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Crew Compass: COVID doesn’t touch us, until it does

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Crew Compass: by Lauren Loudon

Just like most people everywhere in the world, it has been a whirlwind of a few months for me. It is safe to say that I didn’t feel the impact of COVID-19 at first because the mandatory quarantine enforcements coincided with the end of a three-month owner trip on board. This meant that we, as a crew, were already well acquainted with self-isolation, social distancing and what can only also be described as “lockdown”.

We certainly missed the standard celebratory trip to a restaurant that usually comes with dropping off guests, where I revel in the feeling of ordering food cooked by somebody else for the first time in a long time. The whole crew enjoy the blissful feeling of being waited on and simply relax in a new space. This is usually a time for us to sit and reflect on the season, look back at everything we’d been through, the places we’d been and what we’d experienced.

But we couldn’t think or talk about anything other than the reality we were being hit with: a global pandemic. How would this affect us? We had a ridiculous amount of questions, each with no answer.

And while we realized that it could have been worse, much worse, we, as a tight-knit crew who have worked together for over five years on various vessels, worried about our futures.

After lengthy discussions, a lot of yo-yoing back and forth with ideas and hourly changes of heart, in the end, the owner reversed his pre-COVID plan of cruising the world and resorted to taking his yacht “home”. So instead of continuing the voyage around the northern states as planned, we loaded the yacht back onto the ship she came off in December and sent her back across the pond so she’d be closer to the owner’s home in Europe in case of any travel restrictions that meant he’d be without his beloved yacht for some time.

This change of plans, however, posed problems for the crew. Myself being British had no issue, however the three South Africans had the worst luck of their Schengen visas expiring mid-pandemic, By the time the owner’s cruising decision was made, the borders were already closed. All embassies with visa-issuing abilities were locked down and visas were — and still are — impossible to come by.

My husband (the captain) is still on a South African passport but luckily for both of us, our signatures on the dotted lines worked in his favor for travel options and meant he had a way back to the boat. His job was secure. 

We left our friends, our fellow crew members, in Fort Lauderdale, said our “see you soon”s, gave big hugs (because we’d been quarantined together and hugs were necessary) and were all equally excited for the adventures around the Baltic Sea that the summer hopefully promised.

A few more hurdles and obstacles thrown in our paths with logistical complications beyond anyone’s control led to some ill-fated news for the other two of the crew. Without warning, without anyone’s choice, without any options, our family circle was split in two. The yacht arrived and the owner was ready to go cruising so temporary crew were hired with the promise of the other two coming back before the end of the month. 

But one month went by, and another. Embassies are still closed and the hurdles were simply moved further down the track. It quickly became apparent that keeping an owner waiting with no sign of any updates wasn’t going to end well, so without any bad blood and blamed on the ill-fate of the current time, the road had to come to an abrupt end for two of our crew.

At first, it seemed like the COVID crisis wasn’t going to have much of an impact on us, but as time went by and nothing seemed to change, everything seemed to change. Everything, beyond everyone’s control, in every industry, at every level and everywhere is being impacted by COVID. 

And though that softens the blow a bit, it doesn’t make it any easier knowing that my job is safe simply because of my nationality while my crewmates and best friends are jeopardized simply because of an inability to access the required paperwork to get to their place of work.

Lauren Loudon has worked as a yacht chef for more than four years. She hails from Lancashire, England. Comments are welcome below.

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