captain derrick kemp

Captain Derrick Kemp


Boarding City of Oxford in Cape Town in February 1959, a young cadet, fresh from the training academy General Botha, thrived during his first venture to sea.

“Arriving in Cape Town where I had begun my sea-going career fifty years and a few days ago,” Captain Derrick Kemp told me in his spacious dayroom aboard the cruiseliner Discovery during her call at the Waterfront last week, “was a most satisfying experience!”

Indeed, his distinguished and remarkably long career spans a uniquely interesting era in shipping as conventional freighters such as those magnificent Ellerman cargoships and point-to-point passenger liners made way for containerships and cruiseliners.

With his parents, he came to Cape Town as a lad aboard the Cunarder Franconia in 1946, and his interest in ships took him to General Botha at Gordon’s Bay.

From the decks of several Ellerman vessels, the young cadet saw the world, and while studying for his second mate’s ticket in his native Liverpool, lads from Safmarine persuaded him to join the South African company that was about to undergo a major expansion. Two days after applying, Kemp was aboard South African Vanguard, ex-Constantia, that, in 1947, had made her first voyage in Safmarine’s colours as the company’s first ship.

His out-going and positive disposition as well as his professional expertise were the ingredients for successful command that came his way in SA Transporter, one of the four Global-class ships bought by Safmarine in the late 1950s. Other commands, including the old “Big Whites”, followed, and ultimately, he commanded Safmarine’s cruiseliner, Astor, the second vessel to bear that name.

The company’s venture into cruising was short-lived, and when Astor was sold to East German interests, Captain Kemp remained in that sector, commanding liners operating out of Singapore.

His present command, Discovery, was built at Emden for Norwegian Cruiseships, Oslo in 1971 as Island Venture. As Island Princess, and with her sistership, Pacific Princess, she was used to shoot the TV series Loveboat¸that, in the opinion of a prominent writer for cruise magazines, was the catalyst for the surge in the cruise market during the late 1980s, and that has subsequently spawned the armada of huge floating blocks of flats.

discovery - stern viewPrior to her Cape Town call, she had been in the Southern Ocean, visiting South Georgia and the Falklands, before heading for that fascinating island Tristan da Cunha where the weather prevented anyone landing. However, the intrepid island boatmen brought out the vendors of patiently-knitted jerseys and scarves, the postmaster boarded to peddle the island’s beautiful stamps, and others came to sell their wares to the passengers.

Discovery’s eastbound voyage takes her to the Indian Ocean islands, through pirate alley – under naval escort – to Suez and into the Mediterranean.

Captain Kemp and his wife, Bernadette, have been married for 46 years, have four children and nine grandchildren, and she travels with him.

“But it’s a great career!” Derrick Kemp responded to my question relating to the paucity of modern youngsters wishing to go to sea. His infectious enthusiasm alone would entice many to follow in his illustrious footsteps. After all, few have been at sea for 50 years and remain so positive.

With thanks to the Cape Times for the article and pics.