Mark Donaldson, winner of the Exporter category at the 2016 National Pacific Business Trust Awards, was destined for a life at sea. As co-founder and Director of Marinelogix, a leading independent yacht logistics and shore-side support business based at Auckland’s Wynyard Quarter, he’s living the dream.
Formed in 2013, Marinelogix services the growing number of cruising yachts heading to and currently in New Zealand, from all parts of the globe.
Mark, who is of Samoan descent through his father and grandmother (from Lepea in Apia) and with strong family ties via his mother to the Cook Islands, has built his business on the back of his career in yachting that spans almost a quarter of a century.
Covering the globe, his work has seen him based in the United States, Monaco and Qatar and here in New Zealand as part of an Americas Cup Campaign.
Yet Mark admits it could have ended before it even started.
“I was finishing tertiary studies, and working nights in a bar, graduation was fast approaching and one of the guys in the bar, a skipper, asked me what I was doing after that,” says Mark.
“I told him I was flying to London as I wanted to work there. He had just taken delivery of a 60-foot yacht in Auckland and needed crew to sail it to France. He asked if I was keen to come.
“I said, ‘Sure, no problems at all.”
But soon after setting sail from the Auckland Viaduct, there was a problem. By the time they rounded Great Barrier Island on the Hauraki Gulf he admitted to the skipper he was feeling “pretty messy” with seasickness, and considered getting off.
The skipper gave him two choices – get off on Great Barrier Island or stay until the next stop – the Panama Canal, a 12,750km six-week journey travelling at 4-5 knots (9.3kmph) across the Pacific Ocean.
He stayed, eventually overcoming his seasickness, which thankfully has never returned. Mark’s love of the sea was born, along with a rapid learning curve, as the skipper sacked the rest of the crew upon reaching Panama and the two were left to sail the yacht to the USA on their own.
“We travelled through the Panama Canal to the Atlantic Ocean, sailed to Jamaica, Fort Lauderdale in the US and Bermuda, crossed the Atlantic to the Azores and Gibraltar before handing the yacht over in France,” Mark recalls.
“The skipper Geoff Clarke remains a close friend and mentor.”
In 1995 Mark then joined Motor Yacht Calixe, a 58m super yacht, which was to be his home for the next five years cruising the globe and forging relationships with crew that continue in business to this day.
In January 2000, a group of the owner’s core team from M.Y Calixe, spearheaded the US-based OneWorld Challenge for the America’s Cup in 2003. Mark was appointed Logistics Manager.
“It was an extremely demanding but exhilarating experience,” says Mark.
“You’re part of a sports team representing a nation. Sailing is one thing, but racing brings completely different and demanding elements.”
His role involved heading all daily operations, including the housing of teams and families, providing the right nutrition and welfare for crew members, all shore-side support, managing sponsor relationships, logistics and much more.
“My wife (Amanda) was involved, too, and the whole experience was a significant and memorable part of our lives.”
In May 2003 Mark and his family returned to Europe. It followed his appointment as Project Manager based in Barcelona, for Y.CO, a yacht company born from the key team members of M.Y Calixe that charters, sells, services and builds luxury yachts globally with central offices in London, Doha and Monaco.
Three years later he was posted to Qatar as director of operations with full responsibility of the Royal Family’s private fleet, numbering eight superyachts (over 50m), a small division of 12 support vessels and two traditional Dhows – Arabic for sailing vessels.
He returned to Y.CO in Monaco in 2008 as Director of Yacht Management. Two years later the family returned to New Zealand to raise their two young sons and begin planning to start Marinelogix.
He still continues to act as the Pacific representative for Y.CO.
Mark is a qualified offshore skipper, holding both commercial and recreational qualifications, an ISM lead auditor, and both a Royal Yachting Association and Maritime New Zealand Instructor.
Upon returning home, he was approached to become a Maritime tutor at the Mahurangi Technical Institute and Royal Akarana Yacht Club.
“I felt a great sense of achievement passing on my knowledge of the sea and sailing to the younger generation coming through,” he recalls.
“The excitement of new challenges and opportunities I could see in their eyes was truly rewarding.”
Mark’s priority is now Marinelogix.
“We started the business in 2013 because we knew a number of large yachts were heading this way. They required someone local and experienced who could facilitate their movements and logistics, and manage their journey around the Pacific.”
For centuries the Pacific has held a certain fascination and mystery among people in Europe. While air travel has made the region far more accessible, sailing to the other side of the world appeared to be insurmountable.
Logistically it was, says Mark, whose entry into the industry coincided with a growth of yacht logistics and support in the South Pacific during the mid-1990s, which continues at an increasing rate to this day.
“The yachting industry is constantly evolving and always looking for new cruising grounds. Thankfully, we’re at the forefront of that because the South Pacific is seen more as a must-see destination.”
Winning the National Pacific Business Trust Awards Exporter category was “absolutely fantastic” for Mark, who was nominated for both the Exporter and Entrepreneur categories.
He admits to initially feeling hesitant about entering when approached. But once they agreed, they gave it their best shot.
“I saw that it had a meaningful synergy for us, so to actually win was amazing,” he says.
“Although I am proud to be brought up in a Polynesian environment, being of mixed Polynesian-European descent, I often felt I was on the fringes. The award means a lot to me in terms of acceptance by the Pacific community.”
Pacific Business Trust CEO Kim Tuaine describes Mark’s journey as inspirational and completely appropriate in the context of Pacific skill and enterprise.
“We’ve been impressed by Mark’s willingness to provide opportunities to other Pacific businesses which, in turn, gives them greater exposure and opportunity internationally and in the luxury goods and services sector,” she says.
“Thanks to Mark and his desire to connect and collaborate, we have the beginnings of a beautiful little ecosystem which is likely to grow into something very special and unique.”
Mark concludes by vowing to support the Trust where possible.
“Whether it be creating pathways for our young Pacific people coming into the industry, there’s a whole wide world out there,” he says.
“If I can encourage them or help forge a career, I’d be rapt. I was captured by the romance of the sea when I started more than two decades ago, have travelled the world and have been to some amazing places. I couldn’t think of doing anything else.”
Mark’s favourite Pacific cruising spots
Bora Bora (Tahiti): “It’s regarded as the premier cruising spot in the Pacific, and once you’re there, its pure beauty is breath-taking.”
Matauri Bay and Far North (Northland, New Zealand): “Sparkling clear water, pristine beaches, the whole north-eastern coastline is stunning. If you assimilate into the local culture, you’ll have a fabulous time.”
Aitutaki (Cook Islands): “Yachts do struggle to get here as there are no safe havens, yet the lagoon is absolutely beautiful. Stories of the TEAL flying boats landing there in the 1950s and staying overnight brought the romance of the Pacific alive.”