Tales from the Sea

ISSUE 123 139


Captains’ Experiences | tales from the sea

To quote the inimitable oscar wilde: “experience is one thing you can’t get for nothing.” captains are potentially at risk every moment they are out on the water. The many challenges they have encountered along their career path have made them into the leaders they are today. we invited a number of captains to share their personal stories with us. Their answers gripped us from beginning to end; all are true accounts, and all are important lessons for captains of the future.

Take Two

Personally, with near on 40 years at sea – oil support vessels, tramps, container ships, tugs, salvage and now yachts – I’ve experienced my fair share of scary moments. They were certainly memorable, if not life-changing, and no doubt worked to accelerate the aging process! I thought first of the salvage of HMS Nottingham at Lord Howe Island in 2002, but I think the most defining moment was when

a chief stew wound herself in by the hair whilst operating the power roller press while slightly inebriated; desperate moment that, but hilarious afterwards. anyway, it was an incident with humour… I’m sure there will be a good range of fire, flood and tempest stories. Perhaps salvage, a precarious event for any mariner, depending whether you are the salvor or salvee! Captain Andrew J Mapson M/Y Robusto

JuST PLaIn Luck?

I would like to address this from a different angle. when napoleon was being presented with captains to choose for his fleet, he would only really care about one personal attribute – were they lucky?

I believe luck more than anything else will define you as a captain. Skill, calculated risk and experience are what we use every day to make decisions. However, situations can

and will go wrong, purely because the world is far more complex than we realise. there are a lot of bad captains out there, and i also put it to the

table that there are a lot of unlucky captains.

how many times have you had major equipment failure the day after guests depart? no, it is not planned maintenance failure or bad engineering, equipment can and will fail in between service intervals. Why is it that the weather is always amazing when the guests are onboard and terrible the day before they arrive? the worst experience that can happen to a captain, i believe, is steering and or engine failure while berthing.

the yachting industry will only remember the carnage, not the cause. i have never had it seriously happen. others have. for some reason, my engines and steering have only ever had a hiccup anchoring or underway. i once heard that generally, one in 10 deckhands make bosun, one in 10 bosuns make it to first officer and one in 10 first officers make it to captain. i put it to you that brains and skill will only take you so far. Anonymous captain 50m+ superyacht

all UndEr Control incidents and accidents – where do i start? When things go wrong at sea, the temperature rises quickly. on my maiden voyage, in my younger days as a naval engineer, onboard a gas tanker off italy, we were sailing through the most incredible electric storm, veins of lightning 360 degrees on the horizon for 12 hours. a ‘baptism’, to say the least – although not by fire on this occasion, thanks to a higher power.

on a subsequent voyage, after completing a service on a 1mW generator (about the size of most yacht engines), a plug was inadvertently left out of a prelube pump – which then aimed exactly onto the hot exhaust of the adjacent engine. ten portable powders later,

“situations can and will go wrong, purely because the world is far more complex than we realise. there are a lot of bad captains out there, andialsoputittothe table that there are a lot of unlucky captains.”

barely able to breathe and not able to see, (take note, dry powder is nasty!), the Ba team took over and quickly found the root of the problem. We were so busy fighting the constantly re-igniting fire we never had chance to look for the cause. the excitement here was that 100 tonnes of marine diesel was stored right above this area, and 30,000m3 of lpG was located in the cargo tanks.

i was always told that it takes three things to put disaster well on the agenda, and i have had two on many occasions: like the flooding problem in the lazarette during a very bad storm in the adriatic, which then was eclipsed by a fire on an electrical circuit. the only time i have made a pan-pan call, and worryingly, although the american navy were very much

in evidence on the Vhf [very high frequency radio] that afternoon; there was silence all of a sudden. ‘say something,’ i thought, ‘even

if it’s only goodbye.’ We got things under control, but it was edgy for a while. i have also had this the other way around, again in bad weather in the north atlantic, heavy rolling gassing up exhaust cooling pumps. the overheated rubber bellows piece caught fire and melted and then let in large quantities of cold water – messy. the only redeeming factor as we dealt with the problems was that we never lost the cooling on the other engine and so maintained steerage, or we could have been in real trouble.

