Captain of Ships – Nigel Seabright
Nigel first broke a ‘hundred pound a week’ wage back in the 1980s as a young apprentice electrician. He stuffed the banknotes in his back pocket and excitedly drove his scooter home. “Mum, mum, I earned a hundred pounds” Nigel grinned, before reaching into a now-empty pocket. His loot had fluttered away en route. Thankfully this was not a prophetic moment for Nigel’s career, merely an education in securing your salary more tightly.
Speaking of education, Nigel was brought up in Poole, Dorset, and earned himself a set of vocational City & Guilds qualifications before joining Pullen Electrical. He would spend the next decade installing electrics for Mobil and suspects he has visited pretty much every petrol station across the UK. Sadly, Nigel’s employers slipped into administration and he decided to take a year out doing what he loved – sailing.
As a child, Nigel’s arm was twisted into sailing when he was on the receiving end of a hand-me-down Mirror dinghy (first launched by the Daily Mirror in 1963 don’t you know) from his cousin. Dinghy sailing turned into windsurfing and then into competitive two-person 420 sailing. In his 20s he crewed Oyster Lightwave 395 Hayley’s Dream competing in various Solent/RORC races, Cork Week and the Fastnet. The latter provided him with his biggest learning curve of his career.
“At my very first Fastnet, the biennial offshore RORC race from Cowes to the southwest coast of Ireland and back again, we were involved in a dramatic man overboard situation. One of our crew slipped into the inky black sea around midnight during a gusty force six. He was in the icy water for 40 minutes before we dragged him out. I’m amazed he survived, we had no GPS location, no strobe searchlight and the waves were reaching 40 feet.”
“After presumably spending a while recuperating, I saw him a few months later and he was like Guy Fawkes, a flare stuffed in every pocket in case of emergency. Then the next thing I heard he’d managed to set fire to himself and lost the sight in his right eye. He’s now caravanning round Europe I think. Poor guy.”
In the mid-1990s, post Pullen Electrical, Nigel did the Caribbean race circuit and numerous delivery trips on sailing boats ranging between 40 and 68 foot – including crewing for Nautor’s Swan Defiance in the company of former The Islander ‘Captain of Industry’ Rupert Savage.
“In 1996, I thought I should fit some proper work into my sailing schedule so I set up Seabright Marine Electronics,” continues Nigel. (Incidentally, the irony of having a surname combining ‘sea’ and ‘bright’ is not lost on him.) “That same year I threw myself into the European circuit for one-design sailboat Melges 24 crewing the poetically-named Pig’s Eye. Within a couple of years my accountant pointed out that I wasn’t generating much income through Seabright Marine Electronics. He suggested I either focussed on the business full time or I fold it. I folded it.”
Fortunately, as that door closed, another opened, and Nigel got offered a role looking after a fleet of boats for two British businessmen. “They had six boats, ranging from a 33ft Aquabell 33 cruising yacht through to a 43ft Catana 431 catamaran, and asked me to manage and maintain them all. Among the fleet was a 21 foot X Class One Design, or XOD, and a Nautor’s Swan 44 Mk II, which I had to prepare for racing every week, including organising crew. It was probably the only job in Poole where you got paid for organising a race team.”
Nigel managed the fleet from 1998 to 2002, completing his Yachtmaster Offshore and Ocean in between races. The Nautor’s Swan 44 Mk II Alvine XII was the most competitively raced and, with Nigel as navigator, won a lot of trophies in the Solent.
Due to the breadth of his experience, Nigel was asked to assist at the launch of the brand new Swan 45 at the 2001 London Boat Show. This led to a chance meeting with a young retired banker, a passionate sailor who had purchased a new Swan 60 – Steadfast of Aberdeen. Off Nigel went to the Nautor’s Swan factory in Finland and helped with the boat’s commissioning before being appointed captain.
“Sailing the boat from Finland, down through the Baltic Sea, and eventually arriving in Poole, my home town, was a real career highlight,” explains Nigel. “With Steadfast of Aberdeen I stepped away from the racing scene and instead we cruised the Mediterranean, Caribbean, South Pacific and beyond. I remember the owner’s first Atlantic crossing, which was my second, and we had several of his London banker friends onboard. Most of them were non-sailors and I taught them the easy way to sail, correcting the autopilot with one finger. Amusingly, nearly all of them changed their lives after the experience – retired, grew their hair long, that kind of thing.”
