A love relationship at sea - I will share my story with you

Dec 24, 2019

I always thought: “On your own, you go where you want to. But together you go farther…” I obviously didn’t come to sea to fall in love, but to run away — around it.

I signed up for a life of 14 working hours, every single day for six months, as Chef de Partie, in pastry. A life I wanted: so physically and psychologically punishing, that it made me forget my own feelings.

So how could I imagine that someone would light up my everyday life onboard?

I will share my story with you…

Right after I embarked on my ship of 3,800 passengers and 2,000 crew members, in the Caribbean, I would have to learn that it’s completely forbidden to become attached to anyone on board.

“Don’t trust anyone” were the first words of advice I received, and I kept on hearing them.

We are just here to support each other. At best, we are bonuses in life.

This is the other side of the coin.

“You’re the most beautiful distraction I’ve ever had on board.”

A distraction. It’s exactly what we are for each other. Nothing else, and at the same time, it’s everything we have…

So how could we refuse ourselves the limited pleasure we could share with someone else… ?

The only person I had become friends with had just disembarked after her ten-month contract. I wished her the very best, but the only person able to really understand what I felt at sea had disappeared. Taking with her the very little zest for life I had… So I worked twice as hard.

With the promotion in sight: giving cooking classes to passengers… my glimmer of hope.

It had been eight weeks that I’d been at sea. After one of my wearying shifts, for the very first time, I go to the crew bar. Floor is already sticky and beer cans are piled up on top of each other. Tables burst with trash.

Drained after a day of tedious and intense scones production, I find myself ordering a gin and tonic.

He sees me before I even notice him.

  • He is the kind of person who knows how to get what he desires. It’s fortunate: I have this strength too, since I came onboard.
  • Every day, afflicted by work a little bit more, I’ve gained confidence. I am more self-assured, and play to win.
  • But this South African has charisma that’s way too imposing. A smile that’s way too ravishing…
  • After an hour of talking non-stop, I remark that I am not against his seduction game.
  • I ask him what is his position on the ship.
  • Instead of being shocked by his answer, I have an uncontrollable fit of laughter. 

He runs this extraordinary fine dining place and teaches special cooking classes for a selection of passengers — this insane kitchen I referred to earlier… Deck 17…

The die is cast regarding my potential promotion. It’s not his decision, even if he could still say something about it. I’m supposed to get the final answer the next day.

We continue to flirt, but I prefer to drive him crazy, so I kiss him too close to his lips and say:

“Nothing will happen between us until we know about this promotion. Because if I come to work up there, I want it to be for my professional skills and not for the drinks we shared tonight.”

When I leave the bar, he grabs my hand in front of the other crew members, who stand there astonished by his behavior.

His hazel eyes blur into mine, my heart starts wildly beating.

This is the right time to getaway.

The next day, particularly stressed — the decision should fall at any time — I pace, preparing myself to spend the next four months of my contract in this current position, in pastry, making my 1,500 scones and 800 cookies per day.

All of a sudden, he walks in, his eyes glued to mine.

Nothing around me matters anymore.

  • “Come up tomorrow, at 8 a.m.”
  • Not yet known to me, he is the one who will teach me literally everything about cooking.
  • The one who will perceive maybe… the ambition behind my tired smile.
  • The crossing: 12 days at sea, from the Caribbean to Ponta Delgada in the Azores islands.
  • This transatlantic cruise marks the beginning of a new life for me.

We offer a wide variety of classes, more than 30 different ones. The flavors of Thai street food, Indian cooking, Italian sweet treats, bread-making, chocolate tempering, etc.

I must weigh every single ingredient for the 12 workstations where guests will cook in pairs. During the two hours, they are able to create their own culinary inventions under the Chef’s guidance. His guidance.

He gives them the ins and outs of the recipes and techniques, and at the end of the class, participants can enjoy what they have cooked.

On almost every cruise, the place is made private to host a renowned British Michelin-starred Chef. During these two days, the price of the classes and dinners jump madly to £180 per passenger, and places are strictly limited.

He pushes me towards opportunities I could never have imagined having in my life. Giving me the chance to prove myself in front of him and these famed Chefs.

The pressure is enormous.

Being able to learn from them is a privilege I never hoped for. I give my best to cooking, over and over… to achieve, to improve and progress, relentlessly.

He is staring at me while I lead the guests during classes. He watches me. He places his trust in me and in my abilities.

Because more than anything else, I want to learn about cooking, about him, about… life.

I drink his words. I steep in his gestures.  I study the details of his movements when he combines spices for his creations...

Through my thirst for learning, he finds in me an inspiration, a desire to push himself further. A desire that left him years ago…

He becomes audacious and passionate again.

As much as he is… my mentor, I am… his muse.

