In late 2009 my husband Brett and I made a big decision: we wanted a sea change. Literally, we were going to live and work on a yacht. I was a well-established Senior Consultant at Slade Group and Brett was running a successful commercial photography business. Back in those relatively carefree pre-covid times when world travel was a tantalising possibility, taking an extended working holiday abroad seemed entirely reasonable. So, we packed in our jobs, packed up our lives and headed over to Europe to join the luxury Super Yacht industry.
Prior to our departure, we embarked on a journey of intense short-courses, obtaining the necessary ‘tickets’ to permit entrée into this elusive and poorly understood (pre Below-Deck TV,) industry. We downsized dramatically, selling nearly all of our possessions including our cars, rented out our home and re-homed our pets… What could possibly go wrong?
Brett had been a life-long yachtie, so his sailing skills would be invaluable in helping secure our first, breakthrough roles. Plus, I felt my solid recruitment experience, having worked over 10 years collectively with Slade Group, would be a significant advantage navigating the hiring journey. Finally, with some savvy packaging, I thought we could market ourselves as a ‘professional couple’ to the numerous Crew agencies as a winning formula.
This was the first time in a decade that I had found myself on the candidate-side of the recruitment process. Donning the latest nautical attire, with our business cards freshly printed and CVs that we’d worked and re-worked, we marched into Antibes, the mega-yacht parking lot in the South of France, full of confidence.
Attempting a career change into a completely new industry, in a foreign country and one that is well known for its love of anyone who doesn’t speak French (not) was a bold move.
We strode into our first face-to-face interview with one of yachting’s most respected recruiters.
“Are you two serious?…. Firstly, you’re married. Secondly, you’re too old. Thirdly, you’re overqualified, but under-experienced. And lastly, we are in the deep-end of the global financial crisis… Go home!”
Clearly this agent didn’t realise how far we had travelled for the interview.
All jokes aside, sadly this was every bit the sentiment we experienced from most ‘professional’ recruiters in Antibes. Their not-so-subtle rejection of our qualifications, experience, substantial investment in our goals and passion to achieve them, was confronting. It would be an untruth if I said I hadn’t wondered whether we had made a giant mistake. This blanket response was providing every bit of motivation to hop back on a plane and return home, however we simply had not factored failure into the equation, and giving up was never on our radar.
Looking for an upside and some welcome rehydration, we targeted a select few bars where the yacht crews drink and mingle. Perhaps unsurprisingly, these bars are full of Aussies and Kiwis. Expats make-up the large majority of all crew across the world, due to our strong work ethic, reputation for being easy going and the lack of red tape our passports afford.
Whilst bar-networking and sharing our experiences, I came to the sharp realisation that the industry at the time was highly unregulated. Those attributes deemed undesirable by recruitment agencies, were seen in a very different light when we spoke to captains and owners’ representatives. Amongst the right audience, we were seen as committed, mature and reliable. A huge shift in attitude towards us, which was refreshing.
On good advice, we relocated to Palma de Mallorca, Spain, the sailing-yacht capital of the world. Within weeks a yacht owner offered us a seasonal contract with an immediate start. Our life-aboard-yachts had finally begun.
What transpired beyond our initial foray into yachting was not always smooth sailing. For long-term success in this industry, you must be open-minded and a team player. Consider the reality of living constantly within 100ft of each other, often in a confined space. Then add the challenge of multi-national crew, physically demanding work and long hours. Being away from friends and family year-round is hard, not to mention the hazards that only mother nature can conjure.
Working on super-yachts was one of the most incredible journeys of my life. We spent six amazing years working for a wonderful Belgian family, sailing the oceans of the globe, taking in the highlights of the Mediterranean, Caribbean, and the Pacific.
Reflecting on my experience as a candidate highlights the importance of researching your target market, establishing an industry network, having the courage to follow your dreams and the ambition and perseverance to make it happen. I am grateful to have been welcomed back into an industry I love and to work alongside management with a team that recognises the transferability of my skills, values both my formal and informal education and allows me the opportunity to apply the many meaningful life-lessons I have learnt over the last 20+ years.