Photo Credit: Gabriela Barragan
Gabriela Barragán: Bringing Diversity To Yachting On Bravo TV's Below Deck Sailing Yacht Season 3
You might know Gabriela Barragán from, Below Deck Sailing Yacht: Season 3, which is currently running on Bravo TV. She’s crewed on several boats in the last couple of years and is quickly becoming a seasoned crew member, while purposefully adding diversity to the yachting lifestyle. Gabriela is currently in the Virgin Islands, as First Mate on Nightwind II, under Captain Wes O’Dell. Having a 5 hour time difference between us, she was ending the day when we chatted.
Maggie Jay with Travel Noire: How’d your day go?
Gabriela Good! Did some cleaning, boat maintenance, stuff like that.
TN: So, what have you been doing with your winter?
Gabriela: I’m learning to sail! I am currently on a 53 foot Gallant. First Mate. Just me and the Captain running boat charters, out of St. Thomas. I wanted to take a little bit of a break from Super Yachting and learn to sail. Like really learning to sail. I thought I’m gonna take a break, go somewhere tropical and learn to sail. I’ve been adjusting to the, ‘live aboard’ life. I’m adjusting pretty well.
TN: How is it? Has learning to sail and being the First Mate been stressful?
Gabriela: The only times I get stressed is when I have to deal with my curly hair, or it’s wash day. (We laugh.) It’s so frustrating. You get it. My life is pretty great. I don’t have much to complain about, but dealing with my hair is the hardest thing to deal with.
On the super yacht, I have 10 minutes to shower. One time, I was accused of clogging the drain on the boat. I had braids!
When you’re on a super yacht, you don’t have to pay for any of the bathroom items. They give you your standard issue toiletries and I’m like, I can’t use this 3-in-1 shampoo, conditioner, body and wash! When I’m Captain, I will have all the ethnic products.
TN: How did you get into being a yachtie?
Gabriela: You have to go to a maritime school. Fort Lauderdale and San Diego have them. Safety, first aid, firefighting, personal survival skills. Then you have to take a physical, the ENG1. Some people also take a service course, which I didn’t need because of my background. I’d work on a boat temporarily, then I’d stay at a crew house and take another class. That built my CV in two ways. AC2, the practical theory for engineering is probably going to be my next course. I just think that if we need to hook up to shore power, I can do it.
In January 2020, I finished all my courses to make it happen. Then the pandemic started. But I needed that 3 months at home, with my family to become my best spiritually, mentally and emotionally. I went back to NYC and crashed with a friend. It was supposed to be 2 weeks, I got my first job in 3 days. 4 weeks on [the boat] and then it was over. Then I got another, and another. I am seen as a freelancer and not just a drifter going from job to job.
TN: What was your first time on a boat like?
Gabriela: The first time on a boat for me was like a 40 meter boat and I was terrified.
I was intimidated by the boating industry. I read everything there was about being a stewardess, used YouTube. I reached out to my network WhatsApp group called @unicorn. I had no idea what I was supposed to do. I was not myself at first. I was scared to ask questions, or even talk to my crewmates.
Women from all around the world would give me advice and send me schedules. ‘Wake up at 7, clean up the crew mess.’ The Watts App group is a safe place to post jobs, encourage each other to keep going and keep trying.
I joined the industry in March 2020, right in the middle of the pandemic. At the time, most crews were skeleton crews. So, I jumped boat to boat every 4 to 6 weeks. I was gaining skills and standards because of the different size boats I worked on.
TN: How long have you been sailing?
Gabriela: I’ve been sailing for a year. My first sailing experience was 105 foot catamaran. It was formally owned by Richard Branson and is the biggest catamaran in the Caribbean. The 2nd was a 65 meter sailboat. It’s the one you see me on Below Deck Sailing Yacht. I was on the interior and didn’t get to see much of the work outside. It made me think, I might want to be a sailor.
I didn’t even know this lifestyle existed. I’m from San Diego, but growing up I never paid any attention. It wasn’t in my peripheral. I started traveling and fell in love with Panama. I lived on Boca Del Toro and it was the first time I was seeing Afro Latinos that surf and boat and skate. I was like how can I make this lifestyle permanent? I googled how to make money from traveling the world. Travel blogging came up, which I was like I can’t do that.
Then, I saw traveling bartending and was like, I already do that. Super yacht stewardess came up and I was like yes, I belong on a yacht (I don’t know what that is, but I belong on one!) Once I saw what the job entailed, I was like I can do that. I thought it was like bartending on a yacht, but it is so much more than that.
I don’t know anyone in the 1%. My family isn’t wealthy. I said once I get a job bartending in NYC, I will feel like I made it as a bartender. I got a bartending job on a rooftop with the Empire State Building as the view. I was like, well so, now I have to do something else. I moved back to San Diego and really got serious about getting into yachting.
My father worked an auto upholstery place. And, his colleagues taught me to surf when I was 9. Working on a boat and with a Black Captain? That makes me proud.
TN: How’d you end up on the sailboat you’re on now?
Gabriela: I got asked to be on Below Deck Sailing Yacht season 3. When I finished working, I worked for a boat in the Bahamas. Captain Wes O’dell was on Below Deck Season 9. I remember him saying he was in St. Thomas. I hit him up on Instagram and was like, ‘Fellow below deck alumni here, I want to learn to sail. I want to take a break from super yachts. I need more sea time.’
I met him and did a casual interview. You can be my full- time crew member for the rest of the winter. I ‘ll teach you everything you need to learn. And now, now we’re doing charters on the Night Wind II. It’s available for bookings until May.
TN: What’s a day without guests on Night Wind II look like?
Gabriela: We went on a shake down sail through this tiny little passage. We were still motoring, we lost the hydraulic pump broke and we lost steerage. I watched this man steer the boat with only the sails. We got through it and to open ocean, he tried to figure out what happened. He’s like, ‘oh shoot, our pipe broke.’ I was like, how are we going to get back to the marina?
He pulls out the emergency tiller and throws it on. He docks the boat with the emergency tiller. He called his Dad and he came to the marina and let us know when the coast was clear. We come in motoring, using the tiller. He made it look so easy. I jump off the boat and grab the stern line.’
I’m a little over my head. You don’t get this experience everyday, getting paid to learn to sail. Usually, you pay to learn to sail.
TN: Below Deck Sailing, what was that like?
Gabriela: Filming a TV show, I went into like another freelance position. I went into like it was another job. I can fit in, it’s fine. The cameras didn’t both me much, because you don’t have privacy on a boat anyway. There was a lot of pressure for me to do my job perfectly. I felt pressure to show that standard and showing previous employers and mentors respect.
Sometimes, it was difficult having the cameras watch my every move. I’d never been to Europe or worked on a boat that size. I was working with a seasoned crew, Captain had 20 years of experience. The engineer had 15. First steward had 10. I was like wow, I’m going to learn so much.
Now, I get to watch and see how I am from outside of my head. Through another lens. It was fun and I’d do it again. It was really nice to represent Bi-racial people and the LGBTQ community.
TN: Any advice for other Black women who are trying to get into crewing?
Gabriela: Braid your hair. Kidding, sort of. Don’t get intimidated by the industry that is predominantly male and white. Take your coursework and just go for it! We belong here too. And, don’t let anyone make you feel like you aren’t welcome.