Q&A With Phil Wood of Halcyon Yachts
This week, Chris Frisby, UKSA Director of Training and Operations, catches up with another of UKSA’s Alumni, Phil Wood, Operations and Sales Manager of Halcyon Yachts. Halcyon Yachts is one of the UK’s leading yacht delivery companies, providing skippers and crew to move yachts all over the world for their owners.
Phil you completed UKSA’s Ocean Graduate course back in 2008, qualifying as an RYA Yachtmaster Ocean, we’d love to hear where your career has taken you over the last 12 years?
I made some lifetime friends on my course, it is one of the great things about sailing, going through a shared experience on the water will do that. Another student, John Bostock was on my course at the same time and from day one we hit it off. John was opening a charter sailing franchise after qualifying and we shook hands during our firefighting training for me to come and work with John at Sailtime after we both graduated.
Towards the end of my course I had decided that instructing was what I wanted to do, and so I undertook my Cruising Instructor course back with the UKSA. Sailing backwards down the Medina and then sailing onto one of the tight berths outside the Academy is a memory I will never forget!
Sailtime Family RYA Instructing
I spent three years with Sailtime, becoming the Fleet Manager and Instructor looking after around 15 yachts based in the Solent area. I continued my training with the Shorebased Instructors’ course, VHF SRC Assessor and RYA Radar Instructor courses.
I had some amazing times with Sailtime including running the lead yacht on group flotillas in the Med and in the BVI’s. We lost John last year sadly but those days will remain in my memory for ever. After Sailtime I had an itch that needed to be scratched and that was superyachts. I joined an Oyster 82 as First Mate for a year which included some incredible sailing and true hair on the back of your neck moments. Cruising into the Morbihan with full sail on a summers Saturday afternoon surrounded by hundreds of smaller vessels stands out. On the flip side the hours of prep and cleaning and wielding the bent coat hanger during many a guest’s cocktail party, I realised that a year was enough for me.
Freelance Race Skipper – RTIR 2013
I went freelance for a while, mainly running private charters and some delivery work before taking a shore-based job working in maritime risk management and armed anti-piracy for both commercial shipping and superyachts. I spent another three years in that position before returning to freelancing again. This time was mainly focussed on some project management and race prep for the Vendee Globe.
Myself at he Helm of Open 60, Toe in the Water, roaring down the Southampton Water during race preparation for the Vendee Globe.
After that came my current role as Sales and Operations Manager for Halcyon Yacht Deliveries. I was looking for a role with a business that shared my ethos for professionalism and passion for yachting. After a few interviews with other businesses and charities, I knew as soon as I met with Halcyon that it was a place I wanted to be. Since starting we have continued to grow as a business with a record year last year. I work with the most fantastic skippers and crews, many former UKSA students, old and new, I thoroughly enjoy it.
With borders being closed overnight and the international travel restrictions introduced globally in the wake of the COVID pandemic, the impact on your operations must have been quite significant?
Absolutely. We had several yachts on the move as the restrictions came into force. It really presented us with two substantial challenges. Getting crews on and off yachts and being able to fly them home became almost impossible. For those yachts on longer delivery passages, including one we had going transatlantic to Rhode Island, where to refuel and re-supply, essentially a massive impact on passage planning.
This crew was underway from Tunisia to the Spain, a relatively short hop on a Halmatic Butler 40 Motor Cruiser (you can see her in the background). We simply could not get them ashore to disembark or even to resupply.
They managed a call in Gibraltar but were not allowed off the fuel dock. Thankfully we had another crew on another delivery which had just managed to come ashore prior to the lock down and they were able to assist by passing victuals over the fence whilst re-fuelling. The only option in the end was for them to return, with the yacht, all the way back to the UK, a pretty substantial extension to the planned delivery!
