Canadian cruise ship musician returns home after months stuck at sea

A Canadian who was stuck at sea for months has finally returned home after his job on a cruise ship turned into an ordeal amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rick Pauze, a retired teacher and musician who performs on cruise ships, began his latest contract on Nov. 3, 2019, and was supposed to return home to his wife Dorothy on May 12. But like many seafaring Canadians, Pauze found himself stuck on board and unable to disembark for 71 days after his and other cruise ships were locked down because of COVID-19.

Pauze said that the first signs of trouble came in mid-March, when everyone aboard his cruise ship was told that passengers were going to be let off in Sydney, Australia, because of the worsening number of global cases of the new coronavirus.

“We were told that the crew on the cruise ship weren’t allowed in Australia to get off the ships yet,” Pauze said in an interview with CTV News Channel from his home in Wasaga Beach, Ont., on Tuesday night. “They were trying to work out the details as far as what would happen to us. We just weren’t being told very much information.” 

Dorothy said the lack of information made the separation from her husband particularly difficult. 

“There were a lot of frustrating days for sure, and it was mostly just in trying to get information,” she said with her husband back at her side. “If we could just know that he would come home on X date, then you could prepare yourself. But when it was just this constant unknown, that was the hard part.”

On board the cruise ship, Pauze said his band tried to be helpful as the days of lockdown dragged on. 

“We were doing several things to keep morale up on the ship,” he said, including performing for the crew in the atrium or in the theatre of the ship. “It kept us busy and kept a feeling of normalcy on the ship as well.”

But further problems kept Pauze and other employees on board and unable to return home. After being told he may be able to fly home from Sydney on May 12, Pauze said the changing nature of the virus and the policies to contain its spread meant that the crew could not easily find a port to disembark. A flight out of Manila scheduled for May 15 was cancelled because of a typhoon that blew through the Philippines, grounding air travel.

Though Pauze speaks about his ordeal in a calm manner, he says it was frustrating at times. 

“I keep a lot of things inside,” he said. “I just cope with things as they happen, but I was on the ship for 71 days before I was able to come home, and there were days when I was not calm. But, I mean, there’s not much else you can do about it.” 

Dorothy said that the separation also caused her stress at home in Canada. 

“I had some really low days,” she said. “It was just an emotional rollercoaster constantly. There were days when I wouldn’t walk around the neighbourhood because I didn’t want to see people, because I knew I’d cry.”

After a 29-hour journey back to Canada, Pauze is now back at home with Dorothy.

“It’s fabulous,” Pauze said of his reunion with his wife. “I love the feeling of being home.”

The two now have to quarantine for two weeks, as per the Quarantine Act, but Dorothy said she doesn’t mind the extra time with her husband: “It’s like our honeymoon all over again!”