Intro: Welcome to Crew Life At Sea podcast. Here we will share the skills you need to make your experience and adventure out at sea a success, hear inspiring stories from the experienced crew, from all diversities, gain knowledge and know your rights. Be Part of the Crew Life At Sea, and let’s welcome your host, Raymond Crystal.
Ray: Welcome to Crew Life At Sea, the only place where you can find useful information, advice, insights and resources to help inspire you to take that next step in working on a cruise ship. I’ve been doing this for quite a while now so I thought it’s time that we get a new hire and see how it feels to be hired on board a cruise ship and the experiences that they went through as a new hire. All these podcasts that I’ve had are all from experienced people, from well over 5 to 30 years of experience, and today I have with me Preston, who is a new hire and he’s going to tell us a little bit about his experience when he got hired – well, this is actually his first contract – and see what he’s been going through and his process of getting here, and his experience on board. Hello Preston, how are you?
Preston: What’s up, guys? I’m good, and yourself?
Ray: Good. Okay, so let’s first tell the people where are you from?
Preston: I’m from Durban, South Africa.
Ray: Right, and this is your first contract and it’s been an unbelievable adventure for you to have got this far in your life, in getting on a ship, because I’m sure you’ve always wanted to work on a ship for some reason.
Preston: Yes, absolutely.
Ray: So could you tell me a little bit of the experience on how you got from Durban to here?
Preston: I used to work at a University, I was employed as a personal trainer and massage therapist, and during the course of the year Steiner, the company that I’m working for, attended our campus to do a presentation about how to get on a ship to work on board. They did the presentation for us and I took down their details, then I contacted them. They set up an interview for me and I attended the interview. I got through the interview and the next thing I know I’m on board.
Ray: So you only learned how to come in at sea because of those people that came to your place. If it wasn’t for them you would never have taken up this offer, right?
Ray: That’s lucky for you. So how was the hiring process and how did you go through that?
Preston: Very simple, actually. You just answer a few questions, you talk about yourself and then depending on the position that you are in, you do a practical and that’s it.
Ray: So did they call you, or did you e-mail them and then you had to reply through e-mail and then was it an interview?
Preston: Yes, it was an interview process. You just have to contact them via e-mail. They set up the dates, depending on your location in South Africa and then you attend the interview. It’s not just you, it’s a group of people at a time so you have to a lot of public speaking, and then you do your practical test or examination, and then within a few hours, they let you know if you were successful or not.
Ray: Lucky you, sometimes it takes them weeks, sometimes even months. Sometimes you don’t even hear back from them. Did you have to do any sort of training before you got the job?
Preston: Yes, once you get through from the interview you do a, well, for me, it was a fitness position so you have to do a 3-week training course in Cape Town, which was absolutely gruelling. You have 3 hours of sleep every day, Monday to Sunday, and once you’ve completed that then you are ready to come on board.
Ray: Why is it such a hectic training schedule?
Preston: It’s a lot of work in a short period of time, so you do seminars, you do yoga, Pilates, spinning, boot camp, personal training, have good feet. So there’s a lot of stuff to cover within the 3 weeks.
Ray: Did you have to pay any sort of fees?
Preston: For training yes, you did. I think all in all my cost to get on board came close to R50000.00 so in dollars that is just about $4500.00.
Ray: Give us a rundown on all of that?
Preston: I spent it all on obvious paperwork, the training fees, accommodation, food for the 3 weeks, transportation.
Ray: Air ticket?
Preston: No, Steiner covers your air tickets to the ship and once you’ve completed your contract there, you pay for your flights back home, although there are a lot of hidden costs that they don’t inform you about during the interview process, and the process for you getting on board.
Ray: You’ve got to remember that this is only for your position, as a fitness instructor. Other positions are not that hectic, so don’t think that it’s for everybody, it’s just his specific job. Can you tell me how you got your visa and your medical aid sorted out?
Preston: For my visa, they provided the documentation, we just had to show up at the embassy and it literally took me 15 minutes to get everything approved and my visa took about 2 weeks to get to me.
Ray: And the medical?
Preston: The medical, we just had to show up at one of 2 doctors in South Africa, one was in Cape Town, one in Durban, and that also took about half an hour. You just do a urine test, you fill out like 60 pages of documents which were the longest process of the entire medical, and then you do a few practical assessments of your joints, and that was it.
Ray: Do you also do drug testing?
