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

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.


Norwegian Heritage – Excerpt


From the Introduction to No Ordinary Seaman

Norwegian flag

There was something of Norway in my blood and bones. I have always had an overwhelming curiosity about the Norsemen – past and present. And the sea too. As a child, I would daydream about the sea, even though I lived far away from it. I think I equated being Norwegian and being on the sea as one and the same thing.

Norway is the land of my ancestors, a small coastal country of hard granite and barren rock, where ancient mountains tower above deep blue-water fjords.

Havkatt docked in ballast - Photo Vancouver Sun

The Havkatt


Havkatt was a medium size cargo ship, registered in Oslo, Norway. It flew the Norwegian flag. In September 1965, we transported grain from Vancouver, across the Pacific Ocean, to Tokyo. The crossing was seasick-rough for the first couple of days, then the long, rolling ocean waves calmed, and we settled in to learn about ship-board routines. We soon became accustomed to the ways of the Norwegian sailors – their food, their language, their lives at sea, and their behaviours in port.

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.

Get Your Copy!

No Ordinary Seaman - A Memoir by Gary H Karlsen

About the Author


What Readers Are Saying

Rio to Santiago – The Cruise


France Once Again

Montepellier - Flat Iron

In France with Friends

Chateau Royal front lit

Photography by Gary Karlsen

Gate to Castello Vichiamaggio, Italy