one of the ‘incidents’ that shaped my outlook more than most was at a time when i was a new, and somewhat cavalier, captain on a 40m sloop (considered a large yacht with the world’s tallest carbon mast in her day), on a beautiful morning in the seychelles. We were at anchor off praslin island, and the owner decided a change of scenery was required for breakfast. We set off and found a couple of unsuitable venues, water not good, too much swell, no beautiful beach. time was ticking by, and we were well past the normal breakfast time. i allowed myself to become hassled. in my subsequent haste to sort the problem i took my eye ‘off the ball’ and found a bay on the east side of la digue island that looked good.

We were headed south-east at the time – the sun inconsiderately ahead. more questions [came about] where

we were headed, and why we weren’t anchored, and when was breakfast going to be possible. It was about this time we struck a rock of 3.7m depth on a yacht drawing 3.8m. I never saw or suspected a thing right up until that moment. The sickening realisation as we bounced over

the rock was with the clarity of the offending hard stuff looking back and away from the sun. Much worrying and checking of hull and rig later,

we dropped anchor for a rather late breakfast, for which no one appeared to have any appetite.

Chart plotters in all the right places are a great defence against this kind of accident these days, but nevertheless I committed a cardinal sin: allowing pressure to adversely affect my judgement and objectivity. Against all seamanship skills and instinct, I never checked the charts, or had someone else check for me, mapping the new bay we found ourselves in, and dearly paid the price.

Although the outcome was OK, and the yacht proved as tough as old boots, it took me the best part of a year to truly put this mistake behind me. My confidence had been rattled and I was forever changed. These days my ways are more measured and less impulsive. I also use the crew around me to better effect, but can never

say it won’t happen again. As long as yachts play in shallow waters, and human kind isn’t infallible, there are always the uncharted hazards against which we all take our chances. Captain Jon Spiller

MAn OverbOArd

At the beginning of my career, I was master at the age of 19 on a beautiful Swan 57. After two years in the Med, we finally had the opportunity to sail to the Caribbean. everything was planned and prepared with care. After the first leg to the Canary Islands,

we set sail to Antigua, and the trade winds soon started to be constant and gently blowing. everyone onboard was glad of the winter left behind and the warming sun. We had six people onboard and set a watch system with

dog-watches, and enough time to sleep. The good Italian chef we had was baking bread every morning at 6am, and we spent our time sailing happily.

I had set a rule in order to manage the watch system: to drop the spinnaker half an hour before sunset. That day we were smoothly sailing on a nice 20-knot wind, the sun was about to set, but we kept postponing the moment to shoot the spinnaker ready for the extra miles we were putting on the log.

When the sun finally started to dip below the horizon I left the helm to my brother, Luca, and asked my deckhand to crank on the downhaul and stand on the pushpit in order to release the snap shackle on the spinnaker pole. I had one hand on the pole and my face about 30cm behind. I have done that manoeuvre thousands of times while racing, but I did not realise that the downhaul was not properly tight. In the same moment I shot the spinnaker and the

pole came back about 30cm hitting me on the head, gently but enough to throw me overboard.

The bow of the boat almost passed over me at 12 knots, but I had just enough time to ask Luca to throw me a line, in the hope that I would manage to hold on it. Too late, too fast, too lucky. At least they knew I was overboard. The sun was down and the night at the tropics was quick. The ocean was breathing with waves of about 1m. The train of thought in my mind was – what now? I could see the boat becoming smaller and smaller in very few minutes. I had a jumper on soitwastooheavytoswimin,soIgot rid of it, thinking, ‘Will I be cold if I stay here longer?’ Then, suddenly, the blinking light of the man overboard pole stated to flash. Luca quickly threw a pole overboard. Silly enough, I told myself I had better swim to the light of the life pole, worried that I might lose this life-saving equipment

I had just purchased before the crossing! This probably saved my life. He sent the pole overboard, but

the clip stayed on, keeping the pole with the boat for a while, which added distance between me and the light. finally, it went loose, and with extreme skill he performed a perfect spin recover, started the engine and sailed back heading to the light. We almost got to the light at the same time, and i didn’t need a ladder in order to reclaim my ship. some of the crew were more distressed than i was. i learned that day that safety should come first in any action you undertake onboard.

