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From the Bridge: Yacht destination dreams go unfulfilled

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Most of the time, captains take the yacht where the owner says: on standard holiday trips, charters and a couple of boat shows. But where would captains visit if it were their choice? 

The Triton gathers a different group of captains each month to dive into a particular yacht issue for our From the Bridge discussion lunch. This month we asked them to ponder their dreams, given unlimited resources and no restrictions.

“I’d like to go to Bali, Indonesia, other exotic places,” a captain said. “But it’s not necessarily realistic.”

We thought these captains would spill forth with wish lists, but they hesitated as practicality and feasibility clouded their view.

“I like St. Barts, but others don’t,” a captain said.

“I’d go to the Bahamas to see friends or to spend money in the areas where they need help,” a captain said of post-Hurricane Dorian Bahamas.

Attendees of The Triton’s From the Bridge discussion for the January edition are, back row from left: Capt. William Blackwell, freelance; Capt. Chris Harris of M/Y Andiamo; Capt. Les Annan of M/Y Axis; Capt. Jeff Varga of M/Y Essence Of Cayman; Capt. Brian Rowland of M/Y Horizons II; front row from left, Capt. Jack McKay of M/Y Harmony; Capt. Ned Stone; and Capt. Martin Secot. Photo by Dorie Cox

When pressed for their dream destination, they reached deeper.

“The Bay Island of Honduras and Roatan, because I haven’t done that.”

“The South Pacific. I’ve never been, but the pictures look amazing.”

“Alaska.”

Many wanted to go back to places where they had lived or previously visited.

“The South Pacific pictures are beautiful, but Cayman is my heartbeat, and it gets overshadowed,” a captain said.

“The Galapagos,” another captain said. “I lived there. I’d go there again if I could.”

“I love New England and Maine. I like variety,” a final captain said.

Have the captains tried to get the owners to untie dock lines for new destinations? Yes, but with little success. First, they blamed the kinds of owners who don’t use their boats much for travel.

“Some owners don’t like boating,” a captain said. “They buy it because it’s a status symbol or because their tax bracket says they should.”

“Lots of them use the yacht as the actual destination, as a floating condo,” another captain said. “We’ve all done that,” a third captain said. “A floatel. Or for corporate usage, the owner’s entertaining business clients.”

One yacht owner who really likes to travel would like to do an off-the-beaten-path sort of trip, but has not been able to allot time, a captain said.

For the owners who do travel, why don’t they take the captains’ recommendations?

“You can try, but he’s going to dictate what happens,” a captain said. “A lot of owners go with what they know.”

One captain recalled inviting the owner to join the boat delivery on a perfect day at sea, headed to a terrific destination. The owner took an airplane to meet the boat instead.

“I’ve tried to help him love the boat,” the captain said. “It would have been a beautiful cruise.”

Across the table, a captain told a similar tale of an owner who had only used the boat a small number of times.

“I’ve had some owners just want silver service while sitting at the dock,” another captain said. “But I worked for one that loved to fish. That’s all we did.”

A captain recalled that he has tried to help owners enjoy their time on board and not feel the stress they may feel in their working lives.

“I’ve had a few owners I’ve had to remind that we’re in the pleasure boat business,” he said. “They would come on board and pout about this and that.”

Mostly veterans with decades of experience in the industry, some of this group admitted that their dreams of travel have changed over their careers.

“My favorite place to get paid is tied to a dock,” a captain said. “But if you asked me 30 years ago, it would be completely different from these days – probably the South Pacific.”

“Without a doubt I would say each of us got into this for the love of travel and to see new places,” another captain said. “But as we get older, it would be nicer to be tied to a dock.” He hesitated before saying that he would deny watching Bravo’s “Below Deck” show, but had “accidentally” seen some episodes, and admitted, “I would be anchored next to you in Southeast Asia. It makes it look quite enticing.”

A longtime sailor countered, “I don’t like to be at the dock, period. But I’ve worked with people who now have a wife and kids and want to be made fast to the dock. It’s a lot easier at the dock for everybody – the chefs, the engineers, the guests.”

Yachting is not about the captain’s dream, one captain said. A large part of the job is to do what the owners want, and to deliver perfect trips.

