Today I am so honoured to have one of my all time favourite human beings on the blog! Mary Margaret was my Chief Stewardess several years ago and I consider her to be one of my dearest friends. Onboard we called her M & she was the ultimate Southern Belle! After 6 years at sea, M is now based back in the States, working with a legal firm that is fighting tirelessly to protect the Environment.

So M, welcome to The Yacht Stew & thank you for being the first Mermaid Monday feature of 2019!

Hi, my name is Mary Margaret & I’m a former yacht stewardess. I lived at sea for six years before moving back to my hometown of Atlanta to spend much deserved time with my family, spend my hard earned money, and figure out what in the world I was going to do after such crazy and untraditional employment. My yachting career started when I was dayworking on a sport fishing boat in Costa Rica a year after graduating college and six years later I found myself as a chief stew on a Superyacht in Spain. I mostly worked in Central America, Southern California, the Pacific Northwest, and the Caribbean.

M, you have travelled to areas of the world most yachts would never consider! Looking back, what part of yachting did you enjoy the most?

The endless hope and excitement you feel towards your next adventure is addicting. It is truly thrilling to constantly wake up to a different country and be able to explore it. If you learn to embrace uncertainty, you will thrive in yachting. Itineraries change constantly due to owner’s whims, mechanical issues, or weather. If you stay on a boat just because they promise a specific destination you will be consistently disappointed. But if novelty is what you’re after, every new destination holds a different sort of promise. I remember one season we were in Panama, planning to make our way to Colombia in a day or two when we got a call from the owner who decided that Canada sounded much better. 4,000 miles later, my summer plans looked a bit different. It can be anxiety-ridden to relinquish complete control of your schedule to outside forces, but when I did I was able to live in a state of excitement towards the next unknown. 

The endless hope and excitement you feel towards your next adventure is addicting. It is truly thrilling to constantly wake up to a different country and be able to explore it. If you learn to embrace uncertainty, you will thrive in yachting. Itineraries change constantly due to owner’s whims, mechanical issues, or weather. If you stay on a boat just because they promise a specific destination you will be consistently disappointed. But if novelty is what you’re after, every new destination holds a different sort of promise. I remember one season we were in Panama, planning to make our way to Colombia in a day or two when we got a call from the owner who decided that Canada sounded much better. 4,000 miles later, my summer plans looked a bit different. It can be anxiety-ridden to relinquish complete control of your schedule to outside forces, but when I did I was able to live in a state of excitement towards the next unknown. 


I completely agree with you that you have to embrace the uncertainly! Living on the water, what was your #1 challenge & #1 learning curve?

Coming from a service background, I knew nothing about boats so there was a lot of technical and safety information to master. But the biggest challenge was also what I loved about the job; navigating living and working with people with all different sorts of backgrounds from all over the world. It’s hard enough to live with friends or a boyfriend/girlfriend of your choosing! There were language barriers, cultural norms, religious differences, class issues – I always felt I was in the middle of the largest sociological experiment of my lifetime. Aiming to be the mediator between all the personalities on the boat was always my goal and a never-ending challenge.

We met when you hired Ben & I as a couple! After 2 months of looking together, your phone call was perhaps the best news we could of gotten! It was on this yacht that I watched M outfit the yacht with a name change in a tiny time frame & work with first-time Owners.

M, Being Chief Stew, what did you love most about the job role?

I’m going to break the rules and name two favourites – hiring crew and planning the owner’s vacations. I feel fortunate to have worked with a couple of programs that really allowed my input on both. I could interview and hire interior crew that I thought would not only be great employees, but great roommates and friends. That element of control made a huge difference in the culture on the boat and I value friendships I made very deeply. I also loved researching restaurants and activities that the owner would like in each new destination. It was a way for me to explore a new place, build relationships with locals, and show my boss that I am really clued in to his preferences. Booking a surprise mariachi band for a birthday, finding the best surfing guide on the island, or executing a farewell brunch on the beach are among my favorites. I worked for one family for four years and celebrated birthdays, engagements, and pregnancies and cared deeply that they enjoyed their vacations and wanted to make them memorable.


How did you find the transition moving back to the States & into land life?

Moving back was very difficult. My aimless nature that had become part of my identity now plagued me as I contemplated what I would enjoy next. I came very close to working on yachts three separate times after keeping in touch with old captains. I had decided I wanted to work in law and managed to get a job working for a lawyer almost immediately. The first two years were difficult because the learning curve was steep, the hours still quite demanding, the atmosphere was stressful, and I was making less than half of the salary I enjoyed my last year on the water.

What is your current position & how did you fall into this?

As in many fields, after I gained some experience and paid my dues, I landed a fantastic job working as a legal assistant at a nonprofit environmental law firm. Unlike many life decisions I made in my 20s, I feel like I actively chose this path and I know it’s what I want. A true passion for the environment grew out of traveling to corners of the world and I am fascinated by how change actually occurs in our country.

I was over joyed when M RSVP’d YES to our Wedding this past summer!

You are such an inspiration to me. You relentlessly fight for what you feel is right, regardless of the intense political climate in the States & that’s pretty spectacular. In what way do you feel as though you are making a difference in the world?

I ultimately don’t know that any of my work is making a true difference, but I do know that I am now trying. I cherish the years I worked on yachts and learned so much about myself. I examined – for the first time – how much of my identity was truly mine and how much had been formed by the culture of my upbringing. That experience allowed me to cut to what was really important to me and what would make me happy, and I knew that for me, working on boats felt like a very self-serving life. I try to live by appreciating the small ways that I can affect others in my life and believe that some of my actions can be an impetus for change; change in how we treat each other and how we treat our planet.  

Any advice for new crew looking to join the industry, or stews looking to move up to chief stew?

Have humility. Stick it out. When you’re starting out you pretty much have to be willing to take any opportunity that comes your way. It can be competitive so there’s no room for your ego. But, after you’ve gained experience and kept your head down and stayed at a job or two for at least six months, you’ll be able to be more selective on what you want and you’ll have the skills to back it up. Don’t get caught up in any drama or politics that go along with living with other crew, just enjoy the ride! 

Too many chief stews I knew were fueled by power trips. They would let lack of confidence in a certain area create a hostile environment for girls to work in so the chief wouldn’t feel threatened. A true leader knows that you are only as strong as your weakest link. If you build others up in a positive environment that plays to individual strengths you will garner respect from everyone, even if your hospital corners aren’t the tightest on the boat.

Thank you so much for your honesty & being candid about your time on yachts, M!

I love being able to share incredible women with all of your every month! If you would like to be featured during the Mermaid Monday feature, please send an email to [email protected]!

Big Hugs,
Gem xo

Gemma Hulbert
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Gemma Hulbert

Hello! My name is Gemma, the girl behind The Yacht Stew. After 7 years of working on yachts, I wanted to create a platform where I could share my stories, travels & passions. I have been asked a million and one times “What do you actually do working on a yacht?” – hopefully this blog will give you a good insight. I’m so excited to share my travels & stories with you.
Gemma Hulbert
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