Thursday, 19 December 2019

When the Crewmembers celebrate Christmas onboard.

   The sign reads Merry Christmas, somewhere between Hawaii and the mainland USA, in 1996.

To spend Christmas and New year onboard a ship as a crew member, is a very special time. This is something which only must be experienced to fully understand, because it is really something different. I will try to explain this feeling many crew members have during the holidays onboard, and post some pics from the years I spent onboard, so far away from the family and friends.

Yellow pin indicates the position on the previous picture, years before Google  Earth came along. 

The preparations for Christmas and New Year starts as early onboard a cruise ship as it does shore side. One big difference is the fact that absolutely no decorations are displayed onboard until a week or two before the cruise really starts. So everything is planned and made ready for the so called Christmas & New year cruise. 
Normally a contracting company come onboard (depending of the cruise ship) to assist with all the decorations. They already have a plan in mind and bring with them most of the stuff. The crew will be ordered to help out with the decoration, depending upon which department (job type) they belong to. This madness happens during a so called "turn around day", which is when we change passengers, resupply the ship, etc. A crazy long day for the entire crew.

Examples of  official Christmas pictures from the ship's crew. One of my previous ships.

So Christmas and New Year basically arrives as a lightning from clear sky, for the entire crew. We go from regular routine work, to the holiday season over night. Not exactly like we see in the society these days, where the merchants start as early as possible (after the summer holiday), in order to fork in as much as they can.
And after the few weeks with the special holiday cruising, it is sometimes no wonder the crew often call these cruises...«the cruises from hell». It is if not physically, a very mentally stressful period for the entire crew, no matter position onboard.

The ship's Band together with guest entertainers has made a show for the passengers. Santa is tired.

The Pax (passengers) who are onboard during the Christmas and New year cruises, have a much higher expectation than they normally would have during a "regular" cruise.
This again put an extra burden on the shoulders of the crew members, who work up to 14 hours a day sometimes (Max legal average is 13 hours a day, 7 days a week). The crew must perform over 100% this cruise. In other words, the must up their already high level of service. This is exhausting.
Thankfully the vast majority of the Passengers are regular people who just want to have a nice vacation. And the extremely picky ones, and the ones who look for issues and compensations, are very few. Because the latter (small) group of passengers take a big portion of the attention away from the other regular Passengers, who just want to enjoy the holiday on a ship.

Some of the ship's crew made a small Christmas concert for the passengers. Then.....back to work.

In the middle of this very hectic and stressful period for the crew, the Company will normally try to give the crew a little extra, in form of plenty of delicious food and some Christmas gifts as well.
The crew them self will also chip in by using money from the Crew welfare fund, which is money collected from crew sales, crew raffle, Bingo for Crew, and donations (by pax and company).
This will also help funding a party for the crew on Christmas Eve and New Years Eve.
But as already mentioned, we all work extra these days, so we have to celebrate, and eat our Christmas dinner in shifts. As well as the partying, which is done in shifts.

A special time for the crew to be together, because most of us have our thoughts start wandering towards where we are from and our homes, family and friends.

Christmas gifts to everybody. Some small tokens from the Company.

For many of the crew members, and especially for the crew who has their first holiday away from their home, will feel that they miss their family enormously, and one get this sense of  extreme loneliness. I think 99% of all Officers and Crew members have experienced that special lonely feeling at least once during this time onboard.
So it is very important the crew has a social environment onboard, so we avoid any crew member sitting alone in a cabin missing their family back home. Very easy to start feeling sorry for oneself. Oh yess, I have been there myself.
So the fellow crew members become some sort of relatives to each other. After all, we are in the same boat (silly, I know).

Christmas dinner.

Good food.

 This one was taken somewhere on the coast of Vietnam. I am freezing there. Windy.

One weird thing about having Christmas onboard, for us "northerners", is the fact the ship is often in the warmer areas of the world with baking sun, beaches, and palm trees as the Christmas theme. Something one can see on some of the pics I attached here.
And as a tradition, the various Departments onboard will create their own Christmas cards, which they will share with the other departments onboard, and also send to other ships in the fleet.
In addition, the ship will normally also make one official Crew picture to send out to all the other ships in the fleet, the company offices, ship agents, and other people or companies we cooperate with. 

