The Crossing.

. 5 min read . Written by Kuba Vitek
The Crossing.

3 days to New York

Current position 49 13.3N, 034 18.6W, speed 16.5 knots.

We woke up to a warning that due to a moderate swell, extra caution & hands on the rails at all times will be required. Sometimes during last night, we’ve entered the rough waters of North Atlantic, resulting in the wardrobe doors in our cabin gently creaking open & close the whole night, which I find extremely soothing.

It’s a third day on the sea, third day of just about the most intense work experience of my life. Only three days after which I can’t even remember if life in London really happened. We boarded Queen Mary 2 from Southampton, England on the 15th December, only a month after we’ve passed the recruitment process, quit our jobs, left our flat on Archway Road, packed our lives into two 20kg luggages, flew home to France to say goodbye to David’s parents and to Czech to bid farewell to mine, month of an absolute bureacratic madness sorting out our C1D Visas, Seaman’s Books, Norweigan medical checks & vaccinations.

I cannot even find words to accurately describe how bizarre it all now seems after only three days sailing towards New York - yes, as my mother kindly pointed out - on exactly the same voyage (although we’re instructed to call it ‘crossing’, as we’re crossing the Atlantic) as Titanic. And yes, when we boarded early on the Friday morning and for the first time ascended through the heavily decorated staircase, speakers in the hall were playing the soundtrack from Titanic (no kidding), which I found a particularly bad taste or a particularly british type of joke.

We work 9am to 9pm every day we’re on the sea. The only break we get is when ship is in port (only until about 4pm though) - we can’t be selling duty free when on land, of course. The first part of our journey takes us from England to USA - 7 days on sea, a week of 12 hours a day of hard labour and slow unraveling, both physically (my trousers are already falling three days in and my lips are so fucking sore and big - a reaction to the fact that we can only shower in the chlorine water) and psychologically. The newbies are put on promos, which means setting up tables with daily offers on various goods, selling selling selling, packing all the goods up in the afternoon and transporting through various complicated lifts, stairs, water tight doors that only some of us are allowed to operate, which are designed to keep water out in an unlikely scenario of sinking and WILL crush to death anything that stands in the way - as illustrated on each door by the graphic photos of water tight doors accidents, through avenues hidden from the guests to the bottom level of the ship - storage room, where you sweat buckets as it’s close to the engine room and where the waves hitting the vessel sound literally like a brick townhouse falling on your head (you get used to it very fast) - to sort out the stock, collect, check off, label and prepare the stock for the following day promos, bringing trolleys and cages of goods back to the level three - by then you’re once again changed into the suite and tie, as we cannot be seen without our uniforms when entering the guest areas - and setting up promo tables for the next day.

I had many wonderful and foolish ideas about the things I’d work on whilst on the ship. Our yoga practice, studying tarot, reading a lot, writing a lot, perhaps even completing some pilates instructor certificate, learn a new language etc. I cannot properly relate the level of exhaustion we all experience here, but trust me when I say none of this is even a remotely feasible. On your lunch and dinner breaks, you need to make the hard decision - will I eat, or will I sleep? If you don’t sleep, you stare into the space, unable to think of anything or, in the worse case - unable to stop thinking about anything else but the ship. There’s literally nothing to pull you out of this world you just became a part of, which adds to the exhaustion. I try to come up to the deck 5 every now and then, to remind myself for a few freezing windy minutes where I am and to see a bit of a natural day light. I stare at the choppy waters hoping to spot a whale, but the North Atlantic is grey and totally uneventful.

Every night the clock change, as we are crossing not only the Atlantic, but also time zones, which means you gain an hour of sleep, but of course that hardly helps when you spend your night getting ready for the weekly cabin inspections & you’re expected at the Christmas Market in the Queen’s room at 7.30am. If you feel like you’ve heared too much of Wham’s ‘Last Christmas’ this winter already, try spending your day on the onboard Christmas Market, sweaty and scratchy under the santa’s hat they make you wear, hypnotizing longigly glasses of the complimentary mulled wine the guests carry around and trying hard not to lose it when guests point out:

“How sad for you to be working today, it actually snowed outside on the ocean earlier! What a magical thing to see!”

We’ll do the Atlantic crossing once again after the loop around the Caribbean, but by than I hope I’ll be a few shades darker, a tiny bit more resiliant (they say the general health and longevity of people living by the sea is cause by the higher levels of iodine, so bring on the fish smell) and richer in experiences and with compromised liver function*.

*(The stereotype of the drunken sailors is totally untrue I’m sorry to say. Whilst on the sea, we’re only allowed to have 0.05% of alcohol in our blood, the equivalent of a small beer, at any time and random breathelyzer tests are carried on a regular basis).