When I first started working on yachts 7 years ago, I remember my first Captain asking me how I was liking it so far. I happily replied,
“Oh, I love it! It’s like summer camp for adults! The bunk beds, the shared meal times, bonding with the crew. It’s so much fun!” I’d been onboard one month.
Immediately the more seasoned South African bosun chimed in,
“That will fade.”
I was shocked that he’d said that and frankly felt bad for him. Why was he being so negative? He seemed a little bitter and I mentally assured myself I would never feel that way….I would love it forever!
Turns out he was right. Once the newness wears off, the bunk beds are annoying to make and climb in and out of. A twin sized bed feels spacious by comparison. Cabin fever starts to set in and everything your crew members do becomes highly irritating. Silence is a valued rarity and there is always one person that just talks too much. Even the largest yachts start to shrink the longer you are on them which can sometimes be months at a time. Non yachties think you are living a glamourous life but in reality it can feel like a you are trapped in a floating prison. You have no control over anything in your life from your schedule, to your meals, to what country you are going to be in the following day.The only consistent thing is the work…..every day feels like groundhog day; a constant cycle of wash, rinse, repeat. There are rules about everything-strict rules. Eventually this leads to burn out, where you quit and return to land. The normal daily minutia of life feels bizarre and it takes some to re-acclimate to being on terra firma. Driving a car feels like flying a spaceship and all of your friends and family look frightened when you vent about how mush of a jerk your engineer had been. Like they want to say, “it’s okay you’re in a safe place now.”
I was on a boat about 5 months ago and it was hideous, the captain was a micromanaging arrogant psychopath. I would be laying in my (bottom) bunk every morning and promptly at 7:30 a.m. I could already hear him talk shouting up in the galley. I would then wait my turn to take a shower in the bathroom I shared with 3 other people. The shower head was conveniently placed over the toilet making it either the grosset shower ever or the cleanest toilet. I couldn’t decide. I’m sure everyone has had a nightmare boss at one point or another, but they probably didn’t have to LIVE with them. It’s simply not healthy. And trust me it’s hard to get a good start to the day when you have to close the toilet lid before you use your loofah. (the shower/toilet combo did prove efficient for multitasking during charters and it was nice to prop my leg up on the seat when I shaved)
Anyways, misery loves company so one of my yacht stewardess friends and I would text each other every day for moral support. She was on another boat that was just as awful and we tried to find humor in our depressing situations. It’s simply not good for someone’s mental health to be confined to a small space and forced to work long hours with other, sometimes sociopathic, personalities. We started joking that working on yachts was like being an Orca whale at SeaWorld……stuck in captivity. After one especially difficult week I text her, “DAY 56: my mental dorsal fin has officially flopped”. Because it seriously and sadly had.
Maybe it was boredom or a creative catharsis but I continued to send her a photo diary we call #tanklife. You want to know what it’s like to be a yachtie? Read on…….. I feel you Shamu, the struggle is real.
7:30 a.m. I’m just waking up and I’m already surrounded by people watching me
10:30 a.m. I feel like I’ve been swimming in circles for weeks, oh wait I have
12:00 lunchtime. At least they feed us pretty well. It’s basically all we have to live for at this point
2:30 oh Christ of the abyss here comes Moby talking shit again. When is this idiot going to learn stop running his blowhole. He seriously never shuts up. What a dick.
5:30 time to greet the guests. I can hardly fake enthusiasm anymore
Yay. It’s a guests birthday. Let’s celebrate. yippee
What exactly do you mean ‘the charters extended an extra week????!?’
Come on interior team….just one more day and we can stop jumping through all these damn hoops
It’s finally over. I’d celebrate if I wasn’t so flipping tired
I QUIT!! Aaaaahhhh freedom of the outside world….I swear I am never going back. And this time I really mean it. It’s been so long since I’ve interacted with anyone in the outside world…..I’ve almost forgotten how to behave socially.
Maybe I should talk to a professional. That can help with my post traumatic tank stress. They might even be able to give me a pill or something for my floppy fin
After a few months, once my land legs and sanity have returned I usually end up taking another yachting job because lets face it, the money and travel are hard to beat. I try to last as long as possible but if there’s one thing I’ve learned from yachting, life is too short to stay in a situation where you aren’t happy. There is a difference between giving up and having the courage to leave something that isn’t right for you… Whether it be a job, a relationship or a just an old habit if it brings you more misery than joy, move on. There are plenty of other fish (and whales and yachts) in the sea.