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Life On The White Boats

Life On The White Boats

It is an exotic dream job for many – the enticement of endless travel across the oceans of the world, mooring up at private islands and being constantly surrounded by the rich and famous, an incomparable tax-free salary plus amazing bonuses, the opportunity to work with a crew of multi-nationals, and sun, salt and sand! It sounds like a dream, almost too good to be true. However, like many things in life that seem all too dreamy, there are definitely some pros and cons to every job. LOWEN TAYLOR meets three brave souls who work as crew on white boats, and get a glimpse of what it entails to live the “dream job”.

ROB: YOUNG AND RESTLESS

Rob grew up on the water and knew from an early age that he wanted to make a career within the boating industry. After putting in the hard yards and clocking his hours, he obtained his Master licence. By the late 90s, he was cruising the Mediterranean on some of the world’s most outrageously expensive yachts, working with and for the “superstars” of that time. After almost a decade at sea, having sailed across almost every body of water on this earth, he decided it was time to take a break and see what else life had to offer him. For a man in his early twenties, there was nothing more thrilling and enjoyable than travelling the world freely, exploring different islands and countries on his days off, indulging in the beauty of the local cultures and surroundings. But as time went on, he realised that he wanted to share this experience with someone. As fun as the single party life was, he was craving some more meaning in life.

Upon returning to the Gold Coast, he quickly met and fell madly in love with his wife, Renae. Not long after marrying Renae, Rob was offered a position as captain of a boat owned by a wealthy family, and the package they were offering was just too good to refuse. Renae was also offered to join him on board as Head Stewardess, something rarely offered to someone with minimal experience. They worked exceptionally well together, and were highly rewarded for their diligence and dedication to their patrons, be it the boat owners or a hired charter. A former primary school teacher, Renae had supreme organisation and time management skills, and a borderline OCD-type cleanliness that made her a favourite among even the fussiest of boat owners.

Rob and Renae travelled the world together, using their days off to indulge in different cultures and discover the hidden gems of the world. They sipped wine at sunset on the beaches of southern France, ate fish caught fresh off the boat in the middle of the Caribbean Sea, enjoyed local delicacies from tiny coastal markets and villages, swam in crystal clear waters without another soul in sight, cracked coconuts upon uninhabited islands, and jet skied along open waters at sunrise feeling the salt dry upon their skin. The pros were definitely high.

But behind the glitter and glory, there was another life. Depending on their charter, Rob and Renae often went weeks without a day off, tending to their owners every beck and call. Running on barely a few hours of sleep a night for weeks on end, they had to be immaculately presented and smiling at all times. If the owners told them to jump, they could not even ask how high. They simply leapt with as much enthusiasm as they could muster, and landed with a light perfection so as not to disturb the serenity of the surroundings. In addition to the high demands of their employers, life on a yacht is not only tiring, but also often dangerous. Storms, high seas, treacherous channel crossings, and boat malfunctions are par for the course, but pirates are a whole new ball game.

RENAE: THE PIRATE STORY

Renae recapped her first (and hopefully the last) encounter with pirate intruders in the Caribbean waters. One of the first things she learned was to never ever let any stranger know if you were alone on the boat. It was generally a well-kept rule that at no time was crew allowed on the boat by themselves, especially not female employees. On one very rare occasion, the perfect calm waters and a lazy afternoon lured the owners, the captain and the head chef out for some great fishing off a remote island, not too far from where they were anchored. Renae found herself alone. Busily catching up on chores, she barely noticed a small boat approach the yacht.

The men in the small boat called out to her. “Fish ma’am, fish! You want fresh fish?” Although caught off-guard, she acted as unfazed as possible and yelled back, “No, thank you. Not interested!” They persisted. “Ma’am, beautiful fish, so fresh, caught today, Ma’am. You must try! Where is chef? He can see?” Getting flustered yet trying to remain calm, she replied, “No, sorry, the chef’s not here. We have enough fish. Thank you. Goodbye now,” and turned her back to continue cleaning. They persisted, and at this point, their boat was already side-by-side with the yacht. The men eagerly looked past Renae into the main cabin. “Ma’am, please, find Captain. He will see freshest fish available! Find Captain!” With her back still turned trying to silence her drastically beating heart, she yelled over her shoulder, “We don’t need fish! We have plenty. There’s no one here for you to ask. Leave now!”

Even as the words left her mouth, Renae tried desperately to suck them back in, but it was too late. She stole a glance over her shoulder and saw their eyes instantly narrow, a new look of corrupt determination sweeping across their faces. She ran to the main cabin, slamming the double glazed glass doors shut, locking them immediately. Within seconds, she had the entire room locked down, but watched with complete terror as the men threw a rope over the side of the yacht to secure their own boat. Despite the excruciatingly loud beating of her own heart, she managed to hear a boat approaching. She recognised the sound of the motor. It was their tender. The boys were returning from their afternoon fishing trip. Through the glass doors, she kept watch of the strangers who were literally seconds away from boarding. The men heard the approaching boat. When the tender came into their view, they removed the rope quickly, and jetted away in the opposite direction at top speed. There was no telling what may have happened to her or the boat and its belongings had the strangers actually boarded. It is a story she would soon rather forget, yet one that is permanently etched in her mind.

BRAD: NATURE’S WRATH

Brad (not his real name) has been working on yachts since graduating from Bond University in 2009. Starting as a deckhand, Brad studied continuously, taking courses at every opportunity, until reaching his ultimate goal of being Chief Engineer. Working on yachts both large and small, he has manned charters from Nova Scotia to South America, both the east and west sides of Central America and has completed ‘The Crossing’ from the Americas to the Mediterranean on numerous occasions.

In his decade of boat life, Brad has dived with schools of tiger and hammerhead sharks in the pristine nature reserve of Cocos Islands, dived solo in the infamous waters of Belize where the ocean shelves are so diverse, surfed remote islands off the Coast of Nicaragua and Panama by himself and one other enjoying a smorgasbord of endless waves, and sampled every rum available in the Caribbean as well as the local wines of Crete’s coastal villages. With such a broad portfolio of travel, Brad has seen the power of the open seas at its best and its absolute worst.

In October 2015, he was the 2nd engineer on a boat that was moored at Puerto Vallarta on Mexico’s Pacific Coast, when the second most intense tropical cyclone ever recorded, Hurricane Patricia, came in hard and fast. Due to the rapid escalation of Hurricane Patricia’s severity, they had no time to evacuate. Brad, along with 11 crew, was trapped onboard a 180ft yacht. With Navy Seals on standby for rescue, they had no option but to literally batten down the hatches and wait for days until the storm passed. Water drums and food were airdropped, and the crew had to be tied to the boat at all times for their own safety. Luckily, the eye of the storm passed slightly north of where it had been forecast to hit. While severely shaken, the crew and the boat survived relatively unscathed. It was a tremendous wake-up call as to how quickly things can turn, and how little control you have when you are in the way of Mother Nature’s wrath.

With the good comes the bad. With blood, sweat and tears, come love, laugher and memories that few will have the opportunity to make. Life on the white boats is definitely not for everyone. But if you can learn to take it on the chin every once in a while, pay your dues, and work until you form blisters, wake up and do it all again, then it can most definitely be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life.

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