By Elise Lentz.
Ever wonder what it would be like to work on cruise ships? Small cruise ships? For 15 years?
Elise & Tim Lentz have worked on ships big and small as cruise directors, shore excursion managers, tour directors and event managers for more than 15 years. The married globetrotters are based in Florida when they’re not aboard ships, mostly small ones these days, running the small ship division for a US-based tour operator and now for their own new company Global Tour Management. Depending on specific assignment(s), they may be on the high seas for a few weeks to a month or more at a time. Their life has been anything but boring and each day offers a new adventure.
Welcome to the tenth in a series of monthly installments from Elise, sharing their story behind the scenes.
Part 10: Losing a Friend at Sea
In a prior post, I shared a story of a memorable small ship moment with AC/DC lead singer, Brian Johnson. While that was my only “known” interaction with someone famous, outside of my “stalking” Yoko Ono in the ladies room, there have been other people who have touched my life in special ways too. While my posts generally exude a level of humor, I feel it only fair to issue a spoiler alert — this month’s article may tug a little at your heart.
Because we have spent so many years on some of the same ships, we have become friends with many of the crew members. The world of working on ships is unique. Because you are away from your land-based family and friends, for extended periods of time, the ship becomes your home and those onboard become your surrogate family. You learn to respect and take care of each other, because these people are your support network, in good times and bad. You share laughs together and shoulders to cry on when needed.
We all agree that our career at sea is a strange work/life relationship. When you are on board — you count down the days until your contract is up and you can return to your “real life” on land. Then when you are “home,” you count down the days until you return to your “ship family.” Those of us in the industry can relate to each other and this unique way of life — which is also a major factor in making this bond of “life at sea” so much stronger.
Over the past 10 years Tim and I have worked on a very small vessel — 88 meters (288 feet) with 30 crew members. As you can imagine, on such a small ship, the crew and passengers have a lot of interaction with each other. This intimate cruising environment makes for very memorable and unique experience for the passengers.
A Kind Soul
It was on this ship that I will never forget the gentle kindness and friendship of one of the crew members. This person happened to be the ship’s Doctor. He loved to interact with the guests and would often participate in the evening entertainment and play games and dance with the passengers. When the ship was chartered with a group, he joined the guests on the shore excursions and brought along his medical bag, just in case anyone had a medical situation needing his attention. Guests felt safe and comfortable in his presence and he would always receive the biggest applause during the crew farewell ceremony at the end of a cruise.
Near the end of the cruising season, I recall the Doctor being very excited. When the ship arrived in Nice, France, his wife would be boarding the vessel for the final cruise. They would then disembark in Marseille, France, for some time off, as the ship was taken out of service for its scheduled technical stop. Before arriving in Nice, I remember the Doctor sitting in a café in Taormina, Sicily, on FaceTime with his wife, expressing how he couldn’t wait to see her again. He showed us photos of them both together and beamed with both pride and love.
Who would have ever thought that moment would be his last conversation with his wife. That evening he had passed away, peacefully, in his sleep. He was only in his early 60s.
The crew members were in shock of his sudden and unexpected passing. In essence, they lost one of their family members. Unlike most of us dealing with a personal loss, where you can mourn in the privacy of your home, the crew was still in the face of the public and had to continue to work and provide service to the 60 passengers. The Captain made the passengers aware of the passing of the Doctor and even though they only spent a few days with this gentle, kind man, many were saddened by the loss of their new friend.
The Captain wanted to honor the memory of his friend and fellow officer by paying tribute with a special memorial. Before sailing away, from the tiny island of Lipari, in Italy, all of the crew and passengers lined up on the top deck of the ship. The crew, dressed in their uniforms, lined the port side of the Sun Deck, while the passengers took their place on the starboard side.
The sun was just starting to set and the air was filled with the sound of Ave Maria gently performed by the ship’s musician. The Captain unfurled the sails and the ship slowly began to turn away from the tiny island where we left our friend, the good Doctor. Tears filled my eyes and my heart was heavy with the emotions of losing a friend. In a moment of silence, as we sailed away, a tiny bird landed next to me on the top deck. It sat there, looking at me, as if it were reassuring me that all was OK.
The next morning, I awoke early and was standing on the outside deck. I was watching the sun rise and composing myself — as I was mentally getting ready to face the passengers. We were still hours away from land and our arrival into Amalfi. All of a sudden, another little bird appeared and landed on the deck next to me. My eyes immediately teared up again, but my heart felt a sense of lightness.
While my brief moments with the little bird may not mean much to anyone else, to me, it served as a reminder that life is short and to relish the unique moments that unexpectedly touch your life. To this day, that memory still brings a smile to my face as I think about the wonderful man who cared for so many people in such a gentle way.
Read Elise & Tim Behind the Scenes at Sea — Hitting the Road (Part 1)
Read Elise & Tim Behind the Scenes at Sea — The Voyage Begins (Part 2)
Read Elise & Tim Behind the Scenes at Sea — Sleeping Around (Part 3)
Read Elise & Tim Behind the Scenes at Sea — Shook Me All Night Long (Part 4)
Read Elise & Tim Behind the Scenes at Sea — Say Cheese (Part 5)
Read Elise & Tim Behind the Scenes at Sea — Good Cruises Gone Bad (Part 6)
Read Elise & Tim Behind the Scenes at Sea — Whatever the Client Wants (Part 7)
Read Elise & Tim Behind the Scenes at Sea — Crazy Cruise Charters (Part 8)
Read Elise & Tim Behind the Scenes at Sea — Yoko Ono Encounter (Part 9)
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