November 16, 2009
We Are Cunard
Posted in: Queen Victoria
Countdown to Queen Elizabeth – 330 days
As I am writing this I have just got back from the Fincantieri Ship Yard in Monefalcone where Queen Elizabeth is currently under construction and what a transformation from when I was last there just over 2 months ago. I’ll hopefully get some pictures to you on Thursday and some video after that.
Meanwhile on Queen Victoria it was great to see a familiar face walk up the gangway a few weeks ago. While Queen Victoria’s Chief Engineer takes his holiday we welcomed Ronnie Keir for the first time on Queen Victoria. I last worked with Ronnie on Queen Mary 2 so it was good to catch up with him.
For those of you who don’t know Ronnie Keir, he was born and brought up in Clydebank, Scotland, within the sound of John Brown’s Shipyard, where most of the great Cunarders were built. He left school in 1964 and started a 5 year engineering apprenticeship in the shipyard. During his third and fourth year’s, work started on the new Cunard vessel Queen Elizabeth 2, where he was involved in the manufacture of the turbines and gearboxes for the new Cunard liner. Ronnie attended Clydebank Technical College during those years and was awarded a pass with credit in engineering craft practice by the City & Guilds Institute of London.
After his apprenticeship was complete, and as a career at sea was the next step for most young shipyard engineers, Ronnie began working for J & J Denholms of Glasgow, and joined his first ship as junior engineer in May 1972 on a 36,000 ton bulk carrier running from the West coast of USA to Australia via Japan. Ronnie attended Glasgow College of Nautical Studies and over the years, in three month blocks, he gained his second and first class certificates of competency. In 2001 he was installed as a Fellow of the “Institute of Marine Engineering, Science & Technology.”
Over the following 25 years Ronnie served on all types of ships with J & J Denholms, including tankers, container ships, roll on roll off ferries, diving support ships and passenger ships. Being appointed Chief Engineer of a high tech diving support vessel in the North Sea for the first time in 1987, was a moment of pride for Ronnie. However he feels the greatest highlight of his career was when he joined Cunard in January 2003, as Staff Chief Engineer, on Queen Elizabeth 2 in Los Angeles, a ship he last saw 35 years earlier, sailing down the River Clyde. This highlight was eclipsed in September of that year, when he was appointed to the new build team for Queen Mary 2, in St Nazaire, France, as the second Chief Engineer of Cunard’s latest and greatest liner.
Ronnie still lives in Scotland with his wife and two sons, within sight of where the great liners were built. Alas it is now a green field site again, but it seems fitting that a new Technical College has now been built on the very site of the slipways where the great liners were built, and the fitting out basin will now be transformed in to a small boat marina.
He was kind enough to offer to do an interview for the Blog, so here it is: -
Special Interview – Chief Engineer – Ronnie Keir
I know you have just joined Queen Victoria but how are you settling in.
Very well. I like the ship a lot, and it’s great to see lots of familiar faces amoungst the crew and technical dept. I know most of the officers from QE2 and Queen Mary 2, and I’ve enjoyed getting to know some nice new faces as well.
Being involved with Queen Mary 2 from the beginning must have been an incredible experience – could you describe what it was like?
Being appointed to the yard as part of the new build team, and the second Chief Engineer after Brian Wattling, was a very proud moment for me. I helped build ships in John Brown’s ship yard, in Clydebank, in the sixties when I was an apprentice engineer and I watched them laying the keel of the QE2 when I was 17. I reached Staff Chief Engineer on QE2 and being chosen to go to Queen Mary 2 build, gave me the opportunity to say I was present and involved in the construction of Cunard’s two greatest modern day transatlantic liners. I think I am the only one in the world that can say that.
What has impressed you most about Queen Victoria and what was the biggest adjustment you had to make coming Queen Mary 2 and QE2?
