Meet The Crew – Kelly Parsons, First Mate

Written by Melanie Winters

Written by Melanie Winters

Kelly and her partner, Tom run a 24-metre private motor yacht for a family along the East Coast of the US. Though her job title is First Mate, as well as Deck, she is also the Stew and Chef extraordinaire, so life on board is never dull.  

Originally from the UK, Kelly’s father was a Royal Engineer in the army, so they moved around a lot during her childhood. She spent time based in Germany and Cyprus so believes travel has always been in her blood. Kelly joined yachting in 2011 and landed her first Chief Stewardess position in 2015. She worked on the 44-metre sailing yacht, Mes Amis, in Palma before leaving Mallorca, which had been her home for a few months, in September 2022, joining her current boat in November the same year. So, Kelly swapped Europe for the US, a sailboat for a motor yacht and is absolutely loving life!

Before yachting, Kelly studied for her A Levels but decided that the road of higher education wasn’t for her (as you do when you’re young), so she quit! Ironically enough, she later went on to gain an Honours Degree and a Masters. She worked in many different jobs before her yachting career began, including hospitality, where she was managing the private boxes at a racecourse and for Lloyds of London Underwriters. She laughs, “I even worked as a taxi driver for a short time but my main job was at Falmouth University, where I spent five years helping to develop new degree syllabuses. My proudest achievement was creating an Events Management Degree, which I hear is still doing very well!”  

While in Cornwall, Kelly gained a degree in Business, her Master’s in Education, and completed a higher education teaching certificate. She also taught professional development on the BA Photography course at Falmouth University.

Keen to find out how she got into the wonderful world of yachting, she tells me she was sailing on Cornish working boats when she met a group of yachties in the local pub, (it’s always in the pub!). They were heading off to the Caribbean and she thought, why can’t I do a job like that and see the world? 

“I packed up and came to Palma de Mallorca at the age of 34. Seven and a half weeks of dock walking later, I landed my first seasonal role as a Deck/Stew on an Oyster 82, after which I completed my first Atlantic crossing on a 37m classic schooner and then sailed back to the Mediterranean on a 44-metre catamaran. After this I went freelance and worked as a stewardess on a 55-metre motor yacht in Vancouver. It was only for a short period, but the job was amazing! I fell in love with the location, which is still one of my favourite places today. From here, I went back to a 30-metre sailboat and returned to the Caribbean, after which I transitioned to motor yachts and spent the next seven years in France.”

Kelly desperately wanted to return to sail boats and so joined Mes Amis, which brought her back to Palma (one of her all-time favourite places). The boat was in refit for the winter, which gave her the opportunity to explore the Island, meet some amazing life-long friends (I’m one of them) and meet the love of her life, Tom.

I asked her if she had a favourite boat, to which she replied, “No particular favourites as each boat, owner, crew and itinerary are always different, which is why I love working in this industry. No job is ever the same!”  

“The best part about my job is I get to travel for my work and have visited some of the most amazing places that many people don’t get to see. In yachting, a mixture of people from different backgrounds are thrown together in a melting pot and I have been very lucky to have had wonderful owners, amazing guests and great crew. The worst part, and I’m sure most yachties will agree, is not being near family and friends.”

“Yachting is a very transient industry and no sooner than you meet people, you or they are on the move again, so it’s hard to maintain relationships. Like I said earlier, I’ve met some lifelong friends in Palma, and I’ve waited eleven years to return there, but I know that at the beginning of every season, I’m always off again. It’s part and parcel of this yachting life!” 

We all know that yachting may look glamorous but it’s very hard work, with back-to-back owner or charter trips, long hours, sleep deprivation and sometimes working months without a day off or even stepping off the boat. It can have a detrimental effect on the crew’s mental health, so I wanted to know how she kept ‘sane’ when working at full throttle. “I try to keep in touch with family and friends regularly. It’s the little things too, like a cup of tea and just five minutes to myself sitting on the bow. Getting off the boat helps too. I love taking early morning trips to the food markets before the guests are up. You get to watch the sun rise and hopefully find a little time to explore the villages and towns. When you live with people in confined spaces 24/7 you learn to deal with things that annoy you pretty quickly – thankfully I’ve been lucky and there aren’t many things that annoy me but if I had to choose one, I’d say leaving dishes in the sink right next to the dishwasher!” 

Part of her enjoyment on the boats is spoiling the guests – in fact she describes this as her superpower. “I work on smaller boats, so I have the opportunity to get to know my guests well. By taking a genuine interest in their lives, you can build a professional but personal relationship. I remember the small details, like how they like their coffee, smoothies, and cocktails. One of my owners was involved with charity charters and on one trip, two young boys who had a degenerative eye disease were invited on board to give them an unforgettable experience, which was very humbling. Not all guests are wealthy and used to having their every need catered for, so I love providing this experience for them. The coolest thing I’ve done was anchoring off Stromboli – the conditions were perfect to hold dinner on the deck with the guests facing the volcano. We served dinner in the dark with just candles so they could enjoy the spectacular views of lava flowing down the side of the volcano to the fullest, which was incredible!” 

At The Islander we love to hear about any funny or embarrassing stories of life on-board, so I asked Kelly if she had any that she could share with us. “My first job was on an Oyster yacht and I was asked to open a bottle of Champagne. As the cork shot out, the Champagne exploded everywhere and two things then happened…firstly, I tried to stop the flow with the palm of my hand and secondly, I proceeded to lick champagne off my hands in front of a horrified boss! Thankfully that was the only real incident on that boat.”

Shifting focus to yacht travel itineraries, I asked Kelly what her favourite yachting destination is and one that’s still firmly on her bucket list. “Vancouver, on the west coast of British Columbia, Canada is truly stunning, and I would love to return there in my own time one day. But Palma de Mallorca will always be my favourite down-time place. Norway, Alaska and the Fjord lands are definitely on my bucket list and I’d also love to take the Pacific route – ending up in New Zealand to visit my sister.” 

Given her love for Mallorca, what’s her favourite thing to do here? “I love wine, and pairing wine with food, so eating out in Mallorca is always a treat as it has such a diverse food culture for a little Island. If you’re a foodie like me, I recommend restaurants Fera and Ombu. My other favourite pastime in Mallorca was to go down to the pond in front of the Cathedral and take part in the RPRCYC regattas. I have my own radio-controlled sailboat, Valpolicella. It was a great way to spend free time and as well as the ‘fierce competition’ we were all a very social bunch so there was often lots of wine and rum involved. They were good times!”

Finally, I asked Kelly what advice she would give to someone wanting to join the world of yachting?  “Working on a yacht can be hard work and is NOT the holiday it is sometimes portrayed to be. Take pride in your work and do not compare your job and boat to others or friends in the industry, as each boat and each experience is different. Also, save your money! However, remember to make the most out of your life…it’s short so do what you love and love what you do!”


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