There’s no doubt your workplace environment plays a significant role in your level of job satisfaction.
When your office happens to be taking the helm of a luxury river cruise vessel plying Europe’s most romantic waterways, well, it’s tough to imagine having a bad day. Ever.
We speak with Sebastian Smith about what it’s like to go to work every day as the Captain of Scenic Diamond and, therefore, the envy of millions of daydreamers.
Let’s start with your background Sebastian.
Originally I’m from the Isle of Wight but I’m now living in France. I went through a navigation school in Paris and got all of my licenses together at the age of 19.
I got promoted immediately to Second Captain on a cargo ship on the River Seine.
In 2015, I joined Scenic as Second Captain and became First Captain the following year.
As I needed a Second Captain after my promotion, I invited my father to join me on board Scenic Diamond as my Second Captain and we have been working together ever since.
What inspired you for a life on the water?
Growing up on the Isle of Wight, I was always surrounded by water and spent a lot of time sailing with my father.
So from a very young age, I’ve always been interested in boats, navigation and water sports.
What are your favourite river ports and why?
I have spent the last 10 years working on the rivers in France.
I always liked stopping in a place called Les Andelys where our Scenic ship (Scenic Gem) also stops.
It’s a delightful little village in the French countryside and just a little bit further down stream, there are some beautiful cliffs. The scenery is so peaceful.
I joined Scenic in 2015 on board the Scenic Sapphire on the rivers Rhône and Saône.
There I would have to nominate Avignon as my favourite port of call as it is quite a big city with amazing history and so many things to see and do.
Now working on Scenic Diamond on the rivers Garonne, Dordogne and the Estuary of the Gironde, a great port of call is Bourg-sur-Gironde. Again, it is a very peaceful little village in south western France and also has a lot of history behind it and some amazing local wines!
What’s the most common questions you get asked by guests?
Well in my case, the most common question I get is; “Are you sure you are old enough to be a captain?”.
I became First Captain when I was 22 years old and now at the age of 26, I still get the same question and I’m sure I’ll get asked that question for another five to 10 years!
What makes a great river cruise captain?
Of course the most important thing on board ships is safety. It is up to the captain to keep his or her crew aware of safety on board so they know how to react in any situation.
It is also very important for a river cruise captain to have extensive knowledge of the river they are sailing on, the river can sometimes look wide when in fact the sailing channel is very narrow and it’s mandatory to know where that channel is.
With so many crew members working so closely together, what is the secret to getting along?
Respect is the key. No matter what your position is on board the ship, respect must go both ways.
It always takes time to get to know one another at the start of the season but after a couple of cruises, the crew is like a big family.
With such an awesome job, what do you do for holidays?
As I said, I’m a big fan of water sports, especially surfing. I like to travel a lot but I mostly surf along the French coasts. As I am working for an Australian company, I should really make the effort to go and surf the world famous Australian waves!
I like to get my hands dirty too, a bit of DIY, woodwork and mechanics. One of my hobbies is working on classic cars.
What are the three things you never travel without?
That’s a tricky one.
Let’s say my sense of humour, my music and a smile … how’s that for an answer?
Any advice for first time river cruisers?
I would say to not be worried about sea sickness. Yes, it is a ship, but the rivers are so calm that most of the time, you don’t even feel the ship sailing.
Also when you embark for the first time, you will see a lot of new faces which can be hard at times but in just a couple of days , you’ll feel at home. By the end of the cruise, it will feel like leaving a family.
What’s the biggest challenge river cruise captains face?
Most of the challenges we have on rivers are due to Mother Nature. If the season is too dry, we can have issues with low water levels which means sometimes the ship cannot sail from A to B because of a lack of depth in the river.
If the season has had too much rain, we can also have high water levels. Which then means we cannot pass under the bridges.
Luckily, Scenic know about this and always have solutions for these issues so the cruise will not be affected because there is always a possibility of joining another Scenic ship on the other side of the low or high water.
What makes Scenic so different to other cruise companies?
I have to say, Scenic do have a great product that just sells itself. One of the many great things about this company is the guest-to-crew ratio, they have been working hard on the space in cabins and in public areas which brings the total amount of guests down.
On the Scenic Diamond for example, a ship of 135 metres, we have a maximum guest capacity of 152 compared to other companies with a ship the same size that would have up to 200 guests which makes cruising with Scenic much more comfortable – considering the number of crew remains the same.
To find out more about what makes Scenic Europe’s premier river cruise specialist, visit scenic.com.au