Anton Cherkasov interviews the captain Joseph Chalhoub
Before starting this interview, I would like to remind you an ancient country called Phoenicia, do you remember that? It was on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean and it had a very strong tradition in culture, trade and sailing. Actually, the Phoenicians reached the Canary Islands just 3.500 years ago. Probably you may remember the pictures of their war ships called trireme…it should be really though to be a captain of those boats! Nowadays Lebanon is the homeland of Phoenicians therefore I would like to ask you, Joseph, how do you keep the tradition, how do you develop the maritime culture in your Country?
Hello everybody, my name is Joseph Chalhoub. Since 1990 I’ve been a captain in the shipping department, then I got a transfer to the yachting industry. It is difficult to say how we keep this culture going on: actually, it crosses generations. Years ago, Lebanon was planned to have a new Maritime Academy in Beirut but we all know of the tragic Civil war that engulfed Lebanon between 1975 and 1990. In 2009, we were able to launch the new Maritime Academy in Beirut to keep up this tradition and to promote the boating culture.
All right, so, as you can see, Joseph is not just a captain, he is also a keen educator. How do you encourage your students when you teach them the sailing techniques?
The best thing is to transfer them the experience of a lifetime. Moreover, I help them finding the right job. For us Lebanese the market is smaller: it’s not to compare it with the European or the American but we keep on trying to become bigger.
When you have at least one person that doesn’t speak Arabic in your class, you speak in English, is it right?
Usually all the lessons are in English; from a certain level, like the boat masters and the yacht master courses, for example, all the technical world are in English. The main course, the introduction, is in Arabic. The other parts are in English since we even have foreigners who doesn’t know Arabic. We have the IMO white list, that means we are teaching according to the SCTW and SCTW. The IMO, for example, has English levels from 1 up to 6 in its certificate and that is what we are trying to achieve.
Joseph is the captain of Benetti Black Rose which was built in 2005 so now she is a pretty seasoned lady. How is she feeling now?
I’m in the yachting industry working with the same owner since 2001, it is almost 16 years. We started with AZIMUT, then in 2005 we gave the order to have a new yacht, a Benetti Classic. We had her in 2006 and now we keep working on this boat, she always looks brand new.
Do you know how many Benetti’s yachts are in Lebanon?
At the moment we have 3 Benetti yachts.
Yesterday, during the interview, Roberto was telling us about the longevity of the crew and also confirmed that it’s incredible when the members stay together for 3/5 years. I’m sure that most of you won’t believe that Joseph has had his crew for 15 years now: the same people working together. How do you manage to get people together?
Actually, it’s not so hard…at least I’m sharing my experience! My case probably won’t work for everybody but I try to explain it to you as far as possible. I’m trying to keep them because I share with them everything. Our aim is to satisfy the owner. This is our target. We use the boat 4 months a year and the rest of the year we are in Lebanon in the Marina. During this period, I’d rather let them shifts than force them to be on board all week long. In my opinion, the most important thing is the safety of the boat. When the weather is bad, for example, they should all be on board. The most engaging part for the crew is not to invite them for dinner or for a drink: it’s to share their problems instead, because when you are on board there is no privacy, neither for the owner or for the crew. I try to face every problem with them. Here’s an example: if someone in the house has a problem, a short of money for example, I try to give his money in advance, because I know he has financial difficulties. I try to solve everyone’s problem like it’s mine: that’s why they are by my side since 2002. In my team I have 3 Lebanese, one is from Ghana and one from Philippines: they’re from all over the world.
That's interesting! So, you don't have the problem of hiring new people. If you’ll need to find new team players, what will be the discriminating factor for your choice?
For my part, it is very hard to find the right crew because you will always be convinced that the one you have is the best. From the cv or at first sight it is very difficult to understand if the person you are in front of is right for the team or not. For a private sector like ours is easier than for charters because you can take your time, during the winter, to test them.
Ok then. Earlier you mentioned that you have worked for the same owner since 2001. So it's again 16 years you have been together and obviously you've became a family. Could you please tell your colleagues what's your recipe for keeping good relations with the owner?
We’re a family, it’s true, but in the end, I’m the Captain and he’s the owner. I must respect him and his family all the time. I start working with him when he had only 1 son who was 10 years old and now he’s become 26 years old. Obviously we’re friends but even if we are, in front of his guests, for example, we respect our positions.
That's pretty fair. What is your usual destination during the season? Where do you spend most of your summer?
We start the season in the Greek islands, then we go in the west coast of Italy, then we go to France, from France sometimes we go to Spain, sometimes not. For example, in the Mediterranean, Corsica and Sardinia are our usual destinations.
Is the Lebanon an interesting destination for yachts that are close Cyprus. Would you recommend them to stop by a day or two to see Beirut and is it hard to pass all the formalities to enter the Country on the boat?
In general terms, no, it is not difficult: I’ve been to Greece, Italy, France, Mediterranean and the formalities are always the same. In Lebanon, there are just some different regulation to enter and that’s all. There are lots of places to visit, whether the beach or the sea: I would recommend you visit this country because it’s stunning. We are, let’s say, on the beach in half an hour and in 45 minutes maximum you can be on the mountains skiing. Enchanting.
Yesterday we were discussing about some training techniques, can you please share with us which special schemes do you use when you prepare your students to be future captains?
We’re a team, I’m not alone, but I’m still the chief of the department in Lebanon. Every time we teach people we actually share our experience as far as possible, we always try to be a step ahead. We start the educations in Lebanon in 2012, it was hard to start from zero; you have to pick up all the pieces from IMO, from MCA, from all the Country who have a solid maritime education, especially in the yachting sector. We collect them all and we make the best for our Country. In the Yacht Master Off Shore, that is dedicated to boats over 35 meters, when our students will use arpa or radar, they’ll must know how to plot first, so we teach them how to plot by hand. The same occurs with the communications or the electronic charts: we are now teaching them to use technology. Now they are forced by the shipping department, but those systems have been on the boats since 2000. That’s why we try to keep their level high.
I don't think that you can pretty often meet a Lebanese captain in the Mediterranean. So where do all the students who graduated from the yachting department go, where do you think they usually find a job?
Lebanon is a really small country but we have 3 Marinas full of yachts, that are about 60% under 15 meters and the rest 40% over 15 meters. They are owned most of them by Lebanese, and the others owned by Arabian people from the Gulf or Saudi Arabia.
A few of them are working in Europe, but these is not enough. We teach to a lot of captains in Lebanon so it’s not easy for them to find a yacht. That’s the reason why at the conferences we try to focus on Lebanon to show other countries the skills of our people, their education also sharing their cv.
I know you have 3 children, right? Would you like your son, when he'll grow up, to be a captain?
They'll have a great father to teach them the skills! Are there any questions from the audience?
If I understand well your question you are asking me about the winter season…I’m on board 2 times a week, on Wednesday and on Saturday. During the other days, I keep in touch with the crew onboard. Two days a week I go where the boat is, I check and see if I have something to do and if they did something wrong or whatever. I think 2 days it’s enough.
AC: That’s what you get from working with the same owner for 15 years!