In the second part of our interview with Isobel Odendaal, the owner and director of Super Yachting South Africa talks us through her top tips for both green and established stews and stewardesses, from things not to say to your captain to everything she wishes she had known before joining the superyacht industry.
Your Facebook group Yacht Stewardess and Steward Tips currently stands at 14.5k members – what do you think is the secret to your success?
I think the key is to allow education and ideas without aggression or nastiness, and to create a supportive, welcoming environment where members can ask any questions without receiving judgment or retribution. We get so bombarded everywhere with unsolicited advertising, trolls and information, but I have always believed that you as a member have chosen to join our group, and it is our job as admins to provide a safe and enjoyable environment for each member without all the added ‘noise’ from advertising and judgmental Facebook warriors.
The Yacht Stewardess and Steward Tips group has just consistently grown since 2013, and I believe this is through monitoring it numerous times each day and only allowing content we deem of interest to the members and that they will not find on any of the other hundreds of yachting groups – it is hard work because trolls do pop up anywhere, but I think the success is also thanks to the members – we all provide a safe, nurturing culture of sharing, advice, tips, support, ideas and even humour – with the common goal to grow, educate ourselves and improve our service to our guests.
My initial intention of developing the group was to stop the secrecy that existed in the industry – like chief stews leaving the yacht without leaving handover notes, or not wanting to share your secrets and tips with anyone (what exactly does one benefit from this??) – and I believe Yacht Stewardess and Steward Tips has created an awareness of the common goal of growing and sharing information in yachting, especially in the interior department. So many other stew tips groups, blogs and Instagram accounts have been developed since I launched this group and it is wonderful to see how people are no longer trying to hog information, but rather share it with other individuals.
Do you face any particular challenges when running such a big group?
The biggest challenge would be to find the time to answer each question in detail – often other members answer questions in a timely, helpful, informative, encouraging and positive manner, which is wonderful, but I would often like to add some valuable information or advice. However doing so would probably be a full-time job, something I simply don’t always have time for!
We are also very focused on not allowing posts that can become too political, such as: “I don’t get along with my cabin mate,” etc. This can quickly escalate to arguments and disagreements, which is something we try to avoid at all costs.
It is also a challenge to sometimes keep some information ONLY for my school’s students, as there has to be a balance between providing useful advice and tips on a large forum, and in the end not discouraging new students to join our steward/ess training programme – we still need to entice them to join us for training!
What are some of the most commonly asked questions on the group?
Shoes shoes shoes and more shoes. I feel everyone’s pain – I know what 15 to 18 hours feel like on bad shoes! I have, in one of my articles for www.onboardonline.com, specifically covered foot treatments and relaxation whilst on charter because I know this is a common problem all steward/esses deal with on a regular basis. The other most common discussion is laundry issues and stain treatment, and my biggest challenge is educating members that you cannot simply use any treatment on any fabric, different fabrics have different stain treatment solutions. Our discussions are so diverse, it is difficult to pin it down – they vary from pregnancy whilst still on board as a stewardess, games for crew while on crossings, advice on different culture guests on board and charter itineraries to writing stew training manuals, how to care for flowers, compiling checklists, fitting out a new build, using lemon, baking soda and hydrogen peroxide instead of harsh chemicals, how to make a variety of cocktails and input from a mixologist, table setting ideas - the list goes on!
What’s the best piece of advice you have ever been given?
What not to ever say to a captain:
- “That’s not the way we did it on my old boat.”
- “When do we get a day off?”
- “I’ll do it later…”
- “But I just washed the boat…”
- “That’s not my job.”
More general steward/ess related tips:
- Anticipate guest needs.
- Learn how to keep your mouth shut with a smile on your face – through long hours – and keep a happy, positive attitude.
- Be flexible.
- Have an open mind and a willingness to learn, listen and help where needed.
- Attention to detail – the devil is in the details.
- Common sense is not so common anymore…
- Be compatible and tolerant with multi-cultures and multi-personality types.
