When not removing offending follicles from fiberglass flooring, I would maintain the ships systems as needed. Oil changes, lubrication, black and grey water systems, water makers, light bulbs, and then any needed repairs.
The water makers are reverse osmosis water generators. They employ extremely high pressure pumps to push water molecules through a membrane designed to allow only particles the size of a water molecule and smaller through. This includes viruses and thus requires the newly gathered water to be bathed in UV light to sterilize it.
I recall a particularly interesting repair of a failed vacuum pump on the air conditioning control system. This was a unit with a plastic and metal case housing a small rubber diaphragm designed to oscillate, thereby creating a vacuum which controlled some aspect of the cooling system that I no longer recall. I do however recall the repair. It was just the sort of task that I enjoy. It was a small device about the size of my fist made of dozens of parts, some moving. I discovered the rubber diaphragm was worn out and no longer made a good seal. I removed the diaphram and fashioned a duplicate out of a piece of leather from a glove and reinstalled it. Once again cool air flowed throughout the boat. Very Macgiver, and very satisfying to all of us.
Most days my duties were fairly simple. A light cleaning, a project area needing maintenance or detailing, assisting in the galley or attending some other area that needed maintenance or repair. Days were kept to an 8 hour workday generally, and the labor was manageable. Additionally, yachts are built with multiple fuel tanks, and they each carry significant amounts of fuel. As the generators ran or the boat was moved these tanks would ship their fuel to the engine room and eventually the boat would be off balance as fuel was taken from one of the 8 tanks aboard.
To maintain balance, fuel had to be transferred from one tank to another in an effort to level the boat from bow to stern and port to starboard. On this particular yacht these efforts were accomplished through the manipulation of manually operated electronic controls, requiring that I sit at the bridge monitoring a digital display while opening valves and running a pump, all controlled by switches on the bridge. Occasionally it was beneficial for me to step ashore to view her from various angles to make certain my work was effective in balancing the boat.
Carrie and I enjoyed our time aboard, we were initially given privileges to use the water toys (a pair of jet skis) and the use of the hot tub. Work progressed day by day and became routine.
The captain came to us one morning and informed us the owners had changed their policy and we could no longer play with the water toys. We were a little disappointed, but this wasn’t a big deal and we continue to enjoy our labors. He also informed us that he and the chef were going to go to Florida for a few days and the boat was ours to maintain until they returned. Which they did a few blissful days later.
I admittedly suffered a shortcoming on this boat. I was given the task of taking down the flags in the evening. This I was instructed to do daily at 5 p.m, on the nose. Sometimes, (too frequently) I was so involved with my labors that I worked straight through that 5 p.m. mark and the flags would continue to wait for an additional thirty to ninety minutes. Rarely, I forgot to take down the flags all together and had headed off the boat for an evening of fun, but that did happened as well. My bad… On my return, I would occasionally receive a disappointed communique from the captain with the flag draped across my path. It was a priority that I did not embrace as my own, to my detriment.
By this point I had recognized that the captain enjoyed staying in his cabin playing Nintendo most days, obviously determining that it was my position to be the laborer, and his to be the captain. I accepted this a little begrudgingly, having worked on a number of similarly sized yachts, I readily recognized the inequity of this arrangement. On board the other smallish yachts on which I had worked, the captains would pitch in with the daily duties as most recognized that with such a small number of crew aboard these hundred foot yachts, efforts frequently required all hands on deck, including the captain’s, in order to complete the level of work necessary to keep the boat ship shape. So these daily bouts with Nintendo, followed by an occasional reprimand soured me a little. But I kept that to myself.
Also aboard this particular ship was a hierarchy we refer to as a ‘Captain and Admiral’ situation. We had heard of such arrangements, but this was our only experience with such a hierarchy. In an on-board/maritime chain of command, the captain was officially the head of the ship, the leader, the last word. On some ships, the captain will have a wife or a girlfriend aboard. Occasionally this wife or girlfriend can be overbearing and she actually will command the captain and crew. Sometimes quite openly. This charter yacht was one of those boats. Captain M was truly the captain, but Chef B was the Admiral, and she was obviously in charge.
During our interview, while applying for this position, we had informed the captain and the chef, aka Admiral, that we were relatively new to the yachting industry and would request any direction they might be willing to give so as to perform to their desired level. They assured us they loved to train new people and would have no problem communicating appropriately. We soon found out that the Admiral delivered her communications rather aggressively and in a very demeaning manner. While the captain was indirect and passive in his communiques. I began to avoid the Admiral, not an easy thing to do on a small boat. When we did have our tete-a-tete she was frequently condescending, I attempted to defuse this aggressive behavior by acquiescing and expressing my gratitude for her very kind directions. To no avail. She became more and more aggressive and demeaning until she was openly hostile. I just wasn’t going to get along with this gal.
We had been aboard for a few months, and while positioned beneath the overpass with all its dust and grime, I noted faxed resumes coming across the ship’s fax machine applying for the deckhand position…, My position…
I brought this to the captain’s attention and asked him if he was intending to replace me, he flatly denied seeking my replacement assuring me my position was secure, and he said he didn’t know why they kept sending him resumes, it was just a mistake on the crew agencies part he stated.
Carrie and I continued to work very hard. We were good at our jobs, aside from the flag issue, everything was done satisfactorily, as far as we knew. I could not get along with the captain’s girlfriend however, and this was to be the source of our downfall on this boat.
A couple short weeks after I had seen the resume on the fax machine the captain called me onto the bridge and informed me that he was letting us go, citing my inability to remove the flag at precisely 5pm daily as the grounds for this dismissal. I was dismayed. We were to leave the boat immediately. He also informed me that they would not be returning us to the States, but they would be casting us ashore there on Paradise Island. “get your things and get off the boat”. I was surprised at this blunt removal of our position aboard and my mood quickly went from dismay to bitterness. Granted, the conditions aboard were socially uncomfortable, but I did not foresee the end of our employment so abruptly. I reminded the captain that maritime law required he return us to our originating port which was on the Florida coast. He quickly changed his tune and agreed to return us appropriately. I was angry by this point and Carrie was very sad and hurt. We left the boat, headed for the airport, and returned to Florida where we spent a few days staying with my sister. We determined in those few days that our yachting time should come to an end, this last experience being distasteful enough to momentarily sour us on the industry.
We adjusted our plans to return to Montana a few months earlier than we’d originally intended, having earned the amount of money we’d desired and we’d had some terrific experiences, but we felt it was time to head home. As with such things, looking back to this event, some 16 years behind us now, the timing of our departure could not have been any better.
Also looking back at our time on the ocean, we are overjoyed with the experience, the skills we’d adopted and honed, and significantly, we had made some wonderful friends. Good-hearted people who we remain in contact with to this day. Yachting was a wonderful and growing experience for us and we’ve applied those skills effectively and gainfully in our lives over the past 16 years.
But more about that later…