While its reputation as the premier destination of the global elite will remain with the island for many years to come, one has to wonder how long it can maintain? Though there have been reports of a decline in celebrities, the glamorous mix of culture, paradise and pastry is hardly going to dissuade anyone with the price of admission. The appeal of the rich and famous is itself an interesting contrast if one asks, who came first? The celebrities looking for refuge from the media and the demands of the job or the oligarchs and industrialists looking for people of distinction?
Like so many places or events, it is somewhat amusing that St. Barths is not immune to the old truism: Nobody goes there anymore, it’s too crowded. Of course the entire luxury yachting industry is predicated on a similar paradox: that despite being ultimate symbol of wealth and achievement, capable of traversing the globe and taking an owner to the most exclusive destinations, viz. the South Pacific, its actual employ is on the quai being seen or chartered rather than enjoyed as a vehicle in itself.
There are probably still a few veterans sitting at the rear of a cafe lamenting past New Years with a loud poke to the newcomers, recalling an era when no one really took pictures and things were low key. If you happened to strike up a conversation or friendship with a rich or well known figure it was circumstance that made it happen rather than the cloying be seen be selling mentality that sits beneath any interaction with the label social networking. It used to be that money kept people out and for a time it did. Now it is the money that attracts them all.
New Years Eve 2013 is likely to be the year of the Reality Tv star, the social media entrepreneur and everyone else who cannot speak French, discern the banks of the Garonne or pay for a full tank of marine diesel.
Of course, all of this neglects the simple charm of the place, the one that brought people for so many years, before the floodgates of wealth opened and threw the island into the great global status chase a little too self-conscious to fully appreciate the beaches, crystal clear water and some of the finest cuisine in the Western Hemisphere.
How could one replace St. Barths?
Assuming that exclusivity and status as a French territory are the key components of a New Years Refuge for the Global Elite, there are some other options floating around out there:
Mayotte, just off the coast of Madagascar is perfectly placed for the discerning European. The airstrip can accommodate even the largest private aircraft and limited commercial flight guarantee an island of well heeled or discerning tourists.
Wallis and Futuna in the South Pacific is the ideal place to retreat when Fiji, just to the southwest, becomes overrun for the holidays; it’s proximity to the International Dateline ensures that you can celebrate New Years before anyone else. Of course, the Kiwis can make the same claim but as a Tolkien scholar would be quick to point out Middle Earth does not operate on a Gregorian calender.
However, for the utmost of exclusivity nothing can best The Crozet Islands in the South Indian Ocean. Largely uninhabited except the odd researcher, the island is an unsullied environment rich with flora and fauna. Taste for the exotic? Send someone ashore to club a penguin and determine for yourself whether they taste like fish or chicken?
As the New Year arrives and the New Money leaves, it will become plain who St. Barthes is for; those who don’t have to go back to work but have the time and luxury to actually enjoy it!
It’s that time of the year, expense account season, ridiculous dry cleaning, Mercedes car services, promotional packets, exclusive guided tours, everyone pretending to know each others name and that last shred of ethical or moral behavior suspended…for the sake of a sale.
Of course this is all amusing to watch and observe until word comes down the yacht has been sold, is to be surveyed or might be making a special deal greasing charter all to remind one of living at someone else’s whim.
But in the mean time, sitting on the quay white rag in hand, watching the Tommy Bahama shirts drift by along with the loud boasts of a broker, we have devised a handy field guide for the land based Fauna of the Yachting Eco-system. The Yachtbroker:
Old English: You don’t even need to hear the accent to spot this one. British tailored shirt and jacket which along with the pale skin tells all. Often a former Merchant Marine or Yacht Captain. Regional placement difficult with a shifting southern English and hints of Midlands. The preferred agent of Russians and Arabs. Known to close deals with scotch. Usually has a ride on standby. Good for a lift.