He looks at me, sensually observing the tattoo on my back that he loves so much.

Ten years older, divorced, engaged again, three children and a life that seems «normal» in the southern hemisphere.

But here he is, working on a cruise ship — his second life, in which I am gradually becoming the centerpiece.

In my own country, it would have been inconceivable to me to accept a relationship like ours. But here, the context is different.

Because I know…that I cannot envision anything or expect anything from him.

In two months, when his contract is up, he will definitely leave this ship to go work in another part of the world. A few weeks later, I will leave for new adventures as well.

This date, this turnaround day is coming… and May 25th sounds like the expiry date of this relationship; we can only make the most of the present moment.

Bound by his professional and family responsibilities, he has always been completely honest with me. I cannot fall in love under these conditions. I have no right to!

I kiss him passionately without an ounce of mistrust for my heart. My heart that he won’t break. This is the very first time I feel like…

beach by the ocean

I am in total control of my feelings.

My Achilles heel has always been love relationships, but this time, by mutual agreement, I “use” as much as I’m “used.” Everything is under control.

He doesn’t need me. I’m just the woman he wants to cherish at this present moment. Deep down inside, he knows he cannot offer me what I sincerely desire. What I truly need in life:

A home… A family…

His past life choices have a significant impact on what we could have together.

“You deserve better…” he keeps repeating to me.

“That’s for me to judge.”

For a second, I look at the ocean striking the window of his cabin, which has become our cabin.

I am surprised by his smile in the reflection of the porthole. The same smile I spend more than 12 hours a day with.

Obviously, it wasn’t enough for us to work together. We flirt in the shade of our evenings. An irremediable attraction that burns us from inside out.

No one must know…

The game is dangerous. He is now my direct supervisor. I literally risk my position, and he risks his entire career on board.

It is bound to happen, I cannot prevent attitudes:

“How do you feel now, with this easy life?”

“It’s normal that you got this promotion, you’re white…”

I try to dismiss them, focus on the opportunity I was given to go up there, Deck 17.

To learn rigor and precision, taste and excellence.

I travel downstairs to the pastry section every day to see my former colleagues. I don’t forget “where I come from,” where tasks are harder, and hours longer...

Why does he seem to be accomplished… but incomplete?

Working together is exhilarating, challenging and different every day. I assist him with cooking while he teaches me everything he knows about cuts, cooking, pairing delicacies.

The extent of his knowledge doesn’t hide any secrets from me anymore. I watch him working, so proud to be at his side. Fulfilled to share much more than this professional dimension — without anyone suspecting it yet.

When he cooks, he has an aura.

I carefully observe every move he makes. Cutting, slicing, chopping, stirring, searing, browning… I literally admire his talent.

Gradually, during our classes, I don’t even need to look to know what he needs. I anticipate his precise actions. I think for him. Before him.

I’m getting more competent every minute I spend at his side. And above all… my heart starts to beat differently…

I wake up in his arms, and ten minutes later, I have to take the role of a Chef, assisting him in each of his cooking demonstrations for passengers.

Our emotional connection makes our work better, our duet exceptional. According to rumors, we are the best team this place has ever known.

  • Together… 
  • - We will push and transcend our limits at work as far as we can. 
  • - We will break the rules of any relationship at sea.
  • - We will burn all the prohibitions of passionate love.

But this fear… to give in, to trust this being who offers me the purest of himself.

He makes me stronger while I make him better.

We discover the potential impact we may have on each other.

It takes us a few weeks to admit to ourselves and each other that our feelings can no longer be controlled… We are madly in love with each other.

So before reality catches up with us, we break it down and wholeheartedly accept our relationship.

A race against time! A fight against the ephemeral… A battle that we cannot win on board.

But after all, how can feelings be controlled?

Is it love so complex… it’s unlike any other.

“She is my partner,” he suddenly affirms in front of the new Executive Chef of the 3,800-passenger ship.

He is protecting me now, carrying us, despite all opposition.

He postpones his departure by 60 days, renounces his precious time with his children for us to stay together until the end of my contract, in July.

  • “I wish I would have met you a few years ago… When I still had my whole life ahead of me…” he confesses to me one night, as I start to fall asleep in his arms.
  • “Maybe… but it’s now that our paths cross. And it’s today that we can write for tomorrow.”
  • “I don’t want to hurt you. I’m petrified by this idea...” he whispers.
  • “The situation could hurt me, not you… So please, let me love you as much as I want to.”

For four months, 24 hours a day, we will live hand-in-hand, without ever having enough of each other.

During almost every break, we try new recipes, compositions, merging flavors and combining spices to find the most perfect harmony for our culinary delicacies… 

When I fail, he teaches me how mistakes are a part of the journey. He pushes me to pick myself up, to try again, to desperately try… To be a success.

