Home from the high seas

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Being on a cruise ship for a few weeks in the Philippines might sound fantastic for many, but when you aren’t sure when you will get off and the world is spinning into a pandemic around you, it’s not quite as relaxing as a vacation.

This September marks three years working on a cruise ship for P&O Cruiselines for New Glasgow native Jim Proudfoot. He won’t be spending his three-year work anniversary on a ship this year though and Proudfoot is grateful for a break for now.

Having been on contract during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Proudfoot and his crewmates watched the outside world graduate to the full-blown pandemic state.

“Growing up, our family did cruising as a family,” Proudfoot shared. “I thought it would be an interesting way to see the world.”

Beginning as cruise staff member and then entertainment co-ordinator, Proudfoot eventually became sports co-ordinator, the position he was in this year. This job means that he would take care of onboard activities such as golf chipping, lawn bowling, and water features like the onboard water slides. During one of his contracts, Proudfoot stays on the ship for four to six months at a time with an ever-rotating group of passengers, meaning each week there are entirely new guests on board. Regularly during a turnover day, all the passengers disembarking are up and off the ship early in the morning giving the staff a short window of time to completely reset the ship for the new passengers.

During his last few years on board, Proudfoot shared that he has really enjoyed his time and has made a lot of new friends and had the chance to see a lot of the South Pacific, Australian, and New Zealand coast. He added that generally there are around 40 different nationalities of crew members on board for each trip, giving him a chance to meet people from all over the world during his time with the cruise ship company. As a sports co-ordinator and previously entertainment co-ordinator, he shared that his job was basically to make sure the passengers have fun and during the day he would also get the chance to have some time off and have some fun as well.

His last contract didn’t exactly go as planned though. As early March rolled around, Proudfoot shared that he began hearing of other ships or cruise lines making cancellations which, for a cruise ship, is a big deal as it takes a lot of money to maintain the ships and they are generally staffed 24/7 year-round. As bigger cruise lines like Carnival and Caribbean began to announce these cancellations, Proudfoot and his fellow crew members along with passengers found out that P&O cruises would be suspending their services for a month, at least. March 14, a turnaround day for the ship, was a bit different this time as everyone but crew got off the ship at Brisbane, Australia.

Although there were not many cases of COVID-19 in Australia at the time, crew stayed on board as the ship sat docked outside the city for a couple of weeks. After a while, cruise ships were banned from docking in Australian waters and the ship set sail for Manila in the Philippines. This is where Proudfoot’s ship and the other cruise ships stayed afloat for a few weeks.

“Eventually the company made a deal with the Philippines,” said Proudfoot. As there were a lot of Filipino crew on the ships, they remained in individual quarantine on the ship in passenger cabins waiting for the signal that they could disembark and set foot in their country.

“Our experience was quite positive,” said Proudfoot about his ship.

“After the two-week mark, we became more comfortable.”

As the two-week mark faded he and others on his ship knew they were safe and were a bit more relaxed, although they did still follow a rigorous protocol to ensure everyone’s safety. As part of the staff mandated for passenger experiences and with no passengers, Proudfoot and others took to the airwaves and the deck to create activities, radio shows, games, and more for their friends who were quarantined on board as well as other staff to help pass the time.

“My ship, there was a lot of uncertainty in the air,” he said. People were not quite panicked but as no one knew when they would be allowed to go home next there were lots of questions.

“They were scrambling to get us home from the very start,” he said about the company that manages the ships. With guidelines and infection rates changing daily and even hourly, finding safe passage home for staff did take a while.

Some of the Filipino staff did end up spending almost a month or more in quarantine though, not knowing when they would be allowed out, although as many as possible were put in rooms with balconies as an opportunity for fresh air. Finally, near the end of May, it was Proudfoot’s turn and he disembarked for the Philippines and made his way through desolate and high tension airports internationally to make it home.

After the mandatory quarantine for his international travel, he began working in the county and is thinking about going back to working as a cruise staffer once things begin to clear up in the industry and the cruise line opens from the company-wide break.