by Julie Carrington
Natasha Howell, has shaken off bouts of sea sickness, the loneliness of missing the warm embrace from her children and has her eyes firmly set on conquering the vast ocean as a fearless seafarer.
The sales professional with Colombian Emeralds, who is currently working on attachment on board a cruise ship, recounted the “highs and lows” of a life at sea and the new career that she has grown to love.
At sea for eight months out of every year, Howell is still fascinated by the lure of visiting new countries, experiencing new cultures and flying the Barbados flag as its unofficial ambassador in countries such as Mexico and Colombia.
Her interest in a life at sea was driven by the economic benefits and the opportunity to meet new people, cultivate a better understanding of their culture and to “open up new vistas” when visiting other countries.
Howell said: “I enjoy being a seaman… It is something that I always wanted to do for a few years because you not only get to travel the entire world without paying for it. You work, save your money and send it back home because you do not have to pay rent or utilities.”
The mother of three recounted her experience with seasickness and the mechanisms she employed to deal with it.
“I would say — and other seafearers can attest to this — that the ship is a floating island. I got seasick the first day on board the vessel. “Since then, I have bought the arm bands and I have the patch behind my ears because I was preparing myself for that [seasickness] but when you don’t think about it, you are good to go because you are not going to feel the boat shifting,” Howell pointed out.
She also spoke about the lonely life at sea and missing her children and other relatives.
“The sad thing about it is if you have children you really miss your family. Every day you have to push yourself a little bit more and keep reminding yourself that you are not doing it for you, but for the kids to … put food in their mouths and keep a roof over their heads. Even though you may want to cry a little bit more, just remember that you are doing it for them,” she emphasised.
Howell added: “I have a son that is devastated. He is 11 years old and he would say to me, ‘Mummy you can’t go back’. I also have a 13 year-old and a five year-old. So, that also dampens your spirit, but when I explain to them it is for their benefit, they understand. I have pictures of them stuck to the walls, so whenever I miss them I just look at them and say, mummy is there … and soon home,” she added.
The seafarer said she would continue to be an ambassador for Barbados wherever the sea adventure takes her next.
“I sell my island over and over. When I first got out there and I saw the Jamaicans and the St. Lucians with their flags I said, where is Barbados? No one told me when I got on the cruise ship that you actually have to represent. So, I make it my business to get out there and show people that I am from Barbados and I love and respect my country,” Howell quipped.
As a proud seafarer, she encouraged others to consider the vast ocean as a viable career choice.
“For the average person who [is interested in working] on one of the cruise lines such as Norwegian or Disney, there is actually an agency in St. Lucia, and I have their contact information where you can call and speak to a representative.
“From that phone call, the agent could then invite the person down to St. Lucia for an interview. However, if there are several Barbadians interested in working on cruise ships, I can make contact with one of the representatives in St. Lucia to see if someone can come to Barbados and interview a few applicants. There is money to be made but you just have to take that step,” Howell advised.
The Day of the Seafarer is observed every year on June 25. On this day, the international maritime community and member states will pay tribute to the 1.5 million seafearers, for their selfless and unique contribution to the well-being of the global community.
The day also presents a unique opportunity to raise awareness among the population about the vital role seafearers play in developing the world economy. In fact, the seafearer is responsible for transporting 90 per cent of the world’s trade safely, efficiently and without any significant impact to the marine environment.
Persons interested in pursuing a career at sea may contact the Shipping Superintendent, Walter Best, at the Ministry of International Transport.