Cunard's first female captain on new Queen Anne ship, equality & romance of the role
Cunard cruise ship Queen Anne will launch in 2024 with Captain Inger Klein Thorhaug, the traditional line's first female captain, at the helm. World of Cruising sat down to interview her.
Queen Anne will be Cunard cruise line’s 249th ship, joining Queen Mary 2, Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth in 2024.
The name of the new vessel was revealed in a hotly anticipated announcement last month and now Cunard has revealed its captain - Inger Klein Thorhaug.
We caught up with the woman herself to discuss being one of the rare female ship captains, missing home and why the job involves a lot more admin than you might think.
Captain Inger, 54, found out she was the captain of Queen Anne "a few months back" but the announcement has only been made public today.
"I'm thrilled, really excited and also very honoured," Inger enthuses, as she chats to me from her home in Denmark.
She's been a ship captain for 12 years - previously on Queen Victoria - as well as travelling the world with Seabourn, Princess and P&O Cruises, but clearly still loves being at sea.
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"The best thing is when you have done a voyage and you know you have delivered," she says of being a captain. "It's very satisfying to know the guests have enjoyed it and that the crew have had a good time."
However, if you're imagining a captain's job as smiling benignly at guests or standing with one hand on the ship's wheel, you're greatly mistaken.
"It isn't as romantic as people think it is," Inger laughs as she reveals the role involves a fair share of admin, emails and meetings. "Those kinds of things occur most of your day really," she admits. In fact, the sailing in and out of ports "doesn't take that long."
- READ MORE: What's onboard new Queen Anne cruise ship? -
She'll also spend time onboard meeting the guests, whether that's at the welcome aboard party, at various events or just out and about on the ship.
While passenger satisfaction is a highlight of the role, guests are also wrapped up in the negative side of the job.
"[The worst thing about being a captain] is when you have to disappoint the guests," she explains, "when we don't deliver what we promise." This could be due to the weather or itinerary changes, with the former "playing "a huge role."
"There's a lot of things that you're responsible for," Inger continues. "Obviously, I have my head of departments who run the departments, but I have to make sure also that everything flows nicely. It's a busy job!"
Another challenge of the senior role? Firing people - although Inger does not elaborate on internal politics.
Being a woman in a traditionally male sphere has had its challenges throughout her career - although times are a-changing.
- READ MORE: What it's like cruising on a Cunard cruise ship? -
"When I was younger and came up the ranks there was always the somebody who didn't like it or somebody who thought a woman doesn't belong on the ship... but hopefully we have moved in a different direction," said Inger.
One reason most captains are men, reasons Inger, is the glaring biological issue - being away for such long periods of time (Inger can be away for up to two and half months) can be incompatible with raising a family.
"I think equality-wise there will always be some trades that are more difficult to get an equal number and this is definitely one of them," she admits of the cruise industry. "It will never get to the point where you are where it's half and half [male and female]."
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However, Inger adds, "it's about your own choice in life. As long as we have the equality where the options are open for everyone, then that's what I'd like it to be."
Inger's husband has children and the family do often join her onboard the ship. "They utterly enjoy it, they think it's great," she chuckles of the travel perks that come with the role.
That said, "you'll always miss being at home," whether that's being away from loved ones or not being able to attend certain events.
- READ MORE: Cruise ship Captain on 'best job in the world' -
To embrace the changing tide, Cunard is in fact looking to change uniforms, Inger reveals, although to what extent is not yet known.
"Up until now there hasn't been any difference in what to wear... but we really want to mark with Queen Anne coming out that we're moving in a different direction where we embrace the future, building on our foundation and our traditions," says Inger. "I think that way forward is promising."
Cunard regulars needn't worry that Queen Anne will be devoid of the traditional and classic hallmarks the line is famous for. "You will still see the heritage," explains Inger, "[but] I think you'll experience a new or more modern way of doing Cunard."
The captain went on: "We are kind of sending a strong signal of where we where we want to be and what we're heading toward and I think that that should attract a younger audience as well."
Nevertheless, the history of Cunard is what Inger likes the most about the line. "I like when you walk down the corridors and staircases and see the history displayed... and all the people who have travelled [with Cunard].
The Queens Room is a favourite of Inger's. By day this elegant venue hosts dancing classes, fencing, music recitals and Afternoon Tea while in the evening, guests can dance enjoy a cocktail and listen to the orchestra. Gala Evenings are also held here.
- READ MORE: Everything you need to know about cruise line Cunard -
Tradition isn't only seen in the interior design of Cunard ships. Long-held sailor superstitions do still linger, albeit light-heartedly, among the crew.
Whistling on a ship is believed to attract stormy weather and Cunard staff have been known to jokingly chastise colleagues for fear of "calling for the bad weather," Inger shares.
Luckily, the mariner's belief that women on ships bring bad luck is now long dead. I'd put my faith in Inger any day of the week.
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