Dr. Melanie Aalburg is a well known sailor and respected Crew Member of the famous yacht BANK VON BREMEN of the SKWB Bremen. I came to meet her for the first time during the Berlin Boat Show and was fascinated by this woman. Why? She has been virtually raised at the tiller of her father´s sailing boat and sailed ever since. She achieved remarkable things during her sailing career and that´s what makes her predestined for the second part of my “What makes a Good Skipper?”-Series, of which you might read the first article here.

Lars Reisberg, NO FRILLS SAILING.com: “Melanie, nice to get another chance to speak to you. Please, tell our readers a bit about who you are and what sailing means to your life.”

Dr. Melanie Aalburg: “From the very beginning our family live was centred on sailing, ultimately was our living room. This remained and seems to remain. From being tossed around in the fore cabin together with my teddy bear in the Icelandic Sea, over the more sportive Olympic Europe Class and until my first participation in a transatlantic race with the first German all female crew in 2007, I never lost my fascination for sailing.  While my twin sister preferred a career on tall ships, I was more and more dragged to racing boats.”


NFS.com: “During the interview with Richard Jeske, the first part of the Skipper-series, he was putting a great emphasis on seamanship: What would you say does indeed define a good skipper most?”

Melanie: “Experience is an imperative, although a good skipper doesn’t have to be a specialist in everything.”

Melanie at the Genoa winch of the BANK VON BREMEN
Melanie at the winch of the BANK VON BREMEN

NFS.com: “Taking on responsibility for a boat, its crew and the passengers can be a burden: What would you recommend young sailors how to prepare for this task?”

Melanie: “Experience, Experience, Experience, Experience. Sail on as many boats as you can, learn under as many skippers as you can. Collecting your miles you should search for challenges and not avoid them.”


NFS.com: “Being a skipper also means to be able to lead a crew. How can you learn something like building teams and being their leader?”

Melanie: “Well. Also here, experience with people in all sorts of situations is the key to success. You have to learn how to assess people correctly in real live. If a social fabric of a crew endangers the journey, it was you who took on too much. It is up to you to assess what a crew is fitted to achieve and what you are able to deliver. When problems occur, I like to address them immediately.“


NFS.com: “I know of some skippers with problems. And it´s a shame one often gets to hear some stories about skippers with alcohol problems. On the one hand it´s a tough job: Weeks if not months out at sea, always the same (sometimes boring) cruises, the same old questions … do you have a hint or a checklist how to quickly determine a good skipper for our next charter-run?”

Melanie: “I don’t think so. There are skippers who may seem incompetent at first glance and surprisingly prove to be a top seaman when tested, and the other way round. In general and as a general practitioner and seaman I do not recommend alcohol on sea.”


NFS.com: “You mentioned the all-female crew. Are there differences to mixed and even all-male crews? Where lies the appeal to hold one´s ground as a skipper here?”

Melanie: “You have to prevail always and at any time by showing a good performance. Gender differences tend to fade on sea with growing demands. My boyfriend once on board of an all female crew ship stated a better smell. That was before they started. But nobody wants to put his nose on any ship after a long distance race, believe me.

Fastnet Race - every skipper´s dream
Fastnet Rock – every skipper´s dream

NFS.com: “What was the most rewarding or beloved moment as a skipper in your career so far? And vice versa, the most dangerous one?”

Melanie: “When I was 18 years old, sailing in the Baltic without GPS, I experienced the shock of having lost my position. I managed the situation and it was very teaching. At the age of 40 someone said next to me: “Look, despite everything, the sea never losses it’s beauty.” We sailed in a whole gale with waves over 10 meters. Beauty and sore go often hand in hand on sea. The most beautiful moments as a skipper I experienced, when I had set up everything to run without me and my crew became self-contained.”


NFS.com: “Last question, Melanie, what are your plans for the coming?”

Melanie: “In 2017 for the first time I may possibly see icebergs. In 2018 for the first time I may possibly see.”


Many thanks to Dr. Melanie Aalburg about this insight to being a skipper.


Other interesting articles on that topic:

Skipper Lizzy Foreman on her first transatlantic race in a Classe Mini

Four essential sailing maneuvers to impress your fellow neighbors on the jetty

First time alone on an IMOCA 60, it´s Lizzy Foreman again