mike french's Blog

Loosely Coupled

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Valentine’s Day has come and gone.  Faint traces of the emotional disappointment or the hackneyed expressions of yesterday’s devotion are barely detectable amid the fanciful notions of a new day. Today, however, we have time to ponder just what Valentine’s Day means to each of us.

A day, perhaps, spent watching Oprah, grazing on clichéd, foil-covered chocolate hearts and sobbing, softly, about the fact that your only date offer was with the new, malodorous deckhand, who wears socks with his flip-flops and thinks the captain is cool.

A time reflect upon the very nature of love: the true joy and street cred gained by tapping the most exquisitely curved and hottest “thing” in the whole marina.

The cynical, however, may revile the very concept of Valentine’s Day as another conspiracy construed by the plutocrats and the bourgeoisie in order to exploit the masses.

No matter what your personal view of St. Valentine’s Day, it cannot pass without reminding us of the bond of love between two people and the struggle faced by unemployed couples in the yachting industry.

Now, I don’t anticipate that yachting couples are going to march together, in numbers similar to a very small, rural, Egyptian village, campaigning for an overthrow of the system.  But, I wouldn’t be surprised if quite a few of them were more than a little peeved at their status in the yachting industry.

Stick any number of hard working, hard playing young adults into a small space and ration privileges, such as more than an hour off the boat or shopping for themselves, and it is almost inevitable that nature will eventually worm its way into their trousers. Not only is it normal, it’s natural, such is our pre-occupation with looks and what old people used to call “sex appeal.”

The fact is that when the heart-racing dalliance is over and the light-headed reverie has begun to give way to thoughts of varnishing or inventories, newly formed, “star-crossed” lovers become, simply, a couple.  And, if you look up couple in the crew agents’ “Preferred Crew” handbook, you’ll find it a ways down the list.  In fact, it’s below overweight, old, needs B1/B2 and even hairy. Female deck crew, smokers, tattooed and lacking in longevity are the only categories that fall below it.

There are many reasons why couples don’t find it easy to get to work together and these reasons can be roughly grouped into the rational and the irrational. The rational reasons for avoiding employing couples are based upon logic: space constraints or accommodation limitations, the innate risk of the couple splitting up and the annoying habit couples’ seem to have of sharing their tensions with the rest of the crew. Let’s not forget having to fire both in order to get rid of one.

There are religious considerations of course, where it is wholly unacceptable to encourage the union of an unmarried couple by employing them together.  Some vessels get around this by allowing same sex couples, the existence of which is not acknowledged by certain religious sensibilities.

The irrational reasons for avoiding couples are many and start with the most important perspective in yachting: owner preference. After all, they write the cheques. But, unless they have an enforcement policy, what happens when a couple “unites” and the pitter-patter of flat feet upon crew corridors can be heard?

Other irrational reasons include already having too many couples on board. This sometimes can be translated into, “We really need some single birds or the deckies will go blind.”

Sadly, couples may be subject to the stereotypical notion that they are all bad. If so, Valentine’s Day is a chance for single crewmembers to open their minds to the concept, however un-cool, of coupling.

Whatever the reasons that couples have been doomed to their plight, I would, at this very special time of year, ask you to spare a thought in memory of the suffering of Saint Valentine…all in the name of love.  For at least the rest of this week, allow couples to indulge in their lovey dovey-ness. Give them a break, even if your best mate has become coupled and, in a crew mess revolt, voted for Sex in the City instead of Once Were Warriors.  Let couples talk, without mocking, of mortgages, wallpaper and how well they get on with each other’s parents. Embrace the long silences that occur between couples when resume pictures of the new stew are greeted with cheers from the singletons.  Don’t be jealous when laundry favouritism is apparent or the chef makes special meals for two.

This is a time for accepting that couples are simply normal people who have just completely changed. And always remember…it can happen to you!


Well said, Mr. French. Speaking from experience, no doubt, as we are too!! The Wallaces
Posted by: Jen Wallace at 18/02/2011 18:12


I can't agree 100% with this...we were hired due to being an experienced crew couple as captain/engineer/stew.

Not only have the last 3 yachts searched us out due to being together but current owner is building 42M and making sure with have 20+ sq meters for our space and a nursery for the new baby.

Granted couples are harder to place but once finding the right owner/yacht you become a major part of the dynamic. I also think it's harder to place a team when they're not upper level crew...deck/stew I wouldn't even look at hiring but eng/chief stew is always welcome.

