The urgent solution turned out to be perfect
- In the orlop the cadets sleep shoulder to shoulder, and no one can set a sail by themselves. Everyone must pull together in the same direction. Commander SG Sigvard Sandvik at the Royal Norwegian Naval Academy is sure, there is no better place to train future naval officers than on board a sailing ship.
At the beginning of January 2022, 70 cadets from the Royal Norwegian Naval Academy went up the gangway of Statsraad Lehmkuhl in Newport, USA. Exercise "Sea legs" was underway.
The cadets first assignment was shoveling snow off the deck. They have sailed through a winter storm in the Atlantic, worked their way south from the Azores, sweated in the heat wave in Rio, and are now on their way to Punta Arenas at the tip of South America. Before disembarking, they will sail Statsraad Lehmkuhl around Cape Horn and on to Ushuaía in Argentina.
Sandvik is not on board this trip, but was involved in planning the Naval Academy's voyages with Statsraad Lehmkuhl from 2004 to 2006, and then again from 2015.
An urgent solution
What has now become an adventure started as an urgent solution. In 2001, it was decided to sell the Navy school ship KNM Horten, and the Naval Academy had to find a replacement quickly.
- It is not that simple, you can not just haul the cadets on board an ordinary warship, Sandvik says.
- We are talking about 70-80 cadets, and few vessels have the capacity to accommodate that many trainees. When warships set to sea, they can very quickly be part of a mission. And involving trainees in sharp assignments, you can not do that, Sandvik says.
Statsraad Lehmkuhl became the solution.
The ship was built as a school ship for the German merchant navy in 1914, and was named Grossherzog Friedrich August. After World War I, the British took over the ship as booty, and in 1921, the shipping company Det Bergenske Dampskibsselskab bought the ship. In 1923 it was ready for the seven seas again, and was renamed Statsraad Lehmkuhl. Named after the director of the shipping company, Kristofer Lehmkuhl, former Minister of Labor. "Statsraad" is "Minister" in Norwegian.
There have been some setbacks for the aging lady, but the ship was in tip top condition and still in use as a school ship when the agreement between the Naval Academy and the Statsraad Lehmkuhl Foundation was signed in 2001.
The Naval Academy quickly discovered that Statsraad Lehmkuhl was absolutely perfect for them. Sandvik says that they initially envisioned that the ship would be a place to teach the cadets seamanship and give them a feeling of weather and waves.
- But then it turned out that living so close together, sleeping shoulder to shoulder in the orlop, and working together to make the ship sail, was actually very valuable, surprisingly valuable, he says, and gets eager.
- No one sets a sail alone, everyone has to work the ropes, and pull in the same direction. And no one solves an assignment alone in the Navy either. No. You must always cooperate with someone, both on board your own vessel, and you must cooperate with other vessels.
Seeing the cadets developing as a group, close together with one another, was better than the Naval Academy had expected.
- You get so close to people, that if someone is grumpy, and this is the reality, not everyone goes along equally well, then you have to sort it out. There is no place to hide on board. You simply have to face it, make up, and then move on. And that's the way it is on board warships too, you can not go sulking, says Sandvik
For the Naval Academy, it means a lot that Statsraad Lehmkuhl has a permanent crew, who are also experienced teachers.
- The crew on board are professional when it comes to teaching people seamanship. They are really good, I have sailed with them myself, skilled people who know their jobs. They help us out, and we do not have very many of our own officers on board. The number varies a bit in relation to which subjects we focus on, but five-six officers, not more, says Sandvik.
The three months the cadets are on board are not all about sailing and seamanship. They also have normal lessons. Sandvik has drawn a triangle on a sheet of paper, and explains. In one corner he has written "naval warfare".
- They have to plan the mission. What are we going to do, what are we going to achieve, they have to organize guard teams, lots of things that needs to be in place, and this is exactly like it is on board a warship.
In the second corner, Sandvik has written "STCW", which are the marine certificates all cadets must qualify for.
- The cadets have a handbook, with a list of things they have to learn. They must have worked on a bridge, they must have worked in a machine-room, Statsraad Lehmkuhl actually has a machine. The ship has navigation instruments, it has everything. So they can tick out a lot of cadet book during the voyage.
In the last corner of the triangle it says "Classroom". The cadets take a bachelor's degree during their education, and is attending ordinary university lectures in classrooms under deck.
One third of the cadets have lessons, one third operates the ship, and one third sleep. And this goes on every day for three months.
- The triangle must be balanced in relation to time, because they do all this in three or three and a half years. A normal bachelor's degree takes three years, says Sandvik.
Effective, but this must be really tough for you officers too?
- Sure, but we do not have much else to do on board, Sandvik laughs. You do not have a phone, no email, and that is also a point. When we leave the quay, we shut out the civil world, and that's how it is on a warship too.
Sense of achievement
The time on board the ship is effectively spent, and the cadets learn to cooperate and handle living close together for a long time. But Sandvik has another key word on the block too; achievement.
- A modern warship is a computer platform, but you can not see ones and zeros. The sailing ship gets you closer. Closer to people, closer to the weather and sea, sails and ropes, you see the big picture in a better way. When the weather is bad, you have to hook on to a safety line, you get to know how to handle yourself. You learn respect for the weather, but also gain self-confidence, a sense of achievement, wow, I master this, it's going well after all.
This time, the cadets are not just on board a sailing ship, they are on board a research vessel. The journey is part of the One Ocean Expedition. What does the Naval Academy think of this?
- We did not have much focus on sustainability before, younger people are probably more aware of this than me, my generation, Sandvik admits.
- But I have been part of the group that planned One Ocean from the very beginning, and when the UN's sustainability goals came up, I saw that this adds another dimension into what we are doing. The One Ocean activities run constantly on board, so the cadets are also aware of it. Sustainability is clearly important, and as I often say, if we who are to defend our country at sea and in the fjords are not concerned about the state of the ocean, then we have missed out.
The Naval Academy will have a new batch of cadets on board the last part of the voyage, from Cape Town in South Africa, via Puerto Rico in the Caribbean, and home to Bergen in April 2023.
Below is a video we have made about the daily life of the cadets on board, and the training they are undergoing.