The life of a New Build Captain

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During the last of 5 sea trials onboard the 55m/180ft Amels Project 467, named ‘La Familia’, West Nautical Managing Director Geoff Moore was given an exclusive interview with build Captain Mike Rouse.

West Nautical, who are the yacht’s management company, were onboard to conduct pre-delivery training for the crew and assist during the Cayman Islands Interim Survey for compliance with the ISM and ISPS Codes, as well as MLC.

How long have you been involved in the build?
I have been Involved for around 18 months. I was actively involved in the process of reviewing the specifications, yard proposals, comparisons and owner liaison when they were looking for a yard to build in. During this time, I remained the operational captain for the owners other yacht, a 37m Gulf Craft.

Did you know the owner well before engaging in this project?
I had only worked with them for 3 months before this process started. I was appointed captain on their first yacht, it was plain to see that they loved yachting and quickly engaged me to assist in finding them a larger yacht.

We reviewed the brokerage market and the owner didn’t like any available yacht. We were looking for anything up to 60m and had a good budget, but nothing jumped out at them. Then we presented a photo of an existing Amels 180 and instantly it had the owner’s attention, the rest as they say is history!

How has your experience been with the yard?
Very good. Amels want to listen, learn, develop and engage with the build team. They have an open minded mentality which has been hugely beneficial to both parties. Zero cost change orders were made quickly and efficiently at the beginning, and then a handful of others were dealt with professionally and swiftly, with a reasonable mentality where they want to enhance the build as much as possible. You feel a real air of pride and passion in the yard for their workmanship.

How important has the new build team been in delivering the end result?
From the yards side, the PM and their core team or commissioning engineers are essential, as is their relationship with the owners team. Keeping the same people, building relations and keeping continuity has been crucial to the superb end result we have all achieved.

From the owner’s team, our biggest asset is that we know the owners, how they work, live and operate whilst on-board, so we have been able to tailor the spec and build to specifically enhance the way the owners will use their yacht. Having our own build engineer here with an operational perspective on things has benefitted both the yard and owner greatly. He was on site for 9 months and had good connections to me as the operational captain, there was a direct line of communications to the owner during last summer’s cruising. That meant I could sit down with the owners face to face and go through any plans, change orders or designs, resulting in quick decisions being made.

I didn’t become full time in the yard until after the end of the summer season and then other build crew started to be employed for 4-5 months prior to delivery, and there was a full crew for the final 4-6 weeks. Never underestimate the amount of work the crew need to do during the build!!

Would you do a build again?
100%. It has been so engaging and having had the pleasure of working with like-minded professionals, I would be delighted to do another one. Operational captaincy is great, but the new build experience has been hugely rewarding and a great experience.

What has been the biggest learning curve for you during the process?
Becoming the owner’s rep and signatory, was a huge step up. The pressure was really felt on occasion and the authority and responsibility that came with the role was new, as were the legal matters and financial requirements. I became the project manager of a team of third party professional service providers, such as yacht managers, lawyers, corporate service providers and designers, they then reported into me and required regular answers. This is very different for the operational captaincy that I was used to where these same parties advise you and guide you, not the other way around!

If you do one again, what would you do differently?
Ensure the primary owners team, being 2 engineers and top 2 deck officers, are engaged earlier so that their operational experiences can be utilised and designs changed at the time where the design are a line on paper, not in steel and aluminium where changes cost time and money.

I would request an owners technical manager or consultant also as a very useful person to have engaged to assist with the early stages of the build when you have less crew involved, especially in the spec review stage when contractors and specific details are being decided and someone who has worked with the yard and contractors before can have a valuable input. Somebody that is up to speed with current trends and technology and equipment, new trends and features that us operational crew may not be aware are possible.

Having the back office support of our yacht managers with regards to legalities, finances, compliance and crewing has been essential also, as it provides a lot of additional manpower at crucial times, without big expenses,so I would want them involved earlier than they have been this time. Having them involved has been a considerable help.

When does your head change from build specs, purchasing and delivery protocols to guest services, tender operations and flower arranging…?
A month or so before departure we were looking at berths and owners itineraries, as well as implementing our Safety Management System, conducting crew training and planning the delivery audits and inspections. It is a busy time and this is where we need a solid crew to act as a team and be able to step up and assist with the multitude of matters being discussed and reviewed.

After we depart the yard, we are heading to Gibraltar where we will have a week of work being conducted and stores arriving before we head into an owners cruise and the real work begins!

We will still have warranty claims to continue to work on, and so we shall be liaising with the yard on these, but the moment we leave Holland, we have to get our heads into safe operations and ‘guest-on’ mode as we ensure we have the yacht ready for the owners from the moment they step onboard, especially as they have not seen the yacht yet!

All the crew and I are extremely happy with the yacht and we are taking her to sea for the first time in total confidence. There is a very positive feeling onboard and with the anticipation of showing the yacht to the Owners for the first time, we are looking forward to getting down to the Med and start the next chapter of ‘La Familia’s history after such a successful time here in Holland.