Captain Michael Gooding, skipper of the elegant luxury superyacht SILENTWORLD, is a goldmine of expertise and experience when it comes to cruising in the Pacific, not to mention providing a five-star experience at sea. Here he chats with Hillary Buckman about his route to success, his standout destinations and a fascination with exploring shipwrecks.
How did you start out in the yachting industry, including your route to command?
While living on the Sunshine Coast growing up I learned to love the ocean but not necessarily boats. At the age of 15 I joined the Royal Australian Navy and learned to love the ocean from a different perspective. While I was in the navy my father, who was originally an electrician, bought a prawn trawler and I followed in his footsteps.
I joined my father on the 48-foot Alroy as a father and son team and learned the ropes, so to speak. I obtained my first command in 1979 when my father retired.
In 1989 I decided to move away from fishing and worked on dive vessels on the Queensland coast
and developed a stronger passion for diving. The combination of diving, the sea, and people hit a sweet spot and I found a job I really wanted to do.
In 1996 I moved to work in the Solomon Islands, and upon returning continued my studies at the Australian Maritime College and eventually started to lecture.
In 2005 I worked for Hayman Island resort and found my niche of high-end guests and the sea. I stayed
there for a while and then moved onto superyachts as
a natural progression. I had previously found a job I wanted to do and now I have found the job I love to do.
Where have you spent most of your time cruising as a professional yachtsman?
Most of my experience has been in the Pacific. In Australia and the Pacific we have a rich maritime history and locations across the Pacific where you can find seclusion and an anchorage where you are the only yacht.
One of your passions is diving and along with the owner of SILENTWORLD, you hunt for shipwrecks. What has been the most exhilarating and challenging dive experience and what has been your greatest discovery?
There are a lot of documented shipwrecks along the east coast of Australia and in the Pacific. Some of the more challenging dives have been on shipwrecks already documented like the HMS Pandora, while the most significant would be the wreck of the Mermaid. This was the ship used by Philip Parker King when he charted a great portion of Australia.
Where is your favourite diving spot in the Asia Pacific region?
My favourite diving spot in the Asia Pacific region is the Solomon Islands. The islands have reef edges that come up to just below the surface and then shoot upward to become islands. Below the surface as you look from the reef edge lies 800 metres of deep ocean. The currents that supply food to the marine life transform pastures of coral into blooming gardens.
The owner has recently upgraded to the current SILENTWORLD though you did a lot of cruising and chartering on the previous SILENTWORLD II. Where has been your favourite cruising destination visited so far? Favourite cruising destination would have to be Vanuatu. The local people are friendly and have a unique history. There is also a unique perspective you have of a country from the sea. We could visit a village in the north where people are making music from slapping water, and providing insight into a life of few possessions, yet they have great wealth in humanity and family.
Then from there we travel south and past one of the still-active volcanoes with lava flowing into the sea just one hundred metres away. Travel to the southern island of Tana and anchor in one of the bays with steam coming from the rocks surrounding the bay. It is a unique country that radiates raw energy.
“PACIFIC PILOT | Gooding has explored much of the region and declares it “the most beautiful in the world” for its natural wonders, dive sites, reefs teeming with sealife, and friendly people who preserve ancient customs.”
Which destination is still on your bucket list to visit and why?
I have travelled as far as Tahiti to the east in the Pacific. There is more to explore in this area with the Marquesas Islands and Gambier Islands.
To the east of Tahiti there is also Pitcairn Island, which has large significance to Australia, as the wreck of the Bounty is there – even the most landlocked Australians know about that.
Can you tell us a little about the current SILENTWORLD and what makes her a special vessel for chartering in this region?
After wanting to make some improvements to SILENTWORLD II we started looking for a vessel better suited to our purposes. After two years we found the current SILENTWORLD in Valencia, Spain. The boat was built by a company that normally builds research and fishing vessels.
The combination of good engineering and comfort makes the boat very well designed for maintenance, seaworthiness and range, and has the facilities of a five- star resort.
You have done a few charters previously in this region. How has the process been for you in each country?
Each country has its advantages and disadvantages. The hardest for chartering are a few countries in the Pacific that only allow locally flagged vessels to charter. Because there is no possibility of charter, the desire to visit these locations is limited. The destination may be the most beautiful in the world but if there is no possibility of compensating some expenses, the location is less attractive. In all of the other countries there are limitations but not refusal, and this provides a balance to personal use and a small return on the investment.
The Pacific is much like the other predominant charter regions in its local laws, which inhibit possible charter but don’t restrict it completely. We are in a society that tries to limit risk and a lot of the legislation surrounds risk control. That in itself is not a bad thing and we as managers of an asset have to make the most of this environment.