My first impression was the beautiful décor, especially the Grand Lobby and the Royal Court Theatre. It was also easy to see the White Star Service Programme was working well, judging by the friendliness of the crew. My biggest adjustment was learning to stop looking for the fourth stairway. “D”! There weren’t any major adjustments required in the engine room as our company paperwork is the same on all ships, well nearly. The only thing I did have to do was familiarize myself with the engine control systems which are different on Queen Victoria.
What is the most frequent question you get asked – and how do you answer it?
“Can I see the engine room?” If I had a pound for every time I was asked that I would be retired by now! Unfortunately, due to modern health and safety regulations, we are not allowed to have visits to the engine room. I know in the old days they had it as part of the tours, but this isn’t possible any more so I explain this to our guests, and arrange to meet with them and talk engineering things.
Please could you tell us something about being a Chief Engineer that would surprise us?
When Chief Engineers go home on leave all their powers go away as well, as another Chief Engineer takes over. When at home I am tasked with all the “honeydoo’s” that have built up while I’ve been away, though that might not be too big a surprise to most.
I used to be a bus driver in Glasgow for 2 years, after my apprenticeship was completed and before I went to sea. Being a bus driver in Glasgow, can be challenging, especially at the weekends, when both teams are playing at home. On these routes all the drivers knew the words to all the team songs and sang along. This proved to be the best way to avoid trouble!
I was also a member of the 15th Battalion of The Parachute Regiment in the Territorial Army and have done over 30 aircraft jumps, including 2 from a hovering Wessex helicopter from 1000ft. I think that was an experiment as we were told we were the first to do it; but it went OK. After the first 200 ft the canopy collapses inward with the downdraft of the rotor blades, and you fall another 200 ft before it opens completely again. Believe it or not this is me in action!
After your many years at sea, what are the most significant changes as an engineer that you have seen over the years?
I went to sea at 23 in May 1972, and joined my first ship in Japan: a bulk carrier. The ship had no Control Room; you stood on the middle plates and drove the engine, like the engineer on the footplate of a steam locomotive. Now we all have air conditioned Control Rooms, and since the 90’s the big change has been the introduction of computer controlled systems. But, as I am always quick to point out, the computer can’t fix everything. When the engine or a pump breaks down you still got to get the spanners out, and get dirty. So nothing’s changed there.
What does “We Are Cunard” mean to you?
I have great feeling of pride in working for the most famous shipping company in the world. Cunard is a prestigious company full of wonderful history, especially in my home town of Clydebank, where the name Cunard means workmanship and quality. In fact here are two street signs which act as a reminder to our heritage, just around the corner from my home:
“We are Cunard” also means delivering White Star service. Since the merger of “White Star” and Cunard, we have used this name which was famous for its service, and today I believe White Star Service is the top of all service programs.
Where is your perfect holiday destination?
I would have to say Polynesia, Moorea and Bora Bora. It’s warm but not humid and although I sailed out there for a few years, I have never holidayed there. My wife and I also love Cornwall and we have good friends there in Freathy near Torpoint. This is the family on a recent holiday there:
We are also hoping to have a holiday in Tuscany soon, as I love Italy and my wife, being a vegetarian, loves pasta and we both love the wine.
Do you have any unfulfilled dreams?
I am quite content with my life so far, although I had a small yacht when I was single and I always liked the idea of getting another boat, perhaps a motor cruiser about 30 to 40 ft long.
When you are on leave; what would be your perfect day?
We have a quite a large garden, and summer days in the garden followed by an evening BBQ with friends is always good. I also have a fully restored 1955 Triumph Tiger T110, 650 cc, so I like a nice day riding my motorcycle through our local country roads, up around Loch Lomond and the country side around Stirling and the Trossachs.
What is your favourite quote and who said it?
“If you see someone without a smile, give them one of yours”. I don’t know who said it. But it would make the world a happier and safer place.
Thank you so much Ronnie for taking the time to chat and give an insight in to your fascinating career. As promised I’ll be back on Thursday with those new pictures of Queen Elizabeth as well as lots of other ideas in the pipeline including another Guest Blog from legendary Social Hostess Maureen Ryan. Cheers for now – Alastair