Imagine waking up on a bunk bed every day for 4 months straight, with a teeny circular window (porthole) next to your head, a curtain sealing you into your bunk, and a sleeping cabin mate 1.2 meters underneath you. As a recovering people pleaser, I have learned the art of how to slide out of my bed, without making a sound, navigate my way to the bathroom (head), slide myself through the door, while keeping my hand outside the door, turning the light on in the last second, holding the handle down in order to not make a sound and only taking my first breath once the door is sealed, the light is on and I come face to face with myself in the mirror. Oh, it’s you again, hi.
My clothes prepared and perfectly ironed by the wonderful laundry stew, with my radio on charge, the wire of my headset wrapped neatly next to my clothing, my shoes propped up in my portion of the bathroom cupboard, and my belt wrapped into one of my shoes. Day 6, Charter 4 of the season – shower, brush your teeth, slap on a smile, and get outside. 12 mins to go time. Go.
With 1 minute to spare, I slide out of the entrance to my cabin, check my chief stew work phone, catch up with the 25 group chats about all the urgent matters for the day, move swiftly through the crew mess, and as I step on the first stair, I notice the milk has been left out, there is a half-empty glass of orange juice on the crew table, the nut jar is sitting next to the coffee machine. Grr. Deep breath, today, I will not let little things bother me. I pack everything into its rightful place, fight off the urge to write a sweet, sarcastic reminder to “someone” on the crew group chat and shimmy my way back up the stairs. Smile.
The smell of croissants wafting out of the kitchen (galley) meets me as I walk up the top of the crew stairs, quickly opening the dry store cupboards and filling my arms with a few provisions for the day – I remember we needed some more stevia, the nuts were running low and I think Madam was asking for agave in her iced coffee yesterday. Was it Madam, or was it her daughter….mmmm….I’ll have to check the preference sheet…
“Hello, cheffie….” I sing into the galley door as some Italian opera music is drowning out the sound of bacon crackling on the stove. “Hello darling…” he grins at me. “Can we talk about today’s lunch menu? I am thinking…..” My mind is focused on the coffee machine upstairs, getting my first calm coffee in before the guests wake up and I don’t have another moment until lunchtime. “Chef, let me put this all down, I will come back once I have checked the table….want a cafe?” I give him a wink and race out of the galley before he can argue. He is amazing but talks a lot and when your day is carved out from minute to minute, there are no “chatting” moments to spare.
I get into my pantry and take a breath. I love my pantry. I always love the pantries on my boats. There are kind notes of encouragement to the stews, pictures of us on our last night out, and my favorite Kintsugi coffee cup to remind me of where I have come from. The pantry is a little bit of escape from the rest of the crew and the guests. A place for us stews to have a laugh (sometimes a cry) in a false sense of privacy. I put everything down on the counter, start making my coffee and reach for the handover book.
Every evening, the late stew, who has to stay up until the guests go to bed leaves a handover note of anything important that happened the night before (Ha! I knew the daughter was going to land up in the jacuzzi tipsy! But, until 4am! Oh my poor late stew, another late night of serving mojitos until all hours! The daughter’s new boyfriend is certainly keeping our girl entertained….ha ha…). She lets me know how much alcohol was consumed, any plans I need to know for the day, the time the guests went to bed, and then the time she managed to go to sleep, 5am! Poor girl. Sipping on my cup of coffee, I adjust the schedule for the day, plan the day’s breaks and think about the guest’s itinerary.
Rose, the early stew, walks into the pantry, our youngest member of the team, needing a little more guidance than she is willing to accept. Any points I try to hand her are met with the wonderful eye-rolling of a fresh-faced 24-year-old, who is not keen on being told what to do. What she doesn’t know, is after 5 years of this, I am immune to it. She places the breakfast checklist on the counter, greets me with a smile, and starts to tell me a story. She is sweet, I encourage the storytelling as I guide her to keep talking while we go and check on the breakfast table on the aft deck.
