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Home > Editorials > Captains of Industry – Jonathan Syrett

Captains of Industry – Jonathan Syrett

“I was brought up in the village of Laleham on the banks of the Thames, right next to Harris Boat Yard and near Penton Hook Marina.  My father was a Director of salad and herb giant Vitacress and rose exceptionally early, around 3am, had a swim if he fancied, and then went to work in Old Covent Garden Market.  We didn’t see him very much, so Mummy featured in many of those early memories.  Our bungalow had a jetty and she used to row me and younger sister Nicola across the river to school each day – often up current.  In the big freeze of 1962-63, when I was just a babe in arms, she remembers skating with me in my pram on the river.  It was a nice country life.


“My parents had visited Mallorca on several occasions – at least twice on my birthday, May 8, which I found very annoying – and decided, if the opportunity arose, they’d move either here or New Zealand.  That opportunity came when a friend invited them to be partners in a duck farm on the outskirts of Palma.  My family sold everything and, after a highly adventurous journey in a small Ford Anglia with a huge trailer that had to be towed by a lorry up the first hill, arrived from England with our dog on 4 July 1971.  I was only nine at the time and had no say in the matter but, as myself and my mother are still living here and enjoying it, it turned out to be a great decision.

“I remember the duck farm quite well, in fact you can still see some remnants today.  My sister and I would help out, removing the gizzards, stuffing them back inside, and then packaging for the refrigeration plant before dispatch to various hotels and restaurants on the island and mainland.  The little chicks were quite cute and cuddly until you realised how smelly they were.  Not least when my little sister fell into a pond of baby duck poo, the poor thing.

“We both attended the parochial school in Portals Nous, upstairs in what is now the priest’s house adjacent to the pretty clifftop church.  There were 40 children ranging from kindergarten to pre-university age, all being taught in one room by one teacher – Doña Maria.  My sister and I were probably the only English in the school, so were quickly fluent in Spanish and integrated into local culture. I was then sent to Son Cayetano in Palma where I finished obligatory secondary education and stayed until what was then known as 2º BUP.

“Friends of ours trailered our boat to Mallorca, a sort of Boston Whaler called Sans Clue.  As a skinny 14-year-old with lots of hair, I rowed it up and down the coast of Portals.  I can’t quite remember when I was allowed to use our Johnson 4hp outboard, but it was wonderful to grow up with such a fabulous toy on tap and it got me hooked on boating.

“In summer 1976, I needed to earn some money and blagged myself a job at the Ski Club in Palma Nova.  Morning day one, I was taken out by one of the instructors on a user-friendly 350 dinghy and taught how to teach sailing.  That afternoon, I was sent out on a larger 420 racing dinghy all by myself.  As the boat was intended for two, this was pretty crazy, but I managed to figure out how to sail it and got back to the school in one piece.  The next day, I was teaching paying customers and taking my slice of commission – I was earning a fortune compared to my pocket money.  The instructor turned out to be quite ill and I was to be his replacement – to this day I do not know if the boss, Richard Dawson, realised that I had never sailed before.

“The following summer, I attempted the latest craze – windsurfing.  It was a struggle at first, teaching myself in bad weather when no one else wanted to rent the boards, but I mastered the art in the end and was offered a job as a windsurfing instructor in an adjacent school.

“A year later, age 16, the Swedish owner of a windsurfing school in Puerto Alcudia, one of the largest in Spain at the time, paid for me to do the required sailing and windsurf instructor courses.  However, instead of starting my job on Alcudia beach as planned, I was asked to teach a group of children around 11 years of age on a special two week sailing, windsurfing and canoeing course at Calanova.  Among them was a young Prince Felipe. One didn’t have much of a say when it came to the Royal Family and I was ‘persuaded’ to teach the course.

“The Prince took to windsurfing very well, he was a natural sailor and picked it up quickly.  Towards the end of the course, his father King Juan Carlos I asked me to teach him as well.  I was honoured to be asked, but the gentleman who had financed my courses was waiting impatiently for me in Alcudia.  Once more, I was ‘persuaded’ – this time for double the money.  Luckily, my Swedish friend was very understanding and told me to make the most of the opportunity.

