Discovering an exciting and demanding profession
A far cry from the clichés and stereotypes, the role of a cruise ship captain is vital and the safety of all the passengers depends on his decisions alone. Olivier Marien discusses his career and tells us about this demanding profession which combines technical skill with adventure.
Travelling, sailing, commanding a ship – was it a vocation from an early age, a sure thing as far as you’re concerned?
Olivier Marien : As my parents were expats from time to time, I grew up abroad, which certainly broadened my horizons. One sure thing however: I’ve always wanted to live close to the sea. After the bac (A-level equivalent) and an intensive foundation degree, I had various options; after passing the competitive exam, I opted for the merchant navy in the end and, once the course began, all my doubts evaporated: I was on the right track.
How did your adventure with PONANT begin?
Olivier Marien : JSo, I started my career in the merchant navy. We went from destination to destination, we stopped, we loaded cargo, and we discharged it: travelling the world without really exploring anywhere was frustrating. That’s why I got involved in cruises, first with an American company, then with PONANT, where I discovered polar expeditions. I applied after seeing PONANT’s announcement about building ships such asLe Boréal : it seems that I had the qualities required.
What qualities are needed to be a good ship’s captain?
Olivier Marien : Firstly, humility when facing the sea and the other people on board. Then, you have to unite the teams and passengers, manage them and present your vision to them. Finally, you need what’s known as “good seamanship”: making the right decisions at the right time, in an objective way. It’s not always easy to speak in front of 250 passengers when there’s a change in the programme, but it’s part of the job of captain. It is a lonely profession, paradoxically, where you appear as you really are. You can’t hide your true nature over two months at sea, which is how work is scheduled for a captain with PONANT. They are two very intense months during which the captain is entirely dedicated to his task.
Are there any trips which have particularly affected you?
Olivier Marien : I remember an expedition to Alaska in 2015 in particular, Nicolas Dubreuil and José Sarica were the expedition leaders. Despite the unknown and difficult conditions, we were able to take the passengers to incredible places where they could see grizzly bears on the Katmai peninsula and polar bears on the sea ice in the Beaufort Sea… It was a magnificent adventure from both a human and maritime perspective.
Which destinations benefit from being discovered by sea?
Olivier Marien : For the delights of sailing and water sports, Polynesia, and in particular the Marquesas. By sea and only by sea, you can access tiny islands where you meet people who you would never have encountered otherwise. I’ll also mention Antarctica, a spectacular destination which never disappoints! For many passengers, a cruise to Antarctica is the trip of a lifetime, with incredible memories which PONANT will always be associated with.
When you take off your captain’s hat, what kind of traveller are you?
Olivier Marien : A few years ago, I made the most of my rest periods to travel, windsurf board under my arm. Now I love to set off as a family on an adventure. Morocco is one of the destinations that I would love to show my children. Sea, snow-covered peaks, forest, desert: there’s everything, and the Moroccans are welcoming people. I would also love to show them Sub-Saharan Africa, in particular, the Congo, where I have lived.