Message in a bottle
Pernille Landrø from Gol in Hallingdal, Norway, is one of the students swapping the study hall for the Pacific Ocean this summer. She has written a letter to her local newspaper Hallingdølen about her life on board.
Halfway across the globe. Over 4,800 nautical miles. 35 days at sea. Sun. A lot of sun. French Polynesia. Now we are here.
We are 90 lucky students from all over the world who are currently studying sustainability on board this beautiful ship. Within four months we will be travelling from Valparaiso to Palau. It is so far that we have already lost all concept of distance.
Along the way, we will learn about the ocean, climate and society, and about how we can collaborate across disciplines to deal with current and future challenges.
Five weeks with no land in sight is a long time. I expected that I would miss the sight of forests, mountains and harbors, but no. The sea itself has been enough. We have our own world here on board, and that world is traveling across the Pacific. Sunrises from the top of the mast, salt water shower on deck, trimming of sails. There are always new things to learn. New things to master. New people to get to know.
Because yes, even though we have been on board for so long, there are still people on board with whom I have only exchanged a few words. During the day, we are on duty twice, and the timetable beyond the shifts is so tight that you spend most of your time with your watch team. When you get up at half past four in the morning every day, you wonder what you have agreed to. But when you stand on deck and look up at the starry sky, you feel like the luckiest person in the world to be able to share this with those around you. I do anyway.
What are we really doing out here in the Pacific Ocean? We set sail for the future!
By now we really have lost all concept of distance. There are so few landmarks out at sea that we struggle to understand how far we have sailed. We can see it on the map, feel the temperature changes and notice the passing of time, but we cannot explain how far it is.
That is why we really appreciate it when the captain gives us figures on how far we have sailed and how far it is to the next port. But even these numbers tell us little. How many days make up 1240 nautical miles? How many quiz nights, trips to Slappen (the kiosk) and card games can we manage in 1240 nautical miles? I do not know.
The University of Bergen has leased the Statsraad Lehmkuhl and has established a floating university on board. The ship is currently on a circumnavigation called the One Ocean Expedition. In August 2021, the ship set out on this 20-month expedition of which we are now a part. The circumnavigation is part of the UN's decade of ocean science for sustainable development.
We take a semester course in sustainability, and learn about marine biology, psychology, oceanography and social anthropology, among other things. We are students from all possible fields, and that is what makes this so exciting. There are people studying law, design, comparative politics, nature conservation, medicine, marine biology and much more.
The goal is for us to form a holistic picture of the world, as well as develop our collaborative skills across disciplines so that we are better equipped to tackle the challenges of the present and the future.
We came to Tahiti in the early hours of the morning. When I woke up and came up on deck, suddenly there was a green island there! We had seen that we were approaching the island on the map, and suddenly it was right in front of us. It felt like it had come to us. Not that we had come to it. The ancient Polynesians perceived travel this way.
The people who went out to sea did not sail to new islands, the sea brought the islands to them. Will we feel the same way as we now approach Viti Levu, the largest of the Fijian islands?
There has been surprisingly little life around us out here at sea. I read "Kon-Tiki" just before I left Norway. After reading Heyerdahl's accounts, I expected more wildlife. They saw whales, sharks, dolphins, tuna and everything else. They even got flying fish into the sleeping bags.
Heyerdahl and the rest of the men aboard the Kon-Tiki lived less than a meter above sea level, while we live three meters above. Maybe it's no wonder we don't see more wildlife. I have seen some dolphins from a distance, lots of flying fish, some birds and a shark, but otherwise nothing. Only the sea.
On June 19 we jumped over the date line! Everyone was gathered on Stordekket, and counted down. 3, 2, 1, jump! Everyone jumped in the air, and made a leap into the future. Thus the date changed to June 20. The date line runs along the 180th longitude, but around some of the islands the date line makes a few turns. That's because it's convenient for islands that have a lot to do with each other to have the same date.
The crossing of the date line was marked by a visit from the Golden dragon. When you cross the 180th degree of longitude, you go from west to east. One enters the kingdom of the Golden dragon, and must therefore be approved in order to continue the journey. The Golden dragon came aboard and baptized us in golden eggs and salt water. We had been found worthy to sail in eastern waters.
For a long time we have only seen the light from the stars and the moon on the night watches, but a few nights ago a red light appeared far away. The light from the active volcano on the island of Tofua. It's completely quiet on board. Although we didn't see spewing lava, the sight was captivating.
Now it's not just the moon, stars and volcanoes that we see at night anymore. For the last two nights we have seen a large, blurry and yellow light in front of us. It is the light from Suva. Our next port, and the destination for this leg.
The coming weeks will be spent by myself and 35 other students on land doing social anthropological fieldwork, while the ship sails around the waters between Fiji and Tonga.
Are we ready for life on land? Who knows.
Translated to english by Ronald Toppe