In 2007, Steadfast of Aberdeen sailed through the Panama Canal across the Pacific to the Galapagos Islands and then returned in 2008 to another set of islands, the Balearics, where she was put on the market ready for a new owner.
“It wasn’t my first time in Mallorca,” recalls Nigel. “A few years earlier, the Swan 60 had been struck by lightning blowing all the navigation equipment. There was just myself and another crew member on board so we hung deep out to sea, afraid of hitting rocks. Having got the paper charts out we steered a course to Palma and got the boat fixed – I loved the city.”
Nautor’s Swan got wind of Steadfast of Aberdeen’s sale and invited now-free Nigel to oversee a major refit of Swan 77 Taipan of Wales which was promptly renamed Tugela. After two years in a Lymington shipyard, Tugela set off to cruise the Caribbean and Mediterranean. “This was a crazy memorable time,” recalls Nigel. “Each afternoon we served high tea, regardless of the weather, and there always seemed to be a Lord, Lady or Duke onboard. We hosted David Somerset, the 11th Duke of Beaufort, and his wife Miranda, and their PA insisted I should refer to them as ‘Your Grace’ and ‘Madam’. On day two, the stewardess accidentally used David’s first name so I apologised profusely. He told me to not be so stupid and said it was one of the best holidays he had ever had. I was sad to hear of his passing last year.”
When Tugela was sold in 2014, Nigel entered uncharted waters and stepped straight out of his comfort zone onto his first motorboat – 33 metre Benita Blue.
“I knew the old captain,” says Nigel. “Benita Blue never seemed to go anywhere and I used to joke with him that I would love to captain it in my retirement, the ideal job, a boat that never went anywhere. Well, I got my wish but it wasn’t quite the dream ticket. I stepped onboard in San Antonio, Ibiza, with no handover and a new engineer. It took us 24 hours to figure out how to get the engines started.”
The plan was to switch home port to the South of France but, en route from Ibiza, Nigel and crew stopped in Mallorca to get some work done. The South of France arrangement fell through and Benita Blue ended up staying in Mallorca – much to Nigel’s delight.
“Year one in Mallorca was a busy one. Having been built in Australia in 2005, task one was to get Benita Blue through her ten-year survey – which we did without glitch. Also on the task list was to persuade my fiancée Marina to take a sabbatical from her investment banking career with JP Morgan and join Benita Blue as crew. Although she was a fine stewardess, Marina wasn’t a big fan of her new career, but she loved Mallorca and we got married in summer 2014. Our son Joshua was born in February 2016, a leap year baby, and Marina had a rather good excuse to quit yachting.”
After the survey, Nigel persuaded the owner, who incidentally had been the same owner since new, to go commercial and get a charter licence for Benita Blue.
“When I joined there were just 1,600 hours on the engines of a ten-year old boat – I was genuinely shocked. She’d barely been used outside Mallorca. Benita Blue was also extremely well known in the Balearics, her hull was painted an iconic blue colour and she spent several years moored on Palma’s Paseo directly in front of Tito’s nightclub. For both those reasons it made sense to make her available for charter. With a Cayman Islands flag it was quite a challenge, but I read up, worked through the procedure and we now welcome an interesting mix of Russian, Mexican, American clients for summer charters around the Balearics and mainland Spain – we winter here in Mallorca, in Port Adriano.”
“Deep down I am more of a sailing person, so I run Benita Blue like a sailing boat. I and my five seasonal crew wear polo shirts and flipflops or bare feet by day, and the epaulettes only reluctantly go on by night. I also have a reputation for happily taking on greenies, teaching and training them, then watching them go on to bigger and better things. However, over recent years I am seeing salary demands, even from greenies, go to ridiculous levels. The world has moved on a long way since those hundred pounds fluttered out of my back pocket.”
So what of the future, is Nigel going to work his way up the superyacht ladder?
“Having done over 130,000 nautical miles, including eight Atlantic crossings and one Pacific, I am enjoying this slightly slower part of my career. Every spare moment I spend with my family and my son and I am close enough to the UK to visit my elderly father with ease. I have never been interested in a very large superyacht and all the hassles that come with it. When megayacht captains ask me what boat I’m on, I initially get looked down on, and then they get a little jealous as they realise I probably have an easier life.”
Benita Blue is available for charter with www.burgessyachts.com.
Sarah Forge, firstname.lastname@example.org