Marital Strife and The Captain’s Wife

2 April 2009 By Di Thompson

The article on the captain’s wife in the March issue of Dockwalk has sparked a lively conversation in the forum also titled The Captain's Wife.

The captain and wife choice is an easy one for an owner with a vessel under 100 feet. Together, an experienced team will run the vessel like a well-oiled machine. They need only consult with each other on the daily business of working through job lists, charter guest and owner needs, and what the weather is doing.

On larger yachts, naturally, there are more decisions to make and more tasks to perform, thus the need for additional crew. So how do crewmembers deal with the constant concerns of having to keep the captain and his wife or partner on their good side?

“At the start of my career, there was the Perini Navi yacht job of my dreams,” explains retired Stew Joanne. “I sailed through the interview and became excited about the itinerary knowing I would be working with an all-Australian crew – all except for the captain’s wife. Alarm bells went off in my head, but I chose to ignore them because she was so agreeable during the interview.

“When we were going for the uniform fittings, she changed. Madam pleasant became madam lash and I freaked out,” says Joanne. “It may have been an isolated stress moment, but I did not want to see it again, so I declined the job.”

Australian Deckhand Richie agrees. “This can happen. My introduction into the yachting industry was on a 30-meter sailing yacht in the Caribbean with a young husband-and-wife team running the boat. They were both great at the interview, then once I moved aboard, I observed [that they were] not so friendly to each other. She would spend most of the day in the galley, and if I went to the fridge for a bite to eat, my head would get snapped off. On deck, the captain would bark orders at me if I were standing no more than five feet away from him. When the owners or guests were aboard, it was a different story. They were nice to everyone, including me,” he says. “I couldn’t cope with their hot and cold personalities. I did not stay long and vowed to run a mile before accepting a yacht job with a captain and wife team on board.”

Stew Natalie, who spent 18 months on board a yacht with a captain and his wife, says, “It can work; however, if one of them is having a bad day, watch out! Their regard for each other will filter through and affect the rest of the crew. The mood can feel like it is fifty times bigger and darker than it actually is.”

That’s not always the case, according to Capt. Dave and Chef Jill, who have been running yachts as a couple with crew for more than five years. “If the captain and his partner have a good relationship with each other and they are good people to begin with, they will usually extend this hospitable alliance to their crew. Providing everyone has mutual respect for each other and does their job, there is nothing to fear,” they say. “Keeping a confident and positive work ethic assists anyone in any field of work. We are mostly skilled professionals in this industry, and by keeping this in mind when petty irritations surface over whom is at what rank, your job need never feel threatened.”