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Couple takes right-hand turn on life to join yachting

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By Lucy Chabot Reed

Newport — Sometimes, taking a chance pays off. Take, for instance, the first time Stew Cami Vago visited Atlantis in the Bahamas. It was her first job on a yacht, her first trip on a yacht. On her day off, she put herself and her husband, Mate/Eng. Chase Hunter, on a budget of $20 to spend in the casino.

Hunter asked a casino employee where the hot seat was, and he pointed to a bank of slots “over there”. Hunter felt the seats and picked a warm one, indicating someone had played there a while, which might mean it would hit.

Ten minutes later, it did, for $1,000.

Sometimes, taking a chance pays off, just as it has for Vago and Hunter, both 31 and married eight years. A year ago, they were living in Tampa, working corporate jobs. But Hunter’s brother had been tempting them with photos and stories of his adventures as a mate on a private yacht. And over a few years, they would take their vacations in South Florida, taking week-long classes to get their STCW certification, ENG1, interior training and, for Hunter, his 100-ton USCG license. (He owned his own 22-foot center console and had experience running and maintaining a boat.)

COUPLE

Stew Cami Vago and her husband Mate/Eng. Chase Hunter of M/Y Reflections joined yachting less than a year ago and are enjoying the career change. (PHOTO/LUCY CHABOT REED)

But by day, Vago was a manager at Bank of America; Hunter was a master technician with BMW. And like many couples in their early 30s, they owned a home (actually, they had three properties) and a couple of cars (actually, they had three).

Still, about a year ago, they decided to take the chance, apply for a couple’s job on a yacht, just to see what might happen. They had nothing to lose, except the pay-off if it worked.

“I don’t want to look back on my life and say I should have done this, I could have done that,” Vago said. “I want to look back and say I experienced life and did some things. If we didn’t get anything, that would have been OK, too.”

Before long, they were offered a job on an 85-foot Pacific Mariner, but the opening was immediate. And for two professionals in the corporate world, they had to honor the standard two-week-notice rule. So they declined.

A couple months later, the same boat was looking again, and this time, agreed to wait the two weeks for them to start. In August, they joined the yacht, she as stew, he as mate.

In that two-week window, they sold one of their cars, sold their boat and a boat lift, sold one of their condos, and put most of their stuff in a bedroom of their other condo, padlocking it shut and renting the rest out to a colleague.

That was 10 months ago, and they are still with the owner, only now on the 107-foot Christensen M/Y Reflections.

“It’s a lot of work,” Hunter said. That first boat included a transition between two captains and then taking the boat to another level. “The one thing you need to learn right from the beginning is the chemicals to use, which ones work, and which ones don’t.”

Vago noted that the hard work is easier when shared by a committed couple.

“It’s been nice to work together,” she said. “We’re happy to help each other. When I’m done inside, I come outside and see if there’s anything I can do, and when he’s done, he’ll come in and help me.”

And as the charter season begins in the U.S. Northeast, she said she’s still enjoying the ride.

“Taking it one day at a time is something I’ve learned in this industry,” she said.

Hunter would like to be a captain one day so they are busy learning everything they can.

“I started as a teller, and Chase started cleaning cars,” she said. “We’ll start at the bottom and work our way up. Hopefully, this is long term, but if it doesn’t happen, that’s OK, too. We can always get back to the jobs we had.”  

The best part so far? The people, she said.

“You get to meet a lot of interesting people,” Vago said. “The guests are just amazing. They make me feel like I’m part of their family. The last group of guests we had were crying when they left.”

She scrolled through her text messages to share selfies the guests took with the crew, and notes that said “Miss you already.”

“You don’t get that working in a bank,” she said.

Sometimes, taking a chance pays off. Big time.

 

Lucy Chabot Reed is publisher of Triton Today. Comments are welcome at lucy@the-triton.com.

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