What did you do before yachting? I left school at 17 and was accepted on a 7-year training programme as a marine engineer in the Merchant Navy. Mixed practical serving aboard large cargo vessels sailing world wide, and studying at the Marine Engineering College. I actually did graduate, but was then drafted, and ended up in the Royal Danish Airforce, Military Police. From there I joined the Copenhagen Police, went through full training and worked as a police officer until I left to go cruising in my little boat in 1986. Been sailing ever since….
How did you first get into boats and sailing ? My parents have always owned small sailing boats. First we had a 25-foot Folkboat, and later a 29 foot “LA-Cruiser. We were all members of a small, working class sailing club in Copenhagen. Everyone pitched in. As my parents were amongst the few academics in the club (school teachers) they were the obvious choice for anything to do with writing and dealing with authorities. My mum was the editor of the club news- letter, and my dad was in charge of the club hard standing. This club was where I spend a large part of my childhood.
The 29-foot LA cruiser would be my first keelboat to skipper. When I was 15 my parents let me take the boat on a week-long cruise with 3 mates around Danish waters. Incredible! We got into all sorts of trouble, but basically brought the boat back in one piece, and after that I could pretty much sail it when I pleased. This boat stayed in the family for many years; in fact I later bought it off my parents, renamed her “Zappa” and cruised her to the Caribbean. Except, during my first attempt singlehanded, halfway between Lisbon and Madeira I broke my forestay and almost lost my rig. A containership I met kindly informed me that a force 10 storm was coming my way. So with a jury-rigged forestay I stuck my tail between my legs and limped back to Portugal.
- Did you used to race small boats in Denmark before you got into larger yachts ? I was sailing dinghies as a child, Optimist and a bit of Snipe. We also often participated in the club-races with the family boats. Everyone was very keen, and it was a lot of fun, but not a lot of silverware!
- When did you decide upon a career in the yachting industry? After my first failed attempt on crossing the Atlantic singlehanded in Zappa (1986) I ended up in Mallorca. Broke and somewhat disillusioned, I found work in C´an Pastilla with an outfit called “Holiday Charter Boats” They ran a fleet of 30-odd yachts ranging from 27- to 37 foot. Later some “large” 43-footers were added. In fact, I skippered 10 of these new yachts on deliveries from France to Mallorca. I worked there that first winter and spring as a bare boat charter skipper, sailing instructor and delivery skipper. During down time I doubled as mechanic, flotilla host, entertainer and cleaner. Whatever needed doing, really. During this time I met crew who worked on the larger yachts in Palma. I had no idea. In fact, once upon seeing a “big” (probably around 60 foot) motor yacht coming in for fuel, I actually walked up to the guys and asked them if it was true that you could get paid to work on boats. Can just imagine the laughs around that scuttlebutt! Anyway, the seed was sown.
- How did you go about getting into the industry? My first job on a crewed yacht was actually in Mallorca in the
summer of 1987 as engineer on a boat called “Bird of Passage” She was a chubby, 55 foot American motor sailor ketch. We were 5 crew! The job was to take her from Mallorca to Southampton, through the French canals. Great trip. My wife Fee was the stewardess. We fell in love in Paris. Very romantic.
After leaving Bird of Passage in Southampton Fee and I went back to Mallorca, prepared our little 29-foot wooden boat “Zappa” and set off out of the Med, down to the Canaries and then embarked on a 23-1/2 days trip across the pond to Barbados, carrying nothing but a sextant, some old charts and a bout of youthful insanity! A voyage as memorable as it was scary!
- What was your first skippers job? Apart from the bareboat skippering with Holiday Charter Boat, my first skipper’s job on a crewed yacht came soon after the Atlantic crossing:
Safely arrived in in the Caribbean we were broke, and in dire need of work. I managed to pick up some bareboat charter skipper work with The Moorings in Marigot Bay, St. Lucia. During my trip “Down Island” on an American charter Fee was left alone on Zappa at anchor in Marigot Bay, and was chatted up by 6 German bankers on a lovely Jongert ketch, Foftein. When I came back we met with the Owner, Peter, and he hired us as skipper and cook. This was really a lucky break and we ended up working for this very nice German family for 5 years. First we sailed Foftein back across the Atlantic to Mallorca. Peter then sold her and bought Jonathan S. We took her around the Med, down to the Canaries the first winter, back to the Med, and then embarked on a 4 years cruise around the world via Panama, Galapagos, Marqueses, Tahiti, New Zealand, Australia, Seychelles, and Suez, before bringing the boat back to Mallorca, completing the circumnavigation. Absolutely amazing!
- How many yachts did you work on before Skipper? Only a handful, really. After returning to Mallorca after the circumnavigation, the owner had fulfilled his dream and Jonathan S was sold. Fee and I were again lucky and got the job as skipper & chef on Spirit of Bowfish, one of the new, 29 m Jongert sloops. In 1992 this was one of the best jobs in the industry, and we had 2 great years cruising her in the Caribbean and the Med, finally taking her on a stormy January delivery from Mallorca to Holland for some refit work at the Jongert yard. We wanted to start a family, and resigned to settle on Mallorca. The next few years we had two wonderful children, Matilde & Thomas, and I picked up work as captain on a classic Fairmile motor yacht, Babette II, for a Spanish family. I also had stints on another Jongert, Amarant A and a Moonen, Blue Symphonie.
