Gordon Ramsey worked on a superyacht for a while. I’ll just let you think about that for a minute.
He talks about his time on M/Y Idlewild in his autobiography, Humble Pie, in which he carries on in typical apoplectic rage about having to stock eight types of cereal on board. In the universe according to Gordon, yacht crew should just eat what they’re given. You can speculate how he felt about allergies, and pity any poor stewardess who might have crept fearfully into his galley to tell him about her special diet.
“What, you’re a lacto-ovo-vego-coeliac with an oxygen allergy? Oh f@*k off, get out of my galley before I stab you and turn you into snail porridge that even that f%#@ker Blumenthal wouldn’t eat.” (Dear editor, this is hypothetical Gordon swearing, not me. Please let it stand.)
Yachting has changed a lot since Ramsey’s days. As yachts, crews and budgets have become outrageously big, so too has the range of food and toiletries supplied for crew. Eight types of cereal would be pretty standard now, I’d say. Along with 7 different types of chilli sauce, 12 brands of biscuits, 16 types of herbal tea no-one drinks and an endless supply of chocolate, chewing gum and the sugary Haribos that all taste the same. It’s possible- just possible- that we’ve all become a bit fussy.
I’ll give you an example of how this may be so.
“There’s nothing to eat,” wails the young deckhand, standing miserably in front of a snack cupboard positively groaning with junk food . “Where are the Kit-Kats, the M&M’s?"
“Well there’s Mars, Snickers, Bountys-“
“-But I’m bored with Mars and Snickers-we’ve always got them! And Bountys are gross. We never eat them, there’s millions of them in here- why do you keep buying them?" (Excellent question, no idea why, perhaps just to torture you, sweetpea.)
"This is shit,” he says, channelling his inner teenager. “When are you girls going shopping?” I half expect him to call me Mum, but for his sake, it’s rather lucky he doesn’t. I watch as he opens a Mars, devours it unhappily in two bites and then says, “I didn’t need that. I’m getting fat.”
I’m not picking on the male crew here; I too have had moments of profound petulance in front of the snack cupboard of doom when my favourites have run out. And it’s not just food. I have heard stews complain about shampoo and moisturiser quality, and a first mate had an A-Grade hissy fit about deodorant brands. (I think he may have bought in to the Lynx advertising a little too much, as I have not yet seen any hordes of women, or any women at all, stampeding to smell his scent.) Add to this the chef’s grump about toilet paper quality, the captain’s strop over the HP sauce running out and the general crew complaint about not enough ‘burger days’…and well, you see that there is no limit about what we crew can complain about.
For those reading this who have never worked as yacht crew, you may be astonished at our ungratefulness- after all, we get all these things for free. And we do know that we’re lucky, really we do. For who among us hasn’t stood in the supermarket aisle on holidays saying, “How much for razorblades?” in a tone of castrated disbelief? But in our defence, our free stuff comes at a cost. For it is a strange adult life indeed where we don’t get to choose what we eat, or what shampoo we use. All these decisions are out of our hands, and we can only request, within reason. I think, perhaps, that our fussiness comes down to how little power we have over the details of our own lives. After all, if we lived on land, we’d buy bodywash that doesn’t smell of old lady lavender and if we wanted a Kit Kat we’d go out and buy one.Having said all this though in an attempt to be all nice and understanding, there are times when a yacht crew’s personal preferences can get a bit out of hand.
Pet Hates and Phobias
In an industry where ‘attention to detail’ needs to be ‘obsession to detail’, it is perhaps no surprise that yacht crew have a bewildering array of ‘pet hates’ and phobias. It is an industry that suits the particular, the type of personalities for which things have to be ‘just so’. And that is not a bad thing, given the standards expected on a superyacht. The problem is, ‘just so’ can tip over very easily into ‘just so crazy’. Many years ago, I was working on just such a yacht, which within weeks I had renamed M/Y Pet Hate.
One day, afloat somewhere mid-Atlantic, I arrived in the crew mess 10 minutes into lunchtime to find the chef hurriedly dumping a tray of fried eggs in the bin.
“Have I missed lunch already?” I asked.
“Oh no, I’m just throwing the eggs away before the first mate comes down, you know how he hates the sight of eggs." Yes, I did know, what I was having trouble with was exactly why the rest of the crew should give a flying rodent’s bottom.
I was vexed, not only because I had missed out on eggy goodness, but because earlier that week I had also been told I had to hide the honey from one of the other crew, because they had taken a dislike to the sight of it. Not the taste, mind, as I discovered when I found her tucking into a bowl of honey soy chicken. I looked at her carefully. “You do know that’s got honey in it don’t you?”
“Yes, of course, I don’t mind the taste of honey, I just don’t like thinking about it. Oh”, she said, glaring at me and pushing her plate away, “now you’ve ruined it, by mentioning the honey.”
Other pet hates and phobias on board ranged from the usual : flying, bugs, germs, freeways, cupboard doors left ajar, to the really quite bonkers: fear of Tupperware, fear of reheated leftovers, fear of foods touching on a plate, fear of condiments, fear of near-empty jam-jars, fear of tomatoes (convinced they were poison) fear of the ‘gloopy’ sound sauces make when put in a dish. We bounced coins off the captain’s freshly made bed upon request, and re-folded his clothes each week around a piece of pre-cut cardboard.
The zenith of the madness was reached when we were sent shopping to replace the crockery because the sound of spoons clinking on cereal bowls in the morning was upsetting a department head. Now that was an interesting day at Carrefour; it was like we were starting a band in Homewares.
It was if common sense on board had suffered an outbreak of plague; within days the whole village was dead. Much time was spent catering to people’s petty dislikes, and I wouldn’t have been remotely surprised if someone had admitted they had a fear of kneecaps. There is such a condition, Genuphobia, and if there was ever a place I was to meet such an afflicted person, it was Motoryacht Neurosis. Before you look it up, it’s not a real yacht name, but it bloody well should be.
The thing about Pet Hates is that, in moderation, they’re ok. My friend Lisa hates the spongey bit on Scotchbrite, apparently it makes her teeth scratchy-whatever that means. My sister hates watching people eat brie, while an old colleague can’t even hear the word ‘worms’ without gagging, which meant of course I talk about worms a lot when he is around. Pet hates, everyone has them. But the word ‘pet’ is the giveaway, it means you feed it, look after it and have more than a passing fondness for it. It is your attention that keeps it alive.
When faced with people who expect their oddness to be pandered to, I'm tempted to tell them, “It’s your pet hate; you look after it. I’m busy.” I think that a 2–pet hate rule is required, that a person can have 2 pet hates at any one time, but you have to keep them on a leash and under control, not shitting all over the communal pavement.
In case you think I’m being all high and mighty (or perhaps that particular horse has bolted), I’ll admit my two pet hates.
1. I simply cannot watch someone clean their teeth, with the blue foam dribbling down their chin. If they try to talk to me while brushing, so much worse.
2. Misplaced apostrophes on signs and menus. It’s not $12 steak’s- it’s just not! Look it up for god’s sake.
Oh, and a third: People with more than two pet hates.
And don’t worry, I’ll look after them, and keep them alive with my attention.
More articles by this author: 'Monty Python and the Rise of the Multicultural Yacht Crew'