On our own course

Having spent five months aboard the Thor Heyerdahl, we have learned so much about all the daily tasks on a sailing ship. So much that we now can take over the ship on our own. Of course, the crew members are always with us and control what we do, but we are able to make decisions and feel what it‘s like to be in a leading position. So, for most of, the handover is probably one of the highlights of our entire journey.

On this journey we are learning how to assume responsibility for us and others in many situations. During the handover, we can show how well we are doing with taking care of our ship and all tasks that come with it. Normally, the crew members carry the responsibility on their shoulders, but for these days we are responsible for all the organization around our ship. All areas of our everyday life aboard are led by us. There are engineers, boatswains, provision masters, four watch leaders and copis (copis are the deputy watch leaders) and finally the project managers and ship leaders (the captain and the mates). All in all, there are three handovers, and each has a different main focus. The first is only one and a half days long and during this time we get to know the concept of a handover. The second takes place in the end of the crossing of the North Atlantic Ocean and because of the fact, that we are somewhere in the middle of the gigantic ocean and there is no danger of running onto ground, the GPS is turned off to simulate a failure of the GPS system. For the ships leaders that means that they have to determine the position with the help of sextants and nautical charts. That’s a huge challenge because it’s based on a difficult calculation, in which a small mistake can have big effects. The third time we as students take over the ship is about five days long and takes place in the English Channel. Although the last handover has finished just three days ago, I am already looking forward to these days!

The first step to get a job on the handover is to write an application. After all applications were handed in, the crew disappears and discusses who gets which job. The announcement shortly before the start is very exciting, with all faces looking so nervous and hopeful to get a job. The happiness is big when someone gets a job, and for those who are only deckhands now the frustration is always short and they are glad for the others. I love this and if it were different and for example the deckhands didn’t respect their watch leaders, the handover wouldn’t work, because the deckhands must follow the instructions of the watch leaders.

Directly after the announcement of the positions, we had two hours to organize and plan the next four days. Mika and me, who had been selected as provision masters, created the menu plan, and Esther and Janne, the new project managers, prepared the new watch and galley plan. After these two hours, the captain Felix and his mates Johannes K., Finn and Joschua had to present how we would arrive to the Azores. The presentation had to include information on what course we have to sail, that we will arrive at the 16th, what sails we can set, what weather we can expect and what measures we have to take for this. Only after this, the handover officially starts, and we take over the ship.

For me, the handover was very exciting because I have never had so much responsibility for 50 people. Although I was “just” responsible for the food, it was a new feeling for me and I’m sure that the others felt the same way. It was a huge challenge for all of us and many of us didn’t sleep very much. After three days, the position that we had determined without any electronic devices was only 15 miles away from our real position.

To sum up, it was a wonderful handover with many beautiful moments. We learned how to take over a big responsibility and, together as one big team, managed to steer the Thor successful to the Azores.