A chief stewardess stands near the transom, impatiently tapping her foot as the yacht enters the port and draws slowly towards a rusting commercial dock.
She squints her eyes: are there people waiting on the dock?
She certainly hopes so, they’ve been at sea 20 days and there’s only 18.5 hours until the guests arrive; she needs dayworkers, and hopes that the local carpet cleaning people are waiting on the quay as organised to try and get the huge stain out of the carpet.
The first mate passes by. ‘Shotgun dayworkers’, he says, smiling.
The stew growls at him and looks down at her shopping list. Nothing too fancy, shouldn’t be too hard.
Local SIM cards for crew
Find good restaurants for guests: tourist information place?
Find masseuse to come on board for trip
Find English and Russian magazines
Find glassware repair shop
Drop off drycleaning if time!
Buy size 8 white shoes for new stew
Find hairdresser: captain’s said that everyone’s looking like Yetis (and he was talking to the girls)
Does anyone on the island even speak English? she wonders. None of the crew have been here before, the boat’s on a world trip to remote places.
Their local agent, bless him, is trying to help, but he’s a one-man band and his wife was in hospital, while the captain's run off his feet trying to re-organise the itinerary for this last minute change to include this tiny tropical island.
The chef joins her on deck with his trolley and armfuls of shopping bags as the passerelle goes down. No dayworkers or carpet cleaners await, only curious locals.
With no time for their wobbly sea-legs to adjust, the stew and chef grab their long-lost flip flops out of the shoe basket and they’re off, like demented contestants of The Amazing Race. They get to the car park: the taxis they’ve ordered aren’t there. A man in a golf cart says, ‘Oh, no cars in here. Come.’
The chef and stew look at each other, shrug and jump in, rattling slowly along the potholed road, their blood pressure slowly rising.
Two hours later, they meet up again. The chef is in a rage because he can’t find his favourite ingredients at the stinky local market, and the chief stew is a sweaty, grumpy mess as nothing is where it said on the map, businesses had closed down and tourist information is closed for ‘unexpected event.’ According to the locals, the closure is anything but unexpected.
She looks at her list; it seems comical now. In the tumbledown shops she’s visited, there’s an odd assortment of bananas, toilet paper, razors and tinned peas. She’s found a rag-eared copy of Australian Hello from last October, but a sad lack of glass repairers and Russian Vogue. She did manage to bag a pair of white nurse’s shoes though, about which she was weirdly pleased, but was fairly certain the new stew would not be. As for fancy restaurants, there didn’t seem to be any, while a wizened old woman, who may or may not have been a voodoo witch, was the only one she could find to do massage, and she wasn’t going to let those arthritic claws anywhere near her guests. As for the crew, they were going to have to keep looking like Yetis.
Wouldn’t it have been nice to have known what this place was like for yachts beforehand?
This was no-one’s fault, and it is the crew’s job to adjust, make the best of it, and fool the arriving guests into thinking that everything was not only under control, but perfect. That is a crew’s job, and they do it well the vast majority of the time. But perhaps it’s time to do it better.
The point that I’m trying to make here is that no matter how professional and knowledgeable the crew, no matter how good the captain, agent and manager, superyachts visit so many ports across oceans and continents, that it is impossible for a single person or yacht to have updated information on them all. Agents, for the most part, do a very good job, but the scope of all the services and products one yacht and each member of its crew will need is perhaps too much to ask.
Port towns are not only wildly different in facilities and supporting infrastructure for visiting yachts, but they are also very transient, meaning that the businesses and people you encountered on your last visit may have closed their doors or moved away. As we all know, it’s very embarrassing when your boss comes back from a terrible meal because no-one told him the head chef had quit and they’d lost their Michelin star in a food-poisoning incident that was splattered all over the local news.
Given that the yachting community is so global, isn’t it time we started making technology work for us to harness all the information we all have in our heads - to put it in one spot that all crew can refer to? A bit like Trip Advisor, but for yachting destinations, with information shared by yachting crew, yachting businesses and industry professionals.
