When it comes to the ocean, Dubai-based James Brooke has done it all, as Steve Holmes recently found out.

Steve Holmes
James Brooke is renowned in the marine industry as an on-water expert having trained superyacht owners and crew around the world as a Royal Yachting Association (RYA) Yachtmaster Instructor.

From the challenging fjords of the Norwegian coastline to the vast expanse of the Indian Ocean, he has a deeply rooted and romantic affinity with the sea.

I have known James for many years and have shared some great exploits with him. In the process, I’ve understood the passion that drives him to achieve the highest standards and the pride he takes in boating instruction and everything he does.

In January 2022 James, a former Royal Marine Commando and Lifeboat Crewman, brought his expertise and broad depth of knowledge to manage one of Dubai’s most prestigious Marinas. During his first year in Dubai he was instrumental in achieving several International accreditations for his marina including the British Marine’s 5 Gold Anchor recognition of excellence and the Yacht Harbour Association’s Clean Marina Award for environmental standards.

After announcing a new collaboration with Ocean 360, the authorised dealer for Ferretti Group brands in the Middle East, we met for a catch up and I asked James what made him choose Dubai as his new home.

JB: Like many people, having experienced the various lockdowns, I really wanted a new challenge. My first project in the Middle East was in 2021 as part of a UK team that launched and operated the new Marina in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia during the first Formula One Grand Prix there. There was intense pressure for us to ensure the safe arrival and berthing of some of the world’s biggest superyachts with thousands of onlookers, against the backdrop of F1 qualifying just a few metres away. Our success was down to exceptional teamwork, the importance of which I learnt during my military training.

This led to an opportunity for me to manage the prestigious Bulgari Marina in Dubai. It was the first time I had managed a truly diverse, international team from Europe, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and India. During my first year in Dubai I learnt so much about the diverse mix of cultures that co-exist here. It’s where the world meets and the opportunities within the leisure marine sector are growing, with the development of more marinas and great access to the water throughout the year.

Upon completion of Commando training and earning my green beret, I specialised as an Instructor at the Special Forces training centre on the South Coast of England.

My passions are to appreciate the modern designs of yachts and to impart my knowledge and experiences with owners, families, captains and crew who share my love of yachting. For prospective yacht owners, I cannot underestimate the importance of receiving the right advice, training, education and support at the start of their yachting adventures. It is a privilege to be able to help with this essential guidance for all the relevant licensing and I feel privileged that my Yachting Academy will be working hand in hand with the world’s leading brands in Dubai.

What started your interest in the sea?

JB: I remember my earliest experiences, racing across the waves at 50 knots on a 16ft powerboat when I was 12. I was hooked and family boating weekends on the south coast of England engrained a deep, almost spiritual love within me for the sea. I grew up in London and I remember loving the freedom I felt at sea. It wasn’t all about speed; I developed a love for sailing too and at 16 began my training which led to becoming a Royal Yachting Association (RYA) Yachtmaster Instructor.

What would be your boat of choice?

JB: Here in Dubai my choice would be a Riva Rivamare, a jewel that has evolved from the earliest days of Riva’s birth. My experiences of driving these iconic craft along the French Riviera, from St Tropez to Monaco, have always made me appreciate how special they are. Driving a Rivamare feels like wearing a perfectly tailored suit and the classic, elegant lines would steal the limelight on any red carpet. Riva’s history is equally captivating; when a storm in 1842 devastated the fishing fleet on Italy’s Lake Iseo, Pietro Riva, a young shipwright at the time, set about restoring many of the vessels and in doing so earned himself admiration for his skills. Pietro went on to launch the first Riva creations in the town of Sarnico and the boat building legend “Riva” was born.

Achieving the coveted Green Beret, how did that set you up for life?

JB: Amphibious training within the British Royal Marines is recognised as the best in the world and it was always my dream to serve as an Instructor. Upon completion of Commando training and earning my green beret, I specialised as an Instructor at the Special Forces training centre on the South Coast of England. The experiences I had during this time taught me so much about the importance of skilled boat handling and precise navigation in extreme conditions during day and night time operations. I will always be grateful for this training and for the invaluable lessons I learnt. I’m keen now to pass on my knowledge with the team at Ocean 360 so that families, captains and crew can benefit from the very best training.

Major achievements: In his first year in Dubai, James’ marina was awarded the British Marine’s 5 Gold Anchor recognition of excellence and the Yacht Harbour Association’s Clean Marina Award for environmental standards.
So, you were a lifesaver as well?

JB: I served for seven years as voluntary RNLI lifeboat crew and this added another layer to my boating experiences, learning invaluable lessons about dealing with medical emergencies and some quite traumatic rescues at sea. The feeling of helping others is second to none. Of course the situations you are sent to deal with on a Lifeboat are generally quite challenging. On one occasion at night in a rough sea, I boarded a yacht with my medical kit to deal with what at first appeared to be a head injury sustained from a collision with the boom of a sailing yacht. Upon closer inspection it appeared the casualty was suffering from a potential spinal injury so I chose not to move him and to wait for the support of an ambulance crew. It transpired after arrival at hospital that he had sustained three crushed vertebrae and required five hours of emergency surgery. It taught me that sometimes it’s not about what you do, but what you don’t do that can make a difference. If we had moved him, he would most likely have become paralysed.

What was your most ambitious project?

JB: In 2007 I launched a new annual Boat Show at London’s Earls Court with a record £1.5 million sponsorship deal. It was a huge project and we successfully delivered the first ten day event in the run up to Christmas with a stunning display of yachts, powerboats and water sports activities at London’s iconic venue.

How did you make a boat show in London in the middle of winter?

JB: Earls Court Exhibition Centre had an Olympic sized indoor pool which we used to create a marina filled with large sailing yachts and motor boats, arranged daily fashion shows, created the biggest display of powerboats ever seen in central London and we even had the Royal Marines Commando Display Team abseil from the roof every day. It was a show with over 350 exhibitors and thousands of visitors attending. Organising the show was a huge team success and a proud personal achievement, celebrating the yachting community.

You protected vital shipping lanes too?

JB: The threat of piracy off the coast of Somalia led to another fascinating period, dealing with resisting co-ordinated pirate attacks in the Indian Ocean. I learnt valuable lessons about spacial awareness, spending hours studying radar screens. I led armed teams with the purpose of preventing pirate attacks and protecting crews and cargos over several years.

What matters to you personally?

JB: Protecting the planet for our children is a passion of mine. I have two amazing sons and as a parent I feel a great responsibility to act in their best interests, to do as much as I can to promote clean boating through use of pump out stations and the responsible disposal of waste. I’m also passionate about education, ensuring the best training is delivered to help support new boat owners. With this in mind I am very excited about the new collaboration with Ocean 360 and the benefits new customers will receive.