Q&A: Superyacht Stewardess Sarah McNally
After an early career working in various hospitality roles, Sarah McNally was ready for a career change and superyachting seemed like a great fit. She followed her heart and jumped on a plane straight to Fort Lauderdale.
Since working her first job detailing a superyacht engine room, Sarah’s determination to succeed in her new career saw her rapidly rising through the yachting ranks to become a stewardess.
Working as a stewardess exposed her to floral design and a whole new career path opened for her. She’s now actively pursuing her passion for flower arrangements. Here, she tells us about the latest trends in superyacht flower arranging and what it means for her career.
How did you discover yachting and what were your first impressions?
I was working as a dental hygienist part-time whilst also waitressing and bartending on weekends. Two girls I worked with in the hospitality scene took the jump into the yachting industry. I remember seeing their pictures on Facebook and deciding that I’ve got to do this! From there, I spent hours on the internet finding out everything I could about the yachting industry, and how to make my very first move - the thought of travelling the world while also building a career at sea sounded perfect to me.
I remember not being totally sure of the industry and whether it was a right fit. My goals at the time were not specific, and I was treading lightly through my experiences. I wasn’t 'all in' so to speak. Looking back, it’s amazing how things change.
How did you go about getting your first job and how long did it take?
I had just finished doing a summer season in Ibiza when I decided that it was now or never to get into the yachting industry. I flew from Ibiza straight to Fort Lauderdale, made my way to a crew house and started my STCW. This was October 2015. My first day working on board involved a fellow crew house room mate and I detailing the engine room on a 60m yacht!
From there I did a couple of trials before I secured my first permanent job in December on a 53m yacht.
Why did you opt for the interior department?
It was never really a question of not opting for it as I grew up in hospitality. My first job was as a bus girl at a steakhouse when I was 15. From there I worked in wineries, hotels and fine dining establishments in Toronto until I left for Spain in 2015.
How has life been during the pandemic – has it changed your views about anything?
Life has been surreal during the pandemic. It’s strange because I have been mostly at anchor on the boat not experiencing what most of the world has gone through. We’ve created special Covid protocols with our sister ship that allows us to be in one big sort of ‘bubble’. Thankfully this has allowed us to interact and enjoy some fun get-togethers in remote locations. I do miss normal crew events and activities, the usual exploring of new places, and going out for dinners with the team. It’s also been strange going home for leave and entering a different world with different rules every single time.
Has it changed anything? It has definitely made me realise that life can truly be fleeting. It’s made me realise that it’s vital to take care of our physical and mental health. The pandemic has been hard on all of us and it’s important to check in on friends and family more than ever.
How have you and the crew remained motivated and how did you use the time?
Getting creative with crew events whilst onboard and not on a trip has been the go-to. Right when we went into lockdown, I remember brainstorming different crew activities and events we could create to get the team together and bond while the world was falling apart around us. From crew bingo nights, Olympics, and upping my exercising, to taking courses online, I think the worldwide pause that occurred helped a lot of people to reconnect.
What’s your favourite part of the job?
My favourite part of the job is definitely getting creative when it comes to the guest experience. Through yachting, I discovered floral design, which is what I plan to get into when that day comes. It’s a perfect union (yachting and floral design) because I get to experiment with different plants and flowers on board and gain the necessary experience for growing a business on land.
What’s on-trend in terms of flowers and flower designs on board?
I think we will always see loads of succulents for the exterior of the boat and orchids throughout the interior and, during the past year, dried flowers/everlasting arrangements have really become trendy. I love seeing stewardesses using pampas grass, bleached Ruscus and different types of dried/textural elements.
I am also seeing more stewardesses fall in love with flowers, which in turn lessens the typical arrangements that a land-based florist would provide. More girls are also having a go at creating unique arrangements with beautiful floral varieties, which is awesome to see!
Are more owners considering the footprint of cut flowers and opting for alternatives?
