A busy life on the high seas

Last updated 05:00 26/10/2012
Italy's Amalfi Coast
The Amalfi Coast.
Robbie Titchener
SEA VOYAGER: P&O's Ventura in Geiranger, Norway.

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I've recently finished working on cruise ships for P&O, based in Southampton and mainly travelling around the Mediterranean, Norway and a couple of months in the Caribbean.

I was on ships for a year and a half and, although the hours are long and hard, the travel is worth it.

My first ship was the MV Aurora, which I joined in Southampton on May 18, last year. At 76,000 gross tons, Aurora is capable of holding 1800 passengers and 900 crew and with its layered stern, is a beautiful mid-sized family ship.

My second ship was MV Ventura, which at 116,000 gross tons held 3000 passengers and 1200 crew. It is one of the largest cruise ships serving the British market. Compare these to the Titanic, which was the largest liner in the world in 1912 at 46,000 tons and 2200 passengers and crew, and the Allure of the Seas, which is the largest liner afloat today at 225,000 tons and capable of holding 6000 passengers and over 2000 crew.

Time on ship for the crew is divided into three: sea days, port days and turnaround days.

On sea days it is not unusual to work up to a maximum of 13-14 hours (depending on your role).

On port days most commercial departments are closed due to laws restricting the sale of goods in territorial waters, only opening after sailing. This means that, unless you are rostered on to the ship for In-Port Manning, a maritime safety requirement, you can usually get off and explore.

The third day is turnaround at the ship's home port, the end of one cruise and the start of the next.

In my two contracts over the year and a half, I had only two full days off, and a normal working week would be between 50 and 80 hours.

Two of my favourite countries that I visited regularly are Croatia and Norway. I always found Croatia stunning, with walking the old city walls of Dubrovnik barefoot a particular highlight.

In Norway, passengers would often ask me if it reminded me of home. The fjords are a lot more spectacular and majestic, but yes, the scenery, the friendliness and laid-back atmosphere are very similar to New Zealand. One unfortunate memory, though, is being there just after the Anders Breivik massacre last year and feeling the shock and sadness still in the air. It was a tragedy that this beautiful country and these wonderful people did not deserve.

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Other highlights include: exploring the history of Rome, Athens and Florence/Pisa; the diversity and sheer difference of a Black Sea cruise (Istanbul, Romania and Ukraine); the beauty of Lisbon, Quebec, Cephalonia and Ny Alesund – a Norwegian Arctic research station just 1200km south of the North Pole; experiencing the midnight sun on an over-nighter in Reykjavik; going on a submarine dive and snorkelling with turtles in Barbados; watching the Rugby World Cup final live while in Corfu (with a majority of the British crew not supporting the All Blacks); and the poignancy of visiting Flander’s Fields in Belgium and a sunset sail-past of the Dardanelles.

The hours are extreme and the money, to be honest, is not great, but the opportunity to travel is fantastic.

Food and accommodation are all provided for and you go to sleep in one country and wake up in another.

It was an experience I will never forget.

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