Superyacht Captain is an insightful account into the 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 intensely enthusiastic ocean racer.

There’s a fascinating glimpse of the way Freemantle, his home town, was transformed in 1987 by the coming of the America’s Cup: ‘to see the town today you would never believe where it had come from and what difference one yacht race and one man’s vision could make’. 

Perhaps this has some bearing on O’Shannassy’s attitude to billionaires.

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

This can very often be unfair and abrasive.

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

It seems that his own career was brought to an end in some similar way: a newly refurbished yacht suffers catastrophic engine failure on her way to meet the owner who is already flying out with his family and guests.

O’Shannassy procures a replacement yacht, nurses the damaged vessel into harbour without so much as scratch on her pristine paintwork, sets the investigation and repair process in motion, writes innumerable detailed analyses, yet known he has been judged as a failure. 

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This is an intensely self-analytical book.

I do wish someone hadn’t felt the need to sum up the lessons of each chapter in improving little text boxes at the end but perhaps others like this approach.

O’Shannassy is an eager reader of management guru books and is as familiar with imposter syndrome and status anxiety as with dynamic positioning systems and the prime locations within prestige harbours.

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

This is hard, as the central tenet of his captain’s creed is to give pleasure to the owner’s guests.

It’s hard, as a reader, not to feel irritation – or worse – at the ludicrous over-indulgence of people who can’t be expected to walk more than 70m from yacht to party without complaint, but O’Shannassy does his best to explain and defend.

He names no names but his close-up insight into the over-anxious, micro-managing, despotic owners using their yachts as essential platforms in their secretive business manoeuvres is undeniably fascinating.

There may be lessons for lesser skippers here but there’s no need to read for self-improvement to find this an absorbing book. 

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