What is this all about?
Who am I?
My name is Lauraine. I am a 50-something mother of two grown-up daughters, whose normal habitat is an office in Melbourne, Australia where I am employed to provide corporate communication services, writing strategies, newsletters, Internet content and that sort of thing.
It’s great work and I love it. Trouble is, I’m addicted to sailing so when Will invited me to pretend to be his wife so we could apply for a job he found on the Internet, I jumped at the chance.
Throwing in my day job wasn’t such a big deal because it was a contract that was due to end six months later anyway.
I’d sold ‘Trade Wind’, my own 43-foot yacht that I’d been living on, simply because I got an offer that was too good to refuse. All boats, even yachts as well-loved as mine, are always for sale at the right price.
Both my daughters, and their father, had grown up and left home years ago, so I was foot-loose and fancy free, and ripe for my next big adventure.
Living and crewing a luxury yacht around Europe was perfect.
Who is Bob?
Bob is a professional skipper. I’d met him when I’d employed him to help me sail Trade Wind to her new home in Brisbane. It’s a long way from Melbourne to Brisbane in a boat — 742 nautical miles to be exact — or two weeks of leisurely coastal hopping, sailing from one anchorage or marina to the next, so there were plenty of opportunities for us to get to know each other.
Bob is a slim guy, just a bit taller than me, whose agile frame belies his 68 years. He’d spent the past decade crewing and skippering on various boats around the world in between occasional stints as an executive trainer at a small firm based in Melbourne.
My friend Sandy also joined us on Trade Wind for the delivery to Queensland. Her husband had just died of cancer and she was keen for a diversion from her life where everything reminded her of him.
We sailed around the coast of Australia within sight of land, with the restless ocean stretched out to the horizon in every other direction, like a monster infinity-edge pool.
There’s something about sailing…
It was cold, wild and stormy along the southern coast with stiff winds, which pushed the boat along at good speeds, but after we turned north at the tip of Victoria, the weather started steadily improving.
I loved it. I loved the multi-coloured hues of the sea and sky as the sun made its leisurely arc from sun rise to sun set. I loved our regular visits by cheeky sea birds and pods of playful dolphins, skimming and leaping across the boat’s bow-wave as we ploughed northwards.
I would lie on my stomach at the bow with half my body hanging over the gunnel as the water swished past below, stretching my arm down in an attempt to stroke them as they arched tantalizingly close, teasing me with their intelligent gaze to touch them if I could.
Sometimes they would roll over and swim on their backs, as if inviting me to scratch their exposed bellies, all the while maintaining the same speed as the yacht with effortless ease.
At anchor, we were entertained by curious seals with gentle eyes, and the occasional noisy penguin barking its funny little bark. There was always a huge variety of fish life—big and small—ceaselessly gliding under the boat or chaotically flipping about on the water’s surface to escape dangerous predators below.
A hint of things to come goes unnoticed…
Shortly after we headed north we sailed into Eden and picked up Trade Wind’s new owner, Steve, a slow-talking Queenslander who worked as a gardener and was planning to live aboard Trade Wind now that he’d sold his half of the family home to his ex-wife after a protracted separation.
With Sandy on board it somehow transpired that we both did all the cooking. I challenged the men about this but they both ducked for cover, sprouting excuses. Any boat, even one as big as Trade Wind, was made exponentially smaller by each dispute, no matter how minor, so I let it pass.
The cockpit was relatively protected and the weather still mild enough to enjoy the solitary time we spent on deck. When boredom struck, as it did when it was too dark or we were too tired to attend to the myriad of little cleaning, tinkering or tightening jobs, we played games.
The bait is set…
One evening Bob sais, “My dream is to work in Europe as a skipper on a privately owned yacht.”
“Sounds wonderful,” I’d responded. “Can I come with you?”
I meant it playfully but Bob suddenly got all serious. “That would be wonderful.”
He’d looked at me expectantly and I remember the atmosphere changing. I had just promised myself that it was time to pretend to be a grown-up, settle down and trade in my nomadic lifestyle for something more befitting the mother of a pair of private-school educated daughters. But heck. It had sounded enticing.
“What’s involved?” I’d asked.
Bob had smiled his nicest smile. “Living and working on someone else’s luxury yacht, sailing it between exotic ports in Europe to meet up with them at the next anchorage. I’d be skipper and you’d be crew and maybe help with cooking, but,” he hastened to add, “of course we’d share everything. We’d share the pay, the skippering and any cooking or cleaning.”
Although it had sounded fun, I still hadn’t been entirely sold on the idea. I had just returned from three months of sailing the Adriatic Sea on a friend’s boat after my last change management contract finished in May.
When I had tried to re-enter the job market I was only offered short-term contracts or told that I was “over qualified” by interviewers who were barely out of their teens.
Yeah right. Them and their caked on make-up. Seriously?! How much younger do they want to look?
Being at the stage in life where it’s a lot easier to love a favourite piece of furniture than my partner, I know I should have had Botox (or at least a couple of hundred grams of Plaster of Paris and a good finishing sanding) before the interviews but who could have foreseen a world where experience was a hindrance not an asset and where for women it’s obviously still better to be cute than smart!
Do opportunities knock twice?
I had only known Bob a short time but figured there was nothing to lose, so we put together a LinkedIn profile detailing our joint experience and offering our services as a skipper/hostess team, then spent the rest of our night-watches trawling ‘Crew Wanted’ websites.
Most were seeking husband/wife partnerships.
“Don’t worry about it,” Bob had assured me with a smile and friendly hug. “We can just pretend.”
His arms felt good and despite our careful use of water on board, he smelt good too, all salty with just the faintest whiff of soap. I snuggled closer as we flicked between sites.
He seemed normal enough and despite being more than 13 years older than me, he was fit and healthy and obviously keen on me.
He made me cups of tea every morning and evening, and we never ran out of things to discuss or debate. He was well read, well informed on politics and history, and not shy about sharing snippets of romantic poetry with me.
One night he quoted an old Buddha saying; “In the sky, there is no distinction of east and west; people create distinctions out of their own minds and then believe them to be true.” I was sold. This man was gold.
I thought, what a laugh. Imagine if someone actually responded to us one day?! Just imagine actually sailing for a living instead of working in the corporate world?
But that’s exactly what happened by the time we reached Queensland. Three or four Skype interviews later, we had a contract on a privately owned yacht sailing out of Monaco. Me as a hostess and Bob as the skipper!