Crew Compass: Yachting life a challenge, a blessing

Feb 25, 2020 by Lauren Loudon

Crew Compass: by Lauren Loudon

A friend and I were recently discussing the pros and cons of the industry, and it got me thinking about the way we wind ourselves up over small things while busy at sea, among plenty of positive factors. These small things can be completely different for each of us, and for a select few lucky ones, there may not even be a “thing.”

During this conversation, I learned that for her, it was the lack of sleep, long hours and relentless work schedule. Constantly being on top of people drove her crazy, and lack of time to get to a gym took its toll, too. 

I’ve heard similar complaints from other people over the years as well, along with not being able to choose what’s for lunch, who you’re sharing a cabin with and the fearful unknown of who your guests might be.

My biggest challenge in this sense is dealing with the unpredictability of yachting. The constant changing of plans, the inability to commit to anything too far in advance, and never knowing where I am going to be –and when. 

Even after six years of working with this seemingly unavoidable pattern, I still struggle with the uncertainty of plans. The not knowing anything is sometimes a pain, and always having to answer “I don’t know yet” when asked where I will be at a certain time, or whether I can attend an event, or merely whether I am able to do a certain thing.

When joining the boat I currently work on, the owner sat us down and gave us a structured schedule for his summer. Knowing he had recently retired, I foolishly believed that these dates were set in stone. Of course, every time the next trip rolled around, something had inevitably cropped up and something had changed in his plans that, therefore, altered ours. 

Being at the beck and call of somebody is indeed part of our job as crew, but the challenging factor for me is being on a smaller boat and therefore being needed all of the time, as opposed to being on a larger vessel where there are more people in each role, or perhaps there’s simply more leeway for an ebb and flow of temporary or replacement crew for those who are adhering to their break schedules, hours of rest or other periods of pause.

A particular factor that sparked this conversation over a cup of tea was a dark daytime sky filled with the most beautiful flashes of lightning bolts and thus, the unreliability of the weather. Of course, something that nobody can do anything about, but a factor that plays a huge role in the daily happenings of life at sea. Over the years, the weather has held us up for many passages and Atlantic crossings, so this year we opted into the seemingly safer route to save time: shipping across from the Med to the Caribbean.

Obviously, it turned around to bite us when the loading window was delayed and delayed and delayed, until eventually, exactly one month late, the yacht was loaded onto the ship. This pushed back the owner’s schedule, which, ironically, was set in stone this time. Of course it was – it was his first family trip on board for Christmas. But that was just too good to be true.

Having to witness his heartbreak in hearing that he would have to spend his Christmas in a hotel rather than aboard his yacht struck me, and I was made aware that it is not just crew who feel the pain of the unpredictability of life at sea.

Amid the disappointment, several positives came out of the situation, most notably a last-minute realization that my husband and I would be able to spend Christmas with his family for the first time in six years. One of my highlights of the festive season is being able to provide the meal and allow other people to relax, so I was over the moon that I could do this for my family. I also got to be a part of the owner’s family Christmas, a celebration in a stunning villa on the island of St. Kitts that, albeit two days late, could’ve easily been mistaken for Christmas Day.

Finding the silver lining in the unpredictable is all a part of the process,  and in this instance, the clouds from that stormy sky did indeed present themselves with far more light than just the blindingly beautiful strikes of lightning. 

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