My yachting career came full circle today when I went running along Nice’s Promenade des Anglais and felt the familiar arrival of the French spring. It’s almost three years since I first touched down here, looking for a ‘super yacht job’ and carrying toilet paper rolls and dish-washing soap and half-bottles of rosé from one over-crowded crew house to the next.
I knew nothing about the luxury yachting industry back then and I suppose in some ways — I still only know very little.
Nowadays, I’ve got a big, fat ring on my finger, I mind my own business and no longer slog it out on boats, which I’ve come to find a great relief. But with my man still firmly-footed in the industry, I am aware that yachting’s famous Terms and Conditions will continue to apply to my life, and to his, for a good while to come. It’s a life that no one really understands until they’re in it, and in the thick of it.
It’s a life that no one really understands until they’re in it, and in the thick of it
…And it kind of prompted me to write a letter to all those starting out in the industry, especially the next wave of South African crew who are headed over here to find work. By now, I’ve grown tired and suspicious of all these naff, condescending yachting articles written by know-it-alls and fly-by-night journalists who glamorise the shit out of what is, in fact, a super hard but super rewarding lifestyle.
It’s definitely not a one-size-fits-all game and I’m almost certain your experiences will be different from mine but after three years of job-to-job, home-to-home, boss-to-boss, here it is: A letter from a yachtie drop-out.
I got tired of living my life on someone else’s terms. But that’s the service industry for you and I’ve since come to accept that I’m not made for the service industry. I didn’t know this when I started out but along the way, I didn’t like the idea of working when everyone else was on holiday; or being away from my loved ones when everyone else would be celebrating with theirs. And I definitely didn’t like putting on a smile when I was being treated like a piece of dirt. Some people can do it and I admire them for it.
In the early days, I found it hilarious that a woman with two university degrees would have to clean toilets for a living. The “swan” toilet-paper fold became my favourite party trick. Of course, I had the choice to climb the ranks and serve the boss his cigars rather than clean his toilet; but then I would have had to think twice about starting a family or living my life however I preferred. It’s a conundrum for most women in the yachting industry.
The novelty wore off and eventually I got over cleaning toilets. I started to take the work and the people personally. Deep down, I found it degrading. Every now and again, crew members would tell me that I thought I was better than the work at hand. They were right — I felt that way.
The novelty wore off and eventually I got over cleaning toilets
Admittedly, I wasn’t the world’s greatest crew member but then again, I don’t know many who are. We’re all human. And you have to remind yourself of that when you live and work day-in and day-out with the same people — from when you brush your teeth in the morning to when they snore next to you at night. We’re all human.
I felt I made no difference to the world by serving billionaires; I knew I had a job with little purpose. But it humbled me and it shaped me and it made me stronger. It taught me to bite my tongue and get on with it; and speak up when I had to. I felt for those who couldn’t leave the job because they had bills to pay and families to support and no land-based education to lean back on.
Despite the frivolity of my work, it taught me how awesome it is to be away from a desk and traffic and a white-picket fence. It never got old that I could be in a new country every few days or learn languages or try new food.
As time went on, I realised that rich people need the same kind of support and love that poor people need. I learned that rich people also suffer abuse and hardship and pain; and that they also eat, and sleep, and pee, and cry. I learned empathy for the rich who’d lost their way and I learned not to judge them for the choices they’d made or how they lived their lives. I learned not to be interested by their wealth or intrigued by their things.
I took a few steps back, counted my pennies, walked away with the clothes on my back and felt relieved I didn’t have the kind of money that gets in the way of a good and simple life. I learned that hard-earned money is the best kind of money.
I learned not to be interested by wealth or intrigued by things.
Behind the scenes, I came to learn that not all people working in the industry are good people. I opened my eyes to a few hard truths and learned to spot the bad apples. Beware the bastards in yachting who’ve lied and cheated their way to the top, or who’ve let money or drink turn them sour.
Above all, I came to learn that we’re not called to live ordinary lives. Yachting taught me that living a full and interesting life should be our greatest priority.
So, dear yachting, it’s been a roller coaster. Thank you for the good times and the bad. Thank you for the adventure and for giving me the love of my life.
The Swedish African