Preston: Yes, that’s from your urine test and then they give you …
Ray: You didn’t do blood tests?
Preston: No blood.
Ray: What? Normally we have to do blood for drug tests.
Preston: Maybe there was, yes.
Ray: Because you can’t pick up quite a few things, there must be a blood test.
Preston: And there were 2 vaccines, so I’m MMR, Measles, Mumps, Rubella and Yellow Fever, and that was also at our cost, the medical.
Ray: Yes, you see, some companies you bring your medical receipts and they reimburse you.
Preston: Yes. The only thing they reimbursed me was for my visa and that was just half of it, basically, not the full amount.
Ray: So, you get home, you see an e-mail from your agent, you open it. There are hundreds of attachments, you start to open them one by one. Explain to me the feeling that you are going through when you do this?
Preston: Firstly it was exciting because you’re happy, you want to get on board. But then you become overwhelmed, like you said, with those hundreds of pages and documents that you have to open and read through, and there’s a lot of information. You just have to take your time, read each one very carefully and then you follow instructions. But yes, as I said, there’s a lot of documentation.
Ray: Yes, and a lot of e-mailing back and forth for a couple of days, non-stop.
Preston: Yes. So a tip, don’t delete your e-mails as they come along, just keep them because guaranteed, you will need them along the way.
Ray: So, you’re preparing your luggage, how did you prepare for that?
Preston: For me, it’s simply because I’m good with packing, so I actually packed a few days before I left, so I was prepared.
Ray: Okay. It’s 11 o’clock, you still haven’t had an inch of sleep, you just can’t fall asleep, you know that tomorrow you’re taking a flight to some far off destination to start this new adventure that you have found, tell me the feeling and what you went through on the morning that you woke up to leave?
Preston: It was a bit of excitement and again, overwhelmed because initially I was supposed to leave on a Thursday to a particular ship, and then on a Sunday before they called me and said no, I have another ship that I need to go on but I need to leave in 2 day’s time. So even though I was packed they didn’t give me a specific time or date, they just said within 2 days. So the day I had to leave, they phoned me that particular morning so I wasn’t ready, I didn’t shave, I didn’t take out my clothes that I was going to wear on the day, even though I was packed.
So it was all a rush in the morning and I didn’t even get to say goodbye to my family properly, it was just my immediate family and yes, we had to rush to the airport within 1 and a half hours and I live an hour away from the airport.
Ray: You really had a tough time with this one, like out of the blue and you’ll do whatever it takes. That’s why you’re here. So it’s not that easy, you could wait for a couple of weeks, a month, or all of a sudden they give you a call and ‘hey, you’re leaving here in 6 hours, get ready.” Yeah, sure. So you get to this hotel, you checked in?
Preston: I didn’t get a hotel. I was one of the lucky few who didn’t get a hotel because seeing that I had to leave on the day, they informed me on the day, it was an emergency flight, it was the only flight to get to the ship, so I flew 30 hours from Durban, South Africa all the way to Bogota, Colombia. So I reached Colombia at 9:30 at night looking like a zombie, so I had to find a tiny little bathroom at the airport, I had to shave, freshen up, change into my suit and then go straight to the ship. It’s one of the requirements, that you show up with your suit.
Ray: So your travelling experience wasn’t that good? Preston: I didn’t enjoy it. Although the flights were good, in particular, the food was good as well, but 30 hours, it’s not great. It’s unfortunate because mostly when you travel and you’re a new hire or anybody, they always put you in a hotel, at least 1 night so you can recover, shave, shower and feel fresh for the next morning but unlucky for some. What was your experience when you entered the ship and you were welcomed? Or were you not welcomed?
Preston: I was welcomed by the security because that was the first person that I saw. It was at 9:30 at night so there weren’t a lot of people around. The first person that I met was the HR Manager, she welcomed me like everyone normally welcomes somebody arriving, and then I met my manager, my first manager, actually. I had two managers on that day because there was a new manager joining at the same time as me, and she was also from South Africa, so yes, just met, introduced each other and then we pulled out even more documentation. Then I had to hand in my passport and seaman’s book and then they showed me to my cabin, then they offered me something to eat but I refused because I just wanted to go and sleep.
