Harken Derm

Shifting from the land to the sea

Published on January 6th, 2019

About 71 percent of the Earth’s surface is water-covered, and David Smith decided he needed to see more of it. Here is his story:


At parties, I love it when people ask me: “What do you do for a living?” I am a commercial skipper, delivering yachts around the world. Yet 10 years ago, this was an industry I didn’t even know existed.

Those wealthy enough to own a yacht are unlikely to have as much time as they would like to sail it. So they’re happy to engage a professional delivery crew to get their boat where it needs to be.

Many of my regular customers are tycoons from the worlds of aviation, shipping, pharmaceuticals and oil, prepared to entrust my crew with their pride and joy. Some of them love sailing so much, they have even asked if they can come along as a crew member on our other deliveries. Other customers lack the experience for long offshore or ocean passages, and many of our deliveries are for brokers delivering brand new yachts from the factory to buyers around the world.

So how did I get here? Sailing is in my blood. Starting with dinghies at school and Scouts and sailing on my dad’s Sadler 25, I am at my happiest when afloat. Nevertheless, my career for 30 years was firmly on land working as a chartered surveyor, mostly for Land Securities, where I latterly managed a £700m property fund.

In 2009, I left the corporate world. I was in my fifties and looking for a new adventure. Almost by accident I found an advert on Facebook. A professional yacht delivery company was looking for a crew member to take a new 45ft Jeanneau from the south of France to Istanbul. After a quick exchange of emails, I was on a flight the next day to Beziers to meet the crew.

With a professional skipper at the helm, we headed into the Gulf of Lion — well known among sailors as because it roars. Wind speeds of 40 knots are to be expected as the Mistral barrels down the Pyrenees.

We soon settled into our routine of three hours on watch and six hours off. After two days sail, our first stop was Bonifacio in Corsica — the most beautiful natural harbour, with an entrance dominated by a castle, complete with a chain that can be pulled across to prevent ships entering.

Having refuelled, our next stop was Salina — one of the Aeolian Islands to the north of Sicily. We tied up on the fishermen’s quay, and settled into a lovely restaurant overlooking Stromboli island, with its active volcano. The boat is always dry, but the gins in that restaurant were outstanding.

After that trip, my heart was set on becoming a commercial skipper. – Full story

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