You can read all about the story here: https://www.halcyonyachts.com/no-ordinary-yacht-delivery/ – As with most businesses we have had to re-write the rule book for how we conduct deliveries whilst the pandemic still presents a risk. New guidelines for travelling to and from the yachts, along with how to apply social distancing whilst underway are just some of the challenges we have had to overcome.
In general, the work required in setting up a delivery has increased substantially. Each country has different rules and regulations which all come with the obligatory forms to fill in, and these all change on a daily basis.
Things are starting to return to normal now. Thankfully we had very few cancellations. We have worked hard on behalf of our clients throughout the lockdown to get things moving as soon as possible. For us in the business, we have worked throughout. We have been underway again now for a good few weeks and are starting to see bookings returning. Of course, there are an awful lot of yachts that were stranded all over the world, that all need moving and all at the same time. It is shaping up to be a busy period for our skippers and crews.
How have you adapted your services as we return to a more familiar way of life?
Along with the on-delivery guidelines, which remain in place for the moment, we have leant in heavily with client communications. Whilst not always possible to meet our owners at either end of the delivery at the moment, we use WhatsApp Groups to share updates, photos and videos of the delivery along with easy communications between the vessel and the owner. It is something we have always used, but it really has developed during the current period. It is as close as we can get to having the owners join us for the delivery.
What is your advice to those who have recently qualified as a RYA Yachtmaster, and are looking to pursue a career in the yacht delivery business? What qualities do you look for in your team?
In all I have managed to work continuously in yachting in some form or another since the day I graduated back in 2008 to today. My advice to any graduating students, and I was in my mid-thirties when I went through, is if you are prepared to travel and take on a new challenge, you should always be able to gain work. Diversify your CV and qualifications as much as you can and those soft and transferrable skills will be of great benefit. You will make contacts as you go through your career and it is a small industry, try and get noticed for the right reasons.
There are many fantastic skippers and crews out there, a much smaller proportion have great client facing skills, are good communicators and are extremely pragmatic in their approach to deliveries. It is a fact of yachting life that things never run exactly to plan. Things change, just look at Covid. Engines can fail, breakages may occur. Yachts that have been sitting out in the sun in the Med on a pontoon for three years absorbing all that UV, may not take kindly to even the most moderate swell when on delivery back to their new home in the UK.
We look for skippers and crews that will embrace and take ownership of issues and challenges, work for a solution and keep the owner informed. Much as I would love to, there is very little I can do from my desk in the UK to change an oil filter on a yacht in Sicily.
Halcyon Skipper on passage
If you can be that sort of skipper, you will absolutely stand out and be guaranteed future work. Your technical skills and professionalism should be a given, the icing on the cake is down to you.
When you are starting out, do consider progressing to Yachtmaster Ocean. Nearly all of our regular skippers are Ocean qualified. We run many deliveries each year that are suitable for Ocean qualifiers and most of our skippers are enthusiastic and passionate about Astro Nav.
Crew getting sights for RYA Ocean Yachtmaster whilst delivering a new catamaran across the Atlantic. Our crew positions have all expenses covered and on-board food provided. There is no charge to come along as crew and get your qualifying passage en-route including your sights and all your passage planning.
Halcyon Yachts are a reputable and competent yacht delivery company with an outstanding reputation. We pride ourselves on our exceptional service and considerate approach to all our yacht and powerboat deliveries.
We have the highest standards in the yacht delivery industry and as such our Skippers are qualified Ocean Masters as a minimum. They all have years of experience and are dedicated professionals. The safety and well-being of both yacht and crew are paramount. Decisions are always based on seamanship and not pressures of time.
Our meticulous and thorough approach ensures that our professional yacht delivery service is second to none. At Halcyon Yachts we take pride in our yacht deliveries, and we will deliver your yacht safely, securely and with the utmost respect of the owners’ wishes.
– Sales and Operations Manager, Halcyon Yachts.
Halcyon Yachts Ltd is a dedicated international yacht delivery and management specialist with highly experienced Skippers and qualified crew.