I was recently asked to name 10 things that I didn't know before I joined yachting. As it happens, there are quite a lot more than that! Some may argue that they aren't the most important life lessons, but that doesn't mean they're not true.
1. Origami - On a yacht, if it can be folded in such a complicated way that it needs a diagram, it will be. Napkins, towels, toilet roll and bed sheets have to fit into a very specific space and therefore must be folded in a precise way. If you can name it, stewardesses will make a diagram for the correct origami and laminate it.
The most astounding example must surely be toilet roll. Toilet diamonds are the most complex I've seen and, while I think that is the standard, I’ve heard many tales of boats and fans, and there are even books on the topic.
What I’d like to know is - who came up with it? I can imagine that the first time somebody sees it the response could be 'That's nice, it looks neat and shows that everything is clean' but when it becomes the norm, if it doesn't get done in time the reaction might be more like:
‘Why has this immaculate toilet not been cleaned? It’s been at least 8 seconds since Vladimir used the facilities. One simply cannot use normal-shaped papier de toilette!'
Besides, the only person to have ever commented on the toilet diamond was not a guest, but rather my land-based best friend. I absent-mindedly folded the toilet roll whilst using her bathroom and her genuine reaction was 'You have to teach me how to do that!' Really? Why? Clearly she was born to be a stewardess.
2. This one might sound like a ‘first world problems’ whinge. The chocolate cupboard is like Aladdin’s cave, full of riches. Until it's not anymore. The problem is that only one person generally gets to shop for the treat cupboard, and that person invariably chooses the same things every time. So while at the beginning you may feel like a kid in a free candy shop, by mid-season you will never want to see another Mars bar again.
3. Ironing sheets onto beds. Until I discovered the old 'spray and stretch' technique, this chore haunted my dreams. If you don't know the 'spray and stretch' technique, ask me.
4. Sunglasses are disposable (or at least treated that way). Somebody needs to invent a magnetic force field around each decky so that nothing slips into the drink. Failing that, they need to attach everything they own to a lanyard. iPods, phones, wallets, money… all of these have fallen victim on multiple boats. Sunglasses are the most common casualty. They just slide right off your face. Or you move into the shade, put them down and alakazam - they've disappeared.
The most common reason for a decky to tag along on one of my shopping trips has to be 'Ah, ok I'll come - I need to find some new sunnies'. I've even heard stories of a friend going snorkeling at Moorea Beach and finding four pairs of (expensive) sunglasses. Sadly they only lasted him the rest of the season.
5. Terminology. So many things were lost on me. And to be honest , why does everything need a different name than it has on land? Heads = Toilets. Deckheads = Ceiling! These words are made up to catch people out I'm sure. Let's just call a spade a spade.
6. There are times when you will have to choose between napping and swimming in a deep blue beautiful ocean. And you will choose napping. Choose between wandering around a Croatian village and napping? Napping. I never thought that would be the case, but never before had I worked for 101 days straight for a minimum of 18 hours a day.
8. Fabric walls are actually 'luxurious'. I thought the whole velvet-walled sixties era was over. Apparently, it has just evolved. Ostrich skin, suede (which needs brushing every 5 minutes), and silk are all the wall coverings of billionaires these days. Why? No idea. I'm also at a loss as to who thought marble bathrooms were a great idea. Marble doesn't like water. Just FYI, yacht designers.
7. Toiletry shopping can be really exciting. When you happen to stumble upon a vaguely familiar brand in an unfamiliar land it can feel like such a massive win. Nivea moisturiser is something I would probably never buy in England but compared to the Greek YGNOPI I'll take every pot you have left thank you.
9. Champagne is not nice! People don’t like it. People drink it because they feel they should. To ostentatiously show off how rich they are (or how much of a big fat tip they just got). Moet tastes disgusting. Why has champagne become a luxury? Who knows, but I never thought I would drink so much of it, just because it’s free.
10. Tip money is free money. It's funny because having worked in plenty of restaurants and hotels, I’d never before thought of tip money as 'free money'. It was something I earned, saved and treated like any other money. Tip money on yachts however… it has this mysterious quality that says 'Spend me on things you don't need. Spend me on champagne that you don’t like and €500 belts. Be ridiculous, you know you want to.’
I guess it's because it's often in a foreign currency that feels like Monopoly money, and comes in an envelope, all at once. There's something special about that. I'm sure there's also something special about being able to buy a house at 23, but €500 notes don't whisper 'ooh save me - I'm a great investment' so I wouldn't know.
Do you identify with any of these? As the seasons went on, the list grew and grew. While it might seem like a preposterous mix of First World problems and mundane tricks of the trade, they are all things that make my experience of yachting a time I will never forget.