Christmas with some of the waiters. British Virgin Islands, Caribbean. The Ship anchored.


Entertainment staff waiting for guests coming from an excursion.

As one can see from the selection of departmental christmas pictures below, creativity is often used to make the cards a bit more fun and not always the line up pictures.

Some other Christmas pics.

Cooks and reception staff..

So, when Christmas and New year has passed, and the cruise is finished. Everything is back to standard routines again, as fast as the Christmas and New Year cruise started. The same company come onboard during a Turn Around day, and take down the decorations. And just like that, it is all over. 
Then we all hope the rotation will be so we can celebrate the special holiday back home next year. But it doesn't always work like that. Some are lucky and some are not. Depending upon transfers to other ships, promotion of rank, colleagues getting sick (or sacked), etc. So one might find oneself once again onboard during this holiday.

Myself, I have out of 30 years, been away from my family 20+ times during Christmas and New Year. 
You get used to it.

That is me, with the santa hat.......moron! 😁

    It reads...Hong Kong 23rd of December, 2002....Merry Christmas. 17 years ago.

So, the time away will make one feel a bit lonely, together with other. But still, the Christmas and New Year is just a fraction of the time one spend onboard anyway. 

Seasons Greetings to all you Seafarers out there.

Friday, 25 October 2019

When bad weather sets in.

A photoshopped picture.

I have over the years been asked so many times about how it is to work on a cruise ship when bad weather sets in. Well, as I always would reply, it kind of depends of the ship’s size and how bad the weather is. But regardless of this we will of course notice the weather one way or another. It might only be some slight roll (side to side), or slow pitching (up and down with the bow), which normally would make crew and passenger just become a bit sleepy.
Or, on the other side of the scale, we can experience the most brutal movements, which can in in worst case make people lose balance and fall, if they don’t hold on to something. The latter can of course make some of our passengers and maybe a few crewmembers a bit nervous. One thing is for sure, if we experience very bad weather, it will affect all crew in one way or another, as well as the passengers of course. So when the really bad weather sets in, and lots of people on-board get sick, both Passengers and Crew members. The ship can sometimes in bad weather look like a ghost ship with hardly anyone around. 

Captain Toennis Soerensen checking the decks before bad weather.

Many people will experience some sort of nausea, and some will be so sick they throw up a lot and feel drained for all the energy in their bodies. Because it is normally a long time since last time the ship experienced really bad weather, since we always try to operate in areas where the prevailing weather is good for cruising. So bad weather will naturally affect the level of service the crew can provide for the passengers since less crew members will be on duty, and the ones who are on duty will be less effective. 
Luckily, the vast majority (if not all) of the passengers will have an understanding of why service slows down, as well as the efficiency among the crew. But nevertheless, the show must go on and the crew know this. And many crew members do their tasks despite not feeling too well, since they do not want to be an extra burden for their colleagues who might have to do extra work in order to fill in for you if you are sick. We all have experienced how it is when some of our colleagues are sick and the rest of us must cover their duties. And when this happens, we older and more experienced crew members will offer advice to our newest colleagues in regards to how to reduce the risk of getting sea-sick, and how to get over it.

We had to quickly re positioning from an anchorage once, our tender-boats followed.

Remember back, when working on a smaller size cruise ship and the weather was not the best, the Room Stewards and Stewardesses who were supposed to take care of the passenger cabins twice a day would stand in the passenger corridors for ages, staring at those Do Not Disturb signs. Hoping the passengers would leave their cabins so they could take care of them. 
This could be a nightmarish exercise for the staff, since many of the passengers never leave their cabins during bad weather, or at least wait as long as possible hoping for improvement in the weather. So the brave crew stood there waiting and waiting, sometimes for hours, like loyal soldiers, some of them ash grey in their faces. Impressive stuff boys and girls. My hat off for you brilliant colleagues.

