Life as a deckhand on M/S Stockholm
M/S Stockholm has now left Gothenburg to sail with an enthusiastic crew to Northern Norway and further on to Svalbard. For over 20 years, the classic ship has taken adventurous travellers to the magnificent nature of the Arctic. With room for only 12 passengers, there is an informal atmosphere on board. Before the ship headed north, we took the chance to talk with Julia, who is doing her second season as a deckhand, and Linnea, who was on board last year. Here they happily share what it's like to be part of the crew on M/S Stockholm.
What is your role on board M/S Stockholm?
I'm a deckhand.
How many seasons have you worked on board?
This is my second season. I was on board for five months last year.
What is your professional background?
When I was about to start high school, I applied to Öckerö sailing high school as I thought it sounded exciting and I wanted to get out and travel. I did not grow up in a boating family, like many others who have chosen this profession, so the first time I was out on a larger ship was through school. With T/S Gunilla we went on many trips, like sailing across the Atlantic. Since graduation, I have worked on various boats, Stena Line among others.
How did you end up on the M/S Stockholm?
I had a friend who had worked there in previous seasons and thought it sounded interesting. Then Linnéa, who I worked with at Stena Line, knew Magnus Reteike, Captain and owner of M/S Stockholm. So, then I had a contact here. I was tired of ferry life and eager to try something new.
Will you be away for the whole season?
I will be on board for a total of three months. Two months now on the journey along the Norwegian coast and further up to Svalbard. After that I’ll go home for one month and then come back for another month in Svalbard.
What do you do for the rest of the year?
Last year I worked extra on another boat. This winter I have worked at the shipyard with maintenance of M/S Stockholm. In my spare time I make sure to travel as much as possible.
What is it like to work in such an extreme environment as the Arctic?
Very special. It can be very cold, it was a bit shocking when we came up in April last year and it was close to 20 degrees below zero. Tough weather conditions such as snow and rain also affect the daily work. But it’s so cool to experience the nature and wildlife here.
How would you describe a typical working day on board?
Before breakfast, we often prepare the Zodiacs for the day's outings. Then during the day there is a lot of maintenance such as washing things, painting or knocking off rust. Sometimes, if there is time to spare, you can go out with the guests in the Zodiacs. In the evening and at night we mostly keep an eye out, sitting on the bridge with the skipper. Or you may have to go into the machine room and check that everything is working as it should. Sleep can be a challenge as we work in shifts around the clock: work six hours and sleep six hours. Except when we are docked, then everyone except the anchorman gets to sleep during night.
How would you describe the atmosphere on board?
The atmosphere is very good. It's an incredibly lovely crew with both women and men of mixed ages. It's also fun with all the guests.
Isn't it ever hard to live so close to each other for a long time?
No, I wouldn't say. One thing that is nice about M/S Stockholm is that we in the staff have our own mess, so you still have your little free zone if you need to.
How does it feel to be "disconnected" from the world?
It's probably one of the biggest reasons why I enjoy this job so much. You really live in the present. Mum has also started to get used to the fact that I can only call every ten days...
Do you have an extra special memory from last season?
It's all the incredible encounters with animals. Something that was truly special was when we were in Northern Norway and got to see probably 50 humpback whales near the boat. It means so much to the guests when they see that we think it's as much fun as they do. For me it’s at least as exciting as for the traveller who has joined a trip with us.
What are your expectations for this season?
Happy travels and happy guests!
Will there be more seasons for you?
I'll take it as it comes. Maybe I want to have a permanent job in the future, but right now I just want to travel and experience things. And as long as I enjoy it on board, it doesn't feel difficult.
Would you recommend other young women to become sailors?
Absolutely, more women are needed in the profession. There are many prejudices and stereotypes and most people may not think that it’s a profession you can have as a woman. But it is! At M/S Stockholm, we are about 50/50 men and women.
Do you want to follow Julia and M/S Stockholms adventure the upcoming season?
What role have you had on board M/S Stockholm?
I have been working as a deckhand.
How many seasons have you been on board?
I was on board for five weeks last year. I had been working in Svalbard before on a tanker boat and this sparked my interest in the polar regions. If you have this profession, you have to go on a boat like this at some point - it's like nothing else. This year I have another job, on a pilot boat in Halland. But I’m still very involved in M/S Stockholm, among other things I manage the Instagram account. And if I want to, I can probably join the ship in my spare time. I may be away for a whole season in a few years when I get tired of just going in and out of ports.
When did you realize that this was the work for you?
My father is a fisherman and drives a pilot boat so it has always been with me. When I was 8 years old and got to accompany him out, I remember thinking: this is the best job I've seen. And it still is. I've always known that this is what I want to do.
What did you work with before joining M/S Stockholm?
I have always worked on boats. I studied to become a sailor in high school and then worked during the summers on various boats. Since then, I have furthered my education and worked both as a deckhand and mate on for example a tanker, pilot boat and ferry. I tried working two days ashore once, but it wasn't my thing…
What are your duties as a deckhand?
You make sure that the boat is kept in order, both inside and outside. It can be fixing things that have broken and helping with mooring and anchoring. It’s not specifically part of the professional role to take care of the guests, but it’s also a fun part to socialize with them.
Could you please describe a typical working day on board M/S Stockholm?
During the day there is a lot of maintenance on the boat such as grinding, knocking ice. Unexpected things also happen, like once when the refrigerator broke loose and rolled away. At night, you have to take into account that the passengers are sleeping, so then there will be some cleaning, checking the engine, keep an extra lookout for the mate or check that everything is ship-shape.
What is it like to work in an environment like the Arctic?
Very special. It can get extremely cold like once when it was minus 20 and the whole boat got covered in ice. It’s a different experience to stand there and knock ice in this type of climate. But I, like many others, also suffered from the Svalbard bug - you always want to come back. It's a different kind of calmness up there, the stress disappears completely.
How is it to be disconnected for a longer period?
It's a relief. My generation grew up being connected and reachable all the time. Here you can socialize with each other in a different way. It's just us and the boat - here and now.
How would you describe the atmosphere on board?
Very good. We are about 50/50 women and men working on board, of all ages. It is the best combination; on many other boats it’s only old men. My experience is that Stockholm is the ship where you laugh the most and have the most fun together. You also get a close relationship with many guests, which is fun. I've even been invited to some people's homes after we left the boat.
Do you have a special memory you want to share?
There are so many fun memories, we laugh all the time on board. An example was when we entered Longyearbyen and had internet connection for the first time in ten days. One of the guides saw on Facebook that it was his son’s, who also was on the trip, birthday. When we knocked on his cabin to surprise him, he didn't even know it was his birthday. It’s a good example of how you lose time and space.
What would you say to other woman who are curious about the profession?
I recommend everyone to study to become a deckhand, it's a lot of fun! It’s probably one of the most equal professions too, everyone gets the same contract and the same salary.
Since 1999, we have taken travellers on once-in-a-lifetime trips to Svalbard. From May to September our three small expedition ships, carrying only 12 and 50 passengers, explore this magnificent Arctic archipelago. Unpredictability and flexibility are the main keywords when you travel with PolarQuest as the exact route depends on weather, ice conditions and wildlife encounters. Sometimes you might be woken up in the middle of the night if a polar bear has been spotted on the ice.