What did you do before yachting and how did your yachting career first begin?
I actually studied Theology in the University of Tartu and worked in a hot glass studio and luxury furniture gallery during that time. As many things in life, the start of my sea career was accidental. Matters of the heart took me traveling between Estonia and Finland and although scared of sea, I accepted a position on board a little cruise ship sailing between the two counties. My sea career started off in commercial shipping on passenger ferry boats and this was soon followed by working with High Speed Crafts. My last commercial job in 2008 was Head of Interior in Oman, where I was part of an infrastructure development project for the Sultanate, setting up a luxury passenger service. But yachting was always a secret dream which came true in May 2012.
What has been your favourite boat you’ve worked on and why?
All boats are different and there is no perfect one – such a cliché, I know… I have only worked on 3 boats in 8 years and probably my last boat MY Areti (current MY Amatasia) must be my favourite. This is because I got to see her through build, operation and sale. In 2,5 years, I gained so much experience and learned what could normally take 10 years on board some other boat.
What are the best and worst parts about working on-board?
When the boat has interesting itinerary, I think it is still the traveling factor what beats all the other benefits. Having found my passion in new-builds, I am also fascinated about the insane effort involved both in construction and operation of these big white ladies.
I am not very homesick by nature and adjust quite well in any surroundings but lack of personal space and need to suppress emotions is something I find challenging at times. Also, having had my ´wild days ´ already a decade ago, I occasionally feel left aside when rest of the crew is out partying and I choose not to.
How do you keep sane on charter?
Watching series or movies from my laptop in my cabin has never been my thing, making me probably the last person in industry not having seen The Game of Thrones 🙂 I do enjoy reading a good novel and listen personal development podcasts or guided meditatiosn. Whenever possible and no matter how tired, I always try to get off the boat. In the end, nothing charges batteries better than some ‘Me-time’ on solid land.
What are your best strategies for spoiling charter guests?
The best moments are in suprprises and one way to impress the guests is to deliver something they do not excpect. Once we had some russian people over a New Year in Antiqua and when preparing the menu for the big night, they mentioned an Olivier salad – a Russian potato salad which is such classic during these celebrations. I knew how to make it so without telling them I prepared some and they were moved to tears. Also a nice video or photo memory of the day or trip is always heartwarming. And sometimes its the simple things. Everyone´s favorite word is their name and incorporating it into small notes and conversations will make anyone feel special.
What’s the coolest thing you have done for guests?
On one of my boats we used to drive especially from Cannes to Saint Tropez and by the organic Strawberry jam from Café Senequier. This was the only jam the owner liked and accepted. That same spring, our freezer failed and I found a lot of frozen strawberries. Not to waste them, I decided to make my own jam, for the crew of course. It turned out really nice (as it always did, also by my mother or grandmother) and when the owner arrived, I decided to be adventurous and offer my own jam next to his favourite posh one. When it came to food, the Owner was rather adventurous and tried it straight away and it blew his mind! He demanded to know, where did I get it and he was super confused to learn I made it. Preparing your own food can become nearly mystical skill for people who are quite detached from everyday life. After explaining in details how I manged to create this magical dish, I was tasked to prepare the jam for every season. It was a sweet feeling.
I could also mention trying to buy a cafe-latte colour pug puppy on 11th of May in Italy or cashing in the Monte Carlo casino winnings and walking through the crowds with 280 000 euro worth of notes in brown bag looking indifferent, like it’s just some fresh croissants… But I’ will stick to the strawberry jam story.
What is your signature cocktail?
My first yachts were all with ‘dry’ owners and it was super rare when we got to serve any alcohol to any guest. Once, when all the interior crew was on the lunch break and most of the guests resting, one lady sneaked into the pantry and asked for a naughty cocktail. She just asked to surprise her. I was so unprepared… I did manage to ask what could be the base alcohol and should it be more sweet or sour, silently praying that we have what she asked for in our modest bar inventory. It became some kind of mojito, with the difference of not having enough mint and I used some basil instead. Also, as I didn’t put enough sugar, it felt too sour, so I decided to top it up with ginger beer. I was very stressed and the pantry looked like a bomb site but finally the drink started to tase like a proper cocktail. Luckily, I’ve always loved decorating so I made sure the visual side was elaborate.
I took a deep breath and served my creation with confidence, telling it’s my signature cocktail with a secret recipe. The lady was so impressed but not even close how impressed as I was with myself 😊. Since then I have repeated the Basil-Ginger Mojito several times, always with great success.
What is your favourite yachting destination?
