ ambition was to follow both his
father and maternal grandfather to sea, he never envisioned
becoming a Cunard captain when he enrolled in Nautical
College in Belfast, Northern Ireland.  “About half way through
our first term, they asked: ‘What companies do you want to
join?’  They gave us all brochures from the different shipping
companies.  I just thumbed through them and I saw these grey-
hulled things with black and red funnels.  I thought: ‘Australia,
New Zealand, 12 passengers, that sounds really nice.’  Nice,
clean, well-kept ships.  And so I went to the headmaster of the
college in Belfast and I said: ‘Port Line, that’s the company, I
want to go for.”
    Port Line was a cargo subsidiary of Cunard and the
headmaster was not encouraging saying:  “Nobody from
Belfast has ever gone into Port Line.  It is one of the top three
companies in the world.  You’ll never get into it.  Go to
Headlands [a local Belfast company].”
    Bates was very discouraged by this news.  He had no
money so he hitch-hiked to his rural hometown to think things
over.  He explained to his mother, “I wanted to go to this
company called Port Line but they won’t let me do it.’  She
said ‘Hang on; your dad was with Port Line.’  So she wrote to
the company.”  In response, she received a letter from a man
who had sailed with Captain Bates’ father saying that if her
son was successful at the Nautical College, Port Line would
give him an interview.
    This spurred Bates on and he became top of the class.  At
the same time, without saying anything about his mother’s
correspondence, he kept after the headmaster to allow him to
apply to Port Line.  Finally, the headmaster said that Bates
could apply but only if he also applied to Headland.
When Bates had successfully completed his studies, Port Line
was true to its word and gave Bates an interview.  Still, the
headmaster was not impressed.  “You’ve got an interview that
doesn’t mean anything.”
    But when Port Line made Bates an offer of employment the
headmaster’s tune changed.  “He just couldn’t believe it. ‘One
of our lads.”
    Once with Port Line, Bates was sailing from Britain to
Australia and New Zealand on cargo ships.  These were long
voyages with weeks spent in the sunny ports of Australia and
New Zealand.  Bates found it ideal work for a young man.

An unexpected turn

In 1975, Bates had just received his master’s license, which
entitled him to command ships.  He was preparing to join a
bulk cargo carrier in Japan when he received a phone call
from someone in the passenger division of Cunard.  One of the
officers on Queen Elizabeth 2 was ill and since it was a
requirement that all of the navigational officers on the Cunard
passenger ships have a master’s license, they needed a young
officer with a master’s certificate to fly out and join QE2 in
Barbados.  The caller asked if Bates would be interested in a
two-month contract on
    “I said: ‘No, I don’t want to do that.  I had never thought I
was suited for passenger ships.  I thought it would be too stuffy
and a bit too formal.  I was used to going around the decks in a
pair of shorts and no shirt, climbing up the rigging, doing
things kids do and enjoying life.”
    The man from Cunard asked Bates to think about it
overnight and Bates said that he would.  He went down to the
local pub where someone was singing “I’m going to
Barbados” So, Bates thought why not, it is only for two months
and decided to go to QE2.
    Not everything about his new job was immediately to his
liking, however.  “I was second on a watch - - the junior man.  
I had been used to giving orders so I didn’t like that very
    However, he was awed by QE2’s abilities.  “The ship was
just extraordinary.  I remember being on watch and the first
officer was in the back doing some work.  I saw a ship up
ahead and I thought I’ll wander in and tell him: ‘There is a
ship up ahead, we’ll pass clear.’  He said: ‘Just keep an eye
on it.’  But when I went back again and I looked for the ship, I
couldn’t see it.  We had gone past it.  I wasn’t used to a ship
that was going 29 knots.  It was extraordinary seeing something
that could go that fast.”
    Bates was also impressed with “everything that went with
it [including] the history of Cunard Line.  I was proud to be
part of it and that has continued all the way through. [my
career]  I think anybody that has been involved with QE2 has a
real pride in it.  But not just QE2 - - Cunard.”
Rising through the officer ranks, Bates was first officer, chief
officer, staff captain and eventually captain of QE2   “QE2, I
loved that.  She was a legend and a legend in her own time.  40
years is quite something and I’m very proud that I had my
chance to serve on her.  To start off as second officer and to
end up as captain is kind of nice.”

