Captain Mark James
So, Mark, you are relatively well known to most who, follow Pendanablog.com so please go ahead and tell us a little something about yourself and your career to date as a professional mariner.
My Wife Helen, our kids Alani and Luke, on the OC-1 outrigger canoe
Well, before I get into how I became involved in the Marine Industry, I would like to take time to introduce my family as my wife Helen is also in the boating game, she is a very good sailor and I must admit a little better than I on the helm in a sailing race, especially in light weather. She worked for Ronstan Harken and was the sailing administrator at Southport Yacht Club for many years, more recently she has been coaching kids sailing and out-rigger canoeing.
We have two beautiful Children – Alani will be five in September, she is an intelligent beautiful girl with a great sense of humour and like many girls her age love’s the Movie “Frozen”, our boy Luke turned three last March and is already looking like an athlete in both strength and determination, he is a little bit cheeky but very loving, he is also the most ticklish of the two.
As a father I could not have wished for more. My mum Val, my Sister Karen and I grew up together, my Mother is my greatest hero to this day, as a single mum she did so much with so little, she often went without just so we could have something, and to this day she still gives us love and guidance and is very good at spoiling her grandchildren.
My sister has been involved in the Surf Industry and fashion with great success, she has most recently been working with the World Surfing League doing the interior design of their world headquarters here in Australia. My wife’s parents Sean and Norma are also wonderful grandparents, they spend a great deal of time with our children, Sean has a 33’ sailing yacht that he races and we live right next door to the Southport Yacht Club’s Sailing Squadron, so are immersed in sailing and water sports.
Typical Race Day at the Southport Yacht Club’s Sailing Squadron
Ok – Back to the question!
We all have different paths in life, and although I did not realise it when I was young my interests led me along the path to becoming a Professional Mariner. Since I was a young boy I have loved the water and been fascinated with anything mechanical, so going surfing, or watching construction machinery working was allot of fun for me. When I left school, I was hired by a small marine firm called S & H Spars that did general marine stainless steel and aluminium fabrication; they also, were experts with masts and rigging. I loved it, I started sailing (racing) with my boss and co-workers and I was hooked from there on.
One of the guys I worked with back when I was only 16 years old is Peter Lahey, he is one of my greatest mates and mentors to this day, we still sail together and just won the local Summer Sailing Series here on the Gold Coast. At such a young age you are easily influenced I guess, and fortunately for me the people I was working with had honest hard working values, they were very good at what they did and had allot of fun along the way. This was a great start in the marine field, apart from sweeping the floor and being the butt of many jokes, my first main task was to learn how to polish stainless steel – and boy did I learn how to polish stainless steel and as time went on, I also learnt how to TIG, MIG, Gas weld and became a good fabricator and installer.
I also learnt how to spray paint with awlgrip and a number of other skills, I may have even had my first beer working there at the end of a hard week when I was about Seventeen. I was offered an apprenticeship with S & H as a fitter and turner but declined as I had been looking for an apprenticeship as a diesel and heavy equipment fitter. Finally, after badgering the management at Neumann Contractors for nearly 2 years (with my mum making sure I kept pushing) my new boss Kerry Boyce finally relented and I stared a great new chapter in my life. Neumann Contractors had a mixture of large earthmoving equipment and a sizable fleet of dredges that they had designed, manufactured and operated. It was a fantastic place to do an apprenticeship; it was everything that I had hoped for and more. I learnt a great deal with them, and was mentored by some great people, all of whom I am still in touch with on a fairly regular basis. While an apprentice with Neumann’s I was awarded the best apprentice in my field for the state of Queensland, as a young man I was pretty happy with that!
Well this is turning into a novel (sorry) – after becoming a tradesmen I worked for a very talented land based marine engineer by the name of Geoff Davies. I then transitioned to working on boats as general crew, then engineer, and later as Captain, I guess the rest is history
Neumann Contractors Dredge DRG006, a medium size dredge for the company.
