What should we do with the drunken sailors?


Booze and boats have been the best of mates since the tying of the first bowline. 17th century sailors drank a whopping 4,5 litres of beer a day in the Royal Navy, and after the capture of Jamaica in 1655, half a pint of neat rum was consumed, twice a day, every day, Wehey!!

However, on 31 July 1970, or Black Tot Day, the sun passed over the yardarm for the final time and free rum was removed from navy life, which led to much disgruntled muttering below the decks..

But the crucial question is…has so much changed since those early days of daytime drinking? A 2009 report revealed that drunkenness in the modern Navy has spiralled to such an extent that apparently one in five sailors drink over 50 units of alcohol a week. Half admitted to binge-drinking and about 15% were considered to be ‘problem drinkers’. Pretty worrying stuff, right? So what’s happening onboard our swanky super yachts, nowadays?

Does this make us yachties tut while we sip cups of chamomile tea or would we give those navy boys ‘a rum for their money’?

I’m sure everyone’s heard being at sea referred to as ‘being at sea-hab’ so let’s pose this question on the Palma Yacht Crew Facebook page. This is a group for yachties, run by yachties, which has over a staggering 15,000 followers.

The question posted was simply: “Do us yachties drink too much and if so why?” The list of comments received was longer than my hangovers last these days but the bulk of these were posted just for grins. From the more serious comments one could definitely conclude that there’s a lot of swigging and swilling on the super yacht scene and as B.L. rightly said: “those of us who’ve been in the industry long enough all know a good handful of people who hit the bottle way harder than they should”.

I’ll be the first to admit that nothing says five-o-clock finish like a crisp cold drink of the alcoholic variety. Whether you’ve spent a dusty day sanding the cap rail in the stifling summer heat, or been in cool aircon counting piles of polos and updating spreadsheets; come 1705 (or beer-thirty) it’s good to get off the boat and troop to a nearby bar to have a drink and a well deserved change of scenery.

I mean, our ‘commute’ to work takes a nanosecond, and we take no bona-fide breaks away from the office desk at lunch time, so it’s hardly surprising that one may want to step out into the big wide world of terra firma at day’s end, is it?

Tots of Rum for Royal Navy Splice the Mainbrace

 A sailor on- board HMS York measures out tots of rum for the ship’s company, in preparation for the Royal Navy tradition ‘Splice the Mainbrace’.

From bankers to builders -there are plenty of people who unwind from work with a cold one, yet it does seem easy for us yachties to turn ‘one’ drink into a liquid dinner, stagger back to the boat reeking like a brewery with kebab stains down our shorts..  I.C. believes: “It’s a habit yachties develop in the absence of friends/family to hang out with, coupled with the fact that we have no ‘home’ to go to at the end of the day” (so no dinner to cook, shopping to do or goldfish to feed.)

And although the bosun won’t ring a bell at midday so that stews, engineers and deckhands can drop what they’re doing to crowd around a barrel in order to collect their daily rum ration, it does seem like the work hard-play hard(er) mentality is as much part of modern yachtie culture as the wearing of flip flops.

Well…as long as you can deal with your hangover the next day, that is. (We’ve all had to deal with that skulking stewardess hiding in a guest cabin or that grumpy engineer taking a nap curled up next to the generator while the rest of us were doing a full wash down, right?)

Can we simply blame it on the fact we keep switching from extremes? When on charter, you could be in charge of figuring out how to fly out 7 little people who’d want to water-ski around the boat dressed in tutus at your owner’s request, and after a full-on summer season, spend a month in a container polishing all 2676873 nuts, bolts and tracks which the rig’s made up of.

Either situation could make even the soberest of sailors long for hard liquor. As I.S. comments “When you are on charter for months at a time, you’re tired, stressed and worn out and you finally have a day/night off…it’s the easiest way to blow off steam.” Other reasons mentioned were: the big wads of tax free cash, and the small amounts of time in which to spend it; also isolation, boredom and boozing being one of the best ways to bond.


I’m not pointing fingers here and I’ve certainly been guilty of tip-toeing back on board three sheets to the wind, like most of us have. But plenty of ‘polled’ people told me they feel pressured into boozing, as some feel chastised for not joining in with the daily drink-athons…and that’s not cool. And even less cool is when it’s the captain who’s hiding a bottle of Havana Club under the chart table. A healthy boozing balance, onboard a boat, starts at the top.

Yachting might be getting more and more professionalized, with workshops on how to manage crew or your career…but where’s the one about learning to deal with living/working/sleeping/eating in a drinking culture? On the same note, newbie crew are taught how to not rock up to a new boat on a skateboard, or how to perform during a skype interview, but not how to look out for M/Y Boozefest or Captain Cocktail.

I know this is a touchy subject but I do believe it’s something we need to start chatting about; otherwise, we may be dressed in perfectly pressed polos, sport shaved chins and clean haircuts, but we’d be no better than the pillaging pirates that were around 4 centuries ago..  ;)

Written by: Danielle Berclouw

Image two: licensed under the Open Government Licence v1.0

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