Yacht captains share what COVID-19 has done to their world

Apr 7, 2020 by Lucy Chabot Reed

By Dorie Cox and Lucy Chabot Reed

As information changes quickly for yacht crew in a COVID-19-pandemic world, The Triton reached out to hear from the captains in charge. As of late last week, they reported on the health of their families – both personal and yacht-related – and weighed in with news of the yacht programs.

Capt. Tristan Mortlock

M/Y AWOL is in a shed in Pisa, Italy, completely shutdown, no crew or contractors allowed onboard. For now, my partner and I are at our house and the rest of the crew are in our crew apartment, all in isolation. Keeping ourselves busy and sane. 

We have a loyal owner; we are fortunate. He has assured our positions onboard for now. 

We’re a charter vessel so this time last year we were pretty much fully booked. At the moment, we only have three bookings to which we signed an addendum: if they can’t access the boat because of the virus or restrictions of the virus, we would give full reimbursement of charter fee. 

We’re all healthy. Waiting, listening to news. All we want to do is get the boat back in the water to crack on with the charter season, if there’s any left of it. 

I’ve been talking with family on Facetime, everyday, and friends I haven’t spoken to in years. There is a plus. We start to realize what’s important. For those of us here, we need to remain positive and carry on.

Capt. Christopher Hezelgrave

Family and crew are all OK. I’m currently back in Fort Lauderdale running a refit that started before the crisis and now busy trying to keep the wheels of progress turning as best we can. Pretty sure the planned schedule will be late but at present the owners are keen to get the project done and get back on the water.

Capt. John Wampler 

Everything has come to a screeching halt. Bahamas is shut down. Roadblocks in the Keys. It’s a pity. Fuel prices haven’t been this low in decades.

Capt. Mark L. Diekmann

I am back on a yacht right now with the owners and his family, and all crew isolating at anchor in Florida with strict precautions for any supplies/packages coming on board the vessel. 

This vessel’s program is moving forward with all crew, no layoffs, all pay reviews/bonuses frozen. Med charter season is canceled. Yard period is being modified to only undertake high priority items and stay stateside this year. 

The crew are worried about their families but happy they are employed and safe in our environment. 

Capt. Tim Hull

We are sitting in West Palm Beach, and got in just before the world completely caved with COVID-19.  

We’re still fully staffed and are pressing to complete our spring lists (though very carefully). Lots of checks with the right contractors, and keeping all outside of our “safety zone.” 

Using everything from Publix delivery, Amazon, and similar systems for getting what we need without much interaction with the populous at large. 

Bi-weekly meetings on how we can improve the virus resilience of the team, and keep everyone happy during these times. Being out of Broward County is a huge bonus. Less stress on everyone, and we can keep life moving somewhat for all.

As to our program, it is tentatively on schedule, though I believe that we will be on standby for a little longer before getting back active again. I still think we will end up heading north for the summer, but who knows art this early juncture?

Capt. Craig Tafoya

M/Y Freedom crew are doing well so far. Patronus [health insurer] has been on the ball with regular calls and support, including having both hydroxychloroquine and Zpak available for the crew, if needed.

Capt. Paul Stengel

Crew was laid off for now. Yachts are parked.

Capt. Bill Curran

Returned four days ago to Fort Lauderdale from delivering 130-foot Westport M/Y Beach Girl to Northfork ,Virginia, from West Palm Beach. I’m laying low, working on my next project, which will be another used 130-foot Westport, which is closing later in the month, laying out plans with the owner for projects and new paint job.

Counting my blessing that all family is well, and we will all get through these tough times together.

Capt. Brendan A. Emmons

We are in the process of commissioning a new boat that just arrived last week. We are with limited crew and are limiting to one contractor at a time and keeping lots of distance between anyone on the boat. We are also doing a lot more phone calls and video chats, even with people on the boat, to cut down on any close interaction. 

We plan to finish this weekend and then quarantine crew on boat for next two weeks and go from there. 

Capt. Andrew Grego

I’ve had to let crew go, down to three from seven. I’m not happy. And what affects me is not just that they are out of a job — and what people outside this industry don’t get is, they live and work there — now they lose their home and everything that goes with it.

The politically correct way to put it is they are being furloughed. I would have them back, but that doesn’t do anything for them now. I’ve been doing this 20 years as crew or captain. During that time, naturally, some crew have to be let go, some move on. But in my 20 years, this is the hardest thing I’ve had to do. I have to live with this.

Captain who asked not to be named

Fortunately, my wife and son started quarantine a couple of weeks ago, sheltering in place at home in Fort Lauderdale. I followed suit shortly thereafter, putting my crew into a strict lockdown. So far, everyone at home and aboard remains healthy. One crew member wasn’t able to stick to the plan and was summarily dismissed for direct insubordination after going out overnight.

