Captain Leif Karlsson, master of Azamara Quest, talks to Byron Clayton about his career and the ship he now commands.
When did you first go to sea?
I am from Åland, Finland, which makes me Finnish, but I speak Swedish. I went to sea when I was 15 years old as a deckhand. I wanted to go when I was 14, but my parents refused to sign the papers until I finished my schooling. On the last day of school, I finished at 1200 and was on board the ship at 1500. Since that day, I have been working at sea.
How has your career developed?
I started with Viking Line as a deckhand, working on steam cargo vessels taking paper from Finland to England and coal from Poland to Finland. I had to clean the cargo hold so that it could take paper again, and this was back-breaking work. I became an ordinary seaman with Viking and went on to tankers, becoming a boatswain on a ferry between Finland and Sweden. At 21, I was offered a job as a pilot, so had to go back to school for three months to get my pilot’s licence. I became second officer for Brostrom Line because I was playing football after becoming world champion twice in the ship football competition, sponsored by the King of Norway. When Brostrom found out I was from the championship team, they couldn’t wait to hire me. We trained every day on board the ships and I played whenever I was ashore. I stayed with them until 1980.
How did you become a master?
One of the captains on the tanker encouraged me to be a captain, so I saved enough money over three years to go to university in Stockholm. In 1981 I finished school and got my first command in 1982, aged 33. My first ship was called Argentum, after which I captained a ferry. To be closer to my wife, who I met aboard one of the ships, I became a Swedish pilot for ten years. Then I went back to Laurin, captaining a tanker from the Great Lakes down the east coast of the USA and around Venezuela and Brazil. After Laurin, I moved to Star Cruises for ten years and worked aboard Pisces, Aquarius, Virgo, Superstar Taurus, Megastar Sagittarius, Megastar Aries and Megastar Taurus.
How did you start with Azamara Cruises?
I was contacted by Celebrity about a new brand they were starting called Azamara. I could see the potential, jumped at the chance, and have not regretted it. And wherever I walk on the ship I find passengers telling me what a wonderful cruise they are having.
How long have you been with Azamara Quest?
I’ve been with the Quest since the beginning of Azamara, when the ships were transferred from Pullmantur. Senior officers usually return to the same ship, working three months on, three months off.
What do you like most about sailing in Asia Pacific?
It is such a fantastic part of the world. In Europe, you go from country to country and the language is different, but everything else is pretty similar. In Asia countries are totally different, with different cultures, climate, languages, food and ways of working.
Why do you think passengers choose Azamara?
People come here because they don’t want a large vessel and they don’t want to stand in line. The guests that come aboard want a relaxing, high-class cruise. And the proof is that 85 per cent of our guests come back. There are not many ships offering the kind of cruises we offer, as the size of our ship allows us to get to downtown Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City and many other ports.
What good memories do you have of being at sea?
Visiting Antarctica is unbelievable; the quietness, the icebergs, the wildlife – it is all just incredible. I wake up and open my curtains and in front of me is an iceberg two miles long and 90m tall. The sun is shining and the iceberg is lit up brilliant blue – the most amazing thing I have ever seen. Seeing penguins and whales swimming next to the ship is also amazing.
If you were designing a new ship for Azamara, what features would you specify?
A new ship would be of similar size to the existing ships, around 30,000 tons, but have fewer guests (500 against 700). All cabins would have balconies, be larger in size and have larger en-suite facilities. I think podded propulsion would provide better manoeuvrability. More speciality restaurants would allow guests to eat anywhere whenever they want. The pool deck should have a retractable cover so that it can be used in any weather. And finally, the lounge and show area need to be impressive.