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Peter Jago - A High-Octane Life

John Henry Wyborn remembers Peter Jago - chorister, law graduate, top gun pilot, superyacht captain and world aerobatics competitor - 1940-2013.

Before & after Jago ...

A truly unique figure in our industry has recently passed away. Peter Jago seemed to have crammed several lives into his allotted span. He charmed those around him with his wit, restless intelligence and thirst for life. Compared with many of the people I contacted to help write this, my own time with Peter was relatively brief, but it had a profound influence upon my subsequent life.

In 1990, I was just leaving the Royal Navy. After an interview with the resettlement service I left the Admiralty in London with a fax number. "Why don't you get in touch with this chap, Jago; he's looking for a second officer on his yacht." Being ignorant of our industry, I had no idea why something as small as a yacht would need a second officer, but, by chance, I passed a ProntaPrint and, on impulse, went in and faxed my CV to that number. Later, I was just about to dive into the crowds at a tube station when the ProntaPrint manager, out of breath, grabbed my arm and dragged me back to his shop where I had a telephone interview with Peter Jago. That night I packed my bag and the following morning I was off to Hamburg where the Golden Odyssey was in build, and I met Peter and his wife Hoda along with the rest of the build crew and my life changed direction forever.

Peter changed many lives; he made a habit of it. 1988: Sitting in a gloomy hotel room in central France staring out of the window in a black depression, Nigel Watson was on his way home having failed to get a job in yachting. A phone call came out of the blue from Peter; he was on his way back to join Il Vagabondo and start a new life. Ironically, Nigel had been sitting on a bollard in Port Pierre Canto a few days earlier looking wistfully at the yacht, but never rang the bell. Nigel is now CEO and owner of one of our industry's leading helicopter companies.

Early life

Peter was born in Twickenham in 1940. Having won a choral scholarship to Cambridge University, he was one of the last undergraduates ever to be admitted to Trinity College without A levels. After graduating (he took a master's degree in law and economics), he joined the Royal Navy and was selected for the elite corps of F4 Phantom pilots. During the Vietnam war the US Navy realised that it was losing its expertise in 'dog fighting' and had to re-learn them for this conflict. He was seconded to the US Navy 'Top Gun' school at Miramar in 1968 as one of the first instructors to train US Navy pilots.

Phantoms were due to be withdrawn from the RN and so Peter re-trained as a Sea King helicopter pilot, but his wanderlust soon got the better of him and he left the RN in 1973 to go yachting.

The fun years

He started off in Greece, setting up a yacht brokerage with Hoda, his second wife. He ran this for three years, but never truly settled in the wheeling dealing (and often ver y shady) world of 1970s' yacht broking. It is possible that his interest in a code of ethics (see opposite) started here.

They went back to sea in sailing yachts. This was the time, as I often hear lamented, "When yachting was fun", and judging by the countless stories circulating at Peter's recent memorial service, much fun was had indeed! From standing naked on cliff tops serenading passing yachts (beautifully, of course) to sneaking into marinas armed with a water cannon to exact revenge for a previous attack. His daughter, Deborah, recalls the obsessive enthusiasm with which he planned, built and tested the device before manoeuvring the yacht close in for the attack. (Naturally, he was a superb ship-handler.)

The big time

Peter Jago
Time passed, our industry grew in size and number and a new mind-set was required. Here, too, Peter was at the forefront; moving to the 65m Il Vagabondo in 1988 (absolutely vast by the standards of the day), he then was appointed to the build of the 80m Golden Odyssey in 1989. She was in the top 10 for length when launched and was soon to be joined by other vessels in what was later the 'Golden Fleet'. So Peter was in the first generation of so called 'mega' yacht captains. It was then that he truly made his mark on the superyacht industry. The number of large-yacht captains and yacht business leaders mentored by him is testament to this.

A natural leader

Leadership is not something that comes naturally to all, but it did to him. "He gave you enough rope to hang yourself," said Nigel Watson, his chief officer for many years and later captain of the Golden Shadow, "but he was there to stop you falling. 'Stand back, but stand by' was his motto."

Mike Hitch, currently running the Golden Fleet, remembers when he first joined 22 years ago: "I was a bit scared of him at first. He certainly earned your respect instantly, but he also had an incredibly compassionate side and you couldn't help but like him." Mike also remembers his restless drive for innovation. "Peter never stood still. He was always planning something else, something new for the owner, something different. Peter introduced, and set the standard for, yacht support vessels with Golden Shadow and its seaplane."

While not quite the 1970s, life was not all serious in large yachts. His mischievous sense of humour still shone through. The seaplane pilots were led to believe that the lamb they were collecting would be alive and they genuinely thought they would have to strap the animals to the floats and find goggles for them (they was mercifully packed and frozen). Ali Wilden (a former fleet ETO) made the mistake of wondering out loud whether one could wake-board behind a superyacht. "Within 20 minutes I was being towed behind the Odyssey."

Legacy

The fun was still there, but there were certainly rules. "There was a line," recalled Nigel Watson, "and if you crossed it, you knew about it immediately." Peter was passionate about the need for a code of ethics in yachting. I myself recall him 20 years ago haranguing anyone who would listen (and there weren't many) of the need for the industry to grow up and adopt ethical standards of trading. More people were listening by 2003 when he addressed a packed hall in The Superyacht Group's SEAS conference in Nice. Perhaps now the new initiative, led by Ken Hickling and others at the Global Superyacht Forum in Amsterdam, will carry this forward to fruition; a fitting legacy, if it happens.

Most of all, those of us who worked with Peter remember his enthusiasm for life and his compassionate, caring leadership. Ali Wilden wrote to him in his last days, "Everyone I meet who has come across you says you are an absolute legend, a gentleman, and it has been a privilege to have known you."

So say all of us.

About the author

Training Director
I joined the Royal Navy as a seaman officer after university and served on various types of vessels including frigates, destroyers, and finally in command of HMS Mentor; a navigation and seamanship training vessel teaching RN trainees and foreign navies.