I step on to Caroline, an 80-foot yacht from the old stone wharf in Monaco with a delicious sense of anticipation. This is my new home and office for the next five months.
“Come, come,” beckons Franco, the yacht’s owner and my employer. “Crew quarters are in forepeak. Put your bags there and unpack later. I’ll show you around.”
I hoist my backpack and tip-toe across the teak-lined, expansive back deck to the cockpit, step carefully over the coamings, onto the seat and floor, then awkwardly manoeuvre myself and my luggage down the five steps of the companionway into the luxurious main saloon.
“Down there,” Franco says, gesturing to one of two identical carved doors, leading for’ard.
I venture through to another equally luxurious small cabin and step from its ensuite, through a door into our cabin.
It’s disappointingly shabby, especially considering the luxury I’ve just walked through.
I turn to my partner, Bill who is pushing in behind me.
“Hmmmm…. pretty obvious where our position on the status ladder is!” I whisper. He smiles encouragingly at me and gives me a quick affectionate kiss on the lips as he dumps his bag then immediately turns to head back to the main salon.
That’s OK. It’s all part of the big adventure.
My role (I think) is mostly to act as crew when we deliver the boat to the next location, but when Franco and his guests (up to 4) are on board, I’m guessing “hostess” is a euphemism for cleaner and (hopefully only occasional) chef. Franco expects to spend the summer flying onto and off the boat with guests in between work and family commitments, so he won’t be on the boat the whole time. When he leaves, we’ll have the place to ourselves while we sail to the next destination.
Back in the salon area, Franco introduces us to his wife of 40 years,Brenda.
“You may call us Franco and Brenda when there is just us on the boat,” Franco says in his heavily accented Italian English. “But when we have guests or if there is anyone else around you must call us Dr. Peretto and Madam.”
Madam? To shake sudden images of a brothel, I politely ask, “What is your PhD in, Franco?”
Franco’s smile slips a bit and the question is left dangling in mid-air. It’s obvious that he doesn’t actually have a PhD.
Bill tactfully jumps into the silence to comment on the boat’s magnificent workmanship. HIs diversion tactic works and Franco starts giving us an enthusiastic tour as I swallow a moment of uneasiness. Who lies about their education and why?
The yacht is pretty darn awesome. Given its size, the interior is significantly larger than a normal (40 foot) yacht. There are more living spaces and sleeping quarters and it is way more luxurious than anything I’ve ever been on before.
The understated luxury of the yacht reflects Franco and Brenda. He’s a gregarious, enthusiastic outgoing type. She’s a sophisticated and very elegant former New Zealander. After 30 years of running a successful business in Monaco manufacturing web slings used to haul ships out of the water and as conveyor belts, both have now been made honorary citizens of the country by the reigning Prince (as you do?!)
I ask Franco what languages he speaks and he says, “Italian, Spanish, English, French and German.”
I already knew he spoke at least two languages because after picking us up at the Nice airport in France, he was pulled over on the way back to Monaco for doing 145km/hr in a 90 km/hr zone, and he spoke in both Italian and French to the Policeman, as he bribed him in cash to get off the fine. He then sped off again at 120km/hr confiding that he doesn’t mind speeding in Monaco because there is no road tax here, therefore he considers the speeding fines to be his contribution. But in France and Italy where there is a road tax, he hates paying speeding fines because they are just used to support corrupt government structures. In any country though, he advised that you must be nice to the policeman when he pulls you over, otherwise he charges double.
He also warned it is common practice for corrupt mayors to demand that the speeding cameras be set to 5 kilometers per hour below the speed limit or for red light cameras to be programmed to go off on the amber light, not red light, simply to make more money from fines.
Given they pay no tax here, I guess it would be easy to be “laissez-faire” about supporting the government using other means. Laissez-faire? Like that? Yep—I’ve decided to learn French in the three weeks we are here!