“And here on the left we have a linen closet that I’m pretty sure the captain doesn’t know exists,” says Jimmy Goodlife, chief mate on the M/Y It’s A Living, as he gestures expansively towards a false wall panel that pops open when pressed, revealing a personal reality-escape pod disguised as stacked bedding. “In an emergency, such as needing a two-hour nap one hour into the workday, simply move the contents of shelves three and four up to shelves one and two, climb in, curl up in the fetal position, and try not to snore.”
Newly joined stewardess Sarah Diamond takes this in with a mixture of fear that this is some form of trap, and genuine gratitude for such highly prized information.
“Is this a trap?” She asks, being from Australia and not one to hold back.
Jimmy looks surprised. “I beg your pardon. There are no traps on the familiarization tour. I take this very seriously.”
“Then why does your coffee smell like jäger?”
“Why are you wearing sunglasses inside?”
“You clearly are.”
“Lets move on. I still have to show you how to get onboard when you’re too intoxicated to enter the door code and how to make a toasty at three in the morning without the chef knowing you’ve been in the galley.”
Sarah trails behind Jimmy as he ricochets down a darkened corridor, protecting his ‘coffee’ like its a newborn baby with a strange German name. While initially undecided now she is sure: she’s going to like it around here.
“You think it’s funny?” Chief Engineer Dan George, of the M/Y Why Me, quietly asks the main saloon bar’s ice machine, better known amongst the crew as That Fucking Piece Of Shit. The ice machine just looks cheekily back, drooling tepid water from its front lip all over the marble floor and threatening to ruin everything.
“It isn’t. It isn’t fucking funny at all you little piece of shit,” Dan whispers angrily, applying a spanner to a frozen valve with unnecessary force.
“Third bloody time this bloody week. You had one job ice machine. Hint: It is in your fucking name. We don’t call you the spill machine now do we? No. So why the fuck do you only make spills?”
An awkward silence fills the room. Dan works, rough and loose, pulling pipes, opening panels, throwing the odd jab to the kidneys, if ice machines had kidneys. A steady stream of swears issue forth from under his breath. His radio crackles.
Reaching maximum pissation now, Dan gives his radio a look so dark it actually answers for him.
“Yeah Dan here.”
“Boss is awake,” says the chief stew, using her vast resources of good cheer to be abominably irritating. “He says the toilet’s backed up, steam shower has no steam, and the outlet by his bed isn’t charging his phone as fast as the one in the office. Also wants to know if we can run the boat on solar power and how buoyancy works. He’s waiting in the sky lounge. Ta.”
Dan’s radio runs and hides. A storm cloud gathers above the engineer’s head, bolts of lightning forking out over the bar he’s working behind. Outside the birds stop singing. The Word Of The Day board in the crew mess switches itself from ‘yuletide’ to ‘homicide.’
And it is right then, with impeccable timing, that the ice machine chooses to expectorate a gob of watery sludge from deep within its pipework. The mouldy wad fragments as it hits Dan’s face, creating a blast pattern of gross shit that encompasses all of the engineer’s upper body. Some of it goes in his mouth.
He blinks again.
He then gently reaches out to close the hatch on the ice machine. His hand lingers, almost lovingly, on the injection-molded plastic door. And then, suddenly and without warning, he begins punching the shit out of the broken appliance.
He hits for the frustration of not having the budget to just get a goddamned new ice machine. For the fact the internet is never fast enough to talk to the girlfriend he’s pretty sure is about to walk on him (third this year). For there always being onions in everything the chef makes and goddammit he hates onions how many times does he have to say it? For low rates of interest on his savings, no raise in three years, should look for a new job but he needs to upgrade his ticket. For the teacher who said he wouldn’t amount to anything and now look. For endless routine maintenance. For worklists, yardlists, and mystery lists to port. For mouthy crew, micromanaging captains, unappreciative owners, dogs on boats, and rainy days-off. And in the end, not even thinking anymore, he just punches for the searing, endless, morbid difficulty of existence.
The ice machine is a wreck. It looks like it fell out of a plane. Breathing heavily Dan packs his tools away, and exits the main saloon. He passes through the lower pantry, and letting out a deep sigh he glances into the galley where the chef is smashing the shit out of a piece of meat that has long since moved from ‘tenderized’ to ‘pulverized.’ They exchange grim looks.
“Oh you betcha.”
