Paul Brackley

Globe trotter
Captain Paul Brackley has cruised the world’s oceans but now resides in Asia as captain of superyacht Ambrosia III. While in Hong Kong for
the Azimut/Benetti Yachtmasters Asia Conference Hillary Buckman spoke to Brackley about his rise through the ranks and where his next challenge lies.

Can you tell us how you started out in the yachting industry? How did you work your way up to becoming a superyacht captain?

At the bottom! I started unpaid on a German converted North Sea trawler from 1905 cruising the Gulf of Lyon. We had only a depth sounder, magnetic compass and a good book of lights! After this ‘baptism of fire’ I got onto a 50-metre classic motor yacht as deckhand, moving to second engineer when the opportunity arose. I eventually rose to chief on various yachts and eventually as relief engineer on Ambrosia II whilst at the same time studying for the MCA Class IV Master’s licence.

As engineer, many of my earlier yachts were sailing yachts where I combined the maintenance of sophisticated electro-hydraulic sail handling systems with watch keeping. Sailing yachts also travelled more extensively at that time whereas motor yachts frequently wintered in the Mediterranean.

Where have you spent most of your time cruising as a professional yachtsman?

That’s hard to remember. The earlier years were spent in the Med during summer and the Car- ibbean during winter with a bit of ‘R ‘n R’ in Palma in between. I also spent a lot of time in ship- yards, mainly in Viareggio and Livorno. In fact I spent so much time in Viareggio that I ended up buying the local restaurant, literally. Everyone is welcome to Il Bar Sotto il Mare in front of the Benetti main shed in Via Coppino, Italy.

You must have had some pretty exciting adventures in your time as a superyacht captain. What has been the most exhilarating and challenging to date?

That’s easier, It would have to be when our mast broke on a 38-metre sloop a few hours out of Funchal on the way to Antigua. We were heading due south to avoid another nasty depression that was tracking East when the mast snapped just above the first spreaders. This was quite a surprise as the manufacturer had just completed the annual survey and we were motor sailing with the mainsail completely furled. The swells were already quite big but we were able to se- cure the mast to the hull with very little damage occurring. However we were not able to motor and it was not safe to attempt to cut the mast.

We sent out a mayday from a jury rigged VHF and SSB and received replies from a merchant ship and the Portuguese navy who sent a helicopter. Cunning pilots offered to take the female crew off, which they did and then returned to Porto Santo. We remained waiting for a tow back to Funchal, which was only a few hours away. Unfortunately the weather worsened and by the time a Portuguese navy frigate arrived the waves were so bad their propellers were coming clear out of the water. Their captain instructed us to transfer to his ship as he could not remain on station as the forecast was for hurricane strength winds. We complied with his request stat- ing our intention to return as soon as possible. The rescue was quite tricky transferring to a Fast rescue boat and in fact one Portuguese sailor broke his arm quite badly recovering the boat.

After the passage of the storm we in fact recovered the yacht, but that would be another story altogether. It will suffice to say, we won the race.

Tell us what is your favourite aspect of being a superyacht captain?

It would have to be the travel. Let’s face it, we are always in fantastic places.

As build-captain for a number of Benetti Yachts including Lady Candy, Xanadu and Ambrosia III, can you tell us a little about the yard and your experience working with them?

I speak adequate Italian and find working with the Italian craftsmen and technicians very re- warding. I prefer to have meetings on board with the guys rather than around a table with office people who don’t understand the practical issues. After so many years, I am allowed a certain freedom to do this that is not possible anywhere else.

In general, what has been the most rewarding experience working with the owners throughout these builds?

The moment when Lady Candy came out of the shed for the first time was quite incredible! Unfortunately I was not there but at the airport meeting the boss. I really enjoy the creative element, finding solutions to owner’s problems.

What can you tell us about your current role with M/Y Ambrosia III?

We are coming up for the 10-year Lloyds survey and also doing a major cosmetic refit. I am also trying to upgrade a few systems, especially propulsion control, to improve reliability and economy.

What is your favorite design characteristic on this yacht?

This has to be the art deco interior from Francois Zuretti.

With your new-build experience, what is the best advice you could pass on to an own- er considering building a new yacht?

Time spent on design and a comprehensive specification will save far more in the long run and lead to a better yacht.

Where would you recommend for yacht owners to explore in the Asia Pacific region?

Fiji has the most to offer. Polynesia was also good, especially the Marquesas Islands, but they are after all, well, French.

So what’s next for you?

I am looking more into the new build side, though in smaller yachts for the Asian market, and possibly even creating a new brand based on the design and operating success of Central Yacht.

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