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Life on board
Magnus Jansen Sverkeli. Photo: Malin Kvamme

- I'm probably not the same person anymore

almost 2 years ago
Written by Malin Kvamme, Ronald Toppe
Life on board > - I'm probably not the same person anymore

- I'm probably not the same person anymore

almost 2 years agoLife on board
Written by Malin Kvamme, Ronald Toppe
Magnus Jansen Sverkeli. Photo: Malin Kvamme

On the first of May, Magnus Jansen Sverkeli boarded Statsraad Lehmkuhl in Chile to sail across the Pacific Ocean. Now the journey is over for him and the rest of the students, who have spent the summer pulling ropes, setting sails, cleaning toilets, standing on look-out watch, and at the same time taking a university course. How was the voyage?

- There have been a lot of emotions, a lot of ups and downs, answers Magnus when we ask how the journey has been.

The 90 students disembark in Palau, to fly home and start the autumn semester. Magnus is studying marine technology in Tromsø.

- I feel that I have experienced more in these months than I usually do in six months, a year. First, just going to Valparaiso in Chile, knowing that I'm going on a four-month long voyage, not knowing a single soul on the ship.

Malin Kvamme and Magnus Jansen Sverkeli. Photo: Malin Kvamme
Malin Kvamme and Magnus Jansen Sverkeli. Photo: Malin Kvamme

Shoulder to shoulder

Getting to know people was no problem. No one sleeps shoulder to shoulder in a hammock, shares a toilet and shower, and sits close together in the orlop and on deck without making friends.

- It's been incredibly nice, I've gotten to know so many great people who do so much cool stuff. And then it's also been ... we've lived very, very close to each other, in a way I've never done before. I've been to a boarding college, but it's by no means the same. There I had my own room, so I could just close the door and say, now I'm going to have an hour to myself, and know that now I can be alone. But here, if I go lay down in the hammock for an hour or two just to be alone, then yes, by all means, no one is coming to disturb me. But there is a small group sitting and working two tables over, and a table below chatting, and someone is sitting on the other side of the banjer playing cards and having fun. And it's really nice that they have fun, but if you want to have peace and quiet and chill a bit, it's not so much fun after all. But all in all, it has been very, very good, says Magnus.

Magnus laughs a little when we ask how it has been to swap a quiet reading room on land for a sailing ship.

- Heh, heh, it has clearly been characterized by the fact that we have been on a ship that was not designed for university education. And it is also very clear that we have very different specializations and different skills. If I'm being completely honest, I think that at times the teaching has been difficult to follow. I haven't had the basic skills to understand things. If I've been to a group with others from the same field, we all sit there and yes - now we're going to discuss things that we don't really know anything about. But I've learned an incredible amount from that, having to research things even when you don't have internet. It's something people have taken for granted at home in Tromsø. If there are things you are unsure about, just google it.

Magnus Jansen Sverkeli. Photo: Malin Kvamme
Magnus Jansen Sverkeli. Photo: Malin Kvamme


The course the students take, SDG200, has sustainability as its theme, and is interdisciplinary. As Magnus says, this means that the students come from very different subjects, like law, psychology and biology.

- Studying with people from different fields has been worth its weight in gold. You get a completely different understanding of what other fields have in terms of competence and knowledge, which you don't necessarily get until you are forced to work with someone from that group. And I think it's very useful to get that experience while we're still at the university, get some experience of how much great knowledge is out there. People having knowledge of things you hardly knew existed. I have noticed very well that on different assignments it is clear that we are studying different things. On an assignment, it's suddenly like "I can do this", and then we come to an assignment two weeks later and "hey, what's going on now". And then Silje sits next to me and says "this, I can do this". And then we sit there and learn a lot from each other, and get to do things in a way that we would not have been able to do alone. And then I might wonder "why not do it that way", and then the person who knows how to do it replies that "that's okay", that was a cool twist.

Unusual, but useful, then?

- I think it has been the best part of the course really, that I am forced to work in groups with people who have a completely different academic background to me.

Sailing watches

The students have been doing normal sailing watches, four hours on, eight hours off, all week. During one of he off-duty periods they sleep, during the other they eat, study, and relax. In order for everyone to catch the lectures, they were taught both early in the morning and late in the evening. Tiresome, says Magnus.

Magnus Jansen Sverkeli. Photo: Malin Kvamme
Magnus Jansen Sverkeli. Photo: Malin Kvamme

- On our shift, when the lesson was from four to six in the afternoon, the first hour and a half, it was fine, but suddenly it was half past five, dinner was served, can we go up and eat? Or on white watch, we started classes at a quarter past nine after breakfast, having been on duty since four in the morning. I just want to get back in my hammock and sleep some more.

In Fiji, a group of local students came on board, who joined a three-week round trip. How was it?

