So I know many of you must think that my job is all glitz and glamor. Yes, it frequently is, and I have to pinch myself that I’m getting PAID to experience the same adventure as my guests, and that I’m responsible for their adventures in dining.
But, if I’ve learned anything, it’s that sometimes you gotta trust your gut when someone offers you an “opportunity.”
In fact, now, after my years of cheffing and crewing aboard yachts, my senses tell me that the more someone tells me how LUCKY I would be to have this job, or how AMAZING and one-of-a-kind their boat is, the more I should be worried.
Let me give you a case in point. Last summer Captain Wonderful and I were called upon to help deliver a 125′ “yacht” from Alaska to Washington. The idea originally was that I would forgo my usual daily rate for the opportunity to film, professionally, our trip down the Inside Passage, and, more importantly, my cooking onboard. Captain Wonderful also initially agreed that he would come along as a “second,” but he would not be responsible for the actual captaining on the boat. So, since he’d technically not be “captain of record,” and was assured there’d be other captains aboard who would be legally responsible, he also agreed to pass on his fee. Both my parents had just passed away a few weeks prior, so we were looking for a bit of Alaska’s vastness and wildness to soothe our hearts.
We had several conversations with the owner of the boat before we flew up there. Once we hit the dock, it was already clear that things weren’t quite how they were presented.
To describe this yacht as “rustic” would have been generous on our part. She’d definitely seen better days, and had been “ridden hard and put away wet,” frequently since then. But, ok..nothing a haul out and paint and LOTS of money can’t fix. Don’t be swayed by first impressions.
Captains? What other captains? The boat hadn’t moved in over 2 weeks because there was no one there who COULD move it. While we had been told that two earlier charters had cancelled due to COVID infections on board, nobody thought it necessary to tell us in advance that one of the “crew member’s” wife had it RIGHT NOW. And, we’re supposed to be hanging with these people for 10 days in close quarters? Swell…
Our cabins were…well, pretty much standard government issue. Utilitarian at best, and our bunk was BARELY wide enough that we could sleep together. But, the best was yet to come.
Our bathroom (“head” in boat-speak) was around the OTHER side of the boat. Gonna make for an interesting late-night potty break, that’s for sure. We had our own shower…that was nice, at least. But the surprise came when Captain Wonderful looked into the toilet (head) and saw a huge vat of brown sludge. The blackwater (the vessel’s “sewage”) tank was over-full because the boat had not been designed to allow it to be pumped out, but rather just pumped its effluent overboard while underway.
They hadn’t been underway in WEEKS…so no dump out.
The fix: we were told it was ok to pee in the sink. If we had to go “#2” we had to up to the bathrooms at the top of the dock. I sh** you not.
As Captain Wonderful explained this delightful situation to me, he quipped, “While I don’t mind peeing in the sink, I DO mind having to brush my teeth in the urinal.”
My worry…how do I even GET to the sink? It’s mounted hip-height on the wall. So, after I did try the first morning to hoist myself up on this sink, with one foot on the rim of the sink and the other on the bunkbed, fearing any sort of weight on the sink would bring it crashing down, I came to the realization that this was NOT going to work long-term.
To add insult to injury, the yacht that Captain Wonderful and I ran together first and fell in love with each other on was just across the dock from us. There she was in her shiny, little-ship glory and it was all I could do to not cry.
We endured this situation for five days, the boat not being able to leave because the owner was “expecting parts” to arrive. “Soon come” was the mantra. Finally he arranged to have something sent on to our next destination, and we were off. Guess who’s in command, the only Captain aboard? Captain Wonderful, who, having never run this boat, takes her off the dock, spins her around in a narrow basin, trying NOT to hit the beautiful “little ship,” and we are on our way.
So many disappointing things continued to happen along the way. We almost got off in Ketchikan to fly home. The boat was so over-powered that the HUGE generator had to be run 7×24, with a massive search light on to draw load. My ovens BOTH had to be running, even when I wasn’t using them, and were they were placed, I had to be careful that I didn’t burn myself leaning over them to cook on the stove top.
The filming…well, we had to pretty much force the issue with the owner because he sure didn’t seem half as eager to do it now that we were on board as he did before we came up. And, much of the “story” never GOT filmed.
But, the worst was yet to come: because of Captain Wonderful having to take responsibility for the legal operations of the boat (in other words, if something went wrong — which it very well could have — it would be his license on the line), he and the owner came to an agreement that Captain would be paid, but Captain gave Owner a crazy reduced rate, knowing the boat was out of money. I was still going to do my work for free, in exchange for the footage.
When we finally arrive in Washington State, and I asked Owner if he could transfer the footage, he said there was so much it would take him a bunch of time to do that, but he would make the transfer and get it to me in the next few days. Captain got a check, we all toasted our great passage and left feeling positive.
We left in seemingly good stead, only to be greeted by a scathing message from Owner’s girlfriend, who, apparently had all the money. I guess Owner-dude never cleared paying Captain at all, even though he had written the check. We were accused of a “bait and switch” agreeing to one set of terms and reneging on our agreed upon “donation” of our services. Even though we explained that WE were made to expect that this would NOT be a professional gig on the part of the Captain, AND we had delays that made the trip twice as long as it should be, Girlfriend was vicious and adamant. “Tear up the check and you’ll get your footage,” was the word.
So, the next morning when Captain went to the boat to try to calmly discuss the situation with Owner, he was literally greeted by a red-faced, verbally violent, irate Owner — a full 180 degree switch from how things had been left. Captain was ORDERED to “get off my boat,” at increasing decibel levels, with no opportunity to have any sort of discussion.
I won’t belabor the point, but the bottom line was: we got screwed. We were used to get the boat out of Alaska with false promises and expectations that, at least, we’d have more filmed content. Oh, about that…to this day, I’ve never gotten ANY of that content, and all our inquiries remain unanswered.
So, word to the wise: don’t just take ANY job because you want to get out on the water. Some jobs, like some owners, just aren’t worth your time. It makes me twice as careful now, when I’m offered the “opportunity of a lifetime.” My life is worth more.