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The world of super yachts is synonymous with luxury and excess. Alice Tollestrup reflects on eco living all at sea
I left New Zealand in April 2010, excited to be returning to life crewing on board a private super yacht. I’d lived at sea once before and memories of the balmy weather and exotic travel had lured me back.
I've spent the last five months cruising around the Caribbean on a 49-metre yacht. With four separate levels, this is not your average fishing boat. Its pristine white exterior includes a bar, dining area and large jacuzzi, and the interior – with its opulent statues, chandeliers and dark high-gloss cherry wood panelling – could easily be taken for a five-star hotel.
When the owner and guests are on board (often for months at a time) we cater to their every whim. But it’s the moments without guests, when the yacht is skirting the shores of distant countries or surrounded by sea, that the job seems worth the hard work.
I’m one of ten crew members who work, live, eat and socialise together around the clock. And when cabin fever sets in at sea there’s no easy escape, so I cherish the opportunities when the boat is in port to clear my head and run my restlessness to the ground.
The lack of personal space on board certainly takes a bit of adapting to. The cabin I share with my fiancé measures about four by two metres – and squeezed into this area are two wardrobes, two bunks and a bathroom with shower and toilet. This tiny space is my sanctuary and my photos and small trinkets on the walls make it feel more like home.
In a way it’s liberating to have such a small space – there simply isn’t room for extraneous stuff. Under normal circumstances on land it’s so easy to constantly consume and let clutter build up.
Making do with just what I can fit in my cabin has been an interesting lesson in simple living, and in startling contrast to the rest of the yacht’s lavishness. This is a world of big egos and bigger wallets, where money is no object. We have to remember we’re the workers and the yacht's not ours – something I’m reminded of whenever I’m scrubbing the toilet!
While I’d love to find ways to encourage sustainable living on board, I don’t think the typical yacht owner has eco living in mind. Definitely not when our employers fly to meet us on their private jet!
It isn’t all bad though. The yacht actually operates much like a mini-city and apart from food and fossil fuels we could, in theory, be self-sufficient. Power is provided by the boat’s diesel generators and there’s an on-board treatment plant for all sewage and wastewater. The resulting clean, fresh water is safe to pump into the ocean. We also have our own desalination plant, which converts seawater into fresh water.
When guests are on board it’s a daily ritual for the chef to head to local markets to source fresh produce for the day. I always volunteer to help – I love meeting divers and local fishermen and selecting fresh seafood from the back of their dinghies.
For me, crewing is an opportunity to appreciate the natural world. I’ve seen waves the size of two-storey buildings crash over the bow in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, and one evening at sunset just off the coast of Mexico we saw a pod of sperm whales flipping out of the water onto their backs only twenty metres or so from the yacht.
Life at sea puts you in close touch with the elements and seasons. In the middle of the ocean, with no land in sight, you can’t help but be impressed by what you see.
Raised in Auckland’s Waitakere Ranges, Alice has been working on super yachts since 2009 – and in that time she's cruised the Mediterranean, the west and east coasts of America and more recently, the Caribbean. For Alice's travel blogs, go to nautisailor.wordpress.com