Checkmate on a Black Sea Cruise

Checkmate on a Black Sea Cruise

by Ted Scull.

Back in my college days, I signed up for a year of Russian and on the first day of class, the professor gave us our assignment — learn the Cyrillic alphabet overnight or don’t bother to come to class tomorrow. So, a friend and I stayed up well past midnight and were ready for the challenge the next day.

Checkmate on a Black Sea Cruise

Soviet riverboat AMUR sailing the Danube. * Photo: Ted Scull

Not too long after, I wanted to use my Russian and planned a trip to the then USSR. A friend and I booked a Soviet riverboat leaving Vienna, sailed down the Danube bound for the Black Sea and Yalta in the Crimea. The group aboard was mostly European, including Russians, and no other Americans.

Checkmate on a Black Sea Cruise

Bulgaria & the Black Sea

Changing Ships

A week later we arrived at the Bulgarian port of Ismail located near the mouth of the Danube. Here we left the riverboat and boarded a small Soviet ship for Yalta.

We followed a twisting channel through the marshy delta, and around a bend, suddenly there was the Black Sea ahead of us. The ship began to rise and fall in the light swell.

Walking to the stern to look back at the coast line, we encountered a group of people sitting at chess tables and speaking Russian. They turned towards us and asked in Russian if we played chess, a word I recognized, and I said, “Da” (Yes). They asked where we came from and seemed pleased with the response. Two seats were vacated, one facing a youngish fellow across the chess board. The group mostly stood around us.

The Match

My opponent made his moves very quickly, and that was not the way I played. After a bit, I realized the need to speed up a bit and concentrated hard.

There was complete silence, and in about 15 minutes, I surprised myself by being able to say “mat” for checkmate.

The Russians cheered, my opponent smiled and shook my hand, and beers were ordered. The conversation that followed was a bit hit and miss, and soon we were called for dinner.

To this day, I do not know if I was meant to win, though my opponent did not make any obvious errors that I could determine. But in the era of the Cold War, my first Russian encounter could not have been more hospitable.

Checkmate on a Black Sea Cruise

Ted Scull at the fantail. * Photo: a fellow passenger

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Yoko Ono Encounter

Yoko Ono Encounter

By Elise Lentz.

Ever wonder what it would be like to work on cruise ships? Small cruise ships? For 15 years?

Elise & Tim Lentz have worked on ships big and small as cruise directors, shore excursion managers, tour directors and event managers for more than 15 years. The married globetrotters are based in Florida when they’re not aboard ships, mostly small ones these days, running the small ship division for a US-based tour operator and now for their own new company Global Tour Management. Depending on specific assignment(s), they may be on the high seas for a few weeks to a month or more at a time. Their life has been anything but boring and each day offers a new adventure.  

Welcome to the ninth in a series of monthly installments from Elise, sharing their story behind the scenes.

Part 2 of Memorable Small Ship Moments, Hello Yoko Ono

In a prior post, I shared a story of a memorable small ship moment with AC/DC Lead singer, Brian Johnson. That was my only “known” interaction with someone famous. Other than the time I stalked Yoko Ono in the Hotel Danieli, Ladies Room, in Venice. Read on.

For a few years, Tim and I ran a small-ship cruise tour for Tauck that originated in Venice and that allowed us to spend a lot of time in the famous Hotel Danieli prior to boarding the cruise ship, which at the time was Ponant’s 90-passenger Le Levant. We were in the hotel lobby, waiting for our room to be ready, when I noticed the bellmen carrying a large quantity of Louis Vuitton bags and travel cases. They carefully stacked the bags in the lobby — just opposite of where we were sitting.

Yoko Ono Encounter

Tim having breakfast on the patio of Venice’s famous Hotel Danieli. * Photo: Elise Lentz

I will share with you that Tim is well aware of my fantasy that someday, I would prance around town, doing my daily business, toting a beautiful Louis Vuitton bag. Diligently, he constantly reminds me that it would be nice to retire someday (before we die).  So to appease my fantasy (in reality — to shut me up for a while), he found me a very poorly crafted $20 LV street bag. The only characteristic that somewhat represented a real “Louis” was the color scheme. The entire bag smelled like glue and after a few days of using this grandiose purchase, the handles of my pleather bag cracked and split. Buyer beware — this is what you get when buying a street bag that is so cheap that it couldn’t even be classified as a bad knock-off.

Ok, back to the “real deal” in the Hotel lobby. When I saw this amazing collection displayed before me, my female instincts kicked in and I was determined to remain camped out in the lobby until I witnessed who owned this treasure trove. And then she appeared. Coming down the sweeping staircase was a very petite woman complete with a fedora hat and large, dark sunglasses. She sat down on the couch across the lobby from me. Trying to be stealthy and nonchalant, I would periodically peek over the top of the magazine I was pretending to read. Finally, it occurred to me, this was Yoko Ono. She was in Venice for the 2009 Biennale art show and was checking out of the hotel.

After a few minutes, Ms. Ono got up from the couch, walked past the reception desk and preceded down the hall.  Spending so much time in this hotel, I knew the only place she could possibly be going was to the ladies room. What happened next is something I did, but to this day, I still can’t explain why I felt compelled to do it. I followed her.

Ladies Room Rendezvous

I knew there were only two stalls in the ladies room, so there was a good chance I could approach her.  I excused myself from Tim and went to pee (even though I didn’t have to go).  When I arrived in the ladies room, Ms. Ono was already in one of the two stalls, so I settled into the free stall. Because I didn’t have to go, I put the lid down and made myself comfortable, still wondering what my plan was. After what felt like a very long time, I heard a flush from the stall next to me. That was my cue to get ready. I matched her flush, with my own flush, and exited the stall. As I approached the sink, the ladies room door opened. A strange woman poked her head into the bathroom and looked around quizzically before leaving. I began washing my hands and once again, this strange woman poked her head back into the room. Again she appeared confused and then left. It was then that I realized this stranger must have been Ms. Ono’s handler, possibly wondering what could be taking her so long. That same thought crossed my mind. What was taking her so long?  By this time, I was already on my third version of singing “Happy Birthday” to myself as I washed my hands. Then finally, her stall door opens and she approaches me.

Yoko Ono Encounter

Just the two of us …..

I couldn’t believe it. I still had no plan. I could have asked her about her art; John Lennon; if she got a great deal on her Louis Vuitton collection. But I had nothing. All I could muster was a squeaky “hello.” She looked up at me, glaring over the top of her sunglasses and then preceded to the sink. To the relief of both of us, her handler reappeared in the ladies room to announce that her water taxi was here and it was time to go.

I dried my hands and with my head hanging low, I slunk out of the ladies room and sulked back to the hotel lobby. Now empty of those gorgeous LV travel bags, I returned to the couch and plopped down next to Tim. He could tell from the look on my face, my mission (whatever that was) was not successful.

Was that the last time I ever stalked someone? Heck no! But the next time, I was sure to have a plan. Maybe I’ll share that story in the future.



Read Elise & Tim Behind the Scenes at Sea — Hitting the Road  (Part 1)
Read Elise & Tim Behind the Scenes at Sea — The Voyage Begins (Part 2)
Read Elise & Tim Behind the Scenes at Sea — Sleeping Around (Part 3)
Read Elise & Tim Behind the Scenes at Sea — Shook Me All Night Long (Part 4) 
Read Elise & Tim Behind the Scenes at Sea — Say Cheese (Part 5)
Read Elise & Tim Behind the Scenes at Sea — Good Cruises Gone Bad (Part 6)
Read Elise & Tim Behind the Scenes at Sea — Whatever the Client Wants (Part 7)
Read Elise & Tim Behind the Scenes at Sea — Crazy Cruise Charters (Part 8)


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Nantucket Steamer

It All Started with the Nantucket Steamer

By Ted Scull.

Beginning when I was six or seven years of age, my family began spending August and early September on Nantucket Island, a place we would gravitate to for decades. My grandparents and great aunt had starting going to the island in the 1920s.

Nantucket Steamer

Teddy and his girlfriend, or should it be said, two girlfriends — Heather and the Nantucket steamer. * Photo: Sunny Scull.

Getting there meant a long drive from suburban Philadelphia to New Bedford, MA, then later Woods Hole on Cape Cod, to catch the steamer.  It was always the steamer or Nantucket steamer, and never the ferry or ship, though sometimes the boat. The operator of the service was known as the Steamship Authority.

Nantucket Steamer

Steamer Nantucket, later named Nobska, sailing from the island. * Photo: Ted Scull

Before the Interstate Highways

The drive to the pier before the interstates existed was too long to catch the last steamer of the day, so we spent the night en route and continued the next day for a mid-morning departure.

