By Dorie Cox
Everything shines: the wood table, the centerpieces, chargers, plates, glasses and cutlery. Nothing appears to be out of place, at least to the non-yacht-stew eye. Chief Stew Loren Coleman sees disorder and dirt. She begins her days on M/Y Rhino, a 154-foot Admiral, on a hunt for dust.
“Each morning, I clean the lights so that dust doesn’t fall down,” Coleman said on a tour of the yacht Friday during the 33rd Palm Beach International Boat Show in West Palm Beach, Florida. She and her crew entered the Top-Notch Tabletop Challenge hosted by Aqualuxe Outfitting, a regular feature of both the Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach boat shows. Interior table presentations are judged by industry professionals as well as an online crowd.
Coleman even notices if one bulb is brighter than another. She pointed to the lit centerpieces on each dining room table with slight dismay.
“On this table we have new batteries,” she said. “And this one is brighter than the other.”
She straightened a place setting.
“Every morning I look for fingerprints, I check the carpet for small bits of litter. I adjust pillows and straighten things,” she said. “I’m a hard person to live with. My big pet peeve is dishes or food in the sink.”
Much of this level of detail is learned on board, often the hard way. Coleman shared one of her lessons learned from her time as a laundry stew
“I washed the guest silk shirt and put it in the dryer, it [came out] this big,” she said putting thumbs and forefingers together in the air. “Yes, I cried. The shirt was taken out of my check. It was about $230. I was just happy I was not fired.”
Ever vigilant for everything that can possibly go wrong, she said nothing like that has ever happened again. Except for that time the deck crew was busy and Coleman filled the hot tub for them.
“I forgot to turn it off,” she said.
Attention to detail is the main part of the job for all the interior staff, in competition or not, said Chief Stew Bugsy Drake of M/Y Mine Games. With a huge mug of black coffee with the message “Messy bun getting things done,” conditions are first thing on her mind in the morning.
“I check the weather, the wind and speed,” Drake said. “I have one of the boys or me shammy the table. Then I set up the basics with condiments, plates, crockery, stems, napkins. Everything is kept on a tray.”
She’s learned to work smart in all aspects, such as with runners and placemats.
“You can’t fight the weather; embrace the weather,” she said. “The wind is my biggest enemy.”
Once all that is done, she showers and gets into uniform. And when she walks through the boat, she checks everything.
“I have a cloth with a little bit of vinegar,” Drake said. “I can’t sleep or eat easily until all of my work is done.”
Chief Stew Renee Reavley of M/Y Just Enough takes pride in perfection and watching for minute details, also. She is continually on watch for anything out of place.
“I start my morning with a grapefruit and chlorophyll drink and walk the boat,” Reavley said. “From top to bottom, checking for leaks, smells, any tools or things left behind. At the end of the night, little things are in my pockets, little washers and screws and random things I don’t know whose they are.
“I flush all the toilets; that gets me everywhere in the yacht,” she said. “There are seven, plus more in the crew area. But, before that, I start the laundry.”
And on top of typical work, she adds another layer: the unknown.
“No matter the weather, I prepare for the worst,” Reavley said. “And prepare for unplanned events.”
Her attention to detail spills over into her land life.
“I recently found myself straightening the candies at Starbucks and had to stop myself. That’s not normal,” she said laughing.
For Coleman, the Top-Notch event is fun, but just another day of what she does best. A recent change of ownership meant that all of her usual settings have been taken off the boat. But she knows how to work with what she has. Before the competition, she and her team worked four hours to starch, iron and fold the stand-up napkins.
“We would never have time in the morning,” she said. “In the evening, we wrap them in Saran Wrap to keep their shape. These are older napkins and we were having a hard time because they’re soft and harder to work with.”
Attaining that sparkle on the wine and water glasses takes hours with white-glove treatment.
“We steam clean each glass with a little travel steamer,” Coleman said. “Then we use a flour sack to polish them.”
Tweaked to perfection, after a day on show, the perfect table setting is taken apart.
“Each morning we take everything off the table, vacuum the table, use Murphy’s Wax to buff it with a microfiber cloth,” Coleman said. “And people ask me, ‘What do you do when guests are not on board?’ ”
Top-Notch Tabletop Challenge organizer Aqualuxe Outfitting encourages everyone to vote for their favorites. Click here to vote. Voting ends on April 7 at midnight. Attend the Triton Expo on April 11 for the live awards presentation at The Sails Marina in Fort Lauderdale.
Dorie Cox is editor of Triton Today. Comments are welcome below.
From southern charm to simple elegance, stews and crews dressed up their dining platforms for the Aqualuxe Outfitters Top-Notch Tabletop Challenge yesterday at the boat show. Eleven yachts entered the contest, with focus on best dressed, best display of a napkin, etc. Judging occurs online, by everyone. Click here to vote for your favorites. Photos by Tom Serio