“Earthly Delights – Cruising remote parts of the Pacific, visitors share in local celebrations and truly understand that wealth is all about family, health and the pursuit of a simpler kind of happiness.”
Do you realistically see any significant growth ahead for the charter of superyachts, or indeed any growth in superyacht visitation at all in the Southeast Asia and South Pacific region?
There is definitely a foreseeable growth in the visitation of superyachts in Southeast Asia and the South Pacific. We have some of the best locations and cruising grounds for superyachts. We accommodate all facets of superyacht life and offer an appropriate environment for guests. The guest can choose remote locations where they will not see another vessel, or Sydney Harbour on New Year’s Eve.
Around this region there are still some issues with foreign flagged vessels chartering. What has been your experience and would you recommend it to other captains and owners?
I think in the past there have been some issues with foreign flagged vessels but the conditions are getting better. Silentworld is foreign flagged but we have sought advice on the import of the vessel and the ability to charter. Our experience has been a good one and I would recommend it to other captains and owners. Australia and the Pacific have a better understanding of the industry and are moving forward. Now there is more consultation and understanding between the industry and governing bodies.
Over the past 10 years, what have been the biggest changes and challenges you have seen in the superyacht industry?
The biggest challenge in the superyacht industry for Australia has been the inability for foreign flagged vessels to charter in Australia. This is changing and I think this will grow the industry in the region.
You are currently undergoing some refit work. Can you tell us a little about what upgrades you are doing and the yard you chose?
We have completed refit work in various yards in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. We chose Rivergate Marina [in Queensland] for their ability to complete the work on schedule. Quite often we have commitments either side of yard periods and being able to meet a schedule with quality work is important.
This yard period will include the installation of Zero Speed stabilisers, a hull repaint, a propeller tune, an underwater light upgrade, a servicing of all hull fittings, VSAT installation, Foxtel installation, new dive compressor installation, the replacement of teak planking and the installation of new carpet in lower deck cabins.
What is some advice you could give an owner thinking of bringing their yacht down to this region, whether for personal use or charter?
Whether it is Australia or any other country I would recommend due diligence. Get advice from a maritime lawyer from Australia and a local agent. They deal with the import of vessels all the time. They know about legislation changes and the system and have personal insight into each country’s laws and the best way to maximise a stay in the area.
What advice do you have for the maritime authorities/ government/superyacht industry association types
on how to better serve the needs of private visiting superyachts and charter yachts in this region?
I understand the need for Australia to protect its own industry but we are also competing with other parts of the world for business. We need to make the entry into Australia similar to the charter areas we are competing with. With a small number of yachts coming into the region, compared to the rest of the world, we have to be more encouraging and promote the region as a favourable destination.
As you know, Ocean Media also publishes the superyacht cruising guide The Great Southern Route, assisting captains and owners navigate this region. Has this been a helpful guide and what other guides do you use in unchartered, remote areas?
I do use The Great Southern Route as a guide and also to remind myself of some of the places we have already visited. We have a vast region and it could be a few years between visits to each location. I use The Great Southern Route as it provides me with up-to-date information. I also always use a local agent to assist with entry and visa requirements into the country and provide more up-to- date information on the region and the possible activities available for the guests. They will also have the ability to recommend a guide where some locations are restricted and translation is an advantage.
What is the greatest reward of commanding a superyacht? Conversely, what are the greatest challenges and drawbacks?
For me the mixture of five-star resort and the ocean
is a great mix. I love the challenge of finding the best experience for guests and I get to come along for the ride. I love providing excellence. My challenge and reward is to enable a level of service that guests can enjoy, based on my passion for hospitality and the sea.
The drawback is being away from family. As we all grow up eventually, we have commitments and want to start families, which is a little hard to accomplish when you are off in the Pacific.
If young Australians and Kiwis are looking to enter the yachting industry as a profession, what advice do you have for them?
I think the industry and the profession is a great one. It is not for everyone but for me it was a perfect fit. The experience you gain and the people you meet are large incentives. The basic STCW training and then the Yacht Rating Certificate are the first steps on the education side. The next step is being humble and being able to take on any role. We have to be adaptable and even after a few years at sea I am still cleaning inside and out and providing assistance where it is required.
If you weren’t in the yachting industry what do you think you’d be doing?
I have thought about it as most people in the industry do at some point. What do I do if I’m not on superyachts?
I see my role as being a captain as one of a manager of the assets of a principal. If I took the boat away from this role the closest thing I could come to would be a house manager. The roles are similar except I just happen to drive a boat as well.
SILENTWORLD is available for charter through Ocean Alliance.
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