The Yankee: Similarly dressed as Old English, slightly formal but with the American tendency for button down collars or simply a polo shirt. May or may not be wearing saddle shoe. Rocking the sunglasses tan. Owns small sail yacht in New England often rotates former and potential clients on race weekends. Slightly pushy though eager to impress and useful for introductions.
The Marm: May or may not be named Fiona. Prefers to maintain the Antibes desk but enjoys popping over to the Colonies for a quick sally about. More intent on socializing and gossiping. Look for the scarf. She will be loathe to wear the same one everyday but it will always be there. Good for a flirt and maybe more.
The Bayliner: Worked as factory sales rep and slowly encroached into the industry via center consoles to sport fishers. Has an interest in a listing of a Hatteras yacht or old Palmer Johnson. Hungry and willing. Reliable for a free lunch w/drinks.
Cyprus? Surprising? But how did they manage to cause that much damage with only a few cracks? If you’re used to fucking up you do it like a pro.
As the Ft. Lauderdale Boat Show looms along with another Carib Season, everyone will be making the pit stop in Florida. Seasoned crew will enjoy the fine evenings and lively entertainments along with the cheap clothes and even cheaper consumer electronics but one small cohort will visit, perhaps for the first time and find themselves in the no mans land of adulthood, those poor yachties in the 18-20 year old stage.
While the rest of the world operates under the notion that a human being at age 18 can operate an automobile, serve in the military, smoke cigarettes and most importantly, enjoy the most common psychoactive in history, alcohol. Common Sense has never been the aim of the US legal system. This is after all the country that decided to ban the production, sale, possession and consumption of alcohol for 14 years because a bunch of religious freaks thought people would pick up a bible if there was no bottle.
However, this was not always the case. Up until the mid to late 80s the drinking age was 18 to 19 and varied state to state. A couple of mothers lost their children to drunk drivers and well the rest is legislative history that in a way is the easiest method for explaining Democracy in America: Complain, Get Emotional, Bring Death and Loss into it and Laws will be passed.
The options for the underage drinker in the states are limited at best. You could figure out whether you are one of those lucky people who is currently 20 but whose birthday is between January and October and the 1st and 12th of the Month 1992. You could have a drives license from an exotic country where the first instinct of gee that’s neat license overwhelms their mental faculty and they could not be bothered to find out the age. You can tag along on a crew outing of hiding somewhere just past the middle of the line for ids where the bouncer will just flag you through but odds are you will walk up, hand over the drivers hoping he cannot figure it out and send you in.
Of course, this dilemma will only be experienced by the poor 19 year old holiday makers shacked up at a crew houses off Federal, so really, it is not a problem though the idea of drug dealers who card is quite amusing but drinking crates of PBR from amusing flatmates can only go so far. This is why there are gun ranges because in the weird logic of Amurica you cannot drink but Sweet Jesus Goddamnit You Got the Right to Shoot!
Why not go down, rent a pistol or maybe a full auto and unload a box of rounds? It’s as stress relieving as a 6 pack after work and despite all those wild nights out everyone loads up, there is nothing more legitimately Florida or Amurica, than a profile pic with an AR 15. Can you do that in the Med or the Carib? What else are you going to do? Go to a museum?
As part of a continuing series, The Yachtie, has consulted dozens of yachting professional in a series of contentious debates regarding the professional and personal dilemmas that are too common for the luxury mariner. As MLC comes into enforcement, the trend of regulation has passed a critical juncture and as the collective yacht fleet continues to grow, crew are being forced into a conflicting or insufficient patchwork of flag state, port state and international rules. This only underscores the importance of yachting taking the lead and in writing down and formalizing the custom into a uniform framework. The Yachtie will periodically revisit issues raised by the professionals in the field and spearhead the effort to create Yachtie Code of Ethics:
Rule No. 1: Don’t do coke on Charter.
