Meet the crew: Captain Jens Joachim Hiorth

The first time Jens Joachim Hiorth mustered at Statsraad Lehmkuhl was when he, as a young navigation student, signed on as a jungmann. 16 years later he was back, this time as captain. 

– I mustered at the lowest rank as a jungmann in the summer of 2000 and worked side by side with Haakon Vatle, who today is CEO of the Lehmkuhl Foundation. We didn´t have a lot of influence at the time, but we had a great summer, says Jens Joachim Hiorth, captain of Statsraad Lehmkuhl for the last five years.

He came to Bergen from the same position on the tall ship Christian Radich and became the second of Lehmkuhl’s two full-time captains, a job he shares with colleague Marcus Seidl.

Coming from Oslo, Jens Joachim quickly learned that the job as head of “Statsraaden” does not go unnoticed in Bergen.

– One time I was recognized by the driver on the airport bus. He grabbed the microphone and announced that the new captain of Statsraad Lehmkuhl was now on board, and the other passengers cheered and greeted me. At that point I understood how strong Lehmkuhl´s position is in Bergen, he smiles.

A happy captain after winning the Tall Ships Races in 2019

Sailing, skiing and subsea
Both before and after his training as a navigation officer, Jens Joachim quickly worked his way up on various boats, mostly those driven by sails. Some winters he worked as a ski instructor, waiting for the sailing season to start again. He also tried a career in the offshore industry.

– After a couple of years as an navigation officer on a subsea vessel in the oil industry, it became clear that this was not for me. So when I got hired on “Eileen II”, a beautiful classic sailboat, I did not hesitate a moment. Some of my friends thought that I was a bit mad, giving up a lucrative career in offshore to become the skipper on a sailboat that only sailed in the summer. But it made complete sense to me, this was what I wanted, says Jens Joachim.

Jens Joachim left the lucrative offshore industry to muster as the skipper of “Eileen II” in 2003. 

In between working on various sailing ships, Jens Joachim enjoyed several temporary positions on other vessels, like here on m/y Grace. Other assignments were on the schooner Svanen, sailing with classic twelve meters, some transports here and there, teaching boat classes and skipper assignments in the Mediterranean and the Caribbean.

The best thing about being a captain

– The best thing about being a captain at Statsraad Lehmkuhl is the sailing itself and the nature experiences. And the unity on board. The crew becomes almost like a second family. It´s also an exciting task to lead the crew towards our common goals and be responsible for ensuring that we create good experiences for all the people who sail with us. Personally, I am also motivated by the idea of contributing to taking care of a beautiful, old vessel like Statsraad Lehmkuhl, he says.

Sailing to Iceland in 2018 with chief officer Ulrich S. Johannesen and first officer Axel J. Sperstad

Because a sailboat is not just a sailboat, according to the captain.

– It´s not a secret that I´m very interested in old, beautiful boats. I appreciate good quality, beautiful constructions and materials. There is a lot of good craftsmanship and many stories coming from the old boats, and that fascinates me, Jens Joachim says.

Growing up sailing
Sailing has always been a natural part of Jens Joachim’s life. Growing up on Snarøya in Bærum, he spent a lot of time on regatta and dinghy sailing, both in the local scout group and on the family’s sailboat.

“Nirvana” has been in the Hiorth family’s possession for generations.

– Nirvana, or ‘Big boat’ as we children called her, was built in 1939 and has been in my family since the second world war. She was built as a spacious and well-sailing yacht and has given us a lot of joy through generations. The interest in sailing is probably first and foremost an inheritance from my dad, he says.

Family on land
As a newly dad, life on land has changed a lot for Jens Joachim lately. His daughter Selma Louise has turned one year and has started kindergarten. His girlfriend Marthe Pensgård Gundersen holds a steady course at home on Ullern when Jens Joachim is out sailing.

– Off course I miss my family when I am away from them. But it´s actually gone better than expected. Both Marthe and me try to turn challenges into something positive. Like how it can be a good thing to long for your loved ones, because then you value even more all the good things in life. And also, it´s so nice to come home again after a month at sea, says Jens Joachim.