- There are clear boundaries between guests and crew.
- Learn grace under pressure.
- Punctuality – how to set an alarm!!!
- It is ok, no essential, to ask questions when uncertain.
- Learn personal self-drive, initiative and anticipation.
- Don’t treat the yacht as your own!
- Learn the art of multi-tasking.
- Just to get on with the job – the “No, but…” answer gets annoying.
- No drinking with the guests.
- Self control – don’t party a lot while not taking your job seriously.
- Don’t get emotionally involved with anyone on board, neither guest, the captain, or the crew.
- Keep to your job/keep your head down/stay focused on the job/mind your own business/stay out of the drama and politics.
- Stay professional at all times.
- Be polite and courteous to your fellow crew members, and respectful of your superiors, as your reputation will follow you.
- Be prepared to work extremely hard around the clock/pull your weight.
- Don’t talk badly about people/gossip.
- Listen and learn – save your suggestions until have earned a right and respect to give your input.
- Take time out to smell the roses, take time in port and have fun.
- Develop a thick skin and don’t take things personally.
- Respect the chain of command.
- There is no such thing as complete privacy while working on boats.
- Know your place and don’t get too friendly – you are not a friend of the owner, you are an employee.
- Take pride in what you do.
- Save as much money as possible – and don’t spend it like you are an owner! You will want something someday to show for your hard work.
- Talk to the person you’re having a problem with. Solve it like an adult, and don’t take it to the captain, or worse, the owner.
- Remember it is a small industry and what happened in Antigua, they will know in Antibes the next day.
- Stay positive.
- Work hard, play hard, be careful.
- Don’t chase the money - it is a hard job, so you must really want some aspect of the job. Just doing it for the money will never be satisfying.
- Always persevere.
- Be attentive to safety in ALL aspects of your job.
- Be careful what you say, and to whom you say it.
- Be honest.
- Be organized.
- Choose a great crew over higher pay.
- Clean up after yourself.
- Don’t eat every time you see something delicious.
- Don’t get star struck over celebrities – everyone that comes on board is a VIP and should be treated as such.
- Don’t take shortcuts to gain success.
- Look out for yourself and your friends.
- Never let a hangover impede your job performance.
- Put away your cell phone during work hours.
- Say goodbye to your old life and hello to your new one.
- Sleep on break times when guests are on board, you need it! You can walk around port another time.
- Stay in touch with friends and family outside the crew – keeps you out of drama and maintains sanity.
Things I wish someone told me before joining the industry:
- Always read garment labels before laundering. DO NOT tumble dry if the label says so, and DRY CLEAN only means exactly that.
- Bleach can cause serious damage and should rather not be used. It ruins clothes, and eats marble, wood and the gold on plated fixtures.
- Check the laundry for objects inside pockets (like pens, lipstick, Chapstick, mobile phones and lighters).
- Don’t mix colours and whites – EVER!
- Don’t put bottles of wine or Champagne in the freezer for a quick chill – as you might forget about it and there will be a big mess to clean up.
- Never put anything but toilet paper in a yacht toilet!
- Agents/chandlers can take care of a lot of things.
- Always spray cleaning products on the cloth first, not the surface that you are cleaning.
- Blue coloured cleaner should not be used (in the laundry).
- Check the voltage of an appliance before plugging in (USA 110V and EUR 220 – 240 V).
- Bleach on a white carpet can make it PINK!
- Collect business cards – contacts are everything in this industry. Keep them sorted into different countries and different sections: florists, transports, provisioners, etc.
- Communicate every detail that you know – share your info as someone else may need to know.
- Don’t allow acidic foods or lemon juice, etc. to touch marble, the acid will etch it.
- Don’t leave soap (like liquid hand wash soap and soap bars) on marble, it will damage the marble.
- Don’t open the door (even after knocking) unless someone has invited you in.
- Don’t overload the washing machine (especially with big heavy towels) – it will break or leak.
