It happened again. Every time an article appears in the press about the excesses of the yachting industry, somebody is compelled to post it on my Facebook wall with a note implying “Hey, this made me think of you”.
I know it’s meant kindly, but it vexes me nevertheless. This is not representative of what I do at all. In fact, it simply is NOT what I do at all!
No worries, I’m not one of those that attempt to debunk the myths surrounding life on board. I’m not here to set the record straight about how “these things never happen on my ship!” After all, there’s a bottom line of recognition in every story about yachting, from the ludicrous to the downright bizarre.
I'm not here to discuss the sauce, but I do want to say a few things about the packaging. I feel yachting is a far more diverse industry than is given credit for, and I'm missing those stories.
I work for a commercial sailing company. We offer affordable sailing trips to individuals and groups and charter year round, between the Mediterranean and the Caribbean. It’s not a super yacht, we have no millionaires to cater to, and we are, let’s be honest here, not making a whole lot of money. Yet I wouldn’t want to trade my job for anything else in the world.
We charter every week, with the exception of shipyard duties maybe twice of thrice a year. Yes, this means even our Atlantic crossings are chartered. You are working 24/7 as long as you are on board and the rare occasion where a charter is cancelled feels like Christmas, although that doesn't mean it's time off either.
All in all it's quite an intensive experience, with loads of work and few opportunities to relax. Crew usually operate on rotation, never staying on board for more than three months in a row, although this has been extended in the past but that hasn't really worked out for anybody so far.
It's easy to recognise the crew that has been on board for too long: they are highly irritable, have regular meltdowns and could not be less interested in the charter guests. I never fully sympathised with them until I became one of them.
We deal with a lot of commercial pressure. The ship is built at the lowest possible cost and the material you are given to work with isn’t quite top-notch, which is truly the understatement. You spend a disproportionate amount of time repairing things that shouldn’t need repairing in the first place if they had been manufactured correctly.
We do our provisioning in super markets, which is a weekly ordeal. Even the most trivial daily task can be a cause for frustration, for example, a vacuum cleaner that just doesn't vacuum. No sir, that would be un unaffordable luxury. For this reason, we don't really fit in at boat shows. We're the youth hostel among a series of 5-star resorts.
But low-cost yachting also comes with its benefits. Because not everything is perfect, you don’t have perfection to adhere to. I’m not saying standards aren't high, but generally giving it your best is already good enough. As a stewardess, I break things, I drop glasses and I'm so nervous with red wine that I spill it far more often than I'm willing to admit.
In times like this, it's extremely comforting to know that the glass you just dropped is a $1 IKEA glass and not some ridicilously expense crystal. It's refreshing how easily a faux is forgiven when the cost of the damage is low. The stain, the scratch, or that bit of dust in the corner that you missed...just relax, you're having an off day and will do much better tomorrow.
Our guests are not extremely wealthy either. There's no pressure to please them for the sake of big tips alone, because we know that is not going to happen. They are however a grateful crowd and genuinely enjoy the sailing. They are interested in you, appreciate your conversation and forgive your shortcomings.
They will regularly invite you to sit down for a chat or a drink, which unfortunately the work flow rarely allows. In fact, they are so pleasant to have around that I often find myself thinking: “This is how it should be. Why should the pleasures of sailing only be a privilege of the rich?”
What I enjoy most about my yacht is that it offers a work environment where you are free to be who you are.
No false pleasantries, no impossible demands, no silent suffering. You are encouraged to enjoy your job. You are encouraged to enjoy the sailing. You're not asked to do anything you may find morally reprehensible.
You can pop open an anchor beer while on duty without so much as someone blinking an eye. Nobody will scowl at you when you give the occasional dirty look. Everyone knows he had it coming. I'm even far too lazy to bother with make-up when working in a hot climate.
In short: if you really enjoy life at sea, why offer yourself to the highest bidder? Money will always be a big motivator for those working on super yachts.
But neither sailing, nor the industry as a whole - nor anything in life in general - should be about money. So if you're willing to take the pay cut, there's a whole other world open to you. It will not make you rich but it might just, if you let it, make you happy.