Life in the Marseille shipyard. Security, takeaways and the odd mugging

We’ve well and truly settled into life at the shipyard. The boat has been dragged outta the water, scaffolding has been put up at every corner, and we’ve all been given security passes, which is assuring and suitably safety-conscious, but makes getting in or out of the tightly ran compound an absolute pain in the bum. Too many times have I slowly crawled up to the gate in the hire van, all set with a thousand re-usable shopping bags, the captain’s credit card, fully charged walkie talkie and a mile long shopping list, only to be refused exit due to forgetting that pesky little card back in the cabin. It’s a ruddy nightmare. What’s even worse is when you accidentally give over a male colleague’s card at 6am in the morning to go on an ambitious run, only to be shouted at in French for making this innocent mistake. My grasp of the language sadly didn’t extend far enough to explain to this angry fellow that it was, in fact, his colleague’s fault for giving us back the wrong cards in the first place.

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Crispy duck with plum sauce, cucumber & shredded spring onion.

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Homemade pancakes, using a surprisingly simple recipe from the Waitrose website.

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Asparagus & broccoli roasted in Thai red curry paste, and egg fried rice.

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Tuna sashimi of the highest quality, initially intended for guests, but leftover from the end of the season. Heavenly! The dressing is half soy sauce, half mirin, sprinkled with sesame seeds and cucumber.

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Lightly battered kingfish, drizzled with siracha mayonnaise and spring onions. This was insanely good, but the deep fat frier is a bugger to clean, so it pains me to say that this was a bit of a one off. We were going out of our brains the other day looking for our timer that had gone walkabout in the galley, and when I turned the deep fat frier on to prepare it for frying the fish, we smelt a funny smell, and the mystery was solved.

We were warned upon arrival in Marseille that it’s not the most salubrious of places. Yachties apparently get mugged left, right and centre (but more on that later). Upon exploring the area we quickly realised that this Marseille is in actual fact not the Marseille of years gone by. The docks have had a serious face lift since those times, with a beautifully brand spanking new shopping centre about a 10 minute walk away from our temporary home.

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It has a Pull & Bear, Zara, Mango, even a Barbarac, the best gelato place that hails from none other than St Tropez. Everything a gal could wish for. We simply had to pose for a girlband-esque photo at Les Docks.

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We had a pit-stop in amongst our stint of shopping at the German beer bar, where we ordered cheese, in the hopes of being presented with a sophisticated assorted cheese plate. What came instead was a bowl full of cubed Cheddar cheese, a Schwartz bottle of celery salt and a little paper cup of English mustard. We were all a bit miffed, but once we dug in, it was a different story. It was  totally delicious and I take it all back.

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We heard a couple of English voices and looked over to see Michael and Colin enjoying a few beers, who are none other than the head chef and captain. They more or less happily posed for a photo with us. Maria was a tiny bit over excited by this prospect.

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Onboard we have two captains, who do 6 weeks on and 6 weeks off. To mark the end of Colin’s rotation, he kindly took us all out for (another!) crew dinner. It was the perfect opportunity to whack on my latest Zara purchases.

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We hopped into a couple of taxis and rode the three minute journey to Terrasses du Port.

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Our restaurant for the night was on the rooftop, so we began with some cocktails to accompany watching the sun go down over the docks. It was magical. Sadly, the food was shockingly bad. Most of us ordered the steak tartare, which genuinely looked like someone had upturned a packet of Tesco value mince onto a plate, and called it a day. Luckily, myself and Lovely had the brains to order the burrata with tomatoes on top of that beefy monstrosity, which is a simple dish that never fails to hit the mark.

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From left to right, Lovely, my roomie, me, Heather, the chief stewardess, and Maria, another stewardess, who is a makeup queen and ever so kindly put my face on for me that night. The lip liner started off a little strong, veering into drag queen territory, but other than that, it was an absolute treat.

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Rory and Steve, a couple of deckhands who are bezzie mates and share a cabin.

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After hammering all of the wine, we snuck through the toilets that were shared with the club next door, to avoid the €20 entry fee. Whatever came after that is pretty blurry, and only half heartedly documented by photos. It was undoubtedly one hell of a good night.

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It wasn’t quite so much of a good night for poor Dylan, who made the ever so slightly stupid decision to walk home alone. He was heckled by a few men, who crossed over the street to follow him, and signalled to some accomplices down the way to start approaching him. So he made the quick and clever decision to cut and run. Luckily, he is really fast, and sprinted through and past the gang of men who were attempting to run after him. Once he got past the security guards, he could see them on the bridge and actually gave them a bit of heckle back. What a hero.

