Being a yacht captain is by no means an easy task but, when you have 15 years of experience under your belt, you learn the role pretty well. This is the case with one of our experienced yacht captains, Pierre Phippaz whose long career took him everywhere from the Bahamas, Florida, Thailand and the Mediterranean Sea.
We talked to captain Pierre to find out what his views are on what it means to be a successful yacht captain, what are his favourite hidden destinations, and what he looks for when hiring crew.
Captain Pierre is a qualified MCA Master 3000GT with 15 years of experience as a yacht captain and is currently looking for his next professional challenge and commitment.
1. What is a typical day in the life of a yacht captain?
This depends on the time of the year. Whether it is during the season or off-season. A typical off-season day starts at 7:30 or 8:00 am and finishes around 6:00 pm on a good day, but it usually goes on longer. It involves maintenance, budget management and repairs.
During the season we focus on guest's fun. There is a constant need to maintain the vessel so everyone from the engineering department to the interior department is involved and contributes to that. We start the morning with meetings with each department in order to make plans and in the evening I like to debrief on those plans. Between that, there are meetings with the guests to see where they would like to go. We make plans for them to have the most fun. This then has to be confirmed with the crew so we can perform like a well-oiled machine.
I am also monitoring everyone's duties and jumping into my logistic worries and all the legal paperwork needed when going from one place to another. We want to minimize the number of times we change countries and every change has to go as smooth as possible. But for every plan there is also a contingency plan because plans are made to change. You never know what problem you might encounter and you have to be ready and not allow your guests to feel it.
2. What are some things that a yacht captain is responsible for doing that the rest of the crew might not be aware of?
I would like to point out that we are primarily responsible for everyone's wellbeing and safety on board and I'm not sure that's always completely clear to everyone. Sometimes I hear complaints such as: "Why is the captain coming into our cabins to check them? ". It's not because I don't trust you, it's because it's my responsibility. I have to constantly make sure that the crew and the boat are protected. I have to make sure that nobody is creating danger or potential risks by, for example, leaving computers on pillows, leaving pillows near the halogen lights or leaving water to rot in the shower.
Another thing we are responsible for is all the logistics and problem solving. And there is a lot of that. This requires a lot of communication. So, the crew might wonder what the captain is doing on his computer or his phone all the time. We spend a lot of time sending Whatsapp messages because it allows us to send pictures to the contractors etc. and that works very well when we have a problem to solve.
3. When you are interviewing crew for your boat, what do you look for in a new crew member? What are some things that impress you and some things that especially put you off?
I pay the most attention to attitude and energy. Specifically, on my last boat I needed people with a lot of energy so I had to look for signs of that. It's a very subjective thing so sometimes we make mistakes too. I normally look for motivation and interest in the position. I try to see how does the position fit within their career path. Because it's important that they're not taking the job just to take it but because they really want it.
What impresses me is when someone is ready to commit, they are available immediately and they really want the job. I really want to give a chance to people like that.
And what puts me off is when people are too casual during the interview. When they say things like "Hey mate... ", "Hey buddy... ". I'm not your mate, I'm not your buddy, I am your Captain. You can call me Pierre, I am fine with it, but you have to show me respect in the way you are speaking to me.
After the Interview, I normally debrief with the candidate and share with him/her my appreciation of their performance, in order to make the experience constructive for their own benefit.
4. What makes a great team onboard a yacht?
Good communication. That's why I was talking before about meetings and making plans. We have to meet in order for everybody to be on the same page. We also meet again if there is a change of plans and then we debrief. We talk about what was good, what could have been better, and question ourselves. It's important to get everybody's opinion and communicate on things.
5. What are some ways you keep your crew happy?
I do a lot of crew dinners during the season. Normally at least one between trips. I really like that and it also means that the chef can finally rest and doesn't need to cook. It's nice to be outside the boat and have nice chats about other things than work.
Also, sometimes, when we are at anchor, I allow the crew to go for some water skiing or jet skiing. This is especially good for the stews because they are normally always inside watching everybody having fun outside. So it's good for them to be able to experience that a little.
In Monaco one winter we also did speleology. There is one cave in Monaco in the Exotic garden where you can go down using special equipment. The whole crew did that and it was very fun.
6. What is your favourite part of being a yacht captain?
Having the feeling that I'm giving my guests the time of their life. Discovering new things with them and the excitement of that discovery. I love to see the joy on their faces and I want to try to renew that every day.
