March 16 and 17 2020, in the Indian Ocean off of Australia
“…as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don’t know we don’t know… it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones.” — Donald Rumsfeld
Sunday afternoon the announcement chimes sounded and we heard “This is Captain Jonathan…” Just from the way he spoke those words I turned to my companions and said “he’s pissed.” He told us that the Aussies had “Moved the goal posts” and decided that ships could not unload transient passengers in Australia anymore. But neither he, nor the home office in Seattle or their Australian representative knew what that meant. He was sure it meant that we would have to skip our port calls in Darwin, Broome, Geraldton and Exmouth, so our overland “Out Back” trip was off. But what did that mean for the end of the cruise in Fremantle? The exasperated captain said he would get back to us in the morning.
Andy, a professor lecturing on Quantum Mechanics and Chaos Theory said this illustrated Chaos Theory quite well. People wonder how the flutter of a butterfly wing in Brazil could result in a typhoon off China. Well, some guy ate a Bat in Wuhan. That resulted in complete global disruption, thousands of people sickened or killed, the disruption of the global economy, the tanking of the stock market, political instability and a cruise ship floating off of Australia not knowing where it’s going. A modern “Flying Dutchman.” All because some guy ate a bat in Wuhan.
And so, we waited. At 9:20 the chime went off but it was Hamish, the cruise director telling us about tonight’s upcoming pajama party. It wasn’t until sometime after 11 that we heard the chimes again. Suzi and I were in the Physics lecture when we heard the signal. The PA does not come on in the theater so we, and lots of other people, rushed out to the Atrium to hear Captain Mercer. Andy said it was the first time he has ever been on a stage lecturing and have the whole hall empty on him. “Because some guy ate a bat in Wuhan.”
The news was not good. We would sail directly to Fremantle, arrive on the 22nd of March and be shooed off the ship. The ship would depart on March 23 for Fort Lauderdale, without us, BUT WITH OUR LUGGAGE if we did not want to pay for it on an airplane. It would take 28 days for the ship to reach Lauderdale and they would FedEx it to us.
This, of course, raised the question of why the ship can go back to Ft. Lauderdale with the crew and our luggage but we were being put off. My first reaction was that this is a tremendous waste of carbon, making 1200 people fly out of Perth rather than going back with the ship. I can see several reasons HAL made the decision. The major one being if someone got sick between Australia and North America (not necessarily COVID-19, but anything and at the age of the passengers anything is possible) there may be no place that would accept them. The ship has limited medical facilities and if someone had symptoms of COVID-19 Amsterdam could become a pariah ship like the Diamond Princess.
But my big problem with Holland America is that unless you bought your airline ticket through HAL from your home to Fort Lauderdale, HAL will not get you a ticket home. You (we) are on our own. Everyone who did not fly, like because they live in Florida, drove down, took the train, are afraid to fly, you’re on your own. We were able to get tickets home on the 23rd on Emirates through Dubai. (Thank you American Express).
There are still things to work out, of course, like how much refund we get for the unfinished cruise and in what form it will come (credit back on the credit card, cash, future cruise credits) and we are waiting for “the letter.”
Well. it’s a day later and “the letter” hasn’t come. At least not to us on the ship. We did get an email with a copy of “the letter” through our travel agent, which has some material differences from what the Captain told us. Like the cruise ends on March 21 and not March 22 and, most importantly, HAL will help arrange transport out of Perth for us, now that I have arranged our own. I suspect there are several versions of the letter in negotiation between the ship and Seattle. I hope the bat tasted good.
The mood on the ship runs from depressed, through angry to frightened. Everyone is a little depressed, many are angry, about not being able to ride the ship back to Florida, about having to make their own reservations (if that is still the case) and about the way information was dribbled (or not dribbled) out. There’s a whole set of people on this cruise who do not fly, they are either terrified of flying or are not supposed to fly for medical reasons. And finally, there are several older people who just can’t cope with making arrangements themselves, are afraid of navigating airport security. They have kids or travel agents to do that. This stuff dropped on a weekend when travel agents were not answering the phone.
But my biggest worries are for the staff. They had 10-month contracts starting Jan 4. Those contracts end when they get to Ft. Lauderdale, some may not be able to get home because of restrictions on entry to the Philippines and some of the Indonesian islands without the virus. And they will not get the tips they were counting on for the next 50 days. Several of us are planning to pay the hotel service fee (it’s what HAL does in leu of tips) for the whole cruise to help them out.
So how are we doing? Well, of course we’re disappointed, but we’ve been through worse travel chaos, and we still have 5 sea days left. I am not angry, not terrified. My biggest concern is that all planes stop flying or Trump closes the border. That would make things interesting, especially since Australia has given us two weeks to leave the country. (Hey, if they followed their current policies, they would have quarantined us for 14 days before letting us go to hotels or the airport.)
But it’s a beautiful day, I have been reading in the sun, attending another of Andy’s lectures and plan to swim laps this afternoon. Do I know what’s going to happen, not really, and why is it happening?
Because some guy in Wuhan ate a bat.