I thought I knew a lot about yachting when I made the decision to join the hordes in Antibes.
In a sense I was a less intense shade of green than the many newbies and wannabees rapidly populating the beautiful old French port town in May 2013. I’d not worked on a superyacht before, but I’d had several years’ association with the industry through friends for whom I had done CV’s and helped find jobs on yachts (hence my eventual decision to do it myself).
I had also lived and worked on a 100m charter boat in the past – so I understood 18 hour days and life on a ‘small ship’, and I knew with absolute certainty that I did not, and never would, get seasick.
While I already knew that working on a superyacht would be a whole different ball game, I was still in for a few surprises…
Here’s my list of 10 things I now know about working on superyachts, learned during my first Mediterranean summer season.
1: I learned that dockwalking is not the huge scary monster many make it out to be. It rapidly became a highlight of my day (a close second to my chocolate croissant). I’d been led to believe that it was a humiliating exercise, and I expected plenty of rolled eyes and irritation - aka ‘not another one!’
I found the opposite; I found friendly crew happy to walk down the passarelle to take my CV and even struck up familiar daily routines with some boats. They’d see me coming, wave and say hello and we’d chat a bit. They had nothing for me that day, but they liked my smile and my voice. I was told that 'If it was up to me, I’d hire you immediately – you are so friendly and always smiling.’
I had originally put off dockwalking out of a silly fear. I needn’t have; it gave me a great deal of confidence and at the same time I learned the next two things…
2: I learned that despite the indisputable image-consciousness of the industry, a lot of yachts aren’t looking for a 23 year old supermodel, but rather someone who is friendly, smiling… and persistent.
3: I learned that I should have gone dockwalking from Day 1.
That way, I might not have ended up becoming a semi-permanent resident of Antibes. Living in Antibes is not bad – just expensive and not what you are there for, right? There’s also an excellent chance that you will get fat, as you can’t live in Antibes without frequenting bars, bakeries and ice-cream shops on a very regular basis. (You will find the money.)
4: There’s a thing in Buddhism called ‘Prostration’. You lower yourself so that you are below everyone and everything. It can be devastating and breaks your ‘false ego’. Some daywork is like that. I did not expect the intense well-up of humiliation I experienced crawling around crewmembers’ feet to clean the stainless steel bases of the crew mess tables, and cleaning their toilets while they stood looking at me. I felt it once; it was awful. I will never feel that again. It’s the job. Just do it. I learned what I would advise anyone: leave your ego on the dock with your flip-flops… or go home.
5: For some reason I expected yachting to be a bit like the movie ‘Mean Girls’. Maybe because of the looks-conscious image the industry portrays. To my delight I discovered that everyone is really friendly and down-to-earth. Well, almost everyone.
There was that one girl in the Blue Lady, the one with the rigid smile, dripping in gold jewellery and Chanel, who boasted about how much money she was making and how she was about to buy her first house even though she was only 19. She had a really loud mouth and cringe-worthy self adoration until an ‘Old Salt’ at a nearby table told her to ‘shut up or he might have to wring her neck’. Then there was that professional race yachtsman who gave me the once over and then refused to so much as return my ‘hello’, even though he’d sat down at my table!
Everyone else I met in Antibes was very normal – just like you, just like me.
6: I learned that pretty young girls with no experience might get their first jobs more easily than others, but it’s certainly not impossible to get that job you came out for. I learned that faith, ‘guts’ and bloody-minded persistence can go a long way in a competitive situation.
7: I learned that getting a job in yachting is probably not as easy as it once was. Be prepared. Everyone is in on it now. You will be one of thousands competing for the relatively few jobs. Think twice, and don’t be stupid with your cash.
8: I learned just how bad a ‘bad boat’ can be. The Chief was from hell, and I understood a whole new level of misery. You are on a boat. There is nowhere to go. I learned that next time I will ask questions, and if I find myself on a yacht with a history of high crew turnover, I won’t unpack my bag too quickly.
9: I learned just how good a ‘good boat’ can be. In short, the crew was awesome and our captain was extraordinary. He made it his daily mission to make everyone laugh and when you laugh and smile your way through your 18 hour days on charter and feel like you’re a part of a happy little family, tiredness has to fight its way through a very thick shield to take a hold on you.
10: I learned I can actually get seasick. Few are totally immune to that particular ‘roll’, especially not in a muggy cabin lifting mattresses and making beds.
I have learned that probably every yacht is a micro-world in its own right; in what may seem a very standardized industry at face value, everyone’s experience will still be different. I am soon to start my second season in yachting, and I have learned … that I will learn a lot more!