Micheál Pierse from Kerry, Ireland, is a highly experienced yacht charter captain. Over the last 6 years, 212 Yachts and Michéal have carried out countless yacht charters together on the French Riviera on his Sunseeker charter yacht Rehab. Now working as captain on-board a newly purchased Palmer & Johnson 120 charter yacht, we were lucky to find the time to catch up with Michéal and share his experiences and insight to-date.
How did you get into yachting?
A: I used to work in the corporate world. I was bored and kept asking myself what it would be like to be out. My reason for getting into yachting was that I was looking for a sense of adventure. I also wanted to know what I would say about my life when I was 85. I decided to look back upon my life and I broke it down into the places I would go and the people I would meet. Being in yachting provides you with lots of varied experiences that I wasn’t and wouldn’t get commuting to an office every day.
Had you ever been on a yacht before, or sailed?
A: I had never been on a yacht before, but I had sailed. I used to work in telecommunication in London and in Sydney, Australia. I decided to do something totally different for a few months and became a diving instructor along the Great Barrier Reef. From there, I began working on yachts as a diver and deckhand. I decided it would be cool if I learnt a bit more about boats and went from there.
Did you come to the south of France to find a job, or did you go back to England first?
A: Most people who get into diving can only stay in it for a maximum of two years and usually return to their previous engagements, but because I was working on a boat I thought it would be cool to become a captain of a yacht. I completed all the exams and eventually became captain of a sailboat in Australia. I captained quite beat up maxi sail yachts including Spank me, Freight Train, Matador. That was 10 years ago now. One of my deckhands, from Cornwall, was telling me that there were a lot of yachts in the South of France and he recommended that I go. At that point I decided to leave Australia and come back to Europe. It was either don the old suit in the corporate world and commute, or see how the South of France was. I decided to roll the dice and check out the South.
Have you been here since arriving?
A: I’ve been down here since 2009, when I arrived in Antibes. However, there was a brief period when I was in Italy.
Had you visited France before?
When I was a teenager in school I participated in a school exchange in the South of France. I didn’t know anything about yachting and I was inland in Provence, so I could speak a little bit of French. I speak even more now.
When you were little what did you want to be when you grew up? Do you see yourself being a captain until you retire?
A: I still haven’t figured out what I want to be when I grow up. I’m on my third profession, but I don’t see myself being a captain until I retire.
Can you explain what the role of a captain is when you have guests on a yacht.
A: Ultimately, a captain has a couple roles to fulfil. Firstly, you are always ensuring that everybody and their environment is safe, whether that be the guests or the staff. I need to ensure that we are anchored in the right area, and account for environmental factors. If we’re in the port, we have to ensure the lines are secure. Beyond those tasks, it includes managing the crew. For instance, checking if the chef needs more provisioning, or who can and can’t go on provision. Invariably sometimes it will descend into me having to run out and fulfil tasks, because the show must go on. I can’t sit in the bridge and say I’m too important.
Most people think the captain just manoeuvres the yacht, but as you’ve been saying, you do a lot more than that right?
A: I also do a lot of correspondence work via phone calls and emails. Even when I don’t have guests aboard I still have work to do. I’m the first and only point of contact with the boss. I would say that the running and management of the yacht falls under my responsibility.
How much interaction do you have with guests when they’re aboard?
A: This answer may vary from captain to captain, but I interact a lot with guests when they’re aboard my yachts because we are delivering a customer experience. My last boat, called Rehab, was 21m and I was the captain and the waiter. Most guests have a lot of inquiries once aboard. To ensure an enhanced warm experience, I will show my guests around the yacht and discuss the itinerary. I enjoy interacting with guests as they often provide insight into different world views.
What is your favourite part about being a captain?
A: Being a captain is a state of mind and is a service. You have to honestly want to please people. One of my favourite things is when my guests say that the charter was their best vacation/best time they’ve had.
What’s one of the downfalls of being a captain?
A: When people have had a few too many drinks it often brings out unpleasant behaviour, and when somebody is the authority figure it can become a difficult situation. As an authority figure you must be pre-emptive and set the safety rules beforehand. As people continue drinking the rules become black and white.
What are the most stressful parts of your job? Please describe your experiences.
A: I’m always trying to assemble the right staff. The hardest part is when you’re genuinely sincere about delivering customer excellence, and a crew member is indifferent. Invariably you need a full crew, so it’s stressful when you take someone on and they’re indifferent because ultimately they are letting the team and the customers down.
Do you have a full crew at the moment?
A: Yes, and I believe I have a very good crew. We invest a lot in people, which historically the yachting industry wasn’t great at.
How long are your hours?
A: There is always someone manning, 24/7.
Is your upcoming charter on the French Riviera, and was Rehab also based on the French Riviera?
A: Yes, however Rehab went to Italy as well; we chartered to Sardinia, Corsica, and all the way down the Amalfi Coast. My upcoming charter will do the same this year, but the client will get bored of that and will look for new borders and frontiers to explore. It’s mankind.
Where is your favourite charter destination?
A: My favourite destination is the west coast of Corsica. It’s similar to the west coast of Ireland, but with sunshine. It’s beautiful with green ruggedness, national parks, and a lack of population.
If you were a guest and you were chartering a boat with your friends, where would you take yourself and what would be your ideal day?
A: My favourite destination would be Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, between Cap-Ferrat and Villefrenche, because very few people go into that bay even in July and August. It’s beautiful and I love the history of the area. The clear turquoise water is the same as between the Cannes islands and the beaches are lovely. The Royals have been going there for hundreds of years. There’s a photograph there of a shepherd tending to his flock on a completely barren landscape.
What are your thoughts on the yachting industry?
