The Questions Post: April 2020, Covid-19 Edition

Welcome to the questions post! Thank you so much for people that have reached out to ask how we are doing onboard and what is going on. So, without further adieu, here we go!

Q: Where are you going? /When will you get there?

A: What excellent questions! Each time I have written a “Where Are We Going?” post things have changed almost immediately after I hit “publish”. As the Captain onboard likes to say “this is a fluid situation.” We can have a plan, we can even think that it’s a good, solid, confirmed plan, and then something will change and the plan will go caput.

Right now we are just outside of the port Jakarta, Indonesia at anchor. The goal here is to disembark crew so that they can go home to their families. I don’t know what the specific requirements are going to be for them once they go home (quarantine time and whereabouts) but I am happy for them that they get to go home. We will likely sit at anchor for a day or more while the plan is finalized and then hopefully * crossing fingers * they will get to disembark. You may wonder why, as we sit just outside the port I still feel the need to cross my fingers that this will all happen. It’s because in the past 2 months it’s become abundantly clear that governments can and will change their regulations even if you are already there. Nothing is a guarantee. Until it is actually happening you do not know if it will actually happen. I try to stay positive and I realize that is a bit of a dim and dismal outlook, but it is the reality of the situation. I can say “we’re going to be there on April 28th” and April 28th will come and go. Dates mean absolutely nothing at this point.

 And, I’m going to be honest, while the guests might have really not liked it when they had to fly home from Australia last month, it was the right call. Ever changing and perpetual uncertainty (about where we are going, when we are going – about whether or not we can stop to get provisions and fuel) with only crew onboard is challenging in itself, add a bunch of passengers (and a whole bunch more mouths to feed and hot water to heat) to the mix and it would have been mayhem.

Q: Is it scary onboard?

A: No. Our ship is healthy, has been healthy, and has no cases of COVID-19. While I think at the beginning of the outbreak it was luck that we weren’t sailing where any of the early hot spots were, now it is because we are diligent in making sure everything that comes onboard are sanitized and safe. We are in a confined space, but in this case, as a healthy ship, that works to our advantage. We go weeks without any outside physical contact with the rest of the world. We do 14 day quarantines at sea all the time! It’s like second nature at this point! On the happy side of that though I have learned the names and met crew members that I probably wouldn’t have if this situation hadn’t happened. (Got to find the positive, right?)

Q: Are you bored?

A: My mom always told me only boring people get bored – so, no I am not bored. J We are not confined to our cabins onboard and there are some activities to participate in. I’ve been reading a lot, Stuart’s been listening to some Doctor Who audios, and we go for a walk around deck nearly every night. Having been switched to a cabin with a balcony is really nice. You can sit and listen to the waves. The other night there was a lightening storm and it was fun to watch the lightning off in the distance. Oh – and today I saw a hammerhead shark. (Thanks for the binoculars, Mom!)

The other side of this is that when I came onboard I knew I wasn’t going to be working, so I brought things onboard such as a sewing machine, a keyboard, lots of books, and some knitting. I also love listening to podcasts and I have this blog to work on. So, we’re keeping busy.

The part that is hard is the repetitive nature of it. It’s a bit like Groundhog Day, except you know it’s not some weird magic thing that’s making you repeat the days over and over again. It’s reality. Plus, it’s not a cold one out there and it is definitely not Miami beach. (Re-watch Groundhog Day to understand that last sentence.)

Q: How many people are onboard the ship? Are they all crew?

A: Right now there are about 540 people onboard. And yes, they’re all crew. All of the passengers were disembarked in Fremantle, Australia the 21st, 22nd, and 23rd of March. Now, if you want to get technical about it, I am not technically “crew” – I’m not working. For purposes of the current situation though everyone onboard is “crew”. As people’s contracts end and they aren’t able to leave the ship because their country is closed there are more and more people in the category of being onboard but not working and trying to differentiate between those various categories is a little arduous and not really necessary.

There are typically a little over 600 crew members onboard this ship.  As the situation presented itself so quickly when the passengers left not all crew that would be in the “non-essential” category went home then.  The ship at that point was going to be on the trajectory to head back to Fort Lauderdale. Realistically this would have given a nice buffer of time for people to organize and inventory their work areas, make really detailed handover notes for whoever comes on once the ships are back in service, and then when the ship got to Florida they all would go home. Since that time things have changed a whole helluva lot.

Assuming things go well with the disembarkation of the Indonesian’s and Filipino’s I would guess we will be down to somewhere in the low 200 range for crew still onboard. A chunk of those are non-essential staff that haven’t been able to go home yet, either due to travel restrictions or because their country has closed its borders.

