After weeks on stranded cruise ship, Metchosin couple back at home

After three weeks aboard a stranded cruise ship, David Kirkham stepped onto dry land and remembered how great it felt to walk more than a few steps without hitting a wall.

“It was like, ‘This is wonderful. I’m actually walking. I’m actually briskly walking,’ ” Kirkham said Saturday from his Metchosin home. “Like holy smokes this is wonderful, and actually going down the stairs… It was just such a relief to be on firm soil.”

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He and his wife, Norma Kirkham, had been confined to their cabin and a balcony just big enough to fit two chairs since March 22, when others on their cruise ship reported fell ill and passengers went into self-isolation.

Four people on the ship died, and Holland America said 250 passengers and crew had come down with flu-like symptoms since mid-March.

The Kirkhams and their roughly 1,200 fellow passengers set sail on the MS Zaandam from Buenos Aires on March 7 for a trip around the tip of South America. The trip went south as COVID-19 spread around the world and countries turned the ship away from their ports.

“We were a ship at sea with no friendly port,” David Kirkham said.

They disembarked the vessel in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on Friday morning, after arriving the previous evening to a loud welcome from residents in the apartment buildings and houses near the harbour.

“People were banging their pots and sounding off their air horns and yelling ‘Welcome home’ and waving,” Kirkham said. “It was just a real homecoming.”

Passengers without symptoms were whisked onto chartered buses, surrounded by a heavy police escort, and taken directly to the airport tarmac.

Once there, officials wearing suits and masks took temperatures, read through passengers’ health questionnaires, checked passports and crossed names off a list before more than 200 Canadian passengers boarded a flight, chartered by Holland America, to Toronto.

Kirkham said they filled out another questionnaire when they arrived in Canada.

“Do you have a safe place to quarantine at home? You know, do you have a safe ride home? All those questions. Are you sick? Are you exhibiting any symptoms?” Kirkham said. “It was pretty involved.”

From Toronto, they went to Vancouver and Victoria, where they arranged for a private limo service to bring them home to Metchosin. The trip made for a long day at the end of a very long journey.

Despite two more weeks of isolation ahead of them, the Kirkhams are glad to be back.

“We have so much to be thankful for in Metchosin and as Canadians. We have it pretty easy here,” Kirkham said.

He spent his first morning back catching up with friends and family by email, and he’s looking forward to two weeks of gardening, household chores and a little bit of relaxation.

After “the whole world turned upside down” on their trip, Kirkham thinks it will be at least a year before they set foot on a cruise ship again.

“I think we need a break.”

regan-elliott@timescolonist.com

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