There is no one path or process that leads to successfully captaining a yacht. Instead, it’s the number of diverse experiences and skills acquired that can really pay off. A good example is UK native, Lynn Griffiths, who grew up in Cheshire, a locale defined by dairy farms and cheese rather than seamanship and an ocean breeze. Today, Griffiths captains the 72-foot sailing yacht, Pacific Wave, on charters in the British Virgin Islands during the winter and Grenadines during the summer.
“My childhood holidays were spent in a tiny North Wales coastal resort called Porthmadog and this was where I developed my love of the sea,” says Griffiths. “I spent all of my time playing in boats, mainly motor boats due to the harbor’s shallow draft. My father bought me an old aluminum speed boat when I was 14. It was finished in a strange yellow color, so l sanded her to bare metal and repainted her blue. Many happy hours were spent taking other kids out around the harbor.”
Griffiths knocked down any gender barriers early in life by being among the first class of girls to enter a formerly all-boys college. Next came a university accounting degree. Then, she worked in senior finance positions in London for globally-famous insurers such as Endurance Worldwide and Groupama. During this time, she developed the discipline required to start new businesses as well as motivational skills. It’s these talents Griffiths uses today for safely captaining a commercial yacht, while at the same time making sure everyone onboard has fun.
In early 2000, Griffiths returned to her first love: the sea. She obtained her MCA Master 200-ton license and RYA Commercial Endorsed Yacht Master ticket for sailing vessels. Sea time required for these qualifications came from cruising the south coast of England, sailing back and forth to the Channel Islands, France and Isles of Scilly as well as further afield to Malaysia, Thailand and extensively in the Mediterranean. Griffiths first visited the Caribbean in 2002 to take part in Antigua Sailing Week.
“I was hooked after that and from 2002 to 2008 spent all of my vacations yacht racing in the Caribbean and round the UK. This included Antigua Sailing Week and the St Maarten Heineken Regatta, Cork Week, Cowes Week and the Round the Island Race (Isle of Wight) on the south coast of England. I developed a very competitive attitude during my years studying, hence my love for yacht racing.”
During these years, Griffiths was also a Rear Commodore of the Little Ship Club, the oldest sailing club in London. Along with social activities and club cruises, she also organized popular weekend racing and she started a winter racing series that encouraged members back onto the water and re-vitalized the club. Then, she decided to change careers to that of an owner-operator of a crewed yacht. Griffiths searched for two years for just the right vessel, found Pacific Wave and purchased her in 2008.
What does she like best about being a charter captain?
“It’s the ability to share and show the beautiful islands to our guests and to share our experiences with them – the best snorkeling spots, diving in crystal clear waters of the Caribbean, the best beach bars and secluded anchorages. It is so rewarding to see the look on the faces of young kids who have never sailed before. They are totally captivated by being on the water in every sense, from the sailing, to the snorkeling, kayaking, water sports and more. If the kids are happy, mum and dad love it!”
For other women, what opportunities exist and what does Griffith recommend?
“First, the situation in the Caribbean has changed; there are a lot more opportunities for women as licensed captains with both owners and crew willing to accept a woman captain. The opportunities are there if you look for them,” she says. “Secondly, follow your dream – sail on different yachts to gain experience and stay calm no matter what situation you encounter. Your staff will respect you for this. Most of all, have fun and enjoy!”
Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.