Picking up the Ipad on my way out, turning on some french cafe jazz for breakfast, making sure the principal guest has the news channel playing on all TVs. And as we get to the breakfast table, my eyes dart around the aft deck, checking that Rose has not forgotten to put all the water trays out, again. She continues to chatter as the checklists tick over in my head. I keep answering briefly, as I check over her table, she has done a bright and fresh floral table with matching napkin rings and napkins. The table looks gentle and calming, really beautiful actually. My eyes run over the bar, checking the swizzle sticks are out for the juice, the ice bucket and tongs are in place and the principal’s newspaper is placed next to his setting.
“Rose, can you re-check your table and let me know if you can see anything wrong?” I feel her skin get prickly, and I see her eyebrows raise. She eyes me and then the table. She walks around each setting, running her eyes around each place setting. The family-style service, means we leave a big space in the centre of the table for the guests to help themselves to the chef’s daily specials and daily buffet, from caviar, yogurt, fresh muffins, fresh bread, salmon, local cheeses and meat, fresh cut fruit and hand selected berries. I see she can’t find the fault, “all the water glasses are on the wrong side.” Remember glasses on the right, bread plates on the left. As she goes to start to change them, I look at her, take the gloves out of my pocket, “don’t forget these, please always remember to wear gloves”.
There are so many rules, so many little things that have to be remembered every day. I remember being frustrated when I was a junior at how many things I could get wrong in a day. Of things that seemed so unimportant – A glass on the wrong side, a plate that wasn’t four fingers away from the edge of the table, place settings that weren’t exactly opposite the other side. I felt like I was always getting picked on. But, as I have come to love the details, I realise that it’s the small details that make the whole picture perfect. It’s the symmetry that allows guests like ours the calm setting to their picture-perfect holiday. It’s getting to know what they like before they do. It’s pre-empting a request, remembering the finer details so they don’t have to ask.
I have come to love the beauty of the show we put on. But, I know how frustrating it can be for a new stew. How pointless it all seems, and now, as Rose goes around the table with a scowl on her face, I gently remind myself I was the same. I leave her to fight with me in her head, as I continue the rest of the boat checks, making my way up to the gym on the sun deck. And as I step up, the sun is rising over the beautiful island that we are anchored next to. There is a sailboat not far from us, I see the couple on the boat slowly starting to make their way onto their paddle boards and I fantasize, for the 1000th time about what my life would be like waking up like that with my partner. I take my phone out and take a quick snap of the beautiful setting, taking a moment of gratitude before walking into the air-conditioned gym.
Again, checking that all the guest’s preferences have been met, Madam’s room temperature coconut water is waiting next to her yoga mat, Sir’s news channel is on and his sweat towel is hanging over the treadmill arm, with the IPAD resting next to it. His headphones have been placed in reach. Well done, Rose, I think, as I see the towels, suncream, and water perfectly positioned on the decks.
Jack, the junior deckie, is busy wiping the dew off the glass windows lining the sun deck. I wave at him and say hello, continuing my journey around the boat. Eventually making my way into the bridge, greeting the captain and the first officer, checking in with the plan for the day. Opening up my emails, briefly, as I print out the menus, the itinerary, a brief bit of information about where we are, and the weather. I place them neatly in their frames, take a moment to look at my personal phone – My girlfriends are all hiking up Lion’s head for sunrise and have sent a cute pic of them all on our chat group. My heart aches a little, as I send a quick emoji back to them, I miss them. Always.
And then, making my way back to the pantry, down to the galley, to pick up the baked goods for the day and chat with the chef about his grand plans for dinner.
“All crew, Madam, is on the aft deck.” Midway through my sentence to the chef, I push my earpiece into my ear, “Copy, coming, thanks, Jack.” I say and rush out to go and meet Madam, hoping she is happier today than yesterday. “Good Morning, Madam,” I say. “The air conditioning in my cabin is not working properly, it was so hot in my cabin overnight. Why have we anchored here? IS there no space closer to the bay so we can swim?” I take a deep breath in. “I will send an engineer to your cabin, right away, Madam. And would you like me to ask the Captain to move around to the bay?” “Well, no”. She says, looking straight through me, “Obviously I don’t want to wake everyone up right now, but please tell the captain to think about these things, we always want the best place to swim in the morning, I will go for my yoga now and then make sure the sauna is ready, I will sauna and swim after yoga.”
She turns her head and walks up the stairs, setting the tone for Day 6.