I started sailing myself just fifteen years ago – hitching a ride on yachts was simply a way to travel. Eventually I started employing people, although it’s hard to define exactly at what point it became a business. We’ve now been a limited company for nine years, when we probably had around half a dozen skippers. Four years later we had over a dozen and now I find it incredible to think that, as I write this, we have more than fifty crews at sea in the Mediterranean, Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans – an all-time record.

Our business is now an integral part of new boat sales and 60% of it involves delivering a new boat to the customer direct from the builder’s factory. The rest is split between brokerage sales and relocating a boat from one cruising ground to another for private owners. Our deliveries to North America probably account for nearly fifty percent with the balance split between the Caribbean and Mediterranean.

Sailors sail for the sheer joy and thrill of sailing. Our delivery skippers and crew must therefore be the luckiest people on the water, earning their living doing what they do best and delight in most. But professional yacht delivery involves a great deal more than simply getting a boat from A to B. For many private owners, their new boat will be the first time they’ve owned a vessel of its type and there will be much to learn about its handling and individual personality.

When we deliver a new yacht, we prepare an exhaustive checklist of every part of the boat. Depending on the nature of any faults, some repairs may have been carried out on board and the boat is often delivered in better condition than when we collected her. The rest will be reported to the factory to enable replacement parts to be fitted before final hand-over.

Manufacturers also benefit from early recognition of even the slightest design flaw and can modify future production accordingly, resulting in longer-term improvements.

Cruising World MagazineMost of these problems are small, but very occasionally a monster crisis occurs. One professional skipper will never forget the day when, a third of the way into his Atlantic crossing, he investigated the source of a faint noise from the stern which didn’t sound promising. A less experienced sailor might have ignored such early warning signs; thankfully he didn’t. Instead he discovered the rudder fixing disintegrating fast and was able to construct a jury rig as an emergency measure to prevent the rudder from being lost into the ocean. The yacht was still in dire straits however, so continue the crossing or turn back? Our guy decided to turn back and also set in motion a rescue alert with the UK coastguard. He, his crew and the boat all returned safely.

Although it’s said that worse things happen at sea, land operations aren’t immune to unforeseen circumstances. Only recently the skipper in charge of a delivery from the UK to the Mediterranean broke his leg while ashore in Portugal. Fortunately we located another one just three hours away, who was able to continue the voyage.

Reliable contacts and support are key to successful deliveries. For example, we know the procedure for expediting passage through trickier areas such as the Panama Canal. We also depend extensively on an independently operated weather routing system, which allows us to plan departures to coincide with the most favourable conditions. This system is unaffected by commercial pressures to deliver a boat quickly. If it tells us not to go, we don’t.

Owners are welcome to accompany the crew for the full trip or just part of it and can often gain invaluable knowledge about the handling of their boat. They can also receive expert tuition in navigation and meteorology, all of which helps build confidence and skill for their future sailing adventures. If sharing the delivery doesn’t appeal, then owners can follow the daily progress of their pride and joy from home. Advanced communications technology means that our Internet tracking feature usually works extremely well, although it has sometimes had its drawbacks when occasional ‘blips’ cause owners to panic that their yachts have sunk!

Sailing will always involve the ingrained pleasure of mastering wind and tide in the exploration of new horizons. Yes, delivering a client’s yacht is work, but it’s also the gateway to infinite possibilities, memories and magical experiences, like being tightly escorted by a pod of three humpback whales at seven knots. Give me this job any day.

Nick Irving can be contacted at Reliance Yacht Management:
Tel: 01252 378239; email: nick@reliance-yachts.com