This trend for knowledge-sharing has begun already; yachting facebook pages that share advice are filled with queries from crew about where to send the guests and buy certain things. They always get responses, which serves to highlight two things: how happy crew are to help each other, and also how much information we have to share.
This is why OnboardOnline decided to build an interactive Ports & Shoreside Directory, where crew and industry professionals can research and review marinas, find detailed information when entering the port, and search for local businesses and services for when you arrive.
Each port has a section for local promotions and reviews written by other yacht crew and professionals to save you time and money looking for the best providers and the best places to visit.
You can find out where to send the boss for dinner, find good masseuses, great provisioners or chandleries, or where to get a haircut. Where to buy electronics? Where’s the best happy hour? Who’s doing a deal on hotels? Where’s the best spa? Local contractors: who’s available for daywork, where to find the best varnisher in town, and who to trust with the carpet cleaning.
New ports are emerging and old ones expanding, as they vie for the yachting dollar. Ports are well aware of the need to include good facilities, infrastructure and services into their developments, and this is bringing positive change to the marina industry and the wider yachting experience.
So how about outside the port? How much do you know about the town you’re pulling into, and how can you make it the best experience for guests and crew?
This kind of ‘local’ knowledge can make or break a charter, or make or break your tip. You can’t be expected to know it all- even if your boat goes to exactly the same ports each year, businesses close down, change hands, their best staff leave and their standards rise and fall.
With your help, OO Ports & Shoreside is on the way to becoming the most complete reference for anyone arriving in a port anywhere in the world, but with six sections for each port, it’s a work in progress! There are gaps to fill, but we’re busy gathering local information and reaching out to you, our readers, to ask you to share your experiences, and help us create an indispensible tool!
Yacht crews so often spend most of their time in the closest Irish bar to the port often because it’s familiar. There’s nothing wrong with that; most of us want to go to a bar sometimes where everyone knows our name. Familiar is nice, and yachting bars allow everyone to let their hair down, reunite with old friends and spend time with people who understand their lives- away from pesky tourists saying ‘do you work on a superyacht? Oh my god, that must be so glamorous.’
But as nice as familiar and safe are, travelling is about what you find when you leave the confines of the port.
Finding local hangouts and zipgliding through the trees, discovering live music and markets and street vendors. You won’t remember another night at Waxy’s or the Blue Lady (especially if you have that 5th Jagerbomb), but you will remember forever hiring a car and going kayaking up in the snow melt mountain streams, hiking through mountain passes scattered with the last snows.
Yacht crew say we travel, but is that really true? Or do we just huddle in the yachtie bars, saying we’re going for lunch and to visit that castle or hike that mountain…but never going. It’s not a bad thing to spend a day or two just sitting in a bar relaxing on a break from a busy season- we’ve all spent many happy hours doing just that. But if you’re in town a while, why not make the most of it?
After all, you don’t want to be standing on the aft deck, watching a country recede into the distance behind the yacht’s boiling wake, and realising that your didn’t make the most of it. And let’s face it; you might not pass by this way again.
So, what did you do today? Did you find that shop in Antibes that sells Nespresso pods (it’s near the market), or a deli that stocks the boss’ favourite caviar? Did you have a good massage, or an excellent crew meal? Find a new cocktail bar, a newsagent with foreign magazines, or a fantastic florist? Use a new carpet cleaner and want to recommend them? Found live music in a bar, or a local salsa class?
No matter what you did, there’s an excellent chance you learnt something that will make someone else's job easier, or time off better. And chances are that someone else is writing about the port you’re going to next.
So, go to our Port Directory and type in your port. Search for local businesses, or add a review of your own. It could be as simple as rating the port, or just doing a bit of research on the place you’re going next. It could be as fancy as writing a restaurant review, or a little travel article.
This is your place to share your knowledge, and profit from the knowledge of those that have gone before you.
Photos courtesy of:OO Photo Competition winners, Kevin Dumont (first image) and George Evans (last image).
Remaining photos courtesy of Renee Kelly and Lauren Williams.