The steamers Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket were built in the mid-1920s at Maine’s Bath Iron Works, a famous shipyard still in business today. The pair did not look anything like a back-and-forth ferry as they had sharp bows and rounded sterns, openings at the side to drive through, and a tall stack with a steam whistle attached and rising straight up behind the pilot house. Flags flew from tall masts at the bow and stern.

Nantucket Steamer

The steamer Nantucket rounding Brandt Point shortly after WWII. Rust accumulated during stormy winter months, and a paint job would have to wait until spring. * Photo: Arthur Ferguson

To me they seemed miniature versions of what we saw while driving past Manhattan’s ocean liner piers. About 10 years later we would board one for England and return from France on another. Ships would then become a lifelong love affair, with the small ships coming on later.

Back to the Steamers…

Pop would drive our Buick aboard and mother would take my younger brother Sandy’s hand, and I was responsible for Bosco, the black cocker spaniel. Once aboard we stopped at the purser’s office to get the stateroom key.

Nothing fancy, just a couch, couple of canvas chairs, a sink, drop window and a call button for ice. Our sailing date was nearly always August 1st, a big turnover day for house rentals, hence the boat would be packed, and the stateroom was a retreat from the crowds for just a few dollars.

On Board
Nantucket Steamer

Loading cars, the mail, packages, anything and everything the island needed. * Photo: Ted Scull

Then the excitement began. Once the last car, luggage carriers, and freight filled every square foot of the vehicle deck, the engine came alive under foot, the lines were dropped, the steam whistle sounded one long blast, then three shorts, to indicate the boat was reversing. Smoke poured from the funnel, and with a rumble under foot, we were away out into Nantucket Sound. From New Bedford the crossing took four and one-half hours, and from Woods Hole, three hours.

Nantucket Steamer

Passengers settle in for the crossing to Nantucket. * Photo: Ted Scull

The steamer made a stop at Oaks Bluff on Martha’s Vineyard, and treading water below, boys about my age called for coins. There was plenty of action. Some caught them in midair, but often they had to dive before they disappeared into the sandy bottom. When one resurfaced, he would hold up his treasure, invariably shout “thank you” before storing it in a bulging cheek. No demeaning pennies were tossed.

Passing Cross Rip Lightship, the boat’s crew tossed over the mail, newspapers and magazines, and if the day was a bit hazy, we would soon be out of sight of land for a few minutes, and I would rush back to the stateroom to tell my parents. Father would be dozing, and mother would smile knowing how exciting those moments were for me.

Then it was time to walk Bosco, and up on deck I would meet other kids and parents that I knew, often with pets on leashes. Soon we could pick out our house by its reddish roof perched high on the cliff.

Our Arrival

A clanging bell buoy protected the harbor entrance entered between stone jetties, and a long whistle sounded as we rounded Brandt Point Lighthouse announcing our arrival. It could be heard all over the town spread out beyond the large shingled steamboat wharf.

A lot of engine maneuvers using a clanging telegraph were ordered by the captain standing on the open wing outside the pilothouse. Long spring lines eased us stern first into the slip. Once tied up, pop went alone down to the car as there was scant room to squeeze between the vehicles parked every which way. The three of us walked off via the gangway, let Bosco have another go, and soon we were headed up to Cliff Road. We were on island and the summer had begun.

Nantucket Steamer

Passengers disembark at the Nantucket steamboat wharf. * Photo: Ted Scull

Home Sweet Summer Home

During the next five weeks, I loved the routine of watching the steamers appear over the horizon in the early afternoon about 90 minutes apart. In the evening, the last steamer of the day would show all lit up, then at 7 a.m. the next morning, the whistle signaled its departure for the mainland. On foggy days, it would blow its way out of the harbor warning smaller craft to stay clear. The steamer had a schedule to keep. Sometimes in a heavy fog, the whistling lasted twenty minutes until it became too faint to hear, and I would fall back to sleep.

Nantucket Steamer

Leaving the island at the end of summer. Taking the dog aboard, now Christopher, was always my job. * Photo: Sandy Scull

Those hardworking steamers gave a half century of service until it became necessary to build larger boats that could also handle a few trailer trucks easing the delivery of food, household supplies and building materials. A group I belonged to spent years trying to save the Nantucket (renamed Nobska) from scrap, and in the end, we failed.

Nantucket Steamer

The last true steamer, the Nantucket of 1957, could handle a couple of trucks. * Photo: Ted Scull

The steamers’ regularity and visibility provided a regular rhythm to my day, and I am sure, for others as well.

Nantucket Steamer

I loved watching the daily rhythm of the steamers, here outbound for Woods Hole. * Photo: Ted Scull


➢➢ Stay tuned for Ted’s next installment of his love affair with ships large and small … but especially small! 


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Crazy Cruise Charters

Crazy Cruise Charters

by Elise Lentz.

Ever wonder what it would be like to work on cruise ships? Small cruise ships? For 15 years?

Elise & Tim Lentz have worked on ships big and small as cruise directors, shore excursion managers, tour directors and event managers for over 15 years. The married globetrotters are based in Florida when they’re not aboard ships, mostly small ones these days, running the small ship division for a US-based tour operator and now for their own new company Global Tour Management. Depending on specific assignment(s), they may be on the high seas for a few weeks to a month or more at a time. Their life has been anything but boring and each day offers a new adventure.  

Welcome to the eighth in a series of monthly installments from Elise, sharing their story behind the scenes.

Elise & Tim Behind the Scenes at Sea (Part 8)

In a previous post, I talked about some of the more interesting themed charters our ships hosted. I mentioned that the ship (in a nutshell) “caters” to the whims and desires of the charter client.  One such request came from the organizers of a gay charter to have the captain don a toga during their themed toga party. As reluctant as the captain was to strip himself of his formal uniform, he did comply and amazingly managed to find a way to attach his epaulets (stripes) to his makeshift toga. (I still wish I had a picture of that…)

Another captain faced a few “unique” requests during an Orthodox Jewish charter. When the rabbi wanted to have the dinnerware blessed in the seawater, all of the dishes and glasses were crated up and placed in a large cargo net. Using the onboard crane — the netting and crate were lifted over the side of the ship and “somewhat” gently dipped into the ocean.  Mission accomplished — all items were blessed in the ocean.  “Mission impossible” — not all of the dishes and glasses made it back onboard.  So the next time you are snorkeling around St.Thomas you may see a new coral reef consisting of china dinnerware and crystal glasses.

Not all charters are remembered for their parties and fun-loving guests. And as you know, just because someone may have a lot of money does not mean they have a lot of sense.  And this next story proved that wealth is not always a direct correlation to intelligence.

There was one charter that consisted of a family reunion, and this multi-generational family (and their friends) took over the entire ship. Some of the younger members, bored with “Uncle Joe’s” family stories, “Aunt Alice’s” card games and pulling grandpa’s finger, decided to turn their cabin into a circus act. Complete with music blaring from the room, one young man took on the role as ringmaster to attract the interest of the other younger cruisers. With an abundance of teenage hormones, two of the more “beefy” muscular boys decided to host a ringside act and show off their bravado and skills of strength to their friends. Without any grace or skill whatsoever, they proceeded to turn their cabin’s bathroom door into a trapeze. The young audience encouraged and cheered on the acrobatic performers until…. the trapeze broke. To the disbelief of the chief engineer, the final act of these circus clowns resulted in the steel framed bathroom door being bent beyond repair. Unfortunately for the chief engineer, that was not the worse of the nightmares he would face on this cruise.

The swimming pool onboard was very petite and passengers would refer to it as “an Olympic sized bird bath.” Late one night, after some of these same clowns grew tired of fornicating and smoking in the dark on the outside decks, they decided to host a “cannonball” diving competition in the pool. This resulted in a major crack in the bottom of the pool. Leaking water has to go somewhere — and it did — into the main lounge which was located on the deck below the pool.

You can’t make this shit up.

So how did grandma and grandpa “Warbucks” address these situations? History has proven that people with money often dig themselves out of “ugly situations” by throwing money at it, in this case, with a check to pay for the damages. The “Warbucks” couldn’t deny the damages their group wreaked on the ship and they paid up.

