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PRINCESS CRUISES
GRAND
PRINCESS
An Interview with
Captain Edward Perrin
of GRAND PRINCESS

by

Richard H. Wagner
Google
 
Above:  GRAND PRINCESS in New
York.
Below:  Captain Perrin began his
career with Princess on the original
PACIFIC PRINCESS.
      Captain Perrin decided at a very young age on a nautical career.  
When QUEEN ELIZABETH 2 was launched in 1969, Captain
Perrin’s parents took him to see the new ship in Southampton.  “I just
thought it was the most spectacular thing I had ever seen in my life.  
And, at the age of four, I set into my mind that that was what I
wanted to do was to go to sea and eventually work on one of those
large liners.”
   “As I was leaving school at the age of eighteen, I still wanted to go
to sea but Cunard and P&O, the two big British companies, neither
of them were recruiting cadets at the time.  So, I ended up going to
sea with the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, which is a civilian-manned supply
division for the Royal Navy.  I was very lucky really because I had an
excellent training with them.  It took me ten years to get my master’s
certificate from leaving school with two days over the minimum sea
time.”
   Still, outside forces dictated a career change at that point. “I was
still very happy working with the Royal Fleet Auxiliary but at the time
the country was taking defense cuts.  I just looked at myself and
thought if I were an admiral and I had to cut, what am I going to cut,
my frigates and my aircraft carriers or my supply tankers?  I was on
the supply tankers so I thought it is time to change.  One morning, I
was sitting in a ship called the SIR BENEVERE at Marchford
military base in Southampton with a very close friend and colleague
of mine, and the CAMBERRA, the QUEEN ELIZABETH 2 and the
old SEA PRINCESS that later became the VICTORIA, came in and
came along side. They were right in front of me and I looked over
there and I said to my colleague Tony Draper, who is also a captain
with us now, and I said ‘I’m going to apply to those companies over
there.’  About a month and a half later, I was working for P&O
Cruises on the CANBERRA and never looked back.”
   CANBERRA was an icon of the British merchant marine.  Built as
one of the last ocean liners, she began her career in 1961 on the
Britain to Australia run.  Over time, as the market changed, she took
up cruising out of Britain.  She was used to transport troops during
the Falklands War in 1982 and was in the heart of the action.  Upon
her return, the ship remained very popular until her retirement in
1997.  “CANBERRA was like a dinosaur but it was lovable.  There
was a very close together rivalry between the CANBERRA and the
QE2.  Some people liked P&O, some people liked Cunard.  But, the
CANBERRA was an old steamship, so she was very uneconomic,
which is why she really kind of came to the end of her life when she
did.  She was very basic, very, very basic.  I did one year on
CAMBERRA and had a great year of my career there.”
   Captain Perrin’s next assignment was another cruise ship icon, this
time at Princess cruises, which was then a subsidiary of P&O.   “I
was due to be going back for what was going to be for pretty much
the CANBERRA’s last few voyages before being decommissioned.  
I got a call from fleet personnel in Southampton saying somebody is
sick on the PACIFIC PRINCESS and we want you to join in Athens
on the PACIFIC PRINCESS, so off I went.  And I have never been
back to P&O, I stayed with Princess from that time hence, which is
now 11 years I think.”
   For many years, PACIFIC PRINCESS had been used for the
filming of a television series that is widely-credited with focusing the
public’s attention on cruising.   She was “the original ‘Love Boat’ and
I have to say that she was a lovely little ship.  She had a following of
her own.  I had pretty well two and a half or three years on there and
loved every minute.”
   At this point, the ship was no longer being used in the television
series and no longer making weekly cruises along the West Coast.   
“It had such a varied itinerary.  I felt my Magellan himself, going
through South America for the first time.  We were always pushing
the limits, exploring new places and going to new destinations.  Half
the time, people did not even know where they were going, these
names were completely new.  I ended up as the Safety Officer there,
which would be like the Chief Officer [on other shipping lines].”
