Helga is one of the co-skippers who helps to helm our SailNorway boats. Originally from “the middle of the forest, far away from the ocean” in Norway, Helga fell in love with sailing in her teens and has been sailing for more than 15 years, crossing both the Atlantic and the Pacific. Her passion for sailing and adventure led her to our shores, and her warm personality made her part of our family.
We caught up with Helga and spoke about the thrill of sailing, the bonds people build on board, and trying to find words to describe what it’s like to experience “real, raw, unfiltered, Norwegian nature”.
For those not familiar with sailing, what is your role on the boat?
So my role is to support the captain, help out the crew and play host. A lot of my role is about teaching the crew how to sail and making sure they sail safely. I give the captain a break or when someone can’t be on watch anymore, I help to plan the routes, check the weather, make sure that we don’t do anything silly, and handle situations when they come up. It’s a lot of things, but one of the main roles involves safety.
How long have you been sailing and what made you fall in love with sailing?
I started sailing when I was about 15, and picked it up properly at around 20 when I was a student. My uncle was an accomplished sailor who even crossed the Atlantic Ocean and I always thought he was super cool. His experiences made me want to sail, so he taught me.
Since then I’ve done some regattas in Australia, sailed as a crew around Europe and then in 2017 I crossed the Atlantic. That experience made me want to sail even more! Next on my list was crossing the Pacific, which I did two years ago. I’ve been sailing full-time for the last five years.
When did you join SailNorway? Why did you get involved?
I joined SailNorway a year ago. After I came back home from my Pacific Ocean crossing I just wanted to sail more and more. I saw they were looking for skippers, applied and went there to talk to them. The vibe was just amazing. I realised it’s just a bunch of people who want to have a good time, who want to explore Norway and go on adventures, and who have made their passion their job. I was sold and joined them for a little test sail and I absolutely loved it, it was so beautiful.
I was also extremely lucky on that first trip. We saw whales every day, northern lights every day, and had no rain and I just thought to myself, “I can definitely do this!” So then I joined them and have been sailing with them ever since.
What is the best part of your job?
I love sailing so much because you feel so close to nature, you have so much freedom. You get electricity from the sun, you can fish for food, and you can move with the wind. You’re so free. I mean in theory, you could just go wherever you want to go. You just go out there in this wild nature and it’s just great! That’s probably the best part of my job, to be able to do that almost every day.
What is the most challenging part of your job?
You want to make sure all the guests are happy and have a good time, but you’re also in charge of the sailing and the safety of the boat, and even though you have the skipper that has the overarching responsibility, you still feel that responsibility. So you have to kind of do everything. It is exhausting because you want to be the first one up in the morning and the last to go to bed because I just want to make sure everyone is having a good time and that everything’s ready and clean for the next day.
It is especially tiring when the conditions are rough. It’s cold and you always have to wear seven layers of clothes. Towards the end of the week, you realise that you need to give away some of this responsibility. However, it’s definitely worth it in the end when you see that people are having the best time!
What kinds of people usually join these adventures?
We get all kinds of people, but usually between the ages of 30 and 60. We get a lot of single people and couples or maybe someone that has been through a change in their life like a divorce. Or people who just quit their jobs or are going to start something new, but they have this little gap in between, so they want to do something different. It’s people that are looking for an adventure.
What are some of the duties guests can expect to perform on board?
Everyone’s part of the crew, so you have duties that any boat crew will have, like cooking, cleaning, sailing, helping with navigation, and so on. You also take turns to do ‘anchor watch’, which means you’re a lookout through the night to make sure that the boat is safe and report any problems to the skipper or co-skipper.
Tell me about safety on board
Safety is very important, and we perform a safety briefing before each trip. We do things like man-overboard drills and make sure that each person understands how to be safe on board and what to do in case of an emergency. We also check all the safety equipment on board before every trip to make sure it works properly.
Do people need sailing experience to join the trip? What kinds of skills do they learn?
You don’t need to be an experienced sailor to join a trip. We often get people who have never sailed before in their lives, then we also get people who love sailing and want to sail in different environments or get the opportunity to sail in the north of Norway. It’s also a way for people who don’t have access to sailing to experience it.
When it comes to skills people learn, it depends on their own skill level. If you’re new to sailing, we explain how a sailboat works. We show you how to trim the sails, how to hoist the sails, take it down, do a tack, do a jib, and all the basics of sailing. For more experienced sailors we try to teach them something at a little bit of a higher level, more advanced skills so they feel like they left the trip and have learned something.