“The King and I got on with our lessons almost every morning for several weeks and the whole experience was incredible.  No boats were allowed within about a mile of us so we basically had the bay to ourselves.  He was quite tall, with a high centre of gravity, so he struggled and fell off many times. But, he didn’t want to give up, always got back up, and eventually became a competent windsurfer.  Sadly, I was not able to finish the lessons as I was unexpectedly sent to study in Scotland.

 “My parents had parted company and, by virtue of my mother’s new partner’s family connections, which remarkably included a step twin brother born on the same day in the same year, I found myself studying O Levels, Scottish Highers and A Levels at Clydebank Technical College.  While I loved the freedom of being able to choose what I wanted to study, geography, sociology, electronics, maths, English literature, Spanish and so forth, I woke up every morning wanting to be back in Mallorca.

“After a few weeks studying in Glasgow, a large very official envelope popped through the door and in it was a selection of photos. There was a formal card from His Majesty with Intentos de Surf – Attempts at Surfing – handwritten inside.  It was an amazing surprise – where had they got my address from?

“As my college years drew to a close, I decided I wanted to drive boats and fly helicopters.  The only way I could see that happening was by getting someone else to pay for it – I was going to apply for the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Navy.  However, in 1982 Mrs Thatcher sent a mission to the Falkland Islands and a young Sub-Lieutenant Prince Andrew flew his helicopter close behind HMS Invincible to lure Argentine Exocet missiles away from the British Task Force.  If Prince Andrew had been used as a decoy – what would they do to me?  Besides, I had some good Argentine friends and was struggling with my Christian beliefs about going to war, so I decided against a career in the Royal Navy.

“I’d already racked up experience as a sailing and windsurfing instructor in Spain and Scotland, and had sales experience flogging second-hand windsurfers to my students, so, without wanting to go to university, I decided to return to Mallorca, in particular my old stomping ground of Calanova Marina & National Sailing School.  I learned to dabble in boat maintenance and carried on teaching for a few years.  I also did a stint for Pinmar, selling paint, varnish, paintbrushes and the like to independent chandleries around the island.  There were three of us doing the same job, on a small island, and the commission was miserable, so I was doomed to failure, but I did meet many people in yachting businesses.

“Trying to envisage how to make a proper living, I could see two options:  real estate, like my father had turned to in his post-duck era, or sell boats which seemed much more challenging and up my street.  Age 21, together with a Pinmar-spawned contact, I set up Comercial Nautica opening an office in front of Club de Mar.  We started selling small boats, including a job lot of 12 pedalos to Cala Mayor beach, with my first new boat sale being a zippy Rio 450 with a 60hp Mariner outboard.  In time, I progressed to bigger boats for bigger commissions and two of those deals were with Camper & Nicholsons International.  They went very well and, age 23, Camper & Nicholsons persuaded me to close Comercial Nautica and work for them.  I joined in 1985 and left 33 years later in 2018.

“I was headhunted as a junior sales broker, but they also needed a senior sales broker so I did both.  Initially, I was given around 50% of the clients to handle and, as the office was numbering around 66 sales a year, you can imagine the buzz.  One of my first sales was the 36 metre CRN Santa Cruz Tres, but usually we were handling smaller boats.  Everything was done in-house, from negotiations and contracts to sea trials and surveys, plus all the closing paperwork, and I learnt the nitty gritty of yacht brokerage from the ground up.  Back then, the use of lawyers was discouraged, but I never had a single court case and only one arbitration.  I never pushed clients into a purchase and, as a result, never had anyone say they weren’t happy with the boat I sold them.  Of course, today it’s all about due diligence, money laundering and the like, but those days were transformative, the yachting industry was reinventing itself and it was a great business to be in. 