Until the day I hear… “This is perfection.” From the revolutionary three-star Michelin Chef with the very controversial management style. Better known as the Godfather of British cooking.

I look at this internationally renowned Chef delighting in my panna cotta which has caused me so many restless nights.

In the eyes of my mentor, my partner… my man, I see pride. At this very moment, the joy that overwhelms me is indescribable…

So we let ourselves dream about… a life together.

A home… A family…

“What if you were the key? The one for my happiness… I’ve always missed…” he admits to me in the privacy of our cabin. He continues: “You’re now my treasure, my life… My everything. I want to worship you every day … of forever.”

A swallow. The South African bird, symbol of freedom.

The freedom he offered me onboard by giving me the chance to express myself at his side through cooking.

The same passion is connecting us.

By opening my eyes to see his face, every morning I have the impression that everything is possible.

I decide to tattoo this bird on the hollow of my wrist. For him to guide me forever.

This man is deeply changing the entire vision of my life, and I want to keep it with me for the rest of my days.

He does the same.

Our love is rebellious and untamable. Our relationship is as transcendent as it could be destructive. But above all… our story is passionate and explosive.

I cannot make up my mind. There’s a one-in-a-million chance that we could succeed at running away from this ship to find each other again, to start our real life, on land, together…

It’s unlikely to happen, but the intensity of this relationship at sea is beyond comprehension…

In a way, I can understand now… why we shouldn’t become attached to anyone onboard.

I literally dedicate these months of my life, working and living with this man to the fullest. After having become the reason I get up every day, he gradually becomes the reason for me to fight for tomorrow. For our future.

We now fully accept our relationship on board, and there is no unanimity about this. It bothers the hierarchy and discomfits the company at the highest level.

We know that no matter what happens, we won’t be allowed to come back onboard this ship… We will never work together again. We will never experience the same thing here again.

July 20, 2019, we disembark the ship hand in hand, still inhabited by the crazy hope for a future fraught with difficulties, but shared.

I was supposed to leave holding my head high. I leave brokenhearted.

At the airport, in front of the boarding gate, I promise him that I will be strong.

But after all, why?

Tears won’t stop rolling down our faces.

I’m so scared… to never touch him again…

I already know that I cannot come back onboard just for him. Ship work will destroy, day by day, the incredible passion he made me discover for cooking. If I face the reality, I know our time here, giving cooking classes for passengers, reigning over our own kitchen is finished… 

He assures me that our future together is now ashore, and that we must not lose hope! Never ever… Whatever happens!

Kissing my forehead, he says:

“You’re more talented than you think.” 

“How can I be a good Chef without you at my side?!” I retort, panicking.

“I’m going to always be here to lead you,” he answers — by laying his hand on my swallow.

My heart is about to explode. My mind is screaming at me to stop before I suffer too much. But… I want to believe it.

I walk through my boarding gate. I know I will never see him again…

Ship life made us. Ship life killed us.

Unsurprisingly, life caught up with us once we were on land. Thousands of kilometers apart, we fought tirelessly to bring our common dream to life. As the weeks went by, life reminded him of his responsibilities and priorities.

Constraints from which we couldn’t deviate. Obstacles that we couldn’t overcome. Even for the sake of love…

I truly believe that life puts people on our path who we need to help us, support us, love us and maybe even leave us as well…

Because I would have literally risked everything I could for him.

For the man who made me feel alive again… For the man who awoke the desire in me to build, this desire to create… A home… A family…

Thanks to him, I’m now this swallow able to fly again. This swallow looking for her nest. But this swallow… that had to regain her freedom.

He couldn’t save me. In fact, no one could.

I understood later that I didn’t need to be saved or carried. I was the master of my own destiny on board.

At sea, it’s all about uncertainties. The only thing you can handle is… hope. 

Is it life if you’re scared every day when you open your eyes? 

Looking back, I know this love relationship sent me back to that fear of being abandoned again by losing a loved one...

I forgot myself because of his rank and position. Staying «behind» him, waiting for him to authorize me… to exist. Too much admiration, which caused inexpressible suffering when we came back on land…

In this way, ship life is not real… 

Once ashore, I had to give up on the fake security his arms gave me. I had to protect myself from this man who would always take care of me in his way…

It was maybe the price to have met my mentor…

From this point forward, I’m rich in these accomplishments and memories. I have grown in competence, experience and ambition.

I’m fortunate to still have the opportunity to get a new beginning in life. I must stay strong because… I’m free! Finally, not like him… 

And I’m ready to build my life.

Together, we made sparks…

… And we would have done wonders.

Everything is possible, but don’t believe in the impossible.