From the Bridge: by Dorie Cox
Yachting is a complex mix of owners, crew, money, travel and much more. A captain recently wondered if the essence of the industry could be distilled to just one word. We asked 10 veteran captains to do just that during this month’s From the Bridge captains lunch discussion.
“Passion,” the first captain said. “When you first start, it is work, an obligation. With age you develop passion and over time appreciate aspects of the job you like better than you did before.
“We have to be passionate for what we’re doing,” he said. “Some people quit because they’re not passionate enough.”
At the start, we asked each captain to write down his one-word description of yachting to get his first thoughts uninfluenced by others. As we went around the table, it turned out that most every word got a nod of agreement from the others. The individual comments are not attributed to any particular person in order to encourage frank and open discussion. The attending captains are identified in an accompanying photograph.
Always a handyman, the first captain said he continues to improve because of his passion.
“Over time, when you fix your own stuff by yourself in the middle of nowhere, when you have to figure it out, you learn to fix things faster and better,” he said. “You develop the passion to do it right. I like what I’m doing and I try to take pride when it is well done. We keep going because we love it.”
Another 30-year veteran chose the same word. At 5 years old, he watched his father’s passion as a sailor as the two watched sailboat races.
“He watched them intently,” this captain said. “Then I started to really enjoy sailing and the water, my first passion. And I still enjoy it, the water, the problem solving, the challenges of docking and navigating.”
But he said he did not agree with the first captain that passion increases.
“I think I was more passionate when I was younger,” he said. “As I grow older, I am losing my patience and I’m starting to think of it more as a job. But boating and the water are always No. 1.”
Another captain attributes changes in the magnitude of passion to maturity.
“I’m not sure if passion fades, but your temperament mellows with age,” this captain said. “You’re not quite so impulsive, but you maintain passion for the ocean. If you lose that, you lost the whole point of being there.”
Lifestyle was the next most popular word captains settled on.
“It’s a lifestyle career, not something you leave at night,” a captain said.
It is the day-in and day-out aspect of the job that keeps him in yachting.
“What keeps me going, and what will keep me going until I’m done working, is this lifestyle,” he said. “It has a simplicity to it where I know all my problems are contained within 100 feet or so.”
This captain confirmed to himself that he wanted to be a captain after a career detour to the corporate world years ago.
“What I learned during that time is that I complicated the hell out of my life,” he said. “I owned a whole bunch of stuff. I made way more money and I spent all of it; nicer house, another car. Then I gave it all up.”
He left the corporate world, sold everything and is back on boats. And he is happier.
“I don’t need to have a new car, I can keep it simple,” he said. “I will retire better than I would have if I had made a half million because of keeping up with that life. Now yachting is defining my life.”
Another veteran also chose the word lifestyle to define yachting.
“It’s not what you see on magazines and TV,” he said. “It’s not what people think you do with champagne and caviar. It’s not the glossy side, it’s the reality side.”
He also tried other careers outside of the maritime industry.
“But I went back on boats,” he said. “Before long, it was the right place at the right time and I ended up right back. Don’t know what I want to do when I grow up, but this works.”
Another captain scanned the nine other captains at the table and said his word was people.
“I never really thought I would have the opportunity to sit around a table like this,” he said. “The captains and crew I’ve met are the strongest part of it for me. I’m just amazed that I’ve been able to truly befriend, to make lifelong friendships, with individuals that I would never have met, ever. This yachting community, the things we do, it’s a really good thing.”
Although crew are spread around the globe in places he may never get to, he said he has an international group of friends that he will never forget.
“I’ll probably never see some again, but we Facebook all the time and that’s pretty important to me,” he said.
A sixth captain said the word dedication best encompasses his entire experience in yachting.
“You have to have dedication,” he said. “I must admit, I walk out from the bridge, sit on the front of the boat on a passage somewhere and think, ‘All I want to do is be aware of this present moment, the sound, the smell, the tastes, the movement.’ It’s the reason I got out there in the first place.”
This longtime captain conjured up the sensory awareness that he wants to foster in other people. He shared a word from another language which, in his best translation, means awareness and the present moment in time.
“It’s one of the hardest things I try to teach new crew,” he said. “If they can grasp this concept of dedication, it will help them do a better job and enjoy their career. They can take it to the engine room. Being aware. Boat movements change. Is it the weather or is it the bilge filling up?”
He said he doesn’t love each separate duty onboard, but sees the overall picture.
“Part of the reason you love the job is because it has all these facets and everything leads to a certain goal,” he said. “But you don’t love all the facets. If you want to sit down and go through end-of-month accounts, bookkeeping and audits, and you love it, I’m sorry…”
The group laughed, and one captain said he actually did enjoy that part of his job.
“You have to have the dedication to get through the s–t to get to the good part,” the captain said.
Another captain said empathy was his word. He had learned the significance of seeing things from another perspective during early work in the corporate and service industries.
“Empathy is the biggest thing,” he said. “The ability to put yourself in other’s shoes, like the charter guests. I love doing charters, putting myself in their situation to know what they want.”
Another captain chose 24/7 as a description of the continual nature of yachting. He echoed sentiments from a couple of other captains.
“You are always aware,” the captain said. “Things change, there are sounds, movements, the effect of the waves, the shafts singing differently.”
It is not a vacation all the time like many people think, he said, but he loves his work.
“I’ve got a boss, a budget, I’m in my office all day and all night,” he said. “I’m at it all the time. We live with the people we work with.”
More than 30 years in yachting made it hard for one of the captains to whittle his description down to just one word.
“Adapt,” he said. “Patience and perseverance go hand-in-hand with adaptability. Initiative is in there, too. It’s an ever-changing environment. You never know what the boss is doing, the weather, anything. You constantly adapt to lack of sleep, lack of comfort, lack of equipment, lack of manpower and lack of resources in one way or another.”
He said he enjoys the challenge of these changes.
“You just adapt,” he said “There’s nothing complicated about it. It’s just like living.”
After the discussion, we asked if anyone wanted to revise their word choice. The captains only wanted to make a few additions. Fun should be added to the list, one said. Teamwork, said a couple of captains. Challenge needs to be in there, another said.
“Silly as it sounds, I got in for the challenge, to learn as much as I could,” that captain said. “I wanted my own boat to sail around world and this is the perfect lifestyle so I figured this is the best way to do it. Then little by little, I tried more and more, it ramped up fairly fast.”
He said the challenges led him to realize he was good at being a captain. And the challenges keep it exciting.
“Little by little, it was more boats, more places and more complicated scenarios,” he said.
His love for yachting is clear. Even though he spends the majority of his life at work on a boat and has traveled the globe, he still wants his own boat.
As conversation time ran out, we asked if we could pick just one word out of all the choices. There was not a consensus, but every word resonated with each captain and that triggered the conversation back to their early days in yachting.
“Remember when we weren’t getting paid for it and we still did it?” one captain said.
“I joined my first boat for free, just to go to Alaska,” another captain said. “They ended up paying me, but I didn’t know I would get paid.”
“We used to pay them for the food and beer just to go on the boat,” said a third.
So, is there one word that captures the heart of yachting?
“Passion,” a captain said. “A thousand percent, passion.”
Dorie Cox is editor of The Triton. Comments on this story are welcome at email@example.com. Captains who make their living running someone else’s yacht are welcome to join in the conversation. Email us for an invitation to our monthly From the Bridge lunch.