Before I read Gary Karlsen’s No Ordinary Seaman, I had the notion of Britannia Rules the Waves firmly planted in my mind, but now it is clear to me that Norway, not Britain, clearly ruled the waves in the 1960s. I find this memoir extremely enjoyable with its humour, information, and above all the tales of mostly warm personal relationships under trying and isolating circumstances. Also, this dyed-in-the-wool landlubber appreciates the extensive glossary helping me understand what is what on a ship. Gary’s rich seafaring experiences allow me to live vicariously (and safely) and being in awe of his tolerance for the many mundane ship chores not to mention my deep admiration for his calmness and bravery in the face of dangerous seas. As well, I love his Coleridge quotations making me rush back to re-read “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, a poem I taught for years to my Literature 12 students. This is truly a fun and entertaining memoir well worth a read.

Birgit Rytter No Ordinary Seaman - soft cover edition April 16, 2018

When I was reading No Ordinary Seaman I had to stop asking myself, if this was 'the factual situation' or your form of 'creative non-fiction'. Instead I went with the unfolding story allowing my fascination to flow and my amazement to carry me to wondering about "if this were me..." Putting myself in your shoes was remarkable because I could not "go there" except as a bystander with your book in my hand.

Cathy Goss No Ordinary Seaman - soft cover edition April 16, 2018

As a young man, I was a deckhand aboard Mercandia, a Danish merchant coaster. Reading this book brought me back to those seafaring days. In No Ordinary Seaman, the author identifies the special relationships amongst crew members and how the Norwegian culture of the 60s and 70s was reflected in daily life on board two ships. Descriptions of the various duties of deck crew and the division of roles between them and their officers provide further insight, into ship-based harmony, comradery and rivalry. You will enjoy an insight into how shore leave impacts crew members who are separated from both women and alcohol. And you will find an honest and fascinating picture of a young man’s growing maturity and his relationships with others. The author masters the particular as well as the broader view in his description of the life of an “ordinary seaman”. When you read this book you are aboard, and you wish the journey would never end. Enjoy.

Finn Ovesen No Ordinary Seaman - soft cover edition April 16, 2018

Seaman’s Blog

Havkatt anchored in Vancouver outer harbour, 1965. Photo: Vancouver Sun

No Ordinary Seaman


No Ordinary Seaman is a memoir of the author’s days
at sea in the Norwegian Merchant Marine, 1965-67


In the mid-1960’s a young man, fresh out of high school in Vancouver, crews on a Norwegian deep-sea freighter in the hopes that it will take him to Norway, the land of his ancestors. His voyages on the Havkatt, across the Pacific Ocean to Japan, through the Panama Canal, and north to New York, are filled with personal explorations, adventure, and danger. He eventually arrives in Norway, and satisfies his dreams of finding his roots. But he is driven back to the sea.

This memoir takes the reader on the author’s journeys of discovery. His second ship travels routes from Northern Europe to Africa, the Suez Canal, the Persian Gulf, across the Equator, then over the Atlantic, back home to North America. The sea stories are filled with facts about the maritime industry of the day, and idiosyncrasies of the lives of sailors. The book is full of tales of rough waters and placid bays, all salted with wit and humour. It is a book that unravels some of the unfathomable mystery of ships and the lives of sailors at sea and in ports. The reader, at every turn of the page, will discover what it is like to be no ordinary seaman.

The Gulf Islands Book Tour by Sea


At high tide on the afternoon of July 23rd we launched the RASCAL into the mouth of the Nickomekl River, for the launch of NO ORDINARY SEAMAN into the hands of readers on the southern Gulf Islands. The former is my friend’s MacGregor 26; the latter is my newly published nautical memoir.


I am now back at sea again, at the helm of a small sailboat, crossing the Salish Sea with friends, Captain BD (Brian) and Chief Mate van Herb. This vessel is smaller than the lifeboats on the deep-sea freighter that I steered through these waters many years ago.

The sun burns hot from a cloudless blue sky, and everything is reflected from the cold smooth ocean. We are becalmed, motoring on a southwest course across the strait from Crescent Beach to Whaler Bay. I am on a mariner’s book tour courtesy of Brian, who suggested that No Ordinary Seaman would be a great sell in the marinas and bookstores on the Gulf Islands during the summer months with all the pleasure boats stopping for fuel, supplies, and in search of nautical books to read. I took him up on the idea, commandeered his boat, and here we are.


Port #1  Monday

Active Pass is in view now, but we will navigate through there tomorrow. We round Gossip Island and pull into Whaler Bay for the night. This is at the southeast end of Galiano Island. As we make our way we are careful to steer clear of Seal Rocks at the mouth of this protected bay.

