Written by Hillary Buckman
Photography by Ocean Magazine
Name: Paul Brackley
Current Yacht: Ambrosia III
Previous Yachts: AMB Fantasia/Land’s End, Candida A, Philanderer, Beaugeste, Blue Narwhal II, Ambrosia II, Magdalus III, Espiritu Santo, Xanadu, Lady Candy
OCEAN: How did you start 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.
OCEAN: 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 Caribbean during winter with a bit of ‘R ‘n R’ in Palma in between. I also spent a lot of time in shipyards, 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.
OCEAN: 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 secure 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 stating 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.
OCEAN: If you could cruise to one place in the world you haven’t already visited, where would you go?
Probably the west coast of America from Alaska through to Canada and the USA to Mexico.
OCEAN: You have been based in Hong Kong since 2003, what do you like most about living there?
I really enjoy mountain biking and doing at least an hour every night in Tai Lam country park with a 1,000-foot climb (and descent) before a cold beer at Le Bristol. On weekends, I go for longer tours and find the contrast between the bustle of city and the calm of nature to be quite relaxing. I have seen monkey, deer, porcupine and even cobra. Lan Kwai Fong? Where’s that?
OCEAN: Tell us a little about your company Central Yacht Ltd and what it specialises in?
We started off just surveying and representing owners, but with Xanadu we got more into the design, especially of the sundeck and various toys, including the tender. From that it was a short step to developing an entirely new arrangement that I new would be practical, efficient and luxurious. This was Lady Candy, which we presented to the eventual owner and was built in Livorno in 2013. We just delivered another 55-metre vessel based on Lady Candy (though not its exterior style, which reverts to Benetti), and she arrived in Hong Kong late this year. We also advise on marina, port facilities and crewing.
OCEAN: 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 rewarding. 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.
OCEAN: 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.
OCEAN: What can you tell us about your current role with MY 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.
OCEAN: What is your favourite design characteristic on this yacht?
This has to be the art deco interior from Francois Zuretti.
OCEAN: With your new-build experience, what is the best advice you could pass on to an owner 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.
OCEAN: Do you cruise out of Hong Kong waters frequently? Are there many places to visit?
We used to go frequently to Hong Kong Island for weekends and occasionally Sai Kung. The locations are fantastic. Even if the water is not very clear, they are much quieter than the Med or Caribbean. Recently (since the Lamma ferry accident) yachts are not allowed to cruise, which is very unfortunate. There are ways around this but shall we say not strictly kosher.
OCEAN: Do you have some advice for an owner thinking of bringing a yacht to Asia to cruise for a season?
Stock the freezer and go to the remote places. Make sure the tender is reliable!
OCEAN: 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.
OCEAN: Have you ever encountered problems cruising in this part of the world? Are there any issues you think could be improved on?
China is an issue, Hong Kong has some problematic visa issues for various nationalities, but in general the authorities are very helpful and shore support is very professional. Nobody should be worried about coming to Asia, everyone is there to help or give advice.
OCEAN: What advice do you have for governments and the superyacht industry to encourage private visiting superyachts to this region?
Hong Kong should be the Monaco of Asia with a great city and beautiful anchorages within minutes of the financial centre. A vibrant superyacht environment would bring huge advantages to the city.
OCEAN: 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.