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Inside the World of Yachting : A Conversation with Captain Ella Johnson


Captain Ella Johnson

A girl Sailing a yacht
Sailing SY Victoria

Hi Ella, thank you for making time to sit down and talk with me, I've had the pleasure of knowing you for quite some time now, can you start by telling the reader a little about yourself?

Hey Mel, yes, it’s been a couple of years now!

I am 23, from the sunny south coast of England. I am an ex-dinghy sailor and I currently run a sailboat with a crew of two females.


There's no better place to learn to Sail. It has always been a part of your life; can you tell us why you came into yachting?


I came into yachting for a gap year before I went to university as I had heard about it through sailing friends that did it to earn some quick cash.

I never ended up going to university, much to my mother’s disappointment, I stayed on boats and 5 years later here I am with my first drive.


It's the never-ending "Gap" Year that so many yachties have. We both know your mum couldn’t be prouder. Getting your first drive after five years is very impressive. We started our careers around the same time, you’ve done a few different roles on board, how did you find that?

Yes, I started as a deck/ stew on a sailboat, I ended up getting pushed towards stewing for some amazing boats with great itineraries however stewardessing is very much NOT my strong point, sailing is my passion so racing and deliveries are the best bits of the job.

This happens all to frequently in yachting, how did you manage to move away from being pushed into the interior?

I luckily met a guy in a bar in Palma who gave me a chance to be bosun onboard a race/charter Yacht with a 40ft chase boat. I got a lot of drive time in the 40ft chase boat which boosted my career massively. It was amazing and I loved it, but I gave it up for love, don’t we all at some point and ended up as chef/ mate for a couple's position onboard the yacht that I currently now Captain.

 

Female Sailor Driving a Yacht
Ella helming Sy Victoria

One door closed and another opened giving you your first drive. The best jobs in yachting come around from meeting people, two of the 4 boats I’ve worked on came from friends, rather than recruitment agents.

You’ve been running a 70ft yacht in a crew of two for almost a year now, can you tell me a little bit about how this opportunity came around and how you’ve found the experience?


I started in a couple running the boat, I was chef/ mate but more mate as all I can cook is pasta. Things ended with my partner, and I was asked to take over the boat back in April 2023. I took over and started running the boat solo. It was a massive learning curve but we’re still here today and I have since then had two amazing ladies work with me along the way.


You do make a fantastic lasagne, it’s inspiring that you run the boat with an all-female team. Out of the boats you’ve sailed what has been your favourite and why?


Oh, that’s a very tough question, I’m not sure I can pick a favourite.

I worked on a beautiful modern classic that went to amazing places, such as Iceland, Greenland and the UK. The sailing was very fast so that was a great experience to learn.

I loved the racing and charter life of my previous boat and enjoy being busy so that challenged me in a good way. I am proud to be running this boat now so I have to put her in too.


Wow, Ella, it’s amazing what you’ve achieved already in your career in yachting. Cruising in the UK is for sure one of my career highlights, seeing the place I called home from a different perspective. How did you find the transition into the role of the captain of the yacht you currently working on and did you find there was a stigmatism around your gender as a captain?


When I first took over, I was most nervous about the paperwork and the engineering, but I realised I did a lot of both before as a chef/mate. I knew the owners and the boat already for a year, so I was comfortable around it all which helped a lot. 

Honestly, the hardest part is trying not to smile too hard when two ladies dock the boat and all the marineras lose their minds, as there aren’t that many all-female crews out there.

You are breaking glass ceilings as well as paving the way for other females coming into the industry. Finally, Ella if you could give one piece of advice to someone new to the industry what would it be?

Be Confident in what you know and don’t be afraid to ask what you don’t.

 

I couldn’t agree more that it is one of the best pieces of advice a friend gave me when I started, and I still live by it. Thank you for taking the time to talk with me Ella and being a great supporter of shaped by the sea.


If you are a yachtie reading this and you'd like to share your story get in touch via Instagram @shapedbythesea or email shapedbythesea_@outlook.com

As always keep smiling laughing and loving the sea xo



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