By Dorie Cox
Many people do a double take when they see twins Kristen Klein and Jessica Engelmann. Each with blond hair, bright eyes and gentle smiles, their similar interests have kept them on a parallel path for their 34 years. They started in yachting as stews nearly a decade ago.
A couple of years ago, that course diverged – slightly. The identical twins are now yacht brokers with Northrop & Johnson in Fort Lauderdale, but in different branches: Klein as a sales broker and Engelmann as a charter broker.
Even with the job differences, they look back on how the common course and personality traits have led them to their dream careers.
“I think life has taken us both here,” Engelmann said.
Since they were young, both have been competitive, focused and hard-working. At 12 years old, they were on the winning softball team of the Little League World Series in 1996. Both have bachelor’s degrees from the University of Florida, and Klein also has a master’s in business administration.
After college, the twins took a trip to St. Maarten, met some crew and realized big boats would fit their plan.
“Our goal after college was to travel, and we thought, ‘Wow, this is so cool,’” Engelmann said.
They both jumped at separate opportunities, but soon ended up working together on M/Y Gale Winds, a 112-foot Westport, in 2009. Eventually working separately again, the sisters kept in touch, even if only by radio contact, as their yachts passed at sea.
Klein worked on motor yachts Allegro, Kisses, Ohana and Mia Elise. But she really knows 112-foot Westports, with experience on Silver Moon, Lady Lily and Gale Winds.
Engelmann worked on motor yachts Dorothy Ann, Milk Money, Andiamo, Silver Moon, Kelly Sea and Gale Winds, but it’s M/Y Island Time in the Bahamas that she most fondly remembers.
“My crew experience really helps as a sales broker,” Klein said. “I have to know both sides.”
Klein said she is especially interested in the technical side of the boats and joins in on surveys and sea trials. She likes to see just how yachts get measured. Her love of engineering has come from seeing yachts from the inside, as well as from her engineer father. She said that knowing how yacht systems work has helped her seal yacht deals.
She understands why small things can be an issue, like the time she needed a serial number on an engine.
“When a client wants an answer, I need to respond immediately. I call the captain and crew, they tell me, ‘Oh, I can get it for you in two days,’” she said. “I called Caterpillar. I have to be creative – it was Friday at 5 p.m. I could not wait till Monday. They gave me it over the phone.”
Klein said the people skills she honed as a stew come into play too.
“My job is to have the captain, the owner and the buyer happy. They can kill a deal in two seconds,” she said. “I also get to be a detective, I have to get my next deal, I get to do marketing, and I am also a shrink. I have to be a people manager.”
Charter broker Engelmann said that as a stew, she especially loved knowing details about the the yacht’s destinations. And that has helped her chart her current course.
“I used to say I should have been a travel agent for the Bahamas, and now, here I am,” she said.
She credits the team on M/Y Island Time, especially the captain, who taught her everything from tying knots to handling multiple guests. And she learned the value of working together.
“I saw both the guests and myself having fun. We were a great team effort,” she said. “People used to ask if we were family.”
She also learned how to navigate challenges.
“If we bumped the bottom and the guest said, ‘Is that normal?,’ I said, ‘Yes, yes, shipshape,’” she said.
Recalling an instance when guests had to be rebooked because of technical problems, Engelmann said she packed up her own Christmas tree, gathered ornaments and flew to meet the stranded guests during the holidays.
“I set up the tree and completely decorated,” she said. “The guests were so happy.”
Experiences like these gave her the inside scoop, which enhanced her ability to better prepare charter guests and trip itineraries.
“I deal with the captain and the crew,” she said. “I have to trust that the captain will run a professional program. Sometimes you sell things but it doesn’t happen. There are always things like weather and technical issues. People think it’s like a cruise ship and that they can just get from here to there.”
Just as both women have used their yachting experiences to be better brokers, they think crew can benefit from better understanding the job of brokers.
“I think that crew think we just sit at a desk and answer the phone,” Engelmann said. “But it can take six months to a year to book. It takes hundreds of calls with some people.”
Engelmann spends a lot of time with first-time charter guests and uses personal experience to make sure they understand what a charter is really like. Most of them are not aware of the Advanced Provisioning Allowance or the gratuity, she said. “I walk through the entire process with them, from itineraries to food, how the boat works,” she said. Most crew don’t really think about things from the broker angle, she said. “If we didn’t go to charter shows, we would not have charters. I know crew hate them, but without them we would not have charters.”
“There’s so many things we deal with behind the scene,” she said. “It is very stressful, it never stops. Even on vacation we’re taking calls. But I’m so interested in boats, and now it is all tied together.”
Klein said yacht crew have asked about her job as sales broker. They imagine it requires less hours than crew work, she said. Many assume she goes home at 5 p.m. with weekends off. In reality, she said she works her phone 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And she really has to know boats.
“What should this boat sell for? I can come up with the number or I can analyze the data,” Klein said.
Vanessa Jiron, office manager at Northrop & Johnson, works with both women and has seen the value of their years at sea.
“It fascinates me how much they know,” Jiron said. “And it comes from them having crew experience. They’re not speaking from what they read … they have been at that destination, they can pinpoint that restaurant.”
Although some people might think they recognize Klein or Engelmann, Jiron said, people have been confused.
“Out there, you might see one of them on the dock and think you know which one,” Jiron said. “But then someone says, ‘She didn’t say hi to me.’”
Klein laughed at the confusion. “People cannot tell us apart,” she said. “They think we’re everywhere – and that’s not a bad thing.”
Dorie Cox is editor of The Triton. Comments are welcome below.