- From day one you noticed that the ship you have been sailing with for two months now, it is no longer here. It is not the same. A completely different way of life, a very different group. It was great fun, but I felt that I was getting a little tired of them always playing music, everywhere, and at any time. Music was important. But I now understand why Norwegians are described as a bit dull, replies Magnus.

- It was a completely different warmth and openness, we are here, and "heyy" we are going to enjoy ourselves and have fun. I want to learn a bit from them when it comes to meeting people, getting to know people, and being open to taking life as it comes. We make the best of it, and then it will be fine. I got a message saying "If you ever come to Vanuatu, which you should, just let me know. I've fixed it so you can stay here, come for a month". You've known me for three weeks, and now you're inviting me to come visit you for a month, huh? It's so far out, but it felt genuine in a way I wouldn't have felt if it had come from a Norwegian.

The background for One Ocean Expedition and the course you are taking is climate change, which is already having major consequences for the island communities in the Pacific Ocean. What did you learn from the students from Fiji?

- Climate change is a reality for the people in the Pacific Ocean. Many have personal stories about how they have actually been affected by them. Like my village moving ten kilometers inland on the island and further up due to rising sea levels and storms. They experience it in a completely different way than we do in Norway. Yes, it has become a little wetter and we have extreme weather a little more often, but all in all, we do not have problems comparable to him who fears that my island will disappear, and that we will become stateless because our country does not exist anymore. It's just sick compared to us.

Magnus Jansen Sverkeli making a knife. This is sustainability in practice, if you know how to make one, you also know how to repair one. Photo: Malin Kvamme
Magnus Jansen Sverkeli making a knife. This is sustainability in practice, if you know how to make one, you also know how to repair one. Photo: Malin Kvamme


The trip across the Pacific is also an adventure. What do you think will remain as a highlight?

- I think it is difficult to come up with just one highlight, because there have been so many small good moments.

Magnus is silent for a while.

- The starry sky is one. Lying on deck in the middle of the Pacific Ocean at night, without clouds, without the moon, and looking up, and seeing all the stars. Or when we sailed into Tahiti, coming up on deck and smelling land after being five weeks at sea without seeing a single island. Or the closing night when we got back to Fiji after sailing with the Fijians and they had thrown a party. Magnus smiles.

- I sing in a choir in Tromsø, and think shanty is fun. That's maybe one of the biggest highlights, setting the topsail while we were singing shanties, that was cool. That was fun, that was actually really fun. Singing santy and hearing 90 students sing back, it's cool.

Magnus Jansen Sverkeli leading the shanty choir. Photo: Malin Kvamme
Magnus Jansen Sverkeli leading the shanty choir. Photo: Malin Kvamme

What has been the most tiresome then? Magnus does not hesitate before answering.

- Being surrounded by people all the time, 247, without exception. The only place you can be reasonably alone is when you're on the toilet. And occasionally when you're on watch at night. Sleep has been a challenge. When you go off duty, it's eight hours until you have to be on duty again, and it's always eight hours, it's never more than eight, and at home I sleep at least eight and a half hours, so getting enough sleep has been a problem. I have been quite tired at times and just want to sleep. A three-hour nap in the middle of the day, it has happened, but then you feel like you're throwing away a bit of the day, says Magnus, waits a bit, and continues.

- Otherwise, it has been a bit challenging with the teaching at times, there have not exactly been ideal work opportunities on board here. We don't have our own cubicle in a reading room, so it has been difficult to find the peace and time to sit down and study.

And if you summarize?

- I wanted to take part in this course for two reasons. First because sustainable development is important if we and future generations are to live well on this earth. And second to be able to cross the Pacific Ocean on a sailing ship over a hundred years old, on Statsraad Lehmkuhl from Bergen, which is my city. So when I saw the opportunity to kill two birds with one stone, there was no question whether I should apply, says Magnus, and nods.

- It has definitely met my expectations. It's been even more work than I thought it was going to be, and less time to just relax and play games and talk shit. But still, it has been incredibly educational and fun, I have gotten to know many different people and shared an experience that you only get once. I'm probably not the same person anymore.

- I hope that everyone will take with them the experiences we have gained and what we have learned about climate change and sustainability in future jobs and in personal life as well. I think that everyone who is here was interested in doing this in the first place, otherwise we wouldn't be here, but maybe those who went more because of sailing than because of the teaching are now thinking that we actually have to do something about it.

The Norwegian and Fijian students, and their teachers. Photo: Malin Kvamme
The Norwegian and Fijian students, and their teachers. Photo: Malin Kvamme
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The One Ocean Expedition is a circumnavigation by the Norwegian tall ship Statsraad Lehmkuhl. We aim to to share knowledge about the crucial role of the ocean for a sustainable development in a global perspective.

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