Over the last few years I have felt a bit like I didn’t have direction. So much of our identity is tied to the work that we do that when I didn’t have that work to fall back on it left me feeling a bit lost. I knew that my direction was Stuart and that I wanted to build a life with him, but that was somewhat the extent of it.
This is unfortunately not the post that says “I got a job!” No. Instead this is the post that says that I feel like mentally over the past two years I have been conditioned to be a bit more calm about the fact that I am currently on a cruise ship that is, well, lacking a clear direction.
We dropped passengers off in Fremantle, Australia on March 21st, 22nd, and 23rd, and set sail shortly thereafter for Durban, South Africa after which we would continue onto Fort Lauderdale Florida.
We made it to Durban on April 5th. We then sat at anchor for four days and finally went into dock on April 9th where we stayed overnight and left at about 12:00pm on April 10th.
I counted 21 ships also sitting at anchor off of the coast of Durban. One cruise ship and 20 cargo ships. Some were waiting for their turn to go in to dock to refuel to head off to their next destination, others simply have no where else to go right now. The latter will sit at anchor, head in to refuel and get provisions, and then head back out to anchor to sit. The nice part of this is that during our days sitting at anchor and our days docked I was able to get some cell phone reception. I appreciated my choice to switch to Google Fi on those days immensely.
You may be wondering why we sat at anchor for so many days before docking. Before the government in Durban would let us dock we had to be medically cleared. This is standard even during a non-COVID-19 world, but the extent of it is different. Normally the captain says that the ship is safe of infectious disease and that would be jolly good and in we would head. This is not the case anymore and instead they sent one of their doctors onboard to test a crew member with tonsillitis to make sure they didn’t have coronavirus. Then the next day there was someone showing symptoms of norovirus (the stomach bug that is what you used to hear about cruise ships getting), so we had to have them tested as well. Results take one to three days. They both came back as negative and we were cleared. After waiting our turn for a spot to dock (after being cleared) we were able to dock to get provisions and refuel.
We are living in a floating bubble where when you look back it seems that it was luck that prevented the virus from coming on board; whereas, with any luck, intelligence will now keep it from coming onboard. There is some irony in the fear that exists in the world though: the ship afraid that the packaging on the provisions will carry the disease and everyone ashore thinking we will somehow bring it to them. Onboard we have our own challenges, but I imagine at home when you don’t know who might have it (or have it and not know it) that everyone could feel like an enemy or a potential threat instead of a friend. For those that encounter situations like that I’m sorry you have to deal with that. I could only encourage you to do your best to be kind to others.
For provisions loading everyone wears masks and gloves. The provisions brought onboard have to sit separately until the incubation period for the virus on the packaging surfaces has passed and then they will be additionally disinfected. The crew that had to handle the packaging is in isolation to ensure if they were exposed they don’t pass it around the ship. It’s certainly not a time to start taking chances.
Several crew members from South Africa were allowed to disembark while we were in Durban. They’ll stay in isolation at a hotel for 14 days and then once medically cleared will be permitted to travel home. I’m not sure what the travel requirements for them will be to head home from the hotel, but they all seemed happy about going home.
Now, the plan was that we were going to be heading to South Africa and then onto Fort Lauderdale, Florida for the end of April. That plan changed and we are now en route to Indonesia where we will disembark the majority of the Indonesian crew onboard. After that we are going to Singapore to refuel and then hopefully onto the Philippines to disembark the majority of the Filipino crew. Since I started writing this though there has been talk that Batan in Indonesia has closed its borders. We are still en route there with hopes that they will open their borders up to take in their own, but we don’t know.
I’m sure there are a multitude of reasons that we are doing this change of plans. I think the base of it though is that it seems that the US doesn’t want us. And, if they would take us the only way for the crew to get home would be through chartered flights. My guess is that someone did some math and figured that it would be more economical to sail everyone home than fly everyone home. We are sailing a bit slower as it’s more economical for fuel consumption, but also so that we will have been at sea for more than 14 days so that we can arrive with a clear bill of health.
I’m happy for the Indonesian and Filipino crew. When the announcement was made that we were heading there instead of Fort Lauderdale there was literal cheering onboard. It was a heartwarming moment in a time that could otherwise seem a bit dreary.
It changes things a bit for me. I won’t be coming home at the end of April, but even when the ship was planning on going there the situation always felt a bit in flux. When governments change their travel requirements and restrictions so often it seemed that even if I had gotten to Florida at the end of April I would be driving home since anyone that was on a cruise ship is not allowed to fly commercially anymore. That was of course assuming I could get a rental car to drive myself to Vermont. No need to worry about that now, though.
I realize that I am lucky that my family (and Stuart’s family) are thus far healthy and are following precautions so that they should stay that way. As a side note: I am crossing my fingers that me writing that doesn’t jinx it somehow. I don’t believe in superstitions; but, at this point that doesn’t prevent me from being superstitious.
While we are currently sailing with a direction in mind – a bit to the northeast, somewhat south of Reunion island and a full days sailing east of Madagascar – once we stop in Indonesia and the Philippines we don’t know where we are going after that. Who will take us? Anyone? And, even if someone says they will now, will that change in the next two weeks? Will we head towards America or will we sit at anchor somewhere and go in for provisions and fuel every couple of weeks? I don’t know, and overall I’m okay with that. We have food in our bellies, a roof over our head, we’re healthy, Stuart still has his job, and we still have the ability to contact home. Based on the scale of what’s happening around the world it seems like a good time to put things in perspective and realize that everything more than that are things that should be taken as what they are: extras and not necessities.
While there’s a whole lot that I don’t know, I know I get to stay onboard with Stuart a bit longer, and hopefully during that time the proverbial “curve” will be flattened a bit. I know many aren’t that lucky that they get to be with their spouse, and I know many aren’t that lucky that their families are still healthy. My somewhat nonchalant attitude towards the situation that I am currently living onboard is not to diminish the world-wide scale of the situation but rather to emphasize that sometimes in life we don’t know where we’re going, and that while uncertainty can be scary that it is survivable.
So, back across the Indian Ocean we go. This time a bit further north in it (which in this case as we’re in the Southern Hemisphere will mean slightly warmer weather). Hopefully once we get to the other side the Indonesian and Filipino governments will open their ports to us so literally hundreds of crew can go home and be with their loved ones.
And, after that:
Into the Unknown!