John Daly: 'Love islands? Here's a cool career'
I'm not so sure the old phrase "youth is wasted on the young" carries the same weight it used to. Most of the whippersnappers I cross paths with seem to have their life's act very well together. That was the case again recently when a happenchance conversation on a west of Ireland quayside enlightened me on a niche world I was previously ignorant of. At this midway point of summer most college J1-ers are well ensconced on that rite of passage - the summer job abroad.
For most, this likely means bartending in Manhattan or working on a building site in Boston - good fun, a romance or two, plus a few hundred dollars left over for Freshers Week next September. What's not to like?
For a more select cohort, though, the summer job could be the entry point to a whole other life working as a 'boat bum' on million-dollar super yachts in the nautical playgrounds of the southern hemisphere.
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The pair I met in Galway stood out like glowing Abercrombie beacons - bleached hair, scuffed sailing shoes, salt-washed shorts and wide open smiles that said money in the bank.
"I grew up around boats, was a decent enough deckhand, but never knew it could be a great way to make money," one sailor of fortune apprised me. "I got a text from a pal on a Wednesday offering a job starting in Antibes that weekend, picked up the pre-paid ticket, flew to Nice and became a deck hand on a €30m gin palace Friday evening."
Welcome to a world of polished mahogany, open-air Jacuzzis, fine dining on 20-seater tables and a helipad always ready for arrivals.
Calling it a 'boat', as sailors always do, is like comparing The Shelbourne to a seaside B&B. As part of a tightly knit international sailing community servicing the global armada of luxury yachts, these maritime mercenaries travel the world at someone else's expense and earn very decent tax-free money into the bargain.
Found in a natural habitat of upmarket resorts along the Med over the summer before moving across to America's East Coast for the autumn and down to the Caribbean during the winter, the membership requirements of this select fraternity comprise a sound sailing knowledge and an easy adaptability to changing conditions - attributes for which Irish sailors are universally regarded in high esteem.
The payoff comes in a golden lifestyle of high-class travel and a weekly pay cheque that's often hard to spend. At this nose-bleed level, total professionalism is the order of the day.
Top-notch skippers command upwards of $300,000 a year tax free, plus living accommodation and a well-fed keep. Down the scale from first mate to chef and deckhands, the figures are no less appealing, cruising in a similar arc from $100,000 to $40,000. At low water, that translates as a minimum of $3,500 per month in your pocket, living in a four-star environment, docking in some of the hippest enclaves on the planet, and occasionally doing some ocean racing across azure waters when the boss comes to visit. "During my year on board, the owner only came on the boat three times - once in Thailand, another time in the Maldives and Christmas week in Miami."
Despite their laid-back, off-duty appearance, every crew is driven by a collective spirit of excellence. "It's about bringing your A-game every day, and in return you get to cruise paradise islands, take shore leave in places like Newport and Negril, and get a monthly pay cheque you'd be hard-pressed to spend. Once you break into this world, believe me, it's very hard to think of settling into a regular nine-to-five life ever again."
Driving back along the M4 into the inevitable Sunday night tailbacks I tried not to ponder too deeply on the road not taken...