So far it is the only thing so many disparate elements have agreed on. Note that only Charter is explicitly mentioned. Yard Periods are still considered fair game as well as down time in the islands because if there is one thing true about the film Flight, coke can rally crew and magically change them from shit-faced still buzzing crew into that person who showed up for the interview and even a little more so.
LA CONDAMINE, Monaco—After 3 years in the Luxury Yachting Industry, Deckhand Dave Masters has been stricken with a sexually transmitted infection. Emerging from a Dermatological Clinic in Monaco, the young Kiwi was surrounded by reporters and a group of well wishers holding placards.
While he had hoped that the strange lesions on his upper lip were an exceptional case of razor burn or an infected hair follicle, the doctors conducted swab tests and determined that he has contracted herpes.
“It’s such a shame,” noted Meghane a passerby, continuing. “But I suppose it had to happen eventually. It is only a matter of time isn’t it? Out there traveling all the world. All those ladies in all those ports.”
Mr. Masters made a brief statement thanking the well wishers, further commenting that “I’ve always been a responsible person. It’s regrettable that some individuals so indiscriminately throw themselves about and everyone they meet has to suffer. I think there needs to be more awareness.”
The Herpes Simplex Virus is a viral infection and a large portion of the world suffers from Type 1. However, Type 2 is the most common with sexually transmitted infections. There is currently no known cure for the disease and research for a cure has only yielded palliative anti-virals.
An anonymous industry veteran observed, “So young. The clap is one thing but this is just tragic. If he has only made Bosun or Mate he could have afforded a proper girlfriend.”
A Fundraising Happy Hour is currently being organized and will be accepting contributions as well as volunteers. Log on to, www.savedave.org to sign the petition and make donations for finding a cure.
“What the fuck are they really doing,” Geoff asks, answered by another staccato of blow dryers switching between settings down the crew corridor as I get up for another coldie.
“We should just move ahead and scope it out,” Thom suggests.
“We bloody should,” Geoff continues, “This shit is tiresome.”
I return to the table and vaguely nod through a conversation about the neighboring yachts, marveling at how quickly crew become naval architects and connoisseurs of luxury. I recall stopping by the chart plotter after filling out the trash log and interrupt with the urgency of a heaving line.
“Does anyone want the AIS scouting report,” I ask, carefully observing the pause as they break from their devices: “Miasma is here, so is Lady Macbeth and—-wait for it, wait for it—-Sarabande!”
“No fucking way,” Thom manages in beer soaked disbelief
“Dude, Dude, you are so fucked,” Geoff notes gleefully.
“You’re bullshitting,” Thom throws out, looking at me for the tricksters grin.
“I wish I were. They are over by the yacht club, where Calverton was laid up after she broke her mast, last year,” I offer with as much objectivity as possible starting into beer four.
“No fucking way,” Thom mutters as if the shock on his face needs any more reinforcement or alcohol both waiting for us in that clutch of bars just across the yacht basin.
“Mate, she might not be onboard. That last boat of hers dropped her after a week.”
“Well, there goes the week, I suppose. Spiteful little cunt.”
With the slam of a cabin door and a brisk gait moving down the crew corridor, Sara wanders into the mess, catching the tail end of Thom’s realization. She is from the UK though I am not entirely sure if it one of those counties best known to the world as a punch line on Top Gear. She is harmless enough and despite her coarse brand of English has an innate intelligence that makes Second Stew not so much her position as her right, when in uniform at least.
“Talking about me already, my love? We’ve not even had a pint,” she says with a smile and a motherly reassurance of a hard drinking variety. “It isn’t what’s her face is it? Such a twat. I thought you’d been done with her back in Monaco? That was ages ago. Oh, we’ll have fun despite and in spite of her,” she finishes with a pat on Thom’s back before wandering into the crew galley, “Glass of white anyone?”
Time is a strange thing in yachting. It passes at a furious rate and yet the time between that first charter and whenever you wake up to a particularly savage morning after feeling, is nothing more than a wild blip of nights and long hours remembered mainly by your crew mates and a well curated Facebook.
