Superyacht Captain: book review – Yachting Monthly


Superyacht Captain is an insightful tale of over-anxious, micro-managing, sometimes despotic yacht owners and how they treat their staff. Undeniably fascinating, says Julia Jones

superyacht captain

Brendan O’Shannassy

Adlard Coles, £12.99

Australian-born Brendan O’Shannassy was trained by the Royal Australian Navy, but also worked in shipping management and was an extremely enthusiastic ocean racer.

There’s a fascinating insight into how Freemantle, his home town, was transformed in 1987 by the arrival of the America’s Cup: ‘to see the town today you would never guess where it comes from comes and what difference a yacht race and one man’s vision could make’.

This may have a bearing on O’Shannassy’s attitude towards billionaires.

It’s interesting because it rightly points out that the essential relationship on a superyacht – as in ocean racing – is between owner and captain.

This can very often be unfair and abrasive.

There are shocking incidents in this book where the whim of the owner’s wife or the ego of the man himself (they all appear to be men) can ruin a career.

It seems his own career ended in the same way: a recently refitted yacht suffers a catastrophic engine failure on its way to meet the owner who is already taking to the skies with his family and guests.

O’Shannassy procures a replacement yacht, tends the damaged ship in port without even scratching its pristine paintwork, sets in motion the process of investigation and repair, writes countless detailed analyses, but knows he’s been deemed a failure.

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It is an intensely self-analytical book.

I wish someone didn’t feel the need to summarize the lessons of each chapter by improving the little text boxes at the end, but maybe others like that approach.

O’Shannassy is an avid reader of books by management gurus and is as familiar with impostor syndrome and status anxiety as he is with dynamic positioning systems and prime port locations.

His writing is lively and insightful: he makes his points in his anecdotes, including thoughtful reflections on the difference between fast and slow emergencies and the need, sometimes, to say no.

This is difficult, because the central tenet of his captain’s credo is to please the owner’s guests.

It’s hard, as a reader, not to feel irritated – or worse – at the ridiculous indulgence of people who can’t expect to walk more than 70m from a yacht to a party without complain, but O’Shannassy does his best to explain and defend.

He names no names, but his up-close look at the over-anxious, micro-managing and despotic owners using their yachts as essential platforms in their covert business maneuvers is undeniably fascinating.

There may be lessons for little skippers here, but you don’t have to read to improve to find this absorbing book.

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