Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Super Yachts - Dock Walking, Day Working and Job Offer

Apart from a broken toe, my time in Antibes couldn’t have gone any better. It took me three days of dock walking to find ongoing day work and within 2 weeks I was offered a month trail for a permanent position.

Dock walking never really bothered me but most people you talk to hate it. As the name suggests you walk around a dock asking each boat if they have permanent positions or need day workers? I went in with the mentality that 90% of boats wouldn’t have any work and expected to get rejected. I considered a lead, advice or ‘we might need a day worker in a few days’ a positive and left a bit more pumped.

To start with I didn’t have a clue and would approach every boat that looked a decent size. Towards the end, I had figured out the size of boat that I wanted to work on and only approached boats around that size. The best bit of advice I got was from someone staying in my crew house that said when you approach a boat you need to sell yourself as chances are they will scan your CV and only remember what you tell them. I trialed this advice and my approaches improved 100%. In day one, I approached each boat thinking I don’t want to take up much of their time, by day three I was having decent conversations with the crew even if there was no work going. I approached one boat where two guys were chatting at the end of the passerelle and asked to speak with the mate. As they saw me approaching one guy started walking up the passerelle onto the boat. I started my pitch to the deckhand that was still on the dock and when I mentioned my time on Lord Nelson the guy that had walked back onto the boat stopped to listen to what I was saying. By the end of my pitch he was standing back on the dock asking me questions. He was the first mate, who on the bigger boats is in charge of hiring all deck crew. As it turned out I never heard anything from that boat but the experience will always stick with me and prove to me that you have to sell yourself.

Suakin in Beaulieu Sur Mer shipyard.
My day working gig was secured on day three. I started early morning dock walking in Antibes, and decided to hit every super yacht in Port Vauban. I approached one boat and was having a decent chat with the deckhand even though I knew there was no chance of work. At the end of the conversation I shook his hand and approached another boat. I turned around and the deckhand was running towards me to saying that his captain was on the phone to another captain that may need a day worker. He told me the boat is in Beaulieu Sur Mer shipyard, which was about four stops from Monaco on the train, given the captain, Pete’s mobile number and told to give him a call. I instead of calling him I decided to catch the train to Beaulieu Sur Mer, find the shipyard and chat to the captain in person. Fortunately I found the shipyard easily and somehow managed to get in. Looking back it was a stroke of luck getting in as the gate is always locked and you need to know the pin code to get in. I met with the Pete who told me he may need some help next week and would give me a call to let me know when.

Dock walking in Beaulieu Sur Mer
I spent the rest of the afternoon dock walking in Beaulieu Sur Mer and Monaco. I didn’t have much luck in Beaulieu Sur Mer as the boats were smaller, and mainly French owned, so were staying in France for the winter and finishing up for the season. My dock walking in Monaco however was very fruitful. The dock was packed with lots of sexy looking super yachts all getting ready for the Monaco Boat show. All of my approaches went really well, and I had good conversations with the crew. I was really impressed with Monaco, the place gave the impression of wealth and looked exclusive. I turned into a geeky tourist and took pictures of the boats and F1 track. I even stopped to take a photograph of the start finish line, which is ridiculous when you think I now have a picture of a busy road, with a start finish line painted on. By the end of the day I felt knackered as I’d covered a serious amount of dock miles. I was waiting for the train at Monte Carlo when I got a phone call from Pete, saying that he’d changed his mind and he needed me tomorrow morning at 8. It’s hard to put the feeling into words but a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders and I was over the moon. As I’d arrived in Beaulieu Sur Mer I had a call from a captain in Antibes that needed a day worker that afternoon. I was pretty bummed to have to turn down the work but this news had more than made up for it.

I really enjoyed my first day on Suakin and loved the fact the work was active, outside and in the sun. I spent the day painting shackles on an anchor chain so they knew how much chain was still in the water when it was coming back in. Around 3pm Pete asked me if I could work tomorrow and before going home the first mate told me I would be needed next week too. I was very happy as a week’s work would pay for two weeks food and accommodation, meaning I can stay in Antibes, debt free while looking for a permanent position.

In the end I worked nine awesome days on Suakin and took part in numerous jobs, included painting the anchor chain, ballast and fresh water tanks, polishing, treating metal, hosing down, and helping to leave and enter berths. Working in the tanks was an experience that I’m not sure if I enjoyed or not. It’s bloody hot in there and there isn’t much room to move around but I enjoyed the challenge. All I can say is it’s a good job I’m flexible.

