What is walking on the pier?
Dockwalking is the process of walking along a dock, boarding a yacht, talking to the crew on board with the aim of trying to secure any of the following; day job, permanent job or leave them one of your CV’s.
For me, this turned out to be one of the most stressful processes of finding a job on a superyacht…
Monday morning 0630, I wake up early in anticipation of the morning ahead. I am living in a crew house with many other ‘wannabe’ super yacht crew members, all eagerly trying to get a job on a super yacht, all competing for the same job on a limited number of yachts. I wake up early, want to be the first to shower (before people start queuing for showers) and shave for my first day walking the Antibes docks. Presentation is important in this industry and my clothes are ironed and hung the night before. I shower, shave and eat breakfast, my appetite low as my nerves fill my stomach with some uneasiness. I pack my bag with essentials, sunscreen and water, before leaving the crew house armed with a selection of freshly printed CVs 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 of the first crew on deck.
It’s a beautiful crisp morning, the salty smell of the sea lingering in the still air surrounding the small cobbled streets of Antibes. The sun is about to rise, the sky is clear with white airplane trails marking the blue background, there is a freshness in the air that indicates that autumn is getting closer and closer. Leaving the cobblestone streets behind, I am greeted by a wide selection of moored yachts, all dominated by a beautiful golden fort looking out over Antibes Harbour, the rising sun accentuating the golden color of the fort. As I walk along the side of the pier, a sea scavenger scuttles into a hedge dragging some leftover pizza from a torn garbage bag. The water is calm and the town is empty, it is 07:30 and the port is calm.
I walk towards the international wharf, the main wharf that is home to some of the world’s largest superyachts, and walk past the more modest yachts, which by home standards are still impressively sized yachts. My anxiety grows as I approach the entrance to the main dock, my heart racing and my fears of rejection growing ever closer. I walk through the security barrier through an open gate looking like a schoolboy about to start his first day at school, backpack on, clothes clean and ironed and carrying my CV folder; I certainly look like a novice. As I enter the International Dock I am greeted by a large yacht with the large letters spelling ‘DILBAR’ written on the side in gleaming silver, the reflection of ripples shimmering off the yacht’s hull and the front of the yacht stretching into the distance. ; My heartbeat increases even more and I almost try to convince myself that it’s not a good day to walk on the pier and I’ll try it tomorrow since it will be easier then… I know I must continue.
Sitting on the dock it’s 07:35, no one is around except the security guard and he seems totally uninterested in my intentions here this morning. I sit by a flower bed that overlooks the vast expanse of yachts in front of me, all moored aft (the rear of the yacht facing the dock), struggling to comprehend the change of worlds I’m experiencing in just two days. Two days ago I was working in an office watching the rain fall outside on a busy street… now I’m sitting unemployed admiring these incredible yachts, with the blue sea and sky all around against the backdrop of that old golden fort .
Little by little more walkers appear, some seem like very experienced walkers, they walk with a certain confidence and heirs of knowing, some I speak to politely and briefly, some people focus solely on the yachts and pass without even an acknowledgment.
It’s 0745 and I decide to walk to the opposite end of the pier and start my trek from the other end forward, hoping to catch the crews before the other pier walkers hassle them. The largest yachts are at the top, I anticipate these will attract the attention of most beachgoers, so I opt for the smaller yachts first (they are still over 60 meters long!). As I walk to the end of the pier, the yachts begin to come to life, the deck crew appearing from the side doors of the yacht, walking up the sides of the yacht towards the stern (rear). I watch the crews leave, a moment I’ve been anticipating for a long time, and my anxiety rises another level. My heart is now beating at a level where I can feel the pounding and pulsing of the blood around my body, a feeling I haven’t had since I got up to give the godfather speech the month before. My mouth goes dry and I feel sweat under my armpits, I approach the first yacht, the crewman looks at me, I think I caught his eye, I smile, before he looks down and goes to the second deck to raise the flag in the rear of the yacht, I am sure he noticed me, but my polite English disposition prevents me from disturbing him and I am convinced that they must be fully manned and therefore I must look elsewhere. As I walk away, I realize I’ve missed the first hurdle in my search for a job on a yacht.
With my disappointment mounting but my heart rate easing a bit, I continue down the dock, determined not to succumb to fear on the next yacht, I swear this will be the only yacht I won’t go near, a new beginning…
The third yacht, someone is also raising the flag on the back of the yacht, I approach, again the heart rate increases, but with courage and determination I call the guy, “are you looking for a crew?” The guy looks down, smiles, and reports that they’re fully staffed. Although a rejection I feel a huge sense of accomplishment, I have overcome my fear of applying for a job on one of these yachts and feel a little more prepared to start my journey to find a job on a super yacht.
That morning I managed to talk to the crew on five different yachts that morning. Walking back to the crew house, I feel more confident than I did on this morning’s walk and pleased that I managed to turn in some CVs. I have completed my first morning walk on the pier, now the start of many more pier walks awaits me.
My dock walking skills improved with practice, it took about a week for me to feel confident doing this and for feelings of anxiety to go away. The process got better over time, I got smarter about asking if they needed day jobs or new crew, I also managed to leave more CVs and references with yachts even if they weren’t looking for crew at the time. I always tried to have a polite conversation with the teams before I left, hoping to develop some kind 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 a dock walker. The reality is that most crews on board will at some point have endured the process of walking the dock and understand that it is a necessary part of finding a job on a yacht, they will empathize with you and help you where they can.
My pier walk took me to many piers, Antibes, Cannes, Monaco, Nice, St Tropez among a couple of others. However, the best ones I found were Antibes and Monaco. I spent many hours walking miles of docks, handing out many CVs, and speaking politely to many crew members. It became discouraging at times as no clues seemed to emerge from my hard work. I always tried to stay positive and keep moving forward, even though it was difficult at times and I knew the clock was ticking fast, reaching the end of another season; yachts would soon leave the Mediterranean for the Caribbean.
However, the hard work, persistence, and patience finally paid off. I got day jobs on a couple of yachts which built my experience on my CV, making me much more employable.
Without realizing it, my days of walking the dock were coming to an end when I approached a yacht not long after it had docked one afternoon. The normal routine of asking for work continued with polite courtesies, I handed the crew member my CV, he asked me about my qualifications and seemed disappointed that I did not have my Yachtsman qualification, he goes on to inform me that the Captain only employs deck crew to have this qualification. I left disappointed as the yacht had an interesting itinerary and the crew seemed very friendly on board. The next morning, walking along the dock, I passed the same yacht I had given my CV to the previous afternoon, the crew member called me and offered me a day job. This progressed from a day job to a week job, which led to a trial period, which led to a permanent job and all this from that fateful day of speaking and handing that CV over to that person.
It’s such an amazing feeling to get a job on a super yacht, completely free from the hours of walking the dock. Working on that yacht while moving all my belongings on board, as I went from being a walker to a full time crew member was a day that filled me with great pride. Coming from a desk job about two months earlier and now stepping on board to start a new life working on one of the best charter superyachts in the world was a lovely time in my life.
Looking back, the walk down the pier was the most stressful part of the job search process. But it got noticeably easier with time and practice, you just have to get over the fear of ordering that first yacht.
As human beings, I feel we need to become more comfortable accepting fear and uncertainty, as it is often the things that make us uncomfortable, fearful or nervous that can lead to some of the most exciting changes and opportunities in your life. …
…you never know, that decision you make, that conversation or person you meet could change the direction of your life or career and take your life on a whole new and exciting adventure.