Captain Dario Savino

a WEalth of KnoWlEdgE last year, i had a discussion with a client who happens to be a leader in his chosen industry about the difference between a master and a leader, as they are not necessarily the same thing. a good captain must be both at different times.

there is an undeniable value attained in leading in emergency situations. however, there is also great value to be gained prior to attaining command of one’s first vessel. in my career, prior to becoming captain, i had the good fortune of working for some

of the most experienced captains in yachting. during these years, the wealth of knowledge, both conscious and subconscious, that i was able to attain about the sea and the myriad facets within the yachting industry cannot be undervalued. these include seamanship, owner’s priorities,

“as an industry trying to grow in these economically lean times, what greater value can owners add to their yacht than a crew led

by a master well trained in every aspect of their chosen career?”

dealing with crew of varying ages, temperaments and nationalities, legal considerations and good management techniques, to name but a few. Even now as a captain, they are still a fantastic resource to me, and just a phone call away should i require a second opinion in a situation. it is these men, rather than any one single event, that have made me the captain i am.

sadly, i know of many yachts operating under the command of those who would benefit greatly from such experienced mentors. By no means

do i claim to have all the answers; however, when faced with a problem, i am able to draw on many more years experience, via my mentors, than i actually have. as an industry trying to grow in these economically lean times, what greater value can owners add to their yacht than a crew led by a master well trained in every aspect of their chosen career? Captain David Slee | M/Y Salu

CharaCtEr Building

i have been fortunate enough in my career not to have experienced any major accidents or events, but i do believe a captain needs to have a certain attitude to get the job done. this kind of attitude certainly helps their reputation and helps them to stay employed.

thinking back to the ‘90s, i was second officer on a large motoryacht when it went aground at night and i was assigned to organise the 25 crew to their respective muster stations. this was my first real experience in leading a reasonably large number of people and it went well, thus giving me more confidence in this area.

now that i’ve started to think, one incident of ‘do or die’ does come to mind. When i was running my first big displacement yacht, we were en route to greece in a moderate to rough sea, when one generator went down after a wave hit the side of the hull with such a clout it caused its armature to touch the stator, which then disintegrated. the engineer was unable to work due to chronic sea sickness, so i had to make emergency running repairs on the generator, which shortly, after a difficult start, developed a leak in its exhaust system after a poorly made modification by a previous engineer failed. this resulted in the cooling sea-water being pumped directly into the bilge.

i didn’t dare to shut down the only generator able to supply us with power because it was at times very difficult to restart, and being in such a sea,

this could prove disastrous. so i had no choice but to repair that leaking exhaust with the engine running. this was, in theory, a simple repair that involved sliding a hose over a pipe and fitting the hose clips, but with the engine running as well this was not so easy due to the heat, fumes and water being sprayed all over the place! also puking in the engine room bilges slowed things down a little. that kind of character-building thing, i’m sure, happens all the time. all good stuff! Captain Derek Prosser | M/Y Paraiso

A vAluAble Tool

one thing I would say concerning the incidents, accidents and hazardous occurrences is that they certainly lead to a rapid education. It is something that I have been keen to read more about, but things tend to be very much hidden in the yachting arena. I suspect this is to safeguard the captain’s position as they probably don’t want others to read about their misfortune.

With the advent of ISM these occurrences need to be documented and sent to the DPA for inclusion in the paper trail that is ISM. Therefore it would be logical for the management companies to make these incidents common knowledge even if these reports are circulated anonymously – I believe it would be of real value to the industry. This does not happen at present even within the individual management companies, never mind the wider field.

one reason that I have been working closely with Svitzer is that they have an unbiased position within the industry, having no interest in charter or brokerage. As they grow I believe this will be a valuable tool for the fleet.