Ray: So in a normal situation, you would get to the ship earlier, at 9:00 or 10:00 in the morning, with a bunch of other people. You would get to the ship, you’d be welcomed, you’d be shown around the ship to all the locations, where to go…
Preston: Plus I had to walk by myself from the entrance of the port, or the harbour, to the ship because it was late at night so the port agent wasn’t around to escort me to the ship. So I had to take my own luggage, but luckily there was a bus that passed me so I just hopped on to the bus, met 2 guests that were returning from shore, so I spoke to them on the way.
Ray: Lucky you, but you are still very unlucky because in a normal situation your luggage gets taken on the ship for you. You get shown around, you go to get your uniforms, you can have lunch and then you’ve got to do these safety familiarizations.
Preston: I also didn’t get my uniform, I had to use my personal clothing for 2 weeks until my uniform arrived, because at training when you’re supposed to get your uniforms, they did not have my size, so they said that they were going to post it to the ship.
Ray: Guys, this is a one in a million and I hope you’re enjoying this because it does happen.
Preston: Just be prepared for any situation.
Ray: Yes, any situation. Even when you travel. It’s also happened to me quite a bit, but this is a very unique situation which is excellent to hear about. So you get your uniforms, for some, and then you go have a couple of hour’s rest, then you do your training then you start work, but with Preston, straight to bed and then the next day.
Preston: And I had to wake up at 6:00, not wake up, I had to start work at 6:00. Not actual work, I just had to show up at the spot for them to show me around and introduce me to people.
Ray: So the next day, how did you get around the ship, if you didn’t know where you were going? Nobody showed you around, so how was it for you the next morning?
Preston: My new manager came and picked me up and then I went to the spa, and then she started showing me around.
Ray: So what came into your mind when you saw your cabin that night, and the toilet? Or maybe you didn’t even get to see it because you were so tired.
Preston: Straight to bed. So when I entered my roommate wasn’t there because he works late shifts, and I obviously have to get the top bunk because all new recruits obviously get the top bunk. And I didn’t have any sheets, pillowcases or duvet cover so I don’t know how old those pillows and mattresses were, I just had to sleep on top of it because I was that tired. And yes, that was it. It was pretty small but the lights were off and I didn’t care about anything besides my sleep.
Ray: When you came to the next couple of days, what did you think of the cabin?
Preston: It was pretty decent, it wasn’t as small as I thought it would have been. The bathrooms are pretty small though, if you have a shower and somebody’s using the toilet, let’s just say they’ll get splashed.
Ray: It’s like 1 foot into the toilet, 1 foot to the basin and 1 foot out, that’s how small it is.
Preston: Yes, exactly. But all in all, it’s a pretty decent cabin, I have a porthole so that’s also good.
Ray: Lucky, you got a bit of luck somewhere. So, at sea we have to learn a lot about safety, it’s a huge factor nowadays. Tell me your first-time experience when you had to do these training courses on board, and what did you actually think about it?
Preston: Well I was pretty used to it because back at our fitness training in South Africa we did advance sea survival, so within 2 weeks we did a lot of safety training that they actually cover on board, so I was already…
Ray: So you did your (STCW95’s?) before you came on board?
Ray: You did it in? Where was it Cape Town?
Preston: At the Christiaan Barnard Harbor.
Ray: So tell me, what do you think of the food on board and the layout?
Preston: Absolute kak. Good ingredients, good combinations. Just, horrible preparations. So it might be good for certain people, but for me, it wasn’t because I’m not used to eating oily, salty foods, so based on those aspects. Desserts are good, though.
Ray: What are the positive feedbacks that you would offer to people out there, that are trying to get into this line of work?
Preston: Every day, you’re in a new port, so your views are different. You meet new people from different backgrounds every week. And everyone is like-minded on board, so you get along with all the crew. You get to travel while making money and providing a service that you have a passion for.
Ray: So seeing these few ports that you have recently, which one is your favourite?
Preston: I would say Gustavia, St Barts.
Ray: Beautiful. Amazing places. Did you go to Shell Beach?
Preston: I did not. I was window shopping.
Ray: The big question I ask everybody, and you’re new to the sea, so I’m not sure if you have one, tell me the most shocking encounter you’ve ever had at sea?
Preston: Okay, so within my wealth of knowledge within my 3 months on board, the most shocking thing I have experienced incorporates me. Now, I’m a fitness professional as well as a massage therapist on board. So the one day I had to do a 75 minute Swedish massage on a guy, and I actually met him a few days before on embarkation day so we had a long conversation, so anyway, met him, took him to the massage room for a consultation, after the consultation I told him I’d see him in a few moments, to get undressed and lay on the bed. So I entered the room again and he was butt naked, he did have a sheet over him, half covered, then he said he wants minimal coverage. Now, we do have a sheet and a thicker duvet that covers the guests, so all I did was remove the thicker duvet and left the sheet on.
