Walking down George Street towards Sydney’s Circular Quay, I stopped dead in my tracks the moment my eyes unexpectedly fell upon her. And before I was able to continue moving in her direction, I needed several deep breaths and a nod of reassurance from myself that I could handle being any closer.
Only somewhat convinced that I would not break down in tears or begin begging for her to take me back, I approached cautiously, with the hair on my arms standing on end, my heart pounding uncontrollably and with the undeniable magnetism of this seductive Queen slowly engulfing me.
I wanted to turn around and run, but my feet refused to do so. And before long, I had no choice but to admit what was happening.
Exactly as I had feared, as I stood there, right next to the Queen Elizabeth cruise ship docked in Circular Quay, I was overcome with an intense feeling that I was home.
A LITTLE BACKGROUND
For nearly five years I worked on board cruise ships as a Tour Manager, the final two years of that ‘career’ spent working for Cunard Line and more specifically, on board the Queen Mary 2 ocean liner. Back in 2008, I made the decision to leave ‘ship life’ behind, and since then, have only had minimal contact with the industry.
But last weekend, while talking with a friend here in Sydney, I learned that the Queen Mary 2 and its sister ship, the newly built, Queen Elizabeth, would be docking in the city a couple of days later. I quickly fired off a few emails and soon discovered that most of the crew members I had once worked with were now working on board the Queen Elizabeth.
And so, on the day of the ship’s arrival, I made the pier at Circular Quay my destination. Unfortunately, with only two days notice, I was unable to secure a visitor’s pass to actually go on board and so I had no choice but to hover around the ship and wait for some of my old friends and co-workers to hopefully make their way outside.
A SMILING SECURITY GUARD
After twenty minutes of waiting by the terminal building exit, I began to think that my visit would consist of nothing more than a glimpse of the ship itself as not a single crew member I recognized walked out of those doors. But before I decided to give up completely, I climbed the stairs up to the second level of the terminal building, which offered a direct view onto Deck 5 of the ship, an outside deck that passengers use to embark and disembark the vessel.
And as I eagerly scanned Deck 5 for familiar faces, I suddenly noticed a wave in my direction. It was a wave that I will never forget. The man attached to that small hand turned out to be Gurung, one of the Nepalese security guards, and kindest people on the planet, with whom I worked during my two years on board the Queen Mary 2.
Somehow, despite the crowd of at least one hundred observers standing all around me and despite the fact that I hadn’t seen Gurung in over 2 years, the forever-smiling Gurkha instantly recognized me. Sure, we had worked together, but when you consider that Cunard employs at least 3500 crew members on it’s three ships in total, you can understand why one smile and wave from Gurung simply astonished me.
For a few minutes, up until Gurung had to return to his duties, I was beaming with happiness as we yelled out to each other (he was on the ship about 50 feet away from me), asking each other questions and trying to catch up as best we could considering that he was on duty and everyone around us was listening.
THE LURE OF SHIP LIFE
With a little help from Gurung, who used his two-way ship radio to inform the current Tour Manager and friend of mine that I was outside, I soon found myself catching up with Susanna, an Italian girl who actually began her ship career as one of my tour staff several years prior.
It did not seem as if an entire two years had passed since I’d been gone, but as if I had just returned from another 6 week vacation in between contracts instead. And as our conversation was interrupted dozens of times as Susanna was forced to deal with Tour Department issues on her radio, on her mobile phone and with the tour operators standing on the pier, it was admittedly difficult for me not to step in and help her out. A part of me wished I was still working on board.
And then, when the ship’s Human Resources Manager, a very kind British fellow I had worked with, suddenly appeared and with a wide smile across his own face began trying to convince me to return to ship life, I must admit that I found myself feeling quite homesick.
Forget about the money, forget about the travel that such a life offers. I stood there homesick for the community that exists on board cruise ships, a community where crew members from over 80 nationalities work and live together, sharing experiences that nobody else can begin to understand, all inside of a multi-cultural floating world unlike any other that exists on the planet. Sure, I could work on a yacht or volunteer my services on bayliner boats (such as those by Boat Quest) around the world, but working on board these mega-ships is what has always appealed to be the most.
I feel homesick even writing about it now.
After two hours of catching up with Susanna and a few other crew members I recognized, I eventually had to say goodbye. With some real hesitation, I forced myself to start walking away from the Queen Elizabeth, while fully confused as to whether or not I would rather be walking up the gangway and on board the ship instead.
My mind began racing with visions of returning to ship life and with questions such as, ‘did I leave ships too soon?’ and ‘should I return for one, or maybe two, more contracts?’ bouncing around my head. Such is the temptation of life on board and even after two years away, the temptation to return is as strong as ever.
For now, however, I do plan to maintain my current course in life. And one of the reasons why I am heading to Chiang Mai, Thailand in a few days is because of the large group of travelers and bloggers that currently live there. It is a rare opportunity for me to be part of a community once again.
With that said, it’s always comforting to know that a return to ship life is only a mere phone call away.
If you happen to be interested in entering the rewarding and addictive world of ship life yourself, be sure to check out my useful eGuide, “How To Work On Board A Cruise Ship”. It will help get you there in no time at all.
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I’ve just been pointed in the direction of your blog by a young girl who follows mine and I’ve just read this post this evening. I resonated with your story about the crew, and the gorgeous Gurung, as I’ve been cruising on the Cunard Queens since 2009 and have found the crew to be some of the most wonderful people on the planet. I’ve made friends with crew on all three ships and keep in touch with them on Facebook, and we see them when the ships dock in Melbourne and take them out to lunch, etc.