Yachting is known as the industry of broken dreams. If you try hard enough and for long enough I think it can come around for anyone, but it is hard. I would say there is one day a year where I wish I worked in an office. I only feel this way when suppliers aren’t coming in, there are lots of deadlines to meet, and my boss is hammering me. That’s only one day a year though, compared to most who were wishing they had this for 364 days of their year.
Are there any other areas along the French Riviera which you really like and do you have any restaurant or beach recommendations?
A: My recommendations depend on the clientele. Anjuna in Èze and La Guérite in Cannes have been very up and coming in the last few years. They are really trendy with good music, and prices to match. For more relaxed environments I would recommend Paloma Beach, it has good food and a relaxed dress attire. One of my favourites is La Tonnelle, which is the most relaxed of them all being on l’Île Saint Honorat, the island of the monks.
What sort of clientele are you expecting for this season on this yacht?
A: The owner is Anglo-Saxon. He was born in England, but is based in the United States and the crew broadly reflect that. We have crew from Canada, New Zealand, Ireland, and the United Kingdom. This tends to attract English speaking Anglo-Saxon clients, including Northern Europeans.
Would Saint-Tropez be a good destination for a day charter?
A: Saint-Tropez is fabulous, it’s got it all. My favourite time of the year to go is in September when the crowds are gone. There is an array of beach clubs that can cater to anyone; Nikki beach is really bumping, Le Club 55 is really trendy, and there are a range of bars in between.
What are your thoughts on Monaco?
A: Monaco is always popular. It is a phenomenal marketing success. Realistically everyone who comes to the French Riviera wants to go to Monaco. It can cost you a million, or it doesn’t have to cost you anything. There’s lots to see and do including visiting the old town, the palace, the port, and the casino. I recently had a booking for the Monaco Grand Prix. It is one of the sporting spectacles of the world and it is always a great atmosphere.
What is your proudest accomplishment?
A: Everything is relative. The last yacht I ran turned a profit and the only time I’ve heard of a yacht turning a profit was a charter. On a personal level, I’ve seen a lot of the Mediterranean. I like history and I read up a lot on everywhere I go. Napoleon was here and various battles took place in areas I’ve visited. I’ve travelled to a lot of places and experienced a lot, which was the whole point of getting into yachting so that I could have accomplishments by the time I am 85. Often the guests are in their 60s and 70s and are interested in history as am I, which leads to very interesting conversations and makes it feel as if you’re on holiday yourself. On the academia front I have a Master’s degree, which is a great achievement. The prize for me was to run a larger yacht based in Antibes because I live here and am happy to be based here, which is an extremely rare thing to achieve.
Why did you choose Antibes?
A: I’ve been in Antibes since 2011. For me, it has it all. There’s lots of culture, history, languages, nationalities, historic cobblestone streets, different restaurants, and 15 minutes down the road there’s an airport where you can fly to anywhere in Europe in two hours. In the downtime during winter, you can drive up to the Alps and go skiing and swimming in the same day, which is nearly impossible anywhere else in the world. I left Australia to be near Ireland, and it’s a two hour flight from Antibes.
Do you miss Ireland?
A: Yeah, sure. With good weather like today at least I can say I have a good Guinness in Ireland.
What is your best memory as captain?
A: We did a charter six years ago and it was a couple who hired the boat. They wanted to go to one of the most secluded areas possible. The husband said that in exchange for getting them into a certain place I could stay at his hotel on Lake Como. I had no idea what kind of a hotel it was and what gets said over a glass of champagne does not necessarily transpire into delivery. We stayed in a variety of different areas one usually wouldn’t go to for a full weekend. They were really wonderful people and had a great time. He kept his promise and I was offered the penthouse hotel room with a stunning view over the lake. If he was trying to impress me he certainly succeeded in that. He told me he was buying a yacht and that he wanted me to drive it.
Why choose to charter this yacht you’re currently a captain on?
A: I’ll be the master of the vessel, but not very involved with other tasks as this is the largest yacht I’ve chartered thus far, which will be an entirely new experience for me. One of our key areas is service and I believe we’ve assembled the right team for delivering the ultimate luxury maritime experience in its class. We have totally re-vamped the interior for a luxury effect and all the equipment is new. We have a Michelin star chef and an experienced, yet young and vibrant crew and are ready to go.
Did you enjoy your time as the captain of Rehab?
A: I did very much so. I was captain there for 6 years, from February 2011 to November 2017. I was the master of the vessel and the server. The owner of Rehab has invested a lot of money into it and the new captain is very experienced and qualified. The boss is extremely constructive, which naturally has a trickle-down effect and causes constructive captains and crew members to naturally gravitate towards him.
Were you captain of another yacht from 2009 to 2011?
A: I was for one season.
Was Alice a stewardess with you on Rehab and is she now working here with you?
A: Yes, it’s very nice to be able to keep working together and to have moved together.
If you could have anyone charter your boat, who would be your three dream guests?
A: I will always pick a man or woman of value over a man or woman of wealth. My first pick would be Mahatma Gandhi, although obviously he can’t come aboard. My favourite saying is ”be the change you wish to see in the world”. My second choice would be Angela Merkel. I think she’s very bright, it would be amazing to get her take on the world. Some would say she’s become the default leader of the western world, that debate will continue, but I believe she made a lot of good decisions for a lot of right reasons, whereas there’s so much cynicism in the world at the moment. For a pastor’s daughter in Eastern Germany, the former DDR, I think she’s done really well for herself. My third pick would be Nelson Mandela. Few people have real belief in things, whether you agree or disagree with him, to spend 27 years in jail for something you believe in is quite extraordinary. I would choose these three because they have very different character and different perspectives.