Meet The Crew- Shannon Beetge – Deckhand on yacht SV ALIX 

Interview by Melanie Winters

Interview by Melanie Winters

Shannon Beetge is 28 and currently working as a deckhand on a Swan sailing yacht in Palma de Mallorca. Originating from South Africa, Benoni, Johannesburg to be exact (she tells me you would giggle if you knew where that is). Shannon describes herself as a sailor girl and after six years in the industry, she certainly knows her stuff! This year will mark her sixth year in yachting, and she is still loving every minute of it.  Shannon shares her story of what it’s like to work in her yacht world… 

Before yachting, Shannon worked as a junior architect for three years. Her first year, however, she worked for free as an intern driving 50 kilometers to work and back home again – she remembers sitting in traffic for at least four hours a day!  

 “Oh, my goodness… it was hard work but regardless, I really loved what I was doing, learning and achieving at the young age of 20!” 

Shannon was later hired full-time for the next two years but when her dad tragically passed away in 2017, this marked a big turning point in her life.  

“He was my everything! My parents divorced when I was three and I went to live with my Dad from that point up until my early teens. When he moved to the coast side in KwaZulu-Natal, being a typical emotional teenager at the time, I didn’t want to leave my school or friends behind to start anew. It was super hard but I would always go back to the memory of us lying on the grass in our garden as a little girl, looking up at the stars and him telling me all his dreams and plans to one day sail around the world with me on his dream boat, a catamaran. He loved to sail and I wish I could have had the time to share this experience and life that I’m living now on the oceans with him. My Dad’s passing really shook me up. I started to look at my life in the city with feelings of terrible sadness and unfulfillment. I found out about the yachting course in Cape Town and approached my Mum. She was as supportive, as always, so I left my job and I embarked on my yachting journey!” 

Shannon’s first job was on a 62ft Lagoon catamaran in Raja Ampat, Indonesia as a Skipper in training. It was the first time Shannon had left South Africa, alone.  

“I landed myself a job in the most breathtaking location you could ever imagine! But I was young and totally oblivious to the industry, so I had no idea of what to expect. I was quite shocked, to be honest, it felt like a military operation on board, but I was so happy to be in this magical place, that I stayed and pushed on through! We were a fleet of six catamarans, and we had some crazy adventures together!  

Shannon left after eight months and went back to her hometown feeling mentally, physically and emotionally destroyed. She doesn’t want to go into too much detail because even at the worst times, she feels, it really set her up for all her future endeavors and looking back, she wouldn’t change a thing. After two months of much-needed recuperation, she couldn’t wait to get back out into the world again. 

Shannon’s next destination was Palma de Mallorca. She was day-working on a 28-metre Jongert Ketch and was offered a full-time position.  

“It was just me and the Captain on board and he taught me so much more than what I had learnt on the catamarans about deck/engine/interior maintenance, carpentry, varnishing, repairs and sailing. 

This job is where I really grew into myself. Taking charge of the vessel made me feel so good and I knew my Dad would have been so proud of me. I felt part of the ‘power of the female’ energy within the industry!” 

After three years on this vessel, Shannon decided to leave Mallorca and the Mediterranean and crossed the Atlantic on 44-metre SV Baltic along with eight other male crew members. She tells me it felt great to be treated like an equal on board. Shannon decided to go freelance around Saint Maarten and Antigua for the next few months and then managed to secure a position on a delivery back to Mallorca on a 47-metre SV Royal Huisman.  

She laughs… “I spent my 27th birthday in the middle of the Atlantic, and I remember it was one of my favourite birthdays ever!” 

Arriving back on the island, Shannon got a job on the beautiful Swan, SV Alix, where she is still working.   

I am curious to know what her favourite boat is. 

“I’ve spent such long periods of time on the vessels I’ve joined, that I can’t really say which is my favourite! They have each been special to me in some way, but I have had an exceptionally adventurous and exciting past two years on board Alix. When working on smaller sailing vessels, with a small crew, at times it’s difficult to keep a happy and professional atmosphere going over the days, weeks, and months! But I can happily say each year I have made lifetime friends and that’s saying something!”  

Shannon continues to tell me about the best aspects of working on a yacht. 

“I enjoy making people happy and feeling like you and your team have nailed a guest trip!  

I love a cheeky swim or the adventures I can take wherever I go in the world. I also get to meet new and interesting people along the way but nothing can beat the ‘wow factor’ I get from being anchored in a new magical place or marina instead of sitting in traffic for hours to stare at a computer at a desk for days… Your life becomes a great big sailing adventure and you’re lucky enough to afford it.”  

It’s not always plain sailing on-board so I was interested to know what she feels the worst aspects are.  

“Feeling the pressure of the world on your shoulders when you mess up or get something wrong. The long, treacherous hours of most days and nights on guest or boss trips. Spending long periods of time away from family and friends and missing out on important events. 

Another issue can be if you don’t get along with another crew member. Any friction can really impact the whole team, especially when working in close quarters. It’s so important to try to keep a healthy and professional atmosphere among the crew. It does get incredibly tiring and frustrating at times and if your crew is already testing your patience (and sanity) then you’re going to have a challenging season in front of you!” 

