When I landed my first job as a chef on a superyacht, I was prepared for the extreme wealth. I expected the wild opulence, and I was ready for the fat wads of tips that I stuffed beneath my bunk. But nothing, nothing, could prepare me for the catalogue of extraordinary requests my crew mates and I would field on a daily basis.
I worked for a woman who was obsessed with strawberries, but would only eat them after every single seed had been removed with tweezers. Every single minuscule seed. Another yacht owner instructed me to fly in Boston lobsters at the cost of several thousand euros, despite the fact we were in the middle of the Mediterranean and the ports were literally brimming with local fishermen selling their freshly caught seafood.
Some things seemed bizarre at first, but soon became part of the daily routine: I watched stewardesses iron newspapers each morning, and every evening I would be presented with a bowl of fruit to polish before bed. It was essential that each individual grape or blueberry be dipped in mineral water, then buffed with silk until it shone.
For some crew members, the owners’ requests became a nightmare. “I worked for an older gent who wanted a freshly boiled, 12-minute egg every morning for breakfast, but he wanted it within five minutes of sitting down,” says Gemma, a 29-year-old stewardess. “He was hugely stroppy and would yell, ‘I want my egg when I want it!’ But because he’d have breakfast anytime between 7-11 am, the chef had to constantly have eggs boiling at various stages—there were dozens left over every day.”
Stuart, a 33-year-old chef, is haunted by a season spent in search of the reddest of watermelons. “The oligarch we had on board wanted watermelon several times a day, but would reject any slice that wasn’t bright, bright red,” he says. “But there’s no way of telling how red watermelon is until you cut it open, so I had to hoard them in every available space—I even ended up sleeping with them in my bunk. I’ll never forget that sinking feeling of cutting into melon after melon, and knowing that none of them would meet his standards.”
The intense requests can come at any time of day or night. Stewardess Laura, 25, spent a summer working on a yacht belonging to a Middle Eastern prince and has never seen excess like it. “Every night, he would go off to the casino until 4 am, and then come back for a full silver service dinner, with seemingly endless courses.” That same owner insisted on travelling with a tiny suitcase, so his PA would have to replicate his full wardrobe for each and every one of his properties and boats, buying the same shirt up to ten times to be shipped off around the world.
Frivolous requests involving mineral water are a common theme aboard superyachts. I knew a deckhand who was asked to drive a van full of Fiji mineral water across Europe because it was unavailable in Italy. For Emily, a 28-year-old stewardess, the water-based requests were even more extravagant. “On the first boat I worked on, the owner would insist that all her fruit, veg and clothing were washed only with mineral water,” she says. “Literally, every item of clothing had to be soaked in expensive water from a plastic bottle. I only lasted a season on that boat.”
Stuart can top that: “One very wealthy owner would swim several times a day,” he recalls. “She would demand that a crew member wait on the aft-deck with three different temperatures of Evian for her to rinse off with: the first at 3°c, the next at 6°c and the third at 10°c. If they weren’t exactly the right temperature, she’d fly into a screaming rage.”
One of the main things that struck me about yacht owners, though, was how unhappy so many of them were. We could be anchored in the most beautiful bay imaginable, on the sort of stunning yacht that draws crowds of passersby in port, but if a bigger boat rocked up nearby then envy would kick in and we’d have to move.
Sometimes, the requests tipped over from ridiculously specific to downright ludicrous. Tara, a 35-year-old chief stewardess, will never forget the day an owner’s granddaughter dropped her favourite crayon overboard. “She was throwing a wild tantrum, but as we were in the middle of the ocean I assumed there was nothing we could do,” Tara says. But the owner insisted the crew do an emergency turn—the sort reserved for man-overboard situations—and a diver was sent to find the precious crayon (they didn’t). “The crayon was worth about a cent,” she adds.
Tara also worked on a boat with a small “X” painted on the floor of the saloon, the main living space on a yacht. “The owner wanted a stewardess standing on the X at all times, in her line of sight and ready to wait on her. She would give a vague sign that the stew was needed, and if that signal was missed there was a huge fuss.”
After a couple of seasons on a yacht, polishing blueberries and ironing newspapers might become the norm. But there comes a time in every yachtie’s career when they find themselves doing something so ridiculous that they are forced to take stock. For Tom, a 22-year-old deckhand, that moment came when he was faced with a stack of soggy money.
“I realised how truly absurd my life had become when I found myself blow-drying a wad of €500 notes,’ he says, “A guest had jumped overboard with at least ten grand in his pocket, and [it was my job] to dry them off.”