The “coup de grâce” for the captain that week was the day we were in Mykonos, Greece. For those of you who have been there, you know the winds can be unrelenting. The ship was docked and the family (and friends) disembarked for a day onshore. The daughter–in-chief, who was the mastermind behind the “Warbucks” clan, stayed onboard to plan the evenings’ events.  She approached the captain wanting him to reposition the ship and anchor off-shore, so the family could enjoy “the twinkling lights of Mykonos” that evening during dinner. The captain was very hesitant about this request and explained to Ms. “Twinkling Lights” why this was not a good idea due to the forecasted increase in wind speed. Wanting nothing to do with his answer and as any spoiled brat would do, she whined until he finally gave in. The captain contacted the port agent and advised him that he would give up his docking location to go to anchor. This also meant the ship would need to establish tender operations to get all the passengers, who were currently on shore, back to the ship.  The captain left the dock and attempted to anchor. The winds continued to grow and the captain advised that he did not think operating the tenders in these conditions was safe.  Ms. “Temper Tantrum” stomped her feet and pouted until the captain lowered a tender.  What I then witnessed was one of the scariest tender operations I would ever see.  The winds were so strong that the waves tossed the tender around like a cork bobbing in water. To make matters worse, the ship broke free from its anchorage and was now drifting. At this time, the captain told Ms. “Thang” to get off his bridge and he was going take the ship back to the dockage. Fortunately, the sailor was able to slowly maneuver the tender back to the dock and safely re-board the vessel once the ship re-docked.

Finally, the cruise ends and the poor crew has the daunting task to clean and repair, in four hours, what in essence was a weeklong frat party. To this day, whenever I hear people mention Mykonos, visions of “spoiled kids of privilege” dance in my head.

Crazy Cruise Charters

Elise in Mykonos, while the charter queen harassed the captain on board. * Photo: Tim Lentz

To quote a line from Forrest Gump: “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you are going to get.” I can relate, in that there are times you are disappointed with or dislike the chocolate you received, but then there are those amazing chocolates that create a special, comforting memory. Each journey we are on is like receiving a wrapped box of chocolates full of surprises.  Next time I’ll share with you some of the most “special chocolate” treats that stick in my memory.


Read Elise & Tim Behind the Scenes at Sea — Hitting the Road  (Part 1)
Read Elise & Tim Behind the Scenes at Sea — The Voyage Begins (Part 2)
Read Elise & Tim Behind the Scenes at Sea — Sleeping Around (Part 3)
Read Elise & Tim Behind the Scenes at Sea — Shook Me All Night Long (Part 4) 
Read Elise & Tim Behind the Scenes at Sea — Say Cheese (Part 5)
Read Elise & Tim Behind the Scenes at Sea — Good Cruises Gone Bad (Part 6)
Read Elise & Tim Behind the Scenes at Sea — Whatever the Client Wants (Part 7)


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Behind the Scenes at Sea (Part 7)

Elise & Tim Behind the Scenes at Sea (Part 7)

by Elise Lentz.

Ever wonder what it would be like to work on cruise ships? Small cruise ships? For 15 years?

Elise & Tim Lentz have worked on ships big and small as cruise directors, shore excursion managers, tour directors and event managers for over 15 years. The married globetrotters are based in Florida when they’re not aboard ships, mostly small ones these days, running the small ship division for a US-based tour operator and now for their own new company Global Tour Management. Depending on specific assignment(s), they may be on the high seas for a few weeks to a month or more at a time. Their life has been anything but boring and each day offers a new adventure.  

Welcome to the seventh in a series of monthly installments from Elise, sharing their story behind the scenes.


So when a group wants to charter the entire ship, what do you do?
Behind the Scenes at Sea (Part 7)

Elise has seen it all ….

Typically, whatever the client wants….

Over the years there have been a few times when the ships we worked on were chartered by groups.  It’s possible you may have searched for a specific week to take your vacation and noticed that the cruise line has that week either blocked out or even removed from their schedule.  That’s a good indication that they are running a ship under “full-charter.”

So what are some of the themes we hosted while working onboard?

One time a car manufacturer offered a cruise for their top car salespeople. If their car sales were on par with the volume of booze consumed and casino winnings earned ­— then they were definitely the top salespeople in the entire world. I remember the bar manager being in a panic after the first night. He quickly realized that his top shelf supply would be depleted within two days and the group may have to resort to finishing out their cruise with Bud Light and Jägermeister.  And until this cruise, I have never seen a Casino Manager in complete fear. I have always been told that “the house never loses.” That typically is very true — until this cruise. Outside of being world class salespeople, they must have also been masters of counting cards. The Casino lost its shirt (and pants and jockey shorts). In order to honor the payout — we cleaned out the purser’s safe and actually had to get approval to dip into the emergency reserves onboard. The ultimate finale of this trip was witnessing a large, very hairy, grown man, strip down to his “tighty whities” and on his bare belly, perform the worm dance across the back deck during the deck BBQ. Just when I thought that show was bad enough, the next morning we had to witness him showing off his self-inflicted brush burns.

Behind the Scenes at Sea (Part 7)

* The Daily Beast

If there was a Gold Medal for the most fun charter — it would have to be a New Years’ Gay Cruise. This group came onboard complete with Professional DJs, Comedians and Drag Queens. Their entertainment staff knew how to make grand entrances. One day the group went to a public beach, in the Caribbean, for a party. The star of the party was being escorted to the event in the most dramatic way. Imagine this — a zodiac (inflatable boat), blaring disco music, streaming towards the beach with a 7-foot-tall drag queen, dressed in a green sequined mermaid outfit complete with a long flowing blond wig. Locals on the beach started to look around and quickly realized this was not going to be their typical day at the public beach. One night the group rented space on the island of Montserrat to host a private toga party.  They donned their finest togas (aka bedsheets) and prepared to disembark the ship via tenders to go ashore. I remember the purser waiting at the bottom of the gangway to help “check off” the disembarking passengers. Innocently, she was reminding the guests to keep their ship’s ID card in a safe place for the night.  One man boldly lifted up the bottom of his toga, to reveal an “au natural undercarriage” and announced that he did not have a place to store his ID card. I can only surmise that if he asked for help, she could have made a suggestion of where he could put that ID card and then offer a little advice on seeing the spa manager to book an appointment for a “manscape” (look it up!).

Behind the Scenes at Sea (Part 7)


There have been other “themed” charter cruises my colleagues have experienced. One being a Nudest Only cruise. The only rule enforced was the passengers could not be on the open decks naked until the ship was so many miles off the coast. They were like kids at a candy store waiting for mommy to say it was “OK” to select the candy of their choice. They could barely contain themselves waiting for the moment to strip down and feel the wind in their hair…   The crew started to wear sunglasses to help avoid uncomfortable eye contact and to camouflage where they may be uncontrollably starring. Imagine this — it’s Captain’s Night and the passengers arrive by walking down a flight of steps to be greeted by the officers standing at the bottom of the staircase. It looked like this: (1) bare feet (2) ankles (3) hairy legs and knees followed by (4) quoting Austin Powers — their “twig and berries.”

The charter theme that wins the award (whatever award that may be), was the Swingers Cruise. The stories I heard about this charter were enough to make you need therapy and a hazmat suit. That’s one episode I never saw aired on The Love Boat…  At least not on prime-time TV.

So, what else can I share of “behind the scenes life” on board?  …. See you next month.


Click here to read Elise & Tim Behind the Scenes at Sea (Part 1)
Click here to read Elise & Tim Behind the Scenes at Sea (Part 2)
Click here to read Elise & Tim Behind the Scenes at Sea (Part 3)
Click here to read Elise & Tim Behind the Scenes at Sea (Part 4) 
Click here to read Elise & Tim Behind the Scenes at Sea (Part 5)
Click here to read Elise & Tim Behind the Scenes at Sea (Part 6)


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Steamboat American Queen

Steamboat American Queen.

Ted had a chat with Bill Forsstrom, a retired banker, who has found his ship and tells QC all about his cruises aboard American Queen Steamboat Company‘s fleet.

Ted: Bill, you live in Cincinnati, a city that developed along the banks of the Ohio River, and you also lived in Pittsburgh where two rivers come together to form the Ohio. Being river cities, did where you grew up and where you worked have an influence on your interest in steamboats?

Bill: Now that you ask, there was an event when I was young that I remember quite well.  I don’t recall if she came to Oakmont, PA where I grew up or simply in Pittsburgh, but I saw the old steamer Sprague, also known as Big Mama!  It made quite an impression. Also in my younger days the American Wind Symphony made annual visits to Oakmont for a concert on the river from their barge.

In Cincinnati during the 1990’s we had a big event every three or so years called Tall Stacks where most of the existing steam boats and those that looked like steamboats would come for a one-week riverfront festival.  The Delta Queen, Mississippi Queen, and American Queen would always be there as well as the Belle of Louisville, plus other boats from New Orleans to Pittsburgh.

