It would probably be easier to ask me 10 things that I DID know about yachting when I arrived in Antibes.
The fact that my backpack was full of high heels and that it took me three hours to find the Blue Lady from the train station indicates just how little prepared I was for my new career.
But that was 13 years ago, and here are some things that I learnt along the way.
THE GREEN EYED MONSTER
It came as a surprise to me that I didn't find myself feeling jealous of the millionaires and billionaires I worked for. Even when they bought my year’s salary worth of clothes in an afternoon’s shopping, lay on a deckchair in the sweltering August sun after a long cool swim, or sat down for yet another five-course meal on the aft deck? Not a twinge of jealousy.
To be honest, mid-season, I am far more jealous of the engineer who’s complaining that they’ve just watched seven episodes of Top Gear in a row and are completely bored. Wrong audience.
According to their owners, posh dogs get confused if you alter the size of their dog biscuits. When we ran out of the pampered pooches’ small "morning biscuits" mid trip, our boss asked me to please break up the larger biscuits in the morning into smaller pieces, so as not to confuse the hounds as to what time of day it was.
Also, that the Evian in the dog bowls must be chilled- but not too chilled.
I learnt that yacht crew tend to talk about the owners of the yacht as if they owned the crew as well. As in "our owners sometimes let us drink the leftover wine after dinner when they are on board". Creepy. Why do we do that? We should stop.
OBSESSIVE COMPULSIVE DISORDER
That no matter how hard I would try to remain relaxed, that I would spend an unhealthy amount of time fuming about important things like:
Not being able to find my favourite Tupperware container (related problem: I have favourite Tupperware), because it is being used for some unknown, non- food related purpose around the boat.
People licking their fingers and then touching EVERYTHING. Especially when there is some vile flu passing around the boat.
Finding random pieces of rice and corn in the sink strainer yet again. Before joining the industry, I would have scoffed endlessly at the idea of inspecting the contents of a sink strainer, but now I take a certain angry enjoyment in knowing what’s in there, and who might have left it there. Yachting: it makes you weird.
Not being able to find any galley equipment i.e. scissors, as they are being used for some non- food related purpose around the boat. Why does the stew need my garlic crusher? Mind-bending questions like this fill my day, as well as daydreaming how to best booby-trap my galley.
The hardest part about all of this is mid season, trying to keep up the pretense that you are still a normal person, with none of these bonkers personality traits lurking inside.
Sometimes it's better when the owners or guests don’t pretend to be your best friend. Going out to dinner with the guests mid-charter is exactly the last thing you want to do - far inferior to crawling into bed for a few extra hours sleep or even a movie.
Sometimes the only way to get through these meals is to drink a couple of glasses of wine quite quickly in order to muster the energy for witty conversation. This is not only a very bad look, but can have disastrous results: i.e. telling the guests how horribly pale they looked when they arrived on the boat or, worse still, drinking tequila with them until sunrise and then everyone feeling a bit awkward the next day as the normal walls of reserve go back up.
THE OTHER GREEN MONSTER
I discovered that I get seasick. And that it is not necessarily the head-over the toilet/ over the side type of seasickness I had anticipated. It can consist rather of unrelenting nausea, or headaches- and the feeling that if you just rested your head on your chopping board, you could be asleep in seconds. Which can be almost as debilitating.
That if you fall off the boat in the middle of the night, the boat won't just be able to simply turn around and pick you up easily. It's dark, there's wind and currents and waves, the ocean is very, very big, and a person's head just isn't that easy to spot*. I almost learnt this the hard way when I took a lunge at a rogue bag of rubbish that was about to be washed overboard in the middle of the stormy Bay of Biscay.
*Next time you do a man overboard drill, throw a head of lettuce or cabbage over the side and get the crew to watch how long they can spot if for. The lettuce is roughly the size of a person’s head, and even on very calm, clear days it disappears from sight almost quicker than you can believe.
You can successfully stop yourself from eating too many sweets on a crossing by only eating the green M&M's. You will also learn that watches are one of the most boring activities on a yacht, and that looking out for green M&M's helps pass the time.
Upon joining a classic sailboat, I was more than a little surprised to learn that two of the three toilets onboard pumped raw sewage straight over the side. Whenever there were guests in the water, the crew member who needed to use the head for a number two had to send another crew member up on deck to shout if there was any guests in the vicinity before flushing. (Very little is private on a classic sailboat.)
Of course this situation was never pointed out to the guests, so they pumped with abandon while their friends splashed obliviously nearby. Let’s face it, even on larger yachts where the black-water is "processed" - it still smells like sh**t. It certainly puts a not-so- fresh perspective on those folk fishing in the port.
THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS THE PERFECT YACHTING JOB
Aside from the fact that perfection is completely subjective, there will always be that ‘perfect’ job out there somewhere, forever eluding you. The grass always greener, the water always more blue. Hearing other crew talk about their yachts, you can start to feel hard-done by. They seem to have more time off in incredible places, better money, better tips, six paid months off during yard periods, more holidays, a better mix of crew.
And of course there are the stories you hear of where owners buy their crew houses and pay for crew weddings. Whether these stories are truth or fiction or just incredibly rare, it is undeniable that crew on another boat will always seem to have it better than you in one respect or another. And sometimes they will have it miles better. But guess what: no matter what job you get- even the ‘perfect’ job you’ve been after for years- chances are that there will still be something wrong with it.
Yachting is the perfect example of life - if you are going to enjoy where you are currently - you have to see the positives and embrace the job you DO have.
And I know that this is actually number 11, but I certainly didn't know that I would join yachting thinking of doing one - possibly two - years only to find myself finally hanging up my epaulettes 13 years later. I didn’t know it would get such a hold on me.