While chasing a 2017 story about medical tourism and Slovakian stem cells that had already taken me to hospital facilities in Bratislava and Vienna, I wound up partying on a 283-foot yacht floating in the French Riviera. As I watched intoxicated rich people having expensive fun in their cheap white shower slippers — first rule of yacht club is there are no shoes on the yacht, which are instead piled in a big heap at the yacht’s entrance — I began to wonder, “How could anyone spend their whole life doing this?”
Then, almost on cue, seated at a table on the rear deck with Lindsay Lohan and her entourage, I spotted a dude who had, in fact, spent his entire life doing this. Alex Jimenez was a professional yacht influencer, and he was hard at work.
I didn’t know that at the time, of course. I just saw an open chair next to a lanky guy wearing a loose polo shirt and a flat-brimmed Yankees hat, and sat down in it. As everyone else gradually made their way toward the raucous festivities taking place on the foredeck, Jimenez struck up a conversation with me. He remarked that I seemed both thoughtful and decidedly out of place.
“I’m working,” I said. “I never stop working. All I can think about is work.”
“Hey, me too,” he replied. “I’m working right now.”
“I used to feel all messed up about my career,” he continued. “I was a short-haul truck driver in the Bronx, and I guess I caught the yacht bug. I’d go to a bookstore, grab a table and read everything I could about yachts. Then, on the very first weekend after I downloaded the Instagram app, right after Instagram became a thing you could download, I went to a luxury boat show and took some of pictures of the yachts. I added some hashtags, and pretty soon I had 800,000 followers. But the quantity doesn’t really matter to the folks who pay me, it’s the quality. Influential people follow me, Gulf state princes and Russian moguls who might actually be able to buy these yachts.”
When Jimenez said that he was working, I assumed he was “working” the same way Lindsay Lohan was — that is, “working the crowd.” He looked important enough, wearing an expensive, custom-made watch with all of the wheels, ratchets and levers exposed.
“Nah, I’m nobody you’d know,” he assured me. “I’m here to take some pictures and post some video stories of the yacht, which a brokerage group is trying to sell. The watch is a loaner from a friend. I wear it, take a picture of my wrist and tag his company on my Instagram account. It’s just a small part of the hustle.”
The yacht hustle, I soon learned, was the all-consuming passion of Jimenez’s life. He went from a guy who took Instagram pictures, always head-on yacht shots run through one of the generic filters, to a guy that yacht brokers paid to stay on their yachts in order to mention that said yachts were docked in a port and available for sale or charter. He was helicoptered from yacht to yacht, and slept in the smallest guest cabins.
“The yacht we’re on right now used to be a cruise ship that they retrofitted,” he told me. “You can sleep a dozen or more people on here, and the decks can fit a bunch more, but it’s all kind of crowded.”
I mentioned that the bathrooms were both tiny, and with a hundred or so people aboard the yacht, already rather foul.
“Yeah, that’s just how it goes,” he said. “It’s an endless party, especially on the yachts that are 200 feet and up, the so-called ‘superyachts.’ Conditions are cramped, everyone’s out of their mind on some substance, and the bathrooms are being used for who knows what. There’s a kitchen and a big dining area, but good luck getting food out of there when you really want it. You’re not on here to eat a sit-down meal, even though they usually have nice dining rooms. The bars on each level are the focal points of these things.”
We took a walk around the yacht while people boozed and bumped into each other, their words slurring together and distorted further by the deep bass thump of the music playing from the upper and lower decks. Jimenez’s own cabin was indeed tiny, very nearly a capsule hotel. He showed me the heavy-duty metal suitcase where he secured his borrowed valuables, a collection of watches on loan from various business acquaintances.
“The watches are heavy on the wrist,” he said. “They’re great to look at, but their bands often cut into the wrist. And yeah, the room is small, but with my nocturnal schedule, it’s not like I sleep very much. I take maybe one picture a day and post a few Instagram stories, but I’m expected to be up on the deck, mingling with partygoers and selling the mystique of the yacht.”
Jimenez leveled with me — once upon a time, he had been excited by the idea of partying on a yacht. After all, who wouldn’t be? But now he was basically just a working stiff. He too had a home and a family, with kids he didn’t see as much as he could because his “feet were never on dry land.”
He had considerable yacht expertise and knew all the major players in the yacht world, buyers and sellers and their glorious boats. He had been on the 100-foot yachts and the 500-foot yachts, and seen yacht-related activities he assured me exceeded any fantasies, dark or light, that I could ever imagine. Yet all that meant he was now just another yacht worker, someone who punched the clock — or the pearl-faced wristwatch, in his case — the same as the kitchen staff, the bartenders and the yacht’s crew.