I love astonishing them. To take them to restaurants they haven't been to before, to bring them to anchor in beautiful places and hear them just go: "Wow! ". I really enjoy that.
7. What are the best parts of the Mediterranean, in your opinion?
There is a place called Kekova in the south of Turkey. It's an island enclosed in a bay so it's very protected. You don't get any waves or swells. I like to anchor there and be stern to the rocks with lines secured to the rocks. Then you have a private beach behind the boat and you put all the toys in the water and can enjoy the water activities.
There is also a sunken village here halfway underwater and you can cruise this village. There is actually nothing written about it. It just exists and we know it was a fishing village but that's about everything we know about it according to the locals. It's kind of mystical and beautiful to look at. Then, on the other side, you have a medieval castle which is a perfect place to go watch the sunset. It's just amazing, you can't really describe it.
I would also say Croatia. I love Croatia because there is a lot to do there and it's very rich in landscape and different types of villages. And what's good is that you are not so affected by bad weather because there are so many islands offering protection. When you go to Sibenik or Skradin that's one kind of experience and then you go to Kornati and that's another experience, then Dubrovnik is a completely different experience. So it's a really nice place to be.
If we are talking about places to eat, for lunch it would be Bella Vista in Antipaxos, Greece. And my favourite dinner place would be restaurant Mimoza in Gümüşlük, Turkey.
View from the Bella Vista restaurant in Antipaxos, Greece. Photo from the private library of captain Pierre Phippaz.
8. Which do you like better: the Mediterranean or the Caribbean?
I like to operate boats better on the Caribbean side. I think it's more casual and less administrative so I find it more fun. It's funny because, when we joke around about a yacht captain being cool and relaxed, we call him a 'Caribbean captain'. And there is something charming about it. It's not negative. I really love the Bahamas, it's one of my favourite places.
But the Med is also really beautiful and my family is here so it is actually really convenient for me to be here.
9. What is your favourite port that you've been to?
It's Atlantis in Paradise Island in the Bahamas. Because it's just something different. I mean I also like to go to Portofino, Porto Cervo, St. Tropez, or Trogir in Croatia. But Atlantis is kind of complete. It brings you into a different world. It's a typical American resort and they do things a bit theatrical there but at the same time, there is a warm feeling around it. And it's a beautiful place. It's called Paradise Island for a reason.
10. What is your favourite spot to take your guests to?
It would be either Kekova in Turkey or Harbour Island in the Caribbean. I also love to take them to the Thunderball cave in the Exumas. It's really amazing there. You go swimming and you have fish in all the different colours come around you and then you see the sharks and it's just great. And you can come on top of the cave and jump through the hole inside the cave. There are just not many places in the world where you can do that.
11. Can you think of a particularly challenging charter you've done?
I had these guests that wanted to do a one-week trip and they wanted to start in Ostia near Rome, Italy. From there they wanted to go to Ponza. From Ponza they wanted to go to Capri. From Capri to Porto Cervo. From Porto Cervo to Bonifacio. From Bonifacio to Cavallo Island. From Cavallo to Porto Vecchio. And then from Porto Vecchio back to Ostia. All in one week.
And the thing with that is there is a lot of mileage but they don't want to cruise during the day. So you have to cruise during the night because the day is made for fun. But that makes things complicated for the crew because then the sleeping hours are not there. And the next day you want to have the boat completely clean, the toys in the water and the boat fully operational. So that was a very challenging charter.
12. Do you have any tricks or advice for dealing with the stress of the job?
Stay focused. The more extreme a situation is, the calmer you need to be. Keep prioritising. At some point, facing certain situations, what used to be your priority is not even your secondary priority anymore. You have to focus, change your priority, accept that you have to change priority and focus on the new priority. Always remain calm. If your crew are disturbing you, politely ask them to stay away and clear your thoughts. You will always come up with a solution.
13. What makes a successful yacht captain?
I think you need to be able to wear different hats and switch them without effort because you have to do it constantly. You also have to be rigorous and able to plan. Flexibility and adaptability are mandatory in this industry because you have to make plans that may never happen and very often bounce from one to another. It is all about following your plans as long as the circumstances are allowing it and be able to switch plans when the circumstances change. So it's very important to constantly adapt and be flexible.
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