Ready, steady, charter

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So there we were, celebrating Christmas with a convivial game of Trivial Pursuit followed by several rounds of cocktails at the Fat Turtle, when the bombshell was dropped. We were to expect six guests onboard for New Year.

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Our festive outfits were put back into storage until next time, and all fun and games were called to an abrupt halt. We immediately set sail for a marina in St. Thomas, BVIs, to pick up our charter.

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What came next was tantamount to a military planned operation. Two extra stewardesses were immediately flown in, one all the way from South Africa, the other a mere stone’s throw away from Miami. One of our head chefs was plucked from his rotation and immediately set into motion a mammoth order with yacht suppliers for fresh fish, all different cuts of meat and the most beautiful selection of vegetables I ever did see. We had baby kale, micro herbs and heritage carrots simply spilling out of the walk-in fridge. It was time to squirrel away my Knorr chicken stock cubes from sight, this was charter time.

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Head chef Steve swooped in like Mary Poppins and set to preparing the galley for guest mode. One of my missions was to make vat upon vat of home-churned ice cream, gunning through ten litres of double cream in no less than forty eight hours. Our monstrous machine actually burnt out on us, leaving me no choice but to radio our chief engineer to come and fix it. He kindly obliged, but only if I lugged the four stone machine down to the deepest darkest part of the boat, the engine room. He exercised the full use of his extensive engineering skills, and we ended up with just as many flavours as your local cinema. Vanilla, rum and raisin, cookies and cream, Nutella, even my personal favourite, peanut butter swirled. Throw in some mini pastries, green juice, fancy cheese and truffle toasties, and we were all set.

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Crew chicken skewers with a peanut satay sauce.

The morning would begin with me frantically trying to smash out crew food before the guests woke up. Luckily, they were late risers, so up until about 11am was all mine. But once they were up, it was a free for all. Some ordered fresh juice, others wanted scrambled egg whites (super convenient, having used forty egg yolks in each batch of ice cream, we were certainly not short of whites). Having six different breakfast orders fly at you whilst trying to prepare for lunch was no mean feat. Steve handled it like the pro he is, and everyone was left full and happy.

Lunches were a buffet style affair, often including pizzas, Caesar salad, even perfectly formed miniature burger sliders one day. My role drastically changed from crew chef to sous chef, which, as you can imagine, made me a pig in muck. My very own brioche rolls graced the table, not to mention almost every single dessert being made by yours truly. Steve would hand over his tried and tested recipes, and entrust me with making them from start to finish. My hours were the usual 8-5, but with no lunch break, and after two hours off in the evening, enough time to squeeze in a quick shower and power nap, we were back in the galley from 7 until late. By the end of it all, I was running on fumes.

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Velvety pea soup with a speck emulsion.

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Spinach and ricotta ravioli with a runny egg yolk, and a sage butter sauce. The guests quite literally went mad for this dish, mentioning it at each and every opportunity. When we all queued up on deck at the end of their trip to bid them adieu (that being my first real sighting of them, not counting my stalking of the security cameras), they all chorused again about the magnificence of the ravioli! Myself and Steve were positively beaming, as they were a bit of a ball-ache to assemble, to say the least.

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Summer berry pavlova.

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My overly excited piping of the carrot cake. This trumped any other I’ve ever tasted, the secret being a tin of crushed pineapple added to the mix. Fruity, fluffy, perfection, the only carrot cake recipe I’ll ever need in the future.

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We served it with a vibrantly orange carrot sauce and edible flowers.

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A decadent triple chocolate brownie, before it went into the oven.

The trip climaxed on New Year’s Eve, with an elaborate seven course menu and a big ole knees up. The girls put on the most beautiful display, with a table setting that blew me away in its splendour. Games galore, they had beer pong, drinking Jenga, not to mention any cocktail they could think of right at their fingertips. Heather truly outdid herself, going above and beyond to make it special for them.

But in saying all of this, I know deep down that us worker bees had the better time.

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As the clock struck midnight, myself and Steve downed tools (having just served the last course), and scurried out the crew mess door to the side of the boat. About half the crew who were still working came out too, complete with Captain carrying two big bottles of champagne. We were beyond thrilled! The guests were happy upstairs with their little shindig, and we had our very own view of the island of St John, USVIs, who put on a fireworks display for all the yachts moored in their waters. The display was admittedly a little bit lacking from a distance, but when every single yacht in our vicinity sounded their horn simultaneously at midnight, I can honestly say I’ve never felt shivers like it. New Years Eve has always been a time for me spent with my family, and although I missed them like mad, it was a moving, memorable, life-affirming experience that I will never, ever forget.

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