Paid to keep eyes open, mouth shut
A yacht crew give us a peek into what often takes place onboard. -TNP
WILD parties on board - people having sex, walking around naked, yacht owners bringing their mistresses to their love boats - pleasure craft captains have seen it all.
"We see these things with our eyes wide shut," said a pleasure craft captain with 15 years of experience. The captain declined to be named.
"If you want to remain in this business, one of the qualities you need is to be able to keep secrets."
When asked for details of these wild parties that took place onboard, all the captains and crew interviewed for this report were uncomfortable about divulging details.
Said a skipper with 20 years of experience: "The industry is very small and word gets around."
But his counterpart revealed an anecdote that he says is representative of what goes on.
"Once, the wife of a member of royalty from the region rang me up on the phone and demanded to know if her husband was with his mistress," said another captain, who also declined to be named.
"I lied and said he wasn't here on the boat, but she didn't believe me and even threatened to sack me.
"Another time, I worked for this guy. The interior of his yacht was plastered with photos of naked women.
"Only his girlfriend was allowed on the boat."
The captain added that some boat owners make their captains and crew sign confidentiality agreements.
And it isn't just the wild parties that these captains have to deal with, but also drunk or overbearing guests.
Captain E K Tan, 46, managing director of pleasure craft services company SPEK Group, recounted how his client insisted on setting off at 4.30am when it wasn't safe to do so as the boat's windows were tinted.
"You couldn't see a thing. I told my client we would set sail at the first break of light, but he insisted (on having his way).
"This is when, as a captain, you have to be firm in what you believe in - you have to put safety first. If I had set off, we could have met with an accident."
Dealing with the drunk
He added: "Sometimes, you get drunk guests who want to jump into the water while the boat is moving. You have to distract them by talking them of out it.
"If worst comes to worst, you'll have to stop the boat. But that hasn't happened to me yet."
With growing interest in boat sales, demand for skippers and crew has increased, but not many Singaporeans are signing up for these jobs.
One reason is that Singaporeans have been squeezed out of the market by foreigners, some captains told The New Paper.
The number of Singaporean boat captains and crew offering skippering, crewing, maintenance and cleaning services is less than 10 - a fifth of that in the 70s and 80s - said Captain Wandi Mohamed Salim, 51, a Singaporean.
"Now, most of the crew are Indonesians and Filipinos," said the 51-year-old.
"Ten, 20 years ago, I would work on 10 boats. Now, it's just two, and whatever part-time work that comes along, usually the weekends."
Indonesian captain Jumari, 39, told TNP that he received a "little" raise in his salary last month but decline to reveal the amount, while Filipino captain Alan Rubelios, 34, said he wished that his salary of $1,800 could be higher.
Foreign captains are paid between $1,800 to $2,500, while the starting salary of Singaporean captains is $2,500, Capt Tan told TNP.
"You'd be surprised that it isn't higher," he said, when asked if more experienced Singaporean captains command higher wages.
"It's not easy to attract Singaporeans into this industry. Cleaning, washing boats in the hot sun is tough," said the retired Republic of Singapore Navy officer.
"To do this, you must have passion."
Indeed, that can be said of Capt Wandi, who inspired his wife and son to take the powered pleasure craft driving licence (PPCDL).
His wife Puspalinda Suratman, 45, is a captain, while his son Mohamed Al Syahiidie, 23, is a crew member of the family business, One D Marine.
Said Capt Wandi: "Sailing is in my blood. My grandfather, Capt Asmawi, trained captains in the 60s. My father was a seaman too.
"I was 16 when I started as a engine boy working in an engine room in a commercial ship. It was a cheap way to travel the world - I've been to New York, New Orleans, Cape Town, Mexico, China, but that was before I got married.
"But now, with seven children, I'm pretty much based in Singapore."
Started by helping out
Ms Puspalinda, who was then a mother of four, decided to help her husband in 1995.
She started out by washing boats.
"It wasn't hard to wash boats - I wasn't born rich and I'm used to hard work," she said.
It takes a person about an hour to wash a 16m catamaran, but it can take two persons up to two hours to wash a 22m yacht, Ms Puspalinda said.
The couple's eldest child, Mr Mohamed Al Syahiidie, 23, also picked up the love of the sea, getting his boat licence at age 18.
He joined the family business in June after his national service and after serving a four-year apprenticeship at marine offshore firm, Keppel FELS .
Said Al: "I feel lucky to have this job - many of my army mates are jobless. But not many people want this job because it's demanding, dangerous and physical.
"When I was in secondary school, I spent my weekends helping my father wash boats. That's how I've come to love the sea.
"It's great job because it takes you away from the crowd and congestion on land."
Meanwhile, the outlook for boat sales is looking up.
Yacht broker and ProMarine general manager Craig Marcombe, 54, expects 20 to 30 per cent growth this year, while another broker, Simpson Marine's general manager Paul Whelan was also "optimistic".
Much of this optimism is due to increasing interest generated by boat shows and the healthy economic climate in Asia compared to two years ago, they said.
In Simpson Marine's financial year of 2010, the company sold 25 yachts, both new and secondhand. The last financial year, it sold 28 yachts, but a "greater percentage" was secondhand, revealed Mr Whelan.
One emerging trend is that more super-yachts, or boats larger than 24m, are being sold here, both brokers said.
And that means an increasing demand for captains with an advanced PPCDL, which required to operate such boats .
"There aren't a lot of people who can drive these boats, and there's no training institution giving Singaporeans this qualification," said Mr Marcombe.
"These bigger boats are for charter and there's growth in this area."
"Sailing is in my blood. My grandfather, Capt Asmawi, trained captains in the 60s. My father was a seaman too. I was 16 when I started as a engine boy working in an engine room in a commercial ship. It was a cheap way to travel the world..."
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