The Bus Driver
John had a steady job as a public-school educator. Obsessed with being around boats, he earned his 100-ton captain’s license, and during summer breaks he ran water taxis in a city harbor. His vessels carried between 25 and 65 passengers, and on busy weekends he ferried thousands of people among popular tourist attractions. While John thought of himself more as a bus driver, his passengers expected him to be an expert on restaurants, bars, museums, movies, concerts and sporting events. “What’s the best Italian restaurant?” “Which bar has the best live music?” “Where can I get tickets to the game?” Trying to answer everyone while watching out for inebriated paddle boaters, clueless kayakers and obnoxious muscle boats was stressful.
His biggest challenges were dealing with raucous sports fans being ferried to and from the nearby ballpark. “I don’t know why, but Yankees fans were my most difficult passengers. Many of them had obviously been drinking before the game, and if the Yankees lost, I had my hands full, especially with guys who thought nothing of urinating over the side.” But John has good memories too. “I bet that, throughout Japan, there are thousands of photographs of me at the helm with a smiling Japanese woman next to me.” After many years, John retired from his summer job to go sailing, and quite understandably, he doesn’t often invite guests.
Years ago I met Anthony, the captain of a sleek 85-foot motoryacht that was tied up next to me at a high-end marina in the Bahamas. For a week, I saw him doing nothing but washing and polishing the boat. He had no extra crew, and he seemed lonely. When I finally noticed the name of this multimillion-dollar yacht, Useless, my curiosity made me ask him about his job, his owner and, above all, why the name Useless? With a mixture of caution and sarcasm, Anthony replied, “Oh, my owner named his boat after his wife. Need I say more? But, hey, it’s a job. Thankfully, he’s so busy running his business that he’s hardly ever on board.” I sure hope Anthony found another gig. He seemed like a genuinely nice guy.
The Party Planners
Rick and his wife, Samantha, were the captain and stewardess on a 125-foot motoryacht owned by a group of wealthy men in the entertainment industry.
The boat has a reputation for being a party boat. Some call it a floating “animal house.” The captain’s job was to take the boat from port to port, where it would be loaded with a fresh group of young, beautiful bikini-clad females ready to party. Partying would continue nonstop for a day or two, and then it would start all over at the next port with fresh participants.
For the first two weeks of his job, Rick thought he had died and gone to heaven. His only problem was trying to concentrate on piloting the yacht when most of his female passengers were running around the deck stark naked. Samantha wasn’t thrilled.
Soon, neither was Rick. He began to refer to his owner’s guests as mini hurricanes, leaving a path of destruction everywhere. “I eventually realized they had no brains. They’d be served a drink, take a sip, forget where they left it and demand another one. My crew just followed their paths, picking up clothes, towels, drinks, uneaten food, sunglasses, lotion and cell phones. It may have been OK for a few hours now and then, but day after day, night after night was exhausting. One night Samantha and I tried escaping to the flybridge, but I can’t describe what I found going on up there. What I thought was a dream job turned out to be a nightmare.” Rick and Samantha are now happily running a larger yacht for an older couple that treats them like part of their family.
Overall, among the biggest complaints I’ve heard are the unrealistic expectations and demands of owners. Forced to run in bad weather or with mechanical problems to meet their owner’s social obligations is not only stressful, but also potentially dangerous. Others feel they are expected to serve as social directors or baby sitters for spoiled, pampered guests in addition to performing their duties of running and maintaining their ship. And when the owner and his guests are on board, the captain is often on duty 24/7.
Of course, there are good parts to almost all these stories, and many captains I spoke with love their jobs. Captain Jeff, for example, works for a retired gentleman who owns a long-range trawler and who loves to cruise to exotic lands with friends and family. The owner spares no expense in maintenance or upgrades, knows a lot about the boat’s operation and respects the decisions of his captain. Instead of having to sit for weeks in all the “to be seen” places like Nantucket and Fort Lauderdale Jeff has had the opportunity to cruise more than 30,000 miles to some of the world’s most unforgettable destinations. He knows his job is not perfect, but he can’t think of anything he’d rather be doing than piloting this multimillion-dollar yacht to places he’d only dreamed of. “I confess, sometimes it’s hard to believe I’m being paid to do this.”
So You Want to Be a Captain?
The Bus Driver