Over the years I have been lucky enough to charter a yacht, be a guest on a yacht, own a yacht with friends, and sell a yacht. As luxurious and posh as that sounds, there have also been unhinged shenanigans and outlandish tales that occurred onboard these sea vessels. This is the story about those true events.
On one of our first yachting adventures, our children were four and one. We were invited as guests to join our friends as they attempted to cruise from Honduras through Guatemala, down the Rio Dolce River, to end up in Mexico, all in 10 days’ time. As we boarded the ship in the middle of a sweltering summer, we were told that the air conditioning was broken, and the stabilizers (that keep the boat from rocking side to side) were inoperable. Mosquitos filled the air and red fire ants stormed the land when we tried to hike ashore. I covered myself in army-level oil-based Deet, and tried to adapt. At one point Scott told me I looked “homeless.” We took the unstable ancient jet-skis down the river; our rambunctious toddler son fell in. Later we found out there were piranhas in the water. The Federales boarded our yacht as we crossed the border from Honduras into Guatemala. They had large rifles and looked like they wanted something. As they searched the premises of the ship, we gave them beers. They stayed for a while, enjoyed the yacht, and finally gave us the “all clear” to enter the country. Somehow, I felt like a drug smuggler who had just been granted a reprieve.
A year later, in Belize, my friends had their newborn daughter onboard and she was unable to take the malaria medication we were all prescribed. When her baby developed a fever, we were devastated. We rushed her to the nearest doctor, a cement hut without electricity in the jungle. He said she was malaria-free, although I’m unsure how he knew that as he didn’t seem to do any kind of test. Our friends had a smaller yacht in those days and the kids slept in the hallways, on the floor, or next to the crew’s quarters. While we had dinner, we would let them fall asleep in the tv room/salon. Then when we were done, we would carry the sleeping kids below deck and put them somewhere for the night. The running joke was that since London was the oldest and tallest, Scott would inevitably knock her head on the small circular stairway as he carried her sleeping body down the stairs!
We took many trips around the Bahamas and the adventures there were equally bizarre. We had a captain ruin the yacht propellor by crashing into some rocks on a jetty while leaving the harbor. He hired a local Bahamian to fix it. The man took it to get fixed and then placed the newly fixed propellor in his locked car. He told us we could only have it back for a large sum of cash as a “surcharge ransom fee.” We ended up having to go to a casino in Nassau to collect the cash and pay off the “thief” so we could get the yacht moving again. The following year, another Captain called to tell us that the tender sunk one night (when we weren’t on the yacht.) We had to buy a new tender. Later we found out from the Coast Guard that our tender was found in Cuba! We had a different Captain that hated an arrogant guest so much that he used the man’s toothbrush to clean the toilet and then he replaced the brush in the man’s bathroom! We had a trip where we were told the toilets were broken and we needed to use the sinks or showers for number 1 and the ocean for number 2. Only Scott complied.
Drunk stories seem to happen on every yacht, and we sure had some doozies. One time the crew decided to stay up on the last night and drink all the remaining tequila along with two of the guests. Vomiting ensued all over the sides of the boat. We had a stewardess get so drunk she needed to be restrained while at a local bar. We had a guest store chocolate-covered weed coffee beans in the private refrigerator. The female chef decided to help herself to several of them, not knowing they were laced with weed. She was unable to cook that day!
Underwater encounters have also been crazy on our trips. Scott and two friends were approached by a seven-foot reef shark while they were spearfishing. Scott watched as the shark moved in on him getting closer and closer, around and around Scott’s body in concentric circles. Finally, Scott had to aggressively poke the shark behind the eye with the blunt end of his spear to get him to leave. Another time, a kid onboard got a jellyfish sting and somebody else offered to pee on him to fix it. The problem was the kid who was going to provide the pee had touched the jellyfish with his hand, so when he took out his penis to pee, he got stung on his penis. Imagine that! We had friends onboard once who were filming a shark documentary and asked Scott if he’d like to be in it. They hired a shark expert to take them out to a spot with lots of sharks so they could swim and film. Scott got in the water with the sharks and stayed there until he heard the shark expert scream, “Get out NOW!”