I remember how in my first years; every new destination was the most exciting one and I could not understand how the older crew stayed on board to sleep instead of exploring. I still always go out. When it is the new marina, there is always something to see and when it’s the place I know, I love revisiting those little cafes and shops I love. I have noticed that after the summer in Med, I start missing USA and the Caribbean and in March I begin longing for Europe again. It’s a nice balance. Maybe if there is one place wrapped for me in soft pink memories, its Greece.
If you owned a superyacht, what would you do differently?
I would probably not own a superyacht in the first place, too much hassle and knowing the industry from inside, I´d be worrying sick over things what can go wrong. But – if that still would be the case, I would have an 80m motor yacht called MeeliMelo, take all my family and friends who have never afforded to travel and take them to all those beautiful places out there. As an owner, I would trust my crew and be as caring as possible. In the end – I know what it’s like to be on the other side!
What is your on-board pet hate?
I passionately dislike (not to use word ´hate`) when people leave the dish scrubbing sponge laying in the sink full of water and food leftovers. This makes me sick from the stomach. Therefore – my new boat has those little holders built in next to the sink to eliminate that happening 😊
What career achievement are you most proud of?
Returning back to the industry stronger than ever after a burnout due really difficult times on board. The other one is probably pulling off an Owners trip with 16 guests for two nights in the shipyard, just 32h after the signing off the boat. The whole crew moved on board at the same time with the guests with a toothbrush and one set of clothes. The designers were vacuuming the carpets, shipyard project managers ordered the drinks and flowers and plates for 4 course service came straight from cardboard box to dining table. A massive challenge which made the bond between the crew special. Super successful but not to be repeated.
Best housekeeping tip/hack?
Keep it simple. Start with water and maybe a little soft soap. Lock up all the harsh chemicals, try to find out, what your boat is made of and when in doubt, reach out to professionals.
There are three things I am always counting on though: little sparkling water on any carpet or fabric stain, hand sanitizer for stubborn felt pens and markers and I will swear on self-dosing washing machines.
Tell us about your funniest embarrassing moment on board.
The guest broke off the golden crown of his tooth. Half way to the dentist he noticed that he must have lost the tooth somewhere on board before we left. I must say that crawling on my knees under the furniture in the main salon carpet was definitely one of the professional highlights of my career. If the poor guy would not have been so stressed waiting in the taxi, the situation would have been rather amusing.
What’s your favourite adventure in Mallorca?
There is not so much time I have actually spent in Mallorca, apart many years back hiding from the storm with a 50m motor yacht. But I do have a story. I was acting as a temp crew chef at that time and got those fresh beautiful Razor clams from the fish market. I had never cooked them before but found this great recipe with parsley, garlic and parmesan. What I was not prepared for was the cleaning of the calms. It was such a heart-breaking experience to see the living animals suffer while I was preparing them. The grilled clams turned out to be amazing tasty but when leaving the marina, we also hit an amazing scale 9 storm, the worst I have ever experienced. Somehow, I was convinced it was my fault to have upset Neptune for torturing his creatures.
If you could give your 20 year old self one piece of advice, what would it be?
Don’t get intimidated by the image that only super humans are working in yachting. Everyone can bring something on the table. Don’t underestimate yourself and identify any experience you have, no matter how bizarre, and mark it down. You never know when your poodle grooming skill, being finalist in the Great Bake-off TV series or your hobby DJ and ikebana artist knowledge becomes the entry point to the industry.
Be smart with your money. Yachting is a wonderful and legit way to make lots of money and secure your life creating some passive income. I mean, you still should enjoy life but think seriously about investing.
Be curious. Observe and learn and try to identify your strengths. Instead of jumping boats for that extra hundred euros or few more weeks of leave, stay put a bit and if you have identified the favourite aspects of the job, take some break between the boats to upgrade your competence or learn new skills. Choosing boats wisely is definitely a fast way forward to more senior position, if that is your goal.
What’s your plan for the future?
I am so blessed to say that Project ENZO is really a dream job and having known different, I know how to appreciate it. I have also learned that in the shipyards, the potentially valuable insight of the operational interior crew is often not utilised, yet on the occasion when it is, it seems to be much cherished and appreciated. In the coming years, I want to dedicate myself to raising the awareness and value of this useful resource.
Equally, I feel that in recent years that I want to be more vocal within the industry in general, especially advising and motivating the newcomers to enjoy and be successful in yachting.
Thank you for reading!
Name: Meeli Lepik
Position: Interior Manager
Yacht: Project ENZO
Interview by Melanie Winters
+34 646 897378