I’d rather regret the things I’ve done, than always wonder what could have been
Name: Lisa Dijkshoorn
Nick name: Lies or Liesje
Occupation: Lead Deck hand on board MV Sherakhan
From: St. Maarten
Official current home: St. Eustatius
Actual current home: Everywhere
I sat down with Lisa on a Saturday afternoon. She took a small break from her hectic life as lead deck hand on Sherakhan, a mega yacht like no other, to talk to me about her life as an island girl working in the yachting industry.
She is full of life, a little firecracker. Her eyes shine as she tells her story and her smile is quite infectious. It’s hard not to instantly like her.
Lisa was born and raised in St. Maarten and aside from the 5 years she lived in the Netherlands from the age of 4 till she was 9 years old, she has always been and always will be a true island girl. Her looks might be deceiving. She looks absolutely well,…..uhm……Dutch. There is no doubt of her ancestry but as soon as she opens her mouth it’s all island. Not the accent mind you, although she knows very well how to switch that on and off. It’s something you just never un-learn.
She describes her early life as fun.
“If I look back now and compare my life then to what it is now, growing up on St. Maarten was really nice. I was always outside, always hanging out, always by the ocean.”
The funny thing is that even though her ancestry is clearly Dutch and she was raised by her Dutch dad, English has always been her primary language. That is until the family moved to the Netherlands for a few years and Lisa found herself learning the Dutch language for the first time.
She is now fluent in both English and Dutch. Something that comes in quite handy in her current position and workplace.
Lisa was, in her own words a “naughty child” she used to often get into trouble and her dad had to make the decision to move her from a public school to a private school on the island where the classes were much smaller and the teachers could keep a better eye on her. She wasn’t a bad child, mind you. She was just a dreamer and had trouble concentrating in class, especially when the subject did not interest her. I sympathize with her, having had the same problem myself in my school days. While she excelled at subjects like languages and history, she completely flunked math and science. She’s a girl after my own heart.
Once she finished high school she was faced with the difficult decision so many nineteen year olds are faced with everyday: what to do with the rest of her life. Studying was not an option and by this time Lisa had grown tired of island life and wanted to broaden her horizons. The Netherlands seemed like the perfect solution. She had family and friends there so it would be an easy transition, or so she thought. After only a few months she realized though that life in the Netherlands was not quite what she dreamt it up to be after all. She missed island life, her friends and her family. One phone call to daddy however made her hopes of an island reunion come crashing down. It was time for Lisa to grow up. Her dad strictly instructed her that it was her decision to move to the Netherlands in the first place and she would have to simply sit it out.
St it out she did. She survived a whole year and a few months before she could finally move back to St. Maarten. The Netherlands simply did not agree with her and to this day it remains one of her least favorite places.
“I look super Dutch and everything but Holland is not really my place. I did not grow up there. The mentality is so different than what I was used to.”
Back on the island Lisa tried to find a job. She did some bartending work here and there before finding a permanent gig on a booze cruise that did snorkeling trips around St. Maarten. The funny thing is that before that she had hated being on boats. Her dad is an avid sailor and tried taking his daughter with him every chance he got but she just detested it and would throw complete hissy fits. Considering the life she leads now though, I guess the apple didn’t fall far from the tree after 😉
A friend recommended her for a job on board a catamaran that had to be delivered to the Mediterranean. She was to travel with 4 other persons on this vessel from Antigua to Mallorca. It would be a three week journey crossing the Atlantic. This would definitely be different than her regular trips to Tintamare Island, a small island within the waters of St. Maarten and one of the most liked stops on the booze cruise.
To say she was scared would be an understatement. So she called her voice of reason, her dad, who told her what Nike has been telling us for years: Just Do It! At the time Lisa had two major fears in life: one was to leave the island, her comfort zone and the other was to be stuck on the island forever. Two very contradicting fears but fears nonetheless. Her dad told her to jump on this amazing opportunity and so she did.
She cried that whole first week on the boat, regretting her decision. By week two she started seeing the beauty of it all. Imagine seeing nothing but water around you for days and days. The crew of 5 had to take watch duties and jot everything down in the log book from wind speed, to the direction and weather conditions. Her first night watch was an absolute disaster. One of the sails came loose and Lisa had to rush and wake up the captain. Unexperienced as she was she had to help roll the sail back in all while she kept repeating in her head: “I’m going to die”. But after a possible disaster was averted she realized that this boat-thing was quite exciting. Still she was planning to immediately buy a one way ticket back to the island the moment she reached land. But she didn’t. Instead she committed to being part of the crew on the same catamaran back to St. Maarten six months later.
So now our friend Lisa is about 21 years old, all alone in a place she has never been to before. Mallorca is known to be a crazy party town with lots of yachties and first timers like herself. Thankfully she had a girl she met on the delivery charter who has traveled throughout the US and was a bit more experienced. They found themselves a dodgy little hostel and they did some day-work on yachts to make ends meet. Through the connections they made Lisa found a job as a freelance deck stew on a charter boat and with charters one can make quite some money. Her love for yachting started right then and there. The boat owners were super nice and the experience on board their boat was awesome. She had sea urchin for the first time and loved being able to say that she had that. She was hungry for more and wanted to experience more oddities.
After the charters and with about 3,000 euros in her hand she and her partner in crime went on a Eurotrip for a month before meeting the boat they arrived to Mallorca on in France to cross back to St. Maarten. They visited Barcelona for a few days, spent a night in Nice at this dodgy Karaoke bar before heading to Rome. Lisa had always wanted to see the Coliseum. Once in Rome however she got pick pocketed and lost 500 euros and their passports. Luckily an older couple on their scooter found the abandoned pouch with the passports still in it and a business card with the hostel number on it and returned the stolen goods to them. To this day she still considers this to be one of he most amazing experiences of her life.
