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The Love Boat: Yacht Crew Couples Share Their Experiences and Advice

13 February 2022By Sara Ventiera
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Sara Ventiera

Sara Ventiera is a contributing writer and former stewardess who covers food, travel, and other topics. Her work has appeared in a wide range of publications, including the New York Times, Food & Wine, NPR, Eating Well, and BBC Travel.

Brendan and Julie Emmons aren’t quite sure how they started dating. Both then 21 years old, they were home in New Jersey visiting family for the holidays. They hung out five times in the week they were there and kept in touch when Julie went back to finish her senior year in college at SUNY Cortland. Brendan flew back to Aventura, Florida, to rejoin the yacht he was working on.

After three years of phone calls and regular weekend visits, the couple decided it was time to get on a boat together. “In the beginning, it was okay because it was so new,” says Julie. “But it was like, okay, we can’t live like this forever.”

It’s a reality many crewmembers face: how to grow a relationship in one of the least conventional professions and lifestyles around. Whether it’s working and living together 24/7 aboard a vessel or dealing with hectic schedules and lots of distance, folks who work on yachts have to create uncommon systems to make their romantic partnerships work.

Julie and Brendan Emmons

Finding a Balance

For Julie and Brendan, joining a boat together was fairly easy but it did require some adjustments. She had already helped out on his vessel for small events and weekend trips while it was up in New England in the summers. But the first week they worked together as full-time captain and stewardess was intensely busy and Brendan, as he’s wont to, said “yes” to every owner request. Julie, a self-proclaimed perfectionist, struggled with being able to get every task accomplished to her high standard of perfection.

Over time, however, they figured out how to find a balance. “Julie learned how I was, and we just dealt with it,” says Brendan. “She’s aligned with how I operate, and we’ve gotten much more efficient together.”

It’s a reality many crewmembers face: how to grow a relationship in one of the least conventional professions and lifestyles around.

What they have found harder than working together and learning how to balance each other’s ways of operating is working with other people. Brendan often feels the need to hold Julie to a higher standard and because the two of them are willing to do whatever it takes to get a job done, they feel like it can put extra pressure on their fellow crew. Julie and Brendan often find themselves working until 9 p.m. “We’re really just hanging out while we’re working,” says Julie. “When other crew are on board, we have to set more realistic hours so everyone on the boat isn’t stressed out.”

The issue of separating work from relationship time is common for couples who are business partners, whether on land or water, Dr. Yvonne Thomas, PhD, a Los Angeles-based psychologist whose specialties include couples and careers, told The Zoe Report. “Many have trouble separating the business relationship — putting away that professional side at the end of the day and focusing on the romantic side. The ideal balance can be reached, but it’s not necessarily going to be perfect.”

In an attempt to do so, the Emmons try to get off the boat and take time together as much as possible. Every day, they go for a five- to six-mile walk or run together — unless they’re on charter or an intense trip.

At the same time, it’s important for the individuals that are in a couple to have “me” time separate from one another. “You can’t be tied to each other’s hips,” Dr. Thomas told the publication. “Everybody needs a break and a time to chill out so you don’t feel smothered or suffocated by your partner. Maybe that means you take half an hour to yourself before or after you come together after work.”

That was one of the issues Gabriella Halcovich, 23, and her boyfriend Tom faced while they worked aboard together. She loved going on walks and exploring restaurants together when they had time off, but as someone who really enjoys her quiet alone time, the complete lack of space was hard, especially when she was working inside with guests on board. “I told him I needed a couple hours to be in the cabin alone,” she says. “We’d be on breaks together at the same time, but it was the only time I had to be alone.”

Allison Edelstein and Marc Tacher

Making Sacrifices

When the couple, both of whom were working in the industry when they first met, got on a boat together, it was very exciting to get to spend so much time with one another. But the sacrifices they both had to make in order to join the same program proved difficult.

Halcovich, who dreams of building a career on deck, was pushed to work inside in order to obtain a couples position. After several months, they had to have a hard conversation about how to move forward. Either she’d have to work directly under Tom outside or transition to a different department. She wasn’t thrilled about either prospect, another common experience for couples who work together. Studies have shown that women especially tend to earn and advance their careers less when they go into business with their significant others.

“Many have trouble separating the business relationship — putting away that professional side at the end of the day and focusing on the romantic side…”

Tom, who is a passionate sailor, much preferred the idea of working on a sailing yacht anyway. He recently took a bosun position on a 56-meter private and heavy charter yacht, based in the Caribbean in winter, Mediterranean in summer.

The pair decided that the best way to move forward in their careers and relationship is to work separately, in the same part of the world. Halcovich is currently seeking a deck position with a similar itinerary to Tom’s, so it will be easier to see each other during time off. “It makes time go faster when we’re both working a normal day,” says Halcovich. “We look forward to our hour or 30 minutes on the phone or Facetime.”

