Interlude: We like big boats

…and we cannot lie. For this travel interlude, we thought we might revisit our seagoing years. N and I worked on a wide variety of different boats all over the world for nearly a decade, he as dive instructor and deckhand and me as chef. More often than not, people think we worked on cruise ships. This is understandable, because people know what a cruise ship is, and many of the boats we worked on have – quite frankly – no relevance to the real world whatsoever. Welcome to our former life!

T Lady

Far and away the best yacht we ever worked on…may we present the legendary and much-missed M/Y Triumphant Lady.

Boats’ status and other relevant information is generally conveyed by the name’s prefix. Triumphant Lady is a motor yacht, so she bears M/Y before her name. Sailing yachts are labeled S/Y (though they almost always still have engines), research vessels R/V, motor vessels (such as dive boats) M/V, and fishing vessels F/V. This allows you to tell at a glance a boat’s primary purpose, though the prefix is typically only used in formal settings and not when referring to the boat casually in conversation. Our crew uniforms, for example, almost never carried the prefix – just the boat’s name and image.


There is no place in the world quite like Monaco’s harbor.

N and I worked on boats both together and separately. We started aboard scuba diving liveaboards and sailboats in Australia and the Caribbean, then progressed to the “white boats,” as private yachts (in a blend of derision and envy) are known. The snide label exists because there are so many crew constantly cleaning the boat, polishing its hull to a perfect gleaming white; the rough-and-tumble dive boats we worked on were a bit untidy, to say the least. Seawater and diesel exhaust leave a boat’s hull rather grimy, but a proud motor yacht would never arrive in port looking shabby. Depending on sea conditions, the deckhands would start scrubbing the hull with long-handled brushes on the way into port.

Charisma and Blind Date

M/Y Charisma (right) at the dock in Viareggio, Italy.

Our last yachting season was spent in the Mediterranean on Charisma. Our first charter guests, a young hedge fund manager and his wife, chartered both Charisma and Blind Date (above) simultaneously for their family group because each yacht could only accommodate twelve guests. At the time, each chartered for about $350,000 per week. The two yachts traveled in tandem for the week of the charter.

During our final season aboard Charisma we crossed from Florida to Europe (stopping at Bermuda, the Azores, Gibraltar and Palma en route) in April and returned to Florida in September. Traditionally, boats spend the winter in the Caribbean and the summer in the Med – the route ideally hopes to avoid hurricanes – but obviously yachts can go pretty much anywhere they want. Even the boat’s draw (or draft), which indicates how much of the boat is under the hull line and determines where it can enter, doesn’t matter much because fast tenders can ferry guests, crew and supplies to and from shore as needed.

Staniel Cay

Staniel Cay, Bahamas. Oddly, this island is famous for its swimming pigs.

Between the dive boats and the private yachts we’ve worked on, we’ve spent a lot of time in the Bahamas and the Caribbean (despite popular belief, the Bahamas aren’t technically part of the Caribbean because they’re not located in the Caribbean Sea). Definitely some of the best diving in the world, but as a chef it is exceptionally tricky (and shockingly expensive) to find fresh produce and other provisions. Some day, ask me about the time I spent well over $1,000 of the boat’s money on just a few basic groceries in St. Lucia.

Charlotte Amalie.jpg

Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, USVI, taken from the bow of Sea Fox.

Notice that there is a cruise ship in the background, but we worked on private yachts similar to those in the foreground. It was always common to have cruise ship passengers strolling the docks, asking the deckhands which celebrity owned the yacht. Interestingly, most private yachts are owned by people you’ve probably never heard of, rather than the super-famous.


Rybovich Shipyard, West Palm Beach, Florida.

Charisma, at 150 feet, is second from the right in the photo above. As you can see from the yacht to the far right, that’s still little! Seawater really isn’t kind to machinery, so boats spend a lot of time in the shipyard for various reasons. Most yachts are in the yard for at least a few days at the end of every season; this may be to refresh the boat before upcoming charters, or it may be for something major, like a hull extension or a total refit, which often happens when a boat changed hands.

T Lady varnish

A rare photo of N (foreground) applying one of fifteen eventual coats of varnish on Triumphant Lady‘s caprail.

Stereotypical gender roles are mostly alive and well on the private yachts; with few exceptions, men work outside as deckhands, mates and captains, whereas women are traditionally responsible for the interior as stewardesses. Chefs tend to be both male and female, and most often there is only one. Unless there is a second chef, which is unusual on yachts under 180 feet, chefs cook three meals a day for both guests and crew, plus snacks and specialty requests as needed. The chef is also responsible for ordering and stocking all edible provisions as well as doing dishes and cleaning the galley.


Triumphant Lady‘s tender on the beach, Bahamas.

