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Captain Kelly Gordon: From the farm to the sea

By LLM Reporters  |  September 7, 2021
Captain Kelly Gordon

One of the only Sanlorenzo 106 motor yachts available for charter in Florida and the Bahamas, FREDDY is a firm favourite amongst those looking for the perfect yachting getaway. Available for charter through superyacht brokerage Ocean Independence, the yacht’s outstanding crew operate under the watchful eye of highly accomplished Captain Kelly Gordon. Cruising back from Nassau after a busy ten-day charter, Kelly took some time to reflect on her journey into the maritime world and aspects of life as a female captain.

Growing up in a small farm town in Indiana, a fair distance from the sea, Kelly didn’t know that yachting would become such a big part of her life. Yet a thirst for adventure has been a driving force in her career, with a mix of motivation, ambition, and a little bit of luck all contributing to her exciting ride so far. Kelly’s story is most definitely an inspiration to all budding yachties out there.

“I had no idea that this was a career for me,” Kelly remarks. “If you had asked me 15 years ago if I wanted to be a yacht captain, to be honest I would’ve asked what a yacht was. I grew up in the middle of the country, the furthest from anything yachting. I have always been a bit of a water baby though, so it doesn’t surprise me completely that I am where I am today.”

Captain Kelly Gordon
FREDDY’s crew operate under the watchful eye of highly accomplished Captain Kelly Gordon

It seems it was purely by chance that Kelly found her way into the yachting industry. Having finished a Master of Science degree in chemistry on the east coast of the US, she took a teaching job at a local college. Her next move was a defining moment. She explains: “There was a student there that I got along with really well. She knew I was new to the community and wanted to show me around. So, after grades were turned in for the semester, she invited me to a party on a yacht. I had no clue what I would be getting myself into.”

Kelly smiles as she describes how events took an unexpected turn and something amazing evolved when she least anticipated it. “After I stood at the end of the dock in awe, we boarded. I met the captain and asked to see the engine room straight away before I had even shaken his hand.” Kelly laughs at the memory. “Growing up on a farm it was natural for me to be interested in the mechanics. I looked at the engines and remarked how these were tractor engines and electronics, so I could drive this thing, it’s just like a tractor. I don’t think that was my best call, comparing his motor yacht to a farm tractor.”

Luckily the captain took this in good humour and told her that if she was so sure about driving the yacht, to come back the next day. Of course, she did, and the rest is history. From that date on, the captain acted as Kelly’s instructor, taking her under his wing, making time to broaden her knowledge and experience as much as he could.

With a desire for knowledge and an eagerness for success, Kelly moved up the ranks quickly, with guidance and mentoring from the captain who initially inspired her. “We made a good team and I owe a lot of my success to him, but he has always graciously said he offered me the tools to get where I am and I did the rest,” Kelly states with clear gratitude.

FREDDY yacht
FREDDY is a firm favourite amongst those looking for the perfect yachting getaway

As one of only two female superyacht captains currently operating in the Ocean Independence charter fleet and one of a handful in the industry, Kelly is keen to see this number grow. “It is awesome, but kind of sad too and I am proud to initiate a change. I would absolutely love to see more female captains in the industry. Actually, my goal or initiative, is to share my story with as many people I can in the hopes that I encourage or inspire women to chase their dreams of becoming a member of the deck department.” She continues with genuine passion. “Really, though, I just love seeing anyone chase their dreams, so it isn’t just women that I hope to encourage.”

The skills and qualities needed for a career in yachting are varied, and Kelly clearly possesses many. Wanting to offer any valuable tips for yacht crew of the future she reels off some sage advice, “One of the most important things is to love travelling and not mind being away from home, friends, and family for extended periods of time. You will need to be a team player, in the biggest sense that you can imagine, because you are working with, living with, eating with, and playing with the same people day in and day out.”

She continues with some realistic and practical insight, “You definitely need to be able to withstand some of the longest work hours and be able to put your best smile on, even on your worst of days. Remember, those who are on board enjoying a yachting break are doing so to escape their normal, everyday stressors, so you are their happy place. You need to be flexible and willing to help out in areas that might not necessarily be your area of expertise.”

Flying the flag for women in yachting, Kelly is a keen advocate that individuals use their intuition and follow their dreams. “I would encourage women to get into yachting by simply telling them to Go For It! It is such a rewarding career and if you have even the slightest bit of interest you owe it to yourself to explore the opportunities.” With an infectious and unswerving enthusiasm, she is keen to promote the lifestyle that she evidently thrives in, saying, “Two of the biggest highlights of being on board are the relationships that you build with your other crew members. These are relationships that you won’t find are created anywhere else. And, the travel, of course! What’s not to love about the continual exploration?”

FREDDY yacht interior
Built by Sanlorenzo in 2017 and featuring contemporary and light interiors, 32m motor yacht FREDDY is available to charter with Ocean Independence

Relationships on board are important, and a vital factor is how the team interact and work together. Doubtless, as captain there have to be some challenges to overcome along the way, as Kelly admits, “The hardest thing about being a captain is managing my crew. The best thing about being a captain is my crew. So, the answer is the same for both, ironically. The relationships that I have been able to develop with my crew are the most rewarding, but sometimes getting to that point is the most challenging.” Adding with a wry smile, “And, sometimes being a female captain is tough. It’s almost like I have to prove myself 10 times over. With that said, though, it is the men in this industry that have collectively helped me get to where I am.”

Cruising extensively throughout the world, Captain Kelly has had the opportunity to travel to some spectacular destinations. On board FREDDY, a regular visitor to the stunning grounds of the Bahamas, she beams when commending the virtues of this region. “I am in absolute love with The Bahamas, specifically the Exumas. Not only are the Exumas the most beautiful place on the planet, but the people that you find there are, too. For me, it’s the people that make a place and I have some of the best relationships with Bahamians.”

FREDDY yacht on the top deck
FREDDY’s elegant exterior and interior styling are the work of Marty Lowe and Francesco Paszkowski

So, has she found any local treasures in her favourite spots that have proved particularly surprising? “Yes, we just found one this trip. Little Farmer’s Cay and the surrounding area is truly a hidden gem. The people that you find there, the beauty that you find there, and the concealed little beaches, sandbars, and caves are places that you could only dream of. In fact, I decided to add this part to our typical Exumas charter itinerary, and we will be one of a few charter boats that do!”

An instantly noticeable observation is that Kelly loves her job and is fully immersed in her role on FREDDY, stating by her own admission: ” Sometimes, I pick a project on the boat just to relax! I have hobbies, yes, but I love to work. I enjoy it, so I work a ton.” It is also good to hear she does make time for herself and has a strong and supportive family she adores. “Any spare time that I get is devoted to my family. Any time off that I get, I go home. I have an awesome mom, siblings, nieces and nephew, and sister in law.”

Finally, how does Kelly maintain her abundant enthusiasm and stay upbeat, does she have any advice to share? “I stay motivated by being my biggest cheerleader. How you talk to yourself and treat yourself is so important. Characteristically, I am a very driven and positive person, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t continually strive to be good at it and sometimes I’m not.” These wise words might be particularly valid in the climate we find ourselves in today. Summing up her incredible attitude, Kelly continues: “So, be kind to yourself, encourage yourself, tell yourself when you’re doing a good job. The conversations that we have with ourselves are of the highest importance.”

All imagery supplied by Ocean Independence