Captain who asked not to be named

My wife, kids and I isolated ourselves at home here in Fort Lauderdale on March 13. I’m fortunately on rotation and managed to arrive onboard here in LMC confident of being COVID-19 clear. The boat and crew are all also well. We have no plans to travel; there’s nowhere to go and we have access to all that we need here. Having just arrived for my rotation, I am going to put the boat and crew on a 14-day lockdown — no visitors, no crew leaving LMC (which they have maintained for the last two weeks) and afterward re-evaluate the big picture. We have had to make a few changes. Rotational crew that live outside the U.S. are staying at home on full pay, and crew scheduled to leave us are staying onboard and working through until it’s deemed safe and practical to swap them out.

We are fortunate to be working for a guy that values his crew and their wellbeing. There’s been no mention of downsizing/salary reductions, etc. His main priority is that we are all safe and healthy. As soon as the world returns to a new version of normal, we will be headed out to resume making the boss happy in remote anchorages.

As far as keeping the team motivated, I sat down with the crew and we determined that turning Wednesday into a full comprehensive crew training day will break the week up and allow us to tweak/edit and add to the existing SOP’s onboard. Currently going through emergency steering and emergency bilge pumping procedures. After lunch will be tender and crane ops for everyone. Friday was traditionally a training day, however the chef is always busy prepping weekend food and gets less hands-on experience. By breaking the week up with a training day on Wednesday, he’s involved in everything, and I can hear his excited voice from my office right now. 

We have the time to ensure everyone gets a thorough understanding of every procedure, and I plan to have all crew capable of running every standard and emergency procedure by the time we continue cruising.

The ‘beach club’ has been turned into the movie house, with bean bags, Playstation and tunes. Guest head out of bounds, but at least we have two separate locations to relax and watch movies together. New exercise bike on the sun deck. Wednesday night poker night and a Saturday BBQ are our “events”, and I’m sure we will come up with more before long.

My next plan is to collaborate with the crew and introduce old fashioned seafaring skills. How many deck crew know how to splice, whip and seize today? 

Capt. Hamish Munroe

Myself and the crew are in Lurssen shipyard in Lemwerder, Germany, for the shipyard work period. This is at a slower pace, with focus on social distancing and CORVID-19 safety procedures. We are adopting a wait-and-see approach with regard to the future, the focus is supporting crew we cannot send home due to travel bans and trying to keep things as safe and positive as possible. Now is a time we should look after each other, at a distance.

Capt. Stefan Czuplak

Here in Barcelona, we are a few weeks ahead of the U.S. and we have seen some serious restrictions put in place. Right from the beginning, I started limiting my travel between the boat and home, especially as I normally use public transport. During the winter season, I normally go home each night but I started going back and forth every 3 or 4 days, then weekly, and now I am working from home, leaving just two of my crew onboard to maintain the boat. We are following all the local guidelines and putting safety first. There is not much else we can do for now.

We have two members of crew that were on vacation when the restrictions came into place and they are both stuck away from the boat. One, thankfully, is at home with family. The other managed to make arrangements to stay with a friend at the last minute whilst travelling in a foreign country before that country got locked down after his flights home were cancelled. We are doing some things differently. We have done remote safety drills and I do daily checks of health status with the onboard crew. We go to the shop once a week in masks and gloves and stay away from other yacht crew.

I had just hired two other crew members days before this virus started to become big news and their start dates have had to be pushed back to the beginning of May, depending on how quickly our local restrictions get lifted. I send them weekly updates, just to let them know what is happening from our side of things. As a busy charter yacht, we hope that things will clear soon enough that we can enjoy a great summer or at least get something out of it. But with our first charters already affected by the virus, we have to realistically look at our projections and re-evaluate our priorities to manage the financial expectations of the owners, which will inevitably change as a result of this global event. We are staying positive, but realistic about the summer.

As difficult as living during this global pandemic is, we must find the positives among the negatives. Mine come in the shape of being able to continue working whilst getting some real quality family time (something that we all sacrifice too much of in our industry). Yes, we are in lockdown and no, the supermarkets don’t have all the ingredients that we need to make our favorite recipes, but we are finding ourselves becoming more thankful for what we do have on a daily basis rather than annoyed because we don’t have our favorite ice cream. We are learning new skills from websites like Youtube and getting to some of those old projects like clearing old papers that have been building up dust in the corner. 

This will change things for us all but hopefully when we do get back out on the water we will see more of those wondrous things that we go out there for, clean blue water full of fish and dolphins. In towns like Venice, the slowed activity has seen them come, and here in Barcelona, a quick look over the side of the boat and for the first time the water is not thick and brown; you can see the bottom and the life that lives there. The water is cleaner, the air is cleaner and it is noticeable in every way. 

Hopefully, when this pandemic clears and we all step out of our front doors for the first time, we will see the world a little different, a little clearer and have a little more appreciation for it. Hopefully we will make a commitment to look after it a bit better. If we can see how this short slow-down has changed the environment, no one will say that global warming is a hoax and we can all work together to save the world and therefore humanity, just as we are now from this virus.

Capt. Scott Lockwood

Had to lay off my chief stew and cut the second stew to one paid day per week, but she can still live aboard. I have a 2nd engineer (commercial guy from Venezuela) working with my regular engineer, but can’t pay him. He’s working just for the yacht experience as he has nothing better to do and wants badly to get into yachting. (Note to all South Florida captains: if you need a good engineer, get one of these Venezuelan commercial guys. There are a lot of them in South Florida trying to get into yachting.)

