Life, Loves and Yachting: An Interview With Captain Malcolm Kelliher Of Azzurra II
Celebrating his eleventh summer season on AZZURRA II, Captain Malcolm Kelliher opens up about life as a superyacht Captain, whilst reflecting on his experience in the industry.
Celebrating his eleventh summer season on AZZURRA II, Captain Malcolm Kelliher is looking forward to being on board the Ocean Independence flagship during the Monaco Yacht Show in September. Opening up about life as a Captain, whilst reflecting on his experience in the industry, Malcolm reveals some fascinating insights.
Built in 1988 by CRN, 48m AZZURRA II has been maintained in immaculate condition thanks to a knowledgeable owner and a similarly meticulous approach from her crew. Captain Malcolm clearly has great respect for the yacht, "She is an excellent, sea-kindly vessel, and a very manoeuvrable yacht indeed," he states. "At just under 50m and 500 tons, it helps to avoid a lot of bureaucracy such as port state security and pilotage – plus we can gain unhindered access to bays like Villefranche." Another advantage, and relatively unusual for a yacht of her size, is the crew of 12 – certainly a proven benefit in providing large yacht service standards to both the owner and charter guests.
One of the forerunners to showcase floor-to-ceiling windows in her full-width sky lounge, this popular design concept by Gerhard Gilgenast is widely seen today as a sought-after feature on newer yachts. "The overall feel of the yacht is light, airy and extremely spacious. The Owner's suite has a number of large windows that flood the interior with light, providing a really lovely ambience," enthuses Malcolm. "Having the RIB tender and Waverunners stowed on the aft deck permits space for four expansive guest staterooms that boast dimensions more akin to those found on a 55m+ yacht. Additionally, the vast sun deck with Jacuzzi, sun beds, shaded zone, alfresco dining, bar and observation seating is pretty exclusive and a real hub for guests on board."
In her thirty third year, maintenance of AZZURRA II has most definitely been a regular feature, with vigorous annual updates and additions. "Her 'vital organs' are very recent,” Malcom advises. Indeed, her extensive programme has seen the main engines replaced, electric zero-speed stabilizers and watermakers added and, in order to increase capacity to 12 guests, Pullman berths were added in 2015. This has been followed by A/C chillers & galley/pantry, shore power converters and KA & KV Satellite Transceivers & 4G Communications Equipment during 2019. Malcolm is quick to comment on the fact that, "she is technically a very new yacht, despite her age on paper".
While maintaining a yacht such as this in top condition, Malcolm explains that the challenge of budget management is always of primary concern. However, thanks to such an extensive programme, they also reap the benefits. "The reward comes from never having a single day cancelled through breakdown in 11 years and 60,000 miles of navigation," he concludes, seemingly a feat that many yachts will not be able to stake claim to.
With a core crew that have been on board for between 5 and 24 years, the AZZURRA II team also recruits and trains junior crew each season. Malcolm explains that it is important to have a mix of skill sets to remain adaptable when catering for different requirements or nationalities of guests. "I always seek differing nationalities and currently have 10 crew speaking 17 languages. It is like the United Nations on board!"
A keen advocate to encourage growth within the industry, Malcom notes that many captains of large yachts today have in fact worked under his tutelage during one of his commands over the last 40 years. He comments that he does know a few female captains, though they seem to be relatively scarce still in the industry. "It is surprising that it is not more common," he states, "In all walks of life today it is normal to see women in a previously male-dominated environment. In F1 we see women in the pit crews, there are numerous female airline pilots and women officers are more common now in the Merchant Navy. It should follow that we see more female yacht captains." Who knows, perhaps some of his crew will be keen to progress their careers with encouragement and guidance.
Striving to provide the very best experience on board, it can sometimes be difficult to gauge expectations with just a short period of time for crew to get to know the guests, "Depending upon the guests and the program, we tend to offer all the water toys as soon as possible, so we can see which they enjoy the most. Usually, the charter agents do an excellent job in extracting information from the charterers prior to boarding, so we have a heads-up on what to expect. It is rare that we cannot meet their expectations."
Praising the combination of a well-equipped yacht and his versatile team, Malcolm continues "As a former hotel manager, I derive great pleasure from seeing my guests depart totally satisfied - and I also enjoy having a great crew working well together as a team. We are equally at home wearing out kids with water sports (to allow their parents to relax on board) as we are providing formal fine-dining on superbly decorated tables with magnificent Mediterranean dishes from our Italian chef."
Regarding the cruising plans for AZZURRA II, the question remains, does he have a favourite destination? "That is hard to answer. I love most places that I go to and what I really love is to go back to places I have not seen for a number of years. I dream of returning to Croatia & Montenegro, but this depends upon future plans," Malcolm confirms. He is equally coy at keeping any notable treasures under his belt. "I tend not to publicise any secret spots as they will be secrets no longer! I love to show guests historical sites like a dry river in the South of Ithaca where Ulysses climbed up after returning home from 10 years at Troy, or the monastery on the Iles de Lerins off Cannes where St. Patrick is rumoured to have studied."
He is however happy to share a firm favourite that is a particular standout. "The very simple but excellent family-run Ristorante da Adolfo is located on a stony beach just below the Hotel Il San Pietro di Positano. It opened in 1966 and can only be reached only by boat. It is very much opposite the formality found in the neighbouring hotel and every guest I ever brought there falls in love with the place." A great tip indeed to discover true local flavour and a genuine Italian experience.
During the Monaco Yacht Show 2021, AZZURRA II will be the main hub for Ocean Independence and Credit Suisse, as well as entertaining potential purchasers on board. "It will be nice to show AZZURRA II off," the captain enthuses. "The last time she was properly inspected at a busy event was at the very successful Genoa Show in 2011! It will of course be nice to welcome people on board again after all the cancelled shows and events due to the pandemic. In fact, I last attended MYS with a yacht in 2008 and as a visitor in 2016, so it will be good to return again."
Having endured frustrating times with the cancellation of the 2020 charter season due to the pandemic, during which time AZZURRA II remained in Bodrum, Turkey, Malcolm is happy to report that the crew have bounced back and are full of enthusiasm for future events. "It has taken a little time to get into our usual rhythm, but it is a great feeling to be back and close to normality." Despite the enforced downtime in Turkey, Malcolm was unable to indulge his passion for classic cars, having been separated for two years from his beloved 1960 Triumph TR3A that remains in Mallorca, wistfully adding, "Maybe later this year I can do a tour of Andalucía & Morocco." Let's hope he gets the opportunity to be reunited with his wheels and enjoy some well-deserved road trips on terra firma.