I have never worked with preserved flowers myself, but I have checked out Ethereal Blooms and I am absolutely in love with what I see! The arrangements they are making are beautiful and I love that they are made to order. It's a perfect solution for a charter yacht so that guests aren’t seeing the same arrangement over and over again. I would love to find out how to preserve flowers myself.
Are you currently taking any professional courses?
Yes, I am taking the Advanced Accelerated Leadership Course with Karine Rayson of the Crew Coach. I am also taking a variety of interior courses through LUXM Training Academy.
What are the opportunities to develop your talent – is there scope to specialise in flowers on larger yachts?
Absolutely! I’ve seen yachts with built-in flower fridges in the past. In the last year, I consulted on a new build where the build chief stew wanted to know what a florist would dream about having in his/her studio on a yacht. To think that there are boats in the 100m+ range, building flower studios into their facilities on board is a good sign that these types of jobs exist. Also, if you are an owner with a love for nature and fresh flowers, then of course it would make sense to have a trained florist on board.
I am always scouting the world for floral design courses or well-known florists who I can train with. It is always super fun explaining to someone what we do out on the sea and catering the training towards what we can do on yachts. Just recently I was in La Ciotat for a yard period and discovered Roni Fleur. What they are doing is absolutely magnificent, but what is interesting is that they have a branch totally dedicated to yacht flowers. They also offer training at a variety of levels, which is something that I hope to get involved with the next time I am in the south of France.
There are so many ways to uplevel your talents these days in the yachting industry; just so many courses to choose from. I highly recommend crew getting involved, as it looks great on the CV and you may discover a hidden passion or talent that you didn’t know existed!
Crew enter yachting for a variety of reasons but it’s increasingly common to hear crew questioning their purpose – what’s yours?
As I mentioned earlier, when I started yachting I was a bit unsure what I wanted to give and get out of the industry. After the industry won me over, I made a deal with myself that I would give my absolute best to this job. In return, the industry has given me many unique opportunities and life experiences. Working hard, being disciplined and having patience in the yachting industry will give you many rewards in many different ways. I guess it is this that keeps me going.
Are crew now thinking more strategically and planning their futures within and beyond yachting?
I can’t speak for everyone, but I can say that the people in my immediate group of friends in yachting, myself included, are very driven and entrepreneurial. We are always discussing new ideas, visions and real estate opportunities. Yacht crew definitely discuss how long they will stay in the industry and what they want to plan for, all the time. It is a unique job that allows you to do so!
What life skills has yachting taught you?
Yachting has taught me to have patience, be disciplined and be an incredibly hard worker. It also demands 100% focus. Work/life balance is the challenge all yachties face, but it goes to show that once you leave the industry and you are working on your dream idea/vision, you will have what it takes to see it into fruition because of the skills you have acquired working on a yacht.
What have been the main challenges? What were you not prepared for?
I think the biggest challenge when wanting to climb the ladder is to find the chief stew/captain/boat that is willing to give you that first chance. From there, it is a steep learning curve as you are thrown into leadership roles, decision making, managing interpersonal dynamics, motivating your crew and keeping healthy, professional relationships all around you.
What would you change if you could?
Not a thing! Have no regrets, always reflect and be self-aware of your decisions and their consequences - and learn from them always!
What have been some of the highlights during your career so far?
Professionally: Improving the flower program on my boat, training the interior on what I have learned and being able to be creative. Also I have just stepped up to chief stew for while my CS was away during a busy yard period and that was a victory for me!
Personally: Too many to count! Scuba diving with Manta Rays in the South Pacific on a crew day off, hiking Lions Head mountain in Cape Town South Africa or swimming with whale sharks in Indonesia!
Where in the world are your favourite cruising grounds?
I would say I tend to favour cruising itineraries that are off the beaten path – rural Indonesia was pretty special, as was Palau.
What advice would you give to new crew starting out in their careers?
Be humble, be keen and enthusiastic, and stay focused on the jobs delegated to you. Showing your chief stew that you are trustworthy and reliable with a job is important, and having the patience to completely master your role on board will go a long way.
With thanks to the team at:
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