The yachting illusion

Everyone has THAT yachtie friend who posts THOSE nauseating updates of white beaches and rolling skylines. And while you sit at your desk and consider your life not lived, they live (or appear to live) in a dream world of easy money, amazing places and famous guests.

And I’m equally to blame…

"My new office."
“My new office.”
"Good morning white picket fence."
“Good morning white picket fence.”

Arvid hates it when I post these updates because it’s nowhere near a true reflection of what we do for a living. And he’s right. It isn’t. An old captain used to say: She pretends she’s on holiday. But look twice. She isn’t.

She pretends she’s on holiday. But look twice. She isn’t.

The first photograph was taken just before a charter that had me close to those “tired tears” many a time: 32 crew, five guests and only TWO stewardesses. We lived off four hours sleep a night, we constantly ran food and dirty dishes up-and-down about 70 stairs, our guests didn’t flush their toilets and we were put down for days-and-days on end.

The second photograph was taken at the crack of dawn, while I was drying-off the fly bridge after a full night of rain. I still had to dry the whole boat, clean the windows, squeegee the decks, prepare the saloon, set the breakfast table and drop the chef ashore… all before the guests woke up for their morning jog.

My blog is equally to blame for spicing-up the yachting lifestyle. And for that I must now atone. I have received countless messages from yachtie wannabes and gap-year hopefuls who see the pics and want the lifestyle. Lest I put the record straight about a career in yachting…

Even Marie Claire Australia is making a meal of it
Marie Claire Australia picked up on the yachting craze

In my first year, I flicked through a pile of CVs at a crew house in Antibes, France. There must have been at least 100 CVs of which 70% were South African crew looking for their first time yacht job. And although we’re not quite sure how many jobs open up every season or how many crew are looking for work, people do go home empty-handed. It’s brutal. My “first year” friends will remember our über talented carpenter and plumber friends who were unlucky and went home. And they deserved it the most.

[A crew recruiting agent] told me once that they had over 50,000 crew on their books. And it’s unlikely that number is set to dwindle in years to come. But the yachting craze has hit South Africans and it’s here to stay.

And despite what a change yachting has brought to my personal life (read Everything Has Changed), I have my reservations about how the industry’s been glamorised to those not yet in it.

FIRSTLY — you’re not going to become rich overnight. If you’re a South African citizen, you will have to put down at least R22,990 before you even step onto the plane: return flights (R9,600), Schengen visa (R890) and courses (at least R12,500). Then there’s still the cost of living in France while you find work. Call it 40 euros a day for three weeks (if you find a job in that time) = R12,500 Add in a few odds and sods and you are R50,000 down before you’ve even started.

Or you’ll end up on a soap-opera at sea and make a bitter, disappointed exit from the industry with only bad things to say.

And yes, you’ll make it back in a short time if you find the right job but if you chop-and-change, bum around and get too pissed too often, you’ll crash and burn. Quickly. Or you’ll end up on a soap-opera at sea and make a bitter, disappointed exit from the industry with only bad things to say.

If you work only seasonally (as I have), your bank account will run bone, bone dry before you know it. It’s happened to me not once, not twice, but three times or more.

SECONDLY — it’s not okay to be under-qualified. I went over with two degrees and expected the world to open at my feet. It didn’t. Yachting is hospitality and safety-centric and degrees rarely count. If you haven’t that attitude under your belt when you get there, you’re stuffed. Yachting — just like advertising or accounting or law — is an industry. If you’re not going to walk into a surgeon’s operating theater expecting a job, you shouldn’t do the same with yachting.

Don’t dumb it down — yachting is a skill. Serving people and keeping them safe at sea is a skill — especially when you’re dealing with the world’s richest people and brashest egos. Have you waitressed before and had food sent back when you’re tired and you’ve been on your feet all night? It’s not for everybody. If you’re going to make a go of it, do course-after-course-after-course. I wish I’d started earlier.

FINALLY — you work fucking hard. There’s no other way to put it. It’s not uncommon to go weeks without air, dealing with highly pressured environments and sticky situations, great expectations and little sleep. On top of working and living with your colleagues who come from different backgrounds and cultures. Things can get tricky. Cabin fever is a reality, people fall out, make-out and personalities are stripped bare. Princesses need to be prepared to pull up their gloves and get their hands dirty.

So if it’s not the money that draws you in and you’re willing to up skill and work ’till you cry with exhaustion, you’ll come out breathing and have the time of your life. And although I’m still finding my feet on the stewardess ladder, I remain positive about the contributions South Africans can make to the industry. Generally speaking, we have a lot of energy (that warm, happy African energy), we work hard because we know no one wants our passport and we’re liked.

Good luck to you!! May you take every chance and drop every fear.

And please. Feel free to comment.

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Useful links:

  • For all courses in Cape Town, speak to my favourite woman in the yachtie-verse, Isobel at Super Yachting South Africa
  • For all industry-related changes being made to the interior training for Stewardesses, visit PYA
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