From the Bridge: by Dorie Cox
From compliance and crashes to crew concerns, yacht captains often find themselves in serious conversations about yachting. For more than 15 years, The Triton’s From the Bridge discussion group has gathered captains to delve into such topics. This month, we chose a lighter approach for summer and asked what they think is fun in yachting.
“Our job is about fun,” a captain said. “You don’t buy a yacht to not have fun. The whole thing is fun.”
“What’s not to love?” another captain said.
Sure, people pay to buy and charter yachts to have fun. But do the captains have fun? As we asked around the table, all seven said they do. They love the great food, good pay, interesting travel and unique experiences. But also among the perks they cited was other people’s fun.
“We have the ability to really show people a time they would never, ever have,” a captain said. “See things they never had the opportunity to see, do things they never would have done.”
The main job of a captain is to never say no in an effort to help others have fun, he said.
“We say ‘yes’ and figure out how to implement it,” he said. “We have these incredible budgets and as long as you can think outside the box, you can really make anything happen. They think we’re magicians.”
“That’s a good point you made,” another captain replied. “Seeing the guests being excited about something you’ve seen every day. The look on their face is worth it.”
“Fun is a smile on their face,” a third captain said. “When the unexpected turns positive.”
“If you can make it fun for the guests and the crew, then you’ve got a winning combination,” a fourth captain said.
The ability to share the yacht experience is a pleasure, said a captain. He smiled as he recalled a father and son who admired the yacht from the dock. He felt happy watching the boy’s fun when he invited them on board for a tour.
This image of guests, owners and crew having fun continued to echo through most of the rest of the conversation. Even when a captain seemed like he might share what he personally enjoys for fun, it turned out that his pleasure of spending time with his crew was rooted in the pleasure of seeing them happy.
“The crew is my second family. We work hard and we go a long time with no days off,” he said of after-work activities like enjoying a meal or watching their favorite show. “Then to see them enjoy themselves is gratifying.”
With all of the talk of others, we asked if the captains consider it part of their job to be responsible for other people’s fun. And they do.
“We allow them to have fun, we set them up to enjoy themselves,” a captain said.
Several captains acknowledge that key to positive results are each captain’s actions and state of mind.
“The captain sets the tone for everything and everyone,” a captain said.
“I’m sure I have spent plenty of time looking for a certain response, and I’ve learned that whether I’m in a good mood or depressed and nothing changes, that I have to change,” another captain said. “You have to change yourself. My mood spreads.”
“When we hit a morale bump, there are two directions we can go,” a third captain said. “I’m in a bad mood, too. Or, we’re all bummed, let’s get together.”
“You can look at it like you enjoy it or ‘I gotta go to work,’ ” a fourth captain said. “Sometimes you have to manufacture fun.”
Are the captains fun people? Not necessarily, they said. No one at the table defined himself that way. And some of the things that used to be fun for some of them are not anymore.
“Personally, I’ve matured from my first position,” one captain said. “My definition of fun was different.”
The alcohol culture and drinking in bars used to have more of an appeal, he said. There is a trend toward more healthy lifestyles, another captain said, citing biking, board sports, adventure trips and personal fitness for recreation.
“I think less crew define fun as drinks than before,” he said. “I think in the last five years, crew are less apt to go to the bar.”
Maybe that is just the crew on his boat, the type he hires and attracts? No, he said, “I think society has changed.”
“It could be that the industry has changed,” another captain said. “We’ve added regulations and compliance, insurance, and other factors. I think it brings in different people. Along with regulations come more responsibility – there is a big difference between personal and professional fun.”
But everyone agreed that crew enjoy a laugh so they try for diversions, such as wagers about how many dead flying fish will be on deck during a voyage or exactly what time the yacht will dock.
“We take the challenging or boring and find a positive angle,” a captain said.
In an effort to find the origin of this fun, we asked about formal training, classes or role models. Although each of the men said they have several people they seek to emulate, the path toward fun is not formally taught. It seems that each captain has pieced this together on his own.
“I don’t remember being a fun guy,” a captain said. “But I see what makes the job easier and what is satisfying. I know what will be positive.”
“We’re almost forced to have fun,” another captain said. “There are few successful captains in this industry that don’t have a positive outlook on life.”
“You pick parts from others, it’s not when you learn – like, one day you became this – it’s constant,” a third captain said. “It’s not like all of a sudden I’m having fun. We are always progressing.”
“Over the years I picked the brains of people I admire: ‘How did you get that result?’,” a fourth captain said. “When we pull in and I look over to a boat and everyone looks happy, I go ask that captain what they do. We’ve seen people we want to be like and people we don’t want to be like.”
When we asked again what things made this group of captains personally have fun, a recollection from one captain offered an enlightening perspective. He recounted a story about a day when the yacht owner told him his job looked fun.
“You got the greatest job on earth, I’m paying you a lot of money to drive the yacht around, you’re not paying for fuel. What am I paying you for?” the captain said of the boss’ conversation. The captain said that as he maneuvered the boat into the marina, he replied to the owner: “You’re paying me for the last three feet to the dock.”
Everyone at the table laughed.
“You could have just stepped away and said, ‘You tell me,’ ” another captain said.
Although people typically buy a yacht to have fun, the word is nowhere in the captain’s job description. Maybe the use of the word “fun” in the traditional balloons-and-cake sense isn’t what a conversation with professional yacht captains should even try to cover.
“If the crew is OK and the boat is secure, no matter what the problem is, you can look back and say, that was a fun day,” a captain said.
“Any day without a tragedy is a fun day. We averted problems again,” another captain said.
And that was the key to this group’s definition of fun.
The topic had brought a smile to every attendee’s face throughout the conversation, but a deeper dive showed that these captains’ definition of fun was more than the dictionary’s definition of amusement or enjoyment. Their criteria verged on being the opposite of fun – it was professional, altruistic and mature.
Even as we tried to pin down their idea of genuine fun, one captain pondered the word and came to the realization that “fun” might not be exactly what this conversation was really all about.
“I might say it’s satisfying. Do I enjoy it? I appreciate it,” a captain said. “I do suspect everyone still has fun driving.”
Dorie Cox is editor of The Triton. Comments on this story are welcome below.