Heavy pitching.

Sometimes we can experience such brutal weather, we just have to ride it out by heading up against the waves with as little speed as possible, just enough to steer the ship until the weather starts to improve, or we have passed the area affected. This can take hours and and in some cases days, and is an extremely tiring period for all on-board the ship. Especially the watch keeping personnel, because they normally have shorter periods of sleep than rest of the crew, and need to be on duty again at set times. So if they struggle to sleep when off duty, they will sooner or later start to experience some fatigue.

Pursers riding the storm out. Still in good mood. 

Story time - Here is one little story I don't forget.
We had finished the summer season in Europe, and the so called re-positioning cruise started out from London, and would end in Boston. We would call one of the British channel cities, then on to Ireland (Cork or Cobh), then up to the Orkney's, Iceland, Greenland, Newfoundland (Canada), and towards Boston. In other words, we would do a North Atlantic crossing during the autumn. And we always hated this crossing, because it would be rough. We knew that.
As soon as we left Ireland and heading north, the weather started to become bad and it didn't take long before we had to slow down in order not to slam into the big waves. A storm had started to develop moving eastwards towards the Orkney's and Norway, and this was in our planned course line. So we slowed down to make it less uncomfortable for the people on-board, to avoid damages to the ship, and to give the storm center time to move away from us. But we could not avoid it totally, since these systems normally stretches over many miles. We just had to limit the effect it had on us.

 Time to close the shop on-board.

Sorry, this restaurant is closed.

I was the 4-8 (16-20) watch-keeper on the Bridge back then. It was pitch dark outside, it was pouring down with rain, and the wind was really making a lot of noise. Each time the ship's bow slammed into the waves the entire ship shook with a shock wave being sent through the entire ship. You had this feeling the ship was in the air for just a split second just before it hit the waves. And a second after it hit a wave, lots of sea spray hit the bridge windows. And every time we got ready to get down in case the windows got pushed inn. Something which had happened some years earlier (I was not on-board then).
Nobody said a single work on the Bridge. I stared at the radar screen all the time, and the two (double) look outs were staring intensely out the windows and into the dark to see if they spotted any lights from smaller boats I could not pick upon the radar. This went on for almost two hours. Very tiring for all of us to try to see something in the dark, which is not there.

Needless to say, the show was cancelled.

The the door to the Bridge was opened, and in came the Captain (Captain Leif Rodahl), he had given up sleeping. He went over to the table were we kept the weather faxes received the last hours. No internet those days, so the weather information came on special weather fax machines which monitored certain frequencies. The Captain stood there reading the faxes and calculated how long before we had passed this storm center, before he moved over to where I stood in front of the second radar on the Bridge. No words except for a "Good morning" were exchanged. And we stood there both looking at our radar screens in silence and sometimes making ready to get down when the sea spray hit the bridge windows. This went on for another hour or so.

I skipped the gym.

We finally started to have some daylight, which meant we soon would be able to see out the windows again. So we started to see the waves more clearly now, and we could observe these huge heavy waves building up and towering in front of the ship, before they would break over the ship's bow. We all just stared out the windows now almost as hypnotized, just watching the brutal side of nature treating us as we were onboard a paper-boat. Still, nothing was said, we all just watched it in silence.

And then suddenly someone broke the silence, it was the Captain, and he said exactly what we all had been thinking......"I kind of wish it was still dark outside". And my reaction? I started to laugh almost hysterical. We all laughed out loud on the Bridge, including the Captain as he just realized how funny it actually was. It was like we all needed this outburst, a release of tension. 

A few more hours and we had finally passed the storm, and the crew (still sick) could start the clean up procedure throughout the ship. And one lessons learned was of course....... (look at the pictures), make ready for sea next time.

An attempt to make a X-mas picture before bad weather sets in.

Sunday, 13 October 2019

The various jobs on a cruise ship, part III.

The Seabourn Pride 2009. Picture was shot by Chief Engineer Arvid Joakimsen, and sent to me.