I would like to write an article of incidents that I have had over the past 25 years of yachting, but fortunately for me, I have not had a major accident, that is involving insurance claims, during this time. Captain Grant Thompson M/Y Kogo


I can’t say that I remember any really bad experience that I could say ‘changed’ my life, but I do remember times that have made me rethink my attitude, way of operating, etc. We left baltimore and the Chesapeake, early in the afternoon, with a good weather forecast of maximum force four

to take us to bermuda. During the evening, the wind backed to south- west and increased rapidly. Around midnight, I decided to turn around and face into the increasing wind

and seas, wind measuring 60 knots plus and heave-to. We maintained a steady two to three knots headway to maintain steerage, all the time the yacht behaving like a bucking bronco. We had to maintain heading by hand, as the autopilot would not respond at that slow speed.

All things ended well and we arrived in bermuda 24 hours late. It made me rethink about how to evaluate crew. not everyone is as they first appear. We all have hidden attributes that come out under differing circumstances. I have been fortunate to see talents in some crew who were on other people’s ‘bad boys or girls’ list and was able to help them onto the straight and narrow. In fact, one or two have gone on to be successful captains and remained good friends. An important skill for a successful captain is being able to understand and get the best out of his crew.

Many events and minor

happenings have made me look carefully at what could have happened and think about better preparation for the future. The skill of a captain in navigation and seamanship is very rarely seen by an owner or charterer, but his main skills and presentation and personal appearance count very

“The skill of a captain in navigation and seamanship is very rarely seen by an owner or charterer, but his man skills and presentation and personal appearance count very highly.”

What made an impression on me was the way people behaved in a critical situation. All the deck crew were laid out with seasickness and were virtually useless; the chief engineer, although not sick, was in a state of panic, rushing up and down from the engine room saying that we were all going to die. The chef kept me going with light conversation and hot coffee, but what I remember most was when I needed to attend

to nature, it was the chief steward who was able to take over the helm and maintain a very tricky status quo with the enormous seas rushing at us. During the next 24 hours, with winds up to 90 knots, he alternated with

me at the helm and kept our head to wind. This steward had no formal training in ship handling but proved to be a natural.

highly. I would say I had some lucky breaks and made them work for me. I was able to work with my crew and get the best out of them, and I was able to understand very quickly what the owners or charterers expected. Captain Joe Russell

FIngerS CroSSeD

I have been very lucky to be put in the position of captain by my current employer, and very much feel that I am still learning my role and responsibilities as each day passes. I started working for my current employers four years ago as a chef on a Sunseeker 90 (28m) along with three other crewmembers: my wife, the stew; a great captain; and a very handy engineer – all of whom we remain great friends with.

When the company we work for decided to downsize yachts for a more sporty, sleek model – a Sunseeker Predator 74 (22m)– the captain and engineer decided to further their careers and follow the direction they wanted to go. The skipper found himself a bigger yacht to get to grips with (a 37m Heesen),

and our engineer decided to work for himself and set up his own freelance engineering service. That just left myself and my wife and the decision to train and become the skipper of the Predator. Not one to turn down an opportunity, I quickly worked out that my sea time accrued onboard the Sunseeker 90 and the experience

of handling another smaller vessel in and around the Florida Keys gave me the required sea time experience to qualify for the yacht master 200(gt) certificate. I studied hard for a good three months leading up to the course, got a great deal out of it and passed with flying colours.

Now, 15 months on, I have completed a selection of other successful courses to complement the yacht master – including medical First Aid, PWA instructor and AEC, to name a few.

We had a great summer season on the 74 without any issues – apart from the usual day-to- day challenges that ‘spring up’. So fingers crossed, touch wood, and here’s hoping that I don’t have to endure any kind of life-changing challenge/ disaster/horror story and can continue to learn from the mistakes and experiences of others. Anonymous

To comment on this article, email with subject: Tales from the Sea

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Creuza de mà di Fabrizio De Andre’

Dedicata a tutti coloro che per arte passione mestiere e necessita’ scelgono una creuza de ma’.

