Jennie Carr of Silver Travel Advisor talks to Mike Deegan, Fleet Operations Manager of Noble Caledonia about his early career in the Merchant Navy, and how this has prepared him for his role with Noble Caledonia. Mike looks forward to the future of cruising, and recalls a wonderful moment about marine relics.
When did you first start working in travel and what was your job?
I went to sea straight from school, initially as a deckhand but later as an officer cadet in the British Merchant Navy. I spent the next 20 years at sea, the first 10 of which was in cargo ships before I transferred to the passenger fleet as a senior officer. In the days when I first went to sea, trips for crews were very long and my first trip away at sea lasted for 13 months during which I did not get home once. That said, I realised then, in the days before mass air travel, how much I enjoyed travelling and visiting foreign countries that my old friends back home could only read about in books.
Do you have a hero/mentor?
I have had many over the years – an early Captain I sailed with, now sadly no longer with us, Captain Jim Foster (known throughout the fleet as Gentleman Jim) took a great interest in our training and futures and inspired so many of us to “stick at it”. He had started his own career in the convoys of the Second World War so I considered it a privilege to have sailed with him.
What have been your greatest achievements?
That I have learned the business from junior rating to the Boardroom over a career of 34 years and that I still work with ships and the sea which are twin passions of mine.
Tell me a bit about Noble Caledonia, how long you’ve been there, the company itself, what is your USP?
I was lucky enough to join Noble Caledonia earlier this year. I have long admired the fact that they specialise in “off the beaten track” cruising with small numbers. Cruising is all about providing experiences and memories and Noble Caledonia are industry leaders in this expedition style of cruising and in taking clients “far from the madding crowd”.
I’ve interviewed a couple of your guides/lecturers and they are the most amazing people, so knowledgable, where do you find them?
I think the very strength of the Expedition Team is that they come from such a diverse range of backgrounds. I recently sailed with one who had been a geologist for one of the oil majors and she could put over her expertise in a very interesting way to provide insight to the geological and geomorphological make-up of the landscapes around us. Similarly I was just involved in recruiting a naturalist and a horticulturalist for one of our destination style cruises. Both had such a wide experience, the former of wildlife tour leading and the latter of horticultural management, that I know they will add much to the experience of clients when they join the cruise.
What changes have you seen in the travel industry over the last few years.
When I joined the Merchant Navy, cruising was truly for an elite, affluent, clientele. Over the years I am delighted that the cruise industry specifically has expanded such that there is now a ship for everyone : whether travelling with a young family looking for a resort style experience, whether looking for ultra luxury, whether looking for high class lecture programmes or whether, in Noble Caledonia’s case, looking for some of the remotest destinations on earth which we can visit in some style and luxury and with very small numbers so as to have as little impact as possible on the fragile eco systems and environment around us.
What do you predict for the travel market in general, more holidays you are very specialist, do you feel people are wanting to do more and have greater experiences with their holidays, rather than a beach holiday? Somehow squeeze more out of life?
The huge expansion in round UK cruising has started and I predict will continue for some time. The UK is an untapped destination for cruising in my humble opinion and Noble Caledonia, operating smaller ships, has an opportunity to take clients to some rarely visited destinations on our own doorstep. Additionally the desire to provide safe and secure holidays in remote destinations is an expanding sector. Our vessel Caledonian Sky has just visited some of the remotest parts of Borneo whilst sister ship Island Sky visited a remote, and rarely visited, Guatamalan tribe up an isolated river tributary which will provide a lifelong memory for the clients we accompanied to meet the village elders.
Do you think the world really is getting smaller? Or are travellers getting more adventurous? Could even the remotest places become too accessible in your view?
As I said earlier, when I left home to join my first ship, many of my friends thought I had become one of the great explorers when they received postcards from far flung destinations. Now air travel is much more widely available, the world has truly become more accessible to everyone. TV documentaries bring remote places into our living rooms nightly and this, in turn, feeds a desire to travel. There is always a danger of universal accessibility but properly controlled, and with a weather eye on the impact we have on the environment around us, we can provide unique experiences in newer destinations – which is what travel should be all about really. We are selling experiences and memories.
And the future for Noble Caledonia?
I have watched Noble Caledonia go from strength to strength over many years and am delighted that I am now a part of that. We shall continue to identify the path less travelled and expand our range of products to ensure we continue to provide unique experiences in an ever expanding range of destinations – our purchase last year of our new ship Caledonian Sky has enabled us to explore new places in the Pacific and South East Asia. Even our river cruise product is world leading with cruises now on all the major European rivers but also on the Irawaddy, the Ganges, the Volga, the Mekong and the Mississippi.
Where is your favourite destination and what has been your best holiday?
I enjoy cruising myself for a holiday. I like the fact you only unpack once then the captain moves the scenery around outside the window for you! Of late I have also come to appreciate the myriad of places to explore in the UK and especially in Ireland where I have taken a number of recent holidays. I think boating on the River Shannon (is that a self drive cruise?) and a holiday last year on the quieter Balearic Island of Menorca are probably my favourite holidays to date.
Any funny anecdotes you would like to share?
Whilst sailing from an Australian port many years ago, I was on the bridge as the ship pulled away from the quayside. As the distance between the ship and wharf grew greater, the Master (an old martinet on his last trip before retirement) pointed out a lady of a certain age waving at the now departing steamer. “You see her down there Mike?” he said. “She’s very interesting – she collects marine antiques”. Then after a small pause he added “and last night, one of them was me!”
And finally, what do you see yourself doing in 5 years time?
Hopefully the same as I am doing now working with ships and seafarers to ensure we show passengers the rich diversity this world has to offer whilst ensuring a top class safety culture.
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Noble Caledonia.