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Captains of Ships – Ryan Bergman

Ryan and twin brother Matt were born in Sydney to school teacher parents.  He took up every sport he could from basketball to cricket, rugby to football, but never sailing.  In fact, aside from surfing and fishing Australia’s east coast, his first 23 years on the planet were almost entirely land based.  Upon leaving high school, Ryan earned a Diploma in Construction Management, trained in carpentry and then set up his own business.

“After a couple of years, I’d grown tired of the Sydney lifestyle and I felt I needed a change,” says Ryan.  “I’d heard good things about Northern Australia and the money that could be made working in construction in the mines, so in 2005 I and a good mate headed direction Cairns.  We did a four-month road trip surfing, camping, fishing, and had the time of our lives – until the cash ran out.”

“We ended up in Airlie Beach, not too far from Cairns, but it turned out we’d got it wrong, the mines weren’t in Cairns at all.  Having sorted out my geography, I spent two years earning good money in the mines, but soon learnt that money didn’t mean happiness.”

“In time off from the mines, I would head back to Airlie Beach, gateway to the dreamy Whitsundays, and see the backpacker boats toing and froing from the islands.  It looked like heaven.  You could volunteer, wash dishes and help the crew on board in return for a decent boat trip.  People usually volunteered for one two-day trip, but I did two weeks, and then got offered a deckhand position on 100ft ketch Anaconda III.  It was 2007, and my first time working on a boat.  Of course Mum rang, freaking out, asking why I’d left a well-paid job in the mines for a 60-dollar-a-day deckhand job, but I’d never been happier.  I told her it would all work out in the long run.”

“I went on to spend four years working on boats in the Whitsundays.  Anaconda III operated three-night charters to the outer Great Barrier Reef, focussing on SCUBA and sailing, but also had a fleet of Maxi Yachts.  When Anaconda III went into refit, I moved onto the Maxis doing three-day charters for 26 guests at a time, plus corporate days where we’d match-race the other Maxis.  Having completed my Australian Master Class 5, I was promoted to captain.  This left me in the enviable position of driving three or four different ex-round-the-world racing yachts, depending on the roster.  The Whitsundays are a sailor’s dream and one of the most beautiful parts of Australia, so these were fun times, socialising, making good friends and, as it turned out, meeting my wife.”

“Molly had been crewing in the Whitsundays a little longer than me and I vividly remember the first time I saw her.  This tiny boat, 20ft or smaller, came into the marina and parked in the slip next to us.  Molly was on the bow.  “Who’s that?” I asked my crewmate.  “Forget about it, she’s dating,” he replied.  Fortunately for me, that relationship ended and I finally got the chance to take her out on a date – we’ve now been together 11 years.”

“Molly was a very good sailor, she was working as deckhand on one of the Maxis and was really into racing, and her enthusiasm rubbed off on me.  For our first year of dating, we didn’t work together, we didn’t want to jinx it, then we did about a year and a half on the same boats.”

In Ryan’s time at the Whitsundays, he took on other work around his roster, racing as much as he could on various yachts – club racers, high-performance catamarans and Volvo 60s – as well as deliveries up and down the east coast and across the Tasman.

“Molly and I then started talking about superyachting.   The Whitsundays were a great training ground, operating old race boats on a very tight budget.  It was very hands on and you certainly learned your trade – superyachting was the next step.  We had friends who had taken that step, earned good money and had great stories.  So, in 2010, we flew to Mallorca – it was either there or Antibes – and tried to get a couples job.”

“At the last minute we got offered a job on a 100ft sloop, me as mate, Molly as chef.  We weren’t happy, it wasn’t a good boat to work on, so we left.  Next came 52 metre Royal Huisman schooner Meteor – Molly as stewardess, me as deckhand.  The deckhand thing was fine.  I’d never worked on boats that big before and still had a lot to learn before I could return to the rank of captain.  I never thought I was more experienced or capable than the role I found myself in.  In fact, when I saw photos of the boat at interview, I was blown away.”

“We picked up Meteor in Newport Rhode Island and went on to do 40,000 nautical miles, consisting of four Atlantic crossings, three Mediterranean seasons and three Caribbean seasons – including the St Barths Bucket Regatta.  I was thrilled to be a part of it.  A year into Meteor, the owner decided he wanted to use the boat but the chef was away, so Molly cooked for him.  Impressed, he asked Molly to be the new chef.  The old chef wasn’t upset, he was happy to move on anyway.  Around the same time, I also got promoted to bosun, and would act as relief mate most of the time, as the main captain was only there when the owner was aboard.”

