I had a restaurant from the end of 2008 to the last day of 2010. I loved it, it was my baby. And it was doing really well! We even won “Best Comfort Foods” 2010, from the Miami New Times. But, for reasons I’m not going to go into in this blog, I had to divorce myself from my business partner and the restaurant. This was one of the lowest points of my life. I couldn’t even walk down the salad dressing aisle without sobbing.
One day, I went to the dentist and the receptionist asked me if I’d ever heard about “day working” on a yacht. I had no idea what she was talking about. So I checked out the website she gave me, and ended up uploading my CV. A few days later, I was walking through the mall with my then girlfriend and my cell phone rang with a +33 country code phone number. I reluctantly answered the call. A buttery New Zealand accent on other end of the call asked “May I speak to Nikki?”.
I didn’t know it at the time, but I was talking to the head chef of a 240 foot super yacht. The chef asked me if I was available to cook for a crew of 17 while the boat was docked for provisions. The pay was $200/day cash, how could I say no!
So, I show up to Rybovich boat yard in West Palm Beach, Florida for my first yachtie gig. I’m in my signature black chef coat and black chef pants. Even though I grew up in Ft. Lauderdale, what I later found out was the “yachting capital of the world”, I was not a very ‘boaty, beachy, tropical’ person. I was more of an ‘indoor activities, clubs and bars, kitchen ghoul’ person. Needless to say, I looked like a fish out of water. The boatyard itself was a series of docks with big white yachts gleaming from their slips. The yachties were all wearing white t shirts with the name of their boat on the top right corner and a line drawing of the actual vessel on the back, along with kaki shorts. I had never seen so many 6 foot blondes in my life, and here comes little ol’ 5 foot prince of darkness me.
I found the boat and my jaw dropped. She looked like a big wedding cake, decks on decks on decks, and just massive. And so, I boarded the ship, and did the job I was paid to do. I cooked for the crew for about a week, which turned into 2 weeks, then 3. Turned out, they liked what I was doing, so they offered me a job as the sous chef.
Two months later, they sent me a plane ticket to Malaga, Spain. I was instructed to find a taxi once I had my luggage, and hope the driver would drive me the 2 hours to the very southern point of Spain. From there, I hopped out of the cab and walked across the border to the British territory of Gibraltar.
And so began almost 2 years aboard one of the most fantastical dream machines on planet earth. Man, I have stories. I’ll tell a quick one, like the time I ended up at the largest circuit party in Europe. Barcelona, Spain. We partied in what looked like to me a converted castle in old town until the sun came up. One of the girls I was with handed a song request to the DJ who looked like a mermaid goddess with long flowing neon red hair. The DJ mouthed “hell yes”. That was the first time I heard Rihanna belt out “Wheeeeeeeere have you beeeeeeen?”. Another vodka and Red Bull please! The club was packed so tight we could barely move. We tore that place up. I remember doing the ‘walk of shame’ back to the boat at sunrise.
In yachting, the world becomes very small. It’s nothing to jump from country to country. It’s like dad pulling up the RV and everybody gets out to stretch their legs, except we would pull up to Dubrovnik, or Tenerife, or the Galapagos.
We had access to drugs, alcohol, and were paid stupid amounts of money. Or at least that’s how it was a little more than a decade ago. What could possibly happen when you add a depressed, penniless, chef with a drinking problem who had absolutely nothing to lose? More than a few times, I woke up thinking I was surprised to be alive with the amount of alcohol and…ahem…party favors I had consumed. I didn’t really enjoy party favors per se, it just kept getting handed to me. It didn’t really stick as a problem, but I did enjoy drinking.
I’m sober 2 years, 7 months and 9 days. Yachting allowed me to pay off every bit of debt I ever owed AND pay for a Bachelor’s degree in cash. I’ve been to 27 different countries, done 3 transatlantic crossings, and crossed the Panama Canal. I have no regrets and tons of life experiences. And if you want to read more about them, leave a comment below!