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MY Downtown Abbey

This article comes from a crew member on a 90-metre yacht who is clearly having a bad day. While we do not share his sentiments, nor do we do not share them, we are calling this post the Daily Whinge.

In the British series Downton Abbey, everybody knows their place, be it upstairs with the toffs or below stairs with workers whose sole purpose in life is to make life comfortable for those above. Not too dissimilar from nurses in a hospital who strive heroically to alleviate the suffering of the patients – except in the TV series those above stairs are having the time of the lives, lording it over those who serve their every whim. Like some kind of Brahmanic caste system where everybody knew their place. Society, back then, depended upon the social order to remain stable.

Dinner is served, my Lord

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On a superyacht, it is not too dissimilar. Take very word ‘super’ – meaning supreme, of a higher social station. We the workers live below deck in cramped conditions and our sole purpose is to make the owner or the charter party happy and totally satisfied.

They sit down, we stand up. They make a mess, we clear up. Reality becomes sullied, we polish the mirrors. This is part of the contract, not the one we signed when we joined, but the unspoken social contract that is inherent on every superyacht I have worked on: we are going back in time to an era when social equality was irrelevant and then handmaidens, butlers, stable boys and cooks knew their place.


But times have changed, and crew are no longer tied into a social order that defines who they are and what they do. And though a bad reference from a captain can effectively kill a career, there is nothing to stop an enterprising individual from mastering the art of Credit Default Options or whatever financial instrument has been devised by the quants in New York and London, and then becoming so rich that a superyacht of their own becomes affordable (dream on!).

The myth of servitude

There is a myth sold to both owners and crew: the superyacht life is one extended succession of fun events. Whatever the owners want, they gets. There is one video on YouTube of a captain saying that if an owner wants a firework display at a moment notice, ‘we make it happen.’ Yeah, right. What about the weather? The jostling for berths, the provisions that got held up in Paris, the slow internet speed? And for the crew it is all about cleaning nonstop, shifts of fourteen hours, keeping the forces of chaos, disorder and atrophy at bay, lest the owner be in the slightest inconvenienced. Sure, we get to see some beautiful places where the sun shines a lot, and the money is not bad, but really, we have to accept that on a superyacht we have become part of the servile class and we have to know our place.

Some of my best friends are black

There is also the word that is never mentioned in the industry: racism. Superyacht crews are predominantly white. Not that there is overt discrimination, non-whites just don’t seem to get the job. Perhaps captains and crew agencies fear that a black face may make the owner uncomfortable, like a skull and cross bones tattoo down your leg. And there is the unspoken history people of African descent making the sea crossing to the Caribbean below deck in cramped conditions.  Who wants to talk about the Indian Wars and genocide when you are paying $600 k for  a week’s fun vacation? But it’s there, the thing we don’t talk about. If you don’t believe me, check out the Monaco Boat Show. The few black faces you will see are either emptying the rubbish or belong to the trophy girlfriends.

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If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.

Working on a superyacht has some brilliant perks. Sun, sea and the rest. So, the days can be long and arduous in the season. Big deal. If you don’t like it, get a job as an insurance broker, with an hour’s drive from your overpriced house in the suburbs to your joyless office where you are still a drone in a corporate structure. Or learn about CDOs and Cryptocurrencies and become as rich as George Soros. It seems that wherever you go nowadays, we live in a closed society with its unspoken rules and social structure which is not to be challenged.  There: I have had my whinge, my daily good moaning. Time to get cleaning. The sun is up, and we are off to Perivolos in Santorini today. It’s going to be another good day in Paradise.

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