Part of my vetting involved me getting in touch with my references. My first Captain was only too happy to act as a reference. One of the first pieces of advice I received in yachting was that the first job is the worst job. 2.5 years in I can safely say that my first job was in fact one of my better ones. When I mentioned in an email that I missed Richards stories that he used to tell me he replied with this amazing letter he wrote as advice to a young Captain.
At the bottom of the ladder you will join a new world that is wide open and partly unstructured, although this is quickly changing in an increasingly complex industry.
You will eventually get married, have kids, buy a home, but may be not as soon as everybody else. The niche life style that you have chosen (the yachting industry), does not easily allow one to pursue two contradictory targets: diversifying your experience by wandering from boat to boat for a decade or so on the one hand, while striving to maintain as much a normal family life as possible on the other. You will have to strike a balance between sacred commitments and maintaining your autonomy and freedom, whilst trying to retain the best of both worlds.
In order to follow your dream you will need to chart your own course and this needs navigational skills (sounds familiar?).
You will have to work under the orders of brilliant or bullying bosses, captains and owners alike, and always keep your nerve whilst developing your management skills, your own style, something you have not been prepared for (and I do not mean here the written rules of bridge management).
On a wider spectrum, you will have to make your owners happy, your guests happy, your crew happy and this will eventually make you happy too.
You will be shaped by challenges and, sometimes, ordeals and you will find out that happiness can be a frustrating quest when positive results remain unacknowledged.
Never forget that you are developing yourself through arduous, unrewarding and, sometimes, menial tasks. However futile and barbaric it may look, I am not ashamed here to say that, as a young captain, far away from any resources, I have unplugged toilets with compressed air, operated a diving compressor with elastic bands and jury-rigged a raw water cooling circuit into a closed fresh-water circuit in order to save the frozen supplies, and hence saved the charter cruise.
Along your way to the top, you will have to be creative, handy and flexible in the sense that you will not dedicate yourself to one specific job: before becoming a specialist, you have to be a generalist, accepting to help in the galley during services, opening a stabilizer kofferdam to reach a sensor, cleaning the mess caused to “your” deck by a poorly engineered repair work are common place.
Soon you will be the captain in charge and, depending on the tonnage of the vessel you are responsible for, you will direct the crew, entertain the owner, his family and guests.
A prima-donna is at the centre of her art but, in our business, it is our task which is at the centre of our skills, not ourselves. Those who want to become captains because they have a strong ego will have to keep in mind that they are not performing a one man show. In other words, once you have found yourself you must forget about yourself. This is true for everybody else onboard: the Chef who comes after dinner to collect his good marks among the guests will have to remember that he is just doing his job, even if he is often the major player in the success of a cruise (and I mean it). Since you are likely to rejoin a ready-crewed yacht before you build up your own team, you will have to un-root potential prima-donnas like weeds.
You will eventually find your power in your communication skills, or some more mysterious impalpable alchemy called charisma. But remember the concept of “self-effacement” which is your safeguard against too much grandeur. However, be aware that by following this principle you are exposing yourself to potential challengers who can undermine your authority, and even destroy your job: a first mate, a chief engineer, a yacht manager may be a mole; whether you know it or not, there is nothing much you can do about it. Just expect the worse to happen and you will hardly be disappointed. The worse will happen because, at some point, you may have inadvertedly sent the wrong signal. One day, the owner will tell you: –“Thank you, Captain, we have had a wonderful time but, from now on, Darren will drive the boat,” and it does not matter if the boat needs more than just a driver, if you have wintered the boat yourself, if you have painstakingly done the spring refitting, catered for the crew in the absence of the Chef and joined the yacht with your own portfolio of clients.
Do not waste time trying to be overly smart, you are not in the picture anymore. It is called “disgrace” and it hurts, but do not turn back. This may be life but this is also yachting.
You can be proud of your achievement and nobody can take it away from you. Humble you are and humble you must remain, for at this stage, it will help you to find the shortcoming which crippled your system. Only in this way you will draw the lesson of your misfortune.
On the other hand, always consider that the renewal of your contract as Captain for another season or for another year as a gift. For the same reasons (or the lack of it) that you have been dismissed, the fact that your charter season has been a standing success, that you have beached your vessel, that you have completed a six month refitting at the best conditions or lost five meters of your bow on a collision course is not necessarily relevant. Against all odds, never despair, there is always room for hope.
Beware of the jet set life style
Straying among the rich and, sometimes, famous can be self intoxicating. Mind that champagne toasting does not become your cup of tea!
“It can be lonely at the top”
In order not to distance yourself from your crew, you will need the skills to create a workplace for professional relationships with all the aplomb that one expects from you. You will have to maintain an equilibrium which requires self-taught discipline.
About undue benefits and other practices.
As a young captain, I was once welcomed by the manager of a well-known north Adriatic marina and boatyard. Following a polite and friendly talk, on leaving his office, the manager offered me a crate of six bottles of a famous local wine. What a gentleman and what delicious manners I thought to myself….until I was confronted, many months later, with an invoice which was twice as high as the pro-forma invoice. The foreman in charge of the boatyard was not the least embarrassed when I protested about the bill, as he said: “Mais tu as mangé” (literally, you have eaten) and I never felt so humiliated in my life.
Again, this is not only about sticking to the written rules (Annex V of Marpol etc.).
- The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a vast area of plastic, chemical sludge and debris that is twice the size of Texas (according to The National Science Foundation).
- Food waste amounts to 40% of the world food production due to consumer behaviour, oversized portions, “best before” notices that are misunderstood (not an expiring date).
- Whilst our carbon footprint is huge (by essence, if I may) compared to the average population, our water footprint can be reduced substantially. Consider that 450 million people in 26 countries across the world do not have access to the daily ratio of 20 liters/day (UNO). Your management of water is just as important as the groundwater management performed daily by the Water Authority in France. Global warming, regular droughts (2003-2006), population increase in the PACA area are all contributing to potential water shortages.
Being a captain is a complex, stressful and, sometimes, rewarding profession.
As I started my eighteen year captainship for the same owner at a time yachting was a gentleman pastime, the owner’s wife was running the galley and the owner was filling everybody’s plate; even if it looks a bit paternalistic and inappropriate nowadays, it still illustrates the self-effacing concept and this is why they still deserve my respect.