Wherever crew dockwalk for jobs or sit ashore while the yacht’s in the yard, you’ll find crew houses. And in today’s economy, as more crew find themselves on the sidelines looking for that next berth, the demand for these affordable alternatives to high-priced hotels and apartments is growing.
Whether you’re shopping for a crew house in Antibes, Cairns, Fort Lauderdale, Palma or St. Maarten, it’s the same story…while many of them are clean, respectable establishments, others might as well have a neon light in the window that flashes “BEWARE.”
Common complaints at the worst crew houses include overflowing ashtrays, food-encrusted dishes in the sink, filthy bathrooms, stealing, twenty-four-seven partying and illegal drug use.
“My crew house is very clean; I am very strict. It's a good start for newcomers as I run it like the crew area of a yacht,” says Deborah Banks, a former chief stew who runs Debbie’s Crew House in Antibes. “As for the not-so-good crew houses, [it’s] the same old story – dirty, and a lack of respect for other roommates.”
“The last place I need to be is in a place where kids are coming in at two-thirty in the morning and then going on to drink some more, with paper-thin walls,” says Capt. Roy Simpson. “We checked out some houses – you could see the baskets of beer bottles outside the place.” He and his partner, Chef Shelly, chose to spend a recent stint between jobs at Palm Place Residences, an upscale crew house in Fort Lauderdale that features high-thread-count linens and starter provisions. “You get what you pay for,” he says.
But not everybody can afford to stay at a crew house furnished to this high a level. Many crew are just looking for a safe roof over their heads, and maybe a little privacy.
“There were places where there were twenty-seven kids sleeping on mattresses on floors, but all that’s changed over the years,” says Dwight Ledbetter, a veteran yacht captain and managing partner of Neptune Group, Inc., which operates five crew houses in Fort Lauderdale that cater to job-seekers, working crew and students at the local maritime schools. Ledbetter and his partners have spearheaded efforts to improve living conditions in crew houses both in town and around the world.
He offers some tips on what to look for – and avoid – when shopping for a crew house:
1. Consider a house run by former yacht crew. If the proprietors are still “wired in” to the local yachting community, it may be a good place to network for a job. “Captains and stews will come recruit them,” says Ledbetter.
2. Cleanliness is critical. “Inspect the premises,” he advises. “The character of the people who are there [can tell you] if they're working on yachts.” If the trash hasn’t been picked up and the kitchen and bathrooms are filthy, stay away. Even if you don’t care about your own living conditions, the state of your house tells prospective employers how you’re likely to behave onboard their vessel (see Tip #1).
3. Check for bedbugs. Even the most fastidious yachtie can unknowingly transport these microscopic pests and their eggs in their luggage or even the cuffs of their pants, according to Ledbetter. “These days, there’s a big problem with bedbugs. Some crew houses just ignore the problem. We take a proactive approach.” He advises asking crew house proprietors straight out if they’ve had an infestation. You also can check for bedbug residue in a mattress or boxspring. “You can see little spots of mildew,” Ledbetter says. A bedbug’s bite looks – and itches – like a mosquito’s.
4. Screening is a good thing. Don’t cringe if the crew house asks you for references. “If you’ve got a bad apple in the bunch that, say, steals from someone else, it throws off the harmony of the house,” Ledbetter says. In particular, make sure the proprietors are vigilant about drug use. Neptune Group has a “zero tolerance” policy. “What if you walk in the front door and someone is smoking a joint at the back door and you inhale the smoke?” he asks. “If they test positive on their next drug test, they could lose their whole career.”
5. Research crew houses online. Check the web to find out what other crew are saying about the houses you’re considering – although, watch out for people with axes to grind. You can Google the house or try an online forum like, “Crew Houses...duu duu duu duuuuuh!” on Dockwalk.com. Ledbetter also recommends joining www.deadbeatcrew.com.
Have you had a bad – or good – experience at a crew house you’d like to share?