Maintaining a Sense of Self on Board

2 September 2008 By Rubi McGrory

Being a crewmember on a yacht is truly an alternative lifestyle. You not only live with your co-workers, but your boss and his friends, as well.

Frequently, the uninitiated don’t get exactly what that means until you explain how laundry works, and that at any given time everyone’s underwear could be mingled together.

Most crew know who wears which item of underwear.

This generally drives home the point that there is no such thing as privacy in this yachtie world.

It is important for your sanity, and the well-being of the rest of your crew, to have a little bit of time for Y-O-U. But how exactly are you supposed to accomplish this when you work 14 to 16 hours a day for weeks at a time, and when you do finally catch an odd hour off, you generally want to sleep?

Space is also an issue. Taking your favorite pastime or hobby on board may prove difficult if your extracurricular activities include quilting or dirt bike riding; even jigsaw puzzles can be a bit of an issue.

Booze can be a driving factor in determining how downtime is spent. But not every day off should find you hungover in your dark cabin watching movies you’ve seen before, especially if this day off was weeks in coming. Drinking, while a fun, social way to while away your free hours, is not usually the best option.

Many crewmembers go straight to the water during their free time, either kayaking, SCUBA diving or beaching. Laser racing and model boat racing are always a good time, especially if you can gather together an ad-hoc league in your marina or anchorage.

Exercise and fitness provide other opportunities to clear your head and feel good about yourself. Most boats don’t have a gym available to crewmembers, and you may not have access to one ashore, but more and more marinas have small gyms or even common rooms where they offer yoga and other group classes., a free website, can help you create a run/walk/rollerblade/kayak trip anywhere in the world.

Jim Duhamel of S/Y Timoneer says he likes to get off the boat and stretch his legs, either with a long walk or a bicycle ride. But there are downsides.

“Once,” he explained, “ I was riding around St. Martin, just sort of pedaling into the sunset. On my way back to the boat, the police stopped me because I didn’t have a light on my bike. They made me let the air out of my tires! That day I got a bike ride, and a long walk!”

There are so many other booze-free ways to recharge your batteries. “On my last boat, a few of us were really into crossword puzzles. We had a few books of New York Times puzzles and sometimes three or four of us would work on one,” says Chief Stewardess Jennifer Santino. “I also learned embroidery and really like it. It doesn’t take up too much space, and I can work on a little bit at a time. At the end, I have a feeling of accomplishment and something to show for all of my time.”

Sometimes, to gain that feeling of not losing yourself to your work, it isn’t about what you do off the job, but what you do for yourself on the job that really counts.

A woman who asked to remain anonymous said, “Sometimes it is literally weeks before I can do anything for me, so I always make sure I am wearing really fun underwear. That way, no matter how ugly I feel in my uniform, and how horrible the guests are, I always know I’m staying true to myself and am fun underneath.” (Except all of the other crewmembers probably know what she is wearing -- just check the laundry!)