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Stew Cues by Alene Keenan
With the holidays behind us, most of us take stock of what we are grateful for and what we would like to improve. Looking ahead to the new year, we resolve to change some areas of our lives.
I am grateful for the experiences I had in my career as a yacht stew, and look forward to seeing how I can help others make the most of their opportunities.
Starting out in yachting, I did not know where the job would take me or how long I would stay. There was not much information available, and no crew agencies existed. Hard as it is to believe, we did not have Internet, either.
In my first job as a crew cook/second stew, I quickly discovered that the job was a good fit for me. Rather than finding “what I wanted to be when I grow up”, I found the kind of environment that worked for me. I’m a “people person” who loves helping others, and I love to travel. I’m resourceful, and quick-thinking, and I love a good challenge. I was in my element as a stew on a yacht, where my skills and personality met my passion.
At first, I didn’t see yachting as a career, but I got lucky with good boats and good owners so I stayed.
My first yacht was 172’ and I couldn’t have had a better first experience with a great old-school captain and chief stew who ran a tight ship. It was a well-organized program with strict rules and firm discipline. We were expected to meet high standards of performance and to accept responsibility for mistakes instead of blaming others. I stayed for four years, and when I left that boat, I took strong values, skills and enthusiasm with me.
Many stews have not been so lucky. They have had one bad experience after another and move from boat to boat before they finally give up and leave the industry. Lack of managerial skills from the top down may be part of the reason for high crew turnover, but crew members must take responsibility for their attitudes and actions, too. Well-defined structure, good leadership, clear communication and good work ethics are crucial for crew to succeed.
I have high standards for discipline, strong character and good work ethics with captains and crew. I respect crew with integrity who honor the traits appropriate for the professionals they aspire to become. I think that professionalism could improve if people had more exposure to traditional values. Here are some simple attributes that promote a good work ethic:
Be polite. Be respectful of the opinions and contributions of others, especially under stressful conditions. You may not like everyone you work with, but maintain a respectful and professional demeanor. Learn to keep negative opinions to yourself, and don’t fall into the gossip trap.
Be dependable. Keep your agreements, be punctual, follow instructions and deliver your work as expected.
Be dedicated to excellence. Dedication takes willpower and resolve, and builds character. Do not stop until the job is finished to the correct standard.
Be accountable. Accountability and responsibility go hand in hand. As a steward of the vessel, we are entrusted with valuable property and responsible for proper care whether the owner is present or not.
Be humble and be grateful. Acknowledge the contributions of others, do your fair share and say thank you.
Have integrity. Be the one everyone counts on to be dedicated, reliable, cooperative and productive. Be willing to go above and beyond the call of duty. Don’t just do what you are told to do; do what needs to be done.
Not all crew experiences will be positive. There are going to be some tough times. No one should tolerate an emotionally abusive situation. No amount of money is worth the cost of our self-esteem, but sometimes we must be thick-skinned to make it in yachting. Hanging in there while you climb the ladder of success requires a strong connection between values and vision. If there is no joy of service, it will be a struggle to carry on.
Sometimes the strongest personal growth comes from the toughest times. One of the best things that I got out of my yachting experience was a broadened perspective and greater tolerance and understanding of others. After years of living with crew and learning how to make the best of the situation, I saw that there is something good in every person and every situation. I learned to ask for help when I needed it, be more direct in my communications, and to stop gossip and resolve conflicts quickly.
There are hidden blessings in every situation, if we only take the time to see them. Yachting offers amazing opportunities for travel and adventure, but if we don’t use them for personal and professional growth, we will most certainly miss the boat.