Crew Compass: by Lauren Loudon
From youngsters using the opportunities of the yachting industry as a money-making travel experience in a pre-university gap year to the veteran captain/wife teams sharing their wisdom on the high seas after grown-up kids flee the nest, there is no one umbrella that covers all of us when we think of yacht crew. While it seems there may be “ideals,” as I wrote about last month, there are no hard-and-fast rules.
I know 18-year-olds making the most of a summer off from studying, and I know 65-year-old couples who joined the industry in their 50s after their youngest daughter got married. My former captain is well into his 70s and as fit as a fiddle, with a brain full of more knowledge and wisdom than I could ever imagine. And I have met plenty of people like myself and my husband – those in their 20s or 30s, in a comfort zone and well established on their preferred-size boats.
Some of us find the situation that works best and are happy to stick there, while others never stop taking courses, studying and working their way up the never-ending ladder that opens new doors at every stage.
Within the community, there is a theory that the average crew member has five strikes to leave the industry, or at least will try to leave five times before finally hanging up their epaulets for good. So what exactly is it that keeps us from walking away?
The lifestyle? The travels? The salary? I have no doubt that all of these are huge contributors as to why some have stayed on board longer than intended. As far as jobs go, let’s face it, ours is pretty sweet!
Could anyone go from the bliss of being out in the open ocean, the joy of experiencing paradisiacal locations and racking up passport stamps at a pace of knots, to sitting at a desk for nine hours a day plugging numbers into a spreadsheet? Could we trade in the salt air on our skin for the cloggy toxins of the city smog, the daily commute, the “rat race”?
I’m sure if you look at it from the other side of the coin, it’s a lot clearer. Trading in nagging guests and 18-hour days on your feet to the peacefulness of sitting in a comfortable chair having conversations on a phone at your own pace instead of fake-smiling until your every muscle aches.
Yachting certainly isn’t for everyone, but aside from a few exceptions, once we are in, we are hooked.
I’m looking at the idea of leaving this industry because, for a lot of us, it’s certainly not a forever job. It’s for a limited period, until circumstances begin to change. Perhaps that involves children coming along, parents getting older, or other personal reasons. Or perhaps it’s simply because it was never intended to last a lifetime.
That’s not to say that everybody is only in this for a certain period, because I know of a lot of people who land themselves in the perfect situation of rotational jobs well into their later life, allowing them to easily juggle family life with working at sea.
Conversations I’ve had recently with a few fellow crew members have included words such as: “just one more year” – “after this season I’m done” – “I know I said this last year, but this time I’m serious” – “I’m going to go back to the yachts for another summer.”
The difficulty of leaving has to have some element of uncertainty, no matter what age you are or what your situation is. Stepping outside of a comfort zone is never easy. Along with that brave leap comes financial changes, major alterations to living conditions, climate differences and an array of other shifts. It’s a whole lifestyle change.
But in the end, I think all of us crave some kind of normality, a sense of belonging, a home.
I’ve taken two of my strikes. Today, I’m happily unpacked in my new cabin, aboard my newest yacht and beginning to look forward to what comes next – and when. I’m lapping up every single moment of this job I love so much and taking each moment as it comes.
I’m simply not ready just yet for anything other than the life I know best.
Lauren Loudon has worked as a yacht chef for more than four years. She hails from Lancashire, England. Comments are welcome below.