No Ordinary Seaman
A Memoir by Gary H Karlsen
Soft Cover edition Available
Book only = $22.95
Book + shipping in Canada = $35.95
Book + shipping to USA = $40.95
Book + shipping International Ground = $44.95
Book + shipping International Air = $62.95
Available in Bookstores
Indigo/Chapters, Nanaimo, BC
Indigo/Chapters, Langley, BC
Vancouver Maritime Museum, Gift Shop
Salamander Books, Ladysmith, BC
Salt Spring Books, Ganges, BC
Talisman Books and Gallery, Pender Island, BC
Galiano Bookstore, Galiano Island, BC
Montague Harbour Marina, Galiano Island, BC
Laughing Oyster Bookstore, Courtenay, BC
Coles Books, Courtenay, BC
Stavanger Maritime Museum, Stavanger, Norway
Available in Libraries
Fraser Valley Regional Library – 25 branches
Salt Spring Public Library, Ganges, BC
Saturna Island Community Library, Saturna Island, BC
Surrey Public Library – 7 branches
Thompson-Nicola Regional Library – 13 branches
Surrey Public Library – 7 branches
Burnaby Public Library – 4 branches
North Vancouver District Public Library – 3 branches
North Vancouver City Library – 3 branches
Vancouver Public Library – 23 branches
West Vancouver Memorial Library
St. John’s Public Libraries, Newfoundland
About the book
It is the mid-1960s, a time of cultural change and awakening consciousness of worlds beyond our shores. A brazen young man, fresh out of high school in Vancouver, crews on a deep-sea freighter in the hopes that it will take him to Norway, the land of his ancestors. The author’s voyages, recounted with wit and humour, begin on the southwest coast of BC, and continue along the sea of life, to unexpected destinations.
In his memoir, No Ordinary Seaman, Gary Karlsen unravels some of the unfathomable mysteries of deep-sea shipping and the idiosyncratic live of sailors. Between voyages, he discovers his roots in Norway and becomes immersed in a family larger than he has ever known. But he is soon called back to the sea – his chosen road home.
No Ordinary Seaman is an engaging story of young men at sea. The author writes in vivid detail about life below decks and ashore in foreign ports. A good read for anyone interested in ships and the sea.
~Anthony Dalton, author BAYCHIMO, Arctic Ghost Ship and eight other non-fiction books about the sea.
No Ordinary Seaman is a great read. The author takes us to ports large and small, interesting and dangerous, with real characters who are mostly friendly, sometimes troublesome, but always unforgettable. The opportunity today for a person who has just left school to go to sea as Gary Karlsen did, is nearly nil, which is a pity…
~Ewan Moir, Past President & CEO, Nanaimo Port Authority
Excerpts from the Book
I travelled almost 40,000 nautical miles as a seaman on two deep-sea freighters. If measured at the circumference of the equator, that is more than one and a half times around the world.
We were three days out from Vancouver, heading for Tokyo. The temperature was dropping, and the wind and waves were rising under a clear blue sky.
We lingered up at the bow, gazing for a while at the night sky. Below the fine line of the horizon, the black ocean began to sparkle under the rising moon. A percussion of strings behind us mixed with the sound of the sea splashing into the bow – the wind had picked up and set some tie-down lines in motion, singing a song along the frets of the mast booms.
While the frying pan was heating up on the stove I banged the top of the breadbox before opening it for a couple of slices of yesterday’s rye bread. Cockroaches scurried over the bread and disappeared.
We entered the inlet at sunrise under a cool, blue, cloud-free sky that was reflected in the glassy waters of the fjord–a brilliant day as we made our way inland to the deep-sea dock at the logging town of Tahsis. But this is rainforest country and by the time we reached our destination at about 0930 a massive strata cloud had obscured the sky and blanketed the landscape with a dull grey fog.
“Were you drinking in the Wheatsheaf Inn last night?”
I could hardly deny that and I told him so.
“You were drinking in the pub as a minor. You know I am going to have to charge you with that offence?”
“Ah, what does that mean?”
“Well, that will be up to the magistrate to decide.
“No coffee Karlsen. First yoo have buttermilk and flat bread for yoor guts, and sardine oil for yoor head pain. If yoo are still hoorting at lunch, den yoo force down soorstroming. Dat vill cuure da hangover.”
“What is soorstroming, Bosun?” I whispered through bleeding eyes.
“It is fermented codfish soop.”
The foamy water began to take on shapes. I saw a pair of bony white hands emerging from the roiling, frothing wake of the bow. They were reaching up for me.
…he sauntered off into the darkness in his long winter trench coat, hands stuffed in his pockets for warmth. Both ends of his long woolen scarf fluttered behind him in the cold wind. A hot coal glowed on the end of the fag that was perpetually hanging from his mouth … and his big ears glowed pink as he passed under the streetlight, fading away into the black New York night.
I also found the world to be round, having sailed four-fifths of the way across it and back again.
It was thrilling, being at the helm of the ship, steering the Polycastle through the Strait of Gibraltar. What young person has not been here in a geography or history lesson… daydreaming about being in this memorable place?
Walking into the mess, just in time for lunch, I was somewhat of a hit, wearing a red fez with a yellow tassel on top, a bag in each hand, clinking with bottles of booze, and a couple of stuffed camels, strung together by their tails, hanging over my shoulder.
“Fekking divvel, oi’ve last me tools, noi too,” said, Liam, on his back, blackened with oil, outraged and helpless – expletives voiced to a leprechaun, no doubt because nobody else could understand him. I imagined the wee leprechaun warning Liam that if he didn’t mind his tongue he might add feathers to the tar he was covered in.
We entered the Gulf of Suez at midnight, leaving the Canal behind us. The starry black Egyptian sky was a jewelled dome, crowning Suez City, all aglow in the distance off our port side bow.
The Pilot, Amemu, was short in stature with a hooked beak of a nose. He was a rather hawkish man, and there was a pious air about him. He exuded confidence, though the way his head kept jerking around, I thought maybe he had a nervous tick, or maybe he was just distrusting of everyone around him. We were behind schedule now, so he and Chief flew right up to the bridge.
Harbo and I were hanging on for our lives, terrified of being sucked into the blades of the revolving propeller.
Sometimes Officer Stig would joke with me, and say, “Karlsen, you are no ordinary seaman.”
I did not know for sure what he meant by that – could have been a few different things. I never did ask him.
I told him that first-timers across the equator would be keelhauled. Finn did not know what that was so I told him that the man would be tied at each wrist with a long rope and dropped into the water off the bow, and pulled along the bottom of the boat, along the keel and hauled up out of the water at the stern.
Sven normally did not go ashore when we were in port because the crew was always doing un-Christian things. He did not want any part of that.
Everything was sliding around on the tables. The clatter of knives, forks, and dishes hitting the floor filled the chill air, but nobody said a word. The fear amongst the crew was palpable.
On through the Tyrrhenian Sea, we would sail by Sardinia on our port side, then Corsica, and finally into the Ligurian Sea to the port of Genoa, at the top end of Italy’s boot, the birthplace of Christopher Columbus.