Cruising with Cunard

Before becoming master of QE2, however, Bates commanded
several other Cunard ships.  This was in the days when the
Cunard fleet was far from homogenous and not all the ships
carried the atmosphere of the flagship.  Included in the fleet
were two mass market cruise ships, Cunard Countess and
Cunard Princess.  Captain Bates’ first command was the
    “At the time, she was a really nice ship.  Now, if you
looked at her, she could be used as a lifeboat for [QM2].  She
was 534 feet long - - half the length of this one.  But she was a
hugely popular ship around the Caribbean because she was
almost one of the first to be doing the Caribbean cruises on a
regular basis.  All the islanders got to know us and we got to
know them and it still stands us well today.”
       In the late 1990s, Cunard leased two other mass market
cruise ships and Captain Bates was given command of the
Crown Dynasty cruising around Alaska.  “She is a lovely
ship.  She has been one of my favorites because she was
lovely to maneuver.  She had quite modern technology as
compared to the Princess and Countess, which had somewhat
underpowered bow thrusters.  Her bow thrusters were up to
the task.  She had twin rudders, which makes for
maneuverability.  Princess and Countess only had one rudder
so you had to work harder to dock them and drive them.   She
is still going as the Braemar.”
    At the other end of the spectrum, Cunard also had at the
time, two ultra-luxury yachts called Sea Goddess I and II.  “I
did a year on the Sea Goddesses.  Nice small ships going
around the Caribbean and the Mediterranean, going places
where other ships couldn’t get into.  With 115 passengers, you
got to know them all very quickly. It was a lot of fun.”
    Cunard also owned two ships that had been originally built
for Norwegian American Line.  For most of their Cunard
careers, they maintained their Norwegian style and officers.  
However, when Cunard was purchased by Carnival
Corporation, the one remaining ship was transformed into the
Caronia.  “Of course, it was Carnival that kept Cunard going.  
If it hadn’t been for Carnival, we probably would not have
     Caronia was given a style similar to that of QE2.  “She
was very similar with the afternoon tea with the white gloves,
the lectures, the more formal dining arrangements.  I met my
wife on there so it has a memory.”
     As for her maneuverability, “she is the classic.  [In
nautical school] they train you on a twin screw ship with a
single rudder with one bow thruster and when you do exams,  
they say how would you do this, how would you do that?  And
there is a textbook answer and it was based on the Caronia.  It
did what you expected it to do.”

Time with another line.

After commanding QE2, in 2003, Cunard asked whether
Captain Bates would like to spend some time with sister
company Princess Cruises.  “I think their idea was ‘he needs to
get some modern ship experience and maybe if it works out,
we’ll put him onto the Mary’.  Again, I was a bit skeptical
before I went.  I thought this Princess business is going to go
over quite different.  But I loved it - - different style, different
way of doing things.  I loved the ships and the people.”
Captain Bates was given command of the Sapphire Princess,
an 116,000 gross ton Grand class mega-cruise ship, with a
2,600 person passenger capacity.  Later, Bates commanded
Sapphire’s sister ship, Diamond Princess.
     “I learned that it is okay to be different - - not everything
that Cunard did was 100 percent right; not everything Princess
did was 100 percent right.  You came to appreciate what each
“Companies are different.  If every ship were like a Cunard
ship or like a Princess ship or like a Carnival ship, it wouldn’t
please everybody.  You have to give people a choice.  There
are plenty of choices out there.”
     To illustrate, Cunard has positioned itself as presenting a
more elegant and more formal ocean experience.  Some people
would prefer a more informal experience but that is not what
Cunard is all about.  There are other lines that have positioned
themselves for those people.
     “That’s why I say to the [junior officers] whenever they
are doing a presentation and they are comparing this ship with
[ships of other major lines]: “Don’t run them down.  They are
good ships.  They are good at what they do.  It is petty if you
run someone else down.”
     “I think one thing Cunard has got better is the retention of
the crew.  Every time we change crew in a port, I go down and
meet them all, just to say welcome back and welcome to the
new guys and give them a little flavor of the ship and what it is
about.  On a Princess ship, whenever you do that and ask how
many people have been on this ship before, out of 50, you may
get two who have been there before.  The rest have been on
other Princess ships.  On [QM2], you get 48 who have been
here before and two that are new.  That is the continuity.  Of
course, Princess has got many more ships so it is not easy to
keep the same people.  But I think the companies are beginning
to realize that it is good to keep consistency within the fleet.  
People get comfortable and they make friends to work with
and that makes a difference.”  

Captain Nick Bates on the bridge of Queen Mary 2
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Cruise ship interview - - Cunard - - Queen Mary 2 - - Captain Nick Bates - page 1
Above: Captain Bates leans out from the bridge wing of QE2 to
watch the ship's stern as she moves away from the dock.

Below:  Captain Bates commanded both Caronia (left) and QE2
Above: Captain Bates when he was Staff Captain on
Queen Elizabeth 2.

Below: On the bridge of QE2.


A Conversation with
Captain Nick Bates,
Queen Mary 2

Part I

Richard H. Wagner
Above: Captain Bates' first commnad Cunard Countess.

Below:  Captain Bates also commanded the Crown Dynasty
when it was leased by Cunard.  Today, the ship is the
Braemar of Fred Olsen Cruise Lines