English journalist and television presenter Jennie Bond recently sat down with Captain Carl Smith to chat about his career at sea, his family life, and the best thing about working for Azamara Club Cruises®
"It is," says Captain Carl Smith, "rather like having full-time care of a baby."
The Master of Azamara Quest is telling me what it's like to be Captain of a luxury ocean liner.
"I sleep lightly when I'm on board. Any tiny noise or unusual vibration will get me out of bed in a flash. It's a big responsibility being in charge of a vessel like this and, more importantly, of our 600 or so guests. I'm constantly on the alert, as you are when you have a new-born to care for."
Now 43, Carl has been at sea since he was 16. His father was a farm labourer on the Isle of Man and his mother delivered the milk-- often with Carl's help.
At school, he excelled in maths, physics and chemistry --but other subjects bored him. So when Shell began recruiting on the island, he liked the look of the cadet training programme they offered, and went along for an interview.
A month later, after an intensive course learning the fundamentals of every aspect of seamanship, he found himself flying to Venezuela to join an oil tanker.
"I was the youngest on board," he recalls. "But I grew up pretty quickly! Basically, I had a mis-spent youth in Caribbean bars. Whenever I came home on leave, I found I had nothing in common with lads of my age. I really did go to sea as a boy- and come back a man."
In all, he spent seven years with Shell and, at 23, he joined the Isle of Man Steam Packet as Chief Officer.
If you're lucky enough to be on board Azamara Quest with Carl in charge, you'll soon gather that he's extremely knowledgeable about all things marine-- and that he's always keen to share that knowledge. His daily reports from the Bridge will give you far more than the basic information about the ship's location and progress. He'll tell you about the engines, the stabilisers, the length of the anchor chain and, intriguingly, he will teach you that noon is very rarely actually at midday.
And that leads him to explain some of the calculations he still loves to make on his sextant.
"These days," he says, "hardly any sailors know how to use a sextant..and it's such a great piece of kit. I encourage all young officers to learn how to read one because it's a valuable skill that's dying out in this digital age."
Carl perfected his sextant skills while he was working on Fyffye's banana boats when he was 24.
"The long hours on watch were so boring, I used that time to read the stars and use the equipment. And I still love to do it. I like to know that, if all the modern gizmos broke down, I could still navigate pretty well with a sextant and the stars."
At 25, he qualified as Captain -- one of only two of that age in the country. He was immediately offered five jobs, but turned them all down because, although he was technically qualified, he knew he needed more experience before taking charge.
So he joined his first passenger ship, a German liner, Albatros, as sixth in command.
He was finally persuaded to accept command of his own ship a few years later, when he ran into the senior Vice President of Celebrity Cruises.
"I met him in a sewerage tank," he says. " I didn't know exactly who he was...just that he was looking over the ship with a view to buying it and wanted to see every nook and cranny. So I told him all about the sewerage system...and he was apparently so impressed that I knew the ship so well, he told his people to offer me a job!"
Mind you, Carl still insisted on waiting until the rota was the one he'd promised his beautiful young wife, Petra. "She was pregnant with our first child, and I'd told her I'd be working three months on, three off. I wasn't going to break my word."
Carl had fallen for Petra on first sight. They met on board a ship, where she was a waitress. He asked for her number, but she replied: "I don't date sailors". He loved her all the more for that...and pursued her relentlessly for six weeks.
In the end, she gave in and they were married twice: once secretly and hurriedly on the Isle of Man because of Carl's work commitments and, a year later, in a swish ceremony in a palace in the Czech Republic.
Petra is a Czech beauty, and they have now made the Republic their home.
"We bought an old farmhouse in the back of beyond, with 35 acres of forest and lakes. That's where we're bringing up our three sons, Joseph, Richard and Peter. They're totally bi-lingual..and we have a great life there.... 300 miles from the sea! It's perfect!" he chuckles.
A Celt himself, Carl has discovered that some of the original Celtic tribes hailed from the very area he now calls home.
"I feel it was fate that brought me there. It's where I belong," he says.
Captain Carl -- as he's known on board--is an immensely likeable chap and clearly thrives on the adrenaline of meeting every challenge that life at sea presents. He's guided his ship away from Nagasaki when the tsunami hit Japan: " That was a worrying one... I didn't sleep for four nights!"
He's helped rescue an entire crew from a burning timber carrier in the middle of the ocean, and he's recently had to make a tricky call about whether to pick up 15 Cuban refugees from a tiny boat, drifting without food or water. He decided to take them on board, give them sustenance and then hand them over to the American coastguard.
"The best thing about working for Azamara," he says, "is the leeway the president gives us to do whatever is needed to keep our guests happy. If I have to use hundreds of tonnes more fuel to take the ship round a storm and keep our guests comfortable, then that's what we do.
That's the company's priority -- and that's the way we all like to keep it."
Jennifer "Jennie" Bond is an English journalist and television presenter. Bond has previously worked for fourteen years as the royal correspondent for the BBC. She has most recently hosted Cash in the Attic and narrated the programme Great British Menu. Follow her on Twitter at @jenniebond1.