An Arrowtown yachtie has said ‘bon voyage’ to a career on the high seas with an international reality TV show.
Taylor Dennison, 24, is one of the latest stars of Peacock Original’s first season of Below Deck: Down Under, which follows the crew onboard Australian superyacht Thalassa — also known as Keri Lee III — as they host charters around the Whitsunday Islands.
Called in by Captain Jason Chambers to take over third steward duties for the second-to-last charter of the season, Dennison says the experience was ‘‘an absolute whirlwind of adrenaline, nerves and excitement’’.
‘‘Going in fully unprepared, I was pleasantly surprised by the support of the entire production team and crew, still today.
‘‘Having [fellow Kiwi] Aesha [Scott, chief stew] and Jason as leaders was such a breath of fresh air.’’
Born and raised in Arrowtown, Dennison says the Whakatipu will always be ‘‘home’’ — her dad, Glen, and younger brother, Luca, still live here, while her older sister, Leah Baines, and mum, Joanna Baines, live in Australia.
She says during her last high school years she had a weekend job at the luge — listening to transient travellers’ stories inspired her to ditch her plan to go to uni and study a conjoint degree in law and commerce, a week before she was meant to leave.
After a quick panic, Dennison explored her options and ended up flying to Sydney to complete her STCW basic safety course.
‘‘The following week, my 18-year-old self was in the South of France hustling agents for a job.’’
Following a week of network ing — ‘‘drinking at the local bars’’ — and selling her phone to stay afloat, she was flown out to start her first job on the 72-metre Talisman C.
After a trip back to Queenstown that summer, she went back to yachtie life, and by the age of 21 had secured a head of service role on a 134m yacht, managing a team of seven.
Dennison’s yachting career has taken her to ‘‘all corners of the Mediterranean’’, the Maldives, Seychelles and Dubai, and she’s worked on boats sailing from Mexico and the Galapagos Islands to Tahiti and Singapore, quipping on most of the trips she’s spent a good amount of time with ‘‘my head down the toilet while we were underway — I never did manage to conquer the seasickness’’.
She says scouters keep a close eye on yachties throughout their careers, and coming to the end of her own, she engaged with the recruiters for Below Deck, and started the production recruitment process.
Dennison was flown to Australia to be available to replace any of the interior crew, should they not work out.
‘‘Six days out to the end of filming I got the call.
‘‘To say I was nervous is an understatement; I was covered in a casual stress rash and I usually consider myself quite a confident gal.
‘‘It’s intimidating coming into an established crew once a firing has happened like that, let alone an entire production team — camera crew, audio mixers, producers running around capturing your every move.’’
She says there’s no privacy — the only solitude on the yacht is in the bathroom, and even there the crew are still mic’d.
‘‘There is no interference by production, it is yachting on steroids and what you see is raw and very real.’’
As for the guests, Dennison says they were a ‘‘different calibre to what I was used to’’.
‘‘Wild [by] any normal yachtie’s standard.’’
For now, Dennison’s settled in Auckland where she’s building up a cocktail business — once that’s successfully launched she’s planning to head overseas again.