When we talk about superyachts, we’re looking at vessels sized 30m and upwards, but many of the captains on these superyachts started on smaller vessels. To ignore their presence is to ignore where today’s captains came from and from where the next generation’s captains are likely to originate.

At just 25, Captain Tristan le Brun skippers Moonen’s 25.6m Etoile d’Azur, launched in 2007 and with the same owner ever since. With his RYA and MCA Yachtmaster 200gt, Captain le Brun has been on board the Moonen 84 for more than three years, during which period the yacht has cruised the waters of North Sea, Baltic Sea, Mediterranean, Atlantic and all over the Caribbean. In the past eight months she has racked up 11,000nm and since her launch has clocked over 6,000 hours on her main engines and over 9,5000 hours on each of her generators. With many of today’s superyachts spending the majority of their time either berthed in marinas or doing the overly familiar Mediterranean and Caribbean cruising schedules, it’s quite something for a yacht of this size to have so many nautical miles, hours and destinations to her name – particularly with a captain of just 25 years old.

A previous sailing racer whose experience reached skippering 50ft sailing and motoryachts, Captain le Brun was approached by Etoile d’Azur’s previous captain while he was working in a harbour in the South of France and was asked to step on board as a temporary deckhand. Since then, he has remained on Etoile d’Azur.

“I didn’t make any choice about the type or size of yacht, but I have been very fortunate and this one suits me perfectly,” explains Captain le Brun, who highlights that there are certain factors that come hand-in-hand with skippering a smaller vessel. “Being a captain on a ‘small’ yacht requires you to be very involved and passionate; less holidays, more work, more responsibilities and, proportionally, less money to run the boat. It definitely requires a lot of different knowledge and it is well known that there is captain turnover on this size of yacht. It often takes time for the owner to find the right crew, let alone the right captain. It is hard to believe the number of owners within the same size of vessel who ask me on the dock if I know a ‘good’ captain.”

“What is really nice on boats of this size, or even smaller, is that you do things yourself – even alone sometimes."

It’s all hands on deck on a smaller yacht, too, which is a key appeal of the job for Captain le Brun. “What is really nice on boats of this size, or even smaller, is that you do things yourself – even alone sometimes. It is very important to me to have done everything yourself if you want to be able to explain to someone else how to do it. Or just to be able to understand and check what has been done by somebody else.”

For Captain le Brun, his most valuable experience of yachting comes down to these smaller vessels where the all-hands-on-deck attitude gives crew a chance to really gain some tangible experience. “I started very young on the smallest boats. I grew up steeply but fast. I will never exchange what I learned during that time; when I had to berth these boats anywhere, in any wind conditions and in splits that were too small, either alone or with inexperienced people who wanted to participate. I can tell you something: the first day, maneuvering the Moonen 84 was in my homeport – very emotional for me, but not a challenge.” 

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