Tell us a little about the Expedition Yacht, Horizon’s and your time on her?
Horizons, was a fantastic boat and operation overall, she was a “ruggedly handsome” expedition yacht that was the mother ship to the Sport Fishing Boat “Tyson’s Pride”. It was a high profile operation in the sport fishing industry as the owner was the chicken man himself, the late Don Tyson (Tyson Foods), he was also the president of the International Game Fishing Association (IGFA). Don was a great man to work for, the operation was well funded and he liked having a few Aussies as crew to keep the “Great Barrier Reef” feel on-board. We went far and wide to amazing places, Brazil, Panama, Costa Rica, Mexico, Cocos Island, Madeira and so on following the Marlin and other billfish. Don loved his fishing but the operation was much more than just fishing, it was the common ground that enabled him to spend time with his lifelong friends from all walks of life, we would see most of the guest at least twice a year. Don would book his time first and bring some close friends or family, and when he was not on board Horizons we would still be full of guests. It was a busy operation, run like a charter operation but at no cost to those lucky enough to be invited, it was not uncommon to do 100 days with guests, then move to the next place and a few days later have new guests back on board. I was the Chief Engineer for about three and a half years, and the Captain for another three and a half years. I met some great people on board Horizons. We had fantastic crews over the years – the key, in fact, to owners and guests enjoying their time on board.
Haul out at Colona Yachts – Norfolk VA. Colona Yachts gave us fantastic service.
Horizons Spec – from memory so may not be 100% accurate
Construction – Steel, converted Purse Seiner originally built in Mexico and to be honest was a bit of a dog. The vessel went through some very big and expensive evolutionary re-fits and became a really good vessel extremely well suited for her purpose.
Diesel 24,000 gallons
Draft 13’ with full bunkers
4 guest cabins
4 crew cabins
Sad end – The Horizons was sold a few years after Don’s passing, from all reports the people who then ran Horizons were absolute cowboys, she now lies at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, a very undignified end to a boat that had such a rich history.
The Tyson’s Pride sport fishing boats were built by Merritt’s in Pompano Beach Florida, while I was there we had a 62’, then a 63’ and finally a 65’ Merritt. They are very special boats, very strong, well-built but and like a piece of art, they are my favourite sport fishing boat without doubt! It was always a pleasure when we were at the Merritt’s Yard in Pompano Beach as Roy and his Dad Al Merritt are pretty amazing people.
Horizons and Tyson’s Pride at Cane Garden Bay, British Virgin Islands.
So, when you became Master and Captain of Happy Days (a 164ft Delta super yacht) how did that feel?
It was the start of a very exciting time for myself and my wife Helen as we had both been getting itchy feet so I decided to put the word out to a few people I was looking to get back on a quality Yacht, about 6 weeks later and thanks to Facebook we were on Happy Days.
It was a hectic time to wind up our successful marine engineering business and not much sleep was to be had in the days prior to flying out to Seattle. When we reached the Delta Marine Yard (Best Superyacht Manufacturer in the USA) Helen and I were exhausted, within two hours from touch down we were on board the magnificent Superyacht “Happy Days”.
I had the Electronics contractor telling me all sorts of technical information about the upgrades, as did a number of other people and contractors – but it was in one ear and out the other to be honest, in a few days however things were starting to make sense. I will admit to having a few moments of anxiety after not having been at the helm of a decent sized yacht for about five years, especially with a new paint job on the hull at around $300k. The last large yacht I had been in command of was the Lady Lola Shadow and she was 183’ so I was hoping I was not going to be too rusty. Fortunately the first sea trials with myself in Command went well, the other Captain took leave as this was a true Rotation position. Happy Days did everything you would ask of her in close quarters handling, she was such a well-built Yacht and the support from the people at Delta Marine such as, the very dedicated and knowledgeable Don Van Pay, was always quiet incredible.
