RUBBING shoulders with the rich and famous, travelling to tropical destinations and earning stacks of cash was the life Kate Chastain lived as a chief stewardess on some of the most expensive superyachts.
Kate, 38, who now lives in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, known as the yacht capital of the world, confesses she fell into the industry while trying to decide on a career path after finishing college in 2007.
Kate Chastain worked in yachting for 14 years with 6 of them spent on TV show Below DeckCredit: Getty
Crew live at extremely close quarters which can create a problem if they fancy getting frisky.Credit: Getty
She says: “I was probably the worst stewardess in the history of yachting but it felt like I’d won the life lottery.
“It felt like I was living at a very exotic, cool summer camp for attractive, international people.
“Usually when you get hired the guests or owners aren’t on board, so you have free rein on the yacht. You are just overwhelmed by the wealth you are surrounded by — it feels very glamorous.”
Kate, who appeared on popular reality show Below Deck between 2014 and 2020, quickly fell in love with the lifestyle.
She says: “You have a very high-end chef cooking your meals and you don’t have to pay for anything — toiletries, food, drinks, everything you need is provided for you. You feel like the luckiest person ever.”
Glamorous Kate, who counts TV presenter Lorraine Kelly and model Chrissy Teigen as fans, was chuffed to find herself surrounded by hunks when she began working on yachts — but admits any yachty romance was destined to fail.
‘DiCaprio is very quiet, and very gorgeous’
She says: “There I was on a yacht with nine handsome Australians and South Africans. It’s very fun. Cabin fever is a thing and when you’re stuck on a boat people start looking a little more attractive.
“You’re bored and it’s, like, the only option.
“But then you get off the boat together and you’re, like: ‘Do I even like you? What was I thinking?’
“If a boat romance doesn’t go well, generally somebody’s leaving the boat — because you don’t want to be living on a boat with your ex.”
Crew live at extremely close quarters, usually sleeping in bunk beds, which can create a problem if they fancy getting frisky.
Kate says: “In Saint Thomas (in the US Virgin Islands), a friend of mine came into port and I was on the boat next to him.
“When you’re hooking up on a yacht you’ve got to get creative, so we chose to have some fun by the Jacuzzi, on this very expensive charter yacht.
“A month later we were in St Tropez and saw that boat leaving the port. Catherine Zeta-Jones and (husband) Michael Douglas were stood, waving, on the very spot I had been a month before.”
Most boats have very strict non-disclosure agreements, so Kate cannot reveal too much about her many celebrity encounters.
But she says: “Celebrities aren’t rich enough to own yachts, that’s what’s crazy. They’re usually guests of yacht owners.
“One yacht I worked on has the biggest party in St Tropez every summer, with so many celebrities.
“There was Kim Kardashian and (now estranged husband) Kanye West when they first started dating, before anyone knew.
“Beyonce and Jay-Z were on the yacht next to us in Saint Martin. Leonardo DiCaprio loves St Bart’s. He’s very quiet, very gorgeous. It’s great when stars are on board, their guards are down.”
Quickly working her way up to chief stew, Kate’s remit grew.
She says: “You’re basically the mom of the boat, for both the crew and the guests, except the difference is that moms love their children. Crew members are like: ‘I can’t find my underwear. Did you iron my shirt?’
“The Captain’s like: ‘I only want soy milk.’ You have 12 crew members and 12 guests and everything, from the shampoo they use to the water they drink, the breakfast they’re eating to the clothes they’re wearing, is on you. That’s a lot of people and a lot of preferences.
“You’re also responsible for the maintenance of the yacht interior — making sure no one scratches the wood or stains the silk carpet.
“Your job, which is kind of impossible, is to make sure no one damages the yacht — but also host parties.”
Big money to be made
Despite regularly working 16-hour days, there is some big money to be made.
Kate says: “You work long hours, for possibly a long time, but then know that when it’s over you have a longer vacation with more money.
“A boat the size you see on Below Deck can be about $300,000 (£220,000) per week, and that’s not including food or anything. They would usually tip at least 20 per cent, which is divided between ten or 12 crew members.
“So the worst tip you would get, for the seven days, would be $5,000 (£3,640). But if they don’t use all the money they budget for the food, they let you keep that too.”
So what do most yacht workers do with the stacks of cash in their pockets?
Kate says: “You’ll rent an oceanside villa, spend a lot of money on champagne and rosé because you’re celebrating, and you rationalise it: ‘I don’t have rent, I don’t have bills.’
“Your tastes change and you’re in expensive places.
“Then you spend all that money so you’ve gotta get back to work.”
But Kate reveals you can still find yourself partying while working on a charter — if the wealthy guests decide to take you out.
She says: “There was a yacht I was on and this guy was like the Dutch Richard Branson. He made it mandatory that the crew go out to the clubs with him, and I dislike dancing very much.
“I remember my chief stew looking at me and going, ‘Dance, you’re getting paid to look like you’re having a good time’. So I started dancing.”
But life below deck is not always harmonious.
Kate says: “A lot of people get tired and those close quarters . . . if you’re on a boat with people long enough, even the way they breathe is annoying.
“I would say (fighting) definitely happens off the yacht. If there’s ever a crew member who’s going to get angry or has a temper, it’s the chef. I have seen chefs lose it.
‘Chefs are known for being a bit crazy’
“Chefs are known for being a bit crazy, but I have noticed that the nicer the chef, the worse the food.”
Yachting is not free of danger, either, and Kate reveals she was once shipwrecked on a deserted island for three days.
She says: “I was with a captain, we were taking the yacht from Miami to the Turks and Caicos Islands and the captain was a bit careless — he ended up hitting a coral reef, and we were sinking. He managed to beach us on a small island in the middle of nowhere that only had goats and palm trees on it, and we were stuck there for three days.
“Because he hit a reef, he did not want to call the coastguard, because he would have faced a fine, so he called his brother.
“He came out in a little 30ft sport-fishing boat and, using a rope, towed the 86ft yacht back to Miami.”
Kate has now given up life on the high seas for a more relaxed existence in sunny Florida.
She says: “It’s an adventurous thing to be a yachtie. You meet people from everywhere, whether crew, guests or owners. But the industry doesn’t lend itself to long-term relationships.
“I’d like to have a significant other, mostly just somebody to take the garbage out, split the bills and walk the dog.
“I’m loving land life and don’t have any more theme parties in me. I’m ready to move on to the next chapter.”
As Chief Steward, you are the mum of the boat, making sure everything runs smoothly, says KateCredit: Getty
Kate saw Beyonce and Jay-Z on the yacht next to hers in Saint MartinCredit: BackGrid
Kim Kardashian and Kanye West attended a party on one of Kate’s boatsCredit: Rex