The Shine On

3 March 2016 By Paul Duncan

First Officer Paul Duncan of M/Y Starfire reflects on a retiring crewmate, whose hard work and dedication had a deep impact not only on the yacht he worked on for eight years, but on all his fellow crew, too. “The main thing I hoped this piece would do was to recognize a friend (in the specific) and those somewhat behind the scenes of the industry (in general),” Paul wrote to Dockwalk. If you’ve ever had a star crewmember on your yacht whose work ethic really shined through, you’ll relate to this tribute.

Here’s hoping when it’s your time to go, you leave a legacy like this one.

Every day around the world, fresh faces tread the portside streets of the yachting hubs, new deck shoes cutting into their heels, CVs in manila folders, cards at the ready. And most days, down those same roads, old hands exit as they retire from yachts forever, hanging up their uniform and taking seasons of memories, lessons learned, blood, sweat, tears and barrels of laughter with them as they head home.

M/Y Starfire had such a person recently depart her decks. And while it might not be possible to publicly recognize all yacht crew who move on from the business individually, if you were looking to talk about one whose work ethic and commitment to the cause represented the best in all of us, this bosun would be a great choice.

His name is Marcus Bay. Built like a hex-head bolt with shoulders attached to a solid core, he will outwork you, the guy who comes to relieve you and the guy who comes to relieve that guy, and do it with a smile. He wasn’t interested in being the captain, but he came and worked like a demon for eight years on deck and then went home. While you may never have heard his name, these boats are what they are because of men and women like him.

Cleaning a yacht can feel like shoveling snow in a blizzard — endless and blindingly white. Dirty rain falls, exhaust stains, rust weeps, decks turn grey and windows cake with salt as quickly as you can clean, polish, treat, scrub and squeegee. It takes a certain bloody-minded fortitude to get up every day, pull your wet-dry shorts on and head out on deck to continue the battle. The painters might spray the shine on, but it’s the staunch shoulders of the deck crew that keep bringing it back, year-in and year-out.

For 2,789 days, Marcus was part of that charge on board this 54-meter Benetti, leading it the majority of the time. He sailed 128,672 nautical miles, almost six laps around the earth had the yacht kept a constant heading. In practical terms, he went through the Simpson Bay Bridge in St. Maarten 88 times, crossed the Atlantic 12 and covered a sea area that ran as far east as Turkey, north to Norway, west to Florida and south to The Grenadines. He threw on the firefighting suit and breathing apparatus at least 96 times in drills and sanded and varnished close to five kilometers of cap rail.

Starting out in late 2007, he took a few missteps common to green crew, such as “going to ground” one night in Antigua when he had trouble locating the yacht post-festivities. Bearings lost, he reverted to his training as a child of the tropics — he hails from Fiji — and made camp in the roadside foliage, waking in time to be late for work. His employment survived that episode with a stern talking-to about punctuality and responsibility, and he took that on board to the extent that he became the example of reliability for new crew. I relate this not to poke fun, but to give weight to the argument for second chances, especially when concerning crewmembers enjoying their first season in the Caribbean.

More than once he entered the water offshore to retrieve the large tender, having broken free of its tow. That means donning a lifejacket, wetsuit and fins; standing on the bow while the captain maneuvered the yacht as close to the tender as possible; driving from the wing station to keep an eye on the drifting boat; and staying in line-of-sight contact with the swimmer. The seas were rough, and depending on the proximity of the yacht to a protected shoreline, once the swimmer jumps, he’s faced with either hours of driving the tender in heavy weather or reconnecting the tow and swimming back to the yacht in those same conditions. Marcus was that guy for eight years.

What drives any of us can be a murky bucket to look into, and judging another’s motivations is a bit like trying to see into someone else’s pail from across the deck. That said, having spent hundreds — quite possibly thousands — of hours with him drifting in tenders off ports late at night or sitting on the bow waiting for the divers to float an anchor back to us, I saw some of what pushed Marcus on through 16 consecutive yachting seasons.

The background matters here. Marcus’s father, Carl Bay, opened a maritime salvage company and live-aboard diver operation in the 80s. In the 90s, when large yachts such as M/Y Battered Bull, M/Y Double Haven and M/Y Rasselas ventured to Fiji, it was Mr. Bay they turned to for dive guide and interpreter assistance. Home for Christmas from boarding school, Marcus’s older brother Steve filled in for their dad on M/Y Battered Bull, giving the Bay boys their first taste of yachting. Following a family relocation to Cairns, Australia, Steve went to maritime school, and when M/Y Double Haven appeared in that northern Aussie port, a timely phone call to the captain landed him a deckhand position. Three years later, in 2007, having heard his brother’s stories of life on the white boats, Marcus followed him into the business “for one year,” he says with a smile equal parts rueful and chuffed.

When he talks about his dad, it’s always one of two types of stories that Marcus tells — how physically fit and mentally strong the man is or a lesson Mr. Bay taught his sons, usually about the importance of hard work and respect. Either way, it’s clear that when Marcus’s own reserves flag and he reaches a point where most people would say “enough,” it’s his pop’s voice that he hears.

His own drive is there as well. Often, crew taking down the flag and closing up the boat for the night would come across Marcus in the fading light still tidying, organizing, checking a paint repair or splicing a line. He always had an excuse ready about why he was still working, his expression slightly guilty. Nearly always the job he couldn’t put down was one only he was even aware needed doing.

Beyond liking it on Starfire and feeling he had a good thing going, I think Marcus felt the boat needed him out there, pushing from the back. And he was right. While the saying that everyone on board can be replaced holds true, it remains that some people are less replaceable than others.

Probably the largest testament to his character and the effect it had on this business is that the many deckhands who worked with him went on to be workhorse bosuns and mates themselves. Many of them brought their own strong work ethic, but it was Marcus’s “smiling-assassin” approach that pushed those who shared a deck with him to find an extra gear and seemingly have a hilariously good time doing it.

Inspiring, passionate, a titan, unstoppable; the descriptions offered about him by the crew he retires from are like the guy himself — unambiguous and sincere. When asked for a full sentence about him, answers describe a person who looked out for others before himself, had a huge heart and strong spirit and was, simply, “just great.” Maybe even more of an endorsement than these effusive responses are the identical sequence of expressions every person showed, from excited at the chance to weigh in on a favorite friend and pensive about how to do him justice to proudly emphatic that he was all of those things listed above and more.

Everyone’s story in yachting comes to an end; some with a slam of the book, others with the remaining pages blowing away in an unexpected gust of change. Some run out of ink, others light the damn thing on fire. For Marcus, the story ends fittingly — a tidy check mark beside the last line of a long worklist. He gave his notice well in advance, sacrificed one more Christmas at home to show the new crew the ropes and delivered the boat to its Caribbean base before unleashing a victory lap that was as well earned as it was enjoyed.

On his final day, the crew lined up on the aft deck without anyone agreeing in advance that this was the thing to do. It was a typically bright morning, and many had to reach a finger up under their sunglasses to wipe their eyes, Marcus included. He started to give a goodbye speech, was interrupted and didn’t return to it. I’d imagine he was going to say something like: “I’m not going to forget you guys. And don’t you forget to detail the exercise equipment before the next trip.”

He got a lot out of this business of yachting, and this business got even more out of him. Not everyone can say that. So here’s to Marcus Bay and the others that went before him and are coming after, who keep the shine on.

Photos by Nicole Du Randt