Tell me a little about yourself.
I'm 28, living in Stockholm, Sweden (where I was also born and grew up). I work as a watchleader on a Swedish school ship, a 3/m steel barque named Gunilla, which I spend half my time onboard. I work on a graphic novel simultaneously and during my time off. I've mostly sailed Swedish and American ships and I've travelled around in the states some (mostly on the east coast). I sometimes work as a boatbuilder or shipwright, which is what I went to school for. Besides boats, sailing, woodworking and drawing I'm also into playing banjo.
When did you sail on your first boat?
When I was 15 my parents convinced me to go sail a ship called Shamrock, a steel 'galeas' (like a big ketch rig) for a month. That was the first time I sailed a tall ship, I had sailed small boats and cruisers before that. I was kind of a messy kid back then so I suspect they enjoyed having me away for a while. We sailed all the way north in the Baltic. I liked it but I didn't get hooked.
Were your parents sailors? Did you sail a lot as a kid?
My parents aren't sailors. They have an IF, which is a plastic Folkboat, which they used to take me and my sister out on to sail in the archipelago when we were young. We were out for maybe one week every summer, and sometimes I went to sailing school and sailed Optimists or other dinghys.
Growing up in Sweden, what do you find different about Swedens maritime community and history that is different than other countries and communities?
Sweden was never a large seafaring nation, but thanks to the brackish water of the Baltic (in which shipworms can't live and thus not eat the wrecks) we have some beautifully preseved ships and boats that allow us to know more about what historic vessels from the countries around here looked like. I find that to be a very interesting part of being a person with an interest in sailing and boatbuilding and the history of sailing ships who lives in Sweden. Sweden also has a really cool and old boatbuilding tradition. I would like to see more money being put into preserving our maritime heritage, but I'm sure if you asked anybody with a specialized interest they would say the same about their field. Personally my biggest interest in preserving this is to preserve the knowledge and skills, of the craft or boat- and shipbuilding as well as the skills to operate the boats and ships. That to me is more important, relevant and interesting than a boat in a museum. To build a ship and then sail her, like the Götheborg, will teach us much more about these vessels and their history than just researching wrecks and old books will. That, of course, is also a very important part of it, but it annoys me that that part is often looked upon as having more worth, while the practical knowledge of thhe building and sailing is regarded to be worth less. I guess that goes back to academic and theoretical knowledge in our society is regarded to be more noble and serious than practical work. I find this view on it to be dated and boring.
What type of ship is your favorite? Why?
Hull wise: wooden. If not, riveted steel is pretty neat too. I have no interest in plastic boats. I have a preference for square rigs, if talking about larger ships and not small boats, but I also have a soft spot for North American fishing schooners. Modern type vessels don't attract me very much, I like historic vessels. It just feels more real to me, I guess. I wouldn't mind sailing modern boats, but vessels with some history and heritage to them just appeal to me so much more.
What about your favorite port, and why?
I really liked the Caribbean, even if I've only seen one island so far (strangely enough). I can't wait to get back there. I just found it to be somewhat magic, and very different.
What keeps you sailing?
The feeling that I'm actually having a positive influence on my students, that the years that some thought I wasted volunteering and bumming around boats and elsewhere have come to serve some sort of purpose, by helping to preserve this culture and history in whatever small part, and in inspiring my students to see that there are differrent ways to go about things. If I can inspire them, in whatever way, then it is worth doing what I'm doing. I also happen to love it, sailing, sail handling, sail trimming, meeting people I wouldn't meet otherwise, standing watch and looking at the stars with the kids, teaching them splicing, arriving to new places and explore them, being close to the elements, the beauty of the ships and the sea. I may be away half the time, and there are times when I'm oh so sick of it all and swear to go ashore forever, but most of the time I love it. I don't want to generalize, but people go to the office to slave away for 8, 9h a day, I get to watch dolphins swim in bioluminescence in the bow of a ship sailing through the nights with kids who are experiencing this for the first time in their lives. I am very, very lucky to be able to call that my job. It makes me think that the world we have constructed for ourselves, the modern world, is unnatrual for us and makes us unhappy. But I am also a product of that world, and I'm from a priviledged background, so I don't know how much right I have to pass a judgement like that.