In parts one and two, I talked about the Engine Department and the Deck department. And in this part I will write about the by far biggest department onboard, the Hotel Department. After all, as already mentioned, it is a hotel on keel. With all the different types of jobs one can find in any hotel or resort ashore.

Together with Hotel Manager Laurent Lalouer (sitting).

Hotel Department.
The fact this department is the largest and with many familiar positions (jobs) is of course not a surprise to anyone. One does not need to have any experience within cruise ships or the travel industry to figure this out. And as I wrote about regarding the two other main departments onboard, this department is also divided into several Sub departments with their own Managers and Supervisors. And they all report upwards in their system to The Hotel Manager, or in some ships the General Manager.
And once again, just as with the two other departments, the one on top is responsible for the entire department's performance in regards to the budgets given and the service provided and making sure the passengers are so satisfied that they will return. 
Let's have a look at how this department is split into several smaller departments.

Bar Manager Roland Nema checking the inventory.

The Bar departement headed by Bar Manager is running all the bars onboard, with bartenders, bar waiters and waitresses, utilities hidden behind the bars taking care of the pantries and washing all the equipment and getting stock from the main provision rooms.
Furthermore they also have lots of staff who are involved in taking care of the passengers around the pools and hot tubs out on open decks, by providing towels and arranging sun chairs, bringing cocktails or other beverages, and so on.

Dressed up for a Formal night, together with Bar Waiter and Bar Waitress.

A Seabourn favorite, Nelson Rojas.

Then you have the Housekeeping department headed by the Housekeeper, with all the room stewards and stewardesses who take care of all the staterooms, or cabins. All the Hotel utilities who takes care of the corridors and staircases, and other public rooms, polishing brass and stainless steel, emptying garbage bins everywhere, and vacuuming the carpets. And not to forget the people behind the scenes down in the Laundry rooms, where laundry crew, linen keepers and tailors work.

Housekeeper Linda Duvenhage.

Housekeeper Sonja Johannesen and two stewardesses.

Stewardesses relaxing during time off out on deck.  

Anther big sub-department is of course the restaurant crew, headed by the Restaurant Manager, or Maitre D'hotel which he or she is called on some ships. A very big department with Head waiters (Supervisors) who follow up assigned sectors in one of the restaurants onboard, where the regular waiters are working, together with the runners who bring the food from the the galleys (kitchens) to the waiter stations, and bring dirty dishes back to the galleys.

The main restaurant (2 deck) on Marella Discovery 2.

Restaurant staff lined up on the pier.

Bar and Restaurant staff also work on the beach when we are at anchor (in the background).

The Galley Department is another huge department on any cruise ship. Headed by the Chef De Cuisine and his second in charge Sous Chef. With numerous of Chefs and Cooks who deal with meat, soups, sauces, fish, poultry, and what else they might need to make in a modern kitchen (galley). 
Several galleys around the ship depending upon how many big and small restaurants, bistros, and other eateries the ship has. Of course there are also a bakery in every cruise ship, with regular Bakers as well as Pastry Chefs, with their helping staff. 
The department also has a big number of galley (and waste/garbage room) utilities who helps with washing equipment, decks and bulkheads (and operating the machines), and help out serving in the Crew and Officers Mess rooms.

Chef De Cuisine John Pugh lending a hand during a crew B-B-Q night.

Assistant Housekeeper Claire Maasdorp and other crew in the Crew mess. 

Hamburgers on the menu today?

The Galley department, Restaurants, and Bar department are all supported by another department which is headed by the Food & Beverage Manager, who is one of the ship's senior officers as well. This depends on the size of the ships, as the smaller ones will have the Provisions master as the head. But on the larger vessels with huge amount of supplies, worth a lot of money, there will normally be a F&B manager in charge.

Part of the huge galley being maintained.

Galley staff having a break, watching a contractor.

Why the galley staff wear HardHats? Because even in Dry Dock they work.

