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Crew Compass: Sailing west, with visions of the Med season dancing in my head

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Crew Compass: by Lauren Loudon

I’m spoiled. And let’s face it, so are most of us that work in the yachting industry. We explore some of the most beautiful places, while being paid to do it. Our owners and guests select their destinations carefully, according to many factors. If the elite of the world want to visit these places, there must be something pretty special about them.

In five years of yachting, I have visited 23 countries and filled two passports with stamps. Each place is unique in its own way, and each island within the countries also have their own quirks. Take the rustic, yet “Americanized” Nassau, for example, and compare it with the untouched Norman’s Cay in the Exuma chain of the Bahamas, where there is barely anything more than a sunken plane from Escobar’s drug cartel in the ’80s. In the distance, as you sail in, is an island with one single palm tree on a bed of crisp white sand, gently fading into a crystal clear, turquoise ocean. It’s paradisiacal.

Further south, in the Caribbean Sea, each island has so many hidden gems, rustic twists and historic tales. The Virgin Islands – both U.S. and British – vary vastly from one another, each with its own story to share and beach bars to try, from the Cow Wreck Beach bar on Anegada (BVI) to a drive-up pizza boat and a floating bar on St. John (USVI), an island that is 70 percent national park. There’s Antigua, with a beach for every day of the year, the rainforest pool bar in St. Martin, and the breathtaking golf courses and hiking trails along the way – I couldn’t pick a favorite.

Although I’m from England and have traveled much of Europe on my own accord, the opportunity to explore the continent from the vantage point of the Mediterranean Sea was exciting. I had few expectations, as I was sure that it would be a world of difference from the way I’d viewed these places by land – and certainly a change from what I’d become used to in the Caribbean and Bahamas.

Arriving late in May, we anchored off what was once my home, Antibes, and the second I saw the lights of the old town from a different angle, I knew I was in for a treat. From that moment, I was blown away. Waking on the Amalfi Coast in Italy and looking up at the homes built so precisely into a hill. The deep blue waters of Sardinia. Meeting the locals in Croatia, who are among the friendliest people I’ve ever encountered. Tasting the traditional Italian bittersweet coffee. It only got better and better.

Visiting the morning food markets in each different place to get my fresh produce was nothing short of a dream. Wherever we went, I enjoyed generally soaking up the culture and taking in the beauty of new scenery.

By the end of three weeks spent in Croatia, I could compare it most closely to the BVI in that it is a whole chain of islands dotted around, yet could not put it in the same league as anywhere else I’ve ever been. It is tropical, yet comfortable; modern, yet historic; traditionally European, yet completely unique. Between the warmth of the Croatian people, the thriving food scene and the stunning towns, I was opened to a world of neww depths.

Similarly, the Spanish island of Mallorca wowed me with a surprising vastness for a relatively small island. Being docked in the center of Barcelona, getting the best of both – a big city feel, yet still on the water – concreted the fact that the experiences of yachting on this side of the Atlantic are completely different.

Inevitably, the time has come to leave the cobbled streets, the constantly changing languages as we sail from country to country, and the unpredictability of shop hours as the workers take their siestas. The time has come to trade those things for the waters where “island time” might as well be an official time zone, where food ingredients are exotic, misshaped and sometimes scarce, and where the sun never stops shining. But there are few reasons to complain.

By the end of a European summer, as the weather slowly starts to become autumnal and I’m forced to dig deep into the bilge for a jacket, it’s as if a craving for the turquoise waters of the Caribbean swarms upon me.

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

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