E ‘nt ‘a barca du vin ghe naveghiemu ‘nsc’i scheuggi

emigranti du rie cu’i cioi ‘nt’i euggi

finche’ u matin crescia’ da puèilu rechèugge

fre’ di ganeuffeni e dè figge

bacan da corda marsa d’aegua e de sà

che a ne liga e a ne porta ‘nte ‘na creuza de mà.

E nella barca del vino ci navigheremo sugli scogli

emigranti della risata con i chiodi negli occhi

finche’ il mattino crescera’ da poterlo raccogliere

fratello dei garofani e delle ragazze

padrone della corda marciad’acqua e di sale

che ci lega e ci porta in una mulattiera di mare

ho ascoltato una stupenda poesia alla radio e i miei pensieri sono tornati a navigare nelle acque dei Caraibi

Dereck Walcot

Adios Carenage

1 Adios, Carenage

In idle August, while the sea soft,
and leaves of brown islands stick to the rim
of this Carribean, I blow out the light
by the dreamless face of Maria Concepcion
to ship as a seaman on the schooner Flight.
Out in the yard turning gray in the dawn,
I stood like a stone and nothing else move
but the cold sea rippling like galvanize
and the nail holes of stars in the sky roof,
till a wind start to interfere with the trees.
I pass me dry neighbor sweeping she yard
as I went downhill, and I nearly said:
“Sweep soft, you witch, ‘cause she don’t sleep hard,”
but the bitch look through me like I was dead.
A route taxi pull up, park-lights still on.
The driver size up my bags with a grin:
“This time, Shabine, like you really gone!”
I ain’t answer the ass, I simply pile in
the back seat and watch the sky burn
above Laventille pink as the gown
in which the woman I left was sleeping,
and I look in the rearview and see a man
exactly like me, and the man was weeping
for the houses, the street, that whole fucking island.

Christ have mercy on all sleeping things!
>From that dog rotting down Wrightson Road
to when I was a dog on these streets;
if loving these islands must be my load.
out of corruption my soul takes wings,
But they had started to poison my soul
with their big house, big car, big time bohbohl,
coolie, nigger, Syrian and French Creole,
so I leave it for them and their carnival –
I taking a sea bath, I gone down the road.
I know these islands from Monos to Nassau,
a rusty head sailor with sea-green eyes
that they nickname Shabine, the patois for
any red nigger, and I, Shabine, saw
when these slums of empire was paradise.
I’m just a red nigger who love the sea,
I had a sound colonial education,
I have Dutch, nigger, and English in me,
and either I’m nobody, or I’m a nation,

But Maria Concepcion was all my thought
watching the sea heaving up and down
as the port side of dories, schooners, and yachts
was painted afresh by the strokes of the sun
signing her name with every reflection;
I knew when dark-haired evening put on
her bright silk at sunset, and, folding the sea,
sidled under the sheet with her starry laugh,
that there’d be no rest, there’d be no forgetting.
Is like telling mourners round the graveside
about resurrection, they want the dead back,
so I smile to myself as the bow rope untied
and the Flight swing seaward:”Is no use repeating
that the sea have more fish. I ain’t want her
dressed in the sexless light of a seraph,
I want those round brown eyes like a marmoset, and
till the day when I can lean back and laugh,
those claws that tickled my back on sweating
Sunday afternoons, like a crab on wet sand.”

As I worked, watching the rotting waves come
past the bow that scissor the sea like milk,
I swear to you all, by my mother’s milk,
by the stars that shall fly from tonight’s furnace,
that I loved them, my children, my wife, my home;
I loved them as poets love the poetry
that kills them, as drowned sailors the sea.

You ever look up from some lonely beach
and see a far schooner? Well, when I write
this poem, each phrase go be soaked in salt;
I go draw and knot every line as tight
as ropes in this rigging; in simple speech
my common language go be the wind,
my pages the sails of the schooner Flight.
But let me tell you how this business begin

A personal sea tale

Dear Martin ,
i think this is a great idea , and if you will forgive my poor english i will tell a story .