With interest having been renewed in the original post on this subject, it seems like the time has come to float out a few more of the things yacht crew most hate to hear:
“It’s going to be a little rough.” When the last time the mate said that it was death on a stick out there and you had to sleep in your immersion suit. Plus you’re a little bit very very hungover.
“No raspberries till Thursday.” When it’s the only grocer on the island talking, it’s Saturday, you’re the chef, the boss doesn’t take nyet for an answer, and your mortgage really needs this job.
“No couples.” When you’re a couple.
“The windlass is making a funny noise.” When you’re the engineer, the funny noise turns out be a screeching like all the demons of Hades, and the windlass was made by an Italian man in a small town in the mountains who has since died and been buried with all the remaining spare parts for his machines.
“I’m pregnant.” When that is not an option.
“Someone has a case of the Monday’s.” When that is the fortieth time that crew member has unironically quoted the movie Office Space without realizing they are casting themselves in the roll of the idiotically friendly co-worker at Cha-Chis. And you can’t explain that because you do in fact have a terminal case of the Mondays and are afraid that if you open your mouth you might chew someone’s nose off.
“I need help,” says bosun Tim O’Leary, standing in the lower pantry of a 50-meter motor yacht, saying hello like a damned fool to every single crew member as they come, and go, and come back again.
“Hey Matt, what’s happening?” He says, assailing the chief engineer as he passes, “Still nothing? Cool. See you in six seconds.” There is no reply.
Tim suffers from a common syndrome found amongst yacht crew, known as Obnoxiously Repetitive Salutations Disorder, or STFU for short, in which the sufferer is physically unable to stop themselves from greeting people over and over again like a poorly trained parrot with a polite version of Tourette’s.
“Jo-annabanafofama! Howzit? Ok, still good. Nice. No, no, I don’t have to call you that all the goddamn time.”
“On average I’d say I greet the other crew members over a thousand times a week,” Tim says, shaking his head and looking out to sea, gripping the cap rail tightly to stop himself from greeting this reporter for the fourth time since we stepped out on the side deck to get some air. “I think I have a problem.”
“Tim has a problem,” his captain confirms immediately when asked. “We’ve spoken about it a number of times, and I can see he’s working on it which is good, but has also led to slightly unnerving situations when he appears silently beside me on the bridge and just waves when I look over at him. And that’s a little weird. I’m hopeful he can get a handle on it. Yes, hi Tim.”
“I’m a hands-on kind of skipper,” Says Capt. Kane, master and commandeer of the M/Y Tri Hard. “Not just when it comes to the ladies, but also when I see the team could use some help taking the rest of the day to do a five-minute job. That’s when I’m not shy about getting up to my elbows in overhauling a perfectly good system that I have very little current knowledge of.”
His specialities include launching the jetskis without the bungs in (“We used to leave those in didn’t we?”); sending the entire deck team on a hopeless mission to find fresh produce on an island with no permanent inhabitants (‘You’ll find something, I know I could’); and entangling the fishing gear in a permanent knot that turns four working rigs into one piece of installation art representing the application of chaos theory, as embodied in monofilament (‘I’m just going to leave these here’).
“I’m not a paper-pusher,” he adds as the chief stewardess quietly loads receipts on the other side of the bridge, whilst dreaming of magnums of rosé and the promised sweet escape of day-off, black-out, binge drinking. “I like to get out of the bridge as much as possible. Or at least just often enough to make the deck team wish I would remain on the bridge.”
His first mate cautiously agrees.
“He’s a team-player, as long as he’s in charge. When there’s a water slide to inflate, you can count on him to be there stepping on people on the radio, connecting the wrong lines to the wrong attachment points, shouting contradictory statements, and generally being four-bars worth of nuisance that no one dares to correct. So yeah. He’s a huge help.” He seems about to add something when the radio squawks. It’s Capt. Kane, summoning the deck team to the aft deck for ‘hose-coiling training.’ The mate drops his sunglasses back down over his eyes, pulls his lips back into a grimace-smile that looks like someone asking if they have any spinach stuck in their teeth, and quietly heads off to the bow.
Other crew are more methodical in their approach to being away for Christmas, building up support networks onboard throughout the year, carefully hiding vodka in their work spaces, creating small rock gardens in which to achieve zen, and compiling lists of people willing to tie them to their bunks when this fails and they try to light the Christmas tree on fire while screaming obscenities and wearing festive underwear on their heads.
