Captain Ian McNaught
Talks About
Queen Victoria

by Richard H. Wagner
      At the end of September 2009, Cunard Line’s Queen Victoria made a
rare two-night call in New York.   During this call, I had the opportunity
to sit down with veteran Captain Ian McNaught, the last Cunard captain
of the legendary Queen Elizabeth 2 and speak with him about his current
command, the Queen Victoria.

A Traditional Experience

  The experience on a Cunard ship is linked to tradition, in particular the
traditions of elegance and sophistication associated with the transatlantic
crossing.  Cunard has been providing regularly scheduled transatlantic
crossings since 1840.  Its fleet has included some of the greatest ocean
liners of all time including the Queen Mary, the Queen Elizabeth and more
recently the Queen Elizabeth 2 or QE2.
  In 1998, the company was acquired by Carnival Corporation, which
shortly thereafter commenced building a new ocean liner, larger than any
before.  The Queen Mary 2 (150,000 gross tons), which entered service in
2004, underscored the line’s continuing dedication to the transatlantic
  The Queen Victoria entered service some three years later.  She is the
second largest Cunarder ever built (90,000 gross tons).  However, unlike
her immediate predecessor, her primary role is not to do transatlantic
crossings but to complement QM2 by providing cruises in the style of the
ocean liners.
  “I think Queen Victoria is all about what QE2 was about and what Queen
Mary 2 is all about but with a slightly smaller and more, sort of cozy and
homey feel. Queen Mary 2, in the great sense of the word, is all about
getting from A to B, that thing on the North Atlantic where you set off from
Southampton and in five days you are going to be in New York and all the
history that goes with that.  This ship carries a lot of that with it but I think
she also carries a holiday feel and I think she is very good at it.”
   Part of the Cunard tradition is formality.   “We still do that here in
Cunard and that is what a lot of people come here and enjoy.  They know
when they come here that they are going to be seated in really nice
surroundings in pleasant restaurants and they are going to have that
traditional captain’s reception where they all lineup to shake hands with
me.    I think a lot of the reason why they come is the formality - - the
dressing up and the dinner with the silver service rather than queuing up
with a tray in a great big [buffet] somewhere   That is what they come for.”
    “In the daytime, that formality is not there at such a high level and you
can relax and enjoy the ship or enjoy the port but in the nighttime, it is nice
to get dressed up and do those old-fashioned formal things and go ballroom
dancing after dinner.  It is great and that is what we do here and that is what
makes us that little bit different from everybody else.”
  Another distinguishing factor is a cultural and intellectual onboard
enrichment program.  “The product experience is still a high level product
experience with the enrichment program.  We still get big name lecturers
who come aboard and give talks to passengers.  We still have the
port/destination lecturer who is not just selling [jewelry]; he is actually
telling you about where you are going, the history and what to look at.  We
still keep all that. That is what Cunard people expect.”

The People Factor      

  Cunard has long been regarded as a quintessentially British line and
Queen Victoria carries forward that tradition.  “The flavor of the ship is
British.  We have the red ensign flying on the aft end, we have Southampton
written under the name Queen Victoria.  What we are selling is that
traditional Cunard experience.”  Not surprisingly, the majority of the
passengers that travel on Queen Victoria are British although the ship also
attracts significant numbers of Americans and Germans.
  The ship’s company, however, is not exclusively British.  “As QE2 had,
as Queen Mary 2 has and as most of the cruise ships in the world have, we
have a multi-national ship’s company.  It is amazing how well it works.  We
have probably got around 30 nationalities in the ship and it works, it really
does work. You have Brits, Filipino nationalities, European nationalities - -
everybody is here.  It is amazing because we have this huge mix of
cultures, a huge mix of religious views, if you like, and yet everyone just
comes together, gets on with it, does their thing and lives very happily
together.  Living in a ship is not easy because you are in this little metal
box and everybody works very, very hard, nobody has an easy day, and yet
for some reason we all seem to get on together.”
  “I can remember when QE2 was all British and I’ll be honest, it had its
problems.  When we went multi-national, it refreshed the ship enormously
and the ship survived for the next 25 years as a very happy ship with a very
good product.  We have moved that into here and into Queen Mary 2.  I
think the ship’s company as a unit has very much of a big family feel and
that feel I hope transfers to you the passenger so you feel happy and
welcome when you are here.  I think it does.”
  Captain McNaught attributes Cunard’s success in transferring the Cunard
atmosphere and the cooperative working spirit from QE2 to its more recent
ships to two factors.  First, QE2 crew members formed the nuclei the crews
of both ships.  “You just look around this ship now and an awful lot of the
ship’s company are from QE2 and I think that has made this ship feel very
settled, very quickly in its career - - it is only two years old but it is a very
settled ship.  It is a very happy ship and I think a lot of that is down to the
big number of QE2 people who are here working on the ship.”
  Second, Captain McNuaght gives a great deal of credit to Cunard’s
training program called the “White Star Academy” and its teachings.  “As
new crew members come to the ship who have not worked on Cunard ships
before, they do their basic training down in the White Star Academy with
the ship’s trainer to teach them how we live and work in Cunard before we
let them loose on the passengers .When they do step out in the public eye,
they know what Cunard stands for, they know what it means and what the
passenger expects.”
  This training is required even for crew members who have substantial
experience working on other ships.   “They still go through all the basic
process just to learn what we are all about before they go out into
passenger land.”  Looking out at the ships that were docked along side of
Queen Victoria, McNaught continued, “the product that you get on here,
Carnival Triumph and the Costa Atlantica, are very different products.  
Yes, the end result is you go home happy having had a nice cruise but how
we achieve that is very different.  So, the new waiter, the new bedroom
staff, the new cruise staff, they all have to learn what we are all about
before they go out into [the passenger] side of the ship.”
  “The White Star guidelines gives them an ethos to use in their everyday
life at work but not only for you the passenger but in amongst us as well so
that we know how to look after each other.  We all have to work together.  
It takes all 1,000 of us to make it work.  One person cannot make a ship
work.  We have White Star service in amongst ourselves so that we all
work together to achieve that product.  You can’t falsify these things, it has
to be real and I think the way we achieve that on here is not just White Star
service for you the customer but in amongst ourselves.  So, all those little
rules within the White Star code that make [the passengers] feel at home,
we also apply to ourselves to make us feel at home.  Happy crew, happy
passengers, it is as simple as that.”
  “If you have the right people in the ship, you will get the best out of the
ship and the best out of the Cunard product and that is down to us, the ship’
s company and the crew to provide that.   It is working very well on here.”

