The yachting industry hides behind the notion of professionalism and every management cliche powerpoint can handle but nothing can change a Rock of Gibraltar truth: Yachting is an extremely stressful profession that requires incredible sacrifice by crew and it’s turnover and burnout rates are enormous.
It defies almost every notion of a labor market because that’s the reality when you have enough Captial, the Laws of Economics do not apply. (It’s more of a commodities market, anyhow.)
No. The only profession that it bears any practical resemblance to has deeper roots in the 19th century than any of the modern employments yachting would like to compare itself to. The shift from Employer/Employee to Master/Servant is not clever semantics. It is reality.
Of course, classic 19th century service usually brings to mind period costume dramas, exquisite rooms, impeccable cuisine, perfect table settings and people whose only worry is picking the right cuff link or finding true love among a clutch of distant cousins.
It was also the era of the Workhouse, mass unemployment and starvation, rampant prostitution, the rise of modern style criminality and even the odd cholera epidemic.
If one worked at the Manor it was indeed fortunate but the sheer economic pressures of the position made it little more than the choice between pride or penury, servitude or starvation.
While it’s not nearly as dire in the 21st, mass debt and a shrinking job market and in yachting’s case, a globalizing job market have shattered any traditional notions of employment, at least when you can hire the cheapest labor on the planet and use them without any consequence.
People have been writing about this new Gilded Age for a while but it’s always the big picture; Yet way down there at the individual level you can see a little piece of the 19th century making a comeback. It is the fealty that yacht crew seem to be cultivating.
While it’s not the classic Noblesse Oblige on the part of the owner, it’s got all the hallmarks with so many willing servants fawning about the new aristocrats.
Fealty is an archaic concept and doesn’t really exist if you are merely paying and employing someone. In the yachting world it has become the new currency an aspiring yachtie must offer to get aboard, let alone make it to Captain.
A professional brings skill and is defined by their product. A servant has skill but is defined by their unblinking loyalty.
While professionalism is rewarded, it doesn’t really keep a yachtie in place. Do professionals skirt the law so the owner can illegally anchor somewhere? Do professionals knowingly have someone work more hours than permitted by law?
That’s what is really being paid for, that power over a person who knows full well they can instantly be replaced and the lengths they can be forced to.
You try not to think about it when you’re out scoring coke and the cash certainly helps. But it’s still there hidden beneath the veneer and rhetoric of the maritime professional.
You tell yourself it is a privilege the real world no longer applies to you, just that little piece of the 19th century you don’t want to admit.
And at some point it doesn’t bother you that your owner can buy up a company, sell it off and put a few thousand people out of work because he might get a new tender for the yacht or send you somewhere exotic. Besides Phil is a nice guy. Phil makes a point of you calling him Phil. Phil even remembers your name. Phil gave you three weeks off. Phil gave you a Christmas bonus.
When you read the papers about how everyone is suffering, that’s not you. You truly are privileged. Weekend off in Greece usually will do it. You don’t live in that world anymore. It’s not your problem.
But what about that surprise reception for 50? That’s the end of the world because if it doesn’t go right, you’ll be right back out there…
Phil might feel bad but he knows there are plenty more of you, where ever you came from down there…