“Bro, don’t worry about it,” Geoff consoles, “she can’t wreck an entire week and let’s face it. It’s Kirstie, she could spin a tale far and wide but how many people are actually going to believe her? Maybe she’s found the one, that mythical cock that fucked the daddy issues right out of her and restored balance of a gaping humanity no mortal could fill…”
There is a laugh among the deckies that fades to the sad truth of living in the privileged fishbowl of the luxury yacht fleet, all those squadrons of white boats fueled as much by gossip and alcohol as wind or marine diesel.
“The last time I ran into her in Antibes, she was cock blocking me all night. I was lucky even to get a girls name before she found some pretense to drag them off,”
“What is it with chicks all going to the bathroom together?”
“Booger Sugar,” someone adds as a milder series of chuckles echoes about the Crew Mess.
“It was almost masterful in a way. What the fuck did you do to her?”
“Do you even remember,” I ask with a familiar grin to the usual antics.
“I did what anyone with a clingy stew does,” Thom adds with a fiendish disregard for Sara and now Amy hovering over the bench seating.
“I am trying to have a fantastic first night out and a good show, and if you wouldn’t mind, your girl troubles are spoiling my chardonnay,” Sara adds politely before someone scoots in and she takes a seat. Amy slides in next to her, an innately American chirpiness throwing forth: “What’s the plan? Espresso martini’s?”
“Not too many, otherwise you will end up at Abra’s trying to drink yourself to sleep,” I add tartly.
“Oh, we’ll be in St. Maarten soon enough. Got have a few practice runs, hey,” Sara notes before an amiable chin chin of wine glasses with Amy.
“Sara, have you seen my eye liner,” Amy asks.
“Didn’t you lend it to Olivia?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Ask Meg maybe?”
I look across the varnished table and find the rest of the lads lost to their devices, semi alert to the surroundings. Geoff locks his phone and turns to me: “Why don’t you have an iphone?”
“I did but it went for a salt water swim.”
“Didn’t get another? The unlocked ones are getting cheaper you know..”
“What makes you think it was an accident,” I add with a cryptic twist before another door slam and that unmistakeable trundle as Terry enters with Meg in tow. She is wearing a forgettable skirt and a polo player embroidered cotton pique shirt. Terry has a pair of pressed khakis and an orange cheque button down starched several inches from its life. There is an imperceptible groan among the crew as Meg’s cheerleading instincts kick in.
“Let’s get the party started,” she offers with a beats pause. “First night out everyone,” her voice starting off at a high pitch somehow managing to finish even more rapaciously airhead than the start. Sleeping with the First Mate is license for her as she spends as much time cleaning their cabin as any of the guest accommodations.
“Have you seen Olivia,” Amy asks, fully occupying Meg’s rather limited attention span flirting between slavish girlfriend and actual crew member?
“I think she is still in her cabin. On the phone.”
“Do you know if she is coming out tonight?”
“I don’t know. I talked to her earlier and she seemed open to the idea but she didn’t say one way or another. She’s been on line a while something with the bf I reckon.”
“Where’s Steve,” I ask, hoping to snap Thom or Geoff back from their devices. “We need someone to fire up the other mains.”
“What are you rope choking fucks up to?” Mike adds stepping into the mess, showered and shaved with a pair of shoes in hand.
“Waiting for someone to lead the charge,” I retort.
“I don’t know what you’re waiting for but I’m going for a drink,” Mike sallies back.
“Has anyone spotted Steve,” Geoff says looking about the imminent departure.
“He finished late in the galley. He’s probably in the shower. I told him where we are going. Said he wanted to spit out some emails and he’d join us later.”
“Probably waiting on an ebay auction.”
“How many fishing rods does a man need?”
“Jesus, he could have bought a BMW cash with all the rigs he’s got in his cabin.”
