Tough Jobs: Pleasure Boat Worker (A Long Day Out In Maidenhead)

In this second episode of ‘Tough Jobs’, I’d like to go back to a temperamental summer in my late teens, when I worked for a pleasure boat company based on the River Thames…

Although I’d been working there for a couple of weeks, I still hadn’t picked up the simple knack of checking my rota in advance and although I knew I had to report to the yard at 6am on a Saturday, I wasn’t quite prepared for what was in store for me.

I had been out fairly late the night before so wasn’t feeling my best to say the least, and when I glanced at my name on the rota, I realised I had to work my first private function - and it was going to be at least a 12 hour shift!

Unsure of what to expect, I reported to my vessel (named The Royal), said hello to my stony faced skipper and began to scrub both the interior and exterior of the boat, which involved hanging off the side of the hull and trying to scrape the scum off its side without falling into the Thames.

After making the boat spotless, I pumped out the sewage from the boat with a rather large, rather rusty hose-like contraption and tried not to be sick as the foul smell was released from the pumping mechanism. Then, I thoroughly washed my arms, face and hands and changed into a shirt and tie before stocking the boat’s bar with several extremely heavy boxes of spirits and soft drinks.

Following a few final checks, I untied the ropes and it was off upstream for a two hour voyage to Maidenhead to pick up the party guests. Although the scenery was on the most part, very pleasant, I didn’t have much time to absorb it due to the fact that I had to guide The Royal through a series of narrow locks without getting crushed, straighten up the bar, bleach the toilets (my stomach was still a little weak!) and take a series of obscure orders from my less than friendly skipper.

As we passed under the Sounding Arch and into Maidenhead, my stomach turned as I caught my first glimpse of the well-dressed group of people expecting us to provide them with the time of their lives - to make it worse, my skipper decided to break it to me that the crewmate and barman we were supposed to be meeting was running late and would be meeting us further up the water!

The initial meet and greet went smoothly and everyone seemed happy to be on the boat when I untied the ropes and we set off on our journey. I nervously raced to the bar as I was the only crewman on board and began to serve bubbles throughout the upper and lower deck with a shaking hand - by the time I got back downstairs there was a big unorganised queue of thirsty guests waiting for wine and beer…

‘Any chance of getting a served sometime today’

‘Just a second sir...’

I think I managed to serve two rounds to particularly two unhappy faces, when suddenly, there was a huge THUD! There was a collective gasp, followed and a lot of spilt drinks stumbling bodies - including my own as I had smashed a wine glass and cut my hand.

I ran to the front of the boat, trying to ignore the potential insults that were flying my way and realised that we had crashed into the bank at Boulters Lock! As I had been so pre-occupied with keeping people happy on board I’d forgotten my main duty of crewing the boat and as I technically should’ve been there to tie it up, had to take all of the blame whether I liked it or not!

While standing at the side of the lock with the ropes in my hand, I was red faced, shaking and wanted to take shelter in the nearby shrubs; everyone’s day seemed ruined. After getting through the lock, my crewmate finally appeared, smiling and ready for action! I simply pointed to the bar and hopped back into the boat to take some abuse. A few people did find it fairly amusing, however, most were incredibly angry and wanted to make formal complaints, so in between clearing up glasses and manning the boat, I repeatedly apologised and doled out the company contact details to lots of angry party goers.

My crewmate had a lot of face-to-face customer experience and was keeping everything steady down at the bar, appeasing and entertaining people as he went and after a while, the party atmosphere really began to kick off.

For the remaining four hours or so of the shift, everything went smoothly and although I became the butt of pretty much every joke all evening, I figured that in the end, it could have turned out worse. When the customers left (most with a smile!) both of us enjoyed two rigorous hours of deep cleaning, stock checking and cashing up while the skipper slacked off up on the top deck.

It was dark when we finally wrapped things up and as I walked along the moonlit Thames on the way to my lift home, I thought to myself ‘at least it didn’t rain!’

What I Learned

  • Always pay attention in training. You get trained for a specific job role for a reason and although I knew all of the general processes, by not paying attention when it came to the rota, I left myself tired and ill prepared for my role on the day. If I’d been mentally, prepared, I’d have been able to deal with the things that came my way in a more efficient manner.
  • Work mates matter. Even though he turned up late, my colleague instantly began to diffuse the situation, helped others see humour in the situation and really helped to boost my morale. On the other hand, if my assigned crew mate had been anything like the skipper, the day would have almost certainly spiralled out of control. Everyone should work as a team and pull their weight to ensure success!

No matter what you do in life, good or bad, there's always something valuable to learn. So if you're currently doing a job you're not exactly keen on, don't worry, because in some way it is definitely worth the experience.