Lisa was used to traveling. Her dad took her on many great trips and traveling was something that came quite easily to her. But this particular trip in southern Europe opened her eyes and gave her the confidence she needed to plunge into the yachting world.
Another life changing phone call came around one christmas day when the captain /owner of Sherakhan called her about a job as a nanny for their 10-day charter. Up to that point Lisa was still convinced that children were scary but she took the job anyway thinking if anything it would be another experience to hang on her belt. To this day the captain still reminds her of what she said during her initial job interview: “I hope I don’t kill them”.
Stepping onto the Sherakhan for the first time was like something out of a rags to riches movie. The size of this yacht alone was impressive but what made it even more so was the design and to think that this would be her playground for the next 10 days.
After being back on the island for a few weeks Sherakhan called again but this time with a more permanent offer. Lisa, being a bit clumsy was hoping it wouldn’t be for a stewardess position and breathed a sigh of relief when she found out the boat was in need of a deck hand, a position usually reserved for guys. Regardless of her fear of commitment she jumped at the opportunity and was flown to France for training and orientation. She has fond memories of those first initial days on board of the yacht when the sheer size of it meant that she spent most of the day getting lost or trying to find her way from one deck to the other.
On and off Lisa has been a part of the yachting world for 10 years now. When I asked her to describe her best charter experience she told me about this family they had on board for christmas one year and how they treated the crew on board as family. This was also the only time she actually cried when it was time to say goodbye to the guests.
“When you have people on board that appreciate what you do so much you just want to spoil them all the time and keep impressing them.”
The yachting business brings great guests, not so great guests and a large share of celebrities. Lisa experienced her share of those that live in a constant spot light.
“We were at the police dock in Simpson Bay waiting in the tender for the guests to arrive. I am holding someone’s hand to help her into the boat when I look up and I’m staring into what must be one one of the most recognized faces in the world. I was like….Oh…right.”
She was star struck or rather shocked for a split second before her professionalism kicked in and she continued helping the guest into the tender. It is something she got used to now and it doesn’t faze her much to be dealing with big name celebrities anymore.
She considers Antartica to be the most amazing place she had the honor of visiting. It was such a unique experience especially knowing nothing at all about the destination before she got there, other than what she saw in movies. Standing in the middle of three thousand penguins or the agressive little feral baby seals she encountered or the huge iceberg she had seen one day only to return and find out it was no longer there, all made for one of the most unique adventures of her life.
While she recounts her Antartica stories, her eyes light up and her smile gets wider. This adventure has opened her appetite for more forgotten places. Papa Guinea and the rest of the islands and countries in the Pacific Ocean are now on the top of her bucket list. This is a dream that may come true sooner than she thought considering that more and more yachts are now choosing these more remote destinations over the once very popular Mediterranean and Caribbean routes.
Like with all the island girls of the month before her I asked Lisa to name three words that describe her the best. She mentioned silly, people-loving and loyal, yet when she asked her co-workers what they thought they said that she’s mostly enthusiastic, hard working and sensitive. I must say I agree with all six although I would definitely describe Lisa as brave. Brave for taking the decisions she had to take and to venture into the world on her own like she did.
In her heart she remains an island girl. Her incredible life on the sea takes her everywhere but she does sometimes miss her island friends. Her job has made it difficult to stay in touch even when the yacht is docked at one of the island’s marinas. Being on island does not mean that work stops. Sherakhan is an older boat and it needs quite some love. The crew is always scrubbing, painting, polishing and cleaning. That makes it difficult to link up with old friends and Lisa has had to let go of some of her friendships, something she regrets terribly. The conversations with old friends are also not as easy as they used to be before her big adventure in the yachting world started. She can relate to her island friends because she has lived that life, but her friends have much difficulty relating to hers. She can drop names but her friends wouldn’t know who those people are, neither can they understand what it means to be on night watch or having to polish the teak floor twice. She is slowly trying to change this and is hoping to re-establish these old friendship next time she is back on the island.
Life away from home means that Lisa has lived out of a suitcase for about 10 years now. It is seriously all that she owns. It does get tiring at times and she does miss her dad’s goat stew and this girl loves her some chicken. Aside from her friends and the food she also misses family currently living on the island of St. Eustatius.
Like with everything else there is an upside and a downside to yachting., a job that is at first instance very attractive, adventurous and romantic.
“You cannot really establish meaningful relationships. You’re never at the same place long enough so let’s say you fall in love with a boy knowing that you’re leaving in 5 days and that nothing can come out of that.”
Another downside is that working on a yacht is like working on a Big Brother boat. Nothing you do goes unseen or unheard. Living with a big group of people from all different nationalities is bond to cause some friction. On a land based job you can go home and detox, talk to someone about it and go back to work the next morning all refreshed if you’re having a shitty day at work. On a boat however the shit follows you around 24/7 until you resolve it.
“You get used to being away from home a lot and the upside is of course that you get to save good money because you have minimal expenses and you get to see amazing places.”
Lisa is also a female on deck, which is not exactly common so she gets a kick of that, to be able to park the tender perfectly well next to some guys that are struggling to straightened the boat, makes you feel like superwoman.
It was a true honor interviewing this amazing young fun fearless female. She has shown me that being from an island does not restrict you to only island life and to value where you’re form, no matter how small. After all, the island has shaped her into the woman she is today.
Lisa, you are truly inspiring. Keep doing what you do and until the next time your adventure brings you home.