Steamboat American Queen

Bill Forsstrom on an American Queen cruise

Ted: What was the first steamboat that you sailed aboard?

Bill: The first was the American Queen in 2012 after she came back into service.

Ted: What factors led you to making a first cruise?

Bill: I always wanted to take one of the river cruises on a steamer, but the Delta Queen Company had gone bankrupt once I could afford it. Once the American Queen came back into service, I wanted to sail her.  Luckily, you and your wife were sailing through Cincinnati that first year back in service and I came aboard. Once I saw her beautiful interiors, I knew I had to book a cruise.

Steamboat American Queen

America Queen tied up at Marietta, Ohio. * Photo: Ted Scull

Ted: What was the itinerary and did you have favorite stops?

Bill: That first year they offered a short three-day cruise so I booked it to see if I liked it.  It was round trip St. Paul and went to Wabasha, MN; cruised Lake Pepin, MN; Red Wing, MN; and back to St. Paul.  The top stops that cruise were the National Eagle Center in Wabasha and the time we spent cruising Lake Pepin.  I had no idea that the Mississippi was that wide.

Ted: Tell me your very first impressions when you boarded the American Queen?

Bill: The first impressions were the beauty of the vessel and the Victorian feel of her interiors — from shiny wood floors, ornate ceilings, beautiful wall coverings, and her décor……set off by the Mark Twain Gallery with her antiques and feeling of warmth and comfort.  Seeing the dining room was also impressive.  The vessel felt classic and old, yet she was built in 1995 and is not old.  The charm is of another era and is beautifully executed.

Ted: Did some public rooms have a wow factor?

Bill: The Mark Twain Gallery was a total WOW!  The dining room is stunning in every way and true to her heritage — it is called the J.M. White Dining Room after the grand steamer of the same name.  The Grand Saloon, the show lounge, is also exceptional with the private boxes on her second level. It is said that she is modeled after Ford’s Theater in Washington.

Steamboat American Queen

Mark Twain Gallery at Christmas. * Photo: Bill Forsstrom

Ted: Did you experience any “Antique Roadshow” moments?

Bill: Furnishings in the Mark Twain Gallery definitely were antiques — including those in the Ladies’ Parlor and the Gentlemen’s Card Room. The chandelier over the stairs down to the Main Deck Lounge is also quite exceptional and was given to the boat by the Anheuser Busch Company.  I do not recall where it was originally used.

Ted: What type of cabin do you prefer and why?

Bill: I like all the outside cabins, but my favorite in terms of price and features is a B-grade outside with open veranda and also an entrance from the interior corridor.  This makes it ideal in good and bad weather. A grade B also has plenty of room. The grade C’s are a bit smaller but fine and no second entrance.

Steamboat American Queen

Veranda cabin open to the side deck. * Photo:: Ted Scull

Ted: How many cruises have you made aboard the American Queen?

Bill: I have completed 11 cruises on her and one on the American Empress (Snake and Columbia Rivers) for a total a of 80 nights.   

Ted: What keeps you coming back?

Bill: The boat is very relaxing and the staff, all American, is excellent.  The food is delicious in the J.M. White Dining Room, and fellow passengers are very friendly. Days cruising the rivers are so pleasant when sitting outside. Entertainment by the American Queen Ensemble is first class as is the talent of the orchestra, the Steamboat Syncopators.

Ted: Rate your itineraries and add if you have a favorite preference for the time of year you like to go. 

Bill: Favorite itineraries include the rivers of Tennessee, the northern Mississippi, and the Ohio River (though cruises are rare here).  All are good if you have not done them before.  The fall is a nice time to travel when the trees are changing colors, but the weather is still warm.

I have twice done a Christmas Markets Cruise in December and that is a treat as well, though the weather may not be as nice on the lower Mississippi. A surprisingly good port offered on some Mississippi River and some Ohio River cruises is Paducah, KY.  It is on the Ohio near to where it joins the Mississippi.  It is a very scenic town, has great restaurants, and a surprisingly good museum called the National Quilt Museum.

While it does not sound like a museum with universal appeal, it really is.  It is truly an art museum in every sense of the word — but in fiber art and quilting from around the world.

Ted: Do you always get off at each port?

Bill: I get off at every port, even if I think I have seen everything.  There is usually something I have missed. 

Ted: Do you use the coach that makes a loop through town or do you go on your own?

Bill: The River Coaches, as they are called, are unique to this company and are painted to look like the American Queen. They have designated stops around each town and are included in your fare.  I usually don’t go through town on my own, but in the future, I may want to see other than the scheduled stops.  The River Coaches have local guides that provide insight to the town. 

Steamboat American Queen

River Coaches for local sightseeing run on a fixed route while the steamboat is in port. * Photo: Ted Scull

Ted: Do you ever book an optional excursion? If so, what were they like?

Bill: I have not yet booked an excursion, but now that I have seen so much of the included stops by bus, I may.  Some sound quite interesting and the cost is a reasonable optional.

Ted: We can’t leave out the dining, so what do you like or not like about the food?

Bill: The J.M. White dining room has exceptional meals. Before I sailed, I thought it would be “down home” country cooking, but this is not the case at all.  There are good varieties of meats, fish, and vegetarian meals.  It is rare to find something that is not delicious.  Also wine and beer are complimentary at dinner.  Soft drinks and bottled water and numerous other beverages are complimentary all day.

The Front Porch is the casual dining venue on Deck 3 forward.  All three meals can be taken there, but the selection is not as good as the main dining room.  I have never had dinner there, but it looks very good — especially the prime rib that they seem to have all the time.  The staff there is very friendly and there is a bar there with exceptional service all day.

Ted: Do you eat some or all your meals in the J.M. White dining room?

Bill: I take all dinners in the J.M. White dining room. I enjoy having the same table mates each evening; I am a fan of assigned seating.  If I have breakfast it is usually at the Front Porch and most lunches are there too. Be warned, when the weather is bad, typically too cold or windy, people don’t eat outside at the Front Porch, and it can be difficult to get a table inside.

There is no such problem in the J.M. White Dining Room.

Steamboat American Queen

J.M. White dining room. * Photo: Ted Scull

 Ted: Where do you like to sit?

Bill: I prefer a table for 6 (sometimes 8 is okay) on the starboard side of the J.M. White Dining Room, second seating.  The first night, dinner is at 8:00 PM and after that at 7:45.  Early seating is too early — 5:15 PM after the first night.

Ted: If you also eat elsewhere, what draws you there?

Bill: I can catch a late breakfast at the Front Porch as late as 9:30 and the fare is the standard American cooked and continental breakfast buffet.  I don’t eat a big breakfast.  If I want a quick lunch and there are tables available inside or out, I like the Front Porch.  The advantage of dining in the J.M. White for lunch is to be seated with other people who may soon become your friends.

Ted: When the American Queen is underway, what are your favorite spots to enjoy the scenery?

Bill: Daytime, most outside cabins have space with table and chairs on the open veranda outside the stateroom door.  If I have enjoyable fellow passengers around my cabin, it is nice to pull chairs together and chat. Outside at the River Grill up on Deck 5 aft it is nice to sit and watch where we have been.  Looking out from the open deck at the Front Porch on Deck 3 or outside the Chart Room on Deck 4 is very nice too.

In the evening, sitting out on the Front Porch or outside the Chart Room one deck up is very pleasant.  If the River Grill stayed open at night that would be a nice place to sit as well and maybe have a beverage, but they usually close it early.

On my last cruise, a number of us complained and they kept it open a bit later. At night on the narrower stretches of river, it is interesting to follow the boat’s searchlights as they scan for buoys and/or the river banks.  This is most dramatic on the upper Mississippi.

Steamboat American Queen

Front Porch * Photo: Ted Scull

Ted: Is here anything that you do not like or you feel could be improved or even changed?

Bill: Lighting could be better in the staterooms.  I’ll often ask a cabin steward if she can find me an extra desk lamp.  Also, I ask for a table beside the easy chair or sofa in the room. They usually can find something in the way of a table – extra lamps are more rare.  Worst case you can bring your outside table from the deck into the stateroom, but I don’t like to do that.

Ted: Have you been aboard the American Duchess?

Bill: The Hotel Manager on the Duchess is a friend of mine from the American Queen, and I was invited on her while in Madison, Indiana earlier this year, given a tour top to bottom, and had lunch in the main dining room. 

Ted: What do you think of her?

Bill: The American Duchess is not particularly good looking on the outside, but better in person than in pictures. I assumed she had very little outside deck space for sitting, but she actually had more than I thought.  Still there is nowhere near the outdoor space of the American Queen.  Interiors are glitzy and modern. The boat is said to be all suites — well yes and no.  I did see a two-level loft suite with private balcony with a very elegant bathroom on the second level and the standard Duchess bathroom on the first level.

