I have a sudden very early mid life crisis… I’m 28 years old, the grand illusions of becoming a famous actor or pilot have rapidly dwindled and I feel I am in a rut.
I decide to brave another life, another lifestyle and take a step out of the all-too-comfortable and routine lifestyle I have slowly slipped into.
I arrive in a beautiful fortified town in the South of France called Antibes, where the harbour contains billions of pounds worth of yachts. These are no ordinary yachts - they are grand excesses of wealth; luxury hotels on the water, the size of them astounding, and cleanliness second to none. It is these yachts, or more accurately super-yachts, I have come to work on - a far cry from my job back in the UK!
A life of luxury
In this industry chartering (or hiring) one of these yachts can set you back £1,000,000 a week and this is purely to hire the yacht (no berthing, fuel or crew tips included). To purchase one of these super yachts second hand could cost around £199 million for a beautiful 80 meter vessel. Should you wish to purchase a new one, the world's largest super yacht, Eclipse (owned by Roman Abromavich), has been rumoured to cost £300 million. These vessels are the absolute height of luxury. Some have swimming pools, HD cinemas, submarines, helicopter pads, health suites with full-time masseuses. One even has a pool table connected to gyroscopes enabling the table to remain level and playable in even the roughest seas! They are floating luxury hotels with price tags to make a luxurious hotel seem similar to the price of a youth hostel.
I arrive at a crew house, one of several in Antibes, designed to house crew members looking for work. I meet my fellow house guests from all over the world who are all in the same boat (excuse pun) looking for work as crew on the super yachts. In some respects it is like a friendly series of "The Apprentice", with everyone competing for work. Everyone has different reasons for being here and interestingly many plan to make a career of it. This is not surprising since tax-free earning potential on a captain’s wage could be £12,000 per month within 6-7 years (on completion of necessary qualifications), with the ability to travel whilst getting paid. Others here have left previous careers like myself, and come into this later in life with the goal of saving money for that ever-illusive house deposit which proved too difficult in the UK.
I am officially now unemployed and have returned to student living, sharing a room with others and cooking basic dinners. Was this such a good move at 28 years – I wonder if I am getting too old for this life?
Prior to my departure I completed a five-day course, the STCW95, an essential qualification for this industry. I also completed the Royal Yachting Association Power Boat Level 2 (essential to drive the tenders onboard). I also composed my CV, enlarging on previous boating experience through my years growing up in Cornwall.
Getting my first day's work
I soon discover on talking with room-mates the key way of getting work is to “dock walk”. This involves going up to these imposing yachts, asking if they have any work, trying to sell yourself and, if all else fails, trying to leave a CV with them. I am not a sales person, a little shy and afraid of making a fool of myself and fear this is not going to be easy.
The other avenue for work is through the crew agencies. I spent two weeks searching for work, dock walking each morning arriving at 0745 hours, smartly dressed, clean shaven and looking like a new pupil on his first day of school. After two weeks, I receive a call from a yacht that needs a day worker to help prepare it for the Monaco Yacht Show. I arrive at the dockside in Genoa and board the yacht, a 54-metre yacht that rents for 320,000 euros per week. I struggle to comprehend the amount of money a charter would cost; especially as securing a house deposit is proving enough of a struggle for me! I board the yacht and I am led down into the crew quarters. My room is a student-type accommodation with a small single bunk bed and a small port hole looking down to the water; sharing with two others.
These two weeks provided an excellent insight into the industry and a real eye-opener. If I am honest it was a time when I seriously doubted this career move. The work was not difficult but somewhat tedious. Being a normal male, cleaning to an A1 standard does not come naturally, but this had to change as most my daily work consisted of cleaning.
And so the yacht show came and went and I was soon looking for another more permanent job. I returned to Antibes and continued my search.
Landing that all-important permanent job
With the experience gained the past three weeks, I was in a much better position for work. After two weeks of dock walking, I landed day work on a beautiful 64-metre motor yacht, which developed into a three-month trial and progressed into a permanent position. I was absolutely delighted to be working on a fabulous yacht with a lovely crew.
During my career in yachting I was so fortunate to visit some beautiful places including Antigua, St Maarten, British and United States Virgin Isles, St Kitts, St Barts, France, Italy, Canary Islands, Corsica, Malta, to name a few. I saw some incredible sights from beautiful sunsets to dolphins riding the bow wave of the yacht, to the brightest stars I have ever seen in the middle of the Atlantic. It really was a side to life few others will ever experience and I feel incredibly fortunate to have done this.
Would I recommend yachting to others?
I certainly would, though people need to be aware of the realities. You are there to work hard and free time can be minimal. The majority of work will be cleaning to an A1 standard. You will also be living with others in confined areas where there can be few secrets between you. However you have the potential to earn good money. There are no living costs except spending money and all meals and washing are provided. If you work on a charter yacht you can easily double, treble and occasionally even quadruple your weekly salary with tips. Not a bad life and a great way to save money and see the world.
Was it me for the long term?
The answer is no; even though the money was certainly an attraction I realised the important things for me could not be provided on a yacht, namely friends and family. Whilst many people are able to juggle the two I am too much of a home person, loving the UK and home life and for that reason it could never be a long-term option. I now just have to work out what I will be doing with my life, and am back to reality. Bizarrely I am looking forward to my first English winter in three years!
This post was written by Ben Proctor who has published "Work on a Super Yacht: The Beginners Guide" based on his experiences. It is available in all eReader formats - click here for the Amazon Kindle edition which is just £2.98.