It was the smell that affected me most. When I walked through that door for the first time in four and a half years, I recognised an aroma so familiar, yet so distant in my mind, that an overwhelming nostalgia was triggered within me.
A million memories came washing over me all at once and I felt excited to be there, but also inexplicably sad; sad at the time that had passed and the changes that had undoubtedly come in with the new tide.
I had received a message out-of-the-blue from a friend asking me if I wanted to help out with a busy 2-week charter on the superyacht I used to live aboard. My rapid and unwavering response was ‘yes’ but as the countdown to my flight grew nearer I began to feel anxious. I was worried I had forgotten everything: where things were kept, how to behave, my old routines etc, and I was nervous because most of the crew on-board for this fortnight were new to me.
When I arrived, my eyesight sought out little details which made me think ‘ah yes, I remember that now’ because over time, the crisper edges of our memories become blurred and distorted. There were some things which looked different because of the refurb, but for the most part, nothing had changed visually. And that smell, which is so unique and unmissable, made me feel at home.
The memory is such a powerful resource and when you combine that power with your senses, one can trigger the other and you’re immediately transported to a time in your past.
I hear a London Grammar song and it takes me back to when I was relief-chef for 8 weeks. I hear Mumford and Sons and I picture myself detailing the boss’s gym. I taste Percy Pigs and I remember the joy of finding their knock-off equivalents in Curacao. I smell sushi and I’m back in Bamboo Bernie’s. And from now on, whenever I see a watermelon, my memory will send me to Monaco.
I was right to be nervous. I had forgotten the finer details of my role and life on-board. By the same token, however, I was impressed at how quickly those details came flooding back and, before long, I was able to make comparisons with what I knew then and what I know now.
I was wrong to be nervous. Working alongside my friends again felt completely natural and that is a camaraderie which (I imagine) can only be compared with that of the military. And in such a short period of time working with those I hadn’t met before, I like to think I’ve established new friendships too….
Facebook says we’re friends, so it must be true.
There was an ‘in joke’ with the interior team that it had taken just four days for me to crack them. The truth is, I hadn’t been trying to break down their defences, it was just by chance that on the fourth day, I had had a deep-and-meaningful with all three of the extraordinary women I was working with.
Having worked in an office-based role for a few years, I am able to compare the two worlds and, believe me, they are worlds apart. In terms of social elements however, there are a few similarities: there is a clear-cut authority pyramid, some people work harder than others, some people don’t fit in as well as others, everyone knows everyone else’s business, everyone gets a bit hyper when it’s nearly time to clock-off and there is mockery and gossip and jibes and flirting.
Relationships are intensified when you live on a boat. This is not a detail I had forgotten, and it is as true today as it was when I worked my first summer season in the Med in 2011. As crew, you share cabins, meals, shifts, outings, laughter, stress, adventures and air.
Interestingly, the premise of the ‘original’ reality television programme Big Brother was based on putting a group of strangers into a domestic environment with added trials and challenges and watching them cope or crumble under the intense social pressure. Sounds a lot like yachting. Such a set-up makes small problems seem big, and big problems seem unbearable. This can be tough on even the strongest of minds and most stubborn of stoics.
It’s easy to survive in the Celebrity Jungle, in an office and on a boat, but the tricky part is learning to thrive. The contestants who win the nation’s hearts aren’t the backstabbers, manipulators and try-hards, they’re the natural, positive, earnest and fun individuals who work hard and play hard and support their on-screen family; the ones who are themselves, just human beings being human beings.
We are pretty quick to judge others by some impossible standards, or by a standard we have set based on the hypothesis of ‘if I were in their shoes’. In reality, we would probably behave as they do if we were actually in their shoes. They’re only human, after all. And so are we. If my memory is good for nothing else, I hope I will always remember that.