They may have the same job title, but life as a stewardess on board a jack-up vessel is a world apart from that on a cruise ship! We spoke to Avon Balaguer, possibly the happiest and chattiest stewardess you’d ever meet, about her role on board Brave Tern.
Tell us about yourself, and how you joined FOWIC?
My name is Avon Balaguer. I’m 39 years old and I’m from the Philippines. Years ago, when I graduated in hotel and restaurant management, I never thought I’d end up at sea! However, when I first started applying for positions in the hotel industry, my colleague told me that there was more opportunity looking offshore. So, I saw an opening with Costa Cruise Lines and went for it. Only three applicants were accepted, and I’m happy to say I was one of them!
After five years, I joined a German cruise company and then, another five years later, I joined Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines. Coincidentally, after five years there, I decided it was time move on again – or so I thought! A temporary position came up with Fred. Olsen Windcarrier for three weeks on board Brave Tern that seemed too good to turn down. After these initial three weeks was up, they asked me to stay, and I happily said yes.
Is life very different on board a jack-up vessel, compared to a cruise ship?
Hugely different! And I love it. The one small downside is that I now have to do 12-hour shifts, compared to 8-10 hours on board a cruise ship! I’m joking, it’s not that bad and I enjoy everything about it.
There’s so much more variety and freedom to my day now; previously I was limited to managing a few cabins on one corridor, but now I am involved in far more, such as the galley, laundry, provisions, and the mess room. I’m not exactly a ‘makeup and Barbie shoes’ kind of girl, and on Brave Tern my uniform is much more practical.
One thing I particularly enjoy is that we all eat together in the same mess room. On cruise ships we were separated from the officers, but on Brave Tern we all eat together. It gives more of an equal, ‘family feel’ to life on board. Also, on a cruise ship you must always behave in a certain way – and I love to talk! I’d often be told to keep quiet, but on an offshore vessel this is very different. I can let my personality shine!
Another thing I love is that I now get to go outside far more than I could before – I can go on deck into the sunshine and fresh air, and I can even visit the bridge or the engine room if I want to. I find it all fascinating.
[...] I love that I now get to go outside far more than I could before – I can go on deck into the sunshine and fresh air, and I can even visit the bridge or the engine room if I want to. I find it all fascinating.
What are the other crew members like on Brave Tern?
The officers are amazing. I salute them and would do anything for them. When I first came on board, they really took me under their wing and taught me everything I needed to know. The way they looked after me meant so much and I am extremely grateful.
This mattered a lot as it was a little crazy at first. Usually in this position, you are required to work for 10 weeks on and then you get five weeks off. However, due to COVID-19, it was difficult to allow people on and off the ship, which meant we had to stay on board for several months! It was a challenge for us all, especially for those with family commitments, for example men with wives giving birth during this time or for people (like me) who have children at home, but we came away such a strong and united team.
How do you see the role of women in the industry?
I do not see it as a big problem. There are weaknesses of being a woman in the industry, and there are strengths. But this is no different than it is for men. I don’t feel as if I get treated differently being a woman on board. We all have our role to play, and we respect each other for being good at what we do. Perhaps this is unique to Fred. Olsen Windcarrier, I don’t know, but the company has certainly created a good culture and working environment for its vessels.
And will you move on in another five years, as usual?
Not this time! I am very happy here and I plan to stay. I’m excited to see how my position develops, but for now I love what I do, the people I do it with, and my life on board Brave Tern.
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