Ruby Needham tells her story of travelling the world on super yachts. Photo: Sara Hollyman.

Vic Brewbar Banter


Every few weeks we catch up with someone interesting with a good yarn to tell. This week we catch up with Ruby Needham who spent five years in the male-dominated industry of super-yachts. She smashed stereotypes and became a deckhand adventuring around the world.

“I was teaching in a kindy here in Nelson and I was thinking ‘I’m 21, I’m a qualified teacher, I’ve got all this paperwork’ and I was like ‘this is not me’. I loved the kids, but it was a lot of responsibility.

I had met friends of friends who had done a bit of yachting, so I dug into it and thought ‘right, this is what I’m going to do’.

I completed the Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers and then headed for Antibes, France.

I gave myself one week to get a job and managed to get an interview the next day. I didn’t even know what I was going in to. The chief stewardess asked me all these questions and I didn’t really know the answers. I messed it up, I left thinking ‘I really screwed that up’.

Then I saw some crew unloading a van with provisions and they had formed this big chain and they looked like they were kind of struggling so I just said, ‘do you guys need a hand’. Before I even got to the end of the dock the chief stewardess rung me and asked me to come back.

I jumped on board and I’m in this saloon with sheets covering everything, there’s mirrors everywhere, velvet all on the walls, crazy carpet, and I’m sitting there just thinking ‘how did this happen’.

She interviewed me then went and talked to the captain and came back and said ‘here’s the figure, if you’re happy you start tomorrow’.

So, there I was working on a 50-metre yacht, living in a cabin with three girls and a tiny wardrobe, doing housekeeping, laundry, and serving guests, sailing Sardinia, Corsica, Malta, Balearic Islands, Spain, Sicily, Croatia and Montenegro.

The turning point in my career was when I was cleaning the corner of a cabin with a toothpick, making sure there wasn’t even a minute piece of dust, and I looked out the port hole and saw all the guys hooning round on jet skis.

I thought ‘why am I in here cleaning and they are out there having all the fun’.

After that season I completed my Yacht Master and went hunting for another job as a deckhand.

I was the only girl. Sometimes it was a bit awkward because I’d have this epic day and then come into my cabin and the girls had been up for hours longer than me cleaning hard, so I couldn’t really vocalise how awesome my day was.

I was a dive guide and the coolest thing I’ve seen diving is a white tip shark that came in and circled us. It was massive, we all had to huddle together to make ourselves a bigger mass. It went round twice, then swam off.

That was scary, we got out of there but had to do a three-minute safety stop at five metres and that’s the dodgy bit where you’re just bobbing around.

After five years I needed a challenge and wanted to do something for myself, so I went to Everest Base Camp and I thought when I was standing on the mountain I’d just know what to do next; ‘I can’t galivant round the world forever, I wanted to meet someone, I only meet fish and sharks out there’.

So, I came home.

Now my partner and I have this property in the Marlborough Sounds that’s this amazing place where we feel refreshed and that’s going to be my next adventure”.