A Wellington dancer who spent six months adrift on a luxury cruise ship with no passengers and endured seven quarantines is heading back to the seas to dance again.
About a week into what should have been the cruise of her life, passengers on board the boat 25-year-old Sarah Lauder was dancing on left and no others returned.
Over the next six months the dancer attempted to get back to New Zealand seven times, and each time she left the boat and went to dry land, only to be told their flights were cancelled she had to do another 14 day stint locked down in her cabin.
Initially, Lauder said they were told a two-week quarantine in their cabins was all that was needed before the crew could get back up and running again – nothing too serious.
The period without passengers grew, and for the next two months while they were still technically working, they were essentially on holiday, cocktails at night, swimming in the onboard pool and dance training during the day.
“Everyone’s still working, you’re also getting paid. You’re also on contracts. So we performed six times, to only crew members.”
However, the buzz soon wore off after a few months at sea, the company told workers that they could leave if they wanted.
Ports stopped letting the ship dock and it ended up in a sort of cruise ship graveyard in the Philippines.
Lauder isn’t one to give up on her dream, and wanted to stay, but when half of her crew decided to leave, she too agreed to go home.
But getting home was another issue entirely.
Normally it’s hard to wipe the smile of Lauder’s face, but for the first time in her life she said she would cry for no reason and watch really sad movies.
“Then not only feel disconnected to everyone around me, I felt disconnected with myself. You know, sometimes when I feel down, or not wanting to be around other people, I can still say to myself, Sarah, like, I’ve got you like, we’re good. But I could not even connect to myself.”
Isolation and loneliness were the hardest things for her to overcome.
“I thought lonely people only felt lonely because they weren’t happy with who they were. But I absolutely felt lonely. [And] I’m like, what, why though? I’ve got all these people around me like, yeah, I’m in my room. But like, why am I feeling this?It’s not right.”
Regardless of whether you are perceived as the happiest, most confident, and secure person in the world, Lauder said you can still go experience it.
Around mid-May the company she was contracted to started work to get her home, but what followed was about four gruelling months in ocean limbo.
She said the HR person was doing all they could to get them off, but circumstances kept changing, making leaving to New Zealand incredibly complicated.
During this time, Lauder had to deal with four cancelled flights, some of which she had to isolate for 14 days after being on land, a ship transfer, a denied boarding pass, five Covid tests and a missed flight due to one test not coming back in time.
What helped her get through the days were the endless support from friends and family back home, finding comfort in herself and the ability to keep dancing.
She focused on her choreography and filmed videos for social media, sharing her life, dancing and experience on board the ship.
On her final attempt to go home, Sarah said she didn’t believe the airport worker when she was told her boarding pass was good to go and even when she was flying into New Zealand she still felt like the situation wasn’t really happening.
This all changed when she landed and was told that she would be completing her managed isolation in Christchurch.
“I cried because my family lived there. And so I knew after isolation, I [couldd] just go and be with them. Got to Christchurch got to my hotel room. And I just could not get the smile off my face.”
It wasn’t plain sailing in New Zealand either, and Lauder said it took a month or two for her to feel good again.
“I think when you’re put in that situation, and then you suddenly come out of that situation, and you’re back on land, with people walking around the street, it’s incredibly overwhelming.”
While back in New Zealand, Lauder couldn’t stay away from the boats and worked on the Cook Strait ferry crossing as a crew member, alongside performing in her spare time.
After six months adrift, Lauder is a changed woman, calmer, driven and more in touch with herself than she’s ever been.
“I’m like Covid has taken everything out of my hands, I can’t do anything about it. For once, I don’t have to be in full control of my life. And I can just sit down and do whatever I want to do.”
While many would swear of the seas after six months trapped in what’s almost a floating prison, Lauder is heading back offshore, and will be performing the same dance she was supposed to last year.
The Wellingtonian has loved dancing since she started at 13, and another 28 days in lockdown doesn’t phase her as she knows it’s what it takes to get on the stage again.
“When you’re doing it, nothing else matters. Because when you’re doing it the world goesquiet. And I have moments on stage where I’m like, holy, I’ll be standing there in a pose, on the side stage, whilst this thing’s happening in the middle. And I’ll look out to the audience and think, Oh my god.”
Before getting to work, she has to isolate at home for 14 days in New Zealand before doing another 14 days in Singapore.
With the world slowly working it’s way out of lockdowns, on the sea is exactly where Lauder wants to be.
“I just can’t wait to look out onto the ocean and think I This was my view every single day for 172 days. And I’m so happy to be back and have this view like in my vision, because it’s looking perfect. And I love it here so much.”
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