Captain Kevin Oprey displays the quiet, understated confidence of someone who has been around ships all his life. “I was born in Southampton and from a very early age I was sailing. I was out on the water every five minutes. I used to go down to Southampton Water to see the ocean-going ships and they fascinated me right from that time. When I was out sailing, I was out being an absolute nuisance getting as close as possible to them.”
After coming home from a career at sea, his father became the master of a tender that would ferry passengers ashore from ocean liners that were only pausing in Southampton for a few hours on their way to other destinations. “Every time I had time off, I used to go with my father down to whatever ship was in. I was dumbfounded by their size, everything was amazing and I wanted to be involved from there.”
Accordingly at age 17, Oprey became an officer cadet for the Pacific Steam Navigation Company. His ambition was to follow his brother onto passenger ships but the opportunity did not arise and so after completing his cadetship, Oprey worked on cargo ships, oil tankers, cross-channel ferries and high speed catamaran ferries as well as working for a time as a Southampton pilot. “Every ship you go on is another learning experience.”
Then an accident threatened to end his career at sea. Having obtained his master’s certificate, he was the mate on a sailing ship for the Sail Training Association. During a heavy November gale in the Bristol Channel, Oprey had to climb the bow sprint in order to cut down a torn sail that was affecting the ship’s navigation. Just as he was completing this task, the ship was hit by a large wave and Oprey went flying. Badly injured, it looked like his time at sea was over.
Now in his late twenties and married, Oprey had to re-train and begin a new career on land. He chose computers and for eight years was a successful systems analyst. However, because of an economic downturn, companies started to cut back on their systems analysts. Some analysts were continued to work without pay but Oprey decided to try to return to sea. He went back to college, re-took his license exams and obtained a position as Second Officer with Geest Line.
Next, Oprey satisfied his ambition to work on passenger ships when he went to work for Royal Caribbean International. It also gave him the opportunity to sail for a time with his brother who was a hotel director.
During the course of ten years with that line, Oprey worked on Vision class ships, Radiance class ships and finally on Freedom of the Seas, which was then the largest cruise ship in service. “The Radiance class ships were the best. You could just accelerate them and they would take off. They were great to handle as well. Their turning ability is phenomenal.”
In 2007, Oprey came to Carnival UK, becoming staff captain on the Oriana and then captain of the Arcadia of P&O Cruises. He was then asked if he would like to switch to Cunard.
“I was very happy to - - this company’s name has been in my mind ever since I was seven. I think it was because I was new to the group and not too P&O-orientated and because I had pod experience. I thought at some point I would be taking the Victoria (which is similar technologically to Arcadia). It was a complete shock when they said I would be taking Queen Mary 2.”
This caused Captain Oprey to recall sitting with his brother outside of a local pub several years ago. It was the last time that the two would ever have a beer as his brother died not long after. From the pub, you could see Southampton Water and the Queen Mary 2 appeared. “He said: ‘Wouldn’t it be amazing if you ended up as captain on that one day.”