For many Yachties, considering their life after yachting can be a daunting prospect. After many years of success in the yachting industry, with lofty pay packages and adventures to some of the world’s most dreamt of locations, leaving the industry can be daunting, unless you have a passion that drives you forward.
Leah Tennant knew she wanted to do something that would make an impact, and after recognising that the Superyacht Industry had a big issue in terms of toxic cleaning products, she founded Washdown at the age of 26. Leah is now making strides in the industry, and is using her knowledge she gained on deck to educate and inspire crew. In this interview, Leah talks purpose, what Yachting taught her about life, and how her passion for the industry propelled her towards creating Washdown.
How long did you work as a crew member? What was your role on board and which yachts did you work on?
I worked on superyachts for 6 years, working on deck. My first boat was Lady L, a 45m Heesen, which was a heavy charter yacht at the time. I then worked on Madam Gu and Here Comes the Sun, as well as temporary gigs on Alfa Nero and Nero.
When did you leave the Superyacht industry, and what were your reasons for leaving?
At 25, I officially left Superyachting, and moved to a land-based roll where I would still go off and do temp jobs to get my yachting fix (and tips). I loved my career on Superyachts, but I started to miss my family and friends, weddings, and meeting my newborn nephews and nieces. I also knew that I wanted to start up my own business and have my own life. The Superyacht lifestyle began to bore me, and I wanted to do something a little more wholesome that would make an impact.
“Starting Washdown was never about me, making money, or even cleaning solutions. It’s about impact, education, and breaking toxic cycles. The rest follows“
Prior to leaving, did you plan an exit strategy?
No, I didn’t.
I’d obviously saved tips in the meantime, but I wasn’t sure what I was going to do when I moved home. However, I live by the saying: “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” I knew it was the right time to leave when I did, so I was sure it would work out. I ended up working as a sales negotiator in a luxury estate agent in Sussex. From that, I was offered a job as a UK charity operations manger doing water sanitation programs in Uganda. I did this while I started Washdown.
These jobs provided me with all the necessary skills to pursue Washdown, and it was also nice to work for an ethical company and give back after being on Superyachts for so long.
What’s the most important lesson you learnt as a crew member that you now apply to day-to-day life on land?
Superyachting gives you a strong work ethic and discipline. I am so grateful that my first boat was Lady L. It was a heavy charter boat with a small but close-knit and powerful crew. It was tough – a lot of work and very long hours. Three months of back-to-back charters. But I loved it and really felt like I grew up on that boat.
Superyachting also exposes you to a completely different way of life than many people experience. Working for Princes and some of the wealthiest people in the world, for example! It teaches you a lot about morals, money, gratitude, and the importance of being grounded. It removes the barriers of your limiting beliefs and takes away the idolisation of famous people, once you realise that they are just normal people.
I remember working for Melinda Gates on a charter just before I left yachting. I was blown away by her kindness and outlook on life, and her effort to involve us in their trip. Experiences like this give you such confidence. If I’m ever nervous to speak to a large client now or to introduce my self to someone I’ve dreamed of working with, I always think to myself: “You’ve gone swimming with and spoken with Melinda Gates, the wealthiest, busiest woman in the world. I’m sure you can get through this.”
What is your current job role, and where are you based?
I am the Founder and CEO of Washdown. I’m based in Dorset in England. However, I spend more time in France or Spain with work at the moment.
Can you tell us more about Washdown and what you do on a day-to-day basis?
I founded Washdown to disrupt the industry – not our oceans. We have a commitment to provide ethical cleaning products that put the health of the crew and the environment first, without compromising on price or performance.
We have designed our range to cover every department so that you can order all of your products in one place. The solutions (with self measuring ant-spill systems and self measuring systems to prevent waste and protect clumsy crew) out-perform your typical toxic cleaning agent. Every solution is thought-out with smart concepts that make a big difference. Hybrid, anti-smear technologies mean that you don’t spend 15 minutes buffing water marks out of windows during morning set-up on 3 hours’ sleep.
No one day is the same. Lots of calls and meetings, either in person or Skype, traveling, shipping orders and dealing with logistics, meetings with manufacturers, working with partners, planning for events and/or different launches. It really varies, but that’s what I love. I’m a very practical person so being hands on suits me. There’s nothing better than seeing your vision come alive – I’m just so excited to make a positive and lasting impact.