The interior décor of the public rooms is very modern with high ceilings.  I liked it, though it is very different from the American Queen.  The inside cabins are called interior suites and would be very nice if they had a view, but they don’t.  All cabins have a Keurig Coffee maker and mini refrigerator.  These are nice touches also found aboard the American Empress on the Snake and Columbia Rivers. From looking at the prices for the Duchess, she is quite expensive.

Steamboat American Queen

American Empress cruises the Columbia and Snake rivers in the Pacific Northwest.

Ted: I believe you are about to sail again.

Bill: I will soon be sailing from Pittsburgh to Louisville.  This is a cruise that has not been done in a number of years and will not be done in 2019 on this vessel.  The Duchess will probably do it next year.  This year’s trip should be popular as many people who I met on a round-trip Louisville cruise in 2017 had booked it.

I booked it since it will be from my original home of Pittsburgh, past Cincinnati where I live now, and terminates in Louisville.  The stops along the way should be interesting since I have not seen them from the water before — particularly Marietta, OH.

Steamboat American Queen

Bill with friends in his home town of Cincinnati, Ohio. * Photo: Ted Scull


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behind the scenes

Elise & Tim Behind the Scenes at Sea (Part 6)

Ever wonder what it would be like to work on cruise ships? Small cruise ships? For 15 years?

Elise & Tim Lentz have worked on ships big and small as cruise directors, shore excursion managers, tour directors and event managers for over 15 years. The married globetrotters are based in Florida when they’re not aboard ships, mostly small ones these days, running the small ship division for a US-based tour operator and now for their own new company Global Tour Management. Depending on specific assignment(s), they may be on the high seas for a few weeks to a month or more at a time. Their life has been anything but boring and each day offers a new adventure.  

Welcome to the sixth in a series of monthly installments from Elise, sharing their story behind the scenes.


Part 6: Good Cruises Gone Bad

By Elise Lentz.

“Elise, I need a letter.” If I had $1 for every time my Hotel Director said that to me during a cruise, I could have retired 10 years ago. What he was referring to was a letter I would compose apologizing for something that didn’t go just right for a guest. On my computer I had an entire folder filled with these letters to cover all kinds of situations.

For example,  one such letter may start out: “I’m sorry the wine service at dinner last night was slow and didn’t meet your expectation…  Blah Blah Blah.” The Hotel Director would then sign it and typically a plate of chocolate-covered strawberries accompanied the letter to the passenger’s cabin.

This particular journey there was a new letter I had to create. “I’m sorry you found a fly in your salad at lunch today”….  “I’m sorry you found a fly in your glass of wine today”….  “I’m sorry that your nap on the outside deck was interrupted by a swarm of flies today”….  That trip was like a horrible Alfred Hitchcock film. We had the invasion of the flies.

behind the scenes

Elise writing letters ….

Our itinerary had us sailing off the coast of Spain near the port of Tarragona. That year the region experienced an abundance of rain and the grapes on the vineyards were starting to rot. The locals couldn’t harvest the fruit fast enough and if the wind was just right, you could catch a hint of the musty smell of spoiled grapes. This mixture of moisture and decaying fruit became the perfect breeding ground for flies. Millions of flies and they were everywhere and in everything. You were afraid to open your mouth because as soon as you did….  “I’m sorry a fly flew into your mouth today at lunch… please accept our apology and enjoy these strawberries covered in chocolate and flies.”

So you may ask yourself, what could be worse than a full-blown “epidemic” of flies?  The answer is the dreaded intestinal illness and all it takes is “one culprit” to get it all started. I was standing in line at a salad buffet when I witnessed a man struggling to get the salad dressing to flow out of the bottle. I was in shock when he resorted to inserting his finger into the bottle to resolve his dilemma. When I didn’t think it was possible to experience anything more disgusting than that — I was sadly mistaken. Another passenger was at the carving station in a buffet and grabbed a pre-sliced piece of meat with his fingers and placed it on his plate. He then inquired with the chef as to what kind of meat this was. Not liking the answer, he picks up the meat from his plate, with his fingers, and throws it back onto the carving station. For those of you who really know me (and my personality) can probably finish the rest of this story. I just couldn’t let this go without saying something and my commentary went like this: “Excuse me, you just touched that piece of meat with your fingers and now after you proceeded to finger it again, you decide to throw it back onto the carving station. This is how people get sick.” Needless to say, “Mr. Snatch and Grab” picked the meat back up (with his fingers) and put it back on his plate, glared at me and took a seat.

When an illness started to spread onboard, the cleaning process needed to be implemented early and swiftly. Crew would be armed with containers of sanitizing cloths and we would wipe down everything that anyone could have touched. We would see the housekeeping staff decked out in what looked like a white hazmat suit. They were covered head to toe in protective gear with a sprayer filled with chemicals strapped to their back. Every surface on the ship was wiped and sprayed. It looked like something out of a Ghostbusters movie.

Another time, late at night, the swimming pool onboard was drained. Once again Ghostbusters were on the job scrubbing down the empty pool. I felt a sense of dread for the crew involved in the clean-up, but at the same time a childish grin came across my face as I had a flashback of the “Doodie!” scene from the movie CaddyShack. It was about this time that I thought to myself — no one would ever believe these stories if I told them. But I’m here to tell you — you can’t make this stuff up.

And if you don’t believe me – come back next month. We have a man in “tightie whites”performing the worm, a 7-foot drag queen dressed as a mermaid, and crew wearing sunglasses to avoid looking at “twigs and berries” during a nudist cruise.


Click here to read Elise & Tim Behind the Scenes at Sea (Part 1)
Click here to read Elise & Tim Behind the Scenes at Sea (Part 2)
Click here to read Elise & Tim Behind the Scenes at Sea (Part 3)
Click here to read Elise & Tim Behind the Scenes at Sea (Part 4) 
Click here to read Elise & Tim Behind the Scenes at Sea (Part 5)


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small ship cruise captain

By Ted Scull.

George Freeman Coughlin has been sailing as a small ship cruise captain for many years, working for Coastwise Cruise Line, Exploration Cruise Lines, Clipper Cruise Line, Cruise West, St. Lawrence Cruise Lines, Lindblad Expeditions/National Geographic, Alaskan Dream Cruises, and UnCruise Adventures.

Traveling as a journalist, I first met Captain George in May 1986 aboard the Colonial Explorer, a replica steamboat (now SS Legacy for UnCruise Adventures), for a week’s cruise in the Chesapeake Bay. Then I met him again two months later as a lecturer (at his request) on the same ship for the relighting of the Statue of Liberty over the July 4th weekend. It was a Smithsonian charter, and those three days were tremendous fun with New York Harbor packed with all sorts of vessels: liners, small cruise ships, excursion boats, sail training ships, warships, ferries, and tugs. After that, when the Colonial Explorer came to New York, I would give a harbor talk before the farewell lobster dinner at which George and I would show the passengers how to crack a lobster as most did not hail from the East Coast. That was the beginning of a long friendship.

George Coughlin has been captain of the Pilgrim Belle, Colonial Explorer, Newport Clipper, Nantucket Clipper, Yorktown Clipper, National Geographic Sea Bird/Sea Lion, Victorian Empress, Spirit of Yorktown, Chichagof Dream, and S.S. Legacy.

small ship cruise captain

Captain George Freeman Coughlin at the wheel of UnCruises’ SS Legacy

Q&A with Small Ship Cruise Captain George Coughlin

Ted: Where did you grow up and what made you interested in taking a job at sea?

George: I grew up in Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston. In the summer months, my parents took me on frequent day excursions from Rowes Wharf in Boston to Nantasket Beach and Provincetown, Cape Cod. This was my introduction to becoming very interested in passenger carrying vessels, which at the time, I never realized would be the foundation of my career as a mariner.


Ted: What was your first ship and your role aboard? Did you think you had made the right decision?

George: My first ship was the S. S. Potomac in 1962. She was a former vessel owned by Wilson Lines. Built in 1910, I believe. All steel construction, 4 decks and a passenger capacity over 1,000. She was a true oil-fired steamboat. I was a 14-year-old deckhand.


Ted: Any stories to tell from those first months?

George: I remember the very first time that Capt. Herb Patterson had me take the helm, and under his direction, gave me rudder commands to bring the Potomac alongside Rowes Wharf. I also remember that going back to school after working that first summer aboard wasn’t so easy. I had to join a union for the summer, but really wasn’t old enough to be working onboard. Management felt that I looked old enough, so we worked around that obstacle pretty well.


