Reprint of original article
Inger Klein Thorhauge is one of a few female captains in the cruise industry. As a native of the Faroe Islands, a cluster of rocky outcrops almost equidistant between Iceland, Norway and the UK, seafaring is in Captain Inger's blood. That’s fortunate since she can spend up to three months on a single journey.
While long stints at sea can make personal relationships challenging, Thorhauge’s husband, who works in the Royal Danish Air Force, enjoys a degree of flexibility. “He usually joins me as often as he can and we carefully plan throughout the year so he can join me on a regular basis,” Thorhauge explained. “He has three children from his previous marriage, and we stay in contact with them by email, Messenger and phone.” While she works, he generally relaxes, watching TV or reading.
Leading a crew of nearly 1,000, Thorhauge holds ultimate responsibility for the safety of more than 90,000 tonnes of ship and the happiness for the many passengers. As a Cunard captain, she enjoys considerable personal space, including a lounge and dining area in her cabin behind the bridge, and her own “day room”, an office-cum-rest space. Yet, after decades spent sharing cramped quarters as she worked her way up through the ranks, Thorhauge travels light, bringing only a suitcase and a picture from her wedding day.
Every day in Thorhauge’s life on board is very different, with a new set of tasks and challenges, yet she always rises early. “If we’re arriving into port, the arrival time dictates the time I wake up,” she said. A 6am arrival might mean surfacing long before dawn to help guide the ship through treacherous reefs and archipelagos. When the ship is in the open ocean, she rises at 5.30am after a call from the bridge.
While the navigator leads much of the work of directing the ship, utilizing an array of high-tech controls like those you’d find in the cockpit of a plane, Thorhauge is always on the bridge during arrival and departure, and frequently during sea days as well. “I go through all the tracks with the navigator and approve them,” she said. “We also hold nautical meetings on the bridge.”
The cruise ship industry is, of course, a hospitality business and the role of host makes up a significant part of Thorhauge’s job. “Typically, we have three big parties with our guests per voyage, and I usually walk through the ship once or twice a day,” she said. “At sea, I also do a noon announcement where I tell our guests about our navigational progress and also inform them about the weather.”
Besides the magic of handling the ship, Thorhauge finds guest feedback a highlight. “At the end of each voyage, when our guests report back that they’ve enjoyed the voyage, it makes me proud of the ship’s crew,” she said.
Besides hosting cocktail parties replete with champagne and lobster, Thorhauge, who speaks seven languages, participates in the longstanding maritime tradition of the captain’s table, inviting selected guests – perhaps VIPs, performers, guest speakers or long-term Cunarders – to join her for dinner. She also takes questions from guests during an interview in the ship’s Royal Court Theatre.
Along with her leadership team, Thorhauge dines in the officers’ mess, an informal set-up with food options designed to inspire during long stints at sea. “I try to eat healthy, so mostly keep to the healthy side with salads and chicken,” Thorhauge observed.
For officers as for passengers, it can be easy to slide into a sedentary lifestyle on board, so Thorhauge carefully monitors her fitness. “I walk in the mornings and try to keep it to 5km every day,” she noted. “I usually try not to take the elevators: I use the stairs instead. I also do exercises in my cabin.”
Time off is typically limited while on board, although intensive periods at sea are sometimes matched by leisurely sojourns ashore. In the evening, Thorhauge relaxes by watching a little TV, although she usually only has a couple of hours before bed to decompress.
Her last task at night? To check the ship’s speed. After that, between the motion of the ocean and long practice, rest comes easily. “I need about six hours sleep a night,” Thorhauge noted. “I can’t always sleep on demand, but I’m pretty good at it.” The next day, after all, will be full of variety.
This article was produced for Cunard by BBC StoryWorks, the commercial content division of BBC Global News.