- Tell us a little about Skipper and how she came to be? After a 4 month summer cruise around the Western Med and North Africa with the owners of Blue Symphonie the job came to an end. This was in 1997 when Tom was just 6 month old. With a family to provide for I was quite keen to find something for the winter, not always an easy task. The famous Jongert brokers, Dahm Int., had just sold a 72-foot Jongert Sloop “Crystal” to a new owner, and I was invited for an interview. We got on, and he offered me the job. Basically he just wanted someone to “show him the ropes” as he intended to sail it himself after a short time. However, he enjoyed the experience so much, within the first year he went ahead and ordered a new 100-footer, and invited me to be the “build captain” A bit of a dream come true for any yacht captain. I was stoked!
- How much involvement did you have when the boat was being built? I believe I was an integral part of the owner’s team, and had quite some input with regards to the technical specs, engine room layout, deck layout, electronics and general advice on sailing systems, legislation, crewing, cruising grounds and so on. At first he still kept Crystal in Mallorca and we still maintained and cruised her whilst Skipper was in the planning stage and early build stage. Then Crystal was sold and I spend the last year living on site in Amsterdam, close to the yard, Holland Jacht bouw. I was on site every day and worked closely together with both the owners team and the yard team. The yard was relatively new at the time, but had hired some of the best, most experienced yacht builders Holland had to offer, and they build a wonderful yacht for the boss. The yacht was designed by Andre Hoek.
- You have been with your boss now for 19 years , I believe, an amazing achievement in this industry. What do you put this down to? 3 things: Maturity, mutual trust and flexibility. It has to work both ways. I get to have a great job, only as long as the boss gets to enjoy his boat anytime he wishes. No limits. No hassles. We maintain a relationship based on “friendly, but not friends” I work for him. He is the boss. He leaves me to get on with running the boat when he´s not here.
- You must have a great relationship with the boss and also Skipper, knowing them both inside out. I guess this is a rare thing these days? It is indeed rare. By definition any job where you work and live so close together is very complicated. The crew is under pressure to deliver a perfect experience, every time! The owner obviously has a lot of stressful things going on in his life. Conflicts can´t be avoided. Sometimes we all have a bad day. It is how you deal with the conflicts that shows your level of maturity. Both for the boss, the captain and the crew. With regards to the boat, Skipper? Well, as captain and engineer on her for 16 years, I do believe that I know every movement, creak, pump, pipe, system and sound that she has. There isn´t a single item aboard that I haven´t either serviced myself, or helped someone else service.
- I know Skipper is up for sale now. What are the big selling points for a potential new owner? Someone looking for a mid-sized boat, easy to sail with a small crew, (we run her with 2) will buy Skipper. The facts speaks for themselves: One owner since new, who´s loved his boat and spared no expense. Same captain/engineer since new. Garth, my 1st. mate, has been with us for 15 years. He doubles as chef in the season. Ready to go around the world. All systems serviced, replaced or upgraded. Recent improvements include new electronics, new standing and running rig, brand new sails, teak decks restored, all tanks re-coated, recent paint job, new power- and service batteries, spring haul out completed including all sea cocks, antifouling, polishing, pulling- and servicing of prop shaft and rudder, overhaul of variable pitch prop and gear box. Complete maintenance records on file. 16 years of data.
Contact Jochen Brill
Have you always preferred sailing yachts to Motoryachts? I´d like to think more that sailing yachts have preferred me. I have skippered motor yachts, and happily so, but mostly it seems that I´ve come into contact with sailing boat owners.
- Who are your sailing heroes and why? I´m not big on heroes, I believe everyone is a hero in their own right. That said, I must admit that I was a great fan of Sir Peter Blake. Never knew him, but was a keen follower. He really did it all, struggled at first, overcame controversies, then won the Whitbread and the America´s Cup in style. Held the Jules Verne trophy for 3 years. In retirement he first dedicated himself to the Cousteau Society, then later led his own environmental expeditions aboard “Seamaster” Tragically killed by Brazillian pirates in 2001. A true sailing legend.
- I know you are based in Palma for much of the year, would you prefer to be sailing for more months, maybe a winter season across the pond? Absolutely! I´ve sailed Skipper from Holland to Greece, and anywhere in-between, and also been lucky enough to do quite a few long deliveries with other captains over the years. But I certainly wouldn´t mind doing some more cruising! High latitudes would be exciting. Cape Horn & North West passage ?
- How has the role of a Captain changed during your career? I´m sure it has, but not so much for me, personally. Still doing it pretty much the same I always did. Seems to work….
- How has the industry as a whole changed over the years……. For better or worse? It depends on how you look at it, but I think mostly better. The yachts are bigger, much bigger, and obviously more complex to work on. With bigger yachts comes more crew, which adds another complexity. There are much more rules & regulations, and it is getting harder to avoid it. That said, I really believe that it is a total waste of time lamenting these facts. That´s the way it is. Daydreaming about the past is fruitless! As captains we´ve got to look at the facts, what we have to do to right now, and in the near future, to keep the boat safe, legal, make sure everyone is safe, the crew enjoy their jobs, and make sure the boss has the best time aboard his yacht. That hasn´t changed!
- If you move on, what would be your dream job??? When Skipper sells, and the boss doesn´t need me anymore, I guess building a new boat, then taking her around the world sounds nice…
- Anything you would like to add? Great magazine. Thanks for the chat! Much appreciated…,