Friendly Favors: Sucking Up to Fellow Crew

1 October 2008 By Rubi McGrory

Here’s a rule you won’t find in any ship’s standing orders: “First to tea makes a pot for me.”

The most basic of shipboard policy mandates that if you're the first to the kettle, you must begin tea proceedings for all partaking crewmembers.

This can be difficult on larger yachts, especially given the various combinations and permutations of hot beverages and mixing possibilities – even just tea alone can leave you a dizzying array of choices from white, rooibos, green, herbal, chai and black before you even begin to figure out who gets which milk and which sugar.

Woe betide the crewperson who is already sipping solo at his tea when his shipmates enter to prepare their own. He has garnered no favors, and can expect to find nothing waiting for him at the afternoon tea break.

There exists on board every vessel a silent, yet powerful system of "sucking up" to fellow crewmembers. It varies from boat to boat, but the currency remains the same: You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours, or better put: you prioritize cleaning out my dryer duct and I’ll make your bed.

For interior service crew, the engineer is a magician who can wave his magic wand (or Philips head screwdriver) and – voila! – the freezer door creates its vacuum or the dryer finishes in record time. Unfortunately, the engineer isn’t always available; he's most likely fixing one of those greasy pump thingys or creating stains unmatched by modern laundry technology.

It's up to this wizard to determine in which order these small, but important, projects will be completed. A shrewd chef might keep a cache of the engineer’s favorite cookies on hand or a secret, known only to the two of them stash of smoked ham.

Similarly, a deckhand, not without skills of his own, may have a few needs to be met. These might include the complete inability to type his inventories. In exchange for some assistance cleaning heads, what stewardess wouldn’t oblige?

Stewardess Terri P. recounts an experience as a second stew. “We had these dryers that were supposed to be super fancy, but they didn’t work. They just couldn’t dry a load of towels in less than two-and-a-half hours.

“We could never keep up with the laundry,” she continued. “When the engineer went on holiday and we told the replacement about it, he went straight to work. Fifteen minutes later the dryer vents were clean and could get a load of soaking wet beach towels bone dry in thirty minutes. The whole time that guy was on board his shirts never hit the ground before we had them cleaned, ironed and back to him!”

Our microcosm of shipboard life is practically unimaginable without this exchange. It isn’t just about happy, warm feelings, but a give and take that creates a team.

“It’s more than covering a watch for your buddy,” says First Mate Stuart M. “If I stay in on Friday so the deckie can go out and see his girlfriend before her boat leaves, he has a chance to get a little action and will be a much nicer guy to work with.” Stuart is quick to add: “I’m not going to cover for him every time, 'cause then I’d never have a chance to go out and get some for myself.”

Don’t look for a grand scoreboard or favor chart or rules and regulations; these gestures and actions are part of our working relationship and are embedded into the work day. Sometimes we do it without thinking about it.

How do your internal politics work on board the yacht? Is it always tea for two (or the whole crew), or is it every man for himself?