The learning experience continues throughout the trip – if you have any questions, or small tips like how to keep your room from not getting soaking wet from all the condensation and what happens if the engines don’t work, stuff like that. It’s different from trip to trip.
What is the group dynamic like on the boat? Does everyone get along? How do you deal with conflict on board?
To be honest, I’ve never really experienced conflict on board on any of the trips. People are just happy and excited to be there. Everyone has the same mindset when you come on these trips – you are adventurous, you want to meet people, you seek a little bit of discomfort and go outside your comfort zone. This helps a lot. It’s also just a short amount of time, so everyone puts their best foot forward.
People are always having a good time, but if you’re not feeling that social you can always go to your cabin and get away from everything a little bit. And we respect that. You don’t have to take part in absolutely everything, but if we notice that we just try to accommodate you the best we can by not pushing that situation.
For instance, we won’t put people who don’t like each other in an extremely pressured situation. But as I said, I’ve never experienced conflict on board a trip and I think it’s very rare. If you have an open mind, chances are high that you will find common ground.
Any advice for those joining a trip?
Come in with an open mind because the trip can be tough and there will be challenges – you’re out in the elements after all, but if you come in with an open mind, you’re gonna have a way better experience.
Then when it comes to packing, don’t buy new sailing gear just to come on this trip. You should buy used or borrowed because you do not need the fancy stuff to be on the boat. You don’t have to rock up in the most beautiful coats. That said, definitely bring enough clothes, because the worst thing is if you’re cold. Make sure that you have layers and you have a big jacket on top, or rent one from us.
You are going to wear the same clothes every single day so you don’t have to pack so much. Remember the space on the boat is limited, so just bring two sets of everything and you’re good. You’ll just wear that inner layer of wool all the time inside and then put on layers to go outside like ‘oil skins’ that are super waterproof and windproof.
So in short, pack more warm stuff than you think you may need, but less of everything else.
What are some of your favourite adventures that you’ve been on (and want to go on)?
The Træna Music Festival is definitely my favourite. It’s so good because you have the sailing part and you go to all these remote places in northern Norway that are beautiful. But then you end up at this festival that you can’t get to unless you have a boat. And you have these amazing artists and the crew enjoying it with you. I have never experienced that the crew have gotten so close to each other, it’s like a huge family thing. The bonds that you make on that trip are like nothing I’ve experienced in such a short amount of time.
Another one of my favourites is the whale watching trips in Northern Norway. That was incredible. I mean, we saw a bunch of different types of whales every single day, and the northern lights every day. It was so beautiful.
One of the trips I want to go on the most is the trip to Svalbard and Greenland. That’s incredible because it’s an expedition to really remote and really beautiful places with incredible nature.
What do the interactions with various people from around the world mean to you?
To meet all of these people who have the same kind of mindset that want to go out and experience things changes things because if I go there by myself, I don’t have anyone to be like, “Look, see this! This is amazing!”. But you’re with these people that are as excited as you. It is so beautiful to be able to share that experience with someone who enjoys it as much as you.
Why should people join these adventures?
Because they’re unique. It’s real, raw, unfiltered, Norwegian nature. It’s just wild. You go there and it’s not like cruising in the Mediterranean where it is just like in your bikini all day and then you go to a taverna and you eat at the restaurant and sail for two hours.
You’re so in touch with nature and you get to know yourself. You see these incredible sites like the nature up in the north [of Norway] – it’s like nothing else. And the wildlife is just incredible, and then you add the northern lights on top of that. It’s so surreal. Every day it’s like “Whoa, look at this! Whoa, look at that!”. And when you do this in a situation where you’re pushing yourself because it is cold, it can be rough being out there sailing.
It could be hard physically and mentally, but when you push yourself to this limit and then you get these rewards that are so incredible, you can’t explain it to anyone. You have to see it for itself, it’s just magical, like nothing else you’ll ever experience.
Helga’s passion for sailing and trips around Norway is contagious. Hearing her talk about the adventures you go on, the people you meet, the friends you make, and the breathtaking sights you see, makes you want to pack your bags right now, head over to Norway and jump on board a boat. We are very happy to call her ‘family’ and we can’t wait for you to meet her and the rest of the team on your next trip!