Although Christmas, New Year’s and Easter are all times that you’d prefer to spend around family and close friends, they are also usually days you’ll be serving swanky cocktails or taking the guests ashore in the tender instead. You sort of sign up for working during those days the rest of the world has off when you join a super yacht, right?
Your birthday however, another day you would normally spend in the company of loved ones, could be on any given day, even a day when you don’t have to get up at 6am to set the table for breakfast or shammy the cap rail and make the stainless shine.
When it comes to birthdays, I think there’s two types of people: there’s those that embrace the big day, set up an event on Facebook, know what cake to get, frock to wear, who’s to come and what party theme they’d like. Then there’s the less cheery type…who like to keep it all a big secret. People will know not to expect an invite or to have to go through great lengths to find an original gift as birthday girl or boy’s motto ‘the less fuss the better’ seems to gain strength year by year.
So whether you openly come out for being a birthday buff or you shrug your shoulders and pretend you couldn’t care less, the business of birthdays on board for crew is a funny one. And one you can’t hide from anyone either as the captain has everyone’s passports packed away in his desk. So on your ‘special’ day you could be at sea, on charter or, if you’re lucky, in port without the big man on board.
If you’ve got guests on or the boat’s otherwise frantically busy you won’t get your cake and, even if you did, you certainly won’t be able to eat it. I once joined a boat on my birthday and was so overloaded from the handover I was still scribbling down notes until way after the sun had gone down, by myself, in the crew mess. It was also the year that my mates and my boyfriend-on-a-different-boat actually forgot to send wishes. And although I restrained from sulking, arms folded with bottom lip sticking out in my cabin, I admit it did hurt my birthday ego just a little. I also recall the birthday of a chief stew friend of mine whom I worked with on a 40m motor yacht. We were underway from Italy to the UK so went through my top favourite stretch of sea, the Bay of Biscay. Not the smoothest of seas at the best of times but this particular trip saw 4-5m swells and 40+ knots straight on the nose. It was pretty horrific and instead of cake and cava she munched on dry biscuits and sipped water which took most of her strength to keep inside. That one definitely didn’t hit the best birthday list. Also of course she got no cards in the post, or packages in the mail. Boo.
And although I’ve been an adult for quite a while now and no longer get to hand out little treats at school or wear a party hat and insist that “No, really, I don’t need anything” I’ll admit to checking Facebook and counting messages even whilst pretending birthdays for me are really no big deal at all.
It might all seem a bit childish but this is exactly my point. From an early age you’ve experienced sleepless nights weeks before the big day. You’ve spent hours planning, prepping and fantasizing while the other kids at school talked about your, already legendary, bowling and pizza party. On the day itself you got so exciting you spent an hour running around the living room in circles and almost fainted when you saw that super sized ribboned parcel which you really hoped held the Star Wars – Millennium Falcon.
Father Christmas and the Easter bunny might not do much for us anymore but I think your birthday still has the power to bring out your inner-kid big expectations. I’m guessing that like me, most grown-ups still wake up with their first thought being: “Oh! It’s my birthday today! Yay me!” It’s a day when friends and family reach out to you with anything from a ‘Best wishes mate’ on Facebook to a surprise party consisting of a hundred, happy, smiley faces.’
On boats, generally speaking, the crew will probably all chip in to get you a gift and cheffie will make your favourite cake. Then, after work you’ll probably all troop down to a restaurant of your choosing and have your fellow crew members fork out for a posh meal, which is really cool. Because of all the days that you’re on a boat and away from the people you love, (who may or may not be able to get in touch with you), this is the day to show some away-from-home support. So, any yachties out there with a birthday to come or just passed: ‘Happy Birthday buddy’. And here’s to hoping, even though you’re on board a boat, you can have your cake and eat it too!