Age is just a number, says Captain Julian Burgess, who has just taken command of Saga Sapphire – and on his first sailing he has found a ‘great deal’ to his liking.

Julian (as he likes to be called) has also quickly discovered that Saga is very different to other cruise lines he has worked on.

Captain Julian, said: “I have thoroughly enjoyed my first cruise as Master with Saga – and what has particularly struck me is the friendliness of everybody here. It feels like one big Saga family; that’s the crew and the passengers in the way they want you to become part of that family. That is very different.

“There’s also a real personal touch and everyone seems to know each other. The passengers know the crew and this personal element is not something you see on the bigger ships.

“The level of service and attention to detail has also impressed me. The individual attention that is given to people and the high crew-to-guest ratio is very evident, especially in the dining areas.

“The buffet and dining rooms are very slick. I have never witnessed that number of staff looking after guests.”

After joining the company on September 7, 2016, Captain Julian embarked on a thorough familiarisation period until he took over the helm of Saga Sapphire on December 1. He said: “The company mapped out a programme, so I spent time in the Folkestone head office, went on a few courses, spent five days on Saga Pearl II and a week on Saga Sapphire with Captain Philip Rentell.

“I asked at an early stage to get my hands on the controls of Saga Sapphire. That was key for me and I did a lot of the handling of the ship with Captain Rentell looking over my shoulder and giving me advice – and that proved invaluable.

“Saga Sapphire is a good sea ship. From a professional point of view, for manoeuvring, she’s like a mature lady who needs a bit of caressing.

“She sits heavy in the water and when we did hit ‘a bit of weather’ on the way down to Madeira she handled it well. There was movement but, with a deep draught and her hull profile, particularly in the bow area, she is rather good at cutting through the waves.

“I learned quickly that with a ship like this it is best to come into the berth stern-first and we then steer with a bow thruster; modern ships have a bow thruster and stern thruster but that’s not the case with Saga Sapphire. She also has a single rudder so it’s best to manoeuvre towards the berth and swing her in.

“That was a really good tip from Captain Rentell, plus, because she is a heavy ship, Saga Sapphire also carries a lot of momentum and you have to think much further ahead as she takes longer to stop. She doesn’t stop ‘instantly’ like the newer ones do.”

During Captain Burgess’s first sailing he also discovered that one of his quartermasters on the bridge shared his passion for cycling.

Captain Julian said: “Rico maintains the crew’s bikes and before I knew it he had taken my bike to pieces for a service; cables, cogs, pedals – the lot. He put it all back together in such a way that it is working better than ever. I was delighted.

The Atlantic Challenge
Watching preparations for the Atlantic Challenge in La Gomera

“In Tenerife, we cycled for about 10 miles and in Gran Canaria I cycled along the coastal road; I am very keen on sport and exercise so it is good to be able to get ashore when the opportunity arises.

“In La Gomera, it was great to see international teams preparing for the Atlantic Rowing Challenge. Many of the passengers, too, enjoyed talking to the competitors.”

Captain Julian will see in the New Year in Malta. He said: “I always enjoy sailing into Valletta, especially at night. There is something magical about the way the fortifications around the port are lit and it will be fantastic to sail in at 11pm to see the fireworks on New Year’s Eve.

“I’m really excited about that. I hear that it will be Bloody Marys all round in the morning – the classic hangover breakfast!

“Our passengers are 50 or above, but age is just a number.”

Captain Julian Burgess has joined Saga at a time when plans for the company’s first new cruise ship are under way.

Captain Julian said: “I have moved to Saga at a very interesting time and I am really excited about the new ship, which will launch in 2019. It shows Saga’s commitment to the cruise industry and the wish to continue to advance the product.

“It is a bespoke ship and I understand there was a great deal of guest involvement, through focus groups with senior management and with the ship’s designers, to create a ship that the guests really want.

“That is impressive and a very differ-ent approach.

“Saga is unique in many ways and as passengers essentially pay ‘upfront’ there is not a massive push for onboard revenue.

“Another exciting feature of the new ship is that it will be much more efficient, with an economical waste management system. She will be the first ship to have this technology and we are looking at an almost complete waste management system. That’s really important.”

A life at sea

Captain Julian was inspired to try life at sea by his brother, who was already working on ships as a communications officer. Starting out as a cadet aged 17, he has gone on to work for P&O Cruises, Cunard and Princess, with the past 12 years spent as a ship’s captain.
Captain Julian lives in Northampton-shire, just north of Banbury, with his wife Sally, and two daughters, Amelia, 13, and Madeleine, 10. Both girls are musical, playing the violin and flute, as well as enjoying dance and theatre.