“You’ve seen the crew,” he told me. “It’s about 30 people on this yacht, and they’re Greek and serious as a heart attack. Nine times out of ten, the crews on these yachts are either Greek or Russian. The rich people that staff these yachts talk at length about whether it’s better to go with one or the other. They can make pretty decent money, and on a 500-footer with a 60 or 70 person crew, you’re probably talking $5,000 or $6,000 a month plus room and board.”
After years of yacht influence, the true appeal of high-class maritime life had become clear to Jimenez. “You have to be really rich to own one of these,” he said. “I mean, you have to be so rich to own a yacht that’s 300 feet or more. You can’t be rich like LeBron James, because that’s nothing. You can’t be rich like Tiger Woods or Johnny Depp. They’re not rich in super-yacht terms. We’re talking 10 percent or more of the purchase cost of the yacht paid out in upkeep every month. The brokerages and buying groups can swing it because there’s a bunch of investors, and because they charter the yachts to offset costs.
“But for the guy who owns the Eclipse [Roman Abramovich, a Russian oligarch], that’s not the point. He’s not chartering that thing out. It has a submarine and a missile detection system. See, the power of owning a magnificent yacht like that is in how you’re telling the world that you’re beyond buying and selling. You have more money than there is money to have. You’ve transcended. There are no frontiers left for you on dry land. I mean, true peace is only at sea.”
Jimenez, a poor Puerto Rican kid, grew up hustling. He worked 50- and 60-hour shifts at whatever job he had; he considered overtime to be a necessary part of his base pay and counts himself among those annoying grinders who dismiss 40 hours of work per week as a “part-time job.” He now made a “comfortable middle-class living,” but sitting there with me in the cabin, fretted that it could go away at any time. “This is me working a little network I’ve built using someone else’s social media platform,” he said. “If Instagram changes its algorithm slightly, there goes a bit of my business. If Instagram disconnects some of the tools I use to build and monitor my account, there goes a bit of my business. And if Instagram goes away and is replaced by something newer and better, I need to get there first, just like I did with this account. If I don’t, I’m done. I’m totally dependent on a platform that’s completely out-of-control.”
For Jimenez, Instagram is essentially a money tree that must be fertilized and harvested as much as possible before its popularity wanes. As another side hustle, he “plants” subsidiary yacht accounts, accounts with soundalike names and images, and uses cross-promotion from his primary account to grow them until they’re large enough to sell to yacht brokers or manufacturers. “I build them up and then sell them off, and my client gets a ready-made account that has real followers and legitimate engagement,” he told me. “I started focusing on that when I realized that this wasn’t just a ‘life of the party’ job, that pushing social media is something you do all day and all night long.
“I fire off these posts while I’m sitting around on the yacht, when things are very slow. I’m not in this for the fun of it, I’m not posting silly stuff. I basically do sponsored advertisements that follow a set format. I watch Instagram like a hawk to see if anything is hampering the growth of these other accounts, and to see if I’m continuing to get the activity I need on my primary posts.”
After surveying his cabin, Jimenez and I walked to the side deck and slouched over the railing. The sun had set, and we studied the well-lit coastline of Cannes. “If you could have anything at all, anything in the world, what would you want?” he asked me.
“I guess I’d want to keep writing and keep getting paid for it,” I responded.
“Well, I want to own a yacht,” Jimenez said. “I used to just want to be on yachts, because I thought the parties were cool and the technology was awesome, but now that I’ve spent a good portion of my life partying on them, I actually want to own a yacht. Owning a yacht, really owning it in full and being able to pay for its upkeep, means that you’ve somehow freed yourself from work and want. If you own the yacht that way, you’re a free man. The hustle and grind are things of the past.”
I asked him if he had plans to leave the yacht while we were in the French Riviera.
“No, I’m going to hang back here, because I’m scheduled to be on another one of these yachts tomorrow,” he said. “I know pretty much every boat in this harbor — owners, captains, specifications. People say, ‘Alex, you’re on yachts all day — that’s the life.’ Well, for me, it’s not the life, it’s my life. It’s not some permanent summer or year-long vacation. It’s my living. I help rich people and rich companies advertise their yachts. I’ve got all this knowledge that I gained when I loved yachts so much that I’d spend all weekend studying them for free, and now, I sell my knowledge to people. I sell that know-how all day long, and everything I know is worth something. I’m always on the clock, always tracking my time on these expensive wristwatches with the big clock faces. And so, I’m sure to never set foot on dry land when I’m working.”