Answering the questions is Steve Mclaren of Elena, the 55-metre built in 2009 by Facotira Naval de Marin
Place of birth Scotland
Current yacht Elena
Number of crew 8
Previous yachts Manfredo, Gael, Volition, Pitagoras, Whitefin, Alejandra, Eleonora
What was your first taste of the sea?
Fishing and getting lost in rowing boats with my father and brother on the Clyde. I started sailing at the age of 12 in a 12ft dinghy, and the first yacht I captained was a 76ft Abeking & Rasmussen ketch. Since then, it’s always been sailing for me – never motor yachts.
Which destinations do you most look forward to visiting?
I’ve not been everywhere but I’ve been to a lot of places! The Azores really stick in my mind. If I had my own boat and lots of time, I’d take my kids and cruise around the islands.
What’s the one place in the world you’d like to cruise to that you haven’t already?
I’ve always wanted to cruise the Pacific.
What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in the industry?
The shift into a business. Paperwork is a huge part of our life today, and something that no one enjoys. Sailing becomes the focus less and less, but luckily for me, sailing is my hobby and also my job.
What do you like most about your current yacht?
Elena is my passion! I was determined to get the yacht built, so I found two partners and chose the boat from the original Herreshoff plans at the MIT museum in the USA. We developed it to the design stage, and then the build began at a yard in Spain. It was amazing to see the yacht take shape. I was the project manager and team leader, so every day I was dealing with new questions. The launch was fantastic, and on sea trial she was everything we expected and more. She’s now in her seventh successful season as a charter and racing yacht. Wherever we go, everyone who passes by slows down to photograph her, and that’s the best sensation – seeing that people love the yacht. The attention she gets speaks for itself. The crew feel the same way, and that passion is experienced by everyone who comes on board.
Which is your favourite on-board toy?
The boat is the toy! We stay away from jetskiing and show the guests that sailing a thoroughbred yacht like this is the most fun you can have on the water.
What’s the most curious request you’ve had from a guest?
Halfway to the Caribbean, a guest asked if we could stop and anchor! I politely had to explain that there was about 5km of ocean underneath us and our chain wasn’t quite long enough.
What’s the worst weather you have encountered on board?
Cape Finisterre on the north-west coast of Spain is a notorious spot for horrible weather. You don’t want to be there at the wrong time. When I was on Alejandra, we were on our way back from the Med to the yard, which took us past the cape. It was forecast 35 knots and we didn’t foresee a problem, but we found ourselves there in 60-70 knots of wind. Ships all around were calling the coastguard. I was manoeuvring at 15 knots through a fleet of fishing boats stuck out there. We made it to the yard, but it was an experience I won’t forget.
Who is the most eccentric/strangest/funniest member of your crew?
My first mate Tzara – she’s as into sailing as I am and works the crew pretty hard! She’s excellent at her job and it’s great to see a woman in that role for a change.
What’s the most stressful part of your job?
Customs are everywhere and very strict on paperwork. We’ve never forgotten any forms or had any issues, but you do think ‘now what?’ when you see them approach. I know every yacht feels the same way.
Any advice for an aspiring captain?
Get experience on every level on board, from bottle-washer to engineer. Then start captaining on a smaller yacht before you work up to larger yachts. Today’s crew have many certifications, but hands-on experience is the key.
What’s the biggest cock-up you’ve ever seen another captain make?
I haven’t seen any big mistakes, or if I have I’ve forgotten them!
We were turning in the marina at San Remo. Elena has a very long bowsprit, and at the same time that we were executing the turn, workmen at the marina were pouring concrete through a long trunk-like tube. We knew we were close to it, but didn’t realise just how close until the bowsprit picked up the tube, which was still spurting concrete! It wasn’t too difficult to clean up.
The 55-metre Elena sleeps eight guests and charters through Y.CO in the Mediterranean this summer from €80,000pw. A version of this story appears in SuperYacht World Issue 49