What is dock walking?
Dock walking is the process of walking along a dock, approaching a yacht, speaking with the crew with the aim of securing; day work, permanent work or to leave them with your CV.
For me this proved to be one of the most nerve wracking processes in finding work.
Monday morning 0630, I wake early in anticipation of the day ahead. I am living in a crew house with numerous other ‘wannabe’ super yacht crew all eagerly trying to secure a job, all competing for the same work on a limited number of yachts. I rise early to be the first in the shower for my first day walking the docks of Antibes. Presentation is important in this industry and my clothes are ironed and laid out the night before. I shower, shave and eat breakfast, my appetite is low as my nerves fill my stomach with a certain unease. I pack my bag with the essentials, sun cream and water, before leaving the crew house armed with a selection of recently printed CV’s and references in a neat plastic folder. I want to be the first out of the crew house and onto the dock in the hope of catching any early crew out on deck.
It is a beautifully fresh morning and the salty smell of the sea lingers in the calm air that surrounds the small cobbled streets of Antibes. The sun is about to rise and the sky is clear with white aeroplane trails scarring the blue backdrop. There is a coolness in the air indicating an approach to Autumn. Leaving the cobbled streets I am greeted with a vast selection of yachts with the backdrop of a beautiful golden fort that overlooks the harbour of Antibes. The rising sun accentuates the golden colour of the fort. As I walk along the dockside a scavenging sea gull scurries into a hedge dragging some left over pizza from a torn bin bag. The water is calm and the town empty, it is 0730, the port is quiet.
I walk towards the International Dock which is the main dock, home to some of the largest super yachts in the world and pass the more modest yachts which by standards at home are still very impressive. My anxiety is growing as I approach the entrance, my heart races faster and my fears of rejection grow with every step. I pass the security barrier through an open gate looking like a boy about to embark on his first day at school, with rucksack, clean ironed clothes and carrying a folder of CV’s. I certainly look like a novice. As I enter the International Dock I am greeted by a large yacht with the large letters ‘D I L B A R’ in gleaming silver. The reflection of the water glistens on the yacht’s hull with the bow stretching way off into the distance. My heart beats rapidly and I almost try to convince myself that it is not a good day to dock walk: I will try tomorrow, it will be easier then… I know I must continue.
Sitting on the dock there is no-one around bar the security guard and he looks wholly uninterested in my intentions. I sit by a flower bed that overlooks the vast stretch of yachts all moored stern to dock. I struggle to comprehend the change in worlds I am experiencing in just two days. Two days ago I was working in an office watching the rain falling outside on a busy road… now I sit, unemployed, admiring these incredible yachts, with the blue sea and sky and the back drop of the old golden fort.
Slowly more dock walkers appear, some look highly experienced, walking with a certain confidence. Some I talk with politely and briefly though others are focused purely on the yachts and walk past without so much as an acknowledgement.
It is 0745 and I decide to walk to the opposite end and begin my walk from the far end, hoping to catch crews before they are disturbed by the other dock walkers. The larger yachts are at the beginning so I assume these will draw the most dock-walkers so I opt for the smaller yachts first (still over 60 meters in length). As I walk along the atmosphere starts coming alive with deck crew appearing from side doors and walking down the sides of the yacht. On the yacht next to me I notice a crew member (a moment I have long been anticipating) and my anxiety steps up another notch. I can feel my heart beating and blood pulsing around my body, a feeling I have not experienced since standing to do a best man’s speech the month before. My mouth dries and I sweat as I approach the first yacht. The crew member appears to look at me, I think I have caught his attention. I smile, before he looks down and heads to the second deck to raise a flag. I am sure he noticed me but my polite English disposition stops me disturbing him and I convince myself they must be fully crewed and should therefore look elsewhere. As I walk away, I realise I have failed at the first hurdle in my search. With my disappointment building my heart rate eases a little and I continue along the dock, determined not to succumb to fear at the next one. I vow this will be the only yacht I do not approach ….a new beginning.
I approach the third yacht with grit and determination to find someone also putting out the flag and call up “are you looking for crew?” He looks down, smiles and informs me they are fully staffed. Although a rejection I feel an enormous sense of achievement. I have overcome my fear of asking for work and feel better equipped to start my search.
That morning I managed to talk to crew on five different yachts. Walking back to the crew house I felt more confident than I did starting out that morning and felt pleased to have given some CV’s. I had completed my first mornings dock walking though many more lay ahead.
My dock walking skills improved with practice and it took about a week to feel more confident. I became slicker at asking if day work or crew were needed, and managed to leave more CV’s and references even if they were not looking for crew at that time. I always tried to have a polite conversation before leaving, hoping to develop some rapport which I hoped would help me stand out from the crowd. I was delighted to find crews surprisingly helpful and welcoming. The reality is that most crews will have endured the process of dock walking themselves and know it is a necessary part of finding work, so empathise and help where they can.
My dock walking took me to many ports including Antibes, Cannes, Monaco, Nice and St Tropez, finding the best were Antibes and Monaco. I spent many hours and walked miles of docks handing out CV’s and speaking to many crew. At times it did become disheartening when no leads came from my efforts. I always tried to remain positive and keep moving forward though it was difficult at times. I knew the clock was rapidly ticking, drawing a close to the end of another season when the yachts would start leaving the Mediterranean for the Caribbean.
However, the hard work, persistence and patience eventually paid off. I obtained day work on two yachts which helped build my CV making me far more employable.
Without realising it my quest for employment was coming to an end as I approached a yacht soon after it docked late one afternoon. My normal routine of enquiries followed with polite pleasantries while handing the crew member my CV. He asked about my qualifications and seemed disappointed I did not have a Yacht Masters certificate, informing me the Captain only employed deck crew with this qualification. I left disappointed as the yacht had an interesting itinerary and the crew seemed really friendly. The following morning on passing the same yacht the crew member called me over and offered me day work. This progressed from one days work to a week which lead to a trial period, and finally onto permanent work. All from that one fateful day speaking and handing my CV to that one member of staff.
It is such an incredible feeling achieving a job on a super yacht, completely off your own back after hours and hours of searching. Walking onto that yacht with all my possessions, from dock walker to full time crew member, was a day that filled me with great pride. Coming from an office job just two months earlier and stepping on board to start a new life working on one of the top charter super yachts in the world, was a moment in my life I will always remember and I felt a huge sense of achievement.
Looking back, the dock walking was the most nerve wracking part of the job-finding process. It did get notably better with time and practice once I had overcome the fear, and it really did get easier… I promise.
I wish you the very best of luck with this experience. Don’t be timid, go for every yacht and seize every opportunity presented to you. Try to embrace any fear, for it is often the things that make us feel uncomfortable, fearful or nervous that can lead to some of the most exciting changes and opportunities in your life…
…you never know, that the one CV you hand to that one crew member could change the direction of your job search, put your dock walking days behind you and take your life to a whole new exciting adventure.
“To attract good luck to oneself, it is necessary to take advantage of opportunities”
George S. Glason.
Blog post written by Ben Proctor, author of “Work on a Super Yacht: The Beginners Guide” and creator of www.workonasuperyacht.co.uk. Both aimed at helping potential new crew learn about working on a super yacht and how to secure their dream job