What is dock walking?
Dock walking is the process of walking along a dock, going up to a yacht, speaking with the crew on-board with the aim of trying to secure any of the following; day work, permanent work or to leave them with one of your CV's.
For me this proved to be one of the most nerve wracking processes about finding a job on a super yacht...
Monday morning 0630, I wake early in anticipation of the morning ahead. I am living in a crew house with numerous other 'wannabe' super yacht crew, all eagerly trying to secure a job on a super yacht, all competing for the same work on a limited number of yachts. I get up early, I want to be the first in the shower (before people start to queue for the shower) and to have a shave 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 case I can catch any early crew out on deck.
It is a beautifully fresh morning, the salty smell of the sea lingers in the calm air that surrounds the small cobbled streets in Antibes. The sun is about to rise, the sky is clear with white aeroplane trails scarring the blue backdrop, there is a coolness in the air indicating the ever approaching autumn. Leaving the cobbled streets behind I am greeted with a vast selection of yachts moored, all overlooked by a beautiful golden fort that looks down on the harbour of Antibes, the rising sun accentuates the golden colour of the fort. As I walk along the dock side a scavenging sea 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 and the port is quiet.
I walk towards the International Dock, the main dock home to some of the largest super yachts in the world, past the more modest yachts, which by standards at home are still very impressively sized yachts. My anxiety is growing as I approach the entrance to the main dock, my heart races faster and my fears of rejection grow with ever step closer. I pass the security barrier through an open gate looking like a school boy about to embark on his first day at school, rucksack on, clean ironed clothes and carrying my 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 spelling 'D I L B A R' written down the side in gleaming silver, the reflection of the water ripples glistening off the yachts hull and the front of the yacht stretching way off into the distance; my heart beat increases further and I almost try to convince myself that it is not a good day to dock walk and I will try tomorrow, as it will be easier then... I know I must continue.
Sitting on the dock it is 0735, there is no-one around bar the security guard and he looks wholly uninterested in my intentions here this morning. I sit by a flower bed that overlooks the vast stretch of yachts before me, all moored stern to (the back of the yacht facing the 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 around with the back drop of that old golden fort.
Slowly more dock walkers appear, some look highly seasoned dock walkers, walking with a certain confidence and heir of knowing, some I talk with politely and briefly, some people 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 of the dock and begin my dock walk from the far end forward, hoping to catch crews before they are disturbed by the other dock walkers. The larger yachts are at the beginning, I anticipate these will draw the most dock-walkers attentions so I opt first for the smaller yachts (still over 60 meters in length!). As I walk to the end of the dock, the yachts start coming alive, deck crew appearing from side doors on yacht, walking down the sides of the yacht to the stern (back). I see the crews coming out, a moment I have long been anticipating, and my anxiety steps up another notch. My heart beats now to a level where I can feel the beating and the pulsing of blood around my body, a feeling I have not had since standing up to do a best man's speech the month previously. My mouth dries and I feel sweat building below my armpits, I go to approach the first yacht, the crew member looks at me, I think I have caught his attention, I smile, before he looks down and heads up to the second deck to raise the flag at the back of the yacht, 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 therefore I should look elsewhere. As I walk away, I realise I have failed at the first hurdle in my search for work on a yacht.
With my disappointment building but my heart rate easing a little, I continue along the dock, determined to not succumb to fear on the next yacht, I vow this will be the only yacht I do not approach, a new beginning...
The third yacht along, someone is also putting out the flag at the back of the yacht, I approach, again the heart rate increases, but with grit and determination I call up to the chap, "are you looking for crew?" The chap looks down, smiles and informs they are fully staffed. Although a rejection I feel an enormous sense of achievement, I have overcome my fear of asking for work on one of these yachts and feel a little more equipped to start on my journey to find work on a super yacht.
That morning I managed to talk to crew on five different yachts that morning. Walking back to the crew house I feel more confident than I did on the walk out this morning and pleased I have managed to give out some CV's. I have completed my first mornings dock walking, the start of many more docks walks now lay ahead.
My dock walking skills improved with practice, it took about a week for me to feel confident doing this and for the feelings of anxiety to disappear. The process improved with time, I became slicker at asking if they need day work or new crew, I also managed to leave more CV's and references with yachts, even if they were not looking for crew at that time. I always tried to have a polite conversation with crews before leaving, hoping to develop some form of polite rapport, which I hoped would help me stand out from the crowd. I was surprised to find crews surprisingly helpful and welcoming to me as dock-walker. The reality is most crews on-board will have at some point endured the process of dock walking and understand it is a necessary part of finding work on a yacht, empathising with you and helping you where they can.
My dock-walking took me too many docks, Antibes, Cannes, Monaco, Nice, St Tropez, among a couple of other ones. The best I found were Antibes and Monaco though. I spent many hours walking miles of docks, handing out many CV's and speaking politely to many crew members. At times it did become disheartening, as no leads seemed to come from my hard work. I always tried to keep positive and keep moving forward, although it was difficult at times and I knew the clock was rapidly ticking, drawing a close to the end of another season; the yachts would soon leave the Mediterranean for the Caribbean.
However, the hard work, persistence and patience eventually paid off. I got day work on a couple of yachts which built my experience on my CV, making me much me more employable.
Without realising it my dock walking days were coming to an end as I approached one yacht not long after it had docked one late afternoon. The normal routine of asking for work followed with polite pleasantries, I handed the crew member my CV, He asked about my qualifications and seemed disappointed I did not have my yacht masters qualification, he goes on to inform me the Captain only employs deck crew that have this qualification. I left with disappointment as the yacht had an interesting itinerary and the crew seemed really friendly on-board. The following morning walking the dock I passed the same yacht that I had handed my CV to the afternoon before, the crew member called me over and offered me some day work. This progressed from one days' worth of work, to a weeks' worth of work, which lead onto a trial period, which lead onto permanent work and all this from that one fateful day of speaking and handing that one CV to that person.
It is such an incredible feeling, achieving a job a super yacht, completely off your own back from the hours of dock walking. Working on that yacht as I moved all possessions on-board, as I went from dock walker to full time crew member was a day that filled me with great pride. Coming from an office job some two months earlier and now stepping on-board to start a new life working on one of the top charter super yachts in the world was a lovely moment in my life.
Looking back, the dock walking was the most nerve wracking part of the job finding process. But it did get notably easier with time and practice, you just have to overcome that fear of asking that first yacht.
As humans I feel we need to get more comfortable at embracing fear and uncertainty, 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 one decision you make, that one conversation or person you meet could change the direction of your life or career and take your life on a whole new exciting adventure.