One of the benefits of owning a yacht is being able to fly to the ship without any luggage since you can leave everything you need onboard. I would regularly pack all of my bathing suits, evening wear, summer dresses, etc in a duffle bag, along with my needlepoint, make-up, and jewelry. The Captain would store my duffle until my next time onboard. Well, once we had a Captain who thought it was a clever idea to store my duffle bag under some pipes in the engine room. The next time I boarded the yacht, I opened my duffle to find black mold covering everything in there. All my clothes looked like they had been run through a shredder. It was bad enough that I lost them all, but I also had not one item to wear for the next 2 weeks as we were at sea in an isolated port.
Sometimes the Captains would make suggestions to us that later turned out to be disastrous. Scott got swimmer’s ear and ended up with a really bad earache. The Captain told him he needed to put vinegar in his ear to cure it, so he did. When he still had the earache a few days later (after several vinegar applications), the Captain said, “Oh, maybe it’s oil, not vinegar…let’s try that!” Desperate for a cure, Scott started with the oil. By the time he got to the doctor back in Los Angeles, he had a giant coagulated solid mass of ear wax/vinegar/oil that had solidified within his ear and had to be removed. That same Captain sent us out in a lightning/rain storm on jetskis one time. He told us that if the current got too rough and we couldn’t get back to the yacht, we could take shelter in the large mansion on the adjacent island. He said he knew the folks and it would be unlocked. The storm raged and we were stuck, so we made our way to the mansion and entered. We used their beach towels to dry off, put our wet clothes in their dryer, and watched tv in their living room until the storm subsided a few hours later. Once we got back to the yacht, we found out that the Captain KNEW OF the folks with the mansion but didn’t really KNOW them. We could have been arrested or worse, for entering their home! The last interesting fact about this particular Captain is that he shunned the typical Captain’s uniform of kaiki pants and polo shirt. He decided to wear a very small thong speedo all day long. I can never “unsee” the image of him; small, tan, and skinny, in his speedo as he ran the ship. Amazingly, I took no photos of him so you are spared.
We had another Captain from Alabama whose hobby was hunting wild boar with his trained dogs. The dogs wore kevlar vests. When the crew-showers broke he would shower on the aft deck in the open air. He warned us, female guests, by saying, “Watch out for the white snake!” We were pretty sure he was bringing gals on board the yacht when we weren’t there and enjoying the benefits of the master suite. Our crew has certainly been a varied cast of characters. We had a first mate who had an artistically spectacular nautical back tattoo from his time in the navy.
Since the yacht was almost always in foreign countries, the United States laws weren’t applicable. The Captains decided that gave them “carte blanche” to allow guests without a scuba diving license to dive, even though each country has its own policies and requirements. Every Captain we had specialized in his own two-minute version of “Here’s how you scuba dive, now, let’s go!” Several of the guests ended up panicking underwater.
Food was always an important factor on the yacht. On the first trip I went on, I arrived to find a platter of Spam sandwiches for lunch. But the food can also be decadent and you can get used to things like “morning cake” and “after swim cocktails.” Sometimes the chefs don’t provision the yacht properly and they run out of fresh produce by the last few days of the trip. I’ve seen untold ways of preparing canned veggies and syrupy fruits. We had a female chef once that moon-lighted with a YouTube cooking show in steam-punk attire wearing a corset with the camera placed right above her bosoms. She was a great cook!
Lots of things people do on yachts look exotic but are really not. There’s a deserted island in the Bahamas called Sergeant Major, or “Pig Island.” The wild pigs there swim in the ocean and are fed by tourists who bring them vegetables by boat. Instagram is filled with images of models frolicking in the water next to the pigs. Of course, I jumped in the water and did the same thing. It wasn’t until my third time there that I realized all the “rocks” in the water are really pig poop. Yep, I don’t jump in anymore.
I can’t honestly remember a time I went on our yacht when everything worked. There was always some electrical problem, plumbing problem, HVAC dilemma, or something broken on the ship itself. We hired and fired more crew than I can name. And we paid a lot of money to fix stuff. That journey is over, and now we can look back on those memories and have some laughs. I’m sure there are more yacht trips in our future, through friends (who just bought a new one) and through chartering, so stay tuned to see what mayhem ensues.