Unsung Heroes: A day in the life of a globetrotting 180-foot super yacht chief stew

Jun 18, 2021

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Sailing around the world in a yacht is a bucket list adventure — but what if you’re the crew and not the guest? Are The Exumas still just as gorgeous?

For starters, don’t believe everything you see on “Below Deck” — the life of a yacht’s chief stew (short for chief steward/ess) is nonstop. Up at the crack of dawn and the last to call it a night only once the boat is spotless, these crewmembers work tirelessly to meet every request of their guests.

That’s why we’re profiling this unsung hero of the travel industry to find out what it takes to pull chief stew status on the open waters.

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Unsung hero: Maxine Robert, 30, chief stew aboard the 180-foot superyacht Loon

TPG: How did you get into being a crew member on a yacht?

MR: I grew up in South Africa. A friend of mine there went into yachting straight out of high school. He went to Palma de Mallorca and we’d hear his stories about the travel and the money you can make. My parents wanted me to study first, so I went to Cape Town and did a degree in psychology and business management. As soon as I finished my degree, my best friend and I left for Europe. We had the idea to try to crew for yachts for a year to get enough money for our travels. Our friend from South Africa helped us get into working on a boat. Nine years later, we are both still in yachting and working as chief stews.

TPG: What does a typical work week look like?

MR: If we’re not on charter, I typically have a Monday to Friday work week with daily duties I’m in charge of, focusing on a different part of the boat’s interior upkeep every day.

I also do a lot of accounting in addition to provisioning for the crew and for upcoming charters. It’s my job to make sure the boat is fully stocked for everybody on board at all times, that the crew’s uniforms are all ready. There are many things to take care of.

When we’re on charter, I’m in a service role full-time with our guests, getting them everything they need. I get up around 6:30 in the morning and we roll from coffees into breakfast, lunch, cocktails, dinner and so on.

Behind the scenes, of course, there is always so much going on, too. I’m responsible for the boat’s interior. It’s my job to make sure the cabins and common areas are in perfect condition at all times. I manage a team and there’s constant laundry, vacuuming the cabins and many other tasks to do when guests are out on an excursion. Then we are there to welcome them back on board with a cold towel and drink, of course. At the end of the day, the service onboard falls on me as the chief stew, so it’s nonstop when we’re on charter.

TPG: What is your favourite part of the job?

MR: That’s easy: The travel. The places you can see on a boat are incredible. We get the chance to travel to so many different places. I’ve done the Caribbean islands, with St Barths probably being one of my favourites. The Mediterranean season is a great one. There are some amazing places in Europe including Zakynthos, in the Greek Islands. I think the Exumas in the Bahamas has to be one of my all-time favourites. The yachting industry allows us to travel to places that would take me years to try to cover all on my own.

Related: These are the best times to visit the Caribbean

If you fly to the Bahamas or come here on holiday, you might come to Nassau and maybe get out on a day tour to see the swimming pigs. Half of these Exuma islands we see on Loon charters are places I wouldn’t have even thought to come to. Even though we are working most of the time, we still always get a day off before a charter or a day off after to explore where we are.

TPG: What is your least favourite part of the job?

MR: The most challenging thing is being away from family and not living a normal life. People think we are living the life because they see the photos we post. But they don’t realize that all the things we miss out on back home with family and friends take a toll.

Maxine onboard Loon. Photo courtesy of the author.

I can’t just fly back to South Africa on a whim for a niece or nephew’s birthday or a best friend’s wedding. We never go home for Christmas, since that’s the busiest time for charters. We miss out on a lot when it comes to family and friends, that’s definitely the hardest part of being in this business.

Related: The ultimate guide to The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection

TPG: What’s the one thing you wish more people understood about your job?

MR: I wish people knew the hours that we actually work. Sometimes guests may not even realise it. They’ll head off for the day and say “Enjoy your time off and having the boat to yourself,” which is really sweet, but we don’t actually have time off until we go to sleep at night. Our guests are paying a lot of money so we want to make sure they have the most amazing time. We don’t want them to see the challenges.

When they leave the boat, we spring into action hoovering, fluffing cushions, preparing everything so it will be perfect for their return. Even our friends don’t realize all the work that goes into things behind the scenes on a yacht.

TPG: What’s something anyone can do to be a better traveller in 2021 and beyond?

MR: With the whole COVID-19 situation, I think now is the time to put our feelings about the vaccine aside and just get it done and move on with things…I think that getting vaccinated is going to be the best way, moving forward, for all of us to get get back to normal and start travelling again.

TPG: Are there any VIP-type treatments a guest could score from you for good behaviour?

MR: Loon is a superyacht, and everyone gets the VIP treatment onboard. We offer a 10-star service. So we make sure that every single guest, no matter how young they are, gets that VIP level of service every moment of their stay with us. No request is too much.

TPG: How does working in the hospitality industry change your idea of travel, or going on holiday?

MR: The level of service we strive for and deliver on Loon definitely spoils us on land. When we go to order a coffee in a cafe or something, we get anxious when it takes too long. Everything in yachting has to happen very quickly for the guests. If someone orders a coffee or cocktail you run and get it. You don’t ever want the guest to be waiting too long for anything. So we have a very high standard when we go back on land. If I’m at a five-star hotel then I expect that level of service. But, of course, if I’m somewhere else more relaxed I also understand what I’m getting there. It’s funny, too, when you go into a yachtie’s home on land you’ll often find everything perfectly labelled and organised. We get used to a certain lifestyle and standard, for sure.

TPG: If you could go anywhere in the world on holiday, where would it be and why?

MR: The French Polynesian islands. It’s been a dream of mine to take a boat there. I was a surfer back in South Africa and I kitesurf, too. And those islands have great surf and they also have the beautiful waters like you find in the Bahamas. They have great diving, too…That’s my dream. To get on a sailboat and go to French Polynesia to explore.

Related: Complete guide to sailing from Papeete, Tahiti, French Polynesia

TPG: Tell us about the best holiday you’ve ever taken, or the best place you’ve ever travelled.

MR: That’s a tough one for sure. I love road-tripping through Colorado, it’s so beautiful up in the mountains. Bali is also high on my list, too. I would go there every year if I had the time.

But the best holiday I’ve taken would have to be to Mauritius. My dad’s side of the family is Mauritian. We’ve gone every year since I was little, always as a family. There’s everything there. You can surf. It’s got one of the best kite-surfing beaches in the world and some really great hiking trails, too. Mauritius is a very chilled-out island but also a place you can be very active. It’s the best of both worlds.

Photo courtesy of Motor Yacht Loon

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