Jens Joachim and Marthe: “Marthe is a fantastic person! Great both on the outside and inside, she manages to bring out the best in me. I’m a lucky guy!”

A sailing trip with Selma Louise, summer of 2020

Captain on Facebook
Being captain of Statsraad Lehmkuhl differs from the same role on many other ships. One of the more unusual tasks is to write the daily position reports for the ship’s Facebook page.

– We have over thirty thousand followers on Facebook, and the daily small updates from life at sea engage many. I think it’s nice that we can share some of our experiences with the outside world, and I always try to put some work into these daily posts.

Facebook update: March 14, 2020, departure from the United States

POS.: See YB tracking, CRS / SPD: ENE / 10 kn., Wind dir./spd.: WSW / 20 kn.

It has rarely felt so good to go out to sea. In these times, where seriousness characterizes most people, and social media is naturally coloured by just that, I hope that these updates can be a fresh and virus-free breather.

Everyone on board is in good spirits and in good health, as we have three weeks ahead of us with pleasurable isolation on the way home across the Atlantic.

Out here, everything is as usual. Storm and quiet, sunshine and rain, hard work, coffee breaks, the chef’s delights, seasickness, good shipmates, the good longing for those back home, and bad and not so bad jokes. All seem safe and well.

Never forget that when a cold front approaches, the wind tends to increase in strength, but when the front has passed, it calms down again.

Wishing everyone a great weekend.
Sincerely, Captain Jens Joachim Hiorth and crew

Selfie to Facebook post, Norfolk in the US, just after Norway shut down due to the corona pandemic, March 2020.

The circumnavigation One Ocean Expedition
For the past two years, Jens Joachim has spent a lot of time planning the greatest project in Lehmkuhl’s history, the circumnavigation One Ocean Expedition.

– One Ocean will be a memory for life. Both for us who work on board and everyone who is part of the project. Hopefully it will be an exciting journey also for all those who want to follow us from land in various channels. We will be sailing a lot, and most of the places we are going to are new to us – it will be exciting!

The circumnavigation starts from Arendal on 20 August 2021 and will last for almost 20 months.

The captain hopes that the expedition can help set a positive agenda for environmental issues.

– One Ocean is part of the UN’s decade for marine research and aims to create awareness of the crucial role of the ocean for a sustainable future. And with a vessel such as Statsraad Lehmkuhl we hope to be able to engage many people around the globe. I´m looking forward to see what comes out of the research material that will be collected during the 1,5 year we´ll spend at sea. I am optimistic and believe that the message of sustainability, even in retrospect, can contribute in a good way, Jens Joachim says.

Three on Jens Joachim Hiorth:

Haakon Vatle, CEO, Statsraad Lehmkuhl Foundation:
– In addition to being a very skilled and wise person, Jens Joachim has a solid experience from sailing ships that few others his age can display. The captainship on Norway’s largest sailing vessel is a very visible role that requires that, in addition to leading the ship safely across the sea, one must also act as a good representative of the ship in other contexts. And JJ is an excellent ambassador for Statsraad Lehmkuhl, both at sea and on land. In preparation for the One Ocean Expedition, JJ’s dedication and experience is worth its weight in gold.

Marcus Seidl, captain, Statsraad Lehmkuhl:
– Thoughtful, steady and caring, are descriptions I think fit JJ well. He is a skilled sailor and thorough in everything he does. That the two of us agree on the same goals is important for the operation of the ship, and JJ is very easy to work with. In addition to his professional and human qualities, he has a very good conduct, a nice quality to have as captain of a training ship like Lehmkuhl.

Marthe Gundersen, girlfriend:
– Jens Joachim is simply “a real Mensch”. In our relationship, he is the calm base that never gets stressed. He is very caring and goes to great lengths for the people he cares for, a quality both our daughter Selma Louise and I enjoy to a great extent. He is patient, committed and passionate. The combination of these qualities is worth its weight in gold – both for our small family, but I believe also for the extended Lehmkuhl family that I have had the pleasure of being a part of.

The leaders of Statsraad Lehmkuhl: CEO Haakon Vatle and the ship´s two captains, Marcus Seidl and Jens Joachim Hiorth.

Published March 24, 2021
by Helene Spurkeland