14 students, 10 months, 1 ship - welcome to life aboard the Sorlandet from Norway

14 students, 10 months, 1 ship - welcome to life aboard the Sorlandet from Norway

The Sorlandet recently docked in Hong Kong, and three scholarly sailors have one thing on their mind: Starbucks


Sorlandet students (from left) Linn Hille-dahl, Jack Holbrook, Geoffrey Line, and Mackenzie Rawluk, learned a lot about teamwork.
Photo: Bruce Yan/SCMP

You might think the days of sailing ships are consigned to the times of pirates and explorers, but one has just stopped in Hong Kong and Young Post went aboard to see what it was all about.

The Sorlandet is the oldest full-rigged ship still in operation and has been sailing the world’s oceans since her launch in 1927, when she was to be an educational ship for Norway’s young sailors.

Today, Sorlandet acts as a classroom for 14 students from all over the world, who complete their secondary education as they travel.

Young Post spoke to Canadian Mackenzie Rawluk, American Jack Holbrook and Norwegian Linn Hille-dahl, who, along with another 11 students, joined six teachers on Sorlandet to study as they travel the world. Over the past 10 months they have been to 22 ports in 19 countries. Starting in Norway, they have been to lots of places, from Easter Island and Cairns in Australia to Singapore and Tahiti. They study from 9am to 3pm, Monday to Friday for the duration of the trip, learning six subjects including calculus and putonghua.

It's not always smooth sailing for Marian Williams, but she weathers through it all

“Even after dinner, we sometimes have to study until 10.30pm,” Linn says. The trio see their academic year on the Sorlandet as the equivalent of a year studying abroad, and a great way get some life experience. But before they stepped aboard, the three of them didn’t have a clue how to sail a ship. However, they had nothing to worry about as the staff on board acted as their mentors, and all they had to do was obey the captain’s orders when the ship set sail.

Sailing around the world might sound idyllic, but it also takes a lot of courage and team spirit. Before Sorlandet docked in Tahiti, the winds picked up and the rain lashed down. The crew had to take in sails and stow them immediately. Mackenzie says that was a moment he will never forget.

“In 50-60 knots [up to 111km/h] winds and the rain falling like hail, it takes a certain type of person to understand that the whole ship community needs them.”

Mackenzie and his mates volunteered to go up on to the deck to stow (put away) the sails. “I was the first one up and as I was stowing, I looked across and saw that my shipmates, the students, were all up there with me.”

Other than sailing, students have to study. In ordinary schools, teachers talk and students listen. On Sorlandet, students and teachers have more of an equal relationship.

“Teachers and students are no longer just about teaching and learning – we live together,” says Linn Hille-Dahl. Every morning, everyone gets out of bed at 6.30am and they workout together on the deck, doing squats and pushups – even the teachers.

The ship is a nice place, but a coffee plantation it isn't.
Photo: Bruce Yan/SCMP

Living in such close quarters means domestic work is inevitable.

“There’s a lot,” says Mackenzie says while Jack and Linn laugh knowingly, “including cleaning the toilets.” They also have to do basic cooking and set their hammocks each night in the air conditioned banjer (the lower deck ). There are lots of hooks on the ceiling and just like they did in the old days, these sailors sling their hammocks between two hooks. Teachers are lucky enough to have their own cabins.

Learning is a big part of the itinerary but activities are not limited to brain-racking and chores. “We watched Jaws in the middle of the ocean!” laughs Geoffrey Line, one of the teachers. “It felt very different.”

Sickness on the ship is also hard to deal with as any inflection can easily be spread, which can be dangerous. Mackenzie has had a throat infection twice and he was quarantined to make sure no one else got it. Being stuck in the medical room with movies and homework, Mackenzie found it was nice for the first day to have a break, “but I was fed up after that.”

So, when Sorlandet docked in Hong Kong, which is the last stop for the students before they fly home and continue their studies on the ground, what was the first order of business? Geoffrey says with a smile, “Starbucks – I need coffee!” and the other two slammed their fists on the table in agreement, shouting, “YES!”

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
Meet the scholarly sailors


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