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Officer Norway’s Corner – The greenhorn and the sea

By SRO Kjell Michelsen

In my last column, I mentioned that in my teens I wanted to be a sailor. I have an older brother who was a merchant mariner growing up, and every time he came home he had a suitcase filled with pictures and souvenirs, plus stories to tell from far away places.

So right out of school, I applied and was accepted into one of the three merchant marine academies that were in Norway at that time. Back then these academies lasted for three months and were tailored like a boot camp. We got up at five every morning, and after breakfast, we had to clean our rooms before inspection.

The academy had their own training vessel, a retired 70-foot cargo ship, where we learned navigation, basic engine maintenance, handling ropes, and pulleys and all that one would need to know to work on a boat.

After graduation, I applied to several shipping companies, but this was 1982, and almost overnight the once proud Norwegian shipping industry started to flag out under other nations flags. This was to save taxes and they began to hire cheaper employees from countries like the Philipines and Taiwan, with the result that a lot of jobs in that industry was all of a sudden hard to get. So my plans to go out and see the world on a ship came to a screeching halt. I was not too worried though, because I had a plan B, which was my hope to be called into the navy, but the Norwegian military had other plans for me.

After my year in the army and my first tour to South Lebanon where I stayed for a year, I came back to Norway and civilian life. My older brother at that time was also back in Norway and worked as a deckhand on an Arctic fishing trawler in the Barents Sea and the North Atlantic. Through him, I was offered a job as a greenhorn on the trawler. The trawler was 154 feet long and had a crew of 15. My initial happiness was short lived. We had barely reached the open seas before I was up on deck throwing up. For the next three days, I worked, slept and puked, not necessarily in that order.

As a greenhorn, I was the lowest on the totem pole, and as a result, when the fish had been gutted and rinsed, it was sent down in the cargo room. The cargo room was about 60 feet long and 20 feet wide. On each side, plastic boxes were stacked, and the space in between was filled with ice. It was a narrow passage on top of the ice where one had to belly crawl to get back to a small space where an aluminum table was placed, then a conveyor belt was pushed in behind you.

So my greenhorn job was to stand directly under the conveyor belt as slimy fish fell down, slapping me upside the head, one after another while I, as fast as I could, throw the fish into the boxes and shoveling ice on top. I lasted five trips, and I was on the phone with the Army soon after that. My career as a “sailor” was over.

Until next time, be safe, be happy and eat your fish.