Mike Rodwell started to bring the curtain down on his 30-year association with Fred Olsen Cruise Lines last week with an emotional bash at a waterside bar in Ipswich.
Rodwell (pictured) and 45 colleagues marked his imminent retirement at Aurora Bar and Restaurant – a short drive from Fred Olsen’s HQ.
At the party, Rodwell was presented with a baked Alaska pudding, traditionally offered to passengers on the last day of a cruise.
“The retirement party was very good,” Rodwell says. “As usual it started off with a few drinks.
“There were speeches. [New managing director] Peter Deer and [former colleague] Nigel Lingard spoke. They thanked me for my time and told me what a great guy I was,” he says.
In September, Rodwell will revive his summer house in his garden at his Colchester home and clear space for a vegetable patch as the next chapter of his life begins.
It is a far cry from making crucial operational decisions on each of the five ships in the fleet, working alongside the line’s owner Fred Olsen Jnr,.
Once the garden is finished Rodwell will turn his attention back to water. In 2021, he hopes to compete at the World Aquatics Championships in Japan.
Rodwell, 60, has played water polo since he was 15.
“Water polo is a very niche sport,” he says. “This is for the over-60s. There is not a huge pool of people that play it. [The squad] will just be a group of friends in the London area.
“We will just cobble something together. It is just a case of whether you can afford to go – hopefully I can!”
Future for Fred Olsen
Commercial director Deer (pictured) will replace Rodwell as managing director at the end of August. Rodwell believes the road ahead is smooth for the leading British-based line.
“We have got a great guest repeat factor,” he says. “Because we position our vessels in the summer season in five ports (in the UK), we tend to attract people from all areas of the country.
“We attract people locally, rather than everyone just going to Southampton.”
Rodwell regrets not launching a new-build vessel during his time at Fred Olsen, a line which has historically only bought used tonnage.
Olsen Jnr outlined plans last year to place an order for a new 600-passenger ship, but nothing has yet been confirmed.
Rodwell has worked with Olsen Jnr, who he calls a friend, throughout his time at the company. “I speak with him most days and we really work as a team,” he adds.
Rodwell had never cruised before joining Fred Olsen in June 1988 as an accountant specifically focused on the line’s sole ocean vessel. At the time the line operated just one 440-passenger vessel – Black Prince –and that was considered large at that time.
Rodwell believes that shipbuilding has reached a limit in terms of size and the one major change over his 30 years has been how new hardware has got larger.
He predicts that in time the industry will become “polarised” between the large and small vessels in the market.
“We are probably at that limit now. The issue with larger ships is that they become more like resorts. They can only get into a limited number of ports,” he says.
“I think the smaller vessels give people much richer holidays.”
Fred Olsen return
Rodwell was sent on his first cruise on Black Prince to help familiarise himself with the brand. He sailed from Izmir in Turkey to Venice via the Corinth Canal in 1988.
Next month, Fred Olsen’s Braemar vessel will sail through the same sea route which connects the Gulf of Corinth with the Saronic Gulf in the Aegean Sea.
When it does so, the 924-passenger ship will break the record for the largest vessel to pass through the Corinth Canal which is only 21 metres wide.
Although he will not be on Braemar’s history-making sailing, Rodwell says he will “definitely” sail with the line again.
“I have probably got a few friends here that can get me a good deal,” he says.
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