A silence falls on the crew mess as we sink our beers, the girls still finishing their bottle of white and the last touches to the war paint. Terry and Meg are chatting quietly in the galley near the pantry, holding cocktail glasses from their cabin, throwing the odd glance at once dismissive and alienated.
“How late are we going tonight,” Amy interjects.
“If I knew that, I wouldn’t be an alcoholic,” Mike says with a devilish grin as he slips on his shoes and makes his way up the stairs to the gangway.
I pause for a second before catching the last swig and am interrupted making my way up the stairs, “Do you mind waiting up for a minute; we’ve got to finish our wine and see about Olivia,” Amy asks, smiling with the confidence a girl who knows she can hold mild possession over most men? I look in a direction just above her head as acknowledgement, say “yes” and wander out onto the dock where Mike, Thom and Geoff are waiting in a semi circle.
“Who’s on watch tonight,” Mike asks looking around the marina, assessing the boat lighting, name-boards and spreader lights hovering over us like a stainless rigged constellation.
“Gordon,” Thom adds furtively, unsure about the intent. We stand around and instinctively I reach for a cigarette and light it, the distance and lack of a uniform suspending the usual discretion. We hear a clatter of laughter from the far end of the dock just past the bow of a small Feadship. Three stews accompanied by a sole deckhand are smoking cigarettes and finishing the last of a bottle of wine split into plastic cups. I nonchalantly reorient myself toward them as the others peer over, a blatant bid for attention that meets with coy smiles from the stewardesses and a dissuading brow from the deckhand.
The Stews are typical of the species, blonde, thinnish, desperately tan and judging from the hewn features even from a distance, vaguely Australian, easily broken into a classic distribution of the marginally thick blonde in a modest skirt and simple frock, the willowy slightly darkish model in jeans and a singlet, and the freakishly endowed big titter, doubtless hired especially for a coming New Years Charter.
I notice them slowly approach and turn back to the crew as they come alongside. The healthy blonde turns to me, reaching into her purse, “Excuse me, do you have a light,” she asks, her full effect just barely registering as an impossibly large set of blue eyes?
Though there is still the Reunion Episode, doubtless fueled with a well stocked green room up there at the Bravo Clubhouse, this first installment is finally over. While it is tempting to assume that the hordes of bored mid-westerners who may or may not have seen the ocean will descend upon Ft. Lauderdale, regretfully the truth is Below Deck has made yachting look a little boring.
It felt like watching the directors cut from the AV kid at summer camp who with all those hours of camcorder footage tried to put narrative and substance where there is only character driven drama, sniping and post card quality b-roll.
They rarely moved out of the St. Martin, St. Barthes, Anguilla holding pattern. While this might be entirely plausible, what the viewers won’t get to appreciate is the equally plausible all crew to the wheelhouse meeting, where the Captain asks if anyone has been to Martinique before? That hairpin turn of events is in many ways the real excitement of working on a white boat. As much as you may suffer the humiliating whims of the uber-wealthy, you are also along for some epic rides.
Below Deck was far too static. Filming on a yacht builds in a permanent sense of place, the crew mess, the wheelhouse, cabin, etc which they never really seemed to escape. As amazing as a yacht maybe, when you spend hours and hours of your life obsessing over every square inch of it, the thought of how amazing a machine it is disappears and any free time is co-opted by the imperative of getting as far away from it as possible. Usually, this is the bar but just as often it is a cab ride to other side or some random local joint so far off the beaten path the excitement level is just shy of reckless.
Moments like these make yachting great and keep people doing it. They never really captured that feeling of escape and exploration where you are reminded in every sense that you live on an amazing planet, not 499 gross registered tons of steel and aluminum.
This only reinforces the very simple fact that the show omitted: that a lot of the people who work on yachts, live on yachts. There might be a home address but that hardly qualifies as a home. While crew come and go, and you may hop boats for several years, the closest thing you have to a home is a vague sentimental feeling for your bunk, facebook photos of that last visit back and a few people to Skype now and then. You live wherever the yacht is tied up, wherever that maybe.
