Several cruise mates who had been on the 2020 world cruise expressed strong feelings on leaving Fremantle. Some expressed a sense of closure, some that they felt that they were continuing their interrupted journey. I examined my feelings and realized I didn’t really have any. We’ve been evacuated from several places during our careers and, looking back, what happened in 2020 was not an interruption but a change of course. So many times, we have started out in one direction and ended up somewhere else either because that road looked more interesting, or circumstances directed us that way. In March 1997 we left Albania with only carryon bags for a two-week temporary duty (TDY) in Bulgaria. We left just after the government fell and the next day Marine Helicopters evacuated the rest of the Americans. We expected to get back to Albania in two weeks, it took us more than 7 months. Four of those months we traveled from the same carryon bags. (Rick Steves would be so proud of us.) When we got home to pick up more clothes before returning to Europe and, eventually Albania, we wanted to burn those clothes. But I don’t think we would have traded the journey, a succession of TDYs that took us to new places and opened up new opportunities, some of which we jumped on, that changed our lives. It was not an interruption, it was life. And I’m not sure I would trade the Fremantle experience either. It was another story to add to my collection.
I did get a chuckle as we sailed out and saw the “Welcome to Fremantle” gangway stowed next to the terminal. In 2020 we exited from that gangway and I thought of the bumper sticker that Alaskans sported on their cars during pipeline days, aimed particularly at Texans, “Welcome to Alaska, Now go Home.” That is certainly the way it worked for us, do not stop in Fremantle, do not spend $200 (or anything) just get the hell out of here — NOW. Given the state of the world, who could blame them. On returning we found some of the friendliest folks in the world.
I did have one regret leaving Fremantle this time, a friend and former colleague in development work had passed away before we got here so we could not see him one more time. I guess a second regret is that we didn’t have more time. This is a place I want to spend more time, but not the time afforded by a cruise ship stop. That’s why we mix travel modes.
There were two events commemorating, remembering, celebrating, our early departure in 2020. The first event was just before we landed in Fremantle. It was sponsored by Holland America. The two centerpieces were a conversation between Hotel Manager Henk and Cruise Director Ian. My takeaway was the challenges in putting together a world cruise. Henk likes the long cruises because of the logistic challenges. A seven-day cruise repeats, you replenish in the same ports, you know what to tell guests about the ports. It can get boring. A long cruise creates problems of delivery in ports you normally do not call on, of trying to source food and supplies and working unfamiliar bureaucracies. I can see why a person like Henk would enjoy those challenges more than the bread and butter cruises. I guess I’m the same way, why else would I have spent almost my entire career at the end of supply lines in Alaska, Kosovo, or South Sudan.
The other centerpiece was a video of the 21 crew members who had been on the 2020 and were back on the 2023. They told their stories about trying to get home, establishing lives, reconnecting with family after a job that had them away so much of the time and how they felt about coming back. The video is available on USB drive, and I expect it to be a cruise best seller.
A common thread was how much those 21 crew liked the long cruises because of the chance to establish relationships with other crew members and with guests, an extended family. By the end of a long cruise, I think I know some of the crew pretty well. We share photos of families, talk about interests and our travels and we have hosted several crew members in Sitka when they were assigned to HAL ships that sail to Alaska. We had not seen Josephine, the hostess in the dining room since 2020 in Fremantle. The first night on board she saw us coming from the elevator lobby and called out. “Mr. and Mrs. McClear, so good to see you again.”
Out of a crew of 776 on Zuiderdam only 21 were on the 2020 world cruise, that struck me as a high attrition rate. I hope those friends who sailed with us on 2020 and spent so much time trying to get home were able to establish new patterns that they enjoy. Some of them we know have because we stay in touch through Social Media.
HAL, putting the emphasis on staff, got it right. The pandemic was hard on them, they lost income and had their lives disrupted. It gave us a greater perspective.
The second event was organized by Pete Laszcz, a cruise mate who put together the “Class of 2020” reunion held the day after sailing out of Fremantle. The staff from 2020 were also invited.
We reminisced and shared stories, thought of those no longer with us, and had prizes for the ones who got home last, traveled the longest to get home from Perth, traveled the shortest distance (22 kilometers) and got their luggage delivered the latest. And we all got new commemorative luggage tags.
The gathering demonstrated the sense of community that develops on a long cruise. Most of us had kept in contact with each other over the past three years on Facebook, Zoom and Cruise Critic forums. The two events were fun. They allowed some people to close a door as we cross the Indian Ocean and get ready to open the new door into Africa. Before our reunion broke up Pete offered a toast, one that Captain Mercer offered in 2020. “May we go where we want to and not where we have to.” I am not sure I agree with that. Sometimes we discover that where we have to go is where we wanted to go all along, we just didn’t know it.