I have been at many repair yards and build yards over the years, but I was very impressed with Delta, I can certainly recommend them without reservation and it would certainly would be a great yard to do a new build in.
Satisfaction – Although the destinations are vitally important, for me the satisfaction lies more to do with getting the Yacht running the right way, so naturally the first part of this equation is getting the correct crew and culture on board, once you have that right everything else falls into place, and I must admit I do enjoy being in Command.
“Happy Days” in all her glory
Mark, I have to ask what is it like to dock a vessel like this in the Med? Surely you must be a little nervous?
Nervous – Never – oh ok a little concerned when a Mistral is blowing and you are the last boat into the marina that day and the space for your berth is only half of what it should be. This is when we are supposed to “earn our money” some would say and for most of us the close quarters manoeuvring is one of the fun parts of the job. A critical part of docking is the crew, the crew by their commands and information to a large extent are the ones “driving” the vessel in these situations.
“Happy Days” had a permanent berth at the International Yacht Club of Antibes. This was an easy place to berth as the Yachts were spaced well apart; and the IYCA team were great with the lines.
What has been your cruising highlight so far and on which vessel?
So let me choose my favourite child – well that is tough as there have been very special times and places on different boats over the years. Naturally the Good Ship Pendana rates at the top of the list James, but as your readers are already up to speed with her I will talk about some others. (How was that for some proper grovelling?)
Bali Hai II – a beautiful 73’ Timber vessel built by Norman R Wright and Sons. Bali Hai was a mothership to the sport fishing boat “Balek III” Captained by Laurie Wright for the heavy Tackle Black Marlin fishing season out of Cairns Qld Australia. I was a deckhand on Bali Hai II, we operated primarily in the Ribbon Reefs of the Great Barrier Reef, this would be my favourite place I have been, I love the isolation, no land just the reef, the diving, the spearfishing and as you would expect the sea life is amazing. But as always these places and experiences would not have been great if the crew was not fantastic, Laurie Wright is one of the best Captain’s I have ever worked with, he gave such confidence in his ability, you always felt that if the shit hit the fan he would always come up with the right call. John and Linda Stoddart (Captain and Cook) of Bali Hai were really top people, they ran the Bali Hai so well, very hard working and were allot of fun. John was a SCUBA Instructor and taught me allot in the sport, they were both very fit so we were always diving or spearfishing if we had time, Linda’s food was outstanding, they made Bali Hai work, my last year on Bali Hai John and Linda were not on board, the new crew made it a very tough season for all concerned.
“Bali Hai II”, built by Norman R Wright and Sons in the 1960’s she is still regarded as the best wooden boat built in Australia
Horizons – this was a great time in my life, after years as the Chief Engineer I relished taking Command of the boat and was in charge of the operation, in many ways taking Command was the highlight for me. Don was a top man to work for and he funded the operation very well, thus enabling us to run the operation to a very high standard with great crew. I really enjoy most of Latin America, we cruised Brazil, Cuba, Costa Rica, Panama, San Blass Islands, Mexico and so on, it was a real highlight. We also has some very special times at Isla Del Coco diving with the hammerhead sharks. Another favourite place is the Tropic Start Fishing Lodge in Bahia de Pina, Panama. Not to mention the many Panama Canal Transit we have done over the years. I also have to say that I rate the British Virgin Islands as one of the best places to visit, we would be there in the off season as this was when the Blue Marlin were bighting, I found it a much better time of year, the Winter Swells had disappeared, allowing you access to many more beautiful anchorages, you did however have to keep a good eye on the weather as it was Hurricane Season.
Crew – I am always concerned when a Yacht is going through allot of crew, either the Captain, the Owner or Management Company, or a combination of them, is getting something very wrong. One of the greatest compliments I can give Don Tyson as a man to work for, was how long the crew Stayed. Five years was common, the Captain before me and I stayed for about seven years, the Captain after me twelve years, the Steward who later became the chef was on-board for 20 years, and generally speaking the crew left on very good terms and were always welcome back on-board.
