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8 mistakes we made in our first year as Chief Stew

Updated: May 25, 2020

Almost 5 years ago, sitting on Pigeon beach in Antigua having just landed my first job, I watched a man throw his puppy into the water where it nearly drowned. Horrified, I would have drowned the owner himself if I had had the option, but instead, the discussion that evolved lead to the owner informing me that he was trying to teach it to swim. Long story short, I was dragged away by my partner feeling like a puppy murderer myself. But, just a few months later, I came back to that very beach and found the puppy frolicking away, hunting a ball. Had I known then how this would be an epiphany of what my yachting career would be like, there might have been a few less cocktails, sweat and tears. My first yacht was a disaster, I felt like I was hit in the head whilst surfing and my brother had left me for fear of sharks (this has actually happened). But like that day and the puppy, I came out of it with my head spinning but, vowed to learn how to be a stronger swimmer. Gratefully, I grew enormously thereafter and quickly found myself in a Chief Stew position. With little yachting experience behind me however, there were a few waves that caught me off guard, which could have been avoided if only I had someone to lend me some of their wisdom. So much has changed since then; the stewardess community has become a lot stronger and kinder but sadly, talking about mistakes in this perfect environment still remains a bit of a taboo. There is a great deal of sharing positive ideas but not mistakes. So with that, here to arm the newer Chief Stews with some armbands, myself and 3 chief stews detail the 2 biggest mistakes made in our first season on the job.

Courtney : Chief Stew 4 years

1) Sleeping arrangements: I worked in an interior team of 3, with 2 seasonal stews. When I first joined the yacht, I shared with the female Deckhand and became quite comfortable in my little nook that when it came to bringing in 2 stews, I happily put them in a cabin together. What I didn't realise, was that with our busy programme, I would have little time to bond with them and chat about their concerns in an environment where they felt comfortable to talk. In my second season, I swung this around and shared with one of my girls. It changed the game. Being able to have a relaxed environment where you could unwind and have a heart to heart made me so much more in tune with what was going on on an emotional level in my team. Moving on to bigger yachts and teams, compatibility is very important to consider but where possible, I would highly recommend pairing junior stews with those more experienced. When you're a fish out of water, it helps to have someone you can trust and lean on to show you the best route forward.

2) Having fun and motivating: During yard periods or times when you are tucked away in a foreign speaking country the middle of nowhere, it's so important to keep the team from loosing momentum and you from loosing your team! A number of factors prevented this from happening in my first season. However, second time around, I introduced Fun-Day Fridays where half the day was spent doing our normal day to day tasks but the second half was dedicated to training. I would try to focus on the team learning how to do something where the end product would benefit the whole team. My favourite topic was platters! We would provision accordingly the day before and buy a variety of foods of the same and different colours and textures. I would demonstrate how to create a super yummy, colourful, bountiful looking small platter, explaining colours and alternative options for design and texture. I would then give each of the girls a chance to make their own and afterwards we would all discuss them. At the end of the day, the deck team would join us on the aft and we would all have a little feast and a laugh together as a crew. We all loved it and when things started revving up in the season again, the girls were all armed with new tricks and the pantry with a cheat sheet for quick reference!

Erin: Chief Stew 2 years

3) Conflict: Landing your first position as a Chief, you want things to move along as seamlessly as possible and not add to the Captain's long list of concerns. I unfortunately developed a conflict with another crew member in a different department, and not wanting to add drama to my resume or have anyone feel as though I was taking advantage of my position, I tried to resolve it myself and not involve the captain, even as things progressively got worse. Whilst there is a fine line between oversharing and not doing enough, I wish I had known that having exhausted all other possibilities, I had every right to have gone to the Captain and aired the issue. Captain's want a happy team as much as anyone else and are always more approachable in these circumstances than you think.

4) Research: With extensive and constantly changing itineraries on top of 100 things running through your brain, sometimes it is the most obvious things that get forgotten about. In my first season, I had guests ask for suggestions for dinner venues and things to do at one of our short term destinations. I'm not sure who between the guests, myself or the crew were more surprised at my scarcity for words but I had nothing. When it came down to it, I also had no idea how time consuming the task would be. Ensuring the recommendation is on par with yachting standards takes more than a flick through Trip Advisor and in some cases, significant pre-planning in order to secure a booking. I narrowly escaped walking the plank but since then have put together a itineraries for all common destinations in the hopes of avoiding that situation ever again. If you find yourself in this situation, feel free to us our guide here!

Amy: Chief Stew 8 years

5) Labelling cords:

My first year taught me that there is no greater penance for my sins than trying to match cords with electronics that do not fit. Whilst the invention of wireless devices can only be compared to that of the lightbulb, even they have a cord. I had the misfortune of wanting to murder the whole crew when it came to unstowing a boat after a shipyard period and finding cords tangled and unattached to their spouse. The amount of time and effort it took to resolve the issue could so easily have been saved if the previous stewardesses has labelled the cords when the devices were purchased. In all honesty, it was not something I had previously considered myself having never packed a yacht for a shipyard period, but I realised the hard way.

6) Trust the professionals:

Sailing yachts differ from motor yachts in that most sailing guests can sail or at the very least understand movement, whereas most motor yacht guests cannot steer an inflatable after a margarita. Having been briefed by the Captain that were were bound to hit very rough seas, I requested to enter the Master cabin over one owner trip(where I had specifically been requested by the Mrs to not enter the cabin at any point) in order to stow the cabin appropriately. The family were avid sailors and the Mrs declined my request to enter the cabin and assured me that she had adequately stowed all valuables. Having every belief in her understanding of movement and her knowledge of the valuables in the cabin, I was satisfied that her word could be trusted. But as luck would have it, she did not take into account the $40 000 gold covered coral sculpture as being a moving part. With my heart, the coral and floor boards smashed into a million pieces, the only lesson learnt greater than stowing and being able to explain why we need to do it ourselves, was that of the value of superglue.

Becoming a Chief Stewardess requires bravery. It is stressful, you will make mistakes and your team will make mistakes that you will bare the fall for. But if you can find a sense of humour through it all, the learning experience will be one that you will hold with you throughout your career. We might pretend to be Superhumans, but in reality we all relate more to just being human. So here we are, being human, don't be afraid to be human too.

Two Stews x

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