March 22, 2020, Fremantle, Australia
“For the first time in our marriage, when my wife offered me one of her tranquilizers last night, I took it,” said a lap swimming buddy yesterday afternoon as we were working our frustrations in the pool. It would only get worse. Let’s lay it out.
People were supposed to start getting off the ship mid-morning yesterday. Each time the four announcement chimes went off everyone shuddered. “It will be two hours more.” Then “We should start unloading in an hour and a half.” And then the bombshell. Four chime and we find we can only get off the ship with confirmed reservations on a plane and you must go straight to the airport. Anyone from the ship caught in a local hotel was subject to a $50,000 fine. Further the ship will sail March 23 and no passengers can be on board. Anyone with a hotel reservation had to cancel them. Anyone with a reservation after March 23, the pressure is on. So, I canceled our hotel just in time to save me from having it charged on my card and we resigned ourselves to staying on the ship until the morning of March 23 and resigned ourselves to 12 hours at the airport, assuming our flight is still running. I can do this, don’t like it but can do it.
The Captain went on to say that Seattle had been talking to Canberra all day and there was an impasse. At least we could get off the ship and try to get home. We have a friend on the Maasdam who arrived in Hawaii, and was turned away, only Hawaiian residents could go ashore. So, they are off to San Diego, they hope.
For some on this ship the new edict was devastating. They have reservations out on the 24th through the 26th, it’s just not that easy to get a plane out of here to the States or Canada, but that was the edict. The lineup at the service desk was long and people looked fraught and stricken.
Then the chimes again. The Captain anticipated the groans because he started with “This time I have good news.” The Australian border control had reconsidered and if we had ongoing reservations after the ship left we could stay in a hotel, and those of us who had planned to get off the 22nd and leave the next day could. From what we understand, Diamond, the ShoreEx chief (who is married to the Explorations chief), had a word with the Harbor Master who had a word with — who had a word with – who had a word with — and they did what Seattle and Canberra could not.
So we had a choice again, stay on the ship another night or take our night in the hotel. The internet on the ship is terrible and the cell for the dock area was overloaded. I figured if our flight was canceled, I wanted to be in a place with good high-speed internet and a reliable cell service. I also like the idea of sleeping in the morning before the flight and taking advantage of the 4 PM checkout I had arranged so I remade my just canceled reservation. (No one is staying at hotels these days so we were upgraded to a corner suite, each of the two rooms is bigger than our cabin. We had room to unpack sort and repack so our things may get home in better shape.)
Back to the ship. More chimes — more announcements. People going out tonight could now leave. There would be a second customs window at 10 this evening for people leaving after 1 AM in the morning. (Perth has a lot of red eyes.) More chimes. The Australian authorities had changed their minds – again — and canceled the second window. Anyone with a flight before 1 in the afternoon the 22nd had to be off the ship by 6 of the evening of the 21st, meaning a night at the airport, but at least it could be at an airport hotel. HAL told those folks to keep the receipt. Just before 6 PM — more chimes – PLEASE, if you have a flight tomorrow before 1 PM PLEASE leave now.
So I decided the only thing for it was to swim laps, have a nice final dinner, cracking a new bottle of wine and go to the show. Emilio, the guitarist in the Amsterdam Band, is a rocker at heart and frankly I needed some good rockin’.
The next morning, I went up to the top deck to see if the quarantine flag was flying. It wasn’t, I took this as a good sign. We thought we would be off about 10:30 but disembarkation went so smoothly that we were called at about 9:15. One of the porters told us we were lucky not to have been on Pacific Princess when it disembarked yesterday. TV crews, paparazzi and reporters were shooting and yelling questions. As I write this post, I’m frustrated that I, a paparazzi at heart, took no pictures of our departure from the ship, no pictures of the ramp that says “Fremantle” no final picture of the ship as we left the port. Also, no picture of Captain Mercer who, with some of his senior staff, was at the ramp wishing each of us, individually, a safe and healthy journey home from his final posting as a Holland American skipper. Now he has to get the ship back to Fort Lauderdale with our stuff, searching, as he goes, for fuel and provisions. Good luck Captain Jonathan.
*I originally named this post “Evicted” with the picture of the “Welcome Home” banner that greeted us each time we returned to the ship but I decided, on reflection, that that wasn’t really fair, although that is how a number of my shipmates felt. Some of them were devastated and really felt betrayed that HAL didn’t get them back to Ft. Lauderdale. I don’t feel that way. I think HAL could have done us better than they did but I have been few several other evacuations in crisis situations, and that is what this is, and they never go smoothly. I am processing my thoughts and will write about them when I get home. I just hope I don’t have an “exciting” blog post about getting home.