Two Weeks in the Keys

On the next boat, we found great joy in working together as crew-mates. Finally fulfilling what had become somewhat of an albatross to us both, that of finding a ship that would take us as a couple.
This was a 115′ Hatteras that spent most of her time at a dock in Ft Lauderdale. Her owners were an older couple that spent their time lounging and throwing evening parties.  They were looking for crew for a two-week journey to the Florida Keys. Carrie and I signed on as deckhand and stewardess along with a chef and another stewardess.
The captain, as I recall, was from Michigan or Wisconsin and was a very pleasant man.  As we traveled from yacht to yacht we were finding that mid-westerners were easily the nicest people to deal with.  We found them to be generally more trustworthy, friendly, and helpful. This crew was no different, they were all midwesterners and we all enjoyed each others company greatly and we readily assumed the labors of attending to the owners while working well as a team.  Carrie and I were welcomed aboard and filled our positions readily and with great pleasure.
Quarters on this yacht were quite a lot more confining than I had enjoyed on the big ship.  I now understood the looks and awe of new and visiting crew upon viewing the crew quarters on the big ship.  What I had taken for granted there was actually quite a big deal aboard a yacht.  On this particular yacht Carrie and I shared a cabin.  This consisted of a set of narrow bunk beds, with almost enough room so sit up in, and a head with a small shower stall.  Our cabin was in the bow of the ship, so the top bunk was a little wider than the bottom.  As it was the bow, this was also a narrow portion of the yacht, so floor space was very limited. So much so that only one of us could be on the floor at a time, and if we found ourselves passing one another in the cabin one of us would have to sit or scrunch into a limited corner space to allow the other to pass.  Clothing storage was a couple of narrow drawers with a narrow closet space above them. The head was so small that in order to sit comfortably on the toilet the vanity cabinet directly in front could be opened for additional knee space.  The crew lounge contained a small round table surrounded by booth seating with a microwave and a TV where crew members could find a little down time or take a meal.
The owners of this yacht were what were termed ‘live-aboards’ as this yacht was their full time home.  They were nice enough folks who rarely left the boat and, lacking any real hobbies as far as I could tell, they frequently entertained themselves by micromanaging the crew. Recognizing this was not done maliciously, we readily tolerated their nosing about and frequent recommendations,  but it made things a little uncomfortable for everybody on board and certainly gave us stories to tell in our evenings together.  The Lady of this particular yacht enjoyed setting ‘traps’ for the stewardess’s such as placing a fingerprint high in a corner of a mirror and then disappointingly exposing it to a stewardess when it wasn’t removed in a timely manner. She also enjoyed hiding candy wrappers beneath the couch and chair cushions and then would berate the stewardess’s on their lack of thoroughness in cleaning by exposing the missed debris.  Other than this elite level of nitpicking, our time in Key West was uneventful. We were docked in a row of yachts at an exclusive high-end resort where crew were not allowed to roam. We were instructed to spend our time on the boat, being allowed a short walk to a convenience store nearby as our only break from routine. It was certainly not one of the more glamorous duties we’d held, though I did appreciate their crew shirt.  It was a nice style polo with a three color picture of the ship on the back and her name embroidered on the front in bright yellow.
We enjoyed our two weeks aboard with the trip to the Keys and the uneventful return journey to Key West, but we declined an offer to remain aboard as full time employees after the entertaining there was over, choosing to continue to seek ‘that perfect position’.  We rented a car and drove back to Ft Lauderdale where we continued to rent a room from an old shipmate of mine and his wife while we sought more amicable full time employment.

Our two weeks in the Keys and our first joint shipboard duty behind us, Carrie and I once again set out to find work. Knocking on halls and speaking with captains and crew was now a familiar routine.  In between these short yacht assignments we continued to find gainful employment at the shipyards that catered to yachts by filling voids left by vacationing crew.  These temporary jobs generally paid better than full time employment, but the duties were also a bit more involved as these boats were generally undergoing significant refinishing and repair and the labor was therefore plentiful.