The next day had me in Struggle City, big time. Poor Alex was inflicted with my terrible company for a grand total of two hours, before he put me in an Uber to go back to the boat and sleep. Me and Alex did our STCW training course together on the Isle of Wight, and he’s currently working as an activities officer onboard a cruise. His ship comes into Marseille every Saturday, so he catches the shuttle bus into town and we can meet for a few hours from about midday. It’s rather nice having a friendly face over here who isn’t on my boat, and we should hopefully both be in the Caribbean over Winter too, which would be seriously awesome.

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We stood underneath a big mirror and shamelessly took a tourist-y photo in amongst the holiday makers.

The galley has been properly out of action of late, so if you follow me on Snapchat, you may have noticed an uncharacteristic lack of posting. This is because my job has morphed into trying to feed the crew with no access to kitchen facilities. Now this wouldn’t be a problem if we were based in a thriving metropolis, with takeaway options at every corner. But here in Marseille, no restaurants seem to open before 12pm, so providing lunch for 20 hungry workers is no easy feat. I’ve exhausted all sandwich options, sub-standard sushi joints, fast food establishments, you name it. It’s actually a horrible feeling having no choice but to serve crappy food to the crew, when the sole purpose of your job is to feed them well. But when the galley needs a new fridge, freezer and floor, there really is no other option.

But in between days of driving around the city like a headless chicken, there have been a couple where I’ve had precious access to the galley, had to give it a good deep clean and managed to cook a little bit.

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Slow cooked pork ribs with BBQ sauce, spinach salad.

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Grilled tuna with coriander, chilli and a lemon dressing. This was an utter nightmare to cook. Having seen Michael calmly and neatly grill all kinds of fish on the griddle pan, it looked a complete doddle. But my first attempt alone was just horrendous. Every single tuna steak stuck to the pan, despite generously drizzling them all with oil, smoke was filling the galley and I just wanted to throw it all in the bin and walk away. But once I put them on the platter and shoved a bit of garnish over it all, it didn’t look so bad! The crew actually raved about it, so it taught me a valuable lesson to always persevere with a dish, even if it seems like it’s all going belly up.

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My famous sweet potato muffins with chilli and seeds. These are quite literally one of my favourite things to make and eat. But the crew didn’t touch them! They were really put off by the idea of a savoury muffin, and they wouldn’t budge. It just goes to show that what for some people is a dream dish, is just plain weird to others. Another lesson learnt, but it never hurts to try these things out!

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Corn on the cob with lashings of parsley butter, always a winner.

Now before I sign off, there has been an undercurrent of issues surrounding my new job that has all recently come to a head. To work on this yacht, we all need a B1/B2 visa from the US embassy, because the vessel intends to spend a few months in Miami over the course of the year. So before I joined, I took a delightful trip to the US embassy in London. After waiting for 5 hours in what can only be described as a holding pen, I was subjected to the nastiest lady on planet Earth who scrutinised every piece of information I had to offer about my job. She was intensely suspicious about the ownership of the boat, and insisted on me providing more information before going ahead with the visa application. What ensued were many tears, in and around the embassy area. I was shouted at for being on the phone to my captain for helpful advice (they must have thought I was activating a bomb), and I fled the embassy in severe embarrassment and utter despair. It was an ordeal and a half. So since that time, we sent off all the information under the sun that the jobsworth asked for, but to no avail. They denied my visa.

I was midway through preparing the fruit salad for lunch when the email came through from my Dad, filled with exclamation marks and disbelief. Why on earth have they denied it when we gave them all the information they asked for? What more do they want from me? My firstborn child?! So that sparked off a few more tears on my part, Michael gave me a reassuring bear hug and told me he would help me find another job, which almost helped matters but just made me more upset at the thought of leaving. My Dad immediately Fed-exed over my non-visa containing passport, and we booked another interview at the US embassy in Paris.

So little old me took the 3 hour high speed train straight into the city of lurve, spent the night in a comfortable Ibis and arrived promptly at my appointed time wearing yacht uniform, with yet even more documents this time. Signed letters from every single authoritative figure on the boat. The crew list, boat papers, even the entire 12 page original document that is my contract. What could go wrong this time? I was quite literally shaking to my core during the entire interview. Michael had drilled into me to only speak when spoken to, and ideally stick to the one phrase, ‘It has always been my dream to cook on a super yacht.’ Luckily this man was nowhere near as bad as the witch from hell four weeks prior. He said that under normal circumstances, he would give me the visa straight away, as he’s very used to yacht workers who need them. But as he could see on the system that my application was denied, twice, four weeks ago, he needed more time to have a thorough look through the information that I came with.

So here I am, in visa limbo. Who knows when they will be in touch to give me my fate. Knowing the (horrendously incompetent) system, I will most probably receive my passport back at some point over the next few weeks, either with a B1/B2 visa inside, or not. What happens then, we shall just have to wait and see.

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