16 July, 2021 Mary V

At the Helm: Life as a Captain in the Balearic Islands

“Captain” is a title that many of us know carries some gravitas in the Balearic Islands and one that most wouldn’t know much about before coming here, but why do people choose this career and why do many of them decide to call these Mediterranean Islands home? 

Chatting to Abby Emery, an experienced Captain on sail yachts around the globe, helps to shed some light on these questions, and as a female Captain in a male-dominated industry, raises new questions. As a Captain that took her Yachtmaster exam at 19 years old, became a freelance Captain at 26, and a full-time Captain at 27, Abby is certainly a trailblazer in the industry. 

How do you become a Captain? 

To become a captain takes hard work and even harder hours. Starting from the ground and working up takes some serious dedication and many people start off in the industry by stomping the docks with a CV in hand to find a Captain or member of crew that is willing to give them a chance on board. Abby started off in the industry early-on in life and quickly “learnt the ropes”. 

Aside from the hands-on experience, a Captain is put through their paces with a series of gruelling exams, many of which can be taken on the islands (particularly Mallorca). Once passing the exams and getting the necessary experience under their belt, a Captain then needs to find a boat that is willing to hire them – no easy task for any newly qualified Captain, especially as a woman. As shocking as this sounds in 2021, it is still true and many owners are hesitant to hire a female Captain. 

“Being humble helps. Ask questions, take advice and trust in your own abilities,” says Abby. “People will respect you if you show them respect, and respect the industry”. 

It is hard to believe that in the yachting industry, only a tiny percentage of Captains are women, and even down the lower rungs of the ladder on yachts, women are hugely underrepresented. This just drives many people, such as Abby, to smash through the proverbial ceiling and encourage anyone with an ambition to stand at the helm to work hard and challenge this stereotype and make becoming a Captain a possibility for all. 

Why is the Balearics the Number 1 Choice for Many Captains? 

“It feels like coming home and ticks all the boxes for Captains, crew and guests.” 

As Abby says, the Balearic Islands really do have everything for Captains, crew and guests but it is also the Balearic lifestyle that attracts them to these Mediterranean shores. Captains can take advantage of all of the things that bring tourists and expats alike to the islands – city life, beach vistas and mountain hikes – as well as a reliable infrastructure and a community vibe that makes everyone feel at home. 

Provisioning and marine services are obviously top of the list for the Captains on a professional front and the islands have these in abundance. Being able to choose which companies you use, having so many on offer and being able to trust (especially through recommendations) that you will receive a sterling service is invaluable to Captains. Refit & repair is a major attraction here, with many Captains choosing to spend their winters here whilst their boats are being looked after, spruced up and polished to perfection before the next Med season starts and give their crew a well-deserved break. 

The Balearics as a Destination 

Once a season is underway, the boat is ready, and the crew is raring to go, the Captain’s main job is to make sure that their guests/owners enjoy their time on board. And what better place to do it than in the Balearic Islands? Warm waters, diverse landscapes, an easy sailing environment, and all only a few hours sail between the islands. Should the guests want to party in Ibiza, relax in Formentera, experience the culture of Menorca or explore the extensive coastline of Mallorca, all is within a few hours reach. 

Life as a Captain is by no means plain sailing but when it comes to the Balearic Islands, it would seem that the advice is: shop around, trust the services that are on offer, trust yourself and your crew, and enjoy everything that this sunny slice of the Mediterranean has to offer. 

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