The rocks are not hard to miss because their craggy tops are dry at high tide. There are no lazy seals lounging on them this late in the afternoon.


Mates Karlsen and Gale

Our berth at the government dock awaits. We tie up and are soon grilling steaks on the small barbecue unit that is attached to the aft rail. A glass of good red wine is in the hands of each carnivore as we chew on the tender beef.


After many exchanges of rather tame sea stories, we bunk down in challenging quarters – in the forepeak  (very tight quarters under the bow deck).


Good grief, I am thinking, half a year after full hip replacement, should I be performing the contortionist sleeping position in  of a 26-foot sailboat? And worse, the predictable two or three in the morning salination of the already salty sea will require exiting through the forward hatch, located between my knees and my ankles. For the most part, these challenges were overcome during the tour with no mishaps other than a sore neck for a few days after returning home.

Morning comes early with the sun beating through the open hatch. We are soon hiking up the road toward Sturdies Bay where I am expected Galiano Island Bookstore .




Rob takes a few of my books, then we have a leisurely homemade scone and coffee breakfast right next door at the Sturdies Bay Bakery & Café.


A nice long walk in the shaded woods eats up time while we wait for slack tide when the waters are at rest in Active Pass: there is no way we are taking our small boat through there when the currents are running, whirlpools and all.


Just before departure I sell a book off the stern of the RASCAL to a local, whose friendly curiosity lands him a terrific nautical read, authored by this writer from White Rock.

It’s way cool going through Active Pass just a couple of feet off the water, rather than the couple of hundred feet higher from the deck of the Sprit of Vancouver, the Coastal Inspiration, or other ferry that usually takes me to Swartz Bay or Long Harbour. 

Spirit of British Columbia in Active Pass

From this level, the ferries seem to own the channel. Their passing is frequent, they are imposing. BD tracks them on his marine GPS and radio.






It has been five months now since the publication of No Ordinary Seaman. In one more month, all 300 copies from the first printing will have been sold.

Self-publishing is not for the faint of heart. Getting the book to readers is busy work. Without the resources of a publishing house, its experienced professional staff, book seller networks, and distribution and marketing channels, going solo to get my book into the hands of readers has been a heady job. I’d rather be writing, but the book won’t sell itself.

This blog posting is an update on how I have been doing with my first book. “Recognition” is the gold standard, the affirmation I have hoped for, indeed, needed, in order to move forward as well as I have. Recognition by bookstores and libraries – aka, readers – has brought me lots of gratification and the motivation to plow ahead with renewed energies.




A reprint is in the works. The Second Printing of No Ordinary Seaman will be in-hand by the end of August. Will there be changes? Yes! All the many typos and other errors not caught by my proof-readers have been corrected.



My apologies go out to the readers who have stumbled upon bloopers, and thank you for not being too shy to point them out to me. The second printing will be pristine, and rest-assured, content changes are negligible. Your copy will become a collector’s item.

Elsewhere in my website is information about where No Ordinary Seaman can be purchased and which libraries it can be borrowed from. Events, passed and upcoming, are also documented. But websites are typically passive places, hence this blog – my way of keeping No Ordinary Seaman an active, ongoing experience for those who are interested. Additionally, more background and stuff not printed in the book might give the blog the flavour of a continuing saga.



My first book signing at Indigo in South Surrey/White Rock, just up the street from my home, was a wonderful kick-off that led to three regional book launches.

Gary Karlsen book signing

A Great Father’s Day Gift



At my recent book signing at Indigo, my writer’s table was squeezed into a small space right in front of a collection of books promoted as Father’s Day Picks.

customer reaches for a book

The signing got off to a slow start so I browsed through some of the books – murder mysteries, biographies, DIY, pulp fiction, motorcycle gangs, a book about sneakers … These were glossy hard cover and paperback books, some by best-selling authors.

For this signing event, being the first one for my first book, I did not know quite what to expect.


Map of the Havkatt's route

Questions and Answers


How Did You Get Into the Merchant Marine?

A few days after my recent email announcing my upcoming book, No Ordinary Seaman, questions began pouring in. Rather than respond directly to the questions, I have decided to share them in the blog, and post them like a Q and A.

Following are some of the questions I have received, and my answers, most of which are excerpts directly from the book.

Get Your Copy!

No Ordinary Seaman - A Memoir by Gary H Karlsen

About the Author


What Readers Are Saying

France Once Again

Montepellier - Flat Iron

In France with Friends

Chateau Royal front lit

Photography by Gary Karlsen

Gate to Castello Vichiamaggio, Italy