By Lucy Chabot Reed
Capt. Alan Bradley Shepherd died Aug. 15 of lung cancer. He was 50.
In yachting more than 25 years, Capt. Shepherd spent the past decade working freelance jobs, deliveries, and rotational and relief positions as captain, mate, engineer and project manager on yachts up to 140 feet in Florida, Bahamas, and along the U.S. Atlantic Coast.
He also spent much of his time teaching those around him.
“Without him, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing,” said Capt. Jason Jones, who got his first job working with Capt. Shepherd 15 years ago. “He helped me build my network, especially in the shipyard. He knew everything about everything boating.”
Capt. Shepherd was one of the first captains Noah Netherton worked for when he joined the industry about six years ago.
“From that point on, he became my mentor,” Netherton said. “He was always pushing me to do my licenses and move up.”
Netherton was working on a yacht in Charleston when Capt. Shepherd’s sister Amy Albury called to tell him Capt. Shepherd’s health was deteriorating. When Netherton asked for time off and the owner said no, there was no question he would resign to spend time with his mentor at the end of his life.
“The guy taught me almost everything I know in the industry.”
Soon after Capt. Shepherd died, Netherton went to Fort Lauderdale and enrolled in courses. He recently finished his 100-ton tests — “with all As,” he said — and has begun two engineering courses this week as well as several courses for endorsements such as diving and first aid.
“Alan is the reason for that,” he said. “He was on me every week: ‘Have you enrolled in classes yet? Did you take that test? You’ve got to go get your license.’ He’s right. So I took my savings and put it toward my license.”
A few months before he died, Capt. Shepherd shared his old study materials with Netherton.
“He was in my corner from day 1, and it paid off.”
Taking his exams, he said he could feel Capt. Shepherd sitting next to him.
“It’s a feeling I’ll never forget.”
It’s likely there are scores of crew and former crew who could say the same.
“The way he kept up with people used to surprise me,” Capt. Jones said. “He’d say ‘So-and-so just got her nursing degree.’ And I was like ‘She was a stew on your boat 12 years ago for like three months. You still keep up with her?’
“He helped a lot of people in their career,” he said. “And if he recognized that yachting wasn’t for you, he found ways to support you in other things you might want to do. That was the way he was.”
More than book smart — he also held degrees in photography and business management — Capt. Shepherd was also operationally smart.
“He was a hell of an engineer,” Netherton said. “He had the most intricate knowledge of so many boats. And he’d teach me everything. It was like he was doing it in his sleep. His knowledge was unreal.”
His knowledge spread beyond yachting.
“I called him Human Google,” Capt. Jones said. “You could ask him anything and he’d have an answer or could find out. Just about anything I had a question about, I could call Alan and get an answer. I’m really going to miss that. … He was always going into a shop or a store, and there might be something hanging on the wall, and he’d say ‘What a nice 1960 whatever’ and spark up an intelligent conversation about that model or era of rocket ship or whatever. He was amazing.”
Prior to his freelance career, Capt. Shepherd was captain of the 118-foot Broward M/Y Indiscretion, which cruised New England in the summer and Florida and Bahamas in winter with “very busy” owners, according to his resume. He served that owner as mate aboard two yachts at the same time — the 96-foot Broward M/Y Temptation and Indiscretion — for the father-and-son yachts.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone who was always so happy,” Netherton said. “Even after an 18-hour day, he ended the day with a smile on his face. It was more than a pleasure to have the opportunity to work for him.”
Capt. Shepherd earned his USCG 1,600-ton license just before being diagnosed with cancer two years ago, Albury said.
He also rode and raced motorcycles as a hobby. A member of the Dixie Dual Motorsports Group, he was qualified to race at the Daytona International Speedway.
“He considered motorcycles to be appropriate living room art pieces, and he loved riding fast on the track or on the Tail of the Dragon,” Albury said. “He even completed the Trans America Trail,” a seven-week, 5,000-mile route through the center of the United States.
Never a smoker, Capt. Shepherd’s lung cancer wasn’t diagnosed until it had metastasized into his bones, Albury said.
“We will never know the cause of the cancer but Alan encourages everyone to utilize appropriate PPE such as gloves and breathing protection when handling chemicals,” she said.
“The industry has tried to change and come up with chemicals that are not so hazardous to us crew, but a lot of older boats that people refit are comprised of certain things that can be detrimental to crew,” he said. “Whenever you are sanding or grinding anything, wear a respirator, because you don’t know what you are breathing in. When you use chemicals, wear gloves.”
According to his online obituary, in addition to his sister, Capt. Shepherd is survived by his parents, John Bradley Shepherd and Ann Vanacore Shepherd; grandmother Della Vanacore; sister Valerie Shepherd; nephew Garrett Albury and niece Evan Ann Albury; and longtime companion, Kellie Mason, her daughter, Christina Mason, and their dog Sophie.
Because of COVID, the family has been unable to have a memorial service and would like to hear from his friends. On Saturday, Sept. 26, at the Golden Hour — “You know that hour just before sunset, when the sky and the water take on a golden hue?” — raise a glass and shoot a photo or video to share a memory of Capt. Shepherd. Email tributes to Albury at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lucy Chabot Reed is publisher/editor of The Triton. Comments are welcome below.