Program is stalled at the moment. We got back from the Bahamas and had a potential two-week charter but that all fell though as the COVID-19 situation worsened and the Bahamas closed its borders. Just spent five days at Rybovich, which is packed right now. Looks like a boat show in there as boats are rafted and creatively moored everywhere. Our owners are industries that have been hard hit by the COVID-19 virus, so we are just sitting at home dock, maintaining and fixing what we can on a very limited budget.

Capt. Tom White

All the crew of M/Y Excellence are healthy and well, as are their families. We are hiding out in Key West for now. Charters have collapsed, as we can all understand. But all of the crew still have their jobs. The owner was very kind to personally tell all the crew that he was fine and that he was more concerned about the crew than charter.

Captain who asked not to be named

Boat is at anchor outside St. Barths. Only allowed ashore for provisions. Waiting things out here as we can’t go anywhere else as of now. Have the owner and family onboard, keeping them busy with snorkeling, fishing, etc. They will be onboard until it is safe to return to the U.S.

Capt. Les Annan

The boat is at Rybovich and I am working from home. Luckily, my boss only sees this as a bump in the road. No layoffs or salary cuts; he will continue to pay us even if we go home. About half my crew live ashore and I have given them the option to go home or stay on the boat, but not go back and forth.  

Capt. Bill Hipple

Personally, my wife’s parents are 94 and 92 so we spend a good bit of time bringing them food and necessities so that they don’t have to leave their townhouse. At this point, they are the most important to protect.

The owner is living aboard, which is normal but she is limiting any time ashore to absolutely necessary outings.

We have three Philippine crew members and one was on vacation when this all started. We had to shorten his stay by two days to get him out of the Philippines before they shut down domestic travel. He made it back to Palm Beach safely and we arranged a hotel room for him so that he could complete a two-week quarantine before joining the boat. He is fine and now back onboard.

Our stew was supposed to leave yesterday but all travel in the Philippines is shut down. We looked at alternative countries to send her to, so that she could at least renew her I-94. There is no place now that we can accomplish that.  My deckhand is scheduled for vacation in May and will have the same issue. Both of them have valid visas but their I-94 allotted stay will expire before they can travel. I looked into extending their I-94s and learned that the process normally takes 4-6 weeks, at best, and with things like they are today, it would be more like 4-6 months and the office is closed at this time. The local customs and immigration officer I spoke to could not give me an official answer but said his opinion was that people who have valid visas but expired I-94s should renew them as soon as travel permits and will “probably” not experience any kind of penalty. Again, this was his unofficial “opinion” and at this point I haven’t been able to contact anyone who can provide the official answer.

We are scheduled to haul out at Rybovich on April 17 for a short yard period and as of yesterday, they are still open and we are on schedule.

After the yard, we will be relocating to Old Port Cove, since the Town of Palm Beach Docks are scheduled for demolition starting May 1. We have been in this slip for 18 years but will have to relocate during the construction. The entire facility will be rebuilt and become the next big superyacht marina in this area.

Our summer schedule has us departing Palm Beach mid-June to head to our summer home in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and we are hoping things will have settled down by then. 

Capt. Michael Murphy

My crew was laid off and traveled home as of last Friday. Myself and the chief engineer finished up yesterday, March 31. I am doing office work from home in South Florida and a few inexpensive household projects. The yacht is in Rybovich north, on the hard, and all projects, crew, etc., are on hold indefinitely. All salaries have been paid and I am working with the owner for some type of retainer to allow him to keep my license as the captain on file with the insurance company. We will all just have to wait this out.

Capt. Desmond Greyling

M/Y Quintessa is here in Nassau and the government has been very proactive in trying to stay ahead of this wave. We have a very small population in contrast to the rest of the world and we are luckily spread over hundreds of miles on various islands. That said, we do have limited resources (hospitals and medical services in the outer islands aren’t really existent) to fight a situation as severe as the world is faced with today. So I think their strategy to deal with it sooner rather than later was a smart decision. The country has been on 24-hour curfew since March 24, the first proposal was till the 31st and very shortly after the 24th it was extended till April 8. People are only allowed to be on the roads for essential reasons, (food, gas, hospitals, banks and pharmacies). There is a strong police presence and random road blocks where the police enquire as to the reason you are out and about. 

The stores are well stocked, although at random times disinfecting products and paper products are low. Food supplies on island at distribution points are full as all the hotels, restaurants and tourist venues are closed. 

International airports and seaports are closed (with a few exceptions) until further notice. Public areas and beaches have been closed and also vessels are not permitted to move around from island to island in case they contribute to the spread of the virus. So we are all playing our part in the fight of COVID-19 and staying at home.

Dorie Cox is editor and Lucy Chabot Reed is publisher of The Triton. Comments are welcome below.


About Lucy Chabot Reed

Lucy Chabot Reed is publisher and founding editor of The Triton.

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