Mike Horsley is the classic yacht specialist at Edmiston and he has been a leading yacht broker for over 20 years. He is also an accomplished writer and reviewer of maine books. For OnboardOnline he recently reviewed 'The Legend of the Sea: The Spectacular Marine Photography of Gilles Martin-Raget', but here he shares his own story and some of the highlights along the way.,
How did you get into the yachting industry?
My father bought his first boat when I was six, and I had a ‘fo’csle education’, only going to school when I was 13. I later went on to crew and work on busy charter yachts (always sail) until I brought my own boat ‘Outlaw’ in 1982. But in terms of the ‘industry’ of yachting, it was in late 1989, when I joined my father in his newly started brokerage operation in Antibes. I sailed here in my boat, with my then wife and young son, to make my fortune selling yachts, and then continue to the Caribbean. I am still here 25 years later!
Mike's yacht 'Outlaw' is a regular competitor at the Mediterranean classic yacht regattas
Is it how you expected it to be?
In many ways yes, but it is amazing how things have changed, especially in terms of communication. Mobile phones did not exist in the ‘80s -the fax machine was the latest in hi-tec at the time, and black and white photocopies were in their infancy. We spent hours standing by the photocopiers, printing off blurred images, and then faxing them off, making them even less recognisable. When I look back at some old files, I cannot believe what we sent to clients in those early days. Now at the click of a button, perfect images instantly find their way to their destination. But of course the competition has the same technology, so it is still down to knowledge, client base, and good salesmanship.
What do you love most about your job?
No day is the same. Specialising as I do in Classic Yachts, I do avoid the worst of the worst in terms of clients and owners. Most of the people I work with are passionate and enthusiastic about their boats. It is a great feeling when you find the right boat for the right buyer, and he/she is thrilled with it.
'Outlaw' pictured at Souters
What is the single biggest issue affecting yachting at the moment?
Since 2008 and the Global Financial Crisis there has been a serious decline in transactions - I don’t care what the magazines say. The U.S. and Europe were worst affected, but the whole world was touched by it. There were far too many sellers and not enough buyers, so of course prices crashed. It has also affected crews – many owners have cut back on off-season crew. We are still recovering from that difficult time.
What keeps you awake at night?
What would you change if you could?
What could you not do without?
My own boat, which I have owned for 31 years, has always been a levelling and stabilising influence in my life. At times it has been financially difficult, but always rewarding and fulfilling. She has also been very useful in business – I can relate and talk to other owners as an equal competitor, not just a salesman.
If you weren’t working on boats, what would you be doing?
Probably something to do with forestry. I feel the de-forestation of the rain forests is one of the most terrible things happening in the world. The pollution of the oceans and rivers is now part of the international psyche much more, and some progress has been made there.
What is your favourite yacht?
Well, luckily all owners think their boat is the best, which somehow justifies all the time and money. I am no exception! But of course I have had to do with many of the world’s top classic yachts, so it’s a difficult one to answer.
What’s your favourite port?
I think I would have to say Mahon, in Minorca. That wonderful long fjord-type entrance, and the sense of rubbing shoulders with the likes of Nelson and Napoleon, and their fleets.
What was your greatest experience on a boat?
My first Atlantic crossing, spending three weeks at sea, with family and friends, on a great boat.
What was your worst experience on a boat?
My second Atlantic crossing, still on a great boat, but with many of the crew different. It made me realise how important the right company is – there is nothing worse than being stuck in a confined space for long periods, with people with whom you don’t get on.
The best charter guests?
The Americans tip the best, the Italians have the most flair, and the French a great ‘joie de vivre’. It is probably easier to say who are the worst charter guests, but we’ll leave that one alone!
Who do you most admire in the world of yachting?
Probably Eric Tabarly, sadly now lost at sea. He brought on so many young French sailors, always with a level of class and humility that endeared him to all who crossed his path. Not an easy man, but very impressive on and off the sea, and a great innovator. He invented so many of the things we take for granted now on sail boats, and was physically and mentally tough. He could still climb a tall mast hand over hand in his sixties.
What does the future for yachting look like?
Yachting is changing, with both sail and motor boats getting bigger and bigger, as technology makes it possible. I would say the future looks good – more marinas are needed in some parts of the Med., but as far as the industry goes, it looks secure. There is a tendency to be more ecologically aware, and although a lot of it is just paying lip service, it is still a good thing. Virtually every new yacht that is launched now is labelled ‘green’ in one way or another.
What do you consider to be your greatest achievement?
On a personal level, my three great kids. Professionally, helping to save some great classic yachts, including my own, and being instrumental in having them restored in an authentic way.
What do you enjoy doing when you’re not working?
Spending leisure time and travelling with my wife, racing my boat at the Classic Regattas (which is also work), and reading.
Which three objects would you take to your desert island?
Although I haven’t got one, a Kindle packed full of excellent books, the biggest I-pod I could find, packed full of excellent music, and my wife to look after me!
What is your favorite book or film about the sea?
A difficult one, but probably ‘The Sea-Wolf’ by Jack London. I am sure many sailors today recognise some of the attributes of Wolf Larsen’ powerful depiction in their former captains!
Also ‘The Expectant Mariner’ written by my mother, which depicts among other things the birth of my younger brother in San Remo in 1960, while we were cruising on my father’s Colin Archer ketch.
What will you be doing in five years?
Probably much the same – selling beautiful boats for Edmiston, racing my own boat, and hopefully travelling for pleasure more than I can now. Life is generally good, so there is not much I would change.
What is your motto?
It probably sounds corny, but be true to yourself. I have a strong sense of what is right and what is wrong, and I like to think I live by that.