By Alison Gardner
In her seven-year career at sea, Canadian Jennifer Belinski worked as crew on numerous yachts, most of them 100 to 200 feet in length. She worked as deckhand, chief stew, crew cook, as well as delivery and race crew. From 2007 to 2014, she cruised the Caribbean, Mediterranean and U.S.-Canadian waters, crossed the Atlantic eight times and participated in classic yacht regattas.
Now she brings that experience to her land-based job as executive concierge at Victoria International Marina (vimarina.ca) on British Columbia’s Pacific coast. In her new role, she helps visitors discover the diversity of options available in and around Victoria with dedicated 24/7 concierge service.
“A lot of skills and experiences gained as crew can apply to land-based jobs,” Belinski said. “As a stewardess and deckhand you learn to be very observant and pay attention to details, to be meticulous in your tasks while being expedient. The customer service experience you learn in every position on a vessel goes far beyond what land-based jobs are accustomed to.”
Former yacht crew Jennifer Belinski uses the skills she learned onboard as executive concierge at Victoria International Marina in British Columbia. Photo by Netta Douglas
The challenge, she said, is that the yachting industry is foreign to most employers.
“You have to be creative and persistent to get them to listen as you translate how those skills apply beyond just entry level positions.”
She said crew often take for granted the skills they have learned on yachts. And that crew may not understand how those skills translate into land-based work.
“An observant yacht crew will notice when a guest prefers something over others in a selection and, without prompting or fanfare, ensure that that item is available for the duration of their stay and their next visit; basically, until they notice a change in the guest preferences,” she said. “They will pick up on what the guest is looking for, a talkative tour guide, a quiet chauffeur and adjust to accommodate and give the guest the best experience for them.”
Belinski said “the most significant vessels” that shaped her career were the S/Y Celtic Spirit of Fastnet, a 72-foot (22m) Pendennis ketch, the M/Y Grand Coroto, a 115-foot (35m) Benetti, and the M/Y Fortunate Sun, a 177-foot (54m) Oceanfast. But crew should always have a plan for life after yachting, Belinski said.
“I believe that crew at any stage of their career should plan an exit strategy because something can always happen to take that decision out of their hands,” she said. “Put money away and explore land-based careers that interest you. When the day comes that the pros no longer outweigh the cons of a yachtie lifestyle, it is important not to be floundering. You don’t want to realize you didn’t take advantage of having no expenses and decent pay until it is too late.”
Belinski admits she didn’t always have an exit strategy herself. Then, on a visit home at the end of one particular contract, it hit her how much she missed home and the chance to participate in the lives of friends and family. She started taking shorter contracts and spending more time ashore before eventually stepping into a permanent land-based job. It helped that even while working overseas she owned property in Canada, so she was never without expenses and responsibilities there.
Belinski said she had been following VIM’s progress toward completion for some time when she spotted the posting for executive concierge.
“The application process was grueling and spanned three months with 144 applicants,” she said. “I did my homework and came prepared for the final interview of four short-listed candidates.
“During my time at sea, my primary focus was on personalized customer service. That will remain my goal as executive concierge,” she said.
Belinski works closely with marina manager Steve Sinclair, who was appointed VIM director of operations in July 2017. Sinclair is responsible for overseeing the daily operations of the 28-slip marina, including welcoming guests and provisioning and servicing yachts.
“My greatest skill gained from the yachting industry is my ability to handle changes,” Belinski said. “From changing requests, voyage plans, owners/charter guests, crews, personalities; adapting and working with the new without missing a beat.”
Victoria-based Alison Gardner is a travel writer and editor of the online magazine Travel with a Challenge (www.travelwithachallenge.com), a resource for mature travelers featuring ecological, educational, cultural and volunteer vacations worldwide. Comments on this story are welcome below.