“I think self-awareness and active introspection is key,” Says Janine Griswold, chef on the S/Y No Days Off. “This year all of us on board are working hard to be mindful of our spiritual well-being as we transit this emotional segment of the calendar together. For myself, I’m confident that through deep breathing, meditation, and careful attention to my inner voice, I can make it to at least 10:00 AM on Christmas morning before I lock myself in the head and tell everyone to make their own goddamn eggs benedict because I need a hug, a spiced rum, and a cigarette in that specific order.” She pauses and brightens as a Christmas carol comes on in the galley we are standing in. “So that’ll be fun!”
As part of The General Alarm’s ongoing commitment to improving the mental health of yacht crew, please feel free to comment below with your feelings about working through the Christmas season, positive or otherwise. “FAAAAAAAAAARK,” is a perfectly acceptable response. Any and all feedback will receive this complimentary seasonal mantra: “It’s just another day, It’s just another day, It’s just another….”
A heavily resourced search and rescue operation that at one stage involved hundreds of volunteers, a canine unit, and a Facebook page that was shared over 11000 times has successfully concluded. Anna Aria, crew chef on a 65-meter yacht, was found just 15 meters from her last known whereabouts on the bow of the same vessel she was reported missing from, reading a book.
“Harrowing.” Said Anna’s cabin mate Karen Chorus when asked how the lengthy, 3-minute long search felt. “Usually we see each other at least once every 20-30 seconds. When more than a minute went by without one of us saying ‘Hi’ to the other in a funny voice or accent, I knew something terrible had happened. And I was right. She was up there,” Karen paused here to compose herself and return from the brink that all minds go to when considering the abyss of time on one’s own. “She was all by herself.”
The yacht was secured to a berth in the Bahamas when the alarm was sounded a few minutes after the end of the work day. Precious seconds were lost chasing false leads such as the possibility she was going to the bathroom, was lying down, or was talking to a friend on the dock. In hindsight those ill-found guesses could have cost Anna dearly, possibly allowing her to finish the chapter she was reading or worse, look into space for awhile without having anyone interrupt her thoughts.
Thankfully the rest of the crew mustered with the organized haste only regular drills can provide. The mate sounded the international signal for ‘Crew Member Not In Immediate Vicinity Of Other Crew,’ repeatedly asking if anyone had seen Anna until everyone was very worried. The head chef procured a crate of beers to share with the missing person once found, and one of the deckhands made a list of arbitrary questions (which included: have you seen Star Wars or my red shorts?) to pepper her with to make up for the time they had been apart.
Working through the surge of adrenaline that arose at the thought of one of their own not being with at least one other of their own and preferably all of their own, the crew swung into action. All flights off the island were grounded and ferries that had recently departed were summoned back to the dock to be searched. A navy helicopter was diverted from a medivac operation, and marina security made aware that they had failed.
Two minutes into the search hope began to fade. As night fast approached and with it the possibility that Anna might have to eat dinner alone or, as unthinkable as it was, have a drink that way, the crew and volunteers had begun to comb the beaches and boardwalks when a cry went up from the bow of the yacht. A deckhand, going forward to launch the rescue tender to search the mangroves, had found the missing-and-presumed-lonely person.
Clearly disoriented and suffering from exposure, the rescuee was reported as being nearly unintelligible after her ordeal, saying she didn’t know what the fuss was about and had just been taking a few minutes for herself, and other contradictions. It is understood that following an event such as this recovery will take time. As we go to press the crew have rallied around Anna, quite literally, surrounding her in a circle of undivided and inescapable attention. Hopefully this will help her, in time, to put behind the horrible memory of a stolen moment’s peace.
“All I ask is for a goddamn coffee and 48 seconds of peace and quiet to throw it down my throat before the entire boat breaks and the crew ask me questions that have no answers.” Says an agitated man in blue coveralls, fists clenched and elbows tight against his sides; rocking back and forth with alarming speed on a swivel chair in the engine control room of a yacht. “One fucking cuppa!”
We are only 5 minutes into Monday and Oscar Mike, Chief Engineer on the M/Y 99 Problems, has already called time on the week, a new personal best. Or worst. Here’s the play as it happened:
07:59: While hunting for a Nespresso capsule that isn’t a fucking decaf, an alarm sounds. It’s the air conditioning system. Common enough, but the alarm is a new one that reads: ‘I give up, you are on your own. I’m sorry. I promise we’ll meet again someday, I just don’t know when.”
