God vakt!
Practical Boat Owner|September 2021
Marsali Taylor recalls every detail of a day aboard the tall ship Sørlandet off the coast of Norway
Marsali Taylor

The time is 0630. I wake to the sound of the waves curling along the hull a foot from my head, and the soft pad of feet on the deck above me. The light slanting through the portholes is bright in the dim banjer. Time for this medseiler, or trainee, to get up if she wants a pre-watch shower.

Unzip sleeping bag; swing my legs down and feel for the edge of the table with my toes, trying not to bump into Richard, whose hammock is swinging peacefully to the movement of the ship not four inches from mine. Got it! Slither downwards, crawl under Sahid, also sleeping peacefully, and collect my washing stuff and clean clothes from where I carefully put them last night, on the top shelf of my locker. Then it’s a cross between shimmying and a limbo dance between the rest of the hammocks to get to the banjer steps, a pause to put on my sea-boots at the top, and out into the sunshine.

It’s going to be a glorious day at sea. The hills of the south Norway coast are blue in the distance, and the waves are dancing. A glance up into the sky shows me that the lower and upper topsails that our watch set so carefully last night have been stowed away. On deck, the red watch (4-8, twice) are busy doing the last bit of rope coiling before they get the hose out to wash the decks. I pad out in my pajamas and sea-boots, and head along the side deck to the showers, under the fo’c’sle.

Sørlandet is an on-the-water academy for 10 months of the year, and I’d love to be a fly on the wall when the well-off American high school girls who’re used to an en-suite bedroom see these showers! There are three in a row, very basic, with white-painted metal walls and a shared curtain for modesty. Your stuff goes at the sides of the washbasins, in the communal drying area. Like the toilets, the showers are designed to narrow enough to wedge yourself in with your elbows when the ship’s on a slant, and if you try to dry yourself inside your towel gets soaked.

I mountaineer over the knee-high step (this tall ship lark is doing wonders for my suppleness) and get myself organised. We’re allowed three ‘pushes’ of the button, so as not to waste water, though those instructions came from a man with short hair; also, I’m first in (as usual) which means the first ‘push’ is cold.

Wash, dry, out. I climb up onto the boathouse roof to hang my towel on the drying line, then head back below to where Stine, the Banjer Sergeant, is waking the rest of my watch, softly playing phone in hand to soften the blow for the younger ones. There’s just time to dress properly before we’re chucked out at 0715, to let her prepare the banjer for breakfast.

Sørlandet’s chef believes in a proper breakfast. There’s always fruit, yogurts, cereals, a spread of cold meat and salad, cheese, and a basket of freshly baked bread, including delicious dark rye bread. The hot option each day has included bacon and egg, scrambled egg, a sort of solid porridge with cinnamon and sugar to sprinkle over it, very nice, and today, glory of glories, pancakes, and Nutella. I take a couple of slivers of brunost, a caramel-tasting cheese, as a pudding. We’ve learned to eat in silence; we’ve got 20 minutes to be ready, booted and oil skinned, for our watch, which musters at 0755.

We’re there for five to. A quick glance at the list shows me I’m a regular watch this morning: general deckhand.

We line up on the leeward side, and the off-going watch line up to windward, to ‘hand the wind over to us. ‘God vakt!’ (Good watch!) they wish us, and ‘God vakt skal vaere!’ (Good watch it shall be!) we assure them.

A good watch it is too, and a busy one. First of all the captain wants the yards braced, bringing the sails tighter to the mast so that we can come closer to the wind. We’re getting to know the ropes now. The mainmast first, so we all troop up to the aft deck, and form ourselves into three teams to shift the heavyweights, the course, topsail, and upper topsail yards. The lightweight royal and gallant yards take only a couple of people each. Two, six, heave... make fast. Once Benjamin, our watch leader, is satisfied the yards are going up in an elegant curve (slightly more to windward as they go up) then it’s down to the main deck to sort the foremast, then the mizzen.

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