Eventually it will probably get down to about a hundred with just deck and engine officers and crew, plus some laundry attendants, dishwashers, a couple cooks, maybe provisions master, a couple housekeepers, security, medical, purser, crew officer, human resources manager, and maybe a few others. Needless to say without any passengers pretty much all of the jobs that are specifically passenger related aren’t necessary for safe operation. They’re just not. I’m not saying those jobs aren’t important when passengers are here (passengers are what pays the bills) – I’m saying that without passengers onboard those crew are non-essential to the ship being able to safely operate as a vessel.

Q: Why aren’t you coming home yet?

A: There are a few reasons for this. The first is that Stuart’s contract isn’t due to end until the end of May and I was planning on staying onboard until May 12. So, while we didn’t plan on being onboard in this particular situation (who did?), we were planning on being here.

The second is that Stuart can’t leave until his replacement can get to the ship and have a two-week quarantine. With travel restrictions like they are, a lack of flights worldwide due to those travel restrictions, and our incredibly uncertain itinerary it’s hard to imagine that he’ll be leaving even by the end of May.

Another part is the current “No Sail Order” from the CDC the U.S. is pretty much closed to crew returning from a cruise ship. A sister ship was recently docked in the US to try to disembark US citizens and they were refused. Also, how am I meant to get home? I’m not sure there are any flights between here and Vermont. 😦

And, the last part is: I want to stay onboard for as long as I can with Stuart because once I leave we do not know when we will get to see each other again. When I leave I will likely go back to the United States (if they’ll let me) and the border is currently closed between the U.K. and U.S. As of right now if I was to go home I very likely would not be able to go to Scotland to see Stuart once he disembarks. Also, if I were to make it to Scotland I likely would not be allowed into the United States for a considerable amount of time. The alternative option would be for him to come to the United States to see me, but considering we’re not sure they would even let me in – a US citizen – I think the chances of him getting in are even smaller, even though we’re married. International romance might sound exciting, but in this particular situation it adds a whole host of complications. 

Q: How do we feel about what we are going through?

A: Things onboard are pretty good. Our ship is healthy, we get to be together, we’ve still got food, a roof over our head, and a bed to sleep on.

How I feel about all of the ports shutting? Pretty annoyed. We’re a healthy ship and at this point we’re trying to get fuel, provisions, and disembark crew that are from that same country. Bring your own people home.

For instance, we were meant to go to Singapore for refueling. A few days before we get there Singapore changes their minds. I do not know all of the reasons that go into various countries decisions, but it makes me like those places a whole heck of a lot less. Like, Singapore, we’ve had some good times, you’re beautiful and all but… what the hell, dude? I thought we were friends?

 I imagine that those people that were on the Zaandam as they made their way up and around South America felt this so much worse. Every country closing. It’s like if your car broke down and you’re in a snow storm and it’s well below zero and you finally see a house and instead of letting you in for a cup of tea and to use the phone to maybe call and get help they just lock the door and leave you out in the cold to die. Might be an extreme metaphor but that’s largely what countries have done to cruise ships globally in this situation.

Malaysia let us dock the other day to refuel and what not, so by and large we’re still doing good. We have temperature checks now (required to prove that we’re a healthy ship for various countries), and we practice social distancing. Enforcing social distancing has become a bit of a sport for some people eager to I don’t know – get a gold star? I am all for enforcing it, making sure we do what we need to so that countries will let citizens go home and to reduce the possible spread if something were to come onboard. An ironic situation happened the other day though. Someone the other day that was “enforcing it” (being a grade-A jerk about it) to a couple people for not standing far enough away from each other. The next day that same person (the grade-A jerk) told me that when he goes home that “they can’t make me stay at my house for 2 weeks! No way!” My guess is that he wasn’t enforcing social distancing for the sake of public health and to benefit the greater good.  

Q: What is the mood onboard?

A: Despite my above example, the mood onboard overall is good! Today the mood is even better as we are at anchor outside the port of Jakarta waiting our turn to go in and disembark crew. And, some days when things are feeling a bit drearier you might see a dolphin jump out of the water, or like today – a shark!

When there aren’t dolphins jumping or hammerhead sharks swimming by sometimes the situation gets to people: not knowing where the ship is going or when they can go home, not knowing when their next contract is or what they’re going to do without a job; not knowing when ships will sail again.

Overall people are staying positive, focusing on the good things in life, and taking it all in stride.

If you have more questions please send them along! Know that Stuart and I are doing well and are happy and healthy and we hope you all are, too!

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