Commodore Ronald Warwick, Master of the Queen Mary 2, has long been a very familiar face to Cunard Line fans. But the forthcoming retirement of this iconic captain, a 36-year veteran with the line, will be met with a series of special commemorative events to be held in his honor. His official farewell voyage is the July 24 sailing from New York to Southampton.
Warwick began his seagoing career at age 15, and joined Cunard in 1970 as third officer on the Carmania. He went on to serve in several ranks on various Cunard ships, making Captain in 1986 on the Cunard Princess.
In 1990, he made history when he was promoted Master of the Queen Elizabeth 2, because in doing so he was following in the footsteps of his father, who had been the first Master of that ship. But there are other family memories, too. Warwick, who lives in Somerset, England with his wife Kim (she is also a familiar face to Cunard passengers having joined her husband on many sailings), counts among his most memorable shipboard experiences his daughter's October 2001 marriage ceremony onboard the QE2 in Boston harbor. (The ceremony was conducted in accordance with a special license issued by Massachusetts and was the first legal marriage in living memory carried out by a Cunard Master onboard any of Cunard's ships.)
He later became the first Master of the Queen Mary 2. His granddaughter, Elizabeth (Beth), was recently christened on the QM2.
Cruise Critic contributor Fran Golden, onboard Queen Mary 2 on a recent crossing, sat down with the Commodore to discuss everything from rogue waves to celebrity passengers. Ironically, Commodore Warwick was onboard not as a master, but as a passenger.
Cruise Critic: As a first-time passenger on this ship, what have you learned?
Commodore Warwick: I've learned that the service is genuinely good. Going around in disguise -- there's a lot of new staff -- I see them delivering the same service that I always saw as Commodore. And I've seen the ship work in different ways. And it's very nice to see everything is really working well. The crew is doing what they're supposed to do in delivering the White Star service.
CC: Is it difficult at all for you to relish the passenger role after being in charge?
CW: It's very nice. We've got a very nice cabin. It's got a balcony, which I didn't have as Master of the ship. I'm getting all the benefits of service at the beck and call, so we've really enjoyed it. I've known some of the crew since they were youngsters, and now they've grown up and married. And my wife Kim who's onboard with me is godmother to some of the staff's children, so it's nice to be actually able to stop and talk to them and spend more time with them.
CC: What are the most common misconceptions for first-time passengers about doing a trans-Atlantic crossing?
CW: I think the most common one is that people think they are going to be bored. And if you sort of define that more by saying whether it's the males or females who think they are going to be bored, it's probably the males. Typically the man is dragged aboard by his wife and then effectively dragged ashore by her at the other end because he's enjoyed it so much. That's happened time and time again.
CC: What are some of the challenges you've encountered on your hundreds of trans-Atlantic crossings?
CW: We do have the challenges of the weather. The weather in the Atlantic can be horrendous at times, but other times it can be just like it is today, like a pond.
CC: Have you seen icebergs? Rogue waves?
CW: Well, we had a rogue wave several years ago on the Queen Elizabeth 2, a 90-ft. wave. We knew it was going to be very bad weather because we were crossing the path of a hurricane. We had expected 40- to 50-ft. waves and everyone was told that. And we got this rogue wave. But the ship was built very strongly so there was only superficial damage to the vessel and no one was injured. And most people slept through it as it occurred at 2 in the morning. As far as ice is concerned it has always been my policy to plot a course around 20 to 25 miles south of any known ice (we get the ice forecasts from the International Ice Patrol and several weather stations). I can't recollect ever seeing any icebergs.
CC: What has surprised you in terms of how ships have changed over the years?
CW: I have to say I was very surprised when Carnival Corp. took over this company in 1998 and then announced they were going to build another trans-Atlantic liner, because if you had asked me prior to that time I would have said the QE2 was the last of the ocean liners. But obviously Carnival realized that by building a bigger ship (Queen Mary 2) and using economies of scale and introducing all the new technology, they can run a very, very efficient operation. So I am very pleased to have been proven wrong.
CC: Do you have a prototype ship you would build if you could?
CW: No. There are a lot of experts out there for that. If I had one general wish it would be that the identity and success of Cunard Line lives certainly beyond my lifetime. I'd be very upset if the name Cunard disappeared. It's one of the few companies today that uses the name of the founder (Samuel Cunard) as the name of the company, and I'd like that heritage to continue.
CC: You've had a lot of celebrity passengers over the years. Do you have a favorite?
CW: There's one man who sticks out in my mind more than the others and that was a chap called J.R., remember him? J.R. Ewing. Larry Hagman. This is going back a few years but he was the man women loved to hate in that "Dallas" thing. But he came onboard QE2 with his wife and daughter, and in real life he is totally the opposite. He was so generous with his time. He stopped and had millions of photos taken with strange females on his arm, and it was really nice to see.
CC: What was the hardest part about being a captain?
CW: The hardest part was remembering names with thousands of passengers a week. Otherwise, there's nothing really hard.
CC: What will you do with your retirement?
CW: I have written a book about the QE2. I had a note from the publisher that they have now sold everything from their stocks, 31 years since it came out in three different editions. The last edition was '99 so I'd like to convince the publisher to move that forward to a further edition. And I'm very interested in aspects of the Cunard Line history. I have made a project of identifying those who sailed as captains of Cunard Line ships since 1840, and I am writing biographies of them and collecting pictures of them.
CC: Do you have any travel plans?
CW: My brother is in Texas. My in-laws live in Hawaii. I have close friends in the U.S. But as a seafarer, you live a rather segmented life and when we were at home, my wife and I didn't like to travel far from our home. So as a result of that I've hardly traveled around England. I've only ever been to Scotland once. And I've never been to Land's End. And Kim, my wife, is an American, and she is anxious to see it and I am anxious to see it. We have a little Morgan sports car so we're going to go off and explore.
CC: What are some of your most memorable experiences as a captain?
CW: I was chief officer of the Queen Elizabeth 2 when we went to the Falkland Campaign in 1982 and that was a fascinating experience -- not withstanding the reason for going -- to go from being a passenger ship to a troop carrier. The amount of work that took place to convert it was incredible -- to see this magnificent ocean liner converted to a different role working with the Royal Navy. And then there is actually, being appointed to Captain of the QE2, which was my burning ambition once I joined the Cunard Line. To have actually achieved that in 1990 was very, very special. And the marriage of my daughter in Boston. Also being in the shipyard for the construction of this ship, and the keel-laying, and taking this ship out for the first time and the naming ceremony with the Queen of England. It's all been very special.
--by Fran Golden. Boston-based Golden, whose contributions to Cruise Critic include features, ship reviews and port profiles, is also co-author of Frommer's Alaska Cruises & Ports of Call.
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Q&A: Cunard's Legendary Captain Warwick