During his 12 years cruising with Saga, Captain Philip Rentell charmed thousands of passengers and crew with his sharp wit and stories of life on the ocean wave. In 2017, with his retirement approaching, Ben Gibson caught up with him about his final season at sea.
What do you remember about your first ever Saga cruise?
It was the second half of the 2005 World Cruise, and many of the regular passengers looked at me as though I’d stepped off the moon. It was that ‘bedding in’ period when they decide whether you are suitable or not. Almost 12 years on, it’s fair to say I was!
One of your final cruises is the Central America Discovery sailing next January. Are you looking forward to it?
I most certainly am! I have never been to Acajutla in Salvador, Puerto Quetzal in Guatemala, Corinto in Nicaragua, Trujillo in Honduras, nor Belize. Of the other exciting places I look forward to returning, Havana inevitably stands out as an absolute favourite, it’s so vibrant. Then there is Acapulco and Puerto Vallarta in Mexico where I haven’t been for probably 25 years. The highlight for many though, will be transiting the Panama Canal and not just once, but twice. Sure to say, it’s a spectacle for any passenger who passes through for the first time.
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What comes after that?
I shall return at the end of April for two cruises with, as always I hope, Mrs Rentell, to complete my ‘swansong’. The first what looks to be a very pleasant two-week cruise to Portugal and France, with maiden calls for me to Santander, Bordeaux and Montoir. We shall make a final call to the Isles of Scilly – where else for a Cornishman?
Finally, in the middle of May, I’ll see goodbye with a classic week in the fjords, to the Norwegian ports of Bergen, Olden, Flam and Stavanger. Then I’ll be back home. Well, the tomatoes will need to go in won’t they?
What to expect on a Norwegian fjord cruise
Is there one moment on a Saga cruise that stands out above all else?
There are far too many to mention, but sailing further north than any Saga ship had been before, into the pack ice north of Svalbard was one. Another was the Eternity Fjord in Greenland – more glaciers than you could shake a stick at!
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You’re so well travelled; is there anywhere in the world you’re yet to discover?
Oh plenty! I am looking forward to seeing much more of Britain, which is why I have just bought lifetime membership of the National Trust for my wife and I! And simply to be at home more. I shall build up my fledgling model narrow gauge railway that is awaiting love and attention in my ‘man cave’, and don’t get me started on the garden… But until then, I do hope to welcome many familiar faces on board for my final season. It would be fantastic to see you all.
Captain Philip Rentell facts
Born: Sutton Coldfield
Current hometown: Truro
Married to: Helen, with one son
First went to sea: Aged 17
Started at Saga: 2005
Previous cruise lines: Sun Cruises, Cunard and Union-Castle Line
Worked: On the QE2 for ten years – including sailing with over 3,500 British troops to the South Atlantic during the Falklands War. Also spent time on cross-Channel hovercraft, and a year as a Deep Sea Pilot
Hailed: As a ‘hero’ by the Daily Express newspaper in 2000, for his rescue of two young fishermen stranded in the Caribbean on a wooden boat
Author: Of five books, including two autobiographies (you can buy Master Mariner: A Life Under Way from the Saga Bookshop!
Studies: Has a degree in law from the Open University. Also a Fellow of the Nautical Institute and Younger Brother of Trinity House
Known for: Being a charming raconteur, his expert wit and good humour, and referring to our passengers as the Saganauts!