Adam Laithwaite had always sailed. So when his career as head of “arty farty marketing bollocks” ended prematurely, the 43-year-old had a decision to make in terms of what to do next.
“Thanks to my friend and a few pints of quietly disturbing local village cider (which eventually got withdrawn because of its remarkable potency), I awoke one morning,” he says, “to find I had spent a large amount of money to train as a Master of Yachts with a well known British sailing company that didn’t start with ‘U.K.’”
After pulling himself together and “arranging a flexible bag of ill-folded undergarments,” Laithwaite went on to complete the course in Cowes. He worked in crew recruitment for a while before a kind captain “took pity and gave me a job.” Since then, he’s worked on both motor and sailing yachts as a first mate and security officer, and also as racing captain and crew.
He currently lives in Antibes, and hopes to one day write a book about all the madness of the yachting life.
Is working in the yachting industry what you expected it to be?
I assumed, naively, that I would quietly don some attractive Helly Hansen shorts, a pair of well-worn sailing gloves, a few calluses and have my English spotty body transformed into a bronze forearm rippling Adonis, able to woo the likes of Kate Moss flouncing along the quay.
It soon came to pass though, there were 10,000 yachties in this unknown industry, all of whom appeared to be blonde-locked, with a chest like Brad Pitt, and a banana in their boardies. But I thought, ‘Sod it,’ adjusted my Hansens surrepticiuosly to the left and went for it, immersing myself into a mysterious world of pre-knitted beanies and skateboards. I thought I'd give it a go. Surprisingly, at 37 years old, a kind captain took pity and gave me a job.
What do you love most about your job?
Meeting the jaw-droppingly unexpected – guests, friends and destinations alike.
What could you do without?
Thirty-five-year-olds riding skateboards.
If you weren’t working on boats, what would you be doing?
Your job and writing a book about working on boats.
What is your idea of the perfect day at sea?
Having a world famous person saying, “Do you know what? I've had my holiday from heaven. Join us for a cocktail. Oh – and here’s a grand.”
Where is the most beautiful bay in the world?
Villefranche, because you can always sink your boat if you don’t like it. It’s deep.
Where would you most like to drop anchor – for good?
What is your worst experience on a boat?
Where to start? I think the worst is when you have tried your hardest to please your guests or owners and they just turn round and completely disregard you. Many people will say that’s your job, as it is indeed. But there is nothing more difficult than holding your tongue whilst someone asks the chief stew to light their cigar whilst they are partaking in a questionable liaison.
What is the most incredible thing you’ve seen at sea?
Two instances I will never forget.
Surfing down wave after wave in the Pacific in a 48 ft [15m] sailing boat, leashed on to the rails on both sides, waist-deep in water in the cockpit, not knowing whether we would pitch pole in 50 ft waves and would make it to the bottom. I cried.
Also being 500 miles [800km] out in the Pacific and having a humpbacked whale finning backwards next to me at six knots, twice the length of my boat, rolling on its side and silently looking at me, wondering what I am – looking me in the eye. Genius!
What is your idea of the perfect boat?
So many, depending on the situation. Possibly the best I’ve applied for (didn’t get it) was a 60m [197 ft] sailing sloop travelling from the south of Chile to Alaska. Mates job, sport fishing all the way, and stopping on the way to put down shark cages out in an island off Mexico to dive with white sharks, and then continuing to Alaska to salmon fish.
Generally speaking, which nationalities tend to be the best bosses?
British for politeness and paying your salary on time and Americans for tips – even the owners. I've just deleted everything else as I’m still looking for a job.
Which tend to be the best charter guests?
Americans without doubt. If you can flash your smile and do your job as we all do, dollars will come your way.
What is your motto?
Be yourself, there’s worse.
Who do you most admire?
People who laugh at adversity.
What is your greatest regret?
Nothing. Life is an educator.
What will you be doing in five years?
Writing a book and having two dogs in a farmhouse in the hills.