The BOAT International Captains’ Club welcomes more than 150 superyacht captains in its ranks. The idea behind the club is to help facilitate contact and the exchange of information and experiences for superyacht captains. This issue’s Q&A features Capt. James Halsall on a 48-meter Bilgin as he shares his determination to break into yachting, his closest call, plus his top crew issue and tips for captains.
How did you get into yachting?
I left high school in Auckland, New Zealand, at the same time as the America’s Cup was on in the Viaduct Harbour, Auckland. I was fascinated with the superyachts and the crew atmosphere. I tried to get a job on a few of the yachts in the harbor but got turned away as I had no experience. I was only 17 years old and the biggest boat I had sailed on was an Optimist! As I was still determined to break into yachting, I visited Sunsail in Auckland to ask for a job. Unfortunately, I had the same response and they asked me to come back when I had some experience. Later that week, I came across a job for a car detailer working with exotic cars. One year to the day, I quit my job as a car detailer and visited Sunsail again. I said, “Remember me?” Shane Walker, the owner of Sunsail, said I was very determined and offered me a permanent job as the dock assistant. I was very grateful for this fantastic position as I learned so much. One year later, I was offered a job on a small local charter superyacht (with eight owners) in the Pacific as the deckhand. I stayed on for almost three years. The rest is history as I went on to travel the world and climb the ranks to captain over a 20-year period. I have been a captain for over 10 years now.
What would you be doing if you weren’t a captain?
Where is your favorite destination for cruising?
I have traveled to more than 70 countries and still believe New Zealand has an incredible cruising ground. There are so many beautiful anchorages that feel like they are off the beaten track, but you still have some of the best refit/repair facilities on hand if you need it.
If marooned on a desert island, which crewmember would you want with you?
I would have to go for the chief engineer. Definitely need someone good at making something out of nothing.
Where is still on your yachting bucket list?
Where is your top spot for snorkeling/diving?
Best memory for snorkeling is the small reefs and islands around Mamanuca Islands, Fiji. We anchored in Likuliku Bay before they built the resort, and it was stunning. Diving would be Seychelles or Galapagos.
What has been your most memorable moment on board?
The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. We were heading to Phuket from Australia and lost one of our main engines. We were due to pick up charter guests off Patong Beach in Phuket on Boxing Day, but as there was no MTU service dealer there, we had to cancel the charter and leg it to Singapore. I woke up to the newspaper on the deck in Raffles Marina to the news of the tsunami. This was a lucky escape. We spent the next month delivering medical supplies and doctors to Banda Aceh, Sumatra.
What’s your best trick for guests if the weather is poor?
... If the weather is bad, then a trivia night or themed lunch or dinner keeps them entertained. Otherwise, if it was just a bit of rain, I would get ALL the inflatable toys out, connect them all together to create a massive assault course. We call it the Ninja Warrior challenge. Crew vs Guests. Ninja outfits are supplied. Fastest team to get around the assault course wins. We record the whole event on the drone. This is always a winner. Probably no good if it was blowing 30 knots, though.
Biggest crew challenge you deal with as captain?
You are not just their leader; quite often you are there to listen to struggles they might have or try to comfort them when there is a family grievance at home. My door is always open for crew that need to have a chat. Sometimes there is nowhere else for them to go. This can be a challenge when you have everything else going on, but without the crew the whole program would fail. I always pride myself on having happy and well-looked-after crew.
What is your one top tip for other captains?
Manage expectations — owners, guests, managers, and crew. Avoid disappointment. Be transparent.
This article was originally featured in the June 2022 issue of Dockwalk.
For more featured captains:
- Captains' Club Spotlight: Capt. Marcus Desaunois
- Captains’ Club Spotlight: Capt. William “Beez” Evans
- Captains' Club Spotlight: Capt. Aaron Clark of M/Y Artefact