Meet the crew – Ben Cozens, Mate and chef aboard a classic sailing yacht

Interview by Melanie Winters

Interview by Melanie Winters

Ben Cozens is a thirty-year-old chef originally from Kingston in the UK. Swapping a life destined for journalism for a life in professional kitchens, he’s never looked back. Currently working as a mate/chef onboard a 27-meter Classic sailing yacht in Palma de Mallorca, his journey into the world of yachting is a fascinating one.  

Ben quite literally grew up on the water, happily spending his early years living on a barge on the river Thames along with his mother and brother. 

He tells me, “If I wasn’t living on the sea, I was living by the sea and now I’m working on the sea, so I guess it’s always been a big part of my life!”  

At fifteen, Ben got his first weekend job working as a pot washer in his local bar. 

“I enjoyed the experience and atmosphere of working in a busy kitchen and later became interested in the cooking side. Although I’m self-taught and have learned a lot on-the-job, my early influence would have to be my grandma who taught me from an early age. We spent many afternoons together and her cottage pie recipe, I still use to this day!”

At eighteen, Ben moved to Cornwall to study journalism at university. While studying, he got a part-time job in a fine dining restaurant, and this is where his real passion for food and cooking ignited. So much so, he decided to leave university after a year to pursue his career as a professional chef.

“Realizing that journalism wasn’t for me, I decided to work full time at the restaurant. I knew even though the money was terrible, and I wouldn’t get any sleep, I enjoyed it immensely!”  

Ben worked for a further two years before moving onto a specialist seafood restaurant in Falmouth, where he became a junior sous chef. 

“After a year, my friend was opening his own restaurant and asked me for help setting up. I gained a lot more experience and the restaurant went on to do very well. We even got a great review in the Guardian! However, I was starting to burn out. The work was hard, the hours were long, and the pay was low. I bought a small sailing boat so I could save money on rent, but I felt there had to be more out there for me!”

Ben knew of yachting and so finally took the plunge. He got a loan from the bank and went onto do his STCW in 2016 and later completed his Yacht Master. 

“As well as gaining my qualifications to start my yachting career, I owned a sailboat, so I also wanted to improve my sailing skills, a win-win move all around!” 

Ben informs me he didn’t go straight into yachting but spent some time doing small boat deliveries around Europe. Eventually he knew he should find himself a full-time yacht. He travelled to London for an Interview with an English owner and landed his first job as a Mate on a sailing yacht.

“The boat was based in the river Guadiana and we cruised the Canary Islands and Portugal for a year. The boat was very family orientated and even though my job was to cook, clean and look after the boat, the owner treated me like family.”

On leaving the boat, Ben moved to Barcelona where he bought another sailboat, to live aboard with the intent to one day, sail to the Arctic. 

“This hasn’t happened yet! It’s a work in progress and I will probably need to throw another 30K at it…but we all need goals!” 

I’m keen to know what Ben likes best about working on boats. 

“The best part for me is when a good crew comes together. Even though at times, it can feel like a dysfunctional family (including a few moody teenagers and a drunken uncle) at other times you operate as a well-oiled machine. I like the variety of the job and how every day is different. One day I’m headfirst in the bilge, the next varnishing the deck, the next cooking a multicourse dinner for the owner.

Yachting is like a box of chocolates you never know what you’re going to get!

You also learn something new on each boat, but you know you’ve got it good when most of the time you are working and it doesn’t feel like a job!”

It can’t all be plain sailing aboard, so I asked Ben, what he considers the worst part.

“The lack of privacy, especially on smaller boats where you share small, cramped cabins and get very little time for yourself. It can get quite tense at times, but I’ve always operated an ‘open galley’ policy where people can come to talk, vent or just escape for a bit. Every galley has a crying corner (mainly for me) but I’m affectionally known on-board as the ‘boat counselor’. We try to keep a fun and relaxed atmosphere on the boat and if a crew member is having a bad day, we try to lift them up. When we are not working, we like to do things together such as sightseeing, hiking or a day at the beach followed by dinner. Crew comradery is very important to keep up morale! 

I’m interested to know how he spoils his guests. 

“I don’t spoil them, I just listen to them. When I was working in restaurants, the chef always served their food, their way but in yachting…we serve what the owner and guests want. When you engage with your guests, you get to pick up on the small things. I like to research and teach myself new dishes they request, exploring world flavours and experimenting on the crew!”  

I love to hear about funny stories on-board, so I asked if he had any to share.

“During lockdown, I came up on deck to find the captain, with a pigeon sat on his hand. He was a very friendly bird and used to sit on our shoulders for a quick trip to the pub. He would disappear in the day but always come back. He stayed with us for two weeks but then he must have met a girlfriend as he flew off one day and was never seen again!” He laughs, “We missed that little chap!” 

Of all the wonderful yachting destinations he’s visited, I wanted to know what his favourites were and what remains on his bucket list.

“La Palma in the Canaries because of its rugged, volcanic, and forested terrain. The micro-climate changes every few miles depending on how it catches the sun. I also enjoy the secluded anchorages of Menorca. My bucket list destination is the Arctic because I’m naturally built for the cold! I love the remoteness of it and the wildlife you won’t see anywhere else in the world!”  

I asked Ben what advice he would offer to anyone who wanted to join the world of yachting. 

“Don’t be too proud. Even though some jobs are not very nice, no task is below you. Remember, you are working as part of a team. If you don’t know something or you do not feel confident, ask for help. Admitting your own shortcomings will become the making of you!” 

And finally, if he could give his 20-year-old self some advice, what would it be? 

“Be more self-confident. It’s OK to change things if you are not happy. Don’t stay where you are out of fear. You never have to settle…YOU DO YOU!” 

Ben’s plans for the future are to move towards relief work in ten years. 

“I want to spend more time on my own boat, adventure sailing (currently she’s just sat there costing me a fortune!) and I would also like to spend more quality time with family. You do miss out on these things, but welcome to yachting!”


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