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All in Due Course - Captain Kelly J. Gordon Leads by Example

Written by Jessica Graves

Just a few miles off of Shroud Cay in the Bahamas, Max White and his family “were enjoying the sunset, swimming, and jumping off the top of our catamaran,” he recalls of that fateful August day. Then, within an instant, he explains, everything changed. “My uncle fell off the flybridge and hit the swim deck—breaking both arms, a lot of ribs and (his) jaw, he lost a lot of teeth and was knocked unconscious. We radioed over the vhf to see if anyone could help.”

But with each passing minute Max’s uncle, Chris, was sinking quickly despite the family’s best efforts. “I jumped in and brought him back up and waded in the water while my brother and dad tried to figure out how to get him in the boat. It was a struggle for us because his arms, ribs and head were in bad shape. We had no idea what to do”, White remembers, “everyone on the boat was shook. We were about a 15-hour sail to a hospital.”

Just over eight-miles away, Freddy, a 106’ Sanlorenzo was moored near O’brien’s Cay, when their distress call was received by Captain Kelly J. Gordon. “I tried to communicate with the vessel, but they were just out of range,” Captain Gordon says, “I could hear them, but they couldn’t hear me.” She and her crew sprung into action, “we grabbed our medical bag and AED and headed [over].”

“When we got to the scene,” Gordon recalls, “it was my mate that jumped off the tender first. I followed and made a quick assessment and established that he [Chris] was stable but that he did need advanced medical help.” White explains, “She coordinated for a tender to safely deliver my uncle to the hospital”, adding gratefully that he believes “it was her actions that saved his uncle’s life. There is no telling what would have happened to Chris if Kelly wasn’t there.” “This event reminded me just how careful you have to be in the Out Islands — you really are ‘out’ there”, Gordon adds, “it reaffirmed the necessity to drill and train for these events.”

While the near death experience will likely be remembered by the White family for years to come, for Captain Gordon, it’s critical moments like these that she’s been training for her entire career.

With a resume that touts a long list of certifications and accolades including the Master 500-GT Award presented by A Crew, it’s her quick thinking that has helped her out of dire situations like this at sea.

While at the helm of Everest on her way back to the States seven years ago, she recalls “We lost our transmission and limped into port on one gear.” The motor yacht was just off the coast of Cuba at the time and she knew it would become a logistical nightmare obtaining visas in order to fly back to the States to then return with a long list of parts. Then it dawned on her, ‘If they can keep these old cars on the road with minimal supplies, they will be able to help me with the transmission’, so, I found a mechanic and a translator.” Her intuition was correct and the mechanic came up with a solution that would allow Everest and her crew to make it home safely.

Growing up on a 40-acre farm in small-town Indiana, Captain Gordon is a long way from home. After leaving high school at 15, she worked as a veterinary technician and started college at 17. After graduation, she accepted a teaching position at Carteret University, as a chemistry professor, but it was a serendipitous trip to Beaufort, NC to celebrate a friend’s recent engagement on a yacht, when she changed course and set her sights on yachting.

Flash forward to present day, 13 years after earning her license, Gordon is one of the busiest and most respected charter captains in Florida. She credits years of hard work, determination and the mentorship she received from Everest’s captain for her standing as one of the few female captains in the industry. She now aspires to inspire other women to not just join the crew but to lead it.

As one of the few female yacht captains, Captain Gordon maintains her determination to encourage more women to join the ‘boys on deck’. “We need to help these young women who are so passionate about getting into the industry,” she says. “Mentorship was so important to me and my career. I want to pay it forward.”

Fellow Captain James J. Harangody whom Gordon has known for years attests to her ability to succeed under pressure saying, “she is honest and of the highest integrity. She is well aware of the demands of being in command and never fails to deliver.”

Along with mentoring both women and men, she also shares the lessons she has learned at sea with a growing following of 20-thousand social media fans and hosts the “Captain’s Classroom” a series featuring educational videos focused on the yachting industry. These lessons run the gamut from nautical knot tying to helping department leads identify when a crew member needs mental health support.

The latter is a topic that strikes a personal cord with Captain Gordon who admits to struggling with feelings of isolation throughout her career. After sharing a personal experience on social media in honor of Mental Health Awareness Day, an outpouring of responses made her realize that she had struck a nerve.

She decided to take this issue to a bigger stage and this March, Captain Gordon along with panelists from Lloyds Register, JMS Yachting and MedAire will present the first “Mental Health in Yachting” seminar at the Palm Beach International Boat Show. Her goal is to shine a light on the need for mental health support for yacht crew.

“Mental health is something I’m passionate about”, she says, “I’m living my best life now and want to share with others how they can work to get there too. We all need to know that someone out there is rooting for us.”

Follow Captain Gordon’s journey at and on IG


Photos Provided by Kelly Gordon

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