Kelly Gordon is a superyacht captain and a passionate yacht crew mentor who followed her curiosity and pushed herself to 'go for it'!
Kelly is one of those captains that make you excited to be a part of the industry since her positivity makes you believe that anything is possible. After all, she herself has had the most interesting path that ended with her becoming a yacht captain. Born and raised in central Indiana, Kelly first worked as a chemistry professor before discovering yachting and working up to getting her Master 500GT licence.
Maybe it's the role of a professor that set Captian Kelly out to teach and mentor her crew, making her well known for inspiring the younger generations. So much so that she has been featured in world class publications such as Business Insider and Forbes that have praised her for her unique abilities.
We have had the pleasure of connecting with Captain Kelly to chat with her about her career, things that guide her in her job and tip&tricks she's learned along the way.
How did you find yourself in yachting?
I grew up the FURTHEST from anything yachting! I grew up on a farm in a little town in Middle America, Indiana, to be specific. The largest body of water that I knew was the tiny little lake that we would go to during the summer months where my Grandma had a little cottage. I have always loved the water, been a swimmer, and loved our little 16' fish and ski that we had growing up as kids, but that was THE extent of my boat knowledge!
After pursuing my BS in Chemistry, I went on to get my MS in Chemistry in Eastern NC and this is where I found the ocean and reallllly big boats! Little did I know, those were yachts! This is where it all began! Specifically, I was invited to a party onboard, I was intrigued, and remarked that I could drive this thing! I didn't even know bow from stern! And, it was that brief remark that was enough to get me started.
What is your current cruising area?
The Bahamas and Florida Keys.
You've spent a lot of time cruising in the Lake Michigan. How does that compare to cruising in the salty sea waters? What are the considerations?
This is a very good question! Some may think that because it is a lake that the skill required to safely operate is less than what is required on the salty sea waters and that couldn't be further from the truth. The weather patterns and wave structures are quite different than what you experience on the seas. For example, wave heights of 3-5' won't keep you from setting sail on the seas, but they likely will on the lakes as the intervals are much shorter. This results in a very steep and choppy sea which can become quite dangerous. Microbursts are common during the summer and can sneak up on you if you aren't watching the weather. And remember, it was the Edmund Fitzgerald that met her demise on the Great Lakes.
What's a thought that's guided you through your career?
Just one! I have at least a few that have guided me. 1. ) Live everyday with your eyes wide open for opportunity and be ready to punce when it presents itself. 2. ) Never be afraid to ask questions or make mistakes-that's how you learn. 3. ) Remain confident in yourself and what you know.
What aspect of being a yacht captain do you most enjoy?
Wow! This is a tough one because there are so many aspects of being a captain that I enjoy. From the technical aspect, I love navigation and boat handling. On the personal side of things, I love the relationships that I get to build all over the world with all different walks of life. It really is the people that make this industry. I recently had an emergency on board and if it wasn't for all of the close relationships that I have cultivated over the years with the Bahamians, I would not have been able to have gotten my crew member the help that he needed as efficiently and quickly as we did.
What is something you look for in crew you recruit?
When I am recruiting crew, I look for team players. Yes, we all have our departments to run, but I want crew onboard that are always willing to help out in areas that may need it from time to time. I also look for a strong work ethic and eagerness to learn. You don't have to come to the vessel with an over-the-top knowledge of your department-you can be taught skill, but you can't be taught work ethic and desire to learn by the time you are pursuing a career in yachting.
Read also: Meet Yacht Captain Pierre Phippaz
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Confident, patient, bubbly
How would you describe your management style?
My management style is a combination of a couple-coaching and democratic. The coaching management style describes me perfectly as I was a chemistry professor in my last career which explains my love for teaching. I find it very rewarding to see my crew members grow and learn, so I love to share my knowledge with them. My crew often say that I am very patient when they make mistakes, and I would have to agree as I am a firm believer that mistakes offer learning opportunities.
The democratic management style also describes me well as I often look to my crew to participate in the decision-making process. I highly value my crew's diversity of ideas and appreciate that doing so makes the crew feel valued, boosts their morale, and forges a healthy, trusting relationship between all of us! Ultimately, I'll approve of all decisions, but certainly encourage the crew to share their knowledge and experience.
What would you say is your favourite port?
I don't have a favourite port, rather, I have a favourite country - The Bahamas! I just love it there! But, if I have to get more specific, it'd be the Exumas. Ok, maybe I do have a favourite port-Compass Cay. They're like family to me there.
What is your favourite anchorage?
Obrien's in the Exuma Cays
Private or charter?
Charter! Hands down! This goes back to loving navigation and boat handling and running a busy charter boat allows me to fulfil this desire. I enjoy meeting new people and welcome the challenge of showing them a good time. Seeing the reactions of people's faces when they snorkel the Thunderball Grotto for the first time or swim with the sharks at Compass Cay is so rewarding. I get to take people to places they might have never gone and experience it in a way that they likely never would.
Who would be your dream charter guest?
-My mom. And my siblings, sister-in-law, and nieces/nephew. I would love to show them what we (me and my crew) do! They have somewhat seen it before, but not at this level. We have all grown up in the simple life in a small town in the middle of Indiana-far from all things yachting. So, to be able to show them and share with them what I do would be the most rewarding of all. My heart would be full.
What would you be if you weren't a yacht captain?
That's an easy one! A veterinarian. I had always wanted to be a vet as a child and young adult. In fact, I got into vet school right out of undergraduate school. However, I chose not complete vet school as I was young, 22, and scared. I had a whole host of reasons in my head at that time that made sense, but certainly don't now! But, it's that path that got me to where I am today and I am the happiest I have ever been!
What are your tips & tricks for a happy charter guest?
Oh! That's a good question, too! And there's a lot more than what you might think that goes into this. I wouldn't call it tips & tricks so much as I'd rather think of it as being prepared. My crew and I are prepared from top to bottom. We like to really study the preference sheets to get to know the guests and have a phone call with them to learn if there is something special someone is celebrating and what their likes/dislikes are. The crew do a great job really listening and paying attention to what the guests say and do when they first arrive to gauge what they will need to be happiest. We spend a lot of time planning excursions, activities, and games. Really, it's a lot of time preparing, planning, and trying to learn as much about your guests as you can prior to their arrival.
What is an especially hairy yachting situation you remember finding yourself in and how have you dealt with it?
I'll never forget this one and I use this situation as an example of what can happen at sea when I'm working with younger crew. I had done all of my homework-checked the weather over and over, checked my route over and over, and was confident that I could weigh anchor and head to Great Exuma. Let me say again, I had checked the weather over and over and even reached out to another captain that had just taken that route a few hours prior. He said the sea conditions were great. So, I weighed anchor and headed out.
All was great until a microburst formed, and a nasty storm reared its head. That wasn't so much the problem though. The problem was that the vessel I was in command of had a vent at the level of the lazarette and we had beam seas. Just inside this vent was the battery charger. As the battery charger continually got doused with salt water, the boat caught fire.
My crew and I were able to put the fire out and limp into shore without any injury to the crew and little insult to the vessel. The point is, if you are at sea often enough things can and will go wrong, so you must train and train to be prepared for it.
What are your goals now moving forward?
Goals! I always have quite a few-big and small, and I really think that it's important to have a range of goals that you have set for yourself! My biggest and next goal-my Master 3000 GT. This will allow me to move up in the size of vessel I can run. The sky really is the limit!
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