Although there is a force majeure happening right now in the world, I feel that the cruising community will continue to grow in coming years and I am so proud to be a part of it.
I look forward to reading through your past and future posts.
That’s amazing Earl, must felt so great to see your friends like that! We haven’t been in an RMS, wonder how it looks like inside 🙂
I never worked on a ship, but I think I know exactly what you mean. I’ve built up a small but really strong community of friends in my expat life. It’s amazing how closely you bond with people when you’re forced to rely on (and be relied upon) a small group.
Hey Odysseus – I’d imagine that the community you’re a part of also shares many similarities with what I experienced on board cruise ships. Any sense of community where people live so closely together and spend so much time together is hard to give up! Luckily it doesn’t seem like you have to give yours up so keep on enjoying what you have 🙂
Earl, It was good fortune to be in the right place at the right time. I have no idea of what ship life must be like, but no doubt you’ve made some great friends. The contacts you’ve got will no doubt make it easier for you to get work aboard a ship again, if you wish to do so in the future. Good luck in Thailand mate, hope you get to relax a bit after your hectic time in Oz.
Hey Jason – Just knowing that there is always something to fall back on is of great comfort to me and if my Plan B is working on board cruise ships again, I have nothing to complain about! And I am looking forward to some relaxation time, or at least a Thai foot massage or two within the first 24 hours of arrival 🙂
Earl, out of curiosity, how many IT type positions are typically available on a cruise ship?
Hey Nick – It all depends on the number of passengers but a typical 2000+ passenger vessel (which is the average these days) would normally have one IT Manager, one IT Assistant Manager and 2-3 IT staff. To be honest, these are some of the best positions on board as the pay is typically quite high, you rarely have to interact with passengers (which is a huge bonus) and all of the positions are considered officer positions (which gives you many extra privileges). Plus, you’d have a decent amount of free time while in the ports of call. 🙂
Well, guess it’s good to know that you have the chance to back to ship life should the ‘homesickness’ get too bad 😉 Unbelievable how many people work on these big ocean liners – we wonder were they all ‘live’ (in addition to the passengers)…
@Globetrotters: Well, without ever seeing the crew areas of a cruise ship, it’s nearly impossible to imagine the living situation 🙂 Maybe you can take a peek on your upcoming voyage!
There are hundreds upon hundreds of crew cabins, many of which are below the water line. However, if you see a ship and look at the first deck above the water level you’ll normally see some small round windows towards the front. These are the officer cabins. Some ships even have crew cabins as high as Deck 8 squeezed into the middle between passenger cabins. No space goes unused on board a ship!
I can see how that would be very, very tempting. Recently I swore into U.S. Army. My first contract is for 4 years. After that I may continue or see where God takes me. I might even decide to work on a cruise ship for a few years afterwards.
Hey Ozzy – Good to hear from you! I was wondering what you’ve been up to as of late. Seems like your off on a new life adventure my friend and who knows what type of opportunities this will lead to? If you have time every now and then, let me know how life in the Army is going for you!
Will do. I don’t head to basic training till May..but life has been pretty busy lately and I suddenly find myself in the month of February, which was a surprise for me…I thought it was still the middle of January.
Earl, I know exactly what you mean when you say you are homesick to shiplife. The last time I worked on a ship was 8 years ago, but I still feel homesick about it sometimes.
Great that you had an opportunity to catch up with some of your old crew-mates!
Hey Maria – You clearly know what I’m talking about then! I’m sure you get the exact same feeling every time you see a ship in port somewhere. I always pause for a few minutes as wonderful memories of my time on board flash through my head 🙂
Not just in a port. I actually get that feeling when I see a container ship on tv, or even when I see a cargo train with containers go by. I then alway wonder if one of them might have been on board of one of the ships I worked on. 😀
What’s the age range you find working on these ships? I know it must be predominantly people in their 20’s, but do you find any much older?
I’m in my mid 40’s and plan on taking an early retirement in a couple of years to live abroad and travel. However I must admit there’s something appealing about the thought of working for a year or so on a cruise ship.
It reminds me alot of working in hotels to pay my way through college.
Hey Russ – The age range on board ships is quite diverse actually. Some cruise lines have an average age of about 28 or so while others have an average age in the mid-30s. And with that said, on any ship out there, you’ll find crew members as young as 18 and as old as 65+ so there really aren’t any age restrictions.
The last ship I worked on had an average age of closer to 40 as they wanted more mature crew members to cater to their relatively upscale clientele.
If you have any more ‘ship life’ questions please don’t hesitate to let me know. Either leave another comment or send me of an email and I’d be more than happy to provide you with any assistance I can!
That was a pleasant surprise for you. Enjoy your time in blogger central.
Hey Shane – Quite a surprise indeed! And I’m definitely looking forward to some time in ‘blogger central’. Nothing like spending time with a group of like-minded individuals while on the road.
Ah! What a chance encounter. Always great to hear/read stories like this.
Thanks Alan! I was actually thinking about you this morning while flying from Sydney to Perth as I have two Indian restaurant reviews I really need to write one of these days! Hope you’re well by my friend and my apologies for being a bit out of the loop lately.
Earl, this is awesome! Glad to hear you were able to catch up with people who are important to you. Love it even more because you just commented on my blog on the subject of reconnecting with people and that post also included a smiling security guard 🙂
Hey Phil – Your post must have really had an effect on me 🙂 And it’s just great to know that the human interactions that take place while on the road are some of the most rewarding aspects of travel for the both of us!