Meet the Officer

Officer Q&A: An interview with the Captain

For my latest officer interview, I am delighted to introduce you to P&O Cruises Captain Derek Gray. I have had the privilege of sailing with Derek when he was Master of Azura. He is well loved by crew and passengers alike, bringing his unique Scottish flair to the role.

How long have you been at sea and what inspired you to become a deck officer?

I have been at sea since leaving school. I will not say when that was, as it gives my age away. I wanted to come away to sea from around the age of twelve. I am not sure where the desire came from but it was burning away for a long time. When once being told off by my mother, which was a regular occurrence as a youngster, I remarked “I will be a Captain on a big ship one day and then you can’t tell me off.” There are two things which have come from that. I am a Captain on a big ship, and my mother still tells me off.

Can you tell me about your role as Captain, along with some details of your day-to-day routine?

I wish I could say that there was a day-to-day routine, but that does not exist. The way that the day progresses varies greatly, depending on whether we have a port call or a sea day. A port day can involve a ridiculously early start. Some ports in Norway you can be starting work at 0130, and yes, that is in the morning. I will make my way to the bridge usually 15 minutes prior to standy by and familiarise myself with what is happening there.

Derek with Oriana in dry dock

I then run through the takeover checklist and get a full brief from the co-navigator. Then we conduct the arrival briefing with the team involved in the arrival evolution. This gets everyone on the same page and using the same mental model. This is vital as we need to make sure that we are all aware of what to expect for the manoeuvre. I will then brief the Engine Control Room, again to keep them in the loop, so that they know what to expect.

Then comes the fun part, docking the ship. It will not always be me who conducts the docking, everyone thinks that the Captain always parks the ship. It will normally be one of the other deck officers, under my guidance, who will do the arrival or departure manoeuvre. As Captain, I am responsible for training up the Captain’s of the future and the best way to do that is start off with the junior officers. They will have briefed me the day prior, as to how they intend to conduct the manoeuvre. There are then various meetings to be conducted. I will also spend a large amount of the day walking around the ship talking to the guests and the crew. The best way to get a feel of what is happening on the ship is to go and ask people.

There may be in port functions such as the crew birthday party, outstanding performance awards, crew drills, cabin inspections, crew induction training, functions for our frequent travellers, informal meetings with my SMT to discuss upcoming challenges or changes to the itinerary. Once the ship departs then there may be cocktail parties, where I need to make a little speech or other evening functions. There is always something to keep you busy. The thing that I do enjoy is that there is no such thing as a normal day.

I have heard that a Captain is non-departmental. Can you explain what this means?

There are four departmental heads on the ship, who make up the Senior Management Team or SMT. The Deputy Captain, who is my number two, Chief Engineer, Hotel General Manager and HR Manager. The departmental heads run the departments on board. I sit outside the departmental structure and take a whole ship view of the operation. There are sometimes departmental priorities which the SMT need to prioritise, but these may not necessarily work for the ship as a whole. So it is my responsibility, being non-departmental, to make sure that everything aligns with the ship’s operation.

Derek is currently Master of Oriana
Derek is currently Master of Oriana

What do you like most about your role?

There are many parts of the job that I love. The big one for me is passing on knowledge and experience to the junior officers. It is great to see them develop and the morale boost that comes to them the first time they berth or unberth a ship. I also enjoy getting around the ship and talking to my crew and guests. I am a firm believer in looking after my crew. Without them I am nothing. Without me they just carry on as normal.

What’s the most challenging port that you have to bring your ship in to and out of, and why?

There is no real most challenging port. There are challenging conditions. You could do an arrival in say Grenada 100 times and it will be different every time. A port which may have been a simple arrival today, could have a 30 knot wind the next time you call and it changes the call completely. You can become obsessed with weather reports. Captains tend not to mind any weather as long as it is not windy. The ship side acts as a huge sail so you are affected greatly by the wind.

What’s your favourite port and why?

I absolutely love Barbados. Apart from the obvious 28 degree daily temperatures, sunshine and golden sandy beaches, the people on the island are some of the friendliest on earth. There is a real positivity and can do attitude. Back in the UK everything has to happen at 100 miles an hour, we want things yesterday and if that does not happen then we get all upset. In the Caribbean everything is just so much more relaxed. It is said that a Barbados day contains 25 hours.

Have you met any public figures or celebrities during your time at sea?

I have met quite a number of public figures and celebrities during my time at sea. The personal favourite for me was meeting Walter Smith on the Queen Mary 2. As a lifelong Rangers fan this was a dream come true. He is the second most successful Rangers manager in the club’s history and a childhood hero of mine. When I met him I tried so hard to suppress the 5 year old child inside me from breaking free. He even invited me to join him in the director’s box at Ibrox to take in a match. One of the best days ever.

Are there any countries you haven’t been to, but would like to visit?

I would love to visit Antarctica. It is the only continent that I have yet to visit and it would complete the world brilliantly for me.

You must have visited many countries during your career. When you’re not working, what do you like to do on your leave and what is your ideal holiday destination?

I am a Rangers season ticket holder so spend a fair bit of my time up at Ibrox. My ideal holiday destination is Barbados. I just love it.

What advice would you give to someone considering a career as a deck officer?

Be prepared to work hard. If you embark on a cadetship you will only get out of it what you are willing to put in. Remember that the deck officers you are working with have a wealth of knowledge and experience, it is up to you to tap into it.

You can find out more about P&O Cruises via their official website. To read more officer interviews, please visit my Meet the Officer page.

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