I had only worked there four days when an anchor fell on my foot, breaking my little toe. The anchor chain was nearly up but had a twist in it so I shouted up to get them to stop pulling the chain in. I walked round the front of the anchor to untwist the chain when it fell over landing on my foot. I’m not sure why it fell but the anchor had been standing all day so I think my message didn’t get through to stop the chain and the movement knocked it over. When you need to, you can move fast. My reflexes moved my foot from under the anchor before I felt pain but unfortunately my reflexes weren’t fast enough. At first I pulled the macho card, and told myself it had only grazed me and tried to walk it off. I carried on working and got the anchor fully up before looking at my foot. It had ballooned like it belonged to professor clump and was blue. Pete and his fiancĂ©e Sarah, took me to get it x-rayed. I was told that my little toe was broken but as long as I kept my weight off it, would be okay to work. Pete suggested we get a second opinion from a doctor. Throughout the whole appointment the doctor spoke to Sarah in French, whilst I sat on the bed. I didn’t understand a word but knew it wasn’t good news. He told Sarah my toe needed a pin, I needed crutches and should definitely not work. I was devastated and thought my dream was over. I couldn’t believe it as everything had been going so well and was now thinking I would have to spend winter in England thinking about what could have been.

Pete told me he would have a word with Ralph, the boats manager before we done anything rash. That evening he called to say Ralph would be round tomorrow morning at 9:30 to take me to the boats doctor for a third opinion. Ralph said the doctor we were seeing was his personal doctor that looks after all his family and was very good. The doctor took a look at the x-ray, told me to get rid of the crutches as they are dangerous, wrote a prescription for some tablets to reduce the swelling and bruising, strapped my toe up to the ankle and said I could go back to work tomorrow. I found the whole thing quite comical and was relieved that I could go back to work. My toe never caused me pain or affected my work, and by the end of the first day I could keep up with everyone’s walking pace.

My first trip on a super yacht was an hour’s motor from Beaulieu Sur Mer to Antibes, and I enjoyed every minute of it. Looking back at the coastline, the windy Riviera road and the red terracotta roof tops was an awesome sight. I’ve always enjoyed the sun reflecting off the water but the deep blue Mediterranean Sea and being on a super yacht made it even better. I regretted not bringing my camera but I told myself that I would have many more opportunities to take photographs of stunning coast lines and life at sea.

Suakin arrived in Antibes Friday afternoon and I was offered a month’s trial on the Monday. I was given the weekend off and as my foot wasn’t causing me any pain or to limp, I went dock walking in Cannes and Antibes. Whilst dock walking on Saturday I spoke to the first mate of a boat called Clifford II, which ironically, was berthed three boats down from Suakin in Antibes. The first mate, Josh told me that they were unsure what they were doing for the winter and they might be looking for a deckhand. He said they may be heading to the Caribbean or staying in Antibes for the winter and going to a shipyard for a couple of months. Either way they were hoping to find out within the week. I wasn’t expecting anything to come of it but on my way home from work on Monday, Josh said that he was hoping to catch me and could I have a word with the captain? They told me the boat would be staying in Antibes for the winter, going to a shipyard for some major work and they needed a deckhand. The captain, Bob, talked about the career opportunities and the possibility of doing more certificates. Josh told me he had worked for the owners for four years and said they were really nice people to work for.

I imagined that if I was offered a job, I would be extremely excited and would struggle to control my emotions but I stayed very calm and took in all the details. That evening my mind raced and I didn’t know what to do. I was encouraged to hear that Josh had stuck around for four years and believed him when he said the owners are nice people to work for. Bob’s talk about starting a career on the boat also appealed to me but I had my heart set on travelling somewhere hot. The next day after work, Bob showed me round the boat. I was really impressed and fell in love with her. She looked impressive from the dock but as soon as I saw the interior, jacuzzi and deck furnishings, I thought, this boat is sexy. Everything was perfect apart from staying in Antibes for the winter. In the end I thought, what’s my rush, there will be plenty more Caribbean seasons and I can’t turn down a position with a future. The size of the boat and amount of crew is perfect, it’s modern, stylish and super sexy. I accepted Bob’s offer and started work the following Friday.  I am now looking forward to learning the boat and my job well during the shipyard period and should hit the ground running when the Mediterranean season starts again next March / April.

Ever since my accident I hate the word lucky. I worked bloody hard for this opportunity and believe you get out of life what you put in. Everything I did in Antibes was geared towards find a job. My days off from Suakin were spent dock walking for permanent positions, I asked lots of questions and knocked on many doors. Countless people have told me, finding a job in yachting is all about being in the right place at the right time. This saying is spot on and sums it up much better than being lucky.