BOSTON HEIGHTS – It was supposed to be a pleasant cruise, like the several voyages on the sea she had made before.
However, the trip turned bleak for Lynn Remly of Boston Heights, who had planned to make a 14-day trip on the Zandaam, a 781-foot cruise ship run by Holland America Line, a division of Carnival Corporation, with a capacity for a little more than 1,400 passengers. The destination started in Buenos Aires on March 7, and was supposed to conclude in Santiago, Chile on March 21.
Unfortunately, there was an unexpected and uninvited passenger on that cruise: COVID-19. Four people died onboard – two from complications of the novel coronavirus, one from a heart attack, and one unknown – and dozens of others fell ill during the ill-fated voyage, which ended the evening of April 2, when the Rotterdam, a ship that had been sent to transport the Zandaam’s 800 healthy passengers back to the United States, docked near Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Remly, who is president of the Friends of the Hudson Library and Historical Society, said she got home April 3.
"We passengers had very little notion of real trouble until the captain announced the four deaths," Remly said. "Some passengers and crew had reported sick with flu-like symptoms, but I don't think we realized how serious things were — on board, and outside in the rest of the world — until the deaths. In fact, Chilean authorities sent health care workers on board to check everyone's temperature prior to — we thought — disembarkation in Punta Arenas. We actually thought that we might be the safest place to be, until the deaths."
The Chilean government, as well as the governments in Argentina and other South American countries, closed their ports around March 14, she added.
So, instead of seeing the Strait of Magellan and Torres del Paine National Park in Patagonia, Remly said the passengers were confined to their cabins shortly after the deaths were reported. In addition, the passengers from the Zandaam were confined to their cabins on the Rotterdam for the next 11 days until the ship’s arrival in Florida.
Remly, who is 77, said that overall, she felt fine, if a bit tired from the trip.
"I've been fine throughout," she said. "I have asthma and history of pneumonia, so a respiratory virus is the last thing I need. Fortunately, I've developed no symptoms at all. I hope that continues."
However, Remly said that morale on the ship had been "surprisingly good."
"Holland America caters to an older clientele, and most of us have learned to take things as they come and to recognize that we need to follow the advice and instructions we're given," Remly said. "People were disappointed and sad, of course, but I think most had faith in the captain and the company. Holland America did a brilliant job handling the situation. I can't praise them enough."
Still, the experience has given her pause about future trips, Remly said.
"I have been traveling for 55 years, all over the world, all seven continents, well over 100 countries," she said. "It's my passion. Or, it was. An experience like this gives you plenty of time to think how lucky you are, if you can stay healthy and your family and friends are safe. It certainly gave me a sharper awareness of much more serious problems being confronted every day by millions of others."
In a March 30 media release published by Holland America Line, which has a fleet of 14 cruise ships, the company stated that "bookings will automatically be cancelled through May 14." Another media release from the company, from March 27, confirmed that "that four older guests have passed away on Zaandam."
According to an April 2 media release from Holland America Line, as of March 22, 107 guests — 90 on Zaandam, 17 on Rotterdam — and 143 crew on Zaandam had presented with influenza-like symptoms. There were 808 guests and 583 crew on Rotterdam. On Zaandam, there were 442 guests and 603 crew. Among the guests, 311 guests were American citizens.
April Helms can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org