Then he said he is so happy to be on your bed. So I just presumed he prefers males because – sorry, it was not a Swedish massage, it was a deep dish massage – so I assumed he wanted deep pressure from a male, to get into the muscles. So I began with the massage and as I was doing the back sequence I moved on to his arm and suddenly I feel his hand on my thigh. At first, I just assumed that his hand fell off the bed because the beds are a little bit narrow, so I continued to massage, but then I felt his hand fondling my thigh again. At first, I kept quiet because I was shocked, I didn’t know what was happening, and then he continued to
fondle my thigh, then I said: “Excuse me, sir, I don’t feel comfortable with this” so he picked up his head and said: “Excuse me?” I repeated that I don’t feel comfortable with this and then he apologized. So I continued with the massage, business is business. So eventually when it was time to flip him over, considering that he was naked there was something shooting up out from the sheet and then he apologizes for making me feel uncomfortable. At that time, what could I do? I could either walk out or just cover him and continue with the treatment.
Ray: When he turned over, did the sheet fall off?
Preston: No, the sheet was like half off, half on. And he just lay there as nothing happened. So I covered him, said everything was fine and I continued with the treatment. As I was continuing with the treatment he was making these aroused sounds so eventually I cut the treatment down to 50 minutes and then I walked out and charged him for it. Then it was a big thing, I had to contact HR, hotel Director and they came to me and they didn’t allow him back into the spa. I had a few male guests after that and every time they touch me or whatever I had flashbacks. So it was a bit hectic. Then the HR Director from Steiner had to contact me from overseas just to make sure that I’m okay.
Ray: It can be mentally confusing. It’s not a nice thing to go through, if I was in your situation I don’t know if I could have handled it as well as you did.
Preston: I did have other male guests who didn’t go that far but they did leave their e-mail addresses.
Ray: You handled that very well.
Preston: He did leave me a good tip, though, so luckily I continued with the treatment.
Ray: I must say that I did not expect that from a first-timer, that was very rare. So, question, has sea changed your life by any chance?
Preston: I would say yes, it has. Dramatically. But it does have its benefits, so you do get to massage beautiful, foreign, young women who are also half-naked, but at the same time, you also get to massage old men and women as well. But it’s part of the job. My speciality is Swedish so with older people it’s better; you don’t apply too much pressure.
Ray: Will you come back to work at sea, or do you not think so?
Preston: Where I am at the moment, I would say no. When I first joined I would have said yes, because of the travelling, the people that you meet, every day you’re in a new place, but then as you get into the job, no.
Ray: Well, what you’ve been through from the beginning, a lot of people wouldn’t have carried on because of the situations you have been through, your luggage, the late nights, the quick calls. It was just too dramatically fast for you, there was no time to prepare, focus or anything. You never know what could happen.
Preston: Other than that, it’s absolutely perfect. As I said, everyone is great, ship life is great, the living conditions is good and you get to travel and provide a service that you have a passion for.
Ray: Is there anything else that you can think of to offer the viewer out there to offer to help them in their journey to work at sea?
Preston: For one, they can come to your website, because there’s a wealth of information and knowledge.
Ray: It’s www.crewlifeatsea.com
Preston: Amazing website, amazing sights, you all should definitely check it out. There’s a lot of information like we said, it will certainly help you all and your journey to get on board.
Ray: Yes, thank you. What I’ve done is make all the resources from all over available under one umbrella, and if you go there, everything is there for you. Just click, you don’t even have to go to any other places, it’s all under one spot which is very easy.
Preston: Yes, and like I said earlier on, when you get your e-mails, do not delete them as soon as you finish reading them. Keep them until you are on board and then you can start deleting them.
Ray: Well, Preston, thank you so much. It was an honour having you as a first timer.
Preston: Absolute pleasure.
Ray: At least now we know when we need a massage or anything we can come to you.
Preston: Just don’t get too “handsy”.
Ray: Thank you very much. Keep well.
Preston: Thanks, you too. Pleasure.
Outro: Thanks for listening to Crew Life At Sea podcasts. Want any of your questions answered? Send us an e-mail at [email protected]. Thank you for being a part of our adventure at sea.