Here we are in December again and Christmas is just a week away. Some of you will be Caribbean-bound if not already there and others will be facing down a northern European winter. For the rest, I hope this is the rotation to be at home with your friends and family, and if it is, enjoy as many mince pies and late mornings with no alarms as you can!
For the majority of the crew either on 5:1 or with no rotation yet, and the Captains and crew whose year it is to stay onboard for Christmas, it may be a tricky time of year – full of surprises and fluctuations of sanity.
There’ll no doubt be primary pick-ups at 3am, unexpected and sometimes demanding guests and emotional outbursts from crew. The constant questions from family and friends about how your ‘holiday’ in Antigua is going, when you know you haven’t had a solid four hours sleep in 18 days, let alone time off to enjoy a banana colada on Pigeon beach, can also get you down! If any of this rings a bell, then welcome to Christmas – the yachting edition.
Christmas is the time of year when we yachties collectively go through our seasonal FOMO. Normally experienced individually throughout the year as best friends’ weddings and seminal big birthdays are barely celebrated and pass by with a jaunty video message or OTT present to make up for your notable absence. Instead of doing the Macarena drunk with your tie around your head, you’re more likely floating off of Positano waiting for a Chef’s provisions.
When we go through our social quarantine alone it has the potential to be a bumpy ride for an individual, but usually for only a few days. When we go through it together onboard, it can become even more challenging.
Many crew believe that forced fun is the only route through; some hope for a trip to keep them busy and make the financial gains their focus, some, upon finding themselves the only crew member on watch whilst languishing in St Thomas will be finding life is like a box of Celebrations, with all the Maltesers taken out.
Let’s also spare a thought for the Chefs, who will be guaranteed not just an extraordinarily filled work day, producing at least one Christmas dinner, (more likely two), as they try to predict the erratic meal timetable and diverse tastes of both guests and crew.
Be collectively compassionate
So how do we navigate this time for both ourselves and collectively as a crew?
I think the best and only way to approach this is with a healthy dose of no judgement and a massive side portion of empathy.
There are no “rules” when it comes to making Christmas onboard better. How could there be? There will be as many experiences of Christmas onboard as there are crew. Each person will have a different expectation of the day and their role in it, as well as spontaneous homesickness, sporadic and slurry tears coming in waves, as the Cava starts to take effect at 10am!
Accepting that some crew use alcohol to help pass the pain, accepting that others need time to call home and connect, whilst respecting a lot of crew dread home and want the crew to be their surrogate family. Whatever the reason and cause, what we can do as fellow crew members to make Christmas more palatable and less like a plate of overcooked, mushy Brussel sprouts is to accept, with no judgement.
For HODs, it’s a time to lead by example and respect and maintain our own boundaries without encroaching on others and spraying our Christmas-based trauma all over the boat like an open blender. What we also need to do is go to a place of active empathy. Empathy fuels connection and has four leading qualities – perspective taking; being actively nonjudgemental; recognising emotions in other people; and communicating.
Empathy and compassion is when someone finds themselves in a deep Christmas funk and says they are sad, they miss home, they feel overwhelmed and hears ‘I know what that’s like and you are not alone’. Ignoring a person’s truth and saying something like ‘at least you have a job’ or ‘you should be doing…’ is not empathetic.
Lend an empathetic ear
Empathy is a choice and it’s a vulnerable choice, because,
As a leader, you need to be somewhat vulnerable when you choose to be empathetic because in order to connect with your crew and lead them, you have to relate to that feeling.
One of the first things we try when someone is in a difficult situation or we are facing a difficult conversation, is to try and make things better. If a crew member shares something with you that is extremely difficult for them this festive season, listen to them, and listen with no judgement. Know that, in most cases, you don’t even have to fix anything, just listen.
There is little to say when someone is missing home at Christmas, and the truth is, a response is not important. What matters and makes someone feel better is connection.
So, cheers to a more connected and compassionate Christmas! May there be more than just Milky Ways in your Celebrations! And don’t forget to show the Chef some extra love on the day. I personally loved a well-timed tipple, a stew taking over the speaker with a festive playlist and many hands making light work of the cleaning and pan washing duties!
Emma Kate Ross is co-founder of Seas the Mind, an organisation dedicated to creating mentally healthy and resilient crew.