Ted: When did you think you had settled in and were making good progress in the cruise industry?

George: I was in the Navy from 1965-1968. During that time, I had my sights on the Merchant Marine after completing my term of duty and really had no interest in staying with the Navy as a career. I remember being fascinated with the liner S.S. United States and thought that perhaps being a deck officer onboard would be of interest. As things turned out, I opted to stay involved with smaller passenger vessels and I have no regrets.


Ted: Where did you get your professional training?

George: As the expression goes, I worked my way up the hawse and through the ranks. Many individual classes have been taken at various schools for all the license endorsements, including Massachusetts Maritime Academy, Buzzards Bay MA.; Maritime Professional Training, Fort Lauderdale, FLA; and Northeast Maritime Institute, Fairhaven, MA.


Ted: What ranks did you hold before becoming a captain and on what ships?

George: My time in the Navy was shipboard as a Quartermaster and when I was discharged I opted to sail as Mate aboard a yacht for the winter in Florida. During that winter of 1968-69, I focused on accumulating my combined sea time and sitting for my first Coast Guard License.

small ship cruise captain

Captain negotiates a lock chamber.

Ted: What was your first command and where did you go?

George: My first command was a classic Harbor Tour vessel owned by Hyannis Harbor Tours (Hy-Line Cruises) Hyannis, MA. Her name was/is Prudence, a 65-foot wooden-hulled 150-passenger vessel, single screw, and built in Booth Bay Harbor, Maine in 1911.


Ted: Did you have favorite ships and what made them special?

George: I’m a little superstitious about naming favorite ships. It’s rather like showing favoritism to a child of a family of 10. Just don’t want the word to get around to those other ships that I may possibly be sailing on again. They have a way of retaliating. With that said, the “Prudence” will always be dear to me, as well as the now S.S. Legacy.

small ship cruise captain

Capt. George Coughlin aboard the Colonial Explorer in May 1986, now SS Legacy, UnCruise Adventures.  Photo: Ted Scull

Ted: Did you have preferred seasons and favorite itineraries?

George: It’s like comparing apples to oranges. There are just so many places to see and enjoy. If I had to choose — in the winter, The Virgin Islands; and in the Fall, The Chesapeake Bay. In the Spring, it’s the Inside Passage from Seattle to Juneau; and in the Summer, S.E. Alaska.

small ship cruise captain

Daws Glacier, Endicott Arm, SE Alaska. * Photo Capt. George Coughlin

Ted: Any unusual occurrences to share?

George: It was nearing the end of one of my Alaska summer seasons, and we had what was considered a good year for wildlife sightings. I was sailing through Frederick Sound towards Petersburg and almost in disbelief there were literally 25+ Humpback whales ahead of us breaching, sounding and as a group, being very playful. As I recall, the following week, there was but one whale in that same area. We decided that the week prior was the Humpback’s gathering together and bidding us farewell before making their long migration to Hawaii for the winter.


Ted: Any funny stories to tell as a small ship cruise captain?

George: I was sailing on the Panama/Costa Rica itinerary one winter and after consulting with one of our onboard local guides, I opted to anchor off a beautiful uninhabited island off the Panama Coast. I sent the ships Bosun in with an inflatable to check out the sandy beach landing. He radioed back to me and said there was a pretty good swell, but the landing was doable. I made a shipboard announcement and said for those who are agile and in the spirit of adventure, we will be offering zodiacs to/from the beach. All was going well, and I was standing in the companionway just outside the lounge, when a returning guest, rather elderly and looking frail, approached me and asked me if I was the Captain. I looked at her and noticed that she was missing one of her rubber shoes and her eyeglasses that she was wearing were full of sand. She looked like the cartoon character, Mr. Magoo, and I did all I could to restrain from laughing. I noticed that she wasn’t hurt in any way and replied that I was the Captain, not knowing what she might be gearing up to say, thinking that she was probably infuriated about her experience on the beach. She looked up at me and smiled, saying “I just had one of the most wonderful experiences of my life.” Needless to say, I was greatly relieved and very happy for her.


Ted: Have you fully retired?

George: I keep my license renewed and current. I enjoy doing random fill-in stints as Captain and also some piloting/training. I did a few relief stints with Lindblad/National Geographic this spring. I also did a few relief Captain stints aboard the S.S. Legacy on the Columbia/Snake Rivers last summer for UnCruise Adventures. I’m looking forward to a few more years before full retirement.


Ted: What do you like to do with your free time?

George: I’ve always had an interest in music, especially classical and opera. I’ve been singing with the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, Boston Holiday POPS and Boston Symphony for the past 20 years. I had my own small sailboat and was a member of the Hyannis Yacht Club for over 30 years. I enjoy travel and hold a single-engine aircraft land/sea license.


Ted: You have a good balance in your life that will serve you well. I hope we get to meet up soon, and thank you sharing your seagoing story. I am sure there is more to tell.

small ship cruise captain

Captain Coughlin at leisure.


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Scottish Train

By Ted Scull.

In early June at the end of a 10-day visit to Scotland, my wife and I boarded the morning train from Oban to Glasgow, the first of two train journeys down to London. We occupied a pair of assigned seats facing each other while next to me was an Englishman who said he was bound for Brixham on Devon’s South Coast.

I knew Brixham, an important fishing port, as one of my oldest friends grew up there and recently his wife had her ashes cast into the sea nearby.

The man seated to me introduced himself as Toni Knights, a skipper aboard an historic Brixham sail-powered fishing trawler outfitted to take a handful of cruise passengers for a firm called Trinity Sailing. In winter, to make ends meet, he is a commercial fisherman working on a modern diesel-powered fishing boat based in Brixham.

Scottish Train

Ted meets Toni. * Photo: Suellyn Scull

Toni’s just completed trip was skippering the Leader, a two-masted, wooden-hulled Brixham trawler, built way back in 1892, from Falmouth in Cornwall around Lands End and up through the Irish Sea to Oban on the West Coast of Scotland where she would be based for two months for cruises to the Western Isles.

He then opened his computer and showed me a video of his handsome ship under way using all eight sails and taking up to 12 passengers and a crew of six. The firm’s fleet of three sailing trawlers is based in ports largely on England’s South Coast and available for overnight cruises from short getaways on up to a week or more.

Toni then opened an envelope and shared with me a lovely set of watercolors he had painted showing the fleet and the waters through which they sailed. He sells his work to the passengers as a memento of their cruise. On the sailing schedule are cruises offering art classes under his supervision for those interested in painting landscapes, seascapes, bird and animal life.


Scottish Train

A Brixham trawler by Toni Kinghts

Most intrigued, I shared my connection to QuirkyCruise, and we started talking business while the two-car Scotrail train wound its way through the beautiful Scottish Highlands.

Thanks to Ted’s chance meeting of Toni, QuirkyCruise has added a review of Trinity Sailing to our roster of small ship cruises. Have a gander as it looks to be great fun if seeking a genuine sailing experience on an historic vessel and happily, not at all expensive.


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By Anne Kalosh.

More women are joining the ranks of cruise ship captains, and several are commanding small vessels. Meet a batch of remarkable mariners — go lady captains!


Sea Cloud Cruises’ Kathryn Whittaker

Germany’s Sea Cloud Cruises has just promoted Kathryn Whittaker to captain of SEA CLOUD II. The Canadian is the first female captain in the fleet, which fields two sailing ships, the 64-passenger SEA CLOUD and 94-passenger SEA CLOUD II.

Unlike many captains, Whittaker doesn’t hail from a seafaring family, and her voyage didn’t start at an early age in a maritime academy. While at university in Toronto she took time off to work on touring boats in Toronto Harbor for three years, then made her way to SEA CLOUD as a deck hand in 1996. This first position on a sailing ship sealed her fate and began her journey toward securing her captain’s license.

Lady Captains

Capt. Kathryn Whittaker is the master of Sea Cloud II. * Photo: Sea Cloud Cruises

Whittaker did most of her training privately and achieved her certifications by passing the required exams through various Canadian maritime schools. Her hands-on experience was achieved on sail-training ships, including five years as captain of Bytown Brigantine’s STV FAIR JEANNE and small passenger sailing vessels in the British Virgin Islands, where she worked as chef, first mate and training captain. She then served as chief officer for two years with Canadian Sailing Expeditions.

Before being promoted to captain at Sea Cloud Cruises in March, Whittaker sailed as chief officer for six years.

“Growing up as the only girl with four older brothers prepared me well to work in this field. I had to prove myself on this ship and have over the years gained the respect of the crew,” Whittaker said.

