The Role of the Stew: Labor of Love or Hard Labor?

16 March 2009 By Di Thompson

My first Stewardess role was on a beautiful Herreshoff ketch; a yacht so famous that Jimmy Buffett turned up on board one day with his family for a day of sailing, swimming, lunching and circumnavigating one of the picturesque Leeward Islands. Then, at nightfall, when everyone had shuffled off the passerelle and onto the dock, it was time to wipe down every piece of interior brightwork, clean the heads, remake the beds, straighten the lounges and cushions and wash and wipe the mountain of dishes in the galley sink.

On that yacht, it seems like I was always on hands and knees with a spray bottle of vinegar and water. I remember feeling horrified when lifting out the shower floorboards, taking them off the boat and onto the dock and attacking them with a scrubbing brush and bottle of something French that I couldn't pronounce.

Looking back, was all that hard work worth it? You bet it was! Being a stewardess is more than just straightening pillows, although that is part of the job description. Although stews don't get down in the bilges, they still get down and dirty in many ways. And what about the bigger vessels with exponentially larger interiors? Stews must cope with a workload only their great-great-grandmothers would understand. spoke with some interior crew about a typical day in the life of a stew:

“No point in watching the clock, particularly with guests aboard,” says Dee, who freelances along the east coast of Australia. “Most of the yachts I work on are between 70 and 120 feet. Even though they are not considered to be large vessels, with owners or guests to take care of, the workload always increases. Late at night, when your feet start dragging and you think that if you were to sit down, you might not be capable of standing up again – just then, you hear loud and clear from the dinner table, “Another three bottles of that lovely red wine, please.”

“After ten years in yachting, I have worked in all capacities from being confined to laundry and cabin duties in a junior role on a 160-foot Feadship to chief stew overseeing a team aboard a 147-foot Oceanfast,” says chef/stew “Karen.” In her most recent role on a busy charter yacht with two rotating captains and 18 full-time crew, her days were so busy she even delegated filing and other administrative tasks she ordinarily would have undertaken herself to a “green” junior stew straight out of stewardess school. “To make the captains and the owners happy 24/7 is a labor of love indeed,” she says.

“When there are no owners or guests on board, it’s a routine,” says Tia, a chef/stew aboard an 84-foot Horizon motor yacht. “My day will start with laundry, dusting, vacuuming carpets, mopping marble tiles and cleaning out galley lockers and fridges. Then I will prepare and clean up after lunch. During the afternoon, there are windows and glass, light fittings and a quick wipe-down of all the appliances and interior stainless. Then it’s time to start dinner.”

She and her husband, Robin, work as a team and to keep the whole boat immaculate. “There is nothing more satisfying than when an owner steps aboard and compliments his captain and crew on how beautiful his yacht looks. That’s why we crack it as couple,” says Robin. “We love what we do and if any crew thinks they are doing ‘hard labor’, they're in the wrong business.”