Giving Back to Fellow Seafarers

Apr 20, 2015

by Adrienne Yee, Director, International Maritime Center

In my early years growing up, the ever-so-popular show “The Love Boat” captivated my attention. Every Friday night, I planted myself in front of the family’s one and only black and white television and waited for it to come on. When it did, I found myself lost in the role of Julie, the Cruise Director, and dreamed of the day when I would be old enough to work on “The Love Boat.”

Fast forward: After 16 years of working in a corporate environment, I decided it was time to do something different for my next chapter. My whole life changed when I decided to pursue my dream, becoming a full-fledged Officer, working in the Purser’s Office on a passenger ship. I met my first ship, the Ocean Majesty, in Aruba. Fitted with my crisp new “whites” and epaulettes, butterflies of excitement fluttered in my stomach. Four months later, I returned home; and after two months of vacation, I flew to Seattle, WA to meet my second ship, the SS Universe Explorer, chartered by the Institute for Shipboard Education (ISE) for their Semester at Sea program.

My contracts thereafter ranged from 9 to 12 months straight, and I worked every single day over the course of my 8-year career at sea. I usually numbered as one of three crewmembers from the United States. The other officers and crew hailed from the Philippines, Jamaica, St. Vincent, India, Panama and various European countries. With 200 of my “brothers and sisters” in the crew, I shared daily meals, watched movies, played Bingo and—while in port—spent shore leave exploring each country we called at around the world.

Everywhere we went I relied on fellow crew to direct me to seafarers’ centers. Some cities had them; others didn’t. Some of my most valuable experiences and fondest memories are of the seafarer missions around the world—the staff and volunteers at these missions who reached out to us and the centers that provided a safe haven.

In 2005, I served on a ship in a different role. I worked for ISE on their newly chartered ship, the MV Explorer. I was hired as the on-board Field Office Coordinator for an entire year. With a staff of two others, I supervised the Field Office and coordinated approximately 250-300 field trips in ten foreign ports for each of the 100-day voyages.

In January 2005 on the North Pacific Ocean, we battled storm after storm during the 12-day crossing. On January 26, the lives of the 700+ passengers and 200 crewmembers on board were changed forever. In the wee hours of the morning, we were slammed head-on by a rogue wave taller than the bridge. It broke a portion of the bridge window, and salty ocean water flooded in, shorting out the ship’s navigational equipment. We were “dead” in the water. (See footage on Weather Channel’s “Storm Stories – Semester at Sea” here.)

As instructed by the Captain, I sat with a lifejacket on with the passengers in the corridors as we rode out the storm, listing from side to side. Throughout the ordeal, the other crew never stopped caring about us—their precious cargo. The ship was in shambles. No one could cook meals; but the crew worked tirelessly around the clock to ensure that all were fed, safe and comfortable. I cannot emphasize enough the care demonstrated by the crew to ensure the passengers were taken care of to the best of their ability. Amid all of this turmoil—their own lives turned upside-down—they showed such gracious hospitality.

I now have my land-legs back and work shore-side for the Seamen’s Church Institute in the Bay Area of California (SCI–Bay Area). I will admit that I miss being on ships and sailing the high seas, but my time on land now fulfills a mission to serve fellow seafarers. I help provide a comfortable and safe haven for the world’s mariners to call “home away from home.” I can now give back by opening my arms to welcome seafarers from around the world with a warm and friendly smile.

Purser Adrienne Yee with crew on board ship

A photo from back in the days when Adrienne (third from left) worked as a Crew Purser