“When the opportunity arose for our crewing manager to promote Whittaker—who conveys dedication and love for her job—to captain, the decision was easy,” according to Daniel Schäfer, managing director of Sea Cloud Cruises. He added: “In a very male-dominated industry, we are thrilled to have a very qualified woman for the highest position on a ship.”

Whittaker grew up in St. Thomas, Ontario. When not at sea, she calls Ottawa home.


Croisières M/S Jacques-Cartier’s Maryse Camirand

Another Canadian woman, Maryse Camirand of Québec’s Croisières M/S Jacques-Cartier, a new adventure cruise line, is a licensed captain who also teaches at the Maritime Institute of Québec (Institut Maritime du Québec). However, her husband serves as the master of the 66-passenger JACQUES-CARTIER because “There can be only one captain,” Camirand said.

The family-run Croisières M/S Jacques-Cartier is led by President Michel Harvey, Camirand’s husband. They have been rebuilding and upgrading JACQUES-CARTIER to offer adventure cruises on the St. Lawrence River starting in June. Harvey, a fourth-generation shipowner, is also a licensed marine mechanical engineering officer.

Camirand and Harvey’s teenage daughters Rachel and Amélie are involved in the new venture, too, and Rachel holds a permit to pilot Zodiacs. The family will live aboard the ship for part of the year.

Lady Captains

Maryse Camirand is a licensed captain but her husband commands Jacques-Cartier. Their daughters work on board, too. * Photo: Croisières M/S Jacques-Cartier

“We have our place,” Camirand said of women in maritime roles. “We have to be good, maybe better than a man.”

Twenty-five years ago few women pursued such careers in Canada. That has changed. Camirand said the Maritime Institute of Québec’s last graduating class included many women, and they are finding maritime jobs.

According to Camirand, it wasn’t difficult for her to take up a maritime career, at least not in Canada. Originally she studied business.

“I’m an entrepreneur. I see more opportunity than difficulties or obstacles,” she said.


Silversea Cruises’ Margrith Ettlin

One of the longest serving women captains in the small-ship arena is Margrith Ettlin, promoted to the position in 2013 by Silversea Cruises.

Ettlin is a Swiss national with extensive maritime experience in remote regions, including the Arctic and Antarctica. Her first Silversea command was for the 132-passenger expedition ship SILVER EXPLORER.


Silversea’s Capt. Margrith Ettlin. * Photo: SIlversea Cruises

At the time of her appointment, Silversea’s Christian Sauleau, executive vice president of fleet operations, said: “We’re very pleased and proud to extend this promotion to Captain Ettlin. Although we’re not the first cruise company to have a female captain, we hope Captain Ettlin’s achievement will inspire other women to pursue careers at sea.”

Prior to joining Silversea as a staff captain in March 2010, Ettlin worked for Germany’s F. Laeisz shipping group. Her maritime career includes nearly nine years as a staff captain with the German shipping company Hapag-Lloyd.


Celebrity Cruises’ Nathaly Albán

When Ecuadorian Nathaly Albán took command of the catamaran CELEBRITY XPLORATION in 2017, she became the first woman captain in the Galápagos, according to Celebrity Cruises.

With a dozen years of experience sailing throughout the archipelago, Albán had worked on several ships there, joining Celebrity in 2006 as third officer aboard the 100-passenger CELEBRITY XPEDITION.

Lady Captains

Capt. Nathaly Albán at the helm of Celebrity-Xploration. * Photo: Celebrity Cruises

Albán is the second woman captain at Celebrity, following Kate McCue, who commands big ship CELEBRITY SUMMIT.

“Empowering strong women and elevating them to deserved leadership roles is a cause that is close to my heart, and one that Celebrity Cruises truly values,” President and CEO Lisa Lutoff-Perlo said. “When the opportunity presented itself to promote Nathaly—who radiates passion and love for her job and for Celebrity—to captain, the decision was easy.”

Albán was one of six women in her class at La Escuela de la Marina Mercante Nacional in Ecuador. Before graduating, she held various maritime jobs, most notably serving in the FLOPEC tanker fleet of the Ecuadorian Navy.

Celebrity’s Patrik Dahlgren, senior vice president of global marine operations, said Albán was “the ideal candidate for the job, and we believe in celebrating and advancing our brightest talent.”

He added: “Our goal is to attract, develop and retain the best people from many different regions of the world and backgrounds. Our industry has typically been very male-dominated, yet we believe in inclusiveness and opening up opportunities for all.

Albán called her appointment last year a “great honor and privilege,” adding: “I told my family many times that I would be wearing white one day and be the first woman to serve as a captain of a ship in the Galápagos. Now it’s happening and I’m committed to delivering the very best experience for all guests on board.”


Windstar Cruises’ Belinda Bennett

In 2016, Windstar Cruises named Belinda Bennett captain of WIND STAR, making her possibly the first black cruise ship captain.

Bennett was 39 when she took command of the 148-passenger WIND STAR, a ship she continues to helm, after working 11 years for the line. She previously served as chief officer.

Earning the title, Bennett said, was a “long and exciting professional journey.”

Lady Captains

Capt. Belinda Bennett on Wind Star’s bridge. * Photo: Windstar Cruises

Hans Birkholz, who was Windstar’s CEO at the time of Bennett’s appointment, noted then that her leadership qualities and hard work made her an asset to the team and invaluable to her colleagues and crew. “She has earned her spot at the helm,” he said.

Bennett is a British citizen who resides in Southampton. She hails from St. Helena, a British Overseas Territory encompassing Ascension and Tristan de Cunha, where she became a deck cadet at age 17 aboard her home island ship, RMS ST. HELENA. Four years later, she climbed the ranks as third officer then stayed an additional five years, ultimately serving as second officer.

Following a brief stretch as chief officer aboard SS DELPHINE, a private charter yacht, and Isle of Man Steam Packet ferries, Bennett signed on with Windstar as second officer in 2005.

At the small ship line, which has an open bridge policy, Bennett is known for engaging with guests. She enjoys leading them on a “safe and one-of-a-kind adventure around the world.”

Lady Captains

Capt. Belinda Bennett with her senior officers. * Photo: Windstar Cruises


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Elise & Tim Behind the Scenes at Sea (Part 5)

Ever wonder what it would be like to work on cruise ships? Small cruise ships? 

Elise & Tim Lentz have worked on ships big and small as cruise directors, shore excursion managers, tour directors and event managers for over 15 years. The married globetrotters are based in Florida when they’re not aboard ships, mostly small ones these days, running the small ship division for a US-based tour operator and now for their own new company Global Tour Management. Depending on specific assignment(s), they may be on the high seas for a few weeks to a month or more at a time. Their life has been anything but boring and each day offers a new adventure.  

Welcome to the fifth in a series of monthly installments from Elise, sharing their story.


PART 5: So Where Are All Your Photos?

By Elise Lentz.

In my previous post #4, I mentioned I would share more stories of other people I have met during my travels. I will save “Part Duex of interesting passenger stories” for a later installation.  Since many of us in North America have just celebrated Mother’s Day, I thought it appropriate to dedicate this article to my mom.

How many times in your life have you not followed your mother’s advice? Or worse yet — you just flat out ignored it?  As each new birthday passes me by, I wish I heeded more of my mother’s advice.  I’m not talking about the “cardinal rule”…. to make sure you have on a clean pair of underwear before you leave the house.  That one I still follow. What I’m really talking about here is taking the time to document and share photos of my travels.

Elise & TIm Behind the Scenes at Sea (Part 5)

Elise eating ice cream on her “vacation!” Lol

My mom and I have a running joke we share. Every time before I leave on an assignment, she tells me “Enjoy your vacation.” At first, I would get so frustrated with her for assuming that just because I was on a cruise ship meant that I was on a floating holiday. How dare she equate my long working hours, with a constant smile frozen on my face for days/weeks and months on end, as some sort of working vacation?  But with age comes wisdom and I finally wised up.

Those closest to me know that I am a very driven individual. I can get so focused on what I am doing that I often lose sight of other things happening around me. This “trait” (or some may call it a fault) is what makes me, me. I remember before I graduated college, my goal was to have a job lined up, ready to start, before I donned the cap and gown.  Sacrifice of personal time (a.k.a. fun) was all just part of the process.

This personal “drive to succeed” carried over to my life onboard the cruise ship.  The focus was to deliver the best experience for the passengers. But in order to do that — to my level of standards — required me to focus 100% on the passengers and their expectations. So, one day, when an innocent crewmember approached me asking when I was going to run the crew BINGO night, I almost lost it.  Are you kidding me? I just cashed in a great paying corporate job, a nice house, three cars and said goodbye to friends and family. I came onboard, starting a brand new career in a field that I knew nothing about. BINGO! How dare they assume I was here to have fun?  This is when I should have heeded my mom’s advice, but like any good daughter — once again, I ignored her words of wisdom….