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What have been the good, the bad and the ugly parts of transitioning from yachts to shore?
Transitioning back to land-based roles after yachting is tough. I started yachting straight from sixth form so it was my first real introduction into adult life. But then, when you move home, you’re soon introduced to the ‘real world’. I missed Yachting and being passionate about something. Because I wanted to start my own business and spotted a gap in the market, I founded Washdown. Although it’s a lot of hard work (and scary at times), I wouldn’t change it for the world. If you’re not uncomfortable, you’re not growing, right? I’ve learnt so much from founding Washdown and researching its ecological impact.
I don’t think anyone can prepare you for the mental rollercoaster of starting a business. There are lots of highs and lows. But I wouldn’t swap it for the world. Your surroundings either make you or break you, and I am very conscious of this and people’s energy around me. We work with so many inspiring people and have an incredible team and network who are devoted to making a positive impact. The energy is infectious.
What is your hardest struggle since leaving the industry, and how did you overcome it?
Finding a purpose again. I didn’t realise how important the ocean was to me. It sounds crazy, but I feel most at home in the middle of the ocean with no land in sight, underneath the starts, regardless of how wild the weather is.
I didn’t have that feeling when I originally moved back to England, or with any of my shore based jobs. I felt a little lost because it didn’t feel like enough. Then I came up with the vision for Washdown. It was like falling in love all over again. I love that I can mix my passion for the ocean and Superyacht life with my entrepreneurial side which desires to create solutions and make a lasting impact on the world.
My late grandmother always said to me: “Always leave a place better than you found it.” Without realising, I founded Washdown on those very words. I just wish that my Grandma could have seen it. I know that she would be so proud.
Did you have any other career options in the back of your mind when you were considering your life after yachting?
I always loved interior design, and also property development. I did consider studying interior design after my Superyacht work, but it never came close to competing with Washdown. Instead, I do interior design projects as a side hobby now.
If you could return to the start of your yachting career, would you change anything?
I probably would have invested and saved more.
Also, I would have finished my OOW since I was only a couple of exams off finishing. I do think not sticking to it was pretty stupid of me, but I’d had enough at the time. Maybe when I have more time, I might finish it.
What kind of positive changes would you like to see in the industry?
There’s so many! People making small conscious decisions each day would make huge ecological and social impacts in the industry. I really wish people understood this more.
It’s amazing that there’s so many more discussions around sustainable yacht designs, energy, and fuel. However, I think there’s so much power in the everyday, small decisions such as changing your cleaning product and approving eco-friendly products products. I would like to see better recycling facilities and award systems for crew in marinas and ports, as well as training and education throughout the industry. Knowledge is power.
Imagine if every Superyacht replaced anti-foul (toxic to marine life) with an eco-friendly option that works. This simple decision would profusely decrease the industry’s ecological impact. Even changing your boat soap to our boat soap could save 16,000 litres of toxic solutions entering the ocean!
I would love to see the whole community come together more, and for there not be such a divide between crew, shipyards, marinas, management companies, and manufacturers. At Washdown, we want to bridge that gap.
“I would love to see the whole community come together more, and for there not be such a divide between crew, shipyards, marinas, management companies, and manufacturers.”
What does success mean to you and what is your career vision for the next 5 years?
Success to me is freedom to do what I want when I want, to be healthy, and to be surrounded by people I love. To know that I’m making a positive impact and leaving a place better than I once found it. Starting Washdown was never about me, making money, or even cleaning solutions. It’s about impact, education, and breaking toxic cycles. The rest follows.
In the next five years, we will change the industry and the way people see cleaning. I have no doubt we will become industry leaders on a global scale. We understand that the project is bigger than us and we are doing it with the right intentions. I cannot wait to look back at all the achievements and impact we have had, alongside the laughter and tears.
Lastly, can you share 3 pieces of advice for crew members thinking about their life after yachting?
- Find your purpose and what drives you. Don’t settle for the sake of it.
- You are your only limit. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
- Save and invest as much as possible. I’m not talking about investing in LV, Chanel, or watches, though. That sunglasses collection isn’t going to save you in rainy England!
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