Kiwis in hot demand for luxury yachts

By Matt Ogilvie

Former Auckland desk jockey Michael Colley, above and below, is working on a 52m luxury yacht, La Mirage, in the Mediterranean.
Former Auckland desk jockey Michael Colley, above and below, is working on a 52m luxury yacht, La Mirage, in the Mediterranean.

Wanted: Kiwi crews for international superyachts. Must be comfortable cruising the globe, chatting respectfully with eccentric billionaires and celebrities and scrubbing toilets for weeks on end.

An increasing number of young New Zealanders are trying their luck with a job on board, lured by adventure, huge tips and the chance to see the world's most exotic locations.

Increased demand for courses in the pursuit of work on overseas luxury vessels has seen Auckland superyacht qualification educators at the New Zealand Maritime School and Mahurangi Technical Institute struggling to keep up.

Aspiring superyacht workers learn a host of skills, including fire safety, silver service and scrubbing decks.

The world's largest private yacht, which was launched last year, is 180m long and has its own helipad. It was built for United Arab Emirates President Khalifa Al Nahy for about $605 million.

Adrian Paarman, site manager at Warkworth's Mahurangi Tech, said the wait list for its superyacht course had doubled.

"We usually have about four or five people on the wait list but next year that's increased to 10 people."

New Zealand Maritime School commercial and yacht licensing programme co-ordinator Louise Deehan-Owen said around 70 per cent of students on last year's course had travelled overseas for work.

Both institutions run a superyacht course three times a year with a maximum of 20 people per course.

Each year thousands of hopefuls from around the world descend upon the marinas of Antibes in the South of France, Fort Lauderdale in the United States, or Palma de Mallorca in Spain in the hope of securing work during the summer's high-season.

New Zealand stewards have a far better chance of being selected due to their "can-do" attitude and inclination to work "way beyond their job description", according to superyacht recruitment agent Stephanie D'Audney.

"I've had captains call me and ask specifically for Kiwis because we get the work done and we're also a lot of fun to have on board which is really important as it's such a small space to live and work, so you have to be really easy-going."

She believed the increase in Kiwis pursuing such work was due to the stories shared by those returning from boats in exotic locations.

"People hear about superyachts because we all come back and tell such fantastic stories, but we don't talk about how we've had to scrub toilets for months on end."

Superyacht job 'no holiday'

Four years ago Michael Colley "slaved behind a desk" in a central Auckland office. Now he is cruising towards Corsica in the Mediterranean Sea on board a 52m superyacht.

He first found out about the life of luxury yachts through friends.

"Some girls I knew were over in France doing yachting and making great coin, which introduced me to the idea of travelling and getting paid at the same time," he said.

He's coy about divulging the names of owner or famous celebrities who have cruised aboard his boat, as the crew sign confidentiality agreements. But friends have worked for the likes of Phil Collins and Seal and Heidi Klum. Rhianna liked to charter yachts and Dr Dre was rumoured to be building one for $300 million, he said.

He completed an international boat safety course and booked a one-way trip to Antibes, south of France.

"I was job hunting and would go into the local bars at night where there was these crews spending loads of 'free money' as they called it," which he later found out were cash tips from charter boat guests.

Tips are a major drawcard for those working in the industry.

"Last week I finished an eight-day charter and each of the crew got given 2200 ($3460) on top of their salary."

And he was able to share some stories of opulent requests on other boats. "The owner of this huge yacht flew in a special baker first class from Switzerland to the Bahamas to bake a cake for his wife for her birthday - but she didn't like it so it was given to the crew."

Most guests were "normal, approachable and friendly".

"They might ask for something that you think is over the top but they're paying through the roof to be on board."

The former account manager had not had a day off in months and wanted to remind people that it was no holiday. "Our boat needs to look like it's worth 40 million so just be prepared to work harder then you ever have in your entire life."

- NZ Herald

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