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Home » Features » Captains of Industry – Oscar Siches
Captains of Industry – Oscar Siches

Captains of Industry – Oscar Siches

 

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I first met Oscar in 2012 at the Portals Nautical Weekend. The first (and last?) event of its kind, the free-to-enter show was a cheeky two-finger salute to the government department in charge of Boat Show Palma which had to be cancelled in that year due to a ‘lack of interest’. Oscar is proud to have been part of that ‘sabotage’ as it had the desired effect.

 

The comeback 2013 Boat Show Palma (held in part at Moll Vell, where Oscar was joint managing partner) was nothing short of a triumph. Leading local yachting names wrestled back some control from the government and even devised a Palma Superyacht Show to run alongside the conventional setup. The winning formula has been in place ever since. When it comes to fighting for what he believes, ‘saboteur’ Oscar is not afraid of making waves.

 

Born in Buenos Aires in 1954, Oscar describes himself as a true Porteño (arrogant, narcissistic, combative) with a typically Porteño nickname ‘Pucho’ (translated as a rather unpoetic ‘cigarette butt’). Oscar started sailing at the age of six and spent his youth competing in local regattas before joining naval college where he became head of the sailing team.

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Oscar then spent a few years doing yacht repairs in small shipyards alongside a succession of delivery jobs including a memorable two-month ‘hop’ from Miami to Buenos Aires on a 53ft motoryacht – avoiding yellow-fever-afflicted Guyana along the way. It was through a contact made on this trip that Oscar landed a three-month skippering role on board a 40ft charter sailing yacht based in St Lucia. He spent February to April 1983 shuttling between Martinique and Grenada, a first step towards leaving Argentina for good.

 

“Back then, a well-educated Argentinean always wanted to leave, in fact your parents actively encouraged you to find a way out,” says Oscar. “So when the charter company asked if I would mind sailing the three-boat fleet back to Europe for the start of their summer charter season, the only answer I had in mind was ‘of course’. I found skippers for the other two yachts, but had no experience myself in transatlantic crossings. To compound my problem any crew worth their salt were loitering around Antigua Sailing Week. Thankfully a young Belgian chap was as keen as I to get back to Europe – he was promptly hired. By day two it became apparent just why he was so desperate.”

 

“He went white, well transparent, and started sweating, I have never seen sweating like it,” continued Oscar. “‘There’s something I didn’t mention,’ the lad said, ‘I have malaria, I was afraid to tell you in case you didn’t hire me’. ‘Damn right’ I thought, but with no possibility of going back I told him to keep his medication in the safest place and on we pushed to Europe – him steering three or four hours a day, me the remaining 20 plus. With no autopilot I was terrified of falling asleep, I was exhausted, but we both lived to tell the tale – at least I think he did.”

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Oscar’s next set of instructions came via telex at a post office in the Azores. His employers first sent him to Porto Colom (Oscar’s first glimpse of the beautiful island of Mallorca) to repair the scuffs and scrapes of the previous charter season, before dispatching him to the Greek island of Poros where he was introduced to his stewardess companion for the season. The 29 year old Argentinean fell head over heels for the 19 year old Dutch girl, Ada, and this month they celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary. “I didn’t have to look for the woman who would accept marrying me,” joked Oscar. “She was assigned to me.”

 

Together they did charter seasons in Greece and Mallorca before switching to 24 metre classic wooden yawl Vega. In summer 1986, after a year and half on Vega, Ada went to the UK to study cookery in order to put them in pole position for more attractive ‘couples’ roles at sea. Oscar also made a career move and upgraded to second engineer on board 48 metre motoryacht Azteca inspired by Jon Bannenberg – a man widely considered to be the founder of modern yacht design.

 

The next door opened when Ada found herself sat next to the son of the owner of 36 metre CRN superyacht Santa Cruz Tres on a flight. He was looking for a couple to run the boat. Oscar left Azteca and became captain of Santa Cruz Tres with newly Le Cordon Bleu-qualified Ada by his side.

 

“On Santa Cruz Tres I made the first serious foray into recycling in the world of superyachts,” says Oscar. “The owner was tight, really tight, so we lived off the scraps of neighbouring boats, pilfering leftover cables, screws, paint and pumps. Amusingly we shared a pier with Azteca – there were always rich pickings to be had there.”

 

Two years later, Santa Cruz Tres was sold and the new owner wanted to do a full-scale refit but there was no space in Astilleros, and STP did not yet exist. Oscar gathered together a team of 20 and coordinated the works himself. There is literally nothing that fazes this man. In his own words, “I have a doctorate in jumping into the pool without checking there is water – there is always water.”

 

The revamped Santa Cruz Tres was a successful charter boat. In 1988 they did a Caribbean season and Oscar was able to revisit all the places he’d explored six years earlier in a sailing boat a third of the size. At one point, Mexican media mogul Emilio Azcárraga offered him a far-better-paid captain’s role on 55 metre CRN Lady Azteca, but he had promised to serve another two years on Santa Cruz Tres and stuck to his word. A shame – but the honourable thing to do.

 

“In 1992 daughter Tara was ‘fabricated’ and a family discussion was essential,” relays Oscar. “Either do my Class IV or jump ashore and try to live like normal people. We went ‘normal’. On 2 January 1993 Ada and I moved to Holland, and in April 1993 our daughter was born.”

 

“I bought a partnership in a superyacht electronics firm operating from the South of France and, as I was more a ‘hobbyist’ than an electrician, completed various training courses,” continues Oscar. “We worked on boats as iconic as Talitha G, Rasselas and 49 metre sailing yacht Thalia which, at the time, had the tallest mast made in a single piece.”

