How does a former Royal Marine turn to luxury sailing expeditions? Our very own Aqua Blu Cruise Director shares all, including his favorite ‘wow’ moment in this in-depth interview.
Tell us about your background and experience serving in the Royal British Navy and Marine Commando.
After leaving school I joined the Royal Navy at the age of 16. I knew exactly what I wanted to do from a young age. I was always fond of the sea and naval history with a desire to travel, so joining the fleet and pursuing a military career was of great interest to me. After completing months of intensive training at the Maritime Warfare college in Portsmouth, a course which is widely recognized as one of the most professional Maritime Warfare courses in the world, I served on several operational warships around the globe including Destroyers and Aircraft Carriers.
I was employed on the bridge, in the ships’ operations room, and as upper deck weapons crews. It was in the Royal Navy where I started to dive as a ship’s diver, which I took up as a hobby in my civilian life on leave.
At age 21, after 5 years in the fleet at sea, I wanted more of a challenge both physically and mentally, so I applied and passed the selection enabling me to conduct Royal Marines Commando training, one of the most difficult basic training packages throughout the world’s military forces. It requires immense physical and mental determination to complete. Passing into the Royal Marines on the parade ground and earning my green beret was one of the proudest moments of my life.
I again served on Royal Navy ships at sea and a Commando unit called 40 Commando. The Royal Marines are the UK’s Commando force and amphibious troops, expected to be able to deploy globally in any environment to tackle threats to the UK and UK interests. As a marine in 40 Commando, I deployed on operations and multinational exercises around the globe to locations such as the US, Mediterranean, Arabian Gulf, and Afghanistan.
What attracted you to pursue a career in the tourism and hospitality industry?
After leaving the service I decided to take a year out in the Far East, a region I had visited on my first 7-month deployment at 18 years old. Here I wanted to travel, relax, and work as a Dive instructor. I had continued diving as a hobby after the Royal Navy and achieved the position of Dive Instructor. I had no long-term plans after this year. I was looking at joining the superyacht fleet industry as a security officer but certainly had no intention of working in tourism or hospitality long term.
I did however end up in the industry moving from Thailand to Indonesia after three months into my year off. I started working at a luxury resort on an island called Moyo, as manager of the dive center on this remote beautiful jungle island. I started to enjoy what I was doing, of course, I naturally enjoy the sea and diving, but also I took pleasure in showing guests this underwater world, ensuring they not only enjoyed the dive but also their time on the resort during their holiday. This started my career in hospitality and soon after I managed both of the company’s luxury yachts within the region, showing guests a wonderful time in this amazing country.
Why did you decide to settle in Indonesia? What amazes you the most about this country?
As a diver, I was initially impressed with the variety of marine life here. Out of six countries, Indonesia occupies the largest part of the Coral Triangle — an area of the globe scientifically recognized as the most biodiverse on the planet. It wasn’t just the underwater seascape that amazed me, sailing around beautiful volcanic islands, into the arid savannah of East Nusa Tenggara, and up to the tropical landscapes of Papua, I was amazed by how distinctive this country’s landscape is.
Topped with rich history and culture including the fresh, healthy cuisine and the warm nature of Indonesians, I decided this is where I would like to stay and pursue my future in hospitality. Doing something I enjoy in a country I love living in means I am truly blessed.
What do you enjoy doing in your free time? Have you discovered any new skills or hobbies?
I enjoy being physically active, including working out at the gym and swimming. I still like to dive in my downtime away from Aqua Blu, which I have managed to do during the pandemic. I have also tried to improve my skills at golf which is not progressing as well as I would have hoped. On the weekends I like to ride my motorbike around the rice paddies and jungles of north Bali.
In your opinion, how is Aqua Blu, and in general the Aqua Expeditions experience, different from any other product/service in the market?
Having worked on and witnessed other luxury expedition vessels in the region I have gained knowledge of their unique selling points as well as their modus operandi. Aqua Blu is not only different due to her capability and luxury fit as a superyacht but also because of the vision and company pillars that guide our operations and guest experience.
With a focus on people, our crew is hand-picked not only for their professional skills and experience but also because of their personalities. This comes into its own for example with our exceptional guides, who hail from different parts of Indonesia and showcase their passion, skill, and knowledge on every excursion — be it diving, snorkeling, kayaking through mangroves looking for birdlife, trekking in search of Komodo dragons, or simply talking to guests about their day’s experience and teaching them about this wonderful country.
The ship’s interior also follows the theme of exploration with the décor and materials carefully crafted and sourced by Aqua Expeditions. The cuisine on board — created by Consulting Chef Benjamin Cross — is prepared by Indonesian chefs, based on local recipes and ingredients. The Aqua experience is enhanced by all of these factors, enabling us to deliver a well-rounded guest experience which is far from merely a luxurious stay on a yacht.
Can you share your favorite ‘wow’ moments that you have experienced while on an Aqua Blu itinerary?
There are so many wonderful moments we have experienced already, especially considering we are still in the early days of our Indonesian expeditions. On our inaugural voyage and first few Raja Ampat expeditions, we were exploring locations that were new even for me and our guides. One of the most memorable instances was when we all jumped into the river direct from the riverbank, enjoying the freshwater after a fairly arduous morning hike to observe the red Bird of Paradise. Our CEO Francesco was present and he was the first to get into the water. He then had the idea of swimming down the river which is about 200 meters.
We departed as a group down this freshwater river and it was like a scene out of Jungle Book. Tropical forest to the left, to the right, and canopied above, with the gentle flow of the river helping us downstream. We rolled onto our backs and watched the tree line as we floated and listened to the morning birdsong. I have never felt so in touch with nature. We then met back on the riverbank and shared our excitement before boarding the local canoes which ferried us out to our waiting tenders.
How is life onboard Aqua Blu and the sense of camaraderie among the crew?
Aqua Blu is a happy place, we are all busy, but enjoy what we do. We are proud of our ship and our guest experience; we respect and value each other as a crew and as a family. As we were learning the ropes together during the launch of Aqua Blu, with all the shared hardships you can expect, we grew close very quickly.
We have some great characters onboard which provide endless humor; everyone is professional and hardworking willing to help each other at a moment’s notice to accomplish our common goal. We have stayed in touch regularly during the pandemic and can’t wait to get back on board with each other and our special guests.
Aqua Blu will be the first ship of the Aqua Expeditions fleet to welcome guests back on board since March, how has this period helped to improve the guest experience?
As I mentioned, we were in our start-up phase when the pandemic hit, therefore extremely busy. This time has enabled us to fine-tune our standard operation procedure, conduct training, and spend time refitting the ship, equipment, and tenders. The ship and crew are well-rested, focused, and ready to give their all to our guests when we return to exploring the Indonesian archipelago.
What are you looking forward to the most for your return at sea?
Easy, seeing the crew.
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