#humansofyachting – Jess Harbison
Jess launched The Seaworthy Stew last year, supporting and training green crew who want to join the superyacht industry.
“I started out in the yachting industry a bit later than most. I was 25 and had done my degree and was working in a 9-5 office job and it just felt like the right time. I had a few friends who worked on yachts and I always thought I’d love it. Eventually, I decided, if not now, then when? So I took the leap. In some ways, I felt I had always been gravitating towards it.
As a total novice, I had no idea that yachting was even seasonal, so I headed over to Antibes in late October not realising that it was really bad timing; everyone had either crossed over to the Caribbean or had moved to skeleton crew for the winter. Luckily though, through friends of friends, I ended up getting a job as a junior stew over in the Bahamas.
I think being a little bit older than most junior stews worked in my favour. My chief stew saw that I wanted to progress and encouraged me a lot. Lots of people were willing to train and support me, and I ended up working on a succession of motor yachts and working my way up over a number of years.
When I got back to Australia I had a big community of people reaching out to me via social media, wondering how they could start their own yachting journey and I realised that all the knowledge I had built up could be really helpful. That’s when I decided to make it my full-time job and launched The Seaworthy Stew. I run classes and podcasts telling people how to break into the industry and preparing them for what to expect. I had such an incredible experience and I want others to go out and experience the same. I love helping people step on board their first boat with confidence.
I do have people reaching out to me saying they’ve watched Below Deck [a reality show about superyacht crew] and want to get into yachting – and they are people I encourage against joining the industry, because it is so scripted and over the top. The reality is that it is hard work, but if you’re passionate, there’s a world of possibility out there. The people you meet are a huge part of it too – very quickly your yachting family grows – they become your support network and now I have people in pockets all over the world who I keep in touch with.
The owners, too, can be really inspiring. Here in Australia, I feel like the relationship between owner and crew is a lot more casual. I worked with one in particular who had such a down-to-earth nature and an amazing business mindset; he was really encouraging with my plans to build The Seaworthy Stew.
One of the most memorable moments of my yachting career was cruising out in the Caribbean. We had to test the water toys to make sure they worked before the guests arrived. That was great in itself, but then the same day we cruised to the British Virgin Islands and I remember so clearly seeing Larry Page from Google scoot on by in his windsurfer and wave at me. It was such a pinch-me moment. I also had an amazing time in the Maldives, which had always been on my bucket list. It was such a brilliant experience being anchored there, and being able to snorkel and explore the beautiful coastline.
I do think superyachts are ideal for families. The charter boat I was on was always heavily booked with families and it created such a warm atmosphere. It was incredible to have an insight into these peoples’ lives and realise they just so happen to be able to provide the most incredible holiday experiences for their children. We would do pirate-themed parties and get dressed up with them, plus we’d do water sports and beach barbecues; their eyes would just light up. It was so rewarding.
In recent years, I’ve noticed a real change in attitude in terms of thinking about the environment. Captains and heads of department are taking more notice and switching to eco-friendly products, and making a real effort with recycling. Once you have a few proactive people, it flows down the chain. It is so important and we all need to play our part.
I am land-based these days and live on a farm just south of the New South Wales border in Australia, but who knows, I might get back on a superyacht. I would still love to do the Panama Canal so a trip involving that might get me back on board! I am also learning to sail at the moment, so a job on a sailing yacht could be tempting.”