 

In 1997 the chance arose to return to their beloved Mallorca and Oscar became Technical Manager for Sunseeker Germany based in Port Adriano, followed by a spell in charge of large yacht maintenance for Dahm International. In 2001, Oscar was invited to join Palma’s Pantalán del Mediterráneo marina as a partner – arguably a defining pivotal moment in his career.

 

“As a yacht captain, I knew what I wanted to find in a marina and what I hated, so started applying this knowledge to Pantalán del Mediterráneo,” explains Oscar. “Whether you’ve sailed 200 miles down the coast or across the Atlantic, marinas immediately ask you for credit cards, papers, passports – I eliminated this and insisted crew relax, tuck into a meal, and we could handle all the admin in the morning. Marinas also used to be dirty places, not on my turf, we cleaned our special-compound quaysides twice a week using eco-friendly products – almost unheard of back then.”

 

Under Oscar’s stewardship, 82-berth Pantalán del Mediterráneo was the first Spanish marina to have wifi (as early as 2003), the first to have a direct phone line for each yacht that wanted it, the first to have security cameras and the first to achieve the ISO 14001 environmental control standard. In 2009 it was declared a CO2-free marina earning Zero CO2 certification from NGO Acción Natura as a ‘non-polluting’ installation.

 

In 2008, Oscar and his partners pitched to remodel Palma’s Moll Vell into a destination superyacht marina. A journalist and fellow attendee at the 2011 ICOMIA World Marinas Conference in Singapore broke the news that his bid had been successful. Works started at the end of 2012 and by spring 2013 the inaugural Palma Superyacht Show was able to make use of his rapidly improving facilities. 26 new berths and 10 million euros later, the marina had its official inauguration in June 2014. In May 2016 he bade farewell to both Pantalán del Mediterráneo and Moll Vell – it was time for Oscar to take a new step forward.

 

Thanks to his considerable experience, vivaciousness and charm, Oscar’s ‘modern’ life is now peppered with presentations, conferences and committees – as well as article writing for various nautical publications.

 

Oscar’s presentation career began in 2005 when he started attending marina conferences and was invited to talk about his pioneering Pantalán del Mediterráneo. One thing led to another and Oscar was receiving invitations to speak on all kinds of marina issues and he has to date delivered more than 40 talks in 12 countries. When we met, Oscar was gearing up for a whistle-stop five-day tour of Korea, Brussels and Palma, giving a presentation in each location – no mean feat for anyone, let alone a 63 year old.

 

The committees are almost too abundant to mention. A Certified Marina Professional with the Global Marina Institute, for which he is a founder director, Oscar is also a member of ICOMIA’s (International Council of Marine Industry Associations) Marinas Committee, PIANC’s (once standing for Permanent International Association of Navigation Congresses but now known as the World Association for Waterborne Transport Infrastructure) Recreational Marine Committee, a founding member of ASPA (Asia-Pacific Superyacht Association) and Spanish yacht harbours expert for the ISO (International Organization for Standardization). Each makes periodical demands on his time.

 

There is also a more hands-on element to his work – consultancy – something that has taken Oscar across the continents. His most recent project was the mixed-use waterfront development of Marasi Business Bay in Dubai Creek. Taking care of concept design, he describes himself as “the palm tree guy” as it boasts no less than 120 living trees planted in floating docks – a world first. He worked for Homeport FZE, dealing with 13 nationalities (conveniently, Oscar converses in six languages) and three different religions. The 157-berth marina will welcome its first boats in January 2018.   He’s also currently employed by Yacht Club de Monaco to consult on the building and operation of a 250-berth marina in Qingdao, China. This contract began in 2013 and is ongoing – things happen a little faster in Dubai.

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So where will the market take him next? “Without doubt, the best part of the world in the mid future for nautical activities and charter holidays will be Southeast Asia – Indonesia in particular – there is such potential,” assures Oscar. “I hope one day to contribute to the creation of non-invasive superyacht-free marinas in this region, working with the environment using natural wood and so forth. I envisage tenders being able to moor in the marinas while their superyacht chieftains remain autonomous offshore – much better than a pier full of concrete. Let’s go back to basics, try something different.”

 

“The problem is the marina industry is afraid of trying something new. They want innovation, but innovation that has been tested for 15 years. I try to encourage people to look at the ever-changing hotel industry for inspiration, or the car industry for service standards. Mallorca also has its own problems in that there are some industry bigwigs that no one dares go against. This must change, the up-and-coming radical thinkers need to have the courage to upset the occasional apple cart.”

 

One thing the sexagenarian won’t contemplate is retirement. “I have no plans to retire. Finally I have the experience, I know what mistakes not to repeat – it doesn’t make sense to stop. By the same token, I am aware that you can languish on the committees of these organisations forever, and that’s not right either. You must let the young ones take over, for the world I know from my past isn’t the same world that exists today – don’t let dinosaurs like me make all the decisions.”

 

And is Mallorca Oscar’s forever home? “I will be Argentinean ‘til the day I die, but every time I go back to Argentina I feel depressed at how the country seems to be stuck in a downward spiral. I had a fabulous youth in a beautifully messy environment, but Mallorca is home. I am now in a place and position that I never dreamed of and I am grateful for every moment that has brought me here – not least my crewmate and muse Ada.”

 

www.siches.com

Sarah Forge, sarah@purplecakefactory.com