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Frederikke Sofie Hartung. Photo: Hanna Thevik

Doing research on the life on board

almost 2 years ago
Written by Hanna Thevik
Life on board > Doing research on the life on board

Doing research on the life on board

almost 2 years agoLife on board
Written by Hanna Thevik
Frederikke Sofie Hartung. Photo: Hanna Thevik

A sailing ship is a small world of itself. Densely populated with people who all have their tasks and roles to fill, in a fairly rigid system. How does it really work?

Sociology is the study of the relationship between people, and sociologists are well aware of how people interact at work, at home, and in social contexts. However, little research has been done on how this interaction works on board a ship. It is also a difficult area to get into if you have not lived on board a ship.

Frederikke Sofie Hartung has. She decided to study sociology after a voyage three years ago. Now she is writing a bachelor's thesis on the sociological interaction on board sailing ships.

- The fact that I have had a few years at sea means that I am in a unique position to understand and illuminate the dynamics on board. It is my entrance ticket to this special and closed community.

From above

Frederikke was up in the rig, looking down, when the idea came.

- I stood on the main topmast crosstree looking down. It was lika a small anthill of people below me. I saw how everyone had their routine and their role. Some stood at the helm, some were on lookout. The people in the galley walked to and from. Some were taking care of the waste, others scrubbing the deck, she says.

Frederikke gets excited.

- It was a certain rhythm. And a special dynamics, everyone dependent on each other. I'm dependent on someone to replace me at the helm. So I can come down to the bunk to get some sleep, so that I can take over at the helm again.


The decision was made, and she began studying sociology at Aalborg University. The theme for her bachelor thesis was given.

- My main hypothesis is that life on board a ship is different than life on land. At home you get up, go to school, do some hobby maybe, and then you go to bed. Here you have a completely different rhythm and live more in step with nature. The day is not divided in the same way as at home on land, we go sailing guards around the clock, she explains.

On board a ship, you must always be prepared for something unexpected to happen.

- You may lie in the hammock, when you suddenly have to help doing a sail maneuver because the wind turns. It can happen at any time of the day, says Frederikke.

Frederikke Sofie Hartung and fellow sailors, somewhere in Patagonia. Photo: Hanna Thevik
Frederikke Sofie Hartung and fellow sailors, somewhere in Patagonia. Photo: Hanna Thevik

The social dynamics

Life on board is crowded, 120 people live in isolation on board for quite a long time, far from the life back home. Frederikke find this very exciting, it's a kind of social experiment that has not been looked into before.

- You can not jump off, or swim ashore. You must stay on board during the entire voyage. So you are in a way trapped on board, and that does something with the social dynamics. We get very close to each other, she says, and explains.

- Being so isolated from the life on land also means that the perspective is different, a perspective that can only be shared and understood by the other people on board. This makes the friends you get at sea something very special, it feels like you have known each other for many years already, since the social situation is so intense for such a long time.

She will focus her thesis on this in particular.

- It is exciting to observe and see the social dynamics that arise when we are limited by space and have a limited privacy. That is what I want to shed light on with my bachelor thesis, says Frederikke.

Translated by Ronald Toppe

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