The next sub department within the Hotel Department's organization is the Entertainment department, headed by the Cruise Director. And here we can find....correct, all kinds of entertainment staff, such as single entertainers as Stand Up, singers playing on a Piano or a guitar, various enrichment lectures, dance teachers, and so on. The ship's bands (there can be several on same ship) belong to this department, as well as groups of professional dancers. Basically anything which can entertain or activate the passengers in some way.
Not the largest department, but nevertheless a very important department, because the customers (passengers) will want to have entertainment, regardless of where they find themself in the world. And they want it to be as professional as possible.

Cruise Director Martyn Payne makes an announcement from on Bridge P.A.

Cruise Director David E. Green makes an announcement. I miss you my dear dear friend R.I.P.

Ready for the evening's show.

Other sub departments in the Hotel might be the Spa. Which is the Saloon where you can get a haircut, your nails done, a massage if you like. You will also find the gym in this area, because you will find a Gym in all cruise ships these days, equipped with whatever machines you might find in your local gym back home. I always brag about the fact that I go to the Gym every single day, which is true, in order to inspect it. 😆  Silly, yes I know.
And of course, you will also find all the Saunas and steam rooms here.

Foot therapy anyone?

Having nails done.

Spa Manager Diane Jubb, from Liverpool.

Other smaller departments include The Travel (or Destinations) department, who arrange all the tours/excursions for the ship's passengers in the various ports. We have a range of shops onboard selling snacks, all kinds of toiletries, perfumes and colognes, watches, clothing, etc. Tax Free of course.

Destinations Service staff om Marella Discover 2.

We have of course the Pursers (Chief Purser & Crew Purser). And the Guest Relations department. The name differs from company to company. This is the reception with all their staff, with a special Officer with the title Guest Relations Manager heading them. And I tell you, having observed the staff in the reception upon a turnaround day when 2000 guests leave and another 2000 arrive, it can be a very stressful job. Talk about sometimes being in the trenches. Can you imagine how it is to sit there and take the heat from lots and lots of people who are angry, or frustrated, or just need to report something? It takes some special skills to handle this calmly. Not a job for my personality. I really admire these colleagues of mine.

Receptionists from a Seabourn ship.

The Chief Purser and Crew Purser are two Administrative Officers who will take care of lots of paperwork and also finances. The Chief Purser is in charge of all the ship's official documentation in regards to being "cleared" each time we arrive a port and new country. The Chief Purser is kind of the ship's Liaison Officer who will work closely with the various ship's agents in the ports, as well as dealing with the Officials such as Immigrations officers, customs officers, etc. He/she will also be in charge of the ship's official cash reserve which is carried around with us, which must sometimes be declared.

Chief Purser (standing) and Crew Purser, on a Seabourn ship.

The Crew Purser is, as the title suggests, the Purser who has all the Administrative paperwork regarding the Crew. The Crew Purser is the link between the ship and personnel office shoreside (Company). All crewmembers must hand in their passports and various types of certification (proof we can work there), as long as we are on the ship. And this is taken care of by the Crew Purser. The Crew Purser will also provide the on-signing (returning or new hires) crew with various types of information when they arrive the ship and also give a cabin key the to crew. Same again when crew is leaving for any reason (vacation, transfer, quit, etc), the key is collected, and passport, certificates are handed back to the crewmember again. This Purser also takes care of the ship side of travel arrangements for the crew, and hand them their tickets/itineraries when they leave the ship.


In Pursers Office. Looking at this picture, it seems as Doctor Socrates will sign on.

So to sum it up, the amount of jobs you can find on a cruise is the same as shoreside, and with additional ship based jobs as well. I have most likely forgotten about some of the smaller departments or jobs, which I apologize for. No wonder we are like a floating town or small city.

Guess which department onboard these two belong?

The pictures below was from a Blessing of a Marriage (between two crew members) we had on the Bridge in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Sarah Louise Parker-Reyes had accepted the marriage proposal from Edgar Salamanca Reyes Jr. I was asked to "give her away" which was a huge honor of course.

Escorting the Bride to be, to the Bridge.

The happy couple.

The voyage continues....

Heart Attack!

 I recently suffered a Heart Attack, which when I come to think about it was no surprise at all. I am overweight, middle aged, and in no goo...