It is February, spring is on its way and love is in the air. This month is all about Valentine’s Day and love it or hate it, there is no getting away from it, unless you are completely cut off from the rest of the world. It certainly goes a long way to brightening up the dull days of February and giving us something to think about as we start looking forward to spring and the warmer days to come.
The sceptics out there will be dismissing it as just another commercial scam and quite possibly that is true but where did Valentine’s Day stem from? It is a bit of a mystery and there is no definitive origin of this celebration, however there are connections to both paganism and religion going back centuries. Regardless of where this celebration started there is approximately 150 million Valentine’s day cards exchanged annually, along with millions of flowers and chocolates. It has also become commonly known as a day to take your loved one out for a romantic meal and rekindle the romance.
What about romance and love on board a yacht – good or bad – are relationships between crew something to be celebrated or avoided at all costs? This is an area of yachting that is not often discussed but many people have very strong feelings about; I suspect based on their own personal experiences. Given the amount of time that crew spend together and the close working and living arrangement, it is only natural that strong feelings will develop between crew mates. What happens next is the part that gets most people feeling a little hot under the collar and that may not necessarily be the ones who are attracted to each other!
Falling in love is as natural as breathing, and the process is different for each of us but the chemistry behind the initial rush of attraction has biological explanations that we all share. Increased dopamine affects our senses. Colours are brighter, life seems more exciting and we are happier. This leads us to thinking that this will also result in improved performance and increased output from the individual who is happy and upbeat. You hope so but our moods and emotions are also influenced by the additional testosterone and an increase in sexual desire which can lead to an increase in aggressive behaviour. If the feelings are not mutual, this stage can lead to someone pursuing the object of their desire and the increase of neurotransmitters may lead to focused attention and possible “zeroing in” on the other person. I have seen this in action, which resulted in one crew member feeling “uncomfortable” but being a nice person they did not want to upset the stewardess in question, who was so obviously “fixated” and displayed typical signs of irrational pursuit of the poor deckhand.
The possible outcome of unrequited love on board can be an individual suffering from depression and feelings of rejection or unfortunately in this case, eventual dismissal (well actually let go at the end of the probationary period). The unrealistic pursuit of another has drastic consequences for some and can develop into a serious situation if not taken care of.
This is not always the case and singletons out there don’t despair, love has a strange way of finding you wherever you are and sometimes Cupid will strike on board, leading to love in the crew mess. Genuine relationships can be made on board and I can say I am lucky enough to personally know and have worked with three couples who met while working on a yacht and have since gone on to become married. This was not without issues however, more for their heads of department and fellow crew members than the love birds themselves.
During the “falling in love” phase there is a conflict of interests happening, our senses are focusing on the person we want rather than what we are supposed to be doing and we appear to have little or no control over how we behave. How does this affect our job, our fellow crew and most importantly our safety? From a department head position this can lead to distracted crew who are not paying attention to what they are doing. They often continually find excuses to be in the same vicinity as the object of their desire rather than where they are supposed to be. Interior crew constantly making excuses to be on deck or a deck member or engineer constantly being in the galley are examples. There is constant wasted time where the crew member is day-dreaming about love and a lack of focus on the task at hand resulting in poor results or jobs having to be repeated. Having to tell crew to remember it is a place of work so inappropriate PDA’s during the working hours are not acceptable gets a bit old after a while.
Often when challenged about their lack of focus, individuals can be defensive or aggressive which can be linked to the increase in testosterone. The neurotransmitter norephinephrine is a stimulant, so as well as the euphoria and alertness, can lead to feelings of giddiness, loss of appetite and inability to sleep, all of which can have negative effects on an individual’s performance. This in turn can lead to pressure for other crew members who are picking up the slack or aiding and abetting the romance. Often when the new relationship is taken to the physical level, cabin mates are put under pressure to ‘make themselves scare’ or have to suffer the indignity of listening in to the love making. Sharing your crew mess with a couple who are in the first throws of love also can pretty depressing for the other single crew members.
Bed-hopping is another aspect of love on the high seas. More often than not, this is kept secret from department heads (except when they are the culprit) and seemingly unknown to anyone other than those “hooking up”. Or so you think! Love is blind as the saying goes but it never goes un-noticed! In the euphoria experienced there is always a lack of discretion or the inappropriate use of yacht space that is noticed by someone. It can also be a pretty costly exercise, there are plenty of stories around of the crew members fired for trashing the owner’s bed during a night of passion.
A bed-hopper is a bad crew mate and there is a reason for the saying “don’t screw the crew”! The consequences of hooking up with them is rejection, jealousy, anger, feelings of low self-worth and depression as well as tension and bad feelings between the opposing crew members. It can also destroy the status quo and trust within the group. Often these behaviours will eventually result in dismissal as the disruption to crew cohesiveness can result in a breakdown of the familial or team feelings.
It is not all doom and gloom in the love department when it comes to yachting. Many boats are run by successful Captain and Wife teams, where a good relationship becomes a stabling influence for younger crew. The unit becomes like a family with both a mother and father figure, who support and guide their crew members.
This works well except when one of the couple is a nightmare to work with and you know there is no way they will ever be fired – usually the Captain’s wife. One bad apple can make the whole boat rotten to work on. There is also the yacht with a Captain who is looking for a partner. He loves his job, is married to the yacht and wants a female companion. Great if you actually hit it off but tough if you are being subjected to unwelcome attention and really uncomfortable if once you make it plain that you are not interested, you are then subjected to disparaging remarks or snubbed by them.
There is a new trend in yachting – The Couples Yacht – usually larger and with several couples on the team, some on rotation. This is seen as a very stable environment and they actively seek couples when recruiting, usually within the same age group and fitting within the “group norm” which can be active and sporty. These yachts are great to work on and it is nice to know there are more opportunities for couples to work together, particularly as there are many younger crew couples entering the industry. However, they can be very lonely for the single crew member and often it is the case that the single crew members are in a minority. In order for these yachts to be successful, the Captain must consciously make the environment suitable for both the couples AND the single crew to live together harmoniously without isolating the singles.
Great that couples are now the norm on yachts but what if you have an unstable relationship on board? This can create real issues for your crew mates. No one wants to be involved in constant arguing and dramas within this type of relationship as the energy projected by the warring couples can be exhausting. Along with listening to your crew member complain about their partner, it has a way of dragging everyone down. When a relationship goes bad and a break up is on the cards is another example of how detrimental crew love can be to the group. Usually the period preceding the split will be fraught with tension and the couple avoiding each other as much as possible. Finding a way to manage this and still keep both crew members is an issue and usually results in one crew member leaving.
Having couples on board can be both negative and positive, depending on your experiences. Many Captains do avoid hiring couples on the belief that it can bring problems that are difficult to deal with such as disagreements within the relationship, an unbalancing of crew dynamics and the problem of “lose one crew member, you lose both”. Other yachts embrace the idea of couples believing that there is stability to be had and it keeps crew members longer as they are happy in their environment with their partner and not looking for love on the docks.
Finally, it would not be correct to NOT mention same sex relationships on board. This is not common but there are plenty of LGBT people in the industry now and I do not see why they should be denied the opportunity to find love at their place of work. I have discussed the possibility of placing a couple on a yacht who were of the same sex and am very happy to say that there was little or no discrimination shown. It is not without its complications but I believe that what we are experiencing today is younger crew being both open and accepting of others, embracing the spirit of meeting people different from themselves as they enjoy the adventure.
Love is not always bad news on board and despite the difficulties, often leads to a happy ever after for some, so Happy Valentine’s from us at VIP Service School and spread the love.
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