   Continuing the pattern of moving from one iconic ship to another,
“I went from the little PACIFIC PRINCESS, to this one, the
GRAND PRINCESS in new build in Trieste.”  GRAND
PRINCESS was one of the first ships over 100,000 gross tons.  In
addition, her design was futuristic and different from anything then in
the market.  The design has proven so successful that there are now
eight ships based on the design sailing for Princess.  Indeed, Grand
class ships continue to be built with another one, RUBY PRINCESS,
due in 2008 for Princess and one, VENTURA, due in 2008 for
P&O Cruises.
   “That was the first of five new built ships that I did.  I did this one,
the SEA PRINCESS, the ISLAND PRINCESS, the CORAL
PRINCESS and STAR PRINCESS.  So, a succession of new
builds, which I also thoroughly enjoyed.  It took me through those
intervening ranks and years from Safety Officer as far as command.”
Before assuming command of GRAND PRINCESS, Captain Perrin
served for a year on yet another famous ship, Cunard Line’s
QUEEN MARY 2 as Staff Captain, which is the second in command
position.  Princess Cruises had recently been acquired by Carnival
Corporation and officers from Princess were doing tours on Cunard
ships while Cunard officers were serving on Princess.
   “It was quite ironic.  When I was in France on the construction of
the CORAL PRINCESS and the ISLAND PRINCESS, they were
right next to QUEEN MARY 2 in the shipyard.  All the time, I kept
thinking, I must go and have a look around that ship.    There just
never seemed to be the time.  And as I left there on the ISLAND
PRINCESS, I thought that was a shame, never got to see it.  Little
did I know, a year later, I was going to be working on it.”
   GRAND PRINCESS is now in her second decade.  However,
she remains at the forefront of Princess’ young fleet. “When the ship
came out, she was a world leader, she was way in advance of many
ships that were built years later.  In fact, there are ships that are being
built now by our competitors that probably are not as advanced as
this one was ten years ago.  That said, we have still kept on top. For
example, in the last refit we upgraded the navigation system that we
had before so that we now have the newest version onboard.  As a
result she is actually ahead of the CROWN PRINCESS, which is
only a year old.  Likewise, in the technology in the engine control
systems, we are doing small upgrades all the time.  Our safety system
on here, what I’ll call our safety management system, which controls
all the fire alarms, the fire doors, the smoke strategies, that was a
complete world leader on here when it came out. Nobody had ever
seen anything like it when the ship was built and we have just had a
few upgrades done on that now.  So we are still quite a long way in
advance of other ships that are being built today, in fact.”
   Along with the technical upgrades, there have been upgrades of
the passenger facilities and amenities.    “We have done things like
adding that huge TV screen [over the swimming pool which is used
for outdoor movies].  We have changed things like the steak house.  
When we came out, you could just grill steaks down there.  Now,
that has been upgraded and the galley can do many other things as
well, enhancing the menu there.  So, things have moved along and
progressed. I believe in the next refit there is going to be a few quite
big modifications, not in terms of safety systems or control systems
but in term of passenger satisfaction.  There are going to be some
additional upgrades.”
   Many new ships coming into service have Azipod propulsion
systems whereas GRAND PRINCESS and the subsequent ships in
her class have conventional propeller shafts.   “We are lucky on
here.  All of the Fincantieri Grand class ships and evolutions thereof
have big stern thrusters.  The two that were built in Japan are slightly
smaller but not significantly.  We can maneuver these ships pretty well
into about 25 knots of wind.  If we had azipods down at the back
end we would do a little bit better but not significantly.  Pods, I’m
sure, will be the future but I don’t think we are at a huge
disadvantage not having them while there are still technical difficulties
with the manufacture of the pods.  I have been on a podded ship and
it is nice, but it is not essential.”
   One of the most distinctive features of GRAND PRINCESS is the
nightclub that is perched high over the stern.  It looks like the spoiler
on a racing car and has been discontinued on the most recent ships in
the class.  “For navigation, it does not really affect it at all other than it
creates a huge windage.  It makes the ship like a weather vane.  You
can imagine, there is the big funnel and then there is this big spoiler on
the back. If you have a wind on the side, it always wants to turn the
bow of the ship into the wind.  So, when maneuvering in strong
winds, that does create added windage which I don’t think is the
reason they discontinued it.  I think it was discontinued to change the
look of the ship a little bit and to give more deck space in back.”