The work, though rewarding, is still very hard and the hours are long once the season is in full swing, I want to know how she keeps her sanity…  

She laughs… “Again, for me personally going for a cheeky dip in the water, a walk around a beautiful old town in Europe or a glorious little nap on-board when guests go ashore are my ultimate ‘keeping sane’ activities! Getting some exercise, reading a new book or being creative (if you’re into that kind of thing). Any small activity that you can squeeze in when you have time during busy back-to-back charters and trips. Most people like to call their friends and family for some wise words or just general words of affirmation and encouragement. This helps us all get through the tough times and feel like a normal human being again!” 

Shannon explains to me why she feels it’s important to always spoil the guests. 

“I always take pride in learning as much as I possibly can about the owners and guests beforehand. It can take a day or two to really get the hang of their likes, dislikes, and quirks. I call these the trial days. It’s important to know the small details, for example, what time they get up so we can prepare the swim platform for their morning swim. Having freshly rolled beach towels and a delicious hot beverage waiting for them when they get up before breakfast is served. 

If the guests are into scuba diving, I research the beautiful dive spots in the area and the most appealing sailing route to get there. This creates a wonderful ‘event’ for them instead of just leaving them to their own devices. You will get the odd guest who will enjoy just sitting in the cool shade of the cockpit reading a book, with a glass of wine or cocktail in hand. Some guests want to sunbathe on deck while the kids are having fun with the watersports toys! Other guests simply want to be driven around on the tender exploring the beautiful islands and mysterious caves. When you go above and beyond to provide the basic things before they ask, I feel makes them feel super special and well looked after.” 

I’m curious to know what Shannon’s pet hate is. 

“Waking up in the morning before the guests to spray and chamois the deck and there are hundreds of tiny little bugs everywhere! Red rain! (when you know you know).  

Crew members not listening to requests after they have been told many times, like how to pack the dishwasher correctly or for not refilling the fridges. That one crew member who will leave 2ml of milk or a scraping of butter in the fridge that really could just be used or thrown away to make space again for a new one. Wasting food! But my biggest pet hate is people not putting things back in their place! Everything has a home! Everyone should know where that home is. There is nothing more annoying than looking for something and not being able to find it!” 

We love to hear funny or embarrassing stories that other crew members can relate to so I asked Shannon if she had any she could share with us. 

“We were on a charter and anchored off in a cove in Capri and the guests wanted to go for a tender drive around all the blue caves and look for a nice, calm spot for a dip. If you’ve ever been to Capri during the summer months, you know it is absolute carnage in the bays in front of the towns. We had a decent but small Williams jet tender so I jumped in and took the guests for a little drive around the magnificent cliffs of Capri towards the bay in front of the Old Town. Our poor little jet tender was handling the magnitude of different swells coming from all angles, from hundreds of vessels around, when a large tender cut across me and left behind it, a rather large wake! We went into the wake, (we had no choice) but I honestly didn’t expect the wave to come at us the way it did. The size of the guests’ eyeballs when it got to us was quite comical and we all got absolutely submerged. I was mortified but luckily, they were great guests who just laughed hysterically and assured me it was okay!” 

Shannon’s favourite yachting destination is Raja Ampat in Indonesia, but I also want to know which destination is still on her bucket list. 

“Personally, I just can’t wait to sail around the whole world and see all the beautiful countries and islands. So much to be covered so starting anywhere is good enough for me! (wink wink!)! 

“I am about to do my Yachtmaster Offshore Sailing course soon and will be over the moon to have that one in the bag for sure. One of the many buildingblocks to bigger future goals.” 

I ask Shannon if she has any advice to give Greenies entering the industry.  

“The yachting industry can be quite a tough pill to swallow if you are going into it just for the money. I would advise you to go into it because either you have a love for being on the ocean and you are happy to make a life and living off it or you have goals you can work towards in the future. Yachting doesn’t offer retirement funds or pensions. You need a solid backup plan for when you get older and want to retire or if you simply just want to be able to leave the industry and go do what you’ve dreamed of doing onshore instead.  

Having goals also keeps you from feeling like you are a bit lost and can keep you motivated to keep on pushing through those tough times because it will be worth all the hard work in the end.” 

If Shannon could go back, I’m keen to know what advice she would give her 20-year-old self. 

“I would tell myself to go out there and get as much experience sailing as possible! To be more confident in myself and my abilities to be on deck and to own it. To maybe put more of my time into studying and getting my qualifications.” 

Finally, Shannon’s plans for the future. 

“My plans for let’s say the next five years is to work my way up to be the First Mate of a beautiful sailing vessel. Hopefully, to be working with my partner on the same vessel. We´ve been together for almost five years this year and always on different sailing vessels. The long-distance over the seasons can be hard. To save, learn and experience all that I can to one day own my own little sailing vessel to sail around the world and to start to build and grow a beautiful life for myself, family and friends.”  


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