“Those three years on Meteor were very special.  I recall one Atlantic delivery where we were in the trade winds for a week straight, full sail day and night, with the boat’s speed never dropping below 15 knots – those conditions are exactly what the boat is made for.  We also had American country singer Jimmy Buffett on board during the St Barths Bucket, my Dad was a huge fan so that was quite a moment.”

In downtime from Meteor, Ryan completed Officer of the Watch, and eventually it was time for the couple to move on.  They did a charter season on 58 metre ketch Mondango, then Ryan was brought onboard 45 metre motoryacht Latitude as OOW for an Atlantic crossing – his first motoryacht experience.  The crew all thought Ryan was weird.  He would go outside on the bridge wing to check conditions, when he could easily have done that sat on a comfy chair in the bridge.  And then, back home in Mallorca, Ryan and Molly landed the dream ticket.

“In 2013, we were both interviewed to join 78 metre sloop M5 – myself as second officer and Molly as head chef.  We flew to Falmouth, where M5 was at the end of a three-year refit, and set off on a worldwide navigation in April 2014.  Part of the reason I left Meteor was a desire to do a Pacific tour.  It was my goal to find a boat with that region in her itinerary – M5 was that boat.”

“We left the UK for Rio de Janeiro, spending a month, month and a half at sea, before passing through the Magellan Strait to Patagonia and Chile, heading west to Tahiti.  Without warning, we got caught out in some nasty weather, some of the worst I’ve seen, with ten metre swells and 70 knots of wind.  The boat was getting tossed around and the angry sea made it look and feel small.  Suddenly, M5 came off a wave and it felt like she’d fallen into a hole in the ocean.  The sail was gone, dragging about in the water.  Thankfully, the sail blew back on deck and we doubled back to Peru where a sail maker flew in to repair one sail and pack the other into a shipping container.”

“From Peru we spent a couple of months in the Galapagos, followed by the Gulf of California, San Diego and then across the Pacific.  In fact, we spent two years sailing the Pacific, taking in French Polynesia, the Cook Islands, Fiji, Vanuatu, and the Solomon Islands – although sadly never Australia.  Much of the time we were waiting for the owner and guests to arrive, so there were long breaks and us crew took advantage.  The South Pacific is the most incredible region, from the islands to the untouched beaches, and the underwater world to the surf – plus the kindest, friendliest people you could ever meet.”

Ryan proposed to Molly on a Galapagos beach in 2015, and they hopped off M5 in Fiji in 2016 to get married in Australia and honeymoon in Bali.  The newlyweds reunited with the boat in the Solomon Islands, before heading up to Micronesia, Guam, Papua New Guinea, Bali, Singapore and Thailand, with a small six-month refit in Auckland somewhere along the way.  Molly fell pregnant and bid farewell to M5 setting up home in Mallorca.  Ryan stayed a few months more and then flew from Thailand to Molly for six months leave.

“While in Auckland, I’d passed my Masters Certificate and, with a baby on the way, my intentions were now very clear.  I was looking for a rotation and, thankfully, I was awarded a captain’s rotation on M5.  Baby Lyla was born in April 2017 and I rejoined the boat in Durban as captain.  We then kept moving, from Cape Town to Grenada, another Caribbean season, another St Barths Bucket – this time as Captain – and then the east coast of the United States, where the owner was able to step onboard a little more often.”

“Right now, M5 is in Italy beginning an eight month yard period.  The mast is coming out, she’s being repainted, and the interior is being modified, alongside other general upgrades.  She was only launched in 2003, as the largest single-masted yacht in the world, but after five years sailing nonstop around the globe, she needs a little love.  Meanwhile, Molly also needs extra TLC as she is pregnant again with our second baby due in July.  She already has her hands full with our little two-year-old – you walk out a neat living room and return five minutes later to discover everything has been destroyed – but we wouldn’t have it any other way.”

“In general, I try not to plan.  I’m only in my second year as captain on M5 and I have no intention of going anywhere.  I absolutely love everything about my job.  M5 is such an iconic yacht and an incredible machine, the sheer size and power of this vessel is ridiculous.  It also gives me the opportunity to work with some of the best minds in the marine industry.  We are constantly trying to push the yacht and develop the on board systems, improve her sailing capabilities and take M5 to the next level.  It is such a privilege to be the captain of this yacht.”


By Sarah Forge