Andrew Grego got into yachting as a professionally trained chef before becoming a captain and overseeing a major refit on the charter motoryacht Banyan.
Captain, 102-foot motoryacht Banyan
Date interviewed: June 2009
You’re the first charter captain we’ve interviewed who started out as a chef.
Yes, there are three or four that I know of who have done the same thing, but we are a rare breed.
I am actually a culinary trained chef first and a captain second. I trained in my home country of New Zealand as well as in London and Paris, including at a few Michelin-starred restaurants. I was a head chef in restaurants in Australia and New Zealand, and I even made some appearances on the television shows ‘Ready, Steady, Cook’ and ‘The Naked Chef.’
What prompted you to move from a career on land to a career on yachts?
There was an America’s Cup team captain in New Zealand, and he told me he needed a chef. I had never even thought of the concept of working in a galley, but I did it, and I liked it.
America’s Cup racing is a different style of yachting—and cuisine—than charter in the 100-foot motoryacht range, where Banyan competes.
I learned that after moving onto boats after the America’s Cup job. My first was as chef aboard the 180-foot Perini Navi sailing yacht Independence, where I joined in 2000.
After that I went to a private, 130-foot-plus Northcoast motoryacht called Life’s Finest II, and I stayed for three years. We had a captain who was never there, and no engineer, so when stuff broke, I learned how to fix it in between cooking tasks.
Were you seriously interested in becoming a captain at that point?
It was really just making good use of my time. After cooking in big hotels—we could do 300 a la carte for lunch with a 57-item menu—to cook for 10 or 12 people on a boat was easier. As long as I was organized, I had time to see what boating was all about.
What prompted you to “go pro” and get your captain’s license?
I bought myself a 35-foot sportfishing boat, and my wife talked me into getting my captain’s license so that I could run it better. I eventually moved up to get my 100-ton license, which let me get more work in the yachting industry.
Where did the license take you?
I became the captain-chief engineer aboard the 82-foot Burger motoryacht Lady Elizabeth, and my wife was the stewardess-mate. We did 11 weeks of charter in 2003. That was my first introduction to charter, and the first chance I had to run a boat.
About three days into one of our charters, the guest says, ‘I’m going to buy a boat, and I want you to run it.’ In 2005 he bought Banyan, which at the time was an 88-foot motoryacht called Madcap. He changed the name to Bellflower, and I stayed on as his charter captain for two years, until he sold the boat in May 2007. The new owner kept me on, changed the name to Banyan, and began a refit that would include extending the boat to what she is now, a 102-footer.
That was a heck of a refit. In addition to the cockpit extension, work included removing 16 garbage bags’ worth of old wiring, stripping the engine room back to the hull, and revarnishing and installing all new wood throughout Banyan’s interior.
I learned a hell of a lot. There were days I was pulling my hair out. We were under a tent at Lauderdale Marine Center in Florida with all these contractors, in the heat. Things got, well, hot.
But it was worth it. We’re now a quieter boat, and we’re a more fuel efficient boat, and we got to do things like put in a new air pumper that changes out the air onboard the boat every seven to nine minutes. There’s no chance of bad smells inside, and it’s great for people with allergies.
It’s interesting to me to hear a former chef talk so enthusiastically about a yacht’s air-handling system.
I miss the creativity of cooking, but I think that’s why I liked the refit process. It was all about brainstorming solutions and ideas to make things better.
And with all that we were able to accomplish, I’m really excited about chartering as the captain of Banyan. With the refit, I’ve had a chance to make a boat that hasn’t been seen before.