Do yachties ever really go home or just the next boat, the next adventure? Unasked and unanswered by Below Deck.
At the finale one had the feeling of camp ending, everyone packs their bags and says their good byes, squeezing one last ounce of dramatic juice out of the cast on the dock with the forcibly contrite, ‘I know I said some things but….’ almost always paired with a, ‘I really mean it.’ Conventional and unexciting compared to a group of people who actually live out of a duffel bag.
It felt far too simulated, almost self-conscious, the Captain seeing them off, leaving the viewer to wonder about a boat with no crew? In a way it works for television but falls well short of the true end of the Carib season, when you watch the islands sink into the horizon and slip back out into the blue with thought of Europe, New England, Canada or maybe even a DockExpress to Alaska…
As the yachting industry snickers, sneers and braces for Season 2, it should be remembered that there is a reason why people pack up their things and galavant around the world serving the rich. Yes, the money is nice and the counting of the tips seemed to be the only cohesive reason or answer during the entire season but that just doesn’t pass muster.
Below Deck never showed the audience but how could they, why should they, isn’t it enough to wander out onto the bow on a passage and scan out into the emptiness, a glorious sun overhead and a cooling, salty breeze with that feeling of actually existing out there in the capital W world rather than the one at home watching reality tv and thinking about the commute or how much a co-worker is like Sami or Adrienne?
I am suddenly awoken to the crew mess as I take notice of a smiling, laughing Sara: “Wakey, Wakey, my lovely.”
“What time is it,” I ask.
“You’re not on yet. You were on lates weren’t you,” Ryan asks?
“Well good on yah for slipping the terry covers in the washer overnight.”
“No worries. They were looking a bit sooty,” I summon instinctively.
“We were going to wake you up but figured you needed some kip.”
“This better not be going on Facebook.”
“Too late there big guy,” Ryan laughs, fishing an iphone from his pocket and showing me the upload, a passed out yachtie in full service uniform.
“I never should have friended you. Jesus.”
“Ah, no worries mate. I’ll take it down in another hour or so..”
“What are we up to this morning?”
“We cleared in already, shooting up the coast to stop and pick up the entourage again and then its the full Dalmatia program.”
“Nice. Where do you need me?”
“Best check in on the bridge when you’re supposed to be on. We’ll be dropping the hook and launching the tenders for a quick pick up,” Ryan adds, grabbing a bottle water disappearing to the forward escape hatch.
A quick shower and a fresh uniform and I pop into the wheelhouse grab the binos and notice a medieval fortress/luxury hotel. The name Sveti Stefan strikes an odd familiarity and a vague recollection of a university friend from Montenegro. I mumble a few of the names on the chart plotter, curious as to the accuracy of the pronunciation and wander down to prep the guest tender with the usual refreshments. Despite the revving engines as we hover into place, I hear a faint clanking vibration of the chain, reversing back on it, feeding out the links until the radio calls the right tension and the Captain orders the launch of the tender, the massive door on the port side swinging up and open as we lower the cables onto the strong points, lift and carefully hover the craft out onto the water. I hop in with Geoff, disconnect and pull off the boat and call in “Tender in the water,” and wait for orders.
The Captain calls me to the wheelhouse, Geoff takes the wheel and noses up to the aft deck as I rush forward for an instant briefing, a ziploc bag crammed with Euros and some US Dollars just in case. “Steve’s out of eggs. I don’t care where, or how much so long as you buy them all,” the Captain delivers curtly, interior calling for hom over the radio, “Alright, off you go…Yeah, go ahead,” he calls in.
Geoff noses in the tender and I hop on. “Drop me off on that stone jetty leading out to the little castle or island,” I say as we come about and tear through the anchorage just short of full plain, only slowing to manage through the wooden fishing boats tied up to buoys a hundred meters or so off the wall. I jump off as the tender is radioed back, slams into reverse and tears off.
