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Heroes of the pandemic: Typhoons, trombones and true love — the story of a musician stuck at sea

Heroes of the pandemic: Typhoons, trombones and true love — the story of a musician stuck at sea
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Rick and Dorothy Pauzé were introduced at a pool party 17 years ago. The party was a set-up, of sorts, arranged by one of Dorothy’s friends. Dorothy was divorced with kids, as was Rick, and Rick was a doer, as was she, whether that meant hitting a golf ball, kayaking, jumping on a bike, going for a hike, devouring a good book or preparing a good meal. Somehow, during that first quasi-blind date, the conversation veered to retirement plans, and what Rick envisioned doing once his working days were done.

At the time, he was a high school music teacher. Big band music, Tommy Dorsey, jazz, getting up and playing in front of an audience — that was Rick’s thing; an introvert, but an extrovert onstage. Rick was an adequate drummer and played the piano well enough, but like his hero, Dorsey, his bread and butter was the trombone. A couple years ago, after Rick finally did retire, Dorothy nudged him to pursue the dream he had told her about by the pool all those years ago and become a cruise ship musician as his second act.

“Rick loves to play, he loves to perform, and then to get paid to do it and to see the world at the same time?” Dorothy says, from the couples’ bungalow in Wasaga Beach, Ont., a waterfront community popular north of Toronto. “Being a cruise ship musician was Rick’s dream job. This was his third contract. He left on Halloween.”

Rick and Dorothy Pauzé. “When I actually do see him, I’ll bawl my eyes out,” Dorothy says. Courtesy of Dorothy Pauzé

He hasn’t been back, although he might be, come Monday afternoon, but only if everything goes according to plan, which isn’t always how it goes. Not when you’re aboard the Sea Princess, a Princess Cruises luxury liner marooned at anchor amid scads of other cruise ships plus thousands of COVID-refugees — sailors, shipboard entertainers, cleaning staff, massage therapists, line cooks, chefs and more employed by the industry — in Manila Bay, just off the Philippines.

The last plan had Rick due home May 15. There were two plans previous to that. Then, alas, in Dorothy’s words, “the flipping typhoon hit,” and the Sea Princess pulled up anchor and headed out to sea to ride out the storm.

Rick, relying on the spotty Wifi in his interior cabin on the Sea Princess, described seeing “many storms along the horizon,” during the typhoon in an email to the National Post. The 261-metre boat, featuring everything from a pizzeria to an art gallery, was doused by heavy rains. Downpour is an apt metaphor for the headaches and dashed hopes Rick and Dorothy have endured since he last set foot on dry land March 14 in Hobart, Tasmania.

Typically, when they are not gigging, as they do every night, cruiseship musicians are free to join the paying passengers on day trips. Rick imagined Hobart would be a great place to walk, grab some food and check out some history, including the monument to the Canadians exiled to what was then known as Van Dieman’s Land, for their part in the Upper Canada Rebellion of 1837. What Rick didn’t know, after the day was done, was that he would be heading into COVID exile himself soon thereafter. On March 18, the paying customers left the boat in Brisbane, Australia. Hopes were high the crew would follow soon after.

No luck.

But the show, as they say, most go on, and as the Sea Princess did laps, chugging up and down the Australian coast, Rick and his fellow musicians performed for the 800 or so employees stuck aboard, boosting spirits and giving people something to do at night. A talent show was organized along the lines of The Voice — only it was styled as The Voice of the Ocean. Contestants were drawn from the mostly Filipino crew, who would sing onstage with the backup musicians to the applause, or laughter, of their colleagues.

Meanwhile, back in Wasaga Beach, Dorothy was advocating for Rick’s return, registering him with Global Affairs as a Canadian abroad, calling her local MP and calling a news outlet. The only consistent reply she heard back from government was, “hang in there.”

As the Sea Princess chugged up and down the Australian coast, Rick and his fellow musicians performed for the 800 or so employees stuck aboard. Courtesy of Dorothy Pauzé

Said Rick, via email: “I have been stuck on this ship for 68 days and if I hear,  ‘We are finalizing plans for your repatriation,’ one more time I will snap.”

Rick has other frustrations. As soon as the passengers decamped, the crew, particularly those in cramped quarters belowdecks, were told they would be moved up to guest rooms with balconies. That would prove true for some senior officers and managers, but for the rank and file, including the Canadian trombonist,  the “upgrade” was a closet-sized interior room with no window.

“When I actually do see him, I’ll bawl my eyes out, that’s for sure,” Dorothy says. “Then we’ll come home and quarantine for two weeks. I’ve already bought a bunch of plants. It is time to put our garden in.”

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