Together at Last


AMC Leaving the Big Ship
AMC Leaving the Big Ship


Time apart can be hard for a couple. Especially, so I believe, for newlyweds as Carrie and I were at that time, having been married only a year. I had had a number of discussions with the captain concerning the possibility of hiring Carrie as a stewardess. He assured me she would be hired at the next opening. Though, 6 months in, and multiple stewardess hirings later, these discussions had proved fruitless and I was soured. The most recent excuse he had given was that “Indonesian girls could be had for half the price”. I recall the strangeness of a catalogue of Indonesian youngsters laying on his desk, indicating individual’s information and their expense of employment. I was feeling jilted after earlier promises of hiring my new wife had failed to come to fruition. I felt my time on board was short, whether by my own hand or theirs, as I had recently let it be known that either they hire Carrie or I would leave.

Full of the romance of a new love, and the bravado of a young man, I had informed him that if he did not hire my wife I would have to leave, as we were in love and wanted to be together. The captain had not taken this ultimatum well and had offered to “hand me my hat and show me the door”. I staved off an immediate escort off the ship with some verbal tap dancing, but I was still feeling a transition was at hand. He had heard only a threat in my words, and unbenounced to me at the time, I had initiated a race to my employment’s finish-line.

A short number of weeks later, in July of 1998. My Captain had spent a little time securing a replacement for me, and he had won the race I didn’t know we were running.  He came to me one fine afternoon as I sat in the galley enjoying refreshments. To inform me that my time on board was over and I was to leave then and there. That is how they did things on yachts, there is no two-week’s-notice given nor offered. No severance, just an immediate escort off the ship. These ships are much too valuable to allow a disgruntled employee the run of the place.

The yachting scene is a difficult one socio-politically, and is liberally dappled with distrust and false promises. A light application of truth to all matters being deemed adequate for most.  Individuals would sometimes promote themselves dishonestly and at times it seemed the rule of the day.

As I was given my walking papers the captain asked, “What shall I tell people as to why you left?”

I had not expected this question and replied directly and without hesitation. “Tell them the truth.”  I’m hoping he used my version of it..  In the end, it didn’t really matter, it just felt good to say.

I was a little saddened to go, but very much looking forward to rejoining the love of my life. After only 7 incredible months aboard, I was leaving my assistant engineer position, and it was the right move.

Carrie picked me up in her old Beretta port side, having said goodbye to all of my crewmates that were left aboard,  I exited the shipyard with a happy wave and turned my back on an amazing ship. That was 17 years ago, and I still keep in touch with a few of the crew.

I climbed joyfully into Carrie’s Beretta and we reveled in the short drive back to West Palm Beach together. The main thing I remember about this time is being back with the woman I love and feeling happy to be together again, having our whole future ahead of us. As we had gained some experience with our recent endeavors we were now more employable and we were confident that we could find a boat together.


yachts in a row

We return to West Palm Beach and moved in with some old crew-mates that I had met on the big yacht. We rented a room there and found work in a local yacht refitting yard. A number of these local shipyards catered to yachts specifically, and they were always looking for somebody to fill the void of cleaning or repairing these massive boats. I recall a particular set of shelves being built by one of these yards and it being installed into the big ship before I left her, I had overheard that this 5 foot tall 4 foot wide piece of furniture with 3 open shelves and 2 lower drawers, all painted white, overall an unremarkable creation made of fiberboard had sold for $5000! I was astounded that such a price tag should be attached to a simple set of shelves that I could have turned out in most of a day and a half of labor consuming perhaps $300 in materials. It was at this very point that I realized there was a class of people who were willing to pay for what they wanted and that their money meant less to them then a similar amount did to me, and that this would be the focus of my future efforts. The scale of expense on these yachts was astounding. Right then and there my future efforts at employment became clear to me. Other Peoples Things was to be my focus.

Meanwhile, I found some engine room work on a nice yacht being refitted in a local shipyard. I made friends there and enjoyed going from boat to boat assisting in any way I could and getting paid well for it.

Carrie’s experiences had introduced her to a decent yacht crowd as well, and she was able to clean and tend for these and other yachts during this period. All the while we were looking for a new position together at sea. It was about this time we discovered a yacht that was seeking crew for a two week trip to the keys. We interviewed with a very nice captain and were hired and thereby embarked on the next leg of our adventure.