Looking Out For Each Other Onboard
Onboard Spring 2021
Well, over a year into the Covid-19 pandemic and countries are still going into more lockdowns, although the vaccine programmes are rolling out it’s starting to feel like there’s no end in sight to this cycle of restrictions, wherever we find ourselves in the world. Academic surveys have been emerging across the world, analysing the effects on our psychological wellbeing being in lockdown is having, and honestly the results are not good. With a vast majority of people citing they were experiencing stress, anxiety, and depression, sadly also the vast majority were not, or have not, sought mental health treatment to combat this. Perhaps it’s human nature, but many of us have a tendency to “soldier on” and keep that “stiff upper lip” attitude which may not be the best thing to do, instead of just admitting to needing and wanting some help. Let’s face it, we’re all suffering from pandemic fatigue to an extent, so how do we tackle this?
Where land based people are confined mostly to their homes, what about yacht crew, confined to their small (we can’t call them cosy, come on) living quarters and shared common spaces, often stuck at anchor with guests living on board? We are all well aware that working in the yachting industry requires a fair amount of self-discipline, respect for others and the ability to overcome the fact you’re away from home and loved ones for long periods but now moreso than ever. During these seemingly endless times of confinement, it’s super important we give our physical and mental health the attention it deserves, but as yacht crew, it’s also super important to think about your co workers’ too.
Yachting is inherently social as an industry, when starting out we encourage new crew to walk the docks and introduce themselves to other crew members, ask in person for work, and attend any kind of networking and social events. As our careers progress, we continue to socialise and expand our yachtie networks as many times that’s what leads to the next opportunity. Maybe it’s living in the close quarters, but most yacht crew love an excuse for a night out to let off some steam; bumping into old friends and acquaintances, the buzz of meeting new people, these have huge impacts on our mental health. As does that wonderful sensation of being somewhere new, being able to get off and explore different places, often those you’ve heard about from other crew and friends in yachting. How excited were you to first get to Antigua? Or Palma? Being confined has taken a lot of that away. Fundamentally we’re social creatures, so taking the people element away from yacht crew could be extremely damaging.
Crew have been finding ways to be more social with each other, and therefore get to know each other better to overcome this. Chef Laura told us, “I recently had the pleasure of working with a fantastic Chief Stewardess who organised crew poker night, crew quiz nights, and nights with group card games (like cards against humanity etc.). It was a huge success for boosting moral – like a night out-in.”
Deckhand Lucia told us “during the winter I grew very jealous of the boat next door! They organised their version of Come Dine With Me every Friday night, randomly pairing up the crew into cooking teams. They seemed to have a great time!” What a great idea, getting crew to work together on something non yacht related will only improve (well hopefully) working relationships, plus it may also end up teaching new skills. And it gives the chef a night off the galley duties too.
One of the toughest times for crew to be away in a normal year is for special occasions like birthdays, Christmas, and weddings – at least nobody had to miss best friend’s weddings this year as lets face it, apart from the odd elopement, there simply weren’t any. This year more crew made more effort on fellow crew member’s birthdays and why not – it’s a good excuse to celebrate and have a giggle. Laura spoke of her fabulous chief stew again, “she also put a lot of attention to crew members birthdays, decorating the crew mess, letting them choose their favourite menu for the day, and basically just pulling out all the stops for making their birthdays special which in turn boosted everyone’s morale for getting involved.”
Chef Georgie added, “We have a calendar with everyone’s birthdays on it and I always make time to make them their favourite cake. We have done themed birthdays too, and I love to find out what their favourite or most missed home cooked meal is and make that for them. For me, I express my love through food so what better way to show a crew member they’re loved and important to us.”
Chief Stew Romy told us “Even when the boss was on this summer, for, well, most of the summer, he and his guests encouraged us to spoil crew members for birthdays. We’re lucky to have a great owner, they’d join in the celebrations and we’d have a pretty good day of it considering!”
Lucky for some, some yacht crews have been able to get ashore and as long as they stick together, have been able to get outside and enjoy other activities. Captain Rusten told us, “We’ve had many more activity days [during the pandemic] like beach days, barbecues etc with our yacht crew only. We have also had pub quiz nights where questions relate to the yacht or to individual crew members. Games nights, beer pong… The big thing is to get crew off the vessel but without socialising with others. Many water sports and diving excursions.” They’ve managed to do this by mostly keeping the yacht in more covid friendly areas, for example they went to the Turks and Caicos instead of St Maarten. Rusten added, “it’s still tough, but all crew need to work together and have a broad idea of what we’re trying to achieve.” Indeed, and they need only look at friends and family locked indoors at home ashore to sometimes have a little wake up call and acknowledge what they do have, over what they’re missing out on.
All that social stuff aside, some crew are more comfortable in their own space, and enjoy their own down time or quiet time away from others, so that also needs to be respected. Don’t force that “grumpy” engineer to join in every night if she doesn’t want to. Being aware of each other’s needs on board will make for a happier family! As Tricia, an ocean-going sailor told us, “Have one area of the boat that is for chill time, and if it’s occupied, stay away! It worked when we were racing across the Atlantic with literally nowhere to escape. Respect the zone. Worked for our team of eight on a 46ft sailing yacht!”
Engineer John told us, “I’m happy to get involved in activities but also I want to be alone in my cabin and skype my wife and kids for a few hours. That to me will always take priority and my crew accept that. Yes, they do poke fun at me but all in good fun, and I love the banter. I still laugh when I sit at the crew mess after not being seen for a while and hear “who’s this guy?” We’ve had it luckier than most this past year with some good locations to be stuck, and as a crew I feel we have actually become closer, which is nice, by respecting each other’s space.”
Lots of crew brought up how physical activity has been a huge help during these times. Laura’s super chief hosted yoga classes on board, Rusten’s team also did morning yoga sessions to start the day, and deckhand/PT Michal also weighed in on this. “If you don’t have dedicated space, create it. During boss trips I used to train in the cabin. Invest in basic equipment like a kettle bell, yoga mat, rubber bands etc, and use your own body weight for exercises. Your body and mind will be grateful.” With gyms on board many larger yachts, crew took advantage of those with owner’s blessings (mostly) and lots of crews organised afternoon work out sessions too, to keep everyone out of the treat cupboard (or at least for a bit!).
In addition to getting moving, many crew brought up the importance of meditation and breathwork. Engineer Bob said onboard the yacht he’s currently contracted to, there is an unhealthy approach to stress on board. Overworking is the norm, and mental health is not considered. He says, “I deal with this by continuing my practice of breathwork, meditation, and a regular movement practice, be that what I want on the day – yoga, run, swim etc. I teach breathwork movement and yoga, yet despite this being a huge industry ashore with it being recognised as helping to improve productivity, focus, stress levels, anxiety etc, there is an old fashioned and outdated scoffing at such practices in the yachting industry. The age-old yachting mentality that a boozy lunch/day/evening fixes all is just out of touch now. Combine all this with poor sleep practices, and we have a recipe for some serious issues.”
Michal added how he finds breathwork and meditation extremely helpful to unclog your brain from stressful situations and called it “Magic”!
So the main take away from all this is that we should all look out for each other as well as ourselves to help make our onboard environments as healthy and positive as possible. Make a little effort and it’ll go a long way. Chef Jessica sums it up pretty well, “ the answer seems to be about working with people who care, and making sure you have respectful and appreciative crewmembers onboard.” True that.