From Ship to Shore – Judy Costigan, Crew Recruitment Specialist

Written by Melanie Winters

Written by Melanie Winters

This month, Melanie Winters meets ex deckhand, Judy Costigan who has swapped life as a deckhand for life at a desk and talks her through the highs and lows of her varied career to date.

Judy grew up in the small seaside village of Crosshaven in County Cork, Southern Ireland. The area is well loved in the yachting community and known for its infamous Cork Week Regatta, hosted every other year. 

She started sailing at the tender age of seven in her local yacht club. Though her parents did not sail, many of her school peers did, so that’s what led her to the sea. Judy’s Great Grandfather owned a well known boat named Shiela 2, so if anyone is reading this interview from Hamilton, New Zealand, where the boat was last spotted, the Costigan family would love to track her down. 

Judy initially learnt how to sail in an Optimist, before moving to a double handed 420 dinghy, and competed nationally and internationally. 

“School was definitely not for me,” she laughs. “I was more interested in what was happening outside the window than in the classroom. I had no idea what I wanted to do after I finished school. I tried University for a year but just couldn’t sit still in a lecture hall for more than ten minutes!”  

Judy worked in a jewellers for a few months before applying to Sunsail for a water sports position in Greece. She did this for nine months and became absolutely hooked on working seasonally. She spent three summer seasons with Sunsail as Watersports Instructor, Flotilla Hostess and Onshore Bosun but deep down she started to feel it was time to climb the ladder. 

A life in yachting was calling, so Judy came to Palma in April 2014 in search of her first Deckhand job. She got lucky and secured day work on her first day in Palma which continued until June, when she landed her first permanent position as Deckhand on a 50m Perini Navi. “For my first job, I gained so much experience and maintenance skills,” she says. “I stayed with this boat for 17 months as I had a background in sailing and after that I was lucky enough to never be without work for too long.” 

After leaving the Perini, Judy worked as Deckhand and delivery crew on an array of different makes of boats; Swan, Wally, Vitters, Royal Huisman, Southern Wind, Dubois to name just a few.  Altogether Judy spent nine years in yachting including her time at Sunsail. 

I asked Judy to share her highs and lows of yachting. She says the highlight of her career was going to the Maldives and Seychelles in 2020-2021. The boat went during the covid pandemic and although it was disappointing not to be able to explore the area as much as she wanted, the marine life, beaches, remote sandbanks and snorkelling opportunities were nothing short of spectacular, which Judy believes made it all worthwhile. “You won’t see anything like it in the Mediterranean or even the Caribbean so it’s an experience I will hold onto forever.”

Judy doesn’t have many low points to share but thinks she speaks for every crew member when she says it’s always difficult being so far away from home and family, especially during covid when people were unable to travel. 

Land Ahoy…

Judy knew it was time to make her move to land after she bought an apartment in Palma and got a taste of what it was like going home to her new BIG bed every night. She giggles, “Now all I need is a cat and my intention to become a crazy cat lady will be achieved!” 

We know it’s not all plain sailing when you leave yachting. Judy said she found it tricky juggling everyday tasks that she didn’t necessarily do on-board such as laundry, ironing, thinking about what to cook (learning to cook), grocery shopping and budgeting. However, she feels the pros now outweigh the cons – especially being able to go home to Ireland to see her family whenever she wants and reconnecting with old friends.

Ship to Shore…

Judy now works for McMaster Yachts as a Crew Recruiter based in Palma and the UK. 

As a female Deckhand she always found it hard to search for jobs, so, utilising her expansive networking list, she decided to set up a female exterior and Engineers Whatsapp group in 2021 and it took off. McMaster Yachts offer highly-specialised, bespoke Management Services and are experts in their field, with over 30 years of industry experience.

Although she lives in Mallorca, and is surrounded by the sea, Judy misses not being able to jump into the ocean to cool down whilst working, and of course, the suntan. “You don’t get a tan sitting at a desk!” she laughs, “I also miss the camaraderie of the crew, when you are with them you are sick of them, but as soon as they are not there, it feels like your right arm is missing.” 

And finally… Judy’s advice for fellow yachties thinking about going land based.

“Don’t rush into it, think about an exit strategy. It’s hard breaking free from the “golden handcuffs” when you don’t have something to work towards or a goal.  I would also say that if you have been considering going land based, just do it, because if your heart’s not in yachting anymore it will show in your work ethic and your mood. Go out on a high!”


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