- Don’t use Museum Gel or Magic Erasers in the interior – EVER!
- Carrying cleaning products in a caddy prevents drips (from bleach and blue Windex, etc.) on your white carpets!
- Don’t use heavy duty steel wool to take hard water marks off mirrors – it will scratch.
- Don’t use razor blades on plastic mirrors.
- Don’t use Scotch Pads on INOX galley surface.
- Don’t use Scotch Pads on Lexan Shower doors to clean off soap scum.
- Don’t use vinegar and water on marble, granite or onyx surfaces – it will damage the surface.
- Educate, then delegate.
- Put the “runners” back on the carpets as soon as the guests leave.
- Put drop towels or protective covers down at entrances throughout the boat that are used by crew – their feet are often wet when they come from outside or some don’t even take off their shoes.
- If you make a mistake, own up immediately, as someone may know a quick solution.
- Just use water and vinegar on wood surfaces, not Pledge or Mr Min, as all those other products attracts dust.
- Keep track of your $$$$$!
- Milk gets rid of ink marks on leather (don’t ever RUB HARD to try and remove a stain off a leather couch).
- NEVER leave an iron unattended!!!!!
- Scented sprays stain silk, brass and marble (does it make sense to spray an oily scented spray over clean surfaces that you just detailed?).
- Set the glasses for the table while at anchor at the last minute, bad wake can topple them.
- Stain removers on carpets can make the carpet attract more dirt.
- Make sure you always securely stow items inside cupboards (like vases, candle holders, wine). If not, they will roll around when the boat moves and break.
- Trust your instincts when interviewing for a job – if the captain seems disrespectful in the interview, he probably is always like that.
- Varnish work on interior is softer than exterior varnish, it nicks very easily.
- When ironing in a cabin, make sure to put down a towel or protective cover underneath, so if/when the iron falls over, you don’t ruin the carpet.
- Whink rust remover stains stainless steel.
- Always have everything ready – silver polished, napkins folded, etc. Plans are guaranteed to change!
- Fold napkins and sheets while ironing to save time later.
- Febreze/Downy Wrinkle Release spray for sheets on bed or tablecloth on table to “hand iron”.
- Set up breakfast items the night before (do not actually set table, but fill jam pots, pull cutlery, table cloth, etc.)
- RainX shower doors before guest trips.
- Always carry something with you when you walk from one part of the boat to another, to save on trips.
- Always double check your work – leave and come back to see if you missed anything.
- Add Ginger Ale, or a capful bleach, or a teaspoon sugar, or a copper penny to the water in your flower arrangements to make them last longer.
- Be systematic – always do things in the same order, so you get in the “groove”.
- GooGone is a wonder product.
- Let your candles cool down on the table after use, this way you can carry them without making a mess from runny candle wax.
- DRIFT method – Do Right First Time – saves time not having to re-do it later.
- Flour sack cloths are the best cloths on earth.
- Dry stainless immediately to avoid water marks.
- Heat water to boiling temp in the microwave to loosen dried food.
- Keep cleaning supplies in a caddy/carrier so that you know when it is running out (instead of checking lots of storage places).
- Keep fridges stocked.
- Keep folded and ironed napkins on pants hangers after ironing them. This will avoid folding creases.
- Make lists – always have a pen and paper in your pocket.
- Place orders (flowers, etc.) on the phone while ironing.
- Put oranges in microwave for 30 seconds – this gives more juice when squeezing.
- Soak white napkins and white table cloths or white sheets and pillow cases in bucket of Napisan immediately after use – this keeps stains from setting.
- Squeegee showers or wipe with Chamois before cleaning to get rid of excess water (do not use guest towels for this!!).
- If you are out of time, use iron-on double sided tape or for a quick fix instead of sewing a hem.
- Vacuum walls, shelves, etc. with a brush fixture on the vacuum before dusting.
Oh, and life in real yachting IS NOTHING LIKE BELOW DECK!