For many crew, being away from home for extended periods can be one of the downsides of yachting, especially when it comes to spending Christmas onboard.
And you can guarantee that virtually any yacht based in the Caribbean at this time of year will be chartered on have the boss on, so it’s a busy season in more ways than one.
Over my 25-year career, I’ve probably spent 15 Christmases at sea, both as a more junior member of crew and then as a Captain. During this time, there were some good and bad times, which were notably impacted by my personal situation – it became harder when I had children at home opening their presents without me in a completely different time zone.
However, I learnt how to make the best out of a bad situation or, in fact, make a really great time aboard even better.
Whether you love or loathe Christmas onboard, here are some tips for getting everyone in the festive spirit.
Always arrange a Secret Santa, and plenty of time ahead of the big day so everyone has time to get organised and purchase gifts. This will also ensure people on rotation get the opportunity to get there present back to the yacht on time.
Christmas decorations, festive food, table arrangements and advent calendars always go down well in the crew mess too. If time allows, a small Christmas party is a real morale booster, even if it has to be done in multiple shifts, with everyone donning Christmas clothing.
For those who really feel homesick, not having a present from family or friends can be disappointing, so if you have a fairly solid itinerary, remind people to get gifts sent early enough to the yacht – and make sure they are small, because we all know there is not a lot of space onboard!
Gearing up for guests
Preparation is absolutely key to minimise any stress and usually, the interior crew have the set up planned and arranged well before the guests arrive.
A usually stunning Christmas tree will be in the main salon with the rest of the guest interior decorated to each guest’s preference. Additional small touches like festive chocolates on pillows and personalised crackers are great too.
Prior to Christmas day, the Captain will run through the schedule with the crew and often, there is always some downtime for crew to enjoy their own celebrations and guests are very accommodating of that.
We need to remember that those from crew members from New Zealand and Australia would already be celebrating Christmas if they were at home, so it’s important to make sure they are given time to call their families.
The chef/crew chef will make sure a festive breakfast and snacks are laid on for crew and the interior crew normally makes up some festive mocktails.
We always used to make sure there was enough time for video calls with family and friends to with them a Merry Christmas too.
Essentially though, it’s a normal working day for crew when spending Christmas onboard, so the day will still start early to get everything set up.
The morning will often be spent looking after guests and then after they’ve been served breakfast, crew gather around the dining table and wish guests a Merry Christmas.
When the guests are ready to open presents, Santa (AKA one of the deck crew dressed up) will arrive by tender/water-ski/jet ski to make the delivery. It’s actually really good fun, especially if there are children are onboard. Although we did have Santa fall off the back of a jet ski once!
At some point, there’ll be time for crew to enjoy a Christmas lunch together, complete with all the trimmings, Secret Santa gifts, some games and mocktails.
To burn off the over indulgence, the afternoon is then usually spent ferrying the guests off the boat so the exterior can be decorated with fairy lights to the extreme and the table set.
We’ll then probably change from our usual uniform into any fancy dress that is Christmas themed.
An extravagant Christmas banquet follows for the guests, with crew gathering to sing Merry Christmas and share a glass of champagne.
Everyone lends a helping hand to the chef and interior team, serving and clearing up before the guests usually retire for a movie and snacks.
Sometimes there might be a sundeck party instead, which certainly makes the day longer and more tiring!
Crew then work through the night to do a big clean down but are often in high spirits purely because of the magic this time of year brings.
Leftovers – undoubtedly the biggest benefit of working Christmas onboard!!!
A time for giving
Crew or guest, being onboard a superyacht is a luxury compared to what other people experience at Christmas, and we had the opportunity to give back one year.
We were the second yacht to arrive in St Maarten after Hurricane Irma and the island was a real mess. The owner was more than happy to contribute towards helping out in some way, as were the crew, so we visited what was left of a local school.
We had a shipment of portable air conditioning units sent from Florida, and I spent a day driving around St Maarten with the agent buying presents for all the children. The van was packed to the roof. We also shipped some sewing machines, fabric and cotton to Dominica to be used to make new school uniforms for the children, to give them a sense of belonging.
Whatever your feelings about Christmas, working on a superyacht during the festive period is definitely one of the busiest, but also great fun. As long as all crew work together and are mindful of personal feelings and home sickness, it can be like having one great big family Christmas onboard.