At the beginnign of my career I was master at the age of 19 on a beautiful swan 57 .
After two years in Med we finally had the opportunity to sail to the Caribbean.
Every thing was planned and prepared with care .
After the first leg to Canaries Island , we set sail to Antigua , and the trade winds soon start to be constat and gentle blowing.
Every one on board was glad of the winter left behind and the warming sun.
We had six people on board and set a watch system with dog watches , and enough time to sleep.
The good italian chef we had was baking bread every moring at 6 am, and we spend our time sailing happly.
I had set a rule in order to manage the watch sys, to drop the spinnaker half an hour before the sunset.
That day we where smoothly sailing on a nice 20 kn app.wind , the sun was about to set , but we kept postponing the moment to
shoot the spi gredy for the extra miles we where putting on the log.
When the sun finally started to dip the horizon i left the helm to my brother , asked my deck hand to crank on the downhaul

and standed on the pushpit in order to release the snap shackle on the spinnaker pole.
I had one hand on the pole and my face about 30 cm behind. I have done that manouver tousand of time while racing, but i

did not realised that the downhaul was not properly tight.
In the same moment i shoot the spi the pole came back about 30 cm hetting me ionn the head ,

gently but substantial enough to throw me overboard.
The bow of the boat almost pass over me at 12 kntos, i had just the time to say to my brother

”Luca throw me a line” in the vane hope to manage to hold on it.
Too late, too fast too lucky at least they knew i was overboard.
The sun was down and the night at the tropics was quick.
The ocean was breaathing with waves of about 1 mtr.
The trend of tought in my mind was and now?
i seen the boat become small and smaller in very few minutes.
I had a jumper was to heavvy to swim , i get read of it , thinking will i be cold if i stay longer?
Than suddenly the blinking light of the man overboard poole stated to flash.
Was awy from me but the boat was much further.
Silly enough , i told to my self , i better swim to the lights , i have just purchased, so when they will be back we wont waiste time for it.
This probably saved my life.
On board my brother Luca , was first faithing to try to give me a line , tha to throw that pole that had a small black safety plastic clip that once released will have activated the light.
He send the pole overboard but the clip stayed on keeping the poole with the boat for a while , and adding distance betwen me and the light.
Finally it went loose , with extreme skill he did a perfect spi recover, started the engine and sailed back heading to the light ,sure that the MOB was somewhere else due to the time that passed betwen the two splash.
We almost get to the light at the same time, and i didnt need any ladder in order reclaim my ship.
Some of the crew was more distressed than myself.

I learn SAFETY shall come first in any thing and action you do on board.

Dario Savino
Capitano di lungo corso.

Date: Fri, 18 Mar 2011 09:00:50 -0700

Subject: The Superyacht Report : Experience Counts – Lessons You Have Learned

Dear Dario,Last night I was talking over dinner with two very experienced and respected Captains of yachts

in excess of 100m, we discussed their experiences and backgrounds and what made them

rise to their commands, through their diverse careers. During the conversation the subject

of incidents, accidents and harrowing experiences was put on the table and even today these

two Captains who will remain anonymous, suggested that it was the accidents and incidents

that have shaped their career and made them good leaders and operators of their incredible

yachts. This lead me to generate the email I am sending you today, in order to explore what

has made you a great Captain.

So in your own words, I invite you to share with our readers a short account of your most

life changing, accident, incident, experience or happening that has made you an even

better person, Captain and leader of your crew. It could be a storm experience,

a dive accident, a grounding or anything that you remember as being significant

in making you what you are today.

The concept is to make this interesting reading for the Owners, fellow Captains and Crew,

plus the Industry at large, so they understand the issues you face and the experiences

you have encountered. It may also teach others through the important lessons you

have learned.

I thank you in advance for your interest and sharing your experiences and please

note that if you want to remain anonymous, please state so in your response,

but perhaps include the size of vessel and the location of the incident.

Please send all replies to by Monday 28th March 2011.

With kind regards


Martin H. Redmayne
Chairman & Editor in Chief
The Yacht Report Group
T: +44 (0)20 7924 4004
M: +44 (0)77 1177 4237
Mobile E:
Office E:


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