Brixham hairdresser Sasha Perkes spent nine months living and working aboard one of the world’s most luxurious cruise liners.
When Sasha last saw Holland America line’s 10-deck high MS Volendam, it was in Vancouver in Canada, and so she was amazed this year to see the Volendam sailing into view across Torbay.
Sasha has been able to give a unique insight into what life must be like aboard the ghost ships. She said: “It must be quite creepy. Normally there are 3,000 passengers and 1,000 crew. We once spent two weeks in dry dock for a refurbishment.
“The passengers all came off but we stayed on and lived on board while it was out of the water while they did the refurb.
“Inside everything was covered up and full of plastic sheeting and I guess that’s a bit like it has been for the crew on lockdown.
“The swimming pools were still full of water and we were lucky enough to have the full reign of the whole place.
“What you don’t realise is that the bigs are so big, much bigger than you think – apart from the 10 decks above water, there are another three or four below the water line.
“The hairdressing salon was right up on the 10th deck at the front. But our cabin was another two floors below the water line.
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One of the stand-out memories of 2020 has been the sight of some of the world’s most luxurious cruise ships moored in the Bay, with up to nine at any one time making a spectacular backdrop to the Covid-19 pandemic.
While anchored in the bay vessels operate on a skeleton crew or approximately 100 to 180 crewman per vessel, the number required to keep the vessels in operations.
Although it is costing the cruise company money to keep the vessels in what they call ‘warm storage’, it would cost far more to put the ships into ‘cold storage’ without crew or engines running, due to the procedures to re-start the ship’s engines, generators, water and sanitisation systems.
That is why we are seeing these magnificent cruise liners off the Devon coast.”
Sasha was only 19 when she joined the crew, as a Steiner hairdresser, and remembers a fun-filled time with staff parties.
“We spent a lot of time in the crew bar. And there was an area near the engine room, where they would bring up the anchor, and we would have parties in there. All the crew would swap uniforms. The passengers had no idea. In those days people could smoke on board. It seems like such a long time ago but it was only about 11 years ago.
“There was a hospital area and even a morgue on board,” Sasha said, and she admitted that she only ever went inside once: “When we were drunk people used to try and push you in there which was a bit scary.
“Quite a lot of people choose to go on a last cruise when they know they are going to die. We would know if somebody had passed away if a message came over the tannoys saying ‘White Star’.”
Sasha said the wild beauty of Alaska remains one of fondest memories from her time at sea: “Alaska was a massive highlight. It’s just a place that you never expect to go to and something you never expect to see.”
Sasha trained for three months in London with the Steiner Hair and Beauty company who then allocated her to the Volendam: “They assess you and put you on any of the cruise lines, depending on what they think will suit you. So it was really nice to get Holland America Lines because it’s a bit more premium, luxury and you tend to get the more wealthy people on board.
“I was only 19 and I was flown out on British Airways to Ford Lauderdale in Florida. It was really exciting. We sailed down to South America, through the Panama Canal, to Columbia and then up the West coast of America to San Francisco, Canada and Alaska.
“I flew home from Vancouver after nine months. I could have extended my contract but I was starting to get a bit homesick. In those days you didn’t have mobile phones or Facebook or Instagram. To call home you had to get an internet card for a dial-in call and there was a 10 second delay. It was only 2008 but it’s amazing how much has changed. We didn’t even have digital cameras.”
Back home in Brixham Sasha now employs nine staff at her own salon, Storm Hair Desigh in King Strteet, which opened four years ago.Now a mum, Sasha gave birth to her son during lockdown in April.
She is glad that she spent time on the MS Volendam: “I’m 100 per cent glad,” she said. “There are a lot of Americans on board and you learn different ways of hairdressing which was interesting.
“It was a great experience to meet people from all over the world. I was paired with a girl from Manchester and we had so much fun. But our manager was Romanian and there were a lot of crew from the Philippines, Indonesia, Jamaica and Sweden.
“I loved working on the Volendam and it’s been crazy to look out from Brixham and see her just there.”
MS Volendam is a Rotterdam-class (R-class) cruise ship belonging to Holland America Line. It was built in 1999 as the third of four Rotterdam-class vessels. She has ten decks, with passenger cabins spread across six of them.
The Volendam’s design prominently features flowers, and the decor throughout the ship emphasizes floral patterns. She usually sails out of Australia and Asia, and conducts cruises of the Inside Passage, traversing British Columbia and Alaska.
On March 20 its sailing schedule was shortened as it arrived at Port Everglades in Florida, where passengers were docked due to the pandemic. The ship was left stranded at sea for weeks and was, until now, anchored off the coast of the Bahamas, with the captain and crew still onboard.
Volendam is 237 m (778 ft) long, has a 32.3 m (106 ft) beam, and an 8.1 m (27 ft) draft. She has ten decks, and contains cabins for passengers (called state rooms) on six decks, with a ship’s capacity of 1,432 guests.
The ship was christened by former professional tennis player Chris Evert on November 12, 1999, who became the ship’s godmother. She was refurbished in both 2006 and 2011, when she entered dry dock for a refit in Singapore.