Sailing on board «Statsraad Lehmkuhl» in the old days
This is the story of one of the many young boys in western Norway who had their apprenticeship on board the school ship «Statsraad Lehmkuhl» in the "old days".
In the summer of 2021, the family of Sverre Faugstad gave the University Library in Bergen a copy of a manuscript, where he tells the story of his time as a trainee on board the school ship Statsraad Lehmkuhl. The manuscript contains interesting and amusing descriptions from 1937.
Sverre Faugstad was born in Vaksdal on the west coast of Norway in 1921. A lot of both Norwegian and foreign ships docked at the village grain mill, and made him long for a life at sea.
For Sverre, the desire to travel became so strong that he even considered sneaking on board as a stow away - but fortunately his courage failed.
In the spring of 1937, Sverre was accepted as a trainee on board the school ship «Statsraad Lehmkuhl». After the compulsory medical test at the Seamen's School in Bergen, he was transported out to «Statsraad Lehmkuhl» from the Tollbod-quay in Bergen on May 2, together with 216 other school ship boys.
On board the school ship
Ten of the boys were to become galley staff. The rest, including Sverre, were to be trained as deck crew. All were equipped with hammocks and relocated to the front and aft orlop, to be the boys' home for the next five months.
Here they ate and slept. Dining tables and benches hung up under the ship's deck, and were only taken down during meals.
Sverre was awarded hammock no. 32. This was also the number he was known as on board; names few knew and used.
The hammocks were tied to hooks in the ceiling, "according to the same principle as putting sardines in a tin can" - really close together.
The school ship's permanent crew consisted of a captain and 22 men with various functions. According to Sverre, these were fearsome, but skilled, guys. Although some had "poor control over their alcohol intake".
The galley apprentices were responsible for the boys' catering on board: Breakfast was oatmeal and some burnt or poorly baked bread, as well as unsweetened cocoa. Dinner was boiled fish or meat.
For special occasions, salted meat and peas was the preferred dish, as well as the boy's favourite: Jens Evensen's sausages.
The evening meal consisted once more of oatmeal bread and unsweetened cocoa. The only spread was black bakery syrup. The food was distributed on to the plates before the boys came to eat. Nevertheless, "food fights" about the meager servings were common.
A sober cox
Training was given in all the activities carried out on deck, splicing of ropes and wires, rust removal and painting.
The sails were sewn on board, so sailmaking was part of the training. Navigation, the rules at sea, and how to use lanterns were also taught..
Sverre was singled out for lifeboat racing, and when possible, the rowers trained from eight in the morning to six in the evening. Sverre's team won the race on lake Store Lungegårdsvannet May 17 1937, Norway's National Day - mostly because they had the only sober cox.
Later on National Day 1937 the school ship left Bergen. The next destination was Skagen. The Danish city has been visited often since.
Here the ship officers refilled their supply of whiskey, beer and cigarettes. To the excitement of the schoolboys, the officers' alcohol consumption encouraged them to sail really hard. Reaching speeds up to 16 knots, «Statsraad Lehmkuhl» "parked" both steamers and motor ships. In the following months, they sailed along the entire Norwegian coast.
The boys also got hold of cigarettes. Golden West and Teddy were the most popular brands. Sverre was a non-smoker, but sold cigarettes in exchange for food. Sverre was also plagued by seasickness.
The hungry young boys also found other ways to get hold of more food. One of their tricks was hoisting a boy down by his legs along the side of the ship, and stealing bacon sausages from the provisions room with a hook.
Sverre too had to confess to stealing goat cheese and soda water. His punishment was "running the rig" all the way to the top on one side and down the other ten times, plus a five-day denial of land law.
During Sverre's time on board the ship, there was also a real crime committed. One of the sailors robbed the ship's safe. The robber was later arrested in Kristiansand, broke as a church mouse.
From school ship to war
The school ship's longest journey was from Bodø in the north of Norway to Copenhagen in Denmark in the south. Sverre tells about a visit to Carlsberg's brewery in Copenhagen with a subsequent «tasting». It became Sverre's job to get the loud and overly drunk shipmates on board after the trip.
At the end of September, «Statsraad Lehmkuhl» docked in Bergen. The ship was now rigged down and prepared for winter storage, and the school ship crew disembarked.
After leaving the ship, Sverre returned to Vaksdal. He made several trips to the hire office in Bergen, but was turned down every time, until he finally got a job as a deckhand on DS "Storviken" from Kopervik on November 4, 1937.
Sverre sailed abroad throughout the war, and disembarked as first mate on August 3, 1945. On February 5, 1980, he received the Norwegian War Medal, for his service during the Second World War.
This article was first published in Bergens Tidende September 3, 2021.
Translated from Norwegian by Ronald Toppe