Alcoholics on board

18 January 2011 By Rubi McGrory

Every morning Gina (all names have been changed) notes her bar stock down by at least one bottle of booze. Some days she finds empty bottles hidden behind settees or in cupboards; mostly she assumes the empties have been thrown overboard. Stephen, Gina’s boss, dislikes his girlfriend’s heavy drinking. Every evening he requests dinner earlier and earlier, hoping his dining companion might be a bit more no avail. Gina says nothing when she cleans the girlfriend’s soiled sheets.

On another yacht, Lucy knows when the owners’ son comes aboard, her job changes from heads and beds to almost exclusively looking after the twenty-something alcoholic. Between cleaning up after him and catering to his inebriated whims, she loses much of her workday. She is considering asking for extra help during those visits.

“The boss likes having Devon on board,” she sighs. “He feels his son is safe and being looked after, but I am not a counselor or medical professional. My job is high-end service, to make sure my guests have freshly ironed sheets and a new drink the second they finish their last one.”

In an industry catering to wealth and privilege, it’s not uncommon that some guests will have addiction problems. These are slightly easier to deal with on charter, when the captain and charter broker can mitigate any awkward situations, even end the charter if necessary. However, if the alcoholic in question is the boss, a family member or a friend who comes aboard regularly, the predicament becomes more serious.

Lucy is mostly correct. Crew are not therapists or social workers and do not have a personal relationship with guests. Capt. Hunter points out that Lucy is missing one important point: Crew are employed to provide for not just the comfort, but also the safety of guests. While they may grumble in the crew mess about intervention and rehab, their real obligation is to the vessel and her safe operation, both on charter and private yachts. There are many ways in which a drunken person can have a negative impact on board beyond knocking over crystal glasses and spilling red wine on the white wool carpet.

There exists no high-tech stabilizer to help right a boozy wobble. There is a very real risk of the chronically inebriated falling overboard or injuring themselves on deck or interfering with shipboard machinery or winches under a heavy load. There are many ways for the unsuspecting to inflict great harm upon themselves or others while on a yacht.

But these are not the only hazards.

Capt. Hunter faced an incident with the adult daughter of his boss’s girlfriend. It was a non-smoking vessel; the mate took the guest for a tender ride so she could have a cigarette. She insisted he have sex with her because, essentially, he worked for her. The mate immediately reported the incident to the captain. Consequently, Capt. Hunter insisted a female crewmember always be present when the woman was around the mate. He then had to defend his action to the boss, who thought Capt. Hunter’s response was extreme.

“I had to point out that the papers and rag mags are full of people levying allegations of sexual misconduct, especially against the wealthy. It would have been so easy for the woman to claim the mate harassed her. Then she could have sued the boss. We never saw her on board after that.”

Capt. Hunter stresses that in these scenarios, the crew’s job is less about fluffing cushions and washing decks and more about limiting the boat’s liability. Alcoholics are known to behave in strange and manipulating ways. If the boss wants to know why the table is less exquisite or the toilet paper isn’t folded over as frequently, the captain must explain the yacht’s labor force has been monopolized by needs created by the alcoholic on board.

The mate’s decision to report the incident was just as important as Capt. Hunter's response. Different crewmembers may have different experiences with the same guest. If all of these episodes are reported to the captain, s/he can be aware, have a more cohesive view of the situation and decide how best to act.

Psychotherapist Ed Parks, LCSW, notes that no matter what, crew must realize they will never change the behavior of the alcoholic and must banish the idea of having an effect on the person. The alcoholic will seek help only when s/he is ready. Crew should take concerns to the captain, who should approach the boss when necessary. Throwing sobering aphorisms or snide comments will only make the addict, and their family, feel defensive.

Lucy offers these final words of wisdom after a frustrating cruise with the boss and his son. “I always remind myself, I can do almost anything for a day...or a week...or ten days...or two weeks.”

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