 “I dealt with some of Spain’s top, and wealthiest, business people and got a privileged insight into their lives.  I stayed in the same hotels as them, met their families, and travelled to some rather nice places.  This is the perk of yacht broking, it’s mostly done in pleasant places and coastal areas such as the South of France, Italian Riviera, Greek Islands or Caribbean.  After a decade’s service, in 1995 I took over a franchise-type arrangement and then, when the timing suited both Camper & Nicholsons and myself, sold it back in 2013.  They appointed me General Manager of the Spanish operation but, in 2018, I finally ended my relationship with them.  It was time to answer to nobody but myself, and Hamilton Marine Yachting Consultancy was born. 

“Of course, a lifetime dedicated only to yacht broking would have lacked a certain sparkle, so I have always immersed myself in extra-curricular interests, from helping to organise the Almirante Conde de Barcelona Trophy, to co-founding classic, sport and unique car and motorcycle club Driving Mallorca, and from running a boutique real estate agency to co-founding the Spanish branch of JetClub specialising in the charter and sale of business aircraft.  In fact, under the guise of Yacht and Jet Services SL, we managed the marina and the superyacht berthing packages for the central T quay at the 2007 America’s Cup.  And, to pay homage to my royal-studded teenage years, I became founder-patron of the Royal Hispania Foundation, and have been involved very closely with two royal yachts, Juan de Borbón’s 1963 Sparkman & Stephens 59’ yawl Giraldilla and King Alfonso XIII’s 1907 Int. 15 Metre Class Hispania – overseeing the latter’s reconstruction at Astilleros de Mallorca and Fairlie Restorations in Southampton.

 “The journey hasn’t always been easy, but certainly very rewarding.  I take a great sense of pride in the part I played to clear the waters for large yacht charter in the Balearics, and indeed Spain.  In 2006, the then President of the Balearic Islands, Jaume Matas, invited several of us to a meeting.  Myself, Peter Brown from Pinmar, Diego Colon from Astilleros de Mallorca and Alberto Pons from Real Club Náutico de Palma, sat in his office where he declared he’d like to understand more about the large yacht sector.  We fell off our chairs.  It was the first time that anyone in government had bothered to reach out to the industry.  Due to the 12% matriculation tax, yachts couldn’t charter in Spain and vital income was being lost.  Peter said that, because charters didn’t start or finish in Spain, Pinmar was missing out on paint jobs.  Diego echoed his sentiments for refits, and Camper & Nicholsons had told us to stop doing Spanish charters as they were illegal.  Jaume said he couldn’t speak to us on a private level, but if we created an association, he’d be bound to.  Together we created the outline of the AEGY Spanish Large Yacht Association, inviting an elite membership of industries dealing mostly in yachts over 24 metres.  The joining fee was high, as we knew a lot of work had to be done.

“In 2013, Spain finally extended its matriculation tax exemption to all charter yachts operating in its territory.  We had a victory.  There was an immediate influx of superyacht charters into Spain and, by recording the VAT income they generated, we could present these figures to the authorities and encourage them to keep levelling the playing field.  I was also part of the committee that cancelled the 2012 Palma Boat Show in order to reinvent it as the Palma Superyacht Show in 2013.

“I too am reinvented as a yachting consultant under the umbrella of Hamilton Marine.  Far from retiring, I am now being described as a solopreneur, helping clients and companies who may want to benefit from my knowledge, contacts and expertise.  Indeed, The Islander itself links to my carefully compiled online Yachting Calendar.  I am enjoying this new phase in my life, and have realised just how much I have to offer.  In my free time, of which I currently have little, I love playing with my toys and taking to the water on the Fairline Targa 39 I’ve had around 20 years and an 8 metre Sacs RIB I share with a friend – or play with my half a microlight, various motorbikes and electric mountain bike.  I plan to get my helicopter licence back to being current in the near future.  I am very lucky to have two wonderful daughters age 22 and 19, and am looking forward to marrying my fiancée Saski from Barbados next year.

“As for the Royals, each time I have bumped into King Juan Carlos or King Felipe VI over the years, we have had a good chat and a laugh about those crazy days learning to windsurf.  Not bad for someone who used to stuff giblets inside ducks.”







Sarah Forge, hello@sarahforge.com