A New World of Technology

Queen Victoria has a diesel electric propulsion system.  The six diesels
generate electricity that is fed to two electric motors.  A fixed-pitch
propeller is attached directly to each motor.  The motors are suspended
below the hull in steel pods called “Azipods” with the propellers at the
front of each pod.  Since the pods can turn 360 degrees, the propellers can
pull the ship in any direction.  Thus, they are used both for propulsion and
for steering.     
  Captain McNaught was the last Cunard captain of the legendary Queen
Elizabeth 2.  That ship was built in Scotland in 1969 and was retired from
the Cunard fleet in late 2008.  While the technology on QE2 was upgraded
at several points during her career, Captain McNaught found Queen
Victoria to be a dramatic change.
  “There I was on QE2, diesel-electric, twin screw, single rudder, a bow
thruster that was about as powerful as a hair drier and then to come to this
with Azipods, a full modern bridge with electronic charts - - it was a whole
new world for me.  I had to go and get driving lessons.  So, I went off to a
simulator in Copenhagen to learn how Azipods work and how to drive a
ship with Azipods and also take a course for the electronic charts.  I have
had to learn an awful lot in the last year but the technology here really does
enhance the product.  Some things I do miss about QE2 but there are a lot
of good things here technology-wise (a) to make the ship a safer ship and
(b) to make the product that we give you the passenger better.  It is great
technology and it is amazing what you can do with this ship.”  
  One area where the new technology makes a dramatic difference is in the
maneuverability of the ship, especially in port.  “The whole maneuvering in
port - - putting the ship along side and taking her off again - - is totally
different than what I was used to on QE2 where you did everything very
slowly with tugs.  Here, most places we go we tend not to use the tugs
unless it is very, very windy.  Because we have the Azipods at the aft end
and because we have three bow thrusters up there, the total horsepower is
8,800.  You can turn her around quite comfortably in her own length in nice
tight spaces.  You can make her go sideways up to about 20 knots of
wind.  So, she is very, very maneuverable.”
  This ability to maneuver in port without assistance is particularly
important in light of the seemingly ever-increasing number of passenger
ships.  In order to attract customers, the cruise lines want to offer expanded
itineraries with voyages to more ports.    “If it is not a major port, a lot of
the ports do not have the tugs anymore so you need to be maneuverable
   Even in a major port, the ability to maneuver without assistance is
beneficial.  “The ships are getting bigger but the ports don’t get any bigger
so the parking spots are not getting any bigger either.  So, you do need that
maneuverability and that is what the Azipods give you.  Just going in and
out of Southampton, to be able to turn around in its own length at the top of
Southampton docks is something you would never even think of with
QE2.   It makes us feel a lot more confident with what we are doing with
the ship and a lot safer as well, of course.”
  Not only is the technology used in Queen Victoria an advance over that
of 40 years ago but she has been constructed to give her seakeeping
abilities that are superior to contemporary cruise ships.  The starting point
in building Queen Victoria was the Vista design, which has been used in
building cruise ships for Holland America Line, Costa Cruises and for
P&O Cruises.  However, Queen Victoria was lengthened by approximately
30 feet over the Vista design and as a result has greater transverse stability.
  “A lot of this was to give her the capability to do an ocean crossing in a
proper safe, fashion.  She has also got extra strengthening in the forward
section that the Vista class ships do not have so that we can comfortably do
a North Atlantic crossing.  We have just done that.  It was a six-day
crossing, so the average speed was 20.4, 20.5 knots.  She does it
comfortably.  Of course, that is important.  You do not want passengers
saying ‘Oh my goodness, I am never coming here again.’  So, it has to be
comfortable and it has to be safe.  You have to know that the ship can cope
with whatever the North Atlantic can throw at you. So, that 11 meters and
the extra strengthening in the frame compared to the Vista class, give us
that reassurance that she can safely cope with a long ocean passage.”
   This also gives more flexibility in developing itineraries for the ship.  
While Queen Victoria spends most of her time doing cruises from
Southampton in England, she also does the occasional transatlantic
crossing.  Also, ‘in 2011, once Queen Elizabeth [currently being built for
Cunard in Italy] is out and working, this ship is going to be moved across to
Los Angles where she is going to work out of the West Coast of the States
across to Honolulu and the islands.  So, once again, that Pacific Ocean
crossing, she needs to be good to be able to do that.”  
Captain Ian McNaught (Photo
courtesy of E. DeLaney)
Above:  Queen Victoria in New York
September 2009
There are more photos and
information about Queen
Victoria on the Queen
Victoria Profile Page
Above:  Queen Victoria's bow was strengthen
to allow her to do ocean crossings in comfort.
Above:  An elegant but warm interior.
Cruise interview - - Cunard Line - - Captain Ian McNaught