Having a private yacht means you can go places other people can’t. On charter, the chef will pack a picnic lunch for the guests and the deckhands will organize water toys, JetSkis, snorkeling gear and any other equipment the guests might want to use. Depending on water depth, the yachts could anchor just off stunning deserted beaches.


The harbor of Portofino, Italy.

Some owners and guests want to see and be seen, and the Med is known for many glamorous ports. Portofino is certainly one; others include Monaco, St. Tropez, Capri, Cannes, Beaulieu-sur-Mer, Cap Ferrat, Antibes and many more. Celebrities and other high-profile guests who actually don’t want to be seen will avoid these places like the proverbial plague – or stay on anchor full-time.


Charisma on anchor at sunset near Sardinia, Italy.

As a rule, crew would rather be at the dock than at anchor – it is so much easier to get guests and supplies on and off the boat by walking down the gangplank rather than using the tender(s). Depending on location, though, a space at the dock might not be available, or the marina might be too small for the boat. In high season in the popular places, like St. Tropez and Monaco and definitely Cannes during the film festival, captains are known to carry envelopes full of cash to bribe dockmasters for premium placement.

T Lady Polish

Another rare shot of N polishing Triumphant Lady‘s extensive stainless.

There is always – always – something to clean aboard a yacht. Notice his crew shirt bears a line drawing of the yacht on the back; this is traditional of the vast majority of yacht crew uniforms. T-shirts are just for work days; when owners or guests are on board, crew wear polo shirts and pressed khakis during the day and “blacks” (epaulettes and black trousers) at night, depending on the boat’s level of formality. The chef, of course, is always in a chef jacket.

T Lady bow waves

Working on a boat isn’t always smooth sailing. This bow shot was taken on Triumphant Lady during an especially rough crossing from Fort Lauderdale to Tortola, BVI.

If we needed to move the boat over long distances, owners would most often fly in to meet us. Crossings can be really rough and are challenging for crew and hard on the boat. Since the boat is always underway during a long crossing, crew rotate on two-man four-hour watches. The chef is typically exempt from watch duty because they still need to cook for the crew. It’s imperative that the chef doesn’t get seasick, though on rough crossings the rest of the crew might well be.

Red Dragon

S/Y Red Dragon, St. Tropez, France.

The majority of the most impressive private yachts are motor yachts, but there are a few gorgeous luxury sailing yachts too. People who haven’t sailed before often don’t realize that when under sail the entire boat might be on a severe heel, meaning that it’s leaning pretty far over to one side and nothing can be set on a flat surface. This can often be uncomfortable for guests unless they’re accustomed to it, and the boat (including the artwork, the furniture, and the wine storage) have to be specially designed for it.

T Lady Cabin 01

Our beloved cabin aboard Triumphant Lady. 

One reason N and I could love a month in a tiny campervan? Because we spent years living together in cabins like this. Keeping things shipshape really does have relevance when two people live in a tiny space. Also, captains are well within their rights to inspect quarters at any time, so the cabin had better be neat and tidy.

Golden Boy II

Golden Boy II in moody weather, Essex, Connecticut.

We spent one season traveling the East Coast of the U.S., from West Palm Beach to New Hampshire. The seas can be tricky here and this itinerary is typically only done in summer, but ports like Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard are worth the effort. The superyachts are too big to enter these smaller, older harbors and have to anchor offshore and tender in.

Tobago Cays

Aboard Sea Fox, Tobago Cays.

Both the Bahamas and the Caribbean are full of tiny islands to explore, but the big motor yachts always have to watch out for the small sailboats, especially in the avid sailing areas like the British Virgin Islands.

St Thomas

St. Thomas, USVI. The relative size difference between cruise ships (left) and private yachts (right) is a little easier to understand from this photo.

Working on boats was an amazing, incredible life, and we’re thankful to have had the experiences we did. But we wouldn’t go back to it again, and we’re looking forward to finding Quiet Farm more than ever.

13 thoughts on “Interlude: We like big boats

  1. I loved this post and title :). I actually learned quite a bit that I guess I have not heard from your stories before and liked seeing many of these photos I have not seen either.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I spent two days aboard the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk. Was able to spent time with my brother while stationed in Gulf of Tonkin off the coast of Vietnam. Landing and taking off a flight deck of an aircraft, once is enough!! Life aboard ship is not for me.


  3. I have enjoyed your blogs, in awe of your travels. This story with your boat experience was very informative, I had no idea. My biggest question is, when on earth did you get a break to enjoy any of the scenery, let alone sleep on these yacht trips?

    Safe travels!


    • Thanks for your kind words! Truthfully, I didn’t sleep much on the boats and I didn’t see much scenery either. The experience really was incredible but in the long run the stress just isn’t worth it. Thank you for reading!


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