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Confessions of a superyacht worker

By Bonnie Muddle, Special to CNN
updated 7:40 AM EST, Thu March 8, 2012
Bonnie Muddle has been working on superyachts for the past six years. Bonnie Muddle has been working on superyachts for the past six years.
The life of a superyacht worker
The life of a superyacht worker
The life of a superyacht worker
The life of a superyacht worker
  • Bonnie Muddle has been working on superyachts for six years
  • Her work has taken her to some of the world's most famous ports
  • She says the yachting industry is full of extreme highs and extremes lows

Editor's note: Bonnie Muddle has worked on superyachts for the past six years. She runs a website giving tips on how to find work on a superyacht. Below she writes for CNN about what life aboard superyachts is really like.

Bangkok, Thailand (CNN) -- The phone call came from my uncle -- a captain on a superyacht -- offering me a seasonal job as a stewardess. Having absolutely no experience and no idea what the job would entail, where it would take me and how I would fare in rough conditions, I jumped at the chance.

Within the week I had arranged my B1/B2 visa at the American Consulate, booked in the obligatory safety course ( S.T.C.W 95), had a medical, packed up the accumulation of goods a girl at 22 owns and flew across to the USA.

I arrived just in time for the Miami Boat Show armed with a reckless dash of confidence, a hefty dose of enthusiasm and sea sick pills.

Despite discovering that it is indeed true, one can turn a certain shade of green; what started as one season has now turned into six years of life working as a stewardess, and now chief stewardess, on superyachts.

The industry is a curious one. Unless you have actually worked on a white boat it is near impossible to understand the life of a crew member. From an outsiders perspective cruising in a luxury floating hotel to glamorous and exotic locations on an all-expenses paid trip does indeed sound luxurious, amazing, and enviable.

See also: Shipwreck hunters' mysterious finds

One celebrity required full body make up every day before she left her cabin
Bonnie Muddle

I am the first to admit it can be. As someone who has taken the plunge below deck, I can tell you, yachting is an industry of extreme highs and extremes lows.

Yes you are indeed gracing the ports of Monte Carlo, Ibiza, Sardinia, Nice and St Barts but, in reality, the key sights are usually seen through a small round window not dissimilar from the sort you see on Playschool. Porthole tourism I like to call it.

In season, rarely do you have the energy to tear yourself away from scrubbing the porcelain throne to take in the salty foreign air. An irregular heart beat from the Red Bull running through your veins, is a necessary hazard after 36 hours of "yes siring" to a plethora of demanding billionaires all whilst maintaining that smile on your dial.

Check out Bonnie's website for more inside info

There really is no typical day onboard a superyacht. Workload and the sort of work changes depending on the season, whether you have guests on board and any maintenance issues. A superyacht requires never ending upkeep. The yacht needs to be kept in immaculate condition and the crew need always need to be prepared for any situation.

Salaries on board a yacht are dependent on position, qualifications, yacht size, where the yacht is located and if is private or charter. In general, a slightly higher salary is offered if the yacht is private with the hope if you work on a charter that you will make up your salary with tips.

A person in my position with experience can hope to make from $3500-$6000 a month, not including tips, while inexperienced crew can hope to earn around $2000-3000 a month. On a busy and successful charter yacht you can hope to make tips of around 5 to 15% of the cost of the charter per week divided amongst the crew. In recent years tips are not as extravagant as they once were but you can hope to make approximately $1000 USD a week in tips. With a busy charter yacht completing approximately 10 weeks of charter a season.

Possibly the most extraordinary situation I experienced and -- we were totally unprepared for it -- came when the captain of the yacht I was working on fell sick and went into a coma. We were docked on an isolated island in the Bahamas and had no means of transport to get the captain and his distraught wife (who was also the chef on board) to the closest hospital.

Luckily for us, a couple had just tied the knot on the beach near our boat and we had to hitch a ride with the newlyweds to a place where the captain and his wife could be airlifted out.

See also: How to design a yacht fit for a Queen

We had a group of Ukrainian guests who brought with them suitcases full of pig lard to accompany their whiskey.

In addition to this we had a charter load of guests flying in who were intending on joining us to cruise the Bahamas islands. We didn't have time to contact them to let them know we were now down a captain and a chef, had no time for provisions, no access to money, no way to steer the boat and not enough crew.

We did, however, have champagne, a freezer full of lobster and some culinary skills between us. Somehow we managed to pull it off with some cruises around in our tender and made an attempt at gourmet meals. Thankfully the captain survived and was back at work after a couple of months.

Working on a superyacht is very hard work; you have to be at the beck and call of guests who have some quite particular requests that are almost impossible to fulfill.

One particularly challenging one was from a lady having a bad hair day who wanted a seaplane to take her from Alaska to a hair stylist in Canada! I've also had guests who pre-ordered 100 bottles of vodka for their week-long trip but polished it all off just days into their charter, they wanted me to somehow organize another 100 bottles of their luxury brand spirit from the middle of the ocean.

There are the simple things too like making sure you have the language of choice newspapers and particular imported coffee and the preferred wine on hand at all times, from wherever you may be in the world.

We had a particular diva celebrity who required full body make up every day before she left her cabin and a group of Ukrainian guests who brought with them suitcases full of pig lard to accompany their whiskey.

Whatever the guests require it is our job to make sure they get it. Although we do everything in our power to provide them with a six star service, Mother Nature is not always so obliging. Encountering bad weather and rough seas is inevitable and makes trying to keep guests happy (and from vomiting) quite a challenge.

See also: Is Middle East the new sailing hub?

Rarely do you have the energy to tear yourself away from scrubbing the porcelain throne to take in the salty foreign air
Bonnie Muddle

That aside, after serving, ironing, cooking, chamoising and putting up with bulimic supermodels, there is a real sense of triumph when you complete a two-week or two-month stint with guests on board a 24/7 running (and you are literally running) superyacht. It is times like these when you might just get a day or a night to explore the splendid ports of call all with a nice big gratuity in your pocket.

These kind of opportunities are extraordinary and for that moment any trials you may encounter with the world's wealthiest whilst facing unruly seas, unpredictable weather and even more unpredictable and unruly guests, diminishes.

For all the challenges yachting presents, I actually enjoy the rush, the work and the lifestyle (just don't ask me that after cleaning up after a boat full of sea sick guests!).

I am grateful for the education I have received whilst contributing to running these superyachts and the opportunity to travel the world whilst saving my pennies.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Bonnie Muddle.

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