Any couple in yachting is going to make some sort of sacrifice. Whether it’s long stints apart from one another, one or both parties taking a position that’s less than ideal, or giving up one’s career.

How to Avoid Being the Bad Couple on Board

  • Be respectful about communicating with the crew: if someone seems upset, address the issue immediately. 
  • Be patient and understanding of other crewmembers’ feelings.
  • Leave your relationship in the cabin: keep PDA and bickering to a minimum in front of others. 
  • When you start to get frustrated with your partner on the job, take a break from the argument and hash it out after calming down. 
  • Make an effort to spend time alone, together as a couple, and as fellow crewmembers without one another.

Allison Edelstein, 34, a lifelong sailor, and her husband Grayson Miller III, thought they had to leave yachting to start a family. Both came from traditional families — her mother is a lawyer; his father owned a construction firm — who did not understand the itinerant lifestyle. So, the couple moved back to Edelstein’s hometown in Long Island, New York, to take teaching positions and coach sailing.

They had a son, Grayson Miller IV, and Miller eventually managed to find a mostly land-based yacht job where he managed two smaller boats for a family who moved between Palm Beach and New York. Edelstein and their baby chased the weather with Miller, relocating every six months with the boat. For many yachting couples, that may sound like a dream. But both Edelstein and Miller felt like they were sacrificing their passions for marriage and family. Edelstein wanted to be back on the water and Miller’s goal was to run 150- to 200-foot yachts that traveled the world.

After seven years together, they ended up filing for divorce in 2017. “I think that marriage broke up because we left the water,” says Edelstein. “A lot of crew use yachting in their early twenties to party and travel, but it’s not really what they love to do.”

Marc Tacher and Allison Edelstein

Edelstein’s thinking is on par with a growing body of research. According to Harvard Business Review, sociological research has been increasingly finding evidence that when both partners dedicate themselves to work and home life, they gain benefits including increased economic freedom, a more satisfying relationship, and lower-than-average likelihood of divorce. “The biggest thing I learned is that you have to keep doing what you love,” says Edelstein.

The exes have both found their way back into the industry — and are much happier and friendlier as a result. While considered unconventional to many, they have figured out a way to balance careers they are both passionate about with raising their child.

After getting back onto a boat in 2020, Edelstein met her current partner Marc Tacher. The couple relocated to Jupiter, Florida, in late 2021, where Tacher is running a 72-foot Mangusta and Edelstein is working on shore for United Yacht Sales, learning another side of the industry she loves. She’s trying to apply the lessons she learned from her first marriage to their relationship now. “You have to follow whatever it is that’s going to make you the happiest, otherwise it’s not going to work anyway.”

Bryant and Alexandra Grant with their daughter Claire

Carving a Niche

Capt. Bryant Grant, 36, who married his wife Alexandra at 19 while he was in the Navy, had been used to spending time apart, as he often had to deploy for six-month stints during his time in the military. But a while after starting his yachting career, Alexandra, a dental assistant, joined him on board a 59-foot yacht.

The couple worked well together for several years, but Bryant, cognizant of the difficult dynamics of working with a larger crew as a couple, decided to stick to smaller yachts to alleviate any potential headaches that could arise from having a couple running the show. “We purposely worked on smaller boats,” he says. “We wanted boats just her and I could handle on our own.”

While they could have chosen to go down the charter path, the Grants prioritized a work-life balance. They purposely sought out laidback programs that allowed them to have a life for themselves on top of their careers.

Bryant Grant with daughter Claire
Alexandra Grant with her daughter Claire

Bryant, who is from Jensen Beach, Florida, grew up with a passion for being on the water and loves working on boats. But after a string of bad job situations with difficult owners, Alexandra tired of yachting and wanted to go back to shore. Finding a long-term job that allows him time to spend with his family has not been easy. “It’s been a battle ever since she left, trying to stay home,” says Bryant. “As experienced as I am when I get newer owners on smaller boats, they get confident in their program, they want to do more.”

Three-and-a-half years ago, the couple had a baby girl, Claire, and that has made sticking close to home even more important for Bryant. He says he did not want to be an absentee father for his wife and daughter. After Claire was born, he did spend a couple of summers up in New England. The first summer, when Claire was a baby, Alexandra’s parents flew over from California to help her out. However, the next summer proved difficult when Alexandra was completely on her own in Boynton Beach with no family and just a small support system around. Something had to give.

To make life a bit easier, they relocated from Boynton Beach up to Jensen Beach to be close to his family. The first couple of months, he drove down to Miami multiple times per week for work, but he’s managed to stake a place for himself in the industry up north. The boats aren’t quite as big or nice and the owners aren’t quite as wealthy as they are in Fort Lauderdale, but Bryant and his family have been slowly figuring out how to balance family life with his yachting career. “I try to find the right program,” Bryant says. “They don’t always pay the best, but it allows me to do what I love and provide for my family better than another job — and it keeps me home.”

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