By Lucy Chabot Reed
The secret to a long career yachting is finding an owner who likes boating and wants to do it right, someone you can get along with, and someone who is willing to spend what’s needed to keep equipment and crew in top shape.
That’s what helped Capt. Bill Zinser stay in yachting 45 years (and counting), not only to build the Cakewalk charter brand over 21 years, but to build a career.
“We built some great boats and had the best charter program in the yachting industry,” he said. “Our standards were higher than anyone else’s and we built up a brand. I’m proud of that.”
Capt. Zinser was honored with the Distinguished Crew Award from the International Superyacht Society at its gala Wednesday night.
Capt. Zinser is best known in the industry as the captain of M/Y Cakewalk, a series of five boats over the past 21 years that had a popular and successful charter program. The second one, a 62m Feadship, introduced the Cakewalk brand, which would become known as a high-level and productive charter boat between the Mediterranean and the Caribbean.
The fourth one — what he calls the “big” Cakewalk, an 85m vessel they built — spent four years chartering before the owner sold it recently, receiving a Benetti in trade.
“I probably wouldn’t have stayed as long as I did without a project every three or four years,” he said. “It’s great to be in a shipyard and build a boat. It’s great to set sail and go cruising, too, showing everyone what you did.”
Before Cakewalk, though, there was a 20-year career that many captains will relate to: a childhood in marinas and shipyards, sailing around his New England home; seven years on deck starting in 1971, earning his stripes; time as captain on smaller boats; a detour into yacht brokerage; another detour into yacht deliveries and his own repair business; and then skipper in the charter world and eventually on Cakewalk.
According to the Distinguished Crew nomination, Capt. Zinser has served as a mentor to the leagues of crew that have worked for him, even those he let go. He’s the kind of guy people don’t forget. For Bob Saxon, when he was new in the industry nearly 40 years ago, he remembers the day they met in 1979.
Capt. Zinser was running the 58-foot Hatteras M/Y Lear Jet docked at Goat Island in Newport. Saxon was about a week into his first job at Whittemore and Williams, and was sent to meet the owner of that boat. But first, he met Capt. Zinser.
“I was pretty impressed,” Saxon said. “I remember thinking at the time that if all the guys I meet in this business are like Billy Zinser, I’m going to enjoy my time in yachting. He’s a genuine good guy.”
Capt. Zinser said he was honored to have received the award, especially since his good friend John Allen of Quantum Marine also was honored as Business Person of the Year.
“Look how far he’s come,” said Gary Groenewold, south region vice president of Westrec Marinas, which sponsored the award and presented it to Capt. Zinser Wednesday night. “Who would have thought he would have worked for [Cakewalk’s owner] for 20 years?”
Capt. Zinser isn’t done with yachting yet. He expects to wrap up the refit on that last Cakewalk, the Benetti, in December. After that, he plans to focus on new build projects and large refits to expand his yacht management company, Yacht Logistics, which he runs with partner Christine Casas.
And he’s still got career advice for crew: Look for a good owner who really wants to do it the right way. Don’t just take a job because the money sounds good. Find someone you can get along with and the money will come.
Other award include the Excellence in Innovation to Triton Submarines, ISS Fabien Cousteau Blue Award to Capt. David Tomlinson, ISS Fabien Cousteau Blue Award Legacy Tribute to the Kay Rybovich Family and the Leadership Award to Jonathan Beckett of Burgess.
Lucy Chabot Reed is publisher of Triton Today. Comment below.