Quick put in another block, not sure how much longer I can hold her up
Happy Days – everything about Happy Days and her operation was QUALITY. The crew were amazing, the First Officer Dougie Sandeman is probably the most organised person I have ever met, he ran the boat with great integrity and skill, he was very skilled at placing the right people through his very thorough screening and interviewing techniques. Due to such a high level of organisation the crew hours were reduced (especially in Boss off mode), the crew morale was always high and most importantly the Yacht was always turned out in fantastic condition. The Captains, First Officers, Chief Engineers and Chefs were all on rotation, I think we had Fifteen on the payroll, all top in their respective positions.
My favourite part of the job was looking after the annual haul-out and maintenance, this was probably my biggest input to the Happy Days operation as this area was previously lacking. We did plenty of planning ahead of time and ensured the shipyard time went as close to clock work as possible. Every year we were the only boat to haul out and splash on date. We always had all the parts and pieces needed on site when we arrived at the Shipyard, as well as all of the human resources ready and waiting for us. As for Cruising, we did Florida, St Barth’s, Mediterranean run every year, so far as highlights – the Azores is a truly beautiful place with stunning scenery, for me on this operation, the vibrancy of the City of Barcelona was my favourite place.
Lady Lola Shadow – at 186’ this has been the largest yacht I have been in Command. I was with this operation for a short time, about six months in total, it was a very interesting operation converting an offshore supply vessel into a “Toy Carrier” or “Shadow Yacht” and heading from Houma, Louisiana, USA to the Mediterranean. With a Bell 430 Chopper, all types of boats, amphibious car and so on we did have all the toys! We only had five crew, not enough to be honest and less than was promised, but they were exceptional people, most of them I hired again later on, on, other Yachts. Not long after leaving the operation, both the Lady Lola and the Lady Lola Shadow were sold.
Mark, who are the perfect owners of a super yacht?
The business practices of a Company and what they are like to work for generally known, good or bad, working in the yachting field however can be challenging as the difference between owners can be vast. I always try to work for the right people, not necessarily the “Biggest or Best” boat. So to answer the question I think this is more of a question of who are the best people to work for full stop, not just on a Superyacht.
For me, I would say People with Integrity and Values, if they have that, then there is a great chance of mutual respect, and from that you will end up with a happy productive workplace. I have been very fortunate to work for some very good people, and from this we are able to fosters a culture where the crew “want to be here” instead of having to be here. There is a very personal nature to the business, people are living together 24/7, you want people you can trust, you need crew to be proud of what they are doing and to be very discrete.
When I took over as Captain on Horizons from Peter Mitchell (top rate Captain who I still work with today) Don Tyson and I had a quick chat – he said “Mark if you don’t tell me how to grow chickens, I won’t tell you how to run the boat, just make sure safety is at the top of the list, and by the way I never want to run out of Hot Water, we shook hands and I was then in charge of the operation and multi-million dollar decisions, we transformed the vessel into something quite special.
And, who are not so good to work for?
I have visited some very well-known and Spectacular Yachts as a guest, I could not wait to leave, you could cut the atmosphere with a Chainsaw………….. This usually comes from the top down, sometimes it can be a bad Captain, or sometimes a poor environment as set by the owner. I think it can be hard for crew to excel for someone they do not respect, if they are continually treated like dogs by an owner it is hard to build crew moral, some owners want you to deal with drugs, hooker’s, and the real seedy side of life. I just don’t have time for those people and would not knowingly hire good young people and expose them to that. I am all for the owners and guests having a great deal of fun and I am happy to see the Champagne flowing all hours, but for me there are some lines I do not want to cross.