I scale the slight incline and move briskly down the causeway, a pair of security looking Montenegrins in bdu trousers and generic military boots just down the quai as I try not to notice, peering over to the other side, the beach scattered with corpulent slavic women in full summer babushka flanked by their pasty companions, oddly furred sticks of men in neon speedos of the Borat variety. I turn to the heavies and in a tried and truism sharpen the brow and load the step with purpose. They nod as I pass by and break for a what looks like a small town to the south. It is a tiny road hemmed in by stone walls mounted with archaic chain link fences, a decades old paint job crackling off.
The early morning sun is just starting to bake the black polo as I feel the dampness set in for the day. I follow the road to the farthest edge of the town and a series of modern condos sitting just at the outskirts and surge up the stairs between them to what appears to be a high street. Around a bend and down a slight incline I notice a crowd of towel wrapped touristikis emerging from an indecipherably signed shop, the accents on the lettering as intelligible as pepper on a
I quicken the pace stub out my cigarette and enter, the vaguely russian sound of Serbian at once intimidating and amusing.The gathered customers eye me warily as I scan about the store, scouring the stunted refrigerated section and its 15 varieties of jogurt as the woman at the butcher/deli/bakery counter gives me a puzzled look.
There is an almost comical proportion to her features, a prominent nose hung under a set of dark eyebrows and wide eyes against blond hair. What an oddly compelling roughness, I think, just noticing the eggs.
I slip over to a discrete corner of the store, consult the serbian app on my iphone and pop in an earbud. Jaja, molim. Hvala. I click the device shut and slip up to the counter with a smile: “Yah, Yah, Moe Leem? H’vala.”
She smiles and throws down a barrage of cyrillics, I cannot even visualize or decipher from the sound. I smile again as she turns to retrieve a tray laying it on the counter and hold up three fingers, to which she yells something to a person in the back room and turns shaking her head. I settle for two. She smiles, hands me another and I queue up.
The clerk pulls some sleight of hand with the receipt, cunningly charging me twice for the eggs after I buy 2 packs of Marlboro Gold Silvers for Steve and cannot produce the receipt for the eggs judging from her gypsy inspired pantomime. Why should I care it’s not my money, I think walking out the door. I turn the radio back on. The guests will be arriving in 5 to 10. Where are the eggs?
The last alley at the edge of town leads me through a grove of low olive trees enclosed by short stone wall, the rich earth tones shaded by the centuries old grove witnessing a scale of life one can only envy, I want to take a photo but wonder if I have even caught an instagrams worth of words.
I reach the lower road and quicken the pace into the resort compound just coming into sight of the causeway and island, the tender tied up with Ryan and Mike waiting on the guests, their luggage already lined up on the stone dock. I radio for the crew tender, hop on the nose and with another quick tear through anchorage rush into the galley, Steve chatting with Olivia and Amy, as a rack of bacon simmers its in a pan.
“Did you get my cigarettes?”
“Who do you think you’re dealing with? The pro from Dover. They’re in the bag.”
“My man. Do you need any money?”
“Ah, no worries. Buy me a drink when it’s all over. Oh and yeah, I’d be careful with those eggs Steve, some of the others had bird shit and feathers caked on them. I’m sure the stews wouldn’t appreciate a guest pulling a double header.”
“Double what,” Mike asks, grabbing two frying pans and setting some butter on heat,
“You know. Food poisoning so bad you’re sitting on the can spraying hot cappucino out your ass and throwing up between your legs,” I finish, as Steve bursts into laughter. Olivia and Amy glaring their disapproval.
“Jesus,” Steve manages before regaining his composure, “That one has to be from personal experience.”
“Maybe. Just looking out there brew. Though I’ve not been on one of those sea sick guests bodily fluids charters in a while,” I note dryly before anticipating the radio call to the tender garage to help in the lift, “We’re fucking doing it, baby!”
“Charter time, Whoooooh!”