08:00: While trying to find this alarm in the manual, the head of interior informs Oscar that there water is coming out of the overhead panels in the master cabin. In response to further questioning she uses the word ‘fall’ after the word ‘water.’ Oscar runs up the stairs, slips midway, and barks his shin. He takes it rather well all things considered; only threatening to kill idiots who engage in intercourse, not everyone.
08:01: Arriving on scene in the master cabin Oscar is completely unable to assess where the water is coming from, because it is coming from everywhere. That there is absolutely no way it should be pouring out of the ceiling doesn’t seem to be stopping it from pouring out of the ceiling. One thing he is able to immediately determine is a timeline on getting this fixed: The Rest Of His Life.
08:02: While other crew scramble for drop cloths, buckets, wet vacs, and new jobs, Oscar makes an unsettling discovery. The water smells like shit. Oh yes.
08:03: A deckhand interrupts Oscar’s quiet, unhurried deliberations over the possible scenarios that have led to him standing in the epitome of luxury under a poo shower, to ask him if he has seen the keys to the tender. Oscar indicates that to the best of his knowledge he has not, and kindly suggests the junior crew member check his rear end, and failing that the rear ends of his departmental colleagues.
08:04: In an attempt to ascertain how the shit stream has managed to find it’s way onto the 1200 thread count Egyptian cotton sheets, Oscar tackles pulling down the overhead panels. It takes 13 seconds for him to confirm what he suspected: this is fucking impossible. The overheads have been secured to the ceiling with a combination of 5200, wood glue, blind rivets, horseshoes, black magic, and dragon’s scales. He stops, and ponders the terrible, timeless beauty of an endless stream of poo-water pouring for eternity unchecked and says:
“I fucking hate this boat.” The clock reads 08:05.
An inclusive review conducted by the RYA to determine how realistic the conditions in their tender operator course are compared to those found in most actual yacht operations has concluded it is: “Nowhere close, not even a little.”
“Anyone can drive a boat after a good night’s rest, in pleasant silence, with nothing to look at but the channel markers and the bald spot on the back of your instructor’s head as he pre-fills your pass certificate from the seat forward of the helm.” Says Grate Scott, head of course development for the RYA. “It’s getting the guests home safely at 3 in the morning when you haven’t slept in 21 hours, the music is so loud it’s making the nav lights jiggle, and you are fairly certain none of the female passengers are wearing knickers. That’s where you separate the boat handlers from the handlers boating. And you can quote me on that.”
This thinking has taken the RYA back to the drawing board; and has ushered in a daring approach. The new course is to be expanded to 3 days from the previous 2, and interestingly will start at 9:00 PM with a shot of tequila.
“Our plan is to as closely mirror the average deck crew’s actual experience as possible.” Says Mr. Scott, before going on to explain that while he’s aware it’s frowned upon for crew to over-indulge the night before a charter or owner trip, he is equally aware that many junior crew members ignore this entirely and, with that in mind, wanted the course to reflect the reality that many tenders are being operated by people who feel like a shaggy dog’s breakfast.
To simulate this the rest of the first evening of the course is spent going from pub to pub until everything is shut and then sitting on a dock until someone points out the students have to be up in 2 hours. Everyone then turns in for a brief nap before being woken up by a fresh-faced instructor who is disappointed in them and tells them they will have to skip breakfast as they are late. From there it is straight into shouted orders.
Mr. Scott confessed there were significant challenges in setting up the course, not least of which was finding instructors willing to work late at night whilst trying to teach over music being played at a volume most would term ‘damaging.’
“Equally difficult was finding attractive passengers willing to sit in a small boat out on the Solent, late at night, wearing next to nothing,” the director continues. “At this stage I’ve signed a retainer with a local modelling agency, but as this has driven the course cost to almost £4000 per student it could be unsustainable. If we don’t get any takers we may just have to offer a cheaper course in which the students take turns dancing and asking the driver what time he gets off work.”
The course is expected to be on offer by the end of March, and if it proves popular Mr. Scott has plans to review a number of other yacht courses to see if they can’t be made more realistic. Early ideas include a Master’s level seamanship course in which candidates will berth a large vessel in swirling currents while a guest badgers them with difficult to understand questions, and a practical engineering workshop in which all tasks commence in the middle of the night with students being woken by an obnoxiously loud alarm.