ABOARD THE SEABOURN ODYSSEY – If not for a tropical beach poster, Mark Dexter might not be the captain of the sensational Seabourn Odyssey. As a teen, his dream was to become an airplane pilot.
“I was devastated that I couldn’t be a pilot,” he says. “It was career day in high school and I was looking around for some other career. I remember the various pitches.”
Then the 17-year-old saw the eye-catching poster featuring one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, with two Merchant Marine uniforms with flashy epaulets lying on the beach while their wearers frolicked in the water.
“That was it,” Captain Dexter recalls. “I thought, ‘I want to join the Merchant Navy, travel the world, see exotic faraway sites.’ It was that picture that made me do it.”
His mind filled with visions of seagoing adventures, the enthusiastic young man joined the Merchant Navy. “I ended up on a cargo ship, carrying bananas. There were no beautiful beaches, just 15,000 tons of bananas to look at,” he laughs. “But it eventually brought me here.”
Born in Portsmouth, England, Dexter grew up in both England and Scotland. He went to sea for the first time shortly before his 18th birthday. Serving on general cargo ships, container ships, tankers and passenger ships for the next 10 years, Dexter earned his Master’s License at age 28. Around this time, he also married a lovely New Zealand girl named Debbie.
With a wife and their first child on the way, Dexter decided he wanted shorter trips away from home. He joined Stena Line ferries running between the United Kingdom and France and Ireland and worked his way through the ranks to get his first command.
But sitting behind a desk ashore running a fleet of ferries was not for him. The call of the sea lured him back. Dexter returned to command with Hebridean Island Cruises, Swan Hellenic Cruise and now Seabourn.
“I’ve been with Seabourn for four years now,” he says. “I’ve never been on ships bigger than this and I feel very lucky to be able to sail the world on the finest ships afloat. Every day it is a fresh paradise.”
Working three months on, three months off, Captain Dexter says he will be spending the summer at home with his wife and two sons in New Zealand. “Working on a ship is not for everybody,” he notes. “We do lose some who decide it is not for them but it is the life I love.”
During his off time, Captain Dexter enjoys cricket and taking to the road on his Harley Davidson Road King. He also made that childhood dream of flying the skies a reality by earning a private pilot’s license.
“Being the pilot of a plane and the captain of a ship are a lot alike,” he says. “But when a pilot lands a plane, he gets off. Here, the captain is on the ship all the time.”
Although he jokes about a poster changing the course of his life, Captain Dexter says he is mighty happy to be aboard the Seabourn Odyssey. He has traveled the world and made many new friends, which is the greatest joy of a cruise ship, he adds.
“I haven’t met any of you before and already we have found connections,” he says at a Captain’s Dinner. “We can sit down like this and find interconnectivity. That’s the beauty of it. That’s fantastic.”
One of Captain Dexter’s favorite toasts sums it up:
“Here’s to all the ships at sea.
Here’s to the small ships.
Here’s to the tall ships.
But the best ships are friendships.
So here’s to you and me.”
Photos and video by Jackie Sheckler Finch