Captains’ Club Spotlight: Capt. Mark Delstanche of M/Y Yalla

16 June 2023 By Lauren Beck

Lauren Beck is the former editor of Dockwalk and was with the publication from 2006 to 2023. At 13, she left South Africa aboard a 34-foot sailing boat with her family and ended up in St. Maarten for six years. Before college, she worked as crew for a year, and then cut her journalistic teeth at Better Homes and Gardens and Ladies’ Home Journal online. She loves traveling, reading, tennis, and rooting for the Boston Red Sox.

The BOAT International Captains’ Club welcomes more than 160 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. Mark Delstanche, a seasoned adventurer who has climbed Everest, rowed to the Magnetic North Pole, and rowed solo from New York to London, among other achievements. Here he shares his journey to becoming a captain, his most memorable moment on board, plus his top crew tip.

How did you get into yachting? 

Ultimately it was my dad, although he has nothing to do with yachting. We had a lot of adventures growing up and he got me into sailing at 15 after watching an episode of a bad soap opera and decided that we should give it a bash. Over the intervening years, we would go away on family sailing trips mainly in the wet and cold with the wind blowing in the wrong direction, which my dad and I loved. I followed in my dad's footsteps and joined the London Fire Brigade at 20, but after seven years' service, I got itchy feet. A chance conversation with a colleague who told me that you could, in fact, earn money sailing boats, so after researching, I resigned and set off to the Isle ofWight to do my Yachtmaster Offshore ticket. Having no clue about superyachts and having sailed mainly where a 15-meter drew a lot of attention, it was a shock when I turned up in Antibes. I started yachting later at 28, but with life experience under my belt, and I set out to rise through the ranks as quickly as possible on motor yachts and gained my Master 3000 ticket and first position as master within a shade over five years. In hindsight, I'd have probably done better to bide my time and learn the ropes more thoroughly before taking command, but thankfully not too many mistakes were made.

Where is your top spot for diving?

The Tobago Cays has got to be up there as one of the best spots I’ve personally been to in the yachting industry. (Anybody reading this who has not been chained to the milk run will no doubt be up in arms.)

Where is your favorite destination for cruising? 

I prefer the more off-the-beaten-track and authentic places. There are still some great, relatively unspoiled cruising grounds in the south of the Caribbean, and the west coast of Corsica still has some lovely spots. I spent a season cruising around the Black Sea some years ago, taking in Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine, and Russia, which was fascinating. We started in Lebanon and took in Syria and Turkey along the way.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a captain?

That depends if we're talking about winning the lottery or still having to work! Lottery win would be split between spending time with my family, going on new adventures, and pottering about making "stuff' in my workshop. If l still had to work and money wasn't an object, I'd quite like to try my hand at cabinet making. 

If you were marooned on a desert island, which crewmember would you want with you? 

First thought was the chef, for obvious reasons, but I enjoy cooking myself and I get possessive when I'm in the kitchen, so maybe not the best idea if there's a single fire. Engineers are always handy, but I like to mend things too. One of the stews might be an idea as they're generally a bit chattier than the others, although I do love a bit of solitude. Maybe I'll just have to go for the biggest one in case I get really hungry.

What has been your most memorable moment on board? 

It was not a good one! My first job as captain was in Ibiza in terrible weather. The guests wanted to go ashore, so the plan was to nose into the harbor entrance to get the tender off (we didn't have zerospeed stabilizers) and the guests ashore and then potter around until they came back. The crux ofit was that all went well until there was a small fire in the engine bay of the tender, the extinguishing system didn't work, the guests then decided to jump in the harbor for their own safety into a swarm of jellyfish, and I almost got arrested by the coast guard after I dropped anchor in the middle of the harbor as I didn't have enough crew to launch the other tender. Apart from that, being made an omelet by one of the Saudi royal family in exchange for my mum's sticky toffee pudding recipe has to be one of the more memorable moments.

Biggest crew challenge you deal with as captain? 

Finding good, new crew to fit in with the overall dynamic is always tricky. We have very strong heads of department and good retention, which makes things a lot easier, but it takes a lot of time and effort to make sure we get the right people. 

What is your top tip for other captains? 

Be grateful for where you are and what you do for a living. We are all very blessed!

This article was originally published in the March 2023 issue of Dockwalk.


More from Dockwalk