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Relationships in the Yachting World Print E-mail
Written by Crew Life Staff   
Sunday, 01 February 2009 00:00

Tearful conversation from the head meant one thing. Otter was on the phone with his significant other and things were not going well. Having worked and shared a cabin with Otter for six months, I knew the drill. One week things were great, the next it was rough. Long distance love is difficult, at best, for most couples and I slipped quietly out of the cabin to give my mate a little more privacy.

Neptune knows I traveled that well-worn path of relationship destruction on more than one occasion. I committed to not doing long distance because, for myself, it does not work. But, I started thinking - perhaps there is another way? What if I found a partner that could work and travel on the same yacht!?  We could have a wonderful time of it, or at least suffer together - Coool!!!

Being cautious and somewhat inept in the ways of Cupid, I consulted my fellow yachties. Many do have relationships on board, work as a team, and seem to know a little something about making a seagoing relationship a blessing.

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By all accounts, crew love does not have to be quick, sloppy shags on the beach or under a bridge after drinking enough rhum to float the Maltese Falcon.  Nor must it be the fore mentioned tearful long distance trauma. None-the-less, most readers have participated at least one of these rituals, if not both, on numerous occasions during their yachting career.

Fortunately, there are some souls qualified to question regarding life together on board. I wanted to know when and where these couples met, how long they’d been together and the challenges and joys they faced. Maybe I could find some hope and time tested advice.

Only a few couples agreed to be published, but countless other answered questions along the way and shared revealing stories.  The couples consulted worked together for an average of four years. The longest was twelve years and the shortest time six months. Add to that a few phone calls and I arrived at the following advice, starting with a word about the dreaded long distance relationship.

Without a doubt the most difficult relationships exist when one person remains shore based while the other is off to sea or on another yacht. In this situation, shiploads of money and time go toward maintaining the relationship.

I heard at least one story of a man driving from southern Florida to New York for a three-day visit to his beloved.  For those of you not in the know, that amounts to about 24hours of driving, one way. I know of another mate that flew out of the Caribbean to Alaska at every opportunity to be with her significant other. That plane ticket costs around $1500 USD depending on the time of purchase.  Still, others fly from Europe to Australia, New Zealand, or South Africa making a flight to Alaska look like chump change. Ain’t love grand? Or it sounds like several grand, apparently.

Couples meet outside the business and start yachting together or meet while working in the field. Meeting outside the business creates a bond allowing both people to commiserate or celebrate with a similar understanding and background. Couples forming within the industry advantageously know the difficult business of yachting. They have a leg up on what works, and what does not, when it comes to getting along in tight quarters and high pressure situations.

The daily challenges for those living on board tend to be space related. Occasionally, there are problems with other crew members trying to sleep with one or both of the couple in question. Unfaithfulness aside, one chief stew commented, “Daily challenges, can include other crew members not seeing past the fact that you are a couple, thinking that you only ever want to do things together and favor each other all of the time.  It is simply not true, in our case anyway.  We are still two independent people who work professionally as individuals and socialize with all the crew.”

Another problem lies in the power play of a crewmember and captain relationship. On some yachts this poses little trouble. On others it breeds discontent, disrespect and a lack of trust. A captain showing favoritism toward a significant other makes for poor crew relations. Stories came my way of captains giving their partners preferred watches, or turning a blind eye when they slack off being hung over as hell. Other crewmembers told me about using the significant other to manipulate the captain into giving days off, leniency or relaxing the work schedule. I learned of at least one female chef that was nicknamed “captain chef” by the crew. It became obvious she called the shots for the real skipper and everyone knew it.

More commonly, what arises are space issues for the couple themselves. “I love you honey, but go away for a little while so I can miss you” is not an uncommon sentiment. Indeed the healthiest relationships take time apart when needed and making time for each other.  Luke and Harriet aboard M/Y D'Natalin shared the following: “We would say that getting used to working together as well as living together is a definite challenge. For us though, as an engineer/stewardess team, it works out quite well. Our departments are very separate, which gives us a lot of space during work hours. Also, just finding work as a team is very challenging at first, however there are jobs, and with experience you tend to find more and more team positions available.”

The worst days find you at each other’s throat (and not in that nice way) due to stress, long shifts, or demanding guests.  An often-repeated sentiment revealed a lack of sleep caused many problems. On a different note, a chief stew said, “Life working with your partner isn't always rosy when you both have jobs of responsibility working in such a confined space. Sometimes the stress of management positions on board yachts, means that time alone is essential, which is very hard at the best of times! It can put a strain on even the strongest relationships. Also [it’s important to] just take time to step away from the boat (if you can!) and have quality time together.”

Bad times and good go hand in hand. What makes the good times? “A great crew and having days off to go and explore many of the places we get to visit!” said one interviewee. Another replied, “The great days are when you get to be together in some fabulous place and enjoying the good life. Days are great when you are together, because you are experiencing all the great things that come with yachting, the traveling, meeting new friends. When things are getting you down you always have someone to turn to who understands and will not gossip!” And perhaps this writer’s favorite answer “Good times? Oh, we have too many to share!”

Finally, I asked folks to share a little advice for those making the commitment.  Engineer Luke recommends, “If you are working in the industry with a partner, always try and stick out to work together on the same boat, however long it takes”. I heard this stated emphatically many times. And from one couple that used to work together but now cannot due to career moves, “Its bloody tough when you are apart, the past three months have been very hard on both of us, but on the flip side, it really does make you appreciate what you have when its not there 24/7, but its certainly not ideal.” And on a final note, “Give each other space, but at the same time make sure you find your own time as a couple between charters.”

Sounds like solid advice all the way around. It remains to be seen if I can find someone compatible enough to live and work, and share a romantic yacht-based relationship. While my own cause looks uncertain I am glad some yachties have found a way of making it together.  For the rest of us, there are those long distance or drunken options come Valentine’s Day… and that still includes Otter by the sounds of it.

TW Brandt writes under a pseudonym to protect her/his identity and remain employable.


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