What was your hardest moment on a ship? Why was it so hard?
Deciding to leave the life I had for a life on ships was the hardest moment (though it was a process that took several months). It wasn't on a ship but it was related to ships. It was hard because I had to leave the life I had then, a 'normal' life with a girlfriend and a job in a grocery store. It was more of a coming out-moment of sorts, that meant I vastly changed my priorities and goals in life, than me physically packing my bag and running away on a ship. It was more that I decided that I wanted to do that so badly that I was willing to give everything up for it, and eventually I did it, too. It might seem strange that it required so many sacrifices, but we were young and handled it poorly, I guess. But it was also extremely profound for me, all that it symbolized, and still is today. Years later, when I had been sailing for a good while, Bounty was lost during the year I spent working and sailing American ships. I knew some of the crew onboard her and it shook me pretty badly and made me question the sanity in what we're doing, and was a harsh reminder of how real it is.
Your favorite memory on board a ship?
It's hard to pick one single favourite moment. I think all the times I just realize how much I love it is a favourite moment. One time I was transiting on the Kalmar Nyckel and had just gotten on the six hour night watch and was in a shitty mood because I was tired and exhausted, and ended up just hanging on the rail looking out at the horizon, wishing I was elsewhere. Then this guy who stood next to me that I barely knew, who was a volunteer and who were doing his first transit, said "I've never seen night skies this bright. This is the most beautiful night of my life". That's definetely a moment I remember as a favourite moment.
Your most dangerous event?
I've never been in any real danger on a ship like a crazy storm or such, and hopefully I never will. I think my most dangerous moments were once when I almost went overboard due to a water bucket whose lanyard caught my hand when I tossed it overboard. We were sailing in a good 10 knots on a schooner way out in the Atlantic on our way down to the Caribbean, and nobody saw it happen. Another time I was sent aloft in a bosun's chair to cut down a jib halyard that was fouled after the downhaul had broke and it was blowing a gale and we had to reduce sail, and they didn't have a safety line and the line they used as a service fall was really shitty and would flex. You'd go 1 m up, then half a meter down, and the people hoisting me only had one turn around the pin and each time they sweated it I could see it almost falling off it. I called down to get them to take more turns, and their response was "you do your job, we do ours". I screamed to myself that I should quit boats forever all the way up and down, like the worst cliché ever.
What makes sailing so unique among occupations? Why do you think sailors are so devoted to the sea?
For some it's just a job, for others it's a passion, for most it's a way of life and I think for everybody it was born out of some sort of passion at some point in their lives. You must be pretty stupid to get into tall ship sailing thinking it will get you rich. I think we're people just like everybody else, we're not overtaken by the majesty at all hours of the day. Working on ships is often a lot of dirty and hard, monotonous work. You live and work super close to people, dometimes mildly crazy people, that maybe you won't get along with. My work is considerably easier than other sailing gigs, but some days I spend an entire day wrangling kids and trying to explain why they need to clean the heads, for example. That's not the most romantic thing. So I'm sure people have all possible explanations as to why they keep sailing. But yeah, most of the time it's a lot of fun.
You've been working on a book, and you do a lot of artwork. Tell me about those.
I'm writing and drawing a graphic novel called Of Love and Tall Ships. It is an autobiographical story about sailing and also about being in love. It's a beast of a project and will be going on for another few years. I hope to be finished with part one and have it published by the end of 2015.
Finally, what do you find important about keeping tall ships alive and sailing?
It's as important as keeping any other part of our cultural, historical and practical heritage and tradition alive. I'm also very passionate about sailing, and especially tall ship sailing, as something that is a very valuable experience for youth in their mid- to late teenage years. The amount of personal growth I see in my students is incredible. Living and working so closly together for longer than just a few weeks, seeing new places and cultures, learning practical skills as well as making them more secure in themselves and more tolerant towards others. This is of course also true for individuals of all ages, but I especially wish that so many more kids could go sailing.You can find more info about Karin's book here, and copies can be purchased for $6 by emailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org.