Taking my bank account offshore; the first 6 months
After a long 18 month slog caught up as a cog in the big wheel that is the city of London, I traded my desk for the docks of the South of France with the aim of getting a job on a superyacht. If you’re bored of reading already you can stop at this point with the knowledge that I (actually ‘we’) succeeded in this and got a couples job for the summer season of 2014.
Sunbathing in 30+ degree heat, sipping on (unlimited) champagne, eating canapés and doing all watersports known to man – sounds like the ultimate lifestyle? So, that was what the guests did.
The adventure started out with a one-way ticket to the South of France, familiarly known as the “yachtie” regions, which also conveniently translates into one of the most expensive areas in the Mediterranean. After being told by various friends and acquaintances that it was an incredibly tough industry to break into – especially when it came to getting a couple’s job, we decided to stay positive and when that failed, indulged in a lot of French beer and patisseries to sooth the rejection emails.
Our journey started in early March by settling into a crew house in Antibes, surrounded by other keen yachties all out for a break. The quest began with signing up to all the crew agents. Now you may not need a degree to get a job in the superyacht industry however you definitely need a degree to become accustomed to agency websites and the on-going process of re-formatting your CV. Three weeks in and we figured out this ‘game’. I had ten thousand versions of “Gemma Harris CV” saved on my desktop, daily appointments with top crew agents, blister plasters for my deck shoes and had perfected the ‘hair up’ look.
Everyone will tell you that ‘dockwalking’ is your ticket in. Believe me I tried this soul destroying concept. Every morning I traipsed to a different part of the French riviera – using the SNCF trains made it even more painful. Antibes, Jean Les Pins, Cannes, Monaco, Beaulieu-sur-Mer, Nice, Cap-d’Ail to name a few, it may all seem exotic but it was March, it was the Med and we were unemployed. ‘Dockwalking’ was exactly what it suggests, walking up and down the dock with a jaw aching smile, a crisp white shirt and other nautical, navy themed fashion garments on. On the whole, you either got zero response from anyone, a cocky Deckhand (that likes to think he is the Captain) or rarely a nice Stewardess that would take your CV and “get back to you”. The aim of the game was to ultimately get some daywork – meaning you would become that boats upmarket slave for the day. I never actually managed to get any. I heard that you had to do a bit of cleaning, got a good lunch and walked away with a possible shining reference and between 100-200 euros in your pocket (and god forbid maybe even a job).
After rubbing shoulders with fellow dockwalkers and having no luck, we went back to the crew agents and within two days managed to somehow bag a Skype interview for a couples job on a 26m boat. Which you guessed it, was the boat we ended up working on. One phone call and two Skype interviews later we had the job confirmed to start in the coming weeks. We had used a crew agent that we were warned about and had the personality of Marmite, but she got us a job so we warmed to her somewhat! To this day, I am still a firm believer in the right time and right place.
It was light at the end of the painful and uncertain tunnel. Starting on the yacht was crazy to start with. The only ‘qualification’ I had was the – obviously expensive – STCW95 health and safety course and an ENG1 yachting medical, everything else was a blag. Everything was so new, living (in a cupboard otherwise known as our room) at sea was surreal to say the least, but sure enough became our way of life. We got lucky, as we were on a yacht that traveled loads and was never in one place for too long. Managing to cover about 6000 miles, 6 countries and a huge amount of islands and bays throughout the Med.
Having to work all hours of the day during the season tests you but being rewarded with time off to enjoy Europe definitely outweighed all the hard work, tantrums and tears (guests as well). It challenges every part of your personality and at times, your conscious (as you are cleaning the glass door from fingerprints for the 6th time that day) occasionally asks you “why the hell are you doing this?”. When you are diving in Corfu, wandering around Pisa, chilling on a Sardinian beach, eating pinxtos in Barcelona, star gazing at sea, watching the Monaco Grand Prix with champagne and getting first hand views of incredible sunsets…that voice slowly becomes quieter!
Working on a superyacht was great, unforgettable and an experience like no other and one I wouldn’t cross off the list to do again. Yes it had its negatives, but I can vouch for those as much as I can office work negatives and I know which ones I would prefer. It allows you money, adventure and escape – what more could anyone want, apart from obviously to own the yacht…
March 2015, Part 2: Ocean phase cont…
So I said I wouldn’t cross it off the list and here I am about to board a US Airways plane to West Palm Beach, Florida. Another couples job application down, 2 job roles firmly in hand and a 30m sailing yacht with a worldwide itinerary – watch this space.