Funding – this can be a very difficult situation, an owner may have been ripped off or has had a person in charge who could not manage money correctly on a previous occasion, it may take time to build trust in this area, I think good communications with the owner along with transparency and accountability are the key. It can be trying for the crew also, some owners have the funds but will not let go of the cash, and as soon as things don’t work on board they then go on a tirade asking why. Some owners simply do not have the funding; this usually ends up causing a compromise of safety and sea worthiness of the yacht. It is hard to keep top crew when there is not the appropriate funds to fix equipment or look after their department to a reasonable standard, moral slips and good people will naturally migrate to a better operation. Before you know it, you have some cowboys running the yacht, on the booze while at sea, not maintaining anything, and generally crew that are just a bad accident waiting to happen.
If there is one thing some super yachts captains do that irritates you what would that be?
It can be easy for Captains and crew to get caught up in the amount of money they see being spent and sometimes wasted around them, this can lead to them to lose a sense of reality especially with expenditure, not to mention some crew just become very snobby and let’s face it just plain up themselves. Some Captains are well known for becoming Demi Gods on board, especially if they have been on the same yacht for a long time (usually 6 or more years), crew Rotation is a great way to minimise this.
Have you ever run out of something while at sea that has caused problems?
Budweiser – we had the State distributor for Budweiser on board Horizons during a Caribbean season, I think we were down by ST Lucia. I had been warned in advance to stock up on Bud, this we did but we still ran out, let’s just say that the State distributor really did like his product breakfast, lunch and dinner. We then introduced him to Red Stipe Beer and he was happy as could be.
Water – well almost ran out. The Horizons came out of a 5 million dollar re-fit, I normally do pretty well with hiring the right people but I had a Chief Engineer who did let us down. We had 2 new sea recovery water makers at 2,700 gallons per day each, so we had a huge capacity (we did use about 1,200 gallons per day). During the re-fit on a number of occasions I asked the Chief Engineer to check there was media in the new sand filters. At a later date the Chief Engineer had to fly out on short notice due to a family matter while we were at Bahia do Pina in Panama. So I went to look after the engine room for a while I found disaster after disaster, we could barely make water, there was no media in the sand filters and we were in plankton rich water that was blocking up the other filters after about an hour of running, so I was struggling to make enough water every day. Apart from the water maker the engine room was in a real mess, so we did not fly him back to the boat but hired a really good engineer who got things back on track in short order.
Strawberries – One of the chefs did go slightly ballistic when his strawberries were all crushed. We had a shipment of food flown in from Panama City to us at the Tropic Star Lodge, and as we know, Chefs can be a temperamental bunch sometimes. Glad to report that we survived with the crushed strawberries. He was a very good Chef and a good mate having a bad day, he later went on to be the personal Chef for Bill Gates for a number of years. The last time I spoke to him he was the executive Chef for the Superaycht Platinum in Dubai.
Would you describe yourself as more hunter or more gather?
I think this has changed over the years, when I was young I was pretty pushy and sometimes obnoxious with knowledge in my field, especially when I was an apprentice and was in charge of tradesman for various projects. I loved spear fishing especially when sharks were starting to come in, scuba diving, racing motorbikes (motocross), surfing etc etc. These days I am more placid and easy going, and my memory does not allow me to be obnoxious with knowledge anymore it seems. To answer the question – Hunter at heart but in practice probably more of a gatherer.
Why did the owner name her Happy Days?
The owners Grandfather had a large yacht called Happy Days, she was over 200’ I believe, and was the first Private Yacht to have air conditioning.
What’s the funniest thing that has ever happened to you while at sea?
Sexy times – After dismissing the Chief Engineer on Horizons over the water maker and other problems as previously mentioned, the Steward was charged with putting all of his possessions together and log everything and then send them to him. About an hour later the Steward calls me to show something he has found as he was packing, it was a sex kit with fur lined hand cuffs, nipple clamps, masks and all sorts of devices that needed batteries etc. It was probably un-professional but I called in the crew for a look and we had a pretty good laugh about it at the time.
