The highs and lows of sailing with the Sea Stallion

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Karen standing in the aft ship on this summer’s sail in Kattegat

When you sail on a thirty meter Viking warship you are faced with many challenges both physical, social and indeed emotional. During these stressful periods how do you get time to yourself on a boat with a crew of over sixty? Karen Grønbæk Andersen has been sailing with the Sea Stallion since 2008, this summer she was second mate to the Skipper. Here she reveals the highs and lows of the Sea Stallion are not just on the waves it rides but also in the crew it carries.

“It was my first Night on the Sea Stallion. I’d sailed with all the other boats in the harbour at the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde, but never the Sea Stallion …

I went over to Lowestoft in England with this anticipation of us going out into the North Sea and it would be the hardest thing we’d ever done and it would be the most challenging situation I could ever put myself into and then we ended up waiting for 10 days before going out because there was no wind.

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Lookout watching the sun rise from the fore ship

And then we FINALLY got out to sea and I FINALLY got to sail on the Sea Stallion! On that first night I was on shift from 8pm to 12am and then I slept from 4am to 8am. I was mostly on look out and we were just diving out into the North Sea with no other ships visible and no light pollution. Just stars. You cannot describe that, I felt  such intense joy of finally being out there of finally doing this and challenging myself in this way. The camaraderie experienced with the others in the 10 days of waiting added to this joy. I went to sleep at midnight and I had worried before sailing with the Sea Stallion whether I’d be able to sleep or not. But it was not a problem, I just felt so at ease and so much at home and so calm with the sound of the waves and the movement of the boat and the hushed whispering of the people around me; it’s incredible the way that the whole ship goes quiet even though there are so many people. And then there was this ringing sound which turned out to be the wind chime that hung at the top of the stem. I didn’t know what it was at the time. I later found out when I was on lookout on the shift starting at 4 am,  it was magnificent to experience both the sundown, and the sunset from the stem of the boat as it rolled up and down upon the waves. I felt more free and joyful than I’d been for many years.

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The golden wind chime which stands at the stern of the ship, it also acts as a weather vane and is inspired by Norse engravings.

So that was my first night on the Sea Stallion. On that same voyage but on the other extreme end of the emotional spectrum when we sailed from Den Helder in Holland to Glyngøre in Denmark, we had been out at sea for 2 and a half days, on the second night we had experienced a thunder storm and the wind was picking up quickly so we had to reef the sheet a lot. They had forecast 30mm of rain within an hour and none of us believed them but it did, it really really did! I was emptying my sea boots every half hour and they would be full water. We had the sea survival suits on because the weather was bad. I was on the same shift working from 8pm-12am. When I went to bed at midnight I was completely drenched in sweat, because inside those rubber suits you can’t breath and we were working for so many hours. So, when I lay down I just got cold and I got tired because we had been out at sea for 2 days at that point. I didn’t have the energy to get up and put on dry clothes, at some point at about 2.30am I sat on the oars and was told I said, “I’m wet, I’m cold and I need other clothes.”

Then I just hung down and didn’t do anything. I had gone so far into hypothermia that I wasn’t functioning at all. So my ship mates helped me change into some dry clothes and and then I went under the covers again, but because we were all wet the covers were soaking wet and we got rained down on again. So I didn’t sleep at all. The next day it rained all day. I remember which day it was, it was the day we accidently cast the anchor while sailing at full speed at 8-9 knots and, we had to cut it off. That whole day I was so totally wrecked I just cried and cried;  I missed my boyfriend and I missed home and I missed being alone. I was hurting and I was mad and frustrated with the situation and the so-called “safety” gear that had gotten me so wet.

I was in the fore ship with twenty other people. We had erected a small tent to the stem so I went beyond it and went on look out and cried and cried because I was so exhausted. After that experience which was a real low, we talked about ways of being alone on a boat with over sixty people and we spoke about how sometimes it might be an indication that we need to be left alone when we look out to the side.

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Lasse taking some time to himself holding the midterskøde or middle sheet rope which holds the central lower part of the sail, while sailing through Østersund near Copenhagen this summer

I used that once on our voyage when we sailed this summer. One day where my body was totally wrecked after a night sail mostly because I had been holding the rudder for hours. My whole body was hurting and I couldn’t do anything. I was extremely tired, I couldn’t even close my hands. I was so angry – if there’s one thing I can’t handle about myself is when my body puts boundaries on me. I was extremely mad and I just really needed to be alone and not for everybody to be coming up asking me, “How are you doing? Can I do anything for you?” It was impossible to hide! Looking back on it I love when people do that on the Sea Stallion but when you are confronted with this helplessness that you can’t do anything about people constantly tell you, “I wish I could do something for you.” So I went to the place right between the foreship and the midship on the oars on the lee side and I just sat there looking out on the water crying. That’s what I needed.”

It’s not all plain sailing on the Sea Stallion, however the highs must out weigh the lows if so many of our crew members return to face more challenges and experience the thrills of sailing on such a unique boat.

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Karen, throwing a rope to the ship as it leaves the harbour of Lynæs

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