Ports of Call

Ketchikan, Juneau, Icy Straight Point, Victoria, Astoria and San Fransisco.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

A Familiar Whiff

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I returned to The Ship.  I had signed the contract and arrived on such short notice that there wasn’t really much time to think about what it might be like to come back to what had previously been reality for me for nearly six months.  Returning to any ship was a big question when I left, and yet three months later here I am aboard the same ship, in the same room and same top bunk as when I started my first contract last December.

As was the case last time, I stayed overnight in a hotel before boarding The Ship.  In December that meant staying in a nice hotel in Hilo, Hawaii.  This time it meant the Marriot in Richmond, B.C. Certainly not as flashy, but I did find the hotel to be nice. The Company paid for my flight out, my room and two meals.  As a musician I’m fortunate to have all of that covered for me. Anyone who earns tips onboard must pay their own way, which I’ve always thought was unfair since it puts them in the red at the start of the contract. To me it feels like The Company’s way of guaranteeing the first two or three months of work out of them, but it is what it is and I’m happy that they don’t expect the same from me.

From the hotel the next morning, a driver arrived to pick up new employees and take them to The Ship. In Hilo it was some slob in a white 12 person van that needed two trips to take all of us and our belongings to the vessel. This time they sent a well groomed guy in a HUGE fuck-off long distance bus. This thing was brand new, complete with TVs, retractable sun screens on all the windows and seating for 60. Considering there were only five of us, it was probably overkill, but it was comfortable. 

Arriving to The Ship this time wasn’t any less surreal than last time.  I knew where things are here, where my room is, where to find crew admin, where to be for training, where to eat, who my manager is and what music I’d be playing. I didn’t know anything the first time around and it was terrifying. Despite the familiarity however, in fact because of it, I was struck with a pretty powerful mix of emotions. It was as if I was hit with all of my ship memories at once, and it took a good minute to come back to reality.

The first thing to set it all off was the smell.  The Ship has a certain smell to it, a mix of cleaning solution, old plumbing and mold that I’m absolutely positive is unique to this particular vessel. The Ship is nearly 20 years old and has its fair share of sewage leaks, and certain hallways or staircases will smell pretty strongly from time to time.   They do their best to clean it, but The Ship has a musk that ultimately can’t be covered up. The first whiff sent me right back to dry-dock during my first contract, when rooms were regularly flooding and the lack of air-conditioning made it nearly unbearable at times. It’s not that the ship downright stinks, it’s just that it sweats a little from time to time and the deodorant needs to be reapplied often.

The first thing they do when you get on The Ship is take your passport away from you.  To The Company you are now a registered corporate citizen and your right to enter and leave the country is heavily restricted. I suppose they have to be wary of who might try to jump ship in particular ports (i.e. the U.S., Canada, Europe etc. The 1st world.) Being a traveler though, that passport represents your right as a human being in some ways, and even though I’m sure The Company has no ill intent in taking them it still unnerves me to have it taken from me. In return, crew admin issues you an ‘A-Pass,’ proof of your status as a crewmember and official drinking card (credit cards or cash don’t fly at the crew bars; your A-Pass buys you everything on board, has a $250 limit and must be paid off every pay cycle.)

It didn’t take me long to settle back into the routine.  I even have the same cabin as last time, though with a much different roommate. 

The first few weeks suck because The Company thinks returning crew have forgotten how to do their jobs and insists on us taking all the same trainings as we did the first time we joined.  That’s a topic for another post. Maybe.  Corporate style trainings make me pretty angry in general, and The Company’s lineup is certainly no exception.

The first two cruises will be out of Alaska.  I’ve already played a welcome aboard show and some dance and jazz sets.  Guest entertainers are soon to follow. I’ll have a recap in a few days.