working abroad at christmas

Christmas on a Super Yacht

Christmas on a Super Yacht.

I always found it difficult being away from home for Christmas. You are likely to be in a hot climate (Caribbean or Florida) and having grown up in England, experiencing Christmas in the heat for me is not right, let alone seeing an inflatable snowman bobbing away on a Caribbean beach with temperatures of 35 degrees. It just doesn’t seem to have the same kind of magic… 
Then comes the fact that you are away from home and for me and the crews I worked with, no other time made you feel so far away and miss your loved ones so much. There is something about Christmas, the magic of leaving work on Christmas Eve, driving back to your family, catching up with loved ones, sharing presents and laughter and relaxing around those dear to you (and yes, watching the same episodes of Only Fools and Horses and the Queens speech.)
Christmas and New Year are very popular times for guests and owners to use their yachts, so it is often a very busy time on board – no relaxing in a beach club drinking rum punches with the crystal clear Caribbean water lapping at your feet.

The reality of Christmas on a super yacht is not all bad though. For most crew and certainly those I worked with Christmas was celebrated a week or two earlier. From my personal experience this would consist of an incredible roast dinner, not only roast turkey, but beef and ham, with every trimming you could imagine. This would be eaten outside on the second deck around the main guest table, looking out onto the glorious bright blue sea over the distant hills of St Maarten in the Caribbean. The deck would be filled with chatter, laughter and the sounds of Slade and Band Aid playing through the air. Alcohol would flow, wines and beers all provided by the yacht would lap on top of your ever expanding waist line as you indulged in this glorious feast. An incredible selection of puddings would follow with Christmas pudding and chocolate log among the favourites. 

Following this one of the crew would dress as Santa and give out the presents from the yacht. Often thoughtful gifts such as shorts, swimwear, t-shirts, flip flops and even once a voucher from a local gentleman’s club nearby. A kind gesture which was always gratefully received. Many also provide an additional months salary (those I worked on did) and this was an extra generous gift. 

I also heard stories of crew being given jewellery, watches (Omega and Rolex for those lucky ones) and iPads. These more lavish gifts were often given to crew on private yachts where they became better acquainted with their owners, spending longer times together on board.
After this over indulgence and festive cheer we would go to a local bar for a few rum punches and Caribbean cocktails - drinking and dancing until the early hours. We all knew that this was likely to be our last drinking session for a while as our preparation for the guests arrival would soon start.

The organising for the guests arrival would generally start a couple of weeks beforehand. We always felt we had so much time to get everything done, but it was amazing how quickly the days flew by and we often ended up working longer hours to ensure everything was completed. Duties included washing and drying the entire yacht, cleaning all stainless steel and masts, polishing all the windows and name plates, as well as loading crew and guest supplies for the coming weeks. It was a busy time but everyone pulled together. On falling into bed I would browse Facebook and see the exciting flurries of posts and photos of people back home with loved ones, on country walks, in the pub, wrapped up warm, and together. 

I would always try to call home before guests arrived on Christmas Eve because once there your time was their time, so it did not give you the luxury of personal space. This contact home was one of the things I loved to do, but at the same time it also pulled on the heart strings that bit more. It was always lovely to hear their voices and see them on skype and certainly while speaking you felt that bit closer… but this soon ended upon hanging up. My mother would often try to hide her emotions on the other end but it was always clear and moving to hear the break in her voice as we wished each other a happy Christmas and sent our love before we ended the call. 

The guests would often arrive in a selection of mini bus vans with the principle guests in blacked out Mercedes. As soon as the cars drove along the dock we switched into work mode. Christmas Eve was here but not in the true sense of home. We would welcome guests with a cheerful smile and eagerness to help. 

Christmas day would arrive to an early start, a quick shower and up on deck to start a list of duties before guests surfaced. Behind the scenes in crew areas there was always a slightly subdued atmosphere being Christmas day, an unspoken loneliness away from loved ones, while in front of guests we covered up our emotions with our eager to help cheerful faces. The day would come and go, and to be honest, for us deck crew, it felt much like any normal day of the year on charter, working 12-16 hours. I always enjoyed getting to bed knowing that another Christmas had passed.

Each Christmas I vowed would be my last, but with time you forgot how it felt being away from home and before you knew it another one was fast approaching.  These times did not get any easier, regretfully they seemed to get only harder.

It is a strange time being away but I felt very fortunate to be living in such good conditions and being looked after so well. Many peoples’ jobs force them away for Christmas, working in far worse conditions with less access to speak to loved ones - so in that respect I felt very lucky. We were always well looked after and the yacht’s management did their best to provide us with some form of Christmas celebration. But for me Christmas was and always would be the hardest time and the furthest I ever felt away from home, family and friends. 

However, looking back I appreciate my time away at this period as it has made me appreciate those I love and how very precious time is when with them. So if you do ever spend Christmas away, just know that your next one at home will feel all the richer.  

Next blog... Top 3 lows of my time on a super yacht.

Written by Ben Proctor

For more information read Work on a Super Yacht: The Beginners Guide by Ben Proctor