The bragging went on for days until I found myself at a table in a rundown backstreet bar with a group of weary delivery skippers who were comparing stories. Some of the guys had completed 20 or more Atlantic crossings, most had crisscrossed the Pacific a dozen times and a few had sailed around Cape Horn. It was a humbling experience and the metaphoric slap I needed to bring me back to earth.
Over the next few years I became involved in the yacht delivery business, first as crew and then as skipper, and my respect for this band of seagoing brothers grew.
Delivering a well-found yacht at the right time of year is a joy. You get paid for doing the thing you love … going to sea. Unfortunately the delivery business has its villains and more often than not, it is the yacht owner.
During my delivery days, I would sometimes turn up at a dock only to find a wreck of a boat that the owner was frightened to take to sea yet was quite happy to handover to a delivery crew. I’ve seen owners scurry away before we could inspect the boat, knowing full well it was unsafe and that I would insist he spend money to put it right. One yacht was so decrepit that I told the owner to find another delivery crew. He told me he would tell everyone I was a coward and make sure I never worked in the business again.
Another boat I delivered had a dodgy mainsail that blew out south of Bermuda. I spent 24-hours unpicking the yacht’s canvas Bimini top and then hand-stitched the main back together using the top as a giant patch. While this was going on the mate was busy changing fuel filters, about one every two hours, because the diesel in the tanks was contaminated. (We had asked the original owner why there were so many spare fuel filters onboard and he had lied.) In Bermuda, the sailmaker said the sail was so rotten it was virtually beyond hope but he did his best to make a repair. We stuck with the boat and completed the delivery. The new owner blamed the old owner for the state of the sail; the old owner blamed me and the new owner’s surveyor. Neither wanted to pay the delivery crew.
A posh yacht I delivered through horrible weather with a sick crew was the one that finished me. I was working through an agency. It was the trip from hell and the boat, although smart, had been used and abused. The owner met us on the dock of a posh yacht club in upstate New York and was delighted that we had completed the delivery in one piece and on time. His wife wasn’t as happy. She complained to the agency who later subtracted $500 from our fee because she found breadcrumbs in the knife and fork drawer.
I have friends who make their living—and have done for years—as delivery skippers. They are out in all weathers moving boats that are often tired and perhaps even unsafe. They send me messages from all over the world as they go quietly about their business in great waters.
(Photo: Gage Skidmore)