In Onboard Pursuits

The Call of the Sea: A Conversation with Capt. Birger Vorland

By Don George

Birger Vorland is the charming Captain of Crystal Serenity. I met him when the ship was in San Pedro in January, preparing to depart on the 3+-month World Cruise (which was just completed in April).  Though he was already busy with pre-departure preparations, he graciously granted me time for a quick chat on the bridge.  We present our conversation below.

How long have you been captain?

15 years.

I understand that you were behind a desk rather than on a bridge for some of those years.

Yes, of those 15 years, I spent seven and a half behind a desk as Vice President of Nautical Operations of Crystal.

Did the sea call you back?

I love this lifestyle, and that attracted me back.  When we’re on the ship, I’m on all the time.  When I’m off, I’m off.  We work on a three-three system, so three months I’m on the ship, three months I’m home.  Every three months I go for a three-month vacation. It’s a pretty good gig.  I enjoyed my years in the office, I learned a lot, but I felt I would be able to do a better job out here.  This is what I’m really made for.

Birgir Vorland, pictured in 1961, was made for being a ship captain.
Birgir Vorland, pictured in 1961, was made for being a ship captain.

And you know, being a captain on a passenger ship is a very rare thing, because there are only about 200 to 250 cruise ships in the world.  It’s a small club.  Typically there are about two captains per ship.  You get to meet a lot of people.

Are you excited about the world cruise?

Yes!  This is my first world cruise on Crystal.  I’ve done seven before [on other lines], so I know the world cruise concept, and am excited to be doing it on Crystal this year.  I’m excited to meet the people.  They don’t know me, I’m the new guy.  I introduce myself as the “new old guy.”  I’ve been a seaman for more than 35 years and I’ve been on passenger ships for more than 25 years, so I’ve been around.  It’s great fun to be back at sea.

What makes it fun for you?

You work with incredibly talented people, and you meet incredibly interesting people.  Everybody brings something to the table.  They’ve bought our product, and we’re going to deliver it.  And in that process, it’s wonderful to be the guy on the top, the one that everybody comes to and says, “Your cruise is great.”  It makes me very proud.

And of course, Crystal Serenity is the most highly rated cruise ship in the world.  I tell everybody that I’m very proud of it.  Have you seen what we’ve done with the ship?  We try to stay ahead of the curve, because you have to stay ahead of the curve if you’re going to be number one.

All of that is wonderful, but what really makes the product is the people.  We serve each other — the crew members – because we have to help each other; nobody can make this product alone.  I certainly can’t.  To bring that up and get accolades from the guests, who keep coming back again and again … it’s great!

I’ve been told that one of your hallmarks as a captain is the very respectful environment you create based on your own interactions with all crew members, whatever their position, and guests.

Well, our pyramid is very flat.  Everyone knows what they need to do and they do it.  But they also know that, when the pyramid needs to, it can go up. But generally, it’s flat, and that’s very important.  We need communication, we need to make sure we help each other – and correct each other – because nobody is perfect.

What are the most important qualities for a cruise ship captain to have?

To be able to sail a ship safely from A to B.  That’s number one.  Safety and security is the one thing we don’t put in the brochure.  It comes for granted.  But it is the single most important commodity we sell.  You have to be able to sail the ship from A to B in the safest manner possible.  We have to be prepared for anything.  At Crystal, all our deck officers, including us captains, have extensive, ongoing training, no matter how many years of experience we each have beneath our belts.  You have to have all possible scenarios worked out before you’re under way.  The most important thing I do is make sure the ship sails safely and securely.

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