   There are variations in the design of the various Grand class ships,
especially in the passenger area, but there are more similarities than
differences.  Do each of them have their own following?  
“If you had asked me this about six months ago, I would have said
‘no’.  But, I actually think now that there are passengers who
become familiar and like to go back to the same one.  I can’t tell you
how many people who say: ‘This is my sixth, seventh, eighth, tenth
time on here.’  And I say: “On this particular ship or one of the
same?”  They say: ‘No, no, we like to come to this one.’  I didn’t
think that would be the case but there are numbers of people that just
like familiarity.”
   “Ships have souls, it is true - - without any doubt, they do.  [For
example, the sister ships] the old CROWN and the REGAL
PRINCESS, the two were chalk and cheese. They always were.  
The people changed but they stayed the CROWN and the REGAL
and one was more popular than the other.  The old ISLAND and
PACIFIC PRINCESS, they were identical ships.  But, people would
go specifically back to the ISLAND and people would go specifically
back to PACIFIC even though they were identical.  When you walk
up the gangway of a ship, you do get a feeling.”
    One of the ways passengers get to know the character of a ship is
through interaction with the ship’s officers.  Over time, several factors
have made it more difficult for passengers to develop relationships
with officers. “[First], the ships have got so much bigger.
CANBERRA had about 1,500 or 1,600 passengers and that was
considered a massive ship.  Whereas now, this is 2,600 so it is not
quite double but it is a lot more.  The PACIFIC PRINCESS only
had 700 passengers.  On the little ships, by virtue of  being small,
there were not so many people around. You bumped into people
more frequently.  [Second], the CANBERRA and the PACIFIC
PRINCESS did longer cruises. On a seven-day cruise, you only
scratch the surface.”  Third, the structure of a cruise has changed.
For example, “all the senior officers would dine with the passengers
every night and you got to know your table.  Whereas now we have
Personal Choice Dining in which people have dinner whenever they
fancy, so you don’t get to know people so well.”
   Still, Captain Perrin feels that it is important for the captain to
maintain contact with passengers.  “Now, you do have to get out
there and work at it more to be seen.    I make it my point to get out
there and try and see people.  I wander through the buffet when
people are having breakfast and just casually wander through the
tables and say ‘Good morning, good afternoon’ and try to become
visual.  It was much easier on those smaller ships, it was an easier
task to be visible and to form those relationships but it is not
impossible now.”
   In addition, while passenger satisfaction and revenue production
lies most directly within the ambit of the hotel manager (called
Passenger Services Director on Princess ships), all officers have a
part in passenger relations. “You have to become involved.  Really,
the more senior you get, you have to think in terms of what we are
trying to achieve as a company and that it is a floating resort that we
are navigating.  [For example,] the arrival and having the gangways
down in a timely fashion and running the tender services in a smart
and tidy and timely way  [have an impact on passenger satisfaction.  
Deck officers also must] think about the departure and the shows on
tonight so we need to set a decent course so the dancers do not fall
over.  [They must also consider] the stability of the ship and how we
can have all the swimming pools functioning and the work that is
going on around the ship.  It is impossible to separate.”  
   By the same token, “someone could have run the most expensive
hotel in the world ashore and you just can’t dump him onto a cruise
ship and say run that resort because it does not work that way.  He
has got to understand that the ship is going to arrive late, do
clearance with customs and immigration, that there is going to be
technical issues from time-to-time.  You can’t just pick up the phone
and call in the local plumber to unblock a pipe or whatever.  So, it
works in all directions, in all ways.”
   “Every cog has to fit together in a tight-fit frame.    We are so
lucky on here because our Chief Engineer, Hotel Manager and Staff
Captain, we are together and singing from the same hymn sheet.  It is
a case of working very much together and understanding every ones
problems.”
   For photos and a tour of GRAND PRINCESS
click here.     
Click here for a printable PDF version of the article.
Cruise ship interview - Princess Cruises - Grand Princess - Captain Edward Perrin
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