A sense of freedom. No two days or ocean conditions alike. The solemn responsibility for passenger and vessel safety while constantly encountering new experiences. These are a few reasons why Anna Orchard enjoys her career as a professional charter yacht captain. Orchard, a UK native who grew up on the country’s south coast, captains the 58-foot dive charter catamaran, Poseidon’s Pearl, in the British Virgin Islands. It’s here she continues to make waves; for example, Poseidon’s Pearl is the first Moorings yacht with an onboard environmental program that offers guests an opportunity to gather scientific information about sea turtles. Orchard also serves as a role model for other women who want to follow in her wake as professional captains.
“As a kid, our bathroom walls were painted with mermaids and sea creatures, so maybe that’s why I’ve always loved the ocean. My mum could never get me out of the bath,” says Orchard, who qualified as a PADI dive instructor after finishing college in Sussex, worked as a dive instructor with the Royal National Lifeboat Institute for five years, and later traveled to Europe, Africa and Asia, soaking up life in other cultures and working on coral reef conservation projects. These experiences taught her how to problem solve with few resources available and how to manage clients’ expectations effectively, both key components of what is required of a captain.
Orchard’s career took a different tack when she studied Marine Engineering at Newcastle University, earned her Chartered Marine Engineer status and worked in the oil and gas sector as a marine project engineer. After a while, she left this land-based job and returned as a student to study Marine Science and Law at the University of Southampton. This is when she realized she wanted to be back in a water-based role where she could work actively on issues associated with the impact humans were having on the oceans.
“I gained my powerboat license at age 20. When I decided to get my sailing license, I realized that most of my sea time was under power not sail. So, I spent a year cruising the Caribbean. It was fantastic to visit all the islands and great training to berth and maneuver the vessel regularly in and out of all the different ports in the Windwards and Leewards. This type of training was far more useful to me for a career chartering than completing my miles by sitting on a long ocean passage,” Orchard explains.
Since chartering is a well-established industry, Orchard discovered it was easy to find which companies operated in specific regions and speak with these representatives. She also attended a few industry events such as boat shows.
“The captain’s role is varied, especially on a busy charter boat, which keeps it interesting. I often hear guests comment that I have the best job in the world. I take this as a complement because it suggests that they don’t see how hard all the crew work, often round the clock, to make their vacation so enjoyable. This is particularly true when things go wrong with the boat! There is a lot of ongoing maintenance required, both on and off charter, to ensure the mechanical, electrical and sailing systems work as they are designed. As a captain, your responsibility for your crew and guests is paramount,” she says.
There has been an uptick in requests for female captains, Orchard says. This is because some owners think female captains treat their vessels with greater care. However, when something goes wrong, the response from owners may target that the captain is a woman rather than a professional captain.
“The industry is male dominated, so as a female you must use your competence and confidence to make informed decisions, stand by them and avoid being intimidated by the opinions of others. There will always be someone more experienced than you. If you love what you do, you will want to be the best. Leverage interactions with more experienced people to your advantage and as a learning opportunity. Know your strengths and work to them. There are usually several ways to solve a problem, so be brave and be creative, you don’t always have to do things the way others do,” Orchard recommends.
Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.