Kelly J. Gordon

Beyond Fear and Convention: Meet Captain Kelly J. Gordon

Ajla Keško

What happens when you dare to dream and push beyond the boundaries of fear and convention? When you choose to confront the uncertainty of the future, the possibility of failure, and shackles of stereotypes? 

For Captain Kelly J. Gordon, it meant transforming her life from its humble beginnings on an Indiana farm to becoming a yacht captain. Her story really shows us how strong dreams can be and the exciting adventures they can start. Even though she faced many unknowns, her determination never wavered, and she never gave up. She worked hard and showed everyone just how much she could achieve.

Starting this journey for Kelly wasn't just about becoming a captain; it was about challenging the status quo and proving that with courage and perseverance, even the biggest dreams can come true.

In this interview, we will get into her inspiring story and see how she went from pursuing a career in chemistry to being a yacht captain, and how she brought those two worlds, these two passions of hers, together in the end.

1. Can you start by telling us a little bit about yourself and your journey into the yachting world? 

I grew up the furthest from yachting anyone could imagine, landlocked on a farm in North Central Indiana. However, my move to the coast of North Carolina to pursue a Master of Science in Chemistry led me to discover yachting. A student, wanting to show me around town, introduced me to the yachting industry entirely by chance. As she invited me to an event onboard a yacht and I stepped onto the back deck, I instantly knew that this was for me. In fact, I knew within an instant that I wanted to be a captain.

Captain Kelly J. Gordon

2. What inspired you to pursue a career in the yachting industry?

I knew within an instant that this was for me and that I wanted to do this, be a captain. Growing up on a farm and spending a lot of time outdoors probably explains the natural pull towards careers often dominated by men. There's always been a passion for working with hands and finding joy in fixing things. To me, yachting was similar to the tractors that I had grown up with-heavy equipment, manoeuvring the equipment and repairing it. After all, yacht engines, at that time, were nothing more than "marinized" tractor engines. That was the attraction and it was a challenge to learn something new and I have loved learning since I was small.

3. As someone who's a captain in what's traditionally considered a male-dominated field, do you think there's a growing space for more female captains, and how can the industry encourage and support this shift?

OMG! Yes! There is absolutely space for more female captains. The industry can support this by simply hiring more women on deck and engineering. And perhaps more importantly is the women that are currently captains-being a role model and source of encouragement for the women that are considering it-to encourage them, be their cheerleader, be their mentor.

Captain Kelly J. Gordon

4. Beyond your role as a captain, you're known for "The Captain's Classroom." Could you share more about how you blend your passion for teaching with your responsibilities as a captain, and how sustainability fits into this educational initiative?

The Captain’s Classroom was created out of a personal void. I missed teaching. I love teaching and giving back. So, as I was shooting content in the early days of my brand, my videographer said to me, ‘why don’t you combine your two passions-yachting and teaching-and, I don’t know, create something like a captain’s classroom,’ he said. I remember shouting, ‘that is brilliant, let’s do it!’ For me, sustainability is an easy fit for me. I spent years studying atmospheric chemistry and how the particulate matter that is dissolved within the rain impacts the ocean.  It’s funny how life works and has allowed me to combine the two now-science and yachting-both careers of mine. So, I have discovered, first hand, the need for sustainability and will do all that I can within my personal and professional life to work towards a more sustainable environment.  

5. How important is mentorship in the yachting world? Did you have a mentor when you first started out? 

Having a mentor is HUGE! I was lucky to have an amazing mentor and I often state that I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for him. But you have to keep your eyes open for the opportunity to make that connection.  

6. Your commitment to sustainable practices is evident and commendable, I must add. What are some innovative sustainable solutions you've implemented on board? 

One of the simplest but probably most impactful is eliminating or reducing the use of disposable plastics, specifically, bottled water. Another very important change that we have made is to the use of sustainable cleaners, both interior and exterior.  We only use environmentally safe products on deck and have made the shift to the interior, thanks to you, Nature Safe Marine.  Really, you have made being sustainable so easy. Not to mention, your products have freed one of the hottest commodities onboard-storage space! 

NatureSafe Marine Sachets

One sachet of 20 grams is equivalent for 500ml of product, reducing single use plastic and storage space on board.

7. You have been in an industry for several years, are you seeing a shift in the mindset regarding sustainable practices?

Absolutely!  And I think it is largely the credit to the younger generation of crew.  Not to be age biased, but the older generations weren’t taught sustainability and that is to no fault of their own, but as we have seen the damage that we are causing to our planet I think most folks see the need to step up their game and are happy to do so!

8. Considering your dedication to sustainability, how do you envision the future of the yachting industry in terms of environmental conservation, and do you think there's more that can be done collectively?

There will always be room for more to be done and improvements to be made. The work will never be done and shouldn’t be. We should always be working towards greater and greater environmental conservation. I think as younger and younger generations get into the industry the yachting industry will just continue to improve.

9. Now, shifting gears a bit, we'd love to hear your thoughts on NatureSafe Marine products. How do you find our sachets, and have they presented any advantages in terms of space onboard?

OMG, yes! Space, such a cherished item onboard any vessel and there is never enough. So, these sachets are a complete game changer!

NatureSafe Marine

10. If you had a magic wand and could develop any product to enhance sustainability on yachts, what would it be?

Well, it’s not a product per se, but rather an elimination of disposable plastics. I am from the US and was recently traveling Europe and noticed that Europeans don’t use plastic like we do. So, I know it’s a big wish, but I wish we could somehow eliminate the ridiculous use of plastics.

11. And last, but not least, do you have any advice for aspiring female captains out there?

Of course! Do it! Just do it! It will be hard, but so worth it. Embrace the men as they will become your allies.  When you feel like you must prove yourself just a little bit more don’t let that get you down. And, if being on deck was easy, we’d see women on deck everywhere. And we all know anything worth having doesn’t come easy.

Captain Kelly's path from an Indiana farm to commanding a yacht shows us that dreams can come true with grit, hard work, and the courage to defy norms. 

Her commitment to sustainability, mentorship, and breaking barriers in the yachting industry serves as an inspiration to us all. She cares about looking after our planet and helping others learn; her journey tells us to be brave, fight for what's right, and chase our dreams without fear.