Radar reflector – from time to time when you have a new crew member who has zero boating experience we can have some fun with them, one in particular who was very naive gave us some good laughs when we set him up THREE times as a radar reflector so I could “Test” the radars in port. Basically if you imagine a 6’3” guy wrapped up in tin foil with a modified sign on a long stick also wrapped in tin foil, we then have him walk around the marina and then go into the middle of the marina in the tender, every other yacht is looking on, it was on the third time he fell for this that the other yachts were in on it and they all gave him a blast with the horns – poor guy but he took it well and we all had a decent laugh.
What’s the biggest mistake you have ever made on the water?
There’s been plenty of mistakes over the years, but like most Captains I guess running aground can be the most embarrassing. I was doing a quick job on a Sunseeker 60’ Renegade, I ran onto a mud bank at speed in my home waters that I sail on every week. Luckily the Sunseeker had jet units and no damage to the boat was suffered. It was a classic case of doing to many things at once and not concentrating on the job at hand.
Tell us a little something about MV Happy Days?
At time of Launch she was the largest Composite Yacht Built in the USA.
49.9 meters, or 164’
The Build parameter from the owner was to have the largest Yacht allowed to be berthed in a med moor fashion at the beautiful Harbour of Saint Tropez, France. Due to the greater beam than other yachts of similar length she had a massive interior space. The first time she was docked at St Tropez the Harbor Master measured the Yacht to see if she was oversize.
How many miles have you travelled on her?
I do not have a total, but the first voyage was the longest single voyage I have done on any vessel, we went from Seattle WA, USA to Antibes via San Diego for less than 24 hrs so the owner could say hello, then transit the Panama Canal, a 4 hr stop at Errol Flynn Marina in Jamaica for a small splash of fuel, Madeira, Gibraltar, Antibes.
Seattle to Antibes
Distance 9,450 Nautical Miles (approx) / 17,500 klm
Days at Sea 38 (sea trial not included)
Days in Total 40
Fuel used 76,923 gallons / 290,769 litres
How many miles have you travelled total?
To be honest I have never kept a log of total miles, I imagine it would be well over 200K
That’s incredible! So, as seasoned mariner what are the three things every passagemaker should know?
1. A good watch is all about the sleep beforehand.
2. The Ocean is a beautiful place but do not treat it with contempt – you might love the ocean but the ocean does not love you.
3. Pay your dues to King Neptune when you cross the equator!!!!!!!!!!!!!
What are the three things all passage making vessels should carry?
1. Electronic charts are awesome, but I still like to have paper charts on-board.
2. Spare handheld GPS, just in case your fixed electronics get fried.
3. A good variety of spares
..and what are in your opinion are the three most important spares to carry?
Going to Stretch it to FIVE
1. Fuel filters, more fuel filters, oh and did I say fuel filters, if you have ever had a bad load of diesel it can be a nightmare.
3. Sticky Stuff – duct tape, gasket goo (and gasket material including insertion rubber)
4. Hose and hose clamps
Are you scared of spiders?
Just a tad, but no phobia
What’s your favourite photo ever taken while at sea and why?
Dressed up as King Neptune – sorry cant for the life of me find the pic!
What would you never leave behind when heading out to sea?
Me – nothing worse than leaving yourself behind…………..
What is your favourite boating destination and why?
The Ribbon Reefs – Great Barrier Reef, Queensland, Australia. The sea life, the isolation, the raw beauty.
Mark, tell us something about yourselves that nobody knows?
When I was a kid, I was in about a dozen or so TV commercials.
….and finally, what’s next for you?
I am still with the yacht Silent World II, we are hoping to sell the yacht over the coming months. If the yacht sells there is the possibility of being in charge of the re-fit for the new owners of Silent World II.
Captain Mark James was kind enough to write an article all about buying a super yacht for those interested. The article in question can be found in the FREE RESOURCES tab on the menu above or by simply clicking HERE.
Thank you very much for your time, and please remember you are forever welcome on Pendana.
Good luck with what the future holds!
Proudly bought to you by: http://www.pendanablog.com