“Operationally, my responsibility is to work with the owners to what the itinerary will be,” a captain said. “They use the boat for their enjoyment. Setting up the itinerary is what I do for them – short boat rides, swimming, anchoring, shopping, parties. They leave it up to me to figure out what would make them the happiest.”

So when the boat is in great shape, fully provisioned, crew at their best, and the owner is sitting inside on his phone, we asked how these captains feel.

“If he’s smiling, it doesn’t matter,” a captain answered.

“As long as he’s happy. I’ve encouraged him and try to take him out on his sport fish – we have the best of the best,” another captain said. “But he has an office on board. He said, ‘Call me on the radio when you catch a fish.’ ”

He said he tried to persuade the owner: “  ‘Look, you’ve got to come out and enjoy the boat.’ But no, he’s going to do what he wants to do.”

Another captain commiserated that he has tried to get the yacht to leave the dock. “I had to justify my own existence in my head. I mean, why am I sitting here? But I figured if I keep the owner happy, he would keep his thousands of employees happy, so I was doing the world some good.”

This group has traveled extensively with yachts, even though the conversation implied otherwise. So we aimed to spark memories. Every destination was once a new place, and most of the group said they love to go to new destinations.

“I think finding new things is part of what owners hope captains will do,” a captain said. “But as captains, we really have to know that owner. You have to find these places and learn how to handle things if they want to go.”

“I enjoy new places but they do add stress. You don’t know what you don’t know,” a captain said.

“First of all, what language are you going to speak? You need local knowledge,” another captain said.

“I talk to dockmasters and use Google Earth to see the dock,” a third captain said.

“Talk to captains who have been there, call marinas and dockmasters. If you’re not comfortable, get someone who can come out and meet you,” another captain said. “That judgment is what we are paid for. It is all based on our knowledge and experience – to say ‘no’ or to say ‘I need help.’ ”

Most owners don’t have time for the exploration.

“If we’re going to a new place, I ask buddies and then the net goes out,” a captain said. “There are Facebook groups, you can feel it out. It’s kind of like hiring crew, you feel it. You find out through your network. It’s like electronics, you can’t rely on one piece of equipment.”

There was agreement that the best planning for a new destination is to visit ahead of time.

“I had an owner that flew me and the mate for two or three days to find out the best things to do there,” a captain said.

“You’ve got to go if it’s a big one,” another captain agreed. “I go and check it out. I have to figure it out as best as possible. It depends on the scale of the trip and if they see the value of me going.”

“The owner looks to me for advice, and I can’t just say, ‘Oh, look at this magazine,’ ” one captain said. “I have to find out the information myself, and always, always we have to have a Plan B.” 

We asked if they take the yacht owner on that first visit to a new place.

“You try not to,” a captain said to big laughs around the table. 

As we wrapped up the conversation, captains said it is not just them, but owners, too, who have unfulfilled dreams.

“Talk is cheap,” a captain said. “The owner’s talked about a round-the-world trip forever. As to whether he does it or not, he wants to, but it’s crazy expensive.”

They do have dreams, another captain said of an owner who also dreams of sailing around the world.

The wave of enthusiasm in this conversation ebbed and flowed, the excitement of imagining dream destinations was often anchored in reality. But the captains ended on a positive note. 

“You mean, can I wait to get to Asia?” said a captain who enjoys the owner’s regular cruising route. “No, no, I’m happy. It’s in the little things.”

He told of historical finds and gorgeous islands. “You find yourself in these places and that’s because of our jobs. That’s the reward of it. I really enjoy that part of our business. You get surprised. Nice things happen.”

But as he continued, he said he still tries for a new spot. The yacht recently had a cancellation from guests.

“What are you going to do? Plug back into the dock?” he said. “No, you are going to make use of it.”

He and the crew tossed the lines, without the owner, and set off for a new destination. 

“You’re going to tell him you found these great islands,” the captain said. “Whether he goes or not is up to him, but he looks to me to advise him, ‘Boss, you’ve got to see this place.’ ”

Dorie Cox is editor of The Triton. Comments on this story are welcome at editor@the-triton.com.

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Dorie Cox is editor of The Triton.

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