There’s a classic film from 1993, starring Bill Murray, called Groundhog Day. If you ignore the moral of the story, the synopsis can be reduced to the protagonist experiencing the exact same day over and over. Repeat to fade.
Murray’s character eventually learns that if he can correct all his flawed decisions throughout the day, he is released from the cyclical monotony of repetition. Earlier this year, I found myself experiencing my very own Groundhog Day that felt endless.
Eventually giving air-time to the suppressed whimpers of my post-Christmas bank statement, I decided it was (once again) time to don the skort and epaulettes and find work on a superyacht as a freelance stewardess.
After a quick holiday in Nicaragua with an old friend, I arrived in Florida ready to network and day work.
Fortune favours the brave (and well-connected) and within 12 hours of touching down at Fort Lauderdale International, I had two weeks’ work lined up on a motoryacht at West Palm Beach.
It wasn’t long before I felt at home on this magnificent yacht and the crew took me in and made me feel totally welcome.
It will come as no surprise, therefore, that when the captain asked if I wanted to extend my contract to include the upcoming trip, I gratefully accepted.
For those of you unfamiliar with the superyacht industry, most trips involve preparing the boat for guests’ arrival, hosting the guests for the duration of their stay -be it a few days or a few weeks-, delivering the guests safely at their port of disembarkation… then celebrating ashore.
This trip, I was soon to learn, turned out to be quite different.
Preparations for the trip began in Florida and, once the guests were safely aboard and settled, the itinerary included a large number of Caribbean destinations as we island-hopped south as far as Grenada and back again.
With a high turnover of the guests’ friends and family joining them for legs of the route, our interior team of four was kept relentlessly busy.
My role as freelance stewardess (as opposed to permanent crew) saw my daily routine consist predominantly of laundry and housekeeping with a smattering of childcare and service.
Superyacht crew are no strangers to early starts and late finishes, with your break being used trying to catch up on sleep.
So far, so ordinary; I’m sure all other crew can relate.
What made this particular trip different from any I’ve worked before was the longevity.
Most charter guests and boss owners will stay on-board for a week or two, with some boats running largely on day-charters, and others accustomed to trips of up to four weeks. This trip lasted 72 days.
This trip lasted 72 days
When you carry out the same tasks repetitively, you begin to hone your skills and increase your efficiency, your muscle memory takes over and you find yourself on auto-pilot, analysing the next section of your routine while still processing the former.
Like a well-oiled machine, you deftly tick off your daily checklist and begin to enjoy this state of confident familiarity.
But after a while you start to notice a change.
You realise you’ve not had a day off in five weeks. Your well-intended workouts during breaktime go from squat challenge to diddlysquat as the luxury of exercise gives way to essential napping. You work in the Caribbean but your skin is getting paler by the day. You try to think of a fraction or a percentage that makes the number of days past seem larger than the number of days still left – if you’ve ever seen Harry Baker’s Marathon poem, you’ll know what I mean.
Endless days of repetition, long hours of labour, very little natural light, confined living spaces and sleep deprivation are just some tried and tested methods of torture used worldwide throughout military history…
Your cheery morning smile keeps your crewmates going, who keep you going, and you know that you’re in it together.
As a team, you work in closer proximity than the workforces of almost every other industry, and you quickly establish a system of support and loyalty based on hard work and good humour.
I don’t remember Bill Murray’s character playing practical jokes or singing songs from musical theatre but I am convinced his Groundhog Day would’ve passed quicker had he tried these for himself!
In truth, a great deal more set this trip apart than its duration.
Although there is more to working on a superyacht than most people think, it is, undeniably, a privileged career to have.
There are some considerable benefits that I count myself unbelievably lucky to have experienced as a direct result of taking this three month contract.
I had the opportunity to visit some of my favourite Caribbean haunts, explore new places, swim and snorkel, drink and dance, paddle board, go fishing and learn new skills.
I swam with turtles in Turks and Caicos, saw the seabed from a submarine off the island of Saba, flew a seaplane over the Abaco Islands and had my first clear and close sighting of a whale propelling itself out of the sea.
The owners were generous, quirky and kind and took the entire fleet’s crew out to dinner on more than one occasion, as well as inviting us to swim and scuba dive with them.
The crew, who were more like family than colleagues to me, are friends who I hope to see again soon.
The memories made during this trip are ones I will treasure for a lifetime.
I speak rather tongue-in-cheek when I compare yachting to Groundhog Day because, although it can indeed feel repetitive, every job has its elements of monotony.
The crucial difference is that the highs and lows you experience in this line of work are drastically exaggerated and amplified, and, although there was very little down-time, the incredible opportunities that came my way more than made up for it.