Interview with the expert – MadMax, the skippers’ school


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APE_madmaxThis 2015 is proving to be a year of real revitalization for the charter world. There is a Tuscan company, MadMax charter, that stands out for its skipper training courses, which have become a real staple in the Mediterranean scene. We decided to take stock with Lucas Lucarelli, creator and soul of MadMax, to understand the reasons for such a successful…

MadMax Charter’s skipper training course is a “unicum” in the Mediterranean landscape. How did this idea come about and what sets it apart from others? More than an idea it was desperation! I could not find trained skippers, and that prompted me to organize a course that would teach future skippers what I have learned in 20 years of work. What makes this course unique (not only in the maritime world) is the guaranteed engagement of all those promoted.
I know it’s a little hard to believe, but the testimonies of all the skippers promoted and hired are real proof of the veracity of my claims. Another unique feature lies in the fact that this course is organized by a charter company that trains students to hire them aboard their own boats, understanding well that the effort put into training them is our primary interest and this makes the difference with any “classic” sailing school.
These are not inextricably linked with the student, who, once the course is over, also ends the relationship with the school; with us it is the opposite: once the course is over, the collaboration begins! Another substantial difference is the duration of the course itself; none lasts for 20 full-immersion days experienced aboard a catamaran, where lessons never end and students find themselves having to put their hands on all the equipment at all hours because we deliberately “sabotage” them by inserting every kind of breakdown that can happen.

How do you develop the three-week course? A skipper must know how to do everything on board, not just steer the boat, which paradoxically is the easiest thing. The first week we teach students how to work on the electrical system (nowadays boats have become spaceships!), teach soldering, how to use the tester, show the totality of electrical equipment and how to fix or bypass them. What is most important, however, is the method: each explanation is always followed by practice, and each intervention is performed individually by each student (we do not want working pairs); in practice, the skipper is alone!

Screenshot 2015-08-06 at 12:00:56 p.m.
Every MadMax trainee must be able to personally intervene in the face of any on-board problem. The practical aspect of teaching therefore takes on a key role



Can you give us an example? When we teach how to fix a clogged toilet, we take one apart from the boat and explain it. Then, 8 students, 8 toilets on the table: each one disassembles and reassembles his or her own…this is the only way to learn and gain confidence in one’s abilities.

Is it true that each student is given a tool case? Yes, that’s right, he is provided with a suitcase-trolley with tools to solve most of the on-board tasks included in the course price. An additional briefcase with epoxy resins, mats, underwater fillers, welder, drill, angle grinder, tester, and sail repair kit will complete the equipment (also included in the price) to those who pass the course, thus eligible to be hired by charter companies. The hired MadMax skipper will then embark with his own set of tools and materials for emergency response as proof of a highly specialized and professional figure that still does not exist in the boating industry.

The art of charting is fundamental: if the Gps breaks down, what do you do?


How does your collaboration with Lombardini work? Lombardini Marine Italia believed in this project from the beginning, hosting us for two days in Rieti and making its technicians available to the students to teach them how to fix 90 percent of engine failures, a specific training normally only accessed by authorized workshops…the method is always the same…get your hands dirty!

When do lessons at sea start? As soon as the first week is over, we set off for two weeks of sailing, lots of dockside maneuvering (where most of the damage is done) and roadstead maneuvering in borderline conditions, where the boat spends 90 percent of its time. A separate, vitally important lesson is the testing of the best anchors on the market, which we put on the rope by testing them with the engines in the back and with different lengths of calumo to which we attach a dynamometer to show the students that the many tests they read about anchor holding are made up or done superficially, while having the right anchor (model and weight) and the right calumo are crucial to safety and the skipper’s peace of mind.
Night sailing with time-shifted beacon and headlight readings is another discipline that is now forgotten, but one that we teach, because the MadMax skipper has to make a difference in the most difficult moments, and the turning off of the Gps at night, in crossing the Mouths of Bonifacio at 12 knots under sail (which happened to yours truly) puts even a longtime skipper in crisis, and knowing what to do in those crucial moments, makes the difference between a good story to share over a glass of rum and tragedy! Other important topics are the lecture on epoxy resins, how to laminate and use underwater fillers, then fundamental is the lecture on how to repair a sail, and believe me, we have developed other methods that go far beyond normal sewing! There is also no shortage of lessons on how to approach the customer, how to welcome him, how to provide him with the best service, but also knowing how to communicate to him that the boat is not a 5-star hotel and that you can’t always go where he wants, because in this wonderful world it is the wind that still rules!

Are there particular difficulties in managing a multihull versus a monohull? A multihull is wide, and maneuvering in port takes a lot of practice; twin engines are confusing at first, then once mastered you can put the catamaran where you want it. Another thing to keep in mind is sail handling, the catamaran is not as forgiving as the monohull which under gust lays down, foils and you realize it’s time to take a hand…the cata doesn’t foil, it doesn’t get up on a hull (perfortunately!), so the gust you take it full and you smash something…

Is there an accurate average age among the participants? No, I have students of all ages, from the young boy to the 60-year-old, and this is a beautiful thing because, not to be rhetorical, the sea brings all ages together and it is great to see different generations on board speaking the same language. Students who have different purposes also come, more and more owners, including from major companies, are attending to understand how best to optimize their boats, how not to get ripped off by the electrician or mechanic on duty.

Maneuvering a catamaran in port and the two-day course with Lombardini Marine Italia technicians are among the key elements of the MadMax course.
Maneuvering a catamaran in port and the two-day course with Lombardini Marine Italia technicians are among the key elements of the MadMax course.


Given your experience, what is an absolute must know on board? Today, a skipper cannot call himself a skipper unless he knows how to get his hands on the electrical system and the engine, but the key feature is to have an eye to the future, to what might break down, to anticipate, predict and prevent…

Any tips on managing a paying crew? Yes, make them feel at home, few rules, but basic, for the rest absolute freedom; this creates a bond between skipper and client that is the basis for a pleasant coexistence that sometimes becomes friendship. Then the skipper has to be able to convey serenity and confidence to the crew in any situation, and there you cannot cheat….or you are really prepared or the client notices, even if it is the first time he mounts a boat!

A key aspect of the course is the certainty for students who pass it that they will be hired. Not everyone can find a place in the MadMax fleet: do you have arrangements with other charter fleets?
The MadMax skipper course has existed for many years, and the dockside Tam Tam has begun to refer to MadMax skippers as true professionals. Many charter companies today draw from our pool of skippers on a regular basis; indeed, every year we are unable to cover all the requests that come in. One thing I would like to make clear is that the course does not end with a simple certificate in the hands of the skipper who is supposed to go knock on the doors of the charter companies, but it ends with the undersigned calling the owner of the charter company and telling him the name and surname of the promoted skipper to be hired, simple as that!

Do new skippers also find jobs with private shipowners?
Yes, it often happens that private owners also ask us for skippers, just the other day an owner of a Swan 59 was looking for a trusted skipper to go around the world.

What is MadMax charter’s commitment to skippers?
This school was not established with the intention of teaching something for no specified purpose; on the contrary, it is a kind of employment office that provides the student with a guarantee of engagement. It is a benchmark for those who want to see their qualities recognized and at the same time a pool that all charter companies can draw on in their search for a skipper with the highest professional standards.

How will the charter world evolve?
The future is not sailing enthusiasts (a narrow niche), but the huge pool of non-sailing vacationers who want a different kind of vacation, not at the sea, but on the sea, realizing that it is not as expensive as they thought. Therefore, there will be an increasing demand for skippers to lead catamarans, which are the ideal means for this type of clientele. Good wind!




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