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Crew Compass: Sabbatical brings bittersweet joy, jet lag, doubts

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Crew Compass: by Lauren Loudon

Stepping off the boat I’d called home for the past two years and saying goodbye to the crew that had become family was a feeling that can only be described as bittersweet.

In my previous column I broke down the motive for taking a break, but the reality of floating away from my cushy lifestyle didn’t hit me until I had just a few days to pack up all of the goodies I’d accumulated over two years and succumbed to the challenge of narrowing everything down into luggage I could fly with.

For the record, I eventually managed to squeeze my life into four large suitcases that were within a milligram of the airline’s weight allowance, despite donating a ridiculous amount of “things” to friends, crew and charity.

This mammoth task served as a great distraction for my final few days on board and meant that I barely had time to think about what lay ahead of me – or didn’t, for that matter.

With barely a moment to reflect, I was at the airport and sitting in the lounge when it dawned on me: I had a one-way flight “home” to London and the festive season approaching.

Stepping away from the boat in early December was a big change from my usual lead-up to Christmas, which I’ve been lucky enough to spend in the Caribbean for the past five years. This year, I didn’t have to spend days menu planning, strategically sourcing ingredients, and consequently being responsible for the annual special meal for guests, all while ensuring the crew get their festive fix as well.

Being hit with a bout of jetlag for a good few days upon arriving back in an English winter was a non-issue, given the freedom I’d carried with me. However, the terrible flu I picked up almost immediately came with its own extra baggage. During the first few days of shivering, coughing and feeling run down, I couldn’t help but question whether my body was rejecting the idea of spending time in the cold and would prefer to be back in the Caribbean. But who am I kidding? Of course it was!

Then came the doubt: I’m cold, I’m sick, and I have nowhere to be – have I made a mistake? Has my body become accustomed to climates that my home country is unable to offer? Hmmm … why did I do this, again?

The excitement of being reunited with my friends and, for once, actually being able to attend events over the holidays brought me back to the moment, and I relished every second of waking up whenever I wanted, going out wherever I chose and doing, frankly,  anything and nothing.

Before I knew it, Christmas Day had  rolled around and it was my turn to be a guest at a dinner table that I’d so often set, eating the meal that I’d so carefully planned and enjoying the company of my family.

For a moment, I sat back and laughed, realizing it was almost as if I were a part of a 10-pax sailing away into a kind of heaven while being served up home-cooked food and an endless flow of wine. Only, it was a sibling sleepover, with the closest body of water being the small pond of koi at the bottom of the garden, and the most tropical part was probably the coconut-flavored yoghurt my niece had for breakfast.

It suddenly dawned on me that the joy I was feeling could be a glimpse of how our guests must feel when spending quality time on board with their nearest and dearest. Right then and there, in spite of the temperature, my surroundings or anything else, all that mattered was the fact that I’d finally got my one holiday season to relax, sit back and have my turn to be pampered.

I’m not going to lie – I definitely missed the sunshine, the palm trees and the glamour of the yachting lifestyle, but as a one-off, the compromise was sure worth it.

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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