I kill some time on deck, catching a little sun while most of the guests linger over the breakfast table, the principal lounging with his wife on the foredeck. The day passes easily, mostly in a sort of low speed tour of the craggy coastline, slipping into the Gulf of Kotor, the guests passively watching the panorama from the foredeck, the girls plying them with light snacks and tempting the switch over to high test from Pellegrino and Coca Light.
As the drama ratchets up on Below Deck, driven largely by the capable dysfunction of 2nd Stew Kat, interesting lessons can be gleaned because despite the scripted and cropped presentation of reality tv, there is usually a little bit of reality to it.
The failings of a leader can drag down a crew but the failure of subordinates to know their place is cause for both dismissal and concern.
A yacht crew must have, like proper naval vessels, a respected and reinforced chain of command which requires individuals to put themselves, their feelings and their own neuroses aside for the sake of larger objectives. Largely, the yachting industry succeeds because people believe in and enjoy what they are doing and set aside personal gripes for the larger objective, the Tip. Money may corrupt but it also unites, cuts through the bullshit and incentivizes most human beings on the planet.
If anything, the Kat drama has highlighted the limitations of yachting’s hierarchy which is largely informal with few concrete mechanisms for bringing subordinates into line. It is mainly through social coercion rather than institutional coercion that deckies and stews are brought to heel.
Unlike other crewing situations on the water, the only real option for a Captain or a Chief Stew is to fire someone. Punitive measures can be taken but there is not a Military Code of Justice and a Brig behind any such punishment. It does not help that yachts have so many external factors complicating their ability to replace employees: charters, surprise owners trips, passages, even the weather. All of which require continuity that makes the firing and hiring of new crew a more complex undertaking than simply changing out a spare part or factor input.
It is abundantly obvious that Kat’s drama is highly personal in nature, the constant need for respect and the challenging of conventions and social norms to assert an unstable identity. Though it makes for entertaining television it can have an adverse effect on crew. Eddie, rightfully condemned her antics yet some of the others, particularly Sami, post fire drill, seemed to mirror the behavior in arguing with the Captain over hypotheticals related to the drill. One can argue without actually arguing but simply asking questions and posing counterpoints that might forward the conversation and enrich everyones understanding.
While the Captain might have been somewhat brusque in his temperament toward the crew, the general and highly personal reaction was hardly merited and implied an antagonism that might be fine in an office park in suburban Cleaveland but is outright dangerous on the water. Of course, all of this can easily be swept under the rug as actors trying to find something camera worthy for the audience or script producers gently nudging things along toward the finale.
Yet the crew beach outing served simply as a collective reinforcement of the personal nature of the Captains critique of their performance. While yachting can be a collegial environment that at its best is a collection of friends who want to pitch in and get on with it, only just happening to have ranks; the portrayal of the Below Deck crew feels to represent some larger trend in the Millenial demographic whether it insecurity or some implied notion that everyone else is the problem. This sort of narcissism is de rigeur for reality tv yet one cannot help but wonder if it is cultural, particularly with an almost all American crew.
A disciplined and hard working crew makes a Charter look both easy and boring and in a business as competitive as yachting, people are pushing themselves for higher ranks and higher pay checks, tolerating crew mates that can be as bad as guests with tact, civility and always a smile.
Unfortunately, in the quest for easily digested material, Below Deck seems to have missed the real core of yachting; that it is a bargain, it is a trade of ones time like no other job in the world. One pays with ones labor, ones freedom, ones sense of self and everything else people ashore take for granted. This level of sacrifice requires people to put themselves on hold for weeks or even months, emerging on the other side of a charter season with a sense of self-mastery and poise that only propels them further in the industry and often in life. That this has been lost is in a way tragic to all those people who have managed to negotiate the bargain of yachting and have a stronger sense of self than when they entered a young egotistical self possessed dock walker who deserves respect, money and travel for just having been lucky in a pile of CVs.