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QUEEN MARY 2
CUNARD

THE RETURN OF
THE BLUE
ENSIGN
AN INTERVIEW WITH
CAPTAIN CHRISTOPHER
WELLS

by Richard H. Wagner
Those familiar with Queen Mary 2 and Cunard ships in general know that
they usually fly the red ensign of the British merchant marine.  However, this
year, the prestigious blue ensign signifying that the master of the ship holds a
commission in the Royal Naval Reserve has once again been seen over
Queen Mary 2.  It marks the return to Cunard of Captain Christopher Wells, a
bright, articulate officer with diverse sea experience including senior officer
positions on
Queen Elizabeth 2, being involved with the construction of
QM2, and commanding P&O Cruises’ Oriana and Oceana as well as time
with the Royal Naval Reserve and on cargo ships.  I sat down with him on
QM2 to talk about his career, the recent history of Cunard and Cunard today.

Tankers and Ferries        

Born in Bournemouth, England, Captain Wells decided to go to sea after
completing his A level examinations.  "In the early '70s the great training
companies were tanker companies.  The cargo companies still existed and
were training but the passenger ships were not.  The passenger ships always
knew that the wider merchant navy could supply them with pre-trained
officers - - once they got their master's ticket, people would be prepared to
come to the passenger ships and it was always fairly traditional, certainly in
the '60s and the '70s, that people would do their training on the cargo ships
and then go somewhere else.  I answered an advertisement in the newspapers
about a cadetship with Shell and found myself in quite rapid time [attending
the Warsash School of Navigation at the University of Southampton].  I
actually did 16 years with Shell, which is quite a long time - - a four year
apprenticeship and another 12 years where I was third officer, second
officer, and chief officer.  In the final six years, almost always with the gas
carriers out in the far east running liquefied natural as up to Japan."
    While Wells learned seamanship on the tankers, the lifestyle was much
different than what he would later experience on passenger ships.  "I was
always a watch keeper, so you become almost a recluse.  You hand over to
the third mate who is on watch after you and you take over from the second
mate who is on watch before you and you don't see anybody else for maybe
four months.  You lose all of the art of conversation."  In addition, as time
passed, changes in the industry were resulting in longer and longer tours of
duty.  "Instead of serving for four months, it became five months and they
were so short of people, it became six months and seven months, and it was
too long to do that."
    Consequently, Wells decided to take a break from tankers and return home
to England.  Through a close friend, he obtained a job driving high speed
ferries from Poole, where he had grown up, to Southampton.  Nine months
later, the ferry company went bankrupt.  However, an opening arose at P&O
Ferries for an officer for its cross-Channel ferries.  "The agency that was
organizing my ferry interviews said: 'Cunard is looking for a second officer
for the
QE2.  Unfortunately, you are too qualified, so they won't want to
interview you - - you have a master's certificate and they only need a mate's
certificate.  But, they want to interview five people, we have only got two
people to offer them."
    Wells responded: "You organize me an interview with P&O on Friday,
I'll go along to Cunard to make the numbers up on Wednesday.'  So, I went off
and had an interview with the Staff Captain of the
QE2 in Cunard's office in
Southampton on Wednesday and I started with them on the Friday."

With Cunard in the 1990s

Wells started on Cunard's then-flagship, the QE2, in 1992 as second
officer.  However, he did not stay second officer long.  Because he had a
master's certificate, Wells was quickly promoted to senior officer of the
watch.  Then, in rapid succession, he became chief officer and then staff
captain.  Along the way, he served not only on QE2 but on
Cunard Countess
and
Royal Viking Sun (now Holland America's Prinsendam).
    Cunard had been in the passenger ship business for nearly a century and a
half but in the 1990s it was struggling to find its direction.  The traditional
passenger business had vanished with the coming of the commercial jet
airplane.  A new cruise industry was emerging.  Just where Cunard fit in was
not at all clear.  "In those days, we had very different flavors on each ship.  
The
Countess and the [Cunard] Princess were happy holiday ships, serving
the fly-cruise market out from the UK, all British passengers.  The
QE2 was
the
QE2.  If you wanted to say what brand was it, it was its own brand.  The
Royal Viking Sun was still marketed when I went on there as Royal Viking.  
It was owned by Cunard but it wasn't a Cunard brand, it was the Royal
Viking brand.  It was quite peculiar.  
Vistafjord and Sagafjord were Cunard
ships with Cunard written big on the sides but with very Norwegian or
Scandinavian atmospheres within them.  They were originally Norwegian
America Line.  They still had Norwegian America Line crockery and labels
around the ships but they came in a brochure with Cunard written on the
front.  And we had
Sea Goddess I and Sea Goddess II, who were the Sea
Goddess ships.  So, in those days, in the middle 90s, there was no combined
or common Cunard brand."
    "We went through different management every year.  Our president used to
leave and we would have a new president.  'What are we going to do?'  'We
are going to change everything!'  'We are going to be all Cunard' or 'we are
going to be an all luxury brand.'  A fellow came in at one stage who had
previously been managing director of Rolls Royce and said: 'Right, we are
going to be luxury only' and the lower grade cabins on
QE2 were shut down
and the Mauretania restaurant, which was the dual seating restaurant, became
single seating. We dropped from 1900 passengers to 1600 passengers and we
were the luxury
QE2 brand.  A year later, he disappeared and we had
somebody else come in and it was 'No, no, no.  We are going to maximize
revenue and we are going to fill the ship up to the brim.  Put all of those
cabins back into service, make the Mauretania two seatings again.'  So, we
had lots of different changes.  At the same time, Trafalgar House was being
swallowed up by Kvaerner and Kvaerner did not want to own ships, it
wanted to be an industrial company and Cunard as a whole was put up for
sale."

                                                             (continued)
Captain Christopher Wells
THE EARLY YEARS ..... This page

CUNARD REBORN ......
Page 2



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CUNARD REBORN
Captain Wells has a warrant to fly
the prestigious blue ensign
indicating that the master of the
vessel also serves in the Royal
Naval Reserve.
CLICK ON PHOTOS FOR
LARGER VIEWS
Above: Captain Wells (center) speaking
at a reception for repeat passengers on
QM2.

Below:  Captain Wells prepares to make
his noon day announcement from the
bridge over QM2's public address system.
QE2 in the mid-1990s.
Holland America Line's Prinsendam
was Cunard's Royal Viking Sun in the
1990s.
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