Crew Perspectives: Bosun Sheldon Rainbow

23 April 2020 By Aileen Mack

As we near the end of April, it’s more evident that things are not usual. We’re continuing to check in with crew about their experiences with COVID-19 and their current status and situation. Share your stories with us — email

After finishing his courses, Sheldon Rainbow accepted a job as a bosun to join the vessel in Seattle on March 19, which he was looking forward to. “I was asked to go to my home country (South Africa) to obtain a Canadian visa for our itinerary that was in place at the time in order to stand a better chance of obtaining it. I applied for my visa and had received it on the 18th of March, the day I was meant to fly,” he says. “It was a stressful time as it was very last minute, but I made my domestic flight to Johannesburg.”

He had called the airline to ensure that he wouldn’t have complications with his flight based on the legislation set out for seafarers entering the U.S. and was assured he’d be able to fly. When he went to the counter to check in his bags, Rainbow was immediately red flagged.

“The lady disappeared with my passport to speak to the supervisor to contact immigration in the U.S. After many phone calls and discussions, I was told I would not be boarding the plane due to my previous travels,” he says. “I was considered to be of risk to them as I had been in France 10 days before.” When he left France, it had not yet been classified as a high-risk country but had since been added to the list. After questioning this and explaining his situation, they then said that they were not going to be allowing any non-resident or visa holders to board and that was the final answer.

Anticipating some complications, Rainbow had all the supporting documents regarding employment and travels. “I also took the initiative to get tested for Covid-19 on the 15th of March. I was required to self-isolate until I got my results back the day before I travelled which I had documentation of proving I had tested negative,” he says. “This was overlooked at the airport.”

No answer was given as to why he wasn’t given this information beforehand and it was too late to change his flight, nor was he given a refund or voucher. He had to make his way back to Cape Town at his own expense, but there were no more flights and he had to spend the night in the airport hotel with no assistance from the airline.

He expresses the extreme frustration of witnessing multiple people on visas check in and get boarding passes while he was waiting to find out if he’d be able to continue his travels. Because of the situation, Rainbow contacted the captain to explain and was told to return home and they’d discuss the next steps. He was grateful to hear that he’d be reimbursed for his expenses for the visa and trying to get to the vessel.

“After doing so, I was told that my contract had been terminated and that I was to remain home until this all passes and that hopefully we can continue with the process once things settle, if I had not found work elsewhere. The yachts operations regarding the future season will be on hold like all the others until further notice,” he says. “I can understand why a boat would take these steps as it is all too early to know how long this is going to go on for and paying crew who are not working would be at a loss to the owner. I know I am not the only person who has gone through this particular situation and am aware that many have had worse experiences and lost jobs too, if not, having salary deductions. It’s a tough time for everyone and having to make those decisions or inform people of that is not an easy thing to do. It is what it is.”

Recognizing the pandemic’s global effect on every person and industry around the world, he notes that there is some positivity to be taken from the situation, which has been incredible to witness. From large corporations to small business owners, governments to education departments, hospitals, and food suppliers, “It has created a culture that has spread across the world that everyone is in this together and must work together, supporting one another in order to get through this. It's been amazing to see that social media can be used as a tool to help with this process and be used in a positive way.”

He personally doesn’t know anyone who has been diagnosed with the virus and hopes it stays that way. While in lockdown in South Africa, Rainbow is grateful to be healthy and with family at a time like this. Working in the industry, he and other crew often face the challenge of distance from family and loved ones and empathizes with those who can't be with theirs.

“We all have a lot to be grateful for in the circumstances we are in. It all depends on how we decide to look at the situation... Life will be different after this pandemic and it's sad that we have had to go through this experience, but we will come back from this and will be more prepared in the future,” he says. “I know that after this our industry will be better for it and that we will have grown huge appreciation for the freedom to travel and do what we do.”