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“It began with me realising that I was ready for something completely new”, explains Gro when we ask why she ended up on the trawler Båtsfjord.
Gro ran one of Eastern Norway’s most popular yarn shops, but then the rent for her premises doubled. She looked for somewhere else that was both big enough and not too expensive. Without any luck. Just before the Covid-19 pandemic hit Norway with full force, she decided to close down her yarn shop. Her pride and joy. However, Gro isn’t someone who gives up easily, and she is not afraid of trying something new.
“It has been important for me to show my children and grandchildren that it’s OK to do something even if not many other people do it”, she says.
She had done that leading by example. Gro is almost 60 years old, a mother of five, and a soon-to-be grandmother of five, but that didn’t stop her going to sea. Just before Christmas she had her first temporary job as a catering assistant on the trawler. Recently she returned from her third journey, and the next one is just a few weeks away.
“I take it trip by trip: if I get another one, then I’m happy. One of the big reasons I’m doing this is my love of adventure and the fact that I love the job”, she explains.
Although she had never worked on a trawler herself, life at sea was not completely unfamiliar to her. Three of her sons have worked as fishers, and two of them still do. She knows that her sons wouldn’t have stayed in their jobs for such a long time if there wasn’t a deep attraction for them, which made her think that it might suit her too.
“So I thought: I’ll give this a try too!”
When she told her family about her plans, no-one was surprised, least of all her husband, Stein. He has travelled a lot himself through his job as a purser, but when he retired last year, Gro decided the time had come for her to do what she wanted.
“So now he is a house-husband and I’m a temping as a catering assistant on the Båtsfjord”, says Gro, laughing.
Gro’s road to sea started with her doing a safety course, after which she sent applications to three shipping companies, and waited nervously. But none of them got back to her.
“I could have left it at that, and said to myself that’s the way it goes. But then I thought, damn it, I want to give this a go.”
What she wanted was a job as a catering assistant, and she knew that her background from the cleaning industry would come in useful. When one of her sons asked what she had put in her application, it turned out that she had been very modest. Not only did she have experience from the cleaning industry, she had also set up and managed a successful business with 10 employees and very loyal customers. She decided to phone up with a bit more information. That got things moving.
The closer the departure date came, the more excited and nervous she became. She didn’t know who the other people on board would be – just that she would be the only woman amongst 19 men. After getting to know the crew, she says that they are tough men whose language can be a bit colourful, but she doesn’t mind that. With her, they are both respectful and helpful.
“They do their best to make sure I’m OK. My experience is entirely positive: they treat me really well!
The crew cover a wide range of ages, from an 18-year-old apprentice to the captain who is almost 70. Gro gets on equally well with young and old, which is just as well when you’re living on top of each other for weeks on end.
“I’m really doing paid training, so I don’t have any time to sit on my backside. Mostly I’m on my feet trying to finish everything that I think needs doing, and I really sleep well at night. Let’s say insomnia isn’t an issue.”
She is also impressed at how hard the fishers work, but she says that in between all of the hard work, you get some really comical situations.
“I don’t think I’ve ever laughed as much at work as I do now”, she says, grinning.
This pattern of work suits her really well. She works really hard and the days are long, but when she has time off she is completely free, and after several weeks at sea it is good to come home. Then she can prioritise her family, at least until her next trip.