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Crew Compass: Close-quarter conflicts tricky for crew couples

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Crew Compass: by Lauren Loudon

Working with people is one thing, but being around them 24/7 while living in your work space as well can take its toll. Any personal issues, thoughts or observations come with you to work simply because you live there. In yachting, no matter how hard you try, it really is difficult to leave your private life behind when you go to work.

Sometimes there’s an issue among crew because somebody doesn’t get on with another person for whatever reason, or somebody did something to upset another crew member, or some other matter caused disruption. Inevitably, there will be issues at some point in time between people when they’re crammed into close quarters for so long.

Now, imagine what it’s like when an issue at hand involves somebody that you work with, live with – and are in a relationship with. Some personal issue that you now have to hide while slapping a smile across your face, awkwardly avoiding your other half all day and trying not to let anybody notice a change of heart. You’re unable to deal with the problem because duty calls, so you have to spend a whole day with the unresolved issue looming overhead.

I will never forget the time I “stowed” my husband’s sunglasses in a “safe” place after he left them on the side in the galley, and then couldn’t remember where I had put them – because during guests’ lunch service I clearly had more important things on my mind. He shouldn’t have left them in my space! Then there was the time our former stew threw her engagement ring across the room because her fiancé didn’t wash his grubby deck-worn hands before opening the door handle she had just polished, even though he was just coming to say hello.

The biggest struggle of all is when you really want some space from your partner. All you want is space. Space? Yeah, right – you only have the size of the boat, and that space is filled with other crew members the majority of the time. Plus, most of the boat is off limits anyway, which really only leaves you with the crew quarters in which to hide. The best place to seek shelter in these circumstances is your cabin – but then, you’re sharing that with your other half, so now what do you do?

Everybody deals with things differently, but let’s face it, no matter how happy a couple may appear, they’re going to have their issues when working and living on top of each other all day, every day. After all, who else is going to get snapped at when you’re so exhausted mid-season after back-to-back charters. Everything becomes amplified when confined spaces, fatigue and close relationships collide.

The chances of your paths crossing at any unwanted moment are very high because, after all, it’s a boat. Eventually, you’re both going to be in the crew mess at the same time, but confronting the issue then isn’t an option because your crewmates have breaks at the same time as you and will be there as well. You certainly can’t slack off from duty just to have an argument, and the night before needs to be left where it was left.

I’ve only ever worked on boats with my partner, first as my boyfriend and now my husband. They say when couples work together on boats, things move 10 times faster than in land-based relationships. “Moving in together” can come before it’s even Facebook official sometimes, and things generally escalate very quickly – usually in a good way, but not always.

One lesson I’ve learned over the years is the importance of creating a firm line between work and play. No matter how hard it is, keeping issues at bay is the only way to cope if they cannot be resolved before the working day begins. Because once fellow crew members  – or worse, guests and owners – see that something is wrong, there’s no coming back. Things get out of hand when people start talking or, God forbid, try to intervene.

As difficult as it seems at the time, reigning yourself in and keeping a very bold line of separation between work and play is the only way.

Lauren Loudon has worked as a yacht chef and stew for more than four years. She hails from Lancashire, England. Comments are welcome below.

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3 thoughts on “Crew Compass: Close-quarter conflicts tricky for crew couples

  1. Captain

    Well said Lauren! I’ve lived that scenario for the last five years. Now, I’m working solo. And so it goes…

  2. Duncan

    Your last paragraph sums it up well: keep things separate if you can. But working together on a yacht is a make or break. I worked with my wife as a chef/captain combo for four years on a small 75′ motor cat, the last year with our first son (he was on board at 2 months, very good owners). If you are still together after that, you will be together indefinitely.

  3. Kate

    I defiantly agree that “when couples work together on boats, things move 10 times faster than in land-based relationships”. It is a hard balance on-board with other crew while juggling the yachting lifestyle. It can also be hard adjusting if leaving the industry together as well. I lived with my ex on-board a few yachts over two years and we had to severely adjust once living back on land, which was hard. I would do it again however I’d note that this is a true test that I feel a lot of couples may not enjoy.

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