Keeping in mind, Tim and I first started on the cruise ships in 2003. This was light-years before the advancement of the technology we have today.  I remember the first time the ship docked in Oslo, Norway. As soon as the authorities cleared the vessel, Tim put on his sneakers and ran the town to find where the ATMs, Tourist Office, local attractions, etc. were located. Why? Passengers getting off the ship for the day would want to know this information and we needed to be ready.  How times have changed. Today, you pull up an APP on your smartphone and everything is available at your fingertips.

During that time, any photos and videos we did take, of the locations we visited, became our “APP.” However, the photos we have are not of Elise eating an ice cream on the beach.  (Well, there is one ice cream shot.) These pictures were used to help us remember logistical details for each location.  Some of our itineraries may visit a particular port only once per year.  So these photos were not for display in a picture frame. They were to help us explain to passengers what type of terrain will they be walking on, are there steps with a hand railing, how many stalls are there in the ladies restroom, etc….

Elise & Tim Behind the Scenes at Sea (Part 5)

Collage: Tim Lentz

So when my mom would say to me, “make sure you take pictures,” once again, I would scoff and roll my eyeballs.  Yes, mom, I take photos, but not ones you want to see. My mindset during that time was not forward thinking.  I didn’t imagine that someday I would share my story and that people would actually want to see some photos of what my life was like on the cruise ship.  Spoiler alert….  If you are excited to see photos accompany all of my stories — don’t get too excited.  Do I regret not following my mom’s advice?  You bet I do.

On our first ship, the hotel director once said to Tim and me, “Your biggest fault is you care too much.”  While I know he meant that as a compliment, he also meant that as constructive criticism to help us avoid burnout.  Did we heed that advice?  No way…  If I didn’t listen to my mom, why would I listen to him?

Our first contract was a seven-month assignment on the Windstar Cruises ship, MSY Wind Surf — 308 passengers.  For months, the itineraries were varied, rarely repeating ports of calls. Never having a day off, we were running on adrenaline to keep us going. I’ll never forget the last day of our contract. Our flight back to the USA was not until early the next morning, so we went to a hotel for the night.  As soon as we arrived – the adrenaline stopped flowing.  Our bodies knew we were no longer in the “spotlight” and everything shut down.  Last thing I remember is running to the bathroom and hugging the toilet as Tim climbed over top of me to reach the sink.  We got violently ill…..  I guess that is what happens when “you care too much.” And “No” — I don’t have a picture of that.

So now when my mom says, “enjoy your vacation,” I realize it is a gentle reminder to step back and appreciate what is around you.  Sort of like, “take your time to stop and smell the roses.”  Being older and wiser, I have finally begun to follow my mom’s advice.  Today I will stop and smell the roses and I’ll take a picture of that rose.  And just for the record, I do all of this in a clean pair of underwear.


Click here to read Elise & Tim Behind the Scenes at Sea (Part 1)
Click here to read Elise & Tim Behind the Scenes at Sea (Part 2)
Click here to read Elise & Tim Behind the Scenes at Sea (Part 3)
Click here to read Elise & Tim Behind the Scenes at Sea  (Part 4)


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By Anne Kalosh.

Concerned about marine plastic pollution? As a small ship lover, you’re probably more aware than most of the environment and the need to protect it.

But did you know an astonishing eight million plus tons of plastics enter the oceans every year? That is according to the United Nations Environment Program. Plastic bags, straws, water and soda bottles, cutlery, cup and bottle lids—a whole tsunami of plastic trash. At this rate, the UN warns that by 2050, there could be more plastic than fish in the sea. 😱

Why is marine plastic so harmful? The UN Environment program estimates about 90 percent of sea birds have ingested plastic. One study found that almost 670 marine species have already ingested or been entangled by plastic. The fact that fish eat plastic, typically minuscule pieces that can absorb whatever toxins are in the water, means humans at the top of the food chain are likely ingesting these toxins, too.

Marine Plastic Pollution

Polar bear on littered beach. * Photo: Ilja Leo Lang for AECO

But it’s not all bleak. The good news is that you as a small ship traveler can now be part of the solution since a growing number of expedition cruise lines and associations are declaring war on single-use plastics.

The Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators (AECO), which represents most lines in the Arctic tourism trade, gained backing from the UN and funding to fight the plastic scourge.

Polar Climate Change

The UN’s Clean Seas Campaign

AECO is joining the UN Environment Program’s Clean Seas campaign, launched in February 2017 to turn the tide on plastics. The project addresses the root cause of marine litter by targeting the production of non-recoverable and single-use plastic.

AECO will work to drastically cut back single-use plastics on Arctic expedition cruise vessels and enhance passenger and crew involvement in regular beach cleanups. The association has just hired an environmental agent to focus on these efforts.

Environmental Agent Hired

Sarah Auffret, who has a background as a G Adventures expedition leader on cruises in Svalbard, East Greenland and the Antarctic Peninsula and as base leader of Port Lockroy, was chosen for the job.  Her extensive experience in polar tourism will come in handy as she leads the work to collect, systematize and share best practices to help reduce plastics consumption on expedition ships.

Marine Plastic Pollution

Sarah Auffret will disseminate best practices and support beach cleanups as AECO’s new environmental agent. * Photo: AECO

AECO members have been involved in beach cleanings for nearly two decades, and this led to recent funding of 2.43 million Norwegian kroner ($308,000), including 1.8 m kroner from the Svalbard Environmental Protection Fund and 634,000 kroner from the Norwegian Environmental Directorate.

The funding will help AECO step up environmental efforts, and it made possible the hiring of the environmental agent.

AECO is also working with the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) on the Clean Seas project since many of the planned measures can be applied to expedition cruise ships in Antarctica as well.

“Clean oceans is an issue that our members are extremely passionate about. For years, the Arctic expedition cruise industry has involved thousands of passengers in volunteering to pick up garbage when they go on landings. As part of this new project, we will examine the whole value chain to reduce the risk of plastic finding its way to into our oceans in the first place,” AECO executive director Frigg Jørgensen said.

“Our members would like to be part of the solution, and that involves finding alternatives to disposable plastic products on their ships,” added Jørgensen.

Jørgensen said the key is to change attitudes. “We want to show people that there are good alternatives to things like plastic straws and plastic packaging. It’s not too late to tackle the issue of plastic marine debris, but we have to act now,” she urged.


Hurtigruten Bans unnecessary single-use plastic

Hurtigruten is doing just that. The operator of Norwegian coastal voyages and expeditions in the Arctic and Antarctica has become one of the first major companies to ban all unnecessary single-use plastic.

By July 2, items like plastic straws, drink mixers, plastic glasses, coffee lids and plastic bags will be removed from all Hurtigruten ships. The goal is to become the world’s first plastic-free shipping company.

Marine Plastic Pollution

Hurtigruten hotel manager Kristian Skar with some of the plastics that will be banned on board. * Photo: Ørjan Bertelsen_Hurtigruten

“At Hurtigruten, we have focused on the problem of plastic pollution for years,” CEO Daniel Skjeldam said. “There is a lot of talk about the impact plastic has on our oceans. But it’s time to take action. By getting rid of single-use plastic on board all ships already by this summer, we will hopefully get others to follow. It is possible to act now, and the oceans cannot wait.”

Plastic straws will be replaced by metal straws, and stir pins will no longer be used. The same for plastic cups, plastic cutlery, plastic bags, plastic lids on coffee cups, plastic toothpicks, plastic aprons, single-use packaging of butter and all other single-use plastic items that Hurtigruten’s 400,000 passengers and 2,500 employees encounter on a day-to-day basis.

“Every year, Hurtigruten guests and employees clean tons of plastic from beaches in the areas we operate. We witness the plastic pollution problem on a daily basis, and need to take action,” Skjeldam said. “Operating in pristine areas as we do comes with a responsibility.”

Marine Plastic Pollution

Passenger & crew beach clean up in Svalbard. * Photo: Arjen Drost for Oceanwide Expeditions

In addition to the internal plastic ban, Hurtigruten is challenging its suppliers to reduce their use of plastic.

“Plastic pollution is the single biggest threat to our oceans,” Skjeldam said. “Hurtigruten operates in some of the most vulnerable areas in the world. This means that we carry a special responsibility to protect these areas for the local population and future generations of explorers.”

That’s a rallying cry small ship fans can get behind.

Marine Plastic Pollution


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