#humansofyachting - Kelly Gordon
The chemistry professor-turned superyacht captain on pursuing her passion for the water.
“I grew up in the middle of America in Indiana on a small farm, surrounded by cows and pigs and corn and wheat, so just about the furthest from yachting you can get! I got my bachelor’s degree there and then headed to North Carolina to get my master’s degree in chemistry. There, I found the ocean and the sun and really big boats.
One day, I got invited to a party on a motor yacht. I’d never stepped foot on one before, but I instantly noticed that the captain needed help getting everything arranged, so I asked if I could assist him. I didn’t know bow from stern at the time, but I made a remark that I could run something like this, having grown up with tractors and heavy equipment. He told me to come back tomorrow if I meant it. I wasn’t expecting that, but I did take him up on it. He showed me every department on the boat and was adamant about me knowing a bit about everything, from the engine room to the deck. I moved as fast as I could move and acquired so much information. That captain was instrumental in my career. He saw my drive and determination and took me under his wing.
I knew from the start that I wanted to be at the helm. It took me about four years to get myself up to captain and, from there, I kept climbing and climbing. I’m like a sponge. I love learning and I’ve been doing this for about 12 years now. Over that time, I’ve noticed more of an awareness about the need for diversity in our industry, especially acknowledging that women can drive boats too! And women can run the deck. We’ll get the job done. There’s definitely been a push there.
It hit me the most when I was coming up the Mississippi River in Middle America. Each time I would pull up to a dock, young women would come out in awe asking if I was the captain. I realised what an impact I was having and so I would tell them my story and explain how anything was possible. People reach out to me a lot on Instagram from all over the world, too. There was one woman who was 60 and wanted to change career and be a yacht captain – I loved that. I find it really important to tell my story and inspire other women.
My relationship with owners and guests has always been great. I work really hard. I love people and if you are part of my crew, then you’re my teammate. I really enjoy sharing my knowledge and fostering their growth – that probably comes from my past as a chemistry professor. I also love that I am constantly learning in this job. Every day is different.
The Bahamas and Cuba are my most memorable yachting destinations so far. They are both beautiful, but when I fall in love with a destination, I don’t necessarily fall in love with the place, it’s more about the relationships I make with locals and other people from the industry. In Cuba, the people I met were so kind and genuine and eager to help. And in the Bahamas, I met some of the most amazing people from all over the world. What was so heartwarming for me was that on one little corner of the dock, there were people from England, France, South Africa, Tasmania and beyond and we all became so close. I would never have imagined that I was going to meet my best friends in this industry.
My family back home were impressed when I went from farm girl to chemistry professor to yacht captain, but they weren’t surprised. I’ve always been a go-getter and very driven. My mum instilled a tremendous amount of drive in us. I remember when I told her I wanted to be the first female president of the United States and she told me to go for it! As I grew up, I realised politics weren’t for me, but that confidence stuck with me. It might have been happenstance that I ended up being a superyacht captain, but I love it. Alaska, the Med and Antarctica are the next destinations on my bucket list.”