Phil Noland is the captain of the MV Shortcut and a former navy officer. He is good friends with Mr. Benedict and a valuable ally to the Society (though he does have his occasional lapses and misdemeanors).
As of book two, Captain Noland is decribed as all-around "trim." He has a trim beard and neatly-trimmed hair. His posture and physique are also trim, as well as his movements - described as not quite robotic or stiff, but rather giving the impression of great efficiency in the second and third books.
In The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey, Captain Noland is the embodiment of Reynie's insecurities; throughout the book Reynie feels untrustworthy and too suspicious of others, while Captain Noland seems to be displaying these traits in a more magnified way. Only someone like Reynie with an uncommonly shrewd ability to read others would notice this, but it is there nonetheless. The most obvious example of this is when Captain Noland gives Reynie a diamond, later revealed to be false but presented with jealous secrecy.
On a lighter note, Captain Noland is kind, brave, true, just, and loyal. In fact, he was willing to sacrifice himself and his precious Shortcut in order to rescue his friends from the Ten Men. These qualities are undoubtedly what granted him such high favor with Mr. Benedict.
Phil Noland is infatuated with the sea. Indeed, his affinity to water led him to leave the navy just so he could be at sea 24/7. Such an attachment to the ocean inevitably leads to an attachment to his vessel, which makes the fact that he was willing to ground her for the Society even more admirable. Part of the reason he behaves neglectfully towards the children whilst they are in board the Shortcut is because he is anxious to keep the important businessmen (or "bullfrogs") content as passengers lest they cause him to be dismissed and therefore landlocked.
Before the series Edit
Captain Noland served in naval intelligence for many years together with his best friend Nicholas Benedict. Captain Noland used to joke that Mr. Benedict saved a hundred lives every morning before breakfast with his expert codebreaking - whenever an enemy transmission was intercepted, it would be brought straight to him and cracked within minutes. During this period, Mr. Benedict saved Captain Noland's life more than once - not least of which was the time when they were both taken prisoners of war and Mr. Benedict persuaded their captors to let them go free.
Captain Noland was finally given a chance to repay his life debts atop the high wall of St. George's Castle in Lisbon, Portugal. The view was so spectacular it triggered Mr. Benedict's narcolepsy; he would have fallen to his death had it not been for one simple, lucky fact: he fell backwards instead of forwards. Still, he suffered a nasty head injury and a burden on his friend's conscience (Captain Noland had been distracted by a ferry below at the time and might have caused Mr. Benedict's untimely death to be due solely to his own inattention). Thus, Phil Noland felt even more deeply indebted to Nicholas Benedict.
It was Mr. Benedict who made Captain Noland realize his love for being at sea. After promotion in the navy became unavoidable, Noland decided to leave so as not to be relocated to dry land. Afterwards he became captain of his own cargo ship: the MV Shortcut.