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John and Di Leask are happy to be back home in their beautiful village of Ulmarra after what was to be their ‘trip of a lifetime’ cruise, was cut short due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. Image: contributed

Trip of a lifetime cut short

John and Di Leask of Ulmarra have finally returned home from what should have been a ‘trip of a lifetime cruise’, which was cut short due to the global COVID-19 pandemic.

John said that their cruise aboard the Vasco Da Gama, left Fremantle on 12 February 2020 travelling to the UK via Asia and the Mediterranean.

“When we left there were only small amounts on the media about a flu like virus which had affected one city Wuhan, in China,” John said.

“There was certainly no world alarm about it.”

“We’d been cruising for nearly three weeks visiting Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia. It wasn’t until we returned to Singapore on 9 March that we noticed an increase of health checks, however we had no idea that three days later a pandemic would be declared, and our cruise would be curtailed.

“We sat anchored outside Phuket for six days waiting for instructions to be given to the ship and ultimately a transfer of passengers between MV Columbus and our ship CMV Vasco Da Gama in international waters. This was an historical event, as such a transfer had never happened since before World War One. This happened between the two Cruise and Maritime Services ships so that Columbus could continue through the Mediterranean to London with all UK and European passengers, while we took on all New Zealand and Aussie passengers.

“This was made necessary when the Australian government advised us to return home ASAP.

“Our ship was Covid-19 free. The very strict health regime they had onboard, ended up being the perfect protection.

“CMV were amazing how they protected us and treated us like treasured family members.

“We returned to Fremantle in Western Australia, on March 27.
“We were then given permission to dock, so the Kiwis onboard could disembark and catch a chartered flight home from Perth.

“The remainder of us were kept onboard until the new Federal law came into being that required us to do 14 days quarantine. This was fine with us but kind of needless as we had already, effectively done 21 days isolation/quarantine on the ship with no infections.

“After we had done our 14 days quarantine in WA we booked our flights to Sydney. We had to hire a car at Sydney Airport and drive home as there were no flights back to Grafton or Coffs Harbour, that day.

“We arrived back in Ulmarra on Tuesday 14 April and have been getting used to social distancing, a stark change from life on board the ship, with no restrictions.

“The changes back at home still feel really foreign and it has been a really strange experience to see all the closed businesses.

“I guess everybody in the Clarence have had time to adjust over the last month. We are only into our first five days of social distancing and travel restrictions,” he said.

After returning home, the Leask’s are dealing with mixed emotions.
“We are sad but happy at the same time,” John said.

“Sad that our BIG once in a lifetime trip which took 12 months of planning and saving, was cut short.

“Sad that we can’t go pop in and visit with many good friends.

“It’s devastating to see the economic havoc this pandemic is wreaking on Ulmarra businesses and we strongly encourage everybody to buy from our local suppliers first, before going to the major retailers. Our small businesses are going to feel economic turn down first. We have to save our local businesses and jobs first.

But we are really happy to be back home in our safe, glorious little village of Ulmarra, once again.