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Crew Compass: In yachting, calling it quits means more than just giving up a job

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Crew Compass: by Lauren Loudon

When I first did my STCW, I did not know that I would spend the following years falling in love with the yachting industry. At 22, and only six months out of university, I did not know what I wanted to do with my life, but given my spontaneous nature, I wasn’t worried.

Unlike many of my fellow yachties, it was personal circumstances (in other words, a man) that led me to join the industry and my first boat. To this day, almost exactly five years on, I remember the immediate wave of passion that flowed over me as I stepped on board.

This foreign way of living, working and perhaps playing excited me immediately. But it was never my intention to start out in this as a career. In pursuit of my new love, I thought I’d just test the waters in a world I knew very little about and ride the wave of the moment.

Over the years, I’ve heard many different stories about how people landed in this whirlwind, crazy, beautiful industry, and each one fascinated me. I came to learn that a significant percentage of us do not see this as a forever job. It is far more than a “gap year,” but perhaps less of a lifelong career commitment.

The reasons that people decide to stay in or leave the industry are, of course, personal, and the list would be endless. Within it lie the daunting and challenging questions: When do you leave a secure job? What warrants handing in your notice or deciding to move on?

I’m writing about this particular subject now because I recently realized that in the comfort of a great job with amazing travel opportunities and fun crew, all while working for a lovely family, I had begun to sacrifice my own priorities. Living out of a cramped cabin suddenly engulfed me in claustrophobia. My brother’s wedding date announcement bothered me – I’d never be able to take time off in the middle of the Caribbean season.

Constantly on the move, I’d put my friendships on the back burner. I realized that our recent holidays were spent visiting my family, then my husband’s family, instead of taking time for ourselves. Although we work together, we rarely allow for time to enjoy each other’s company without having to think about the boat.

The factors that often determine a great job are an equation to some extent of the following: good owner, exciting itinerary, crew dynamic, work/play balance, salary, etc. Some qualities may have to be sacrificed if they are outweighed by others, but nothing is ever completely perfect.

But then comes the comfort zone. We fall into what’s convenient, what works, what we’re used to just because it’s comfortable and easy. Guilty. “Just one more season, then we can think about getting a house” became three more seasons in the blink of an eye.

Time sure does fly when you’re having fun. But in the end, putting yourself first becomes more and more important as your own well-being slips down the ladder of good to bad.

The struggle of letting go of a good thing became reality when it dawned on me that missing my brother’s wedding was not an option, and simply taking a month of vacation time wouldn’t cut it. After being on the go constantly for the past five years and never taking any time between jobs, it becomes a difficult question: Do we carry on or step outside of that comfort zone for a change?

I imagine in most industries hopping from job to job is daunting. In yachting, leaving a job is far more than just that. Our work is our home and our colleagues are our family, so the decision to jump ship can be an excruciatingly difficult one to make.

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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