Keep searching as good team spots are available.
Posted by: The Simpsons at 18/02/2011 18:51


Quite simply, they come to crewm not to screw.
Posted by: Flagrante Delicto at 18/02/2011 19:31


Bravo Mike French, that was such a delightful article to read :)
My boyfriend and I were coupled on yacht 4 years ago, and we have been working together on 3 different yachts consecutively.
I believe there are couples positions out there for the right couple; it just takes time and patience. Although, I have to admit there are many couples out there that ruin it for the rest of the more professional couples...
Posted by: Karina at 18/02/2011 21:43


There are opportunities for couples. My wife and I have worked together on the same yachts for the last 34 years. Often the smaller yachts less than 35m are looking for a team capt/engineer+chef/mate. Speaking as a captain the crew have often been more problematic than the owners or the boat. Keep looking the team positions are out there.
Posted by: Tedd Greenwald at 18/02/2011 22:26


I'm hoping that being married will count for something. I fully agree as to why Captains might be hesitant to hire a 20 something unmarried couple. My wife and I are in our 30's, young at heart, but also much more mature and stable in our relationship, we are committed to each other, we just have to convince an owner/captain that we can also commit to a yacht.
Posted by: Sean at 19/02/2011 06:24


Great article Mike. Agree with much of what you say. Looking at it from an HR perspective, many land based business actively discourage the employment of married couples. I have a number of young friends in the industry and it has taken some of them a couple of years to find something that is 'right'. Downsizing from the big boats to Caribbean charter seemed to work well for most. I know one married couple who's employment works very well on a high profile superyacht. There are, of course, both positives an negatives from an employers point of view, however my main concerns are more focussed on when one or both are in management position, then nepotism can and often does kick in, putting junior crew in a potentially untenable situation. Walking away from employment, due to what may be perceived (on land) as 'unfair dismissal' just won't wash on a yacht. I am aware of a Captain/Chief Stew couple, where the ego of one hit new heights and made getting onboard problems resolved virtually impossible, while making life difficult and stressful for others.
I am hopeful that this only happens infrequently and that the industry recognises the potential benefits of employing 'professional couples' outweighs the disbenefits.
The 'extreme power base', sometimes take over from rational decision making.
Posted by: Malcy( Visit ) at 19/02/2011 07:28


Thanks Mike. Its comforting to finally read something about the plight of couples in yachting. I am always looking for helpful advice on getting work as a couple and rarely find any. If anyone has any I would greatly appreciate it.
My boyfriend and I are in our early 30's and are a committed couple that both have fantastic references, but getting the opportunity to work together has proved incredibly difficult. We end up spending months out of work waiting for someone to take a proper look at us and not discarding us purely because we come as a team. We have a lot to offer as individuals and as a team. I am still searching for a way to sell that idea to people. Fingers crossed this season we will get our break!!
Posted by: KP at 19/02/2011 12:47


There are ways of getting work as a couple, it just takes longer and you have to stick it out and close your ears to all the agents telling you to go and get separate jobs etc.
We started on charter catamarans in the Caribbean and then progressed to small yachts in the med. Someone will give you a break you've just got to keep your chin up till then!
Posted by: Clair( Visit ) at 22/02/2011 19:30


We, chief stew/chef couple have found it extremely difficult in the past 2 years to find jobs together on the same boat. Wondering if it would have something to do with captains being worried that the 2 important roles onboard will hold to much power in respect to the running of the interior? More often you see that galley and service clash but we don't, cause we have the same work ethics and were trained in our field from the ground up. Captains/owners should happy to employ a couple like us. They will get a serious solid team in return.
Posted by: N.Haeck at 23/02/2011 13:25


Well written Mike and I agree with basically all of the article and the comments above. I might add though, something that you touched on, is the affect on the other crew when couples are on board. I pre-empt the below comment saying there's nothing I would love more than to be a Captain or Eng of a boat with a gf/wife as a crew mate, as long as we could handle the unusual 24/7 closed quarters situation that comes with it. I wish all you good luck in finding a good boat together.
My comment is this (cut and pasted from my article in the Jan issue):
"The question of whether having couples on a boat is a good one and always results in varying opinions on the subject. A captain once told me that on his boat he has all couples and saying it's terrific as his crew don't come back late at night drunk after partying and chasing the opposite sex, far easier to control with generally a happier crew. This is an opinion not always held by others. One problem can be the 'fifth-wheel' syndrome where a single crew member is left to fend for themselves when his/her crew go off with their respective partners to do there own thing, often leaving the crew member feeling left out, isolated and generally not entirely happy. This can be particularly an issue when there is a captain, chief-stew partnership, often leading to high turnovers of second-stew positions on the boat as the hapless crew member has nowhere to turn. This is generally because the captain will always side with his often matriarchal partner."
Posted by: Alicat at 25/02/2011 01:57


I agree with much of your article. My only regret is that the piece taken from your article as the quote in Dockwalk, leaves everyone assuming the article does not support couples. This unfortunate as many may not follow up by reading your article, ultimately supporting the "negative" vibe toward couples. Your post, however, was very witty and an enjoyable read.
Posted by: Aneryne Marsicano at 27/03/2011 23:56


I agree with much of your article. My only regret is that the piece taken from your article as the quote in Dockwalk, leaves everyone assuming the article does not support couples. This unfortunate as many may not follow up by reading your article, ultimately supporting the "negative" vibe toward couples. Your post, however, was very witty and an enjoyable read.
Posted by: Aneryne Marsicano at 27/03/2011 23:58


One cannot eat one’s cake and have it.
Posted by: Asics Onitsuka Tiger( Visit ) at 17/08/2013 03:44


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