Getting up for the night watch and keeping up with a never-ending list of maintenance tasks are nothing compared to the camaraderie and laughs found onboard the Gallant as it makes its way across the Atlantic to load up on Colombian coffee and panela and Azores tea. Astrid, a Berlin-based climate researcher and musician, joined the Gallant for a second time as a trainee on the ship’s 2021 transatlantic journey. She boarded in Douarnenez, France in December 2020 and will disembark in Europe this summer.
While Astrid can’t quite remember how she got into sailing, she does know it’s been a fascination for years. As a child she watched her dad go off sailing with friends, and later “got hooked” after taking sailing classes in university. In 2019 Astrid crossed the UK channel with Dhara from the Sail Boat Project in Chichester, who suggested she check out the Gallant for longer crossings.
We spoke with Astrid to catch a glimpse of her life aboard the Gallant. We learned that it’s full to the brim of jovial moments and jaw-dropping views, while occasionally quite trying. She shares her experience of finding solitude when there is no personal space, the skills she’s developing, and picking up a new language on the job.
You’re a trainee aboard De Gallant. What kinds of skills are you learning?
I’m something like a deckhand but with less responsibility. I get trained in a tonne of different tasks, from navigation and manoeuvring (of course), to maintenance work. This includes rigging, fixing the sails, and maintaining all the steel parts of the boat such as the hull. Keeping the hull in good shape includes getting rid of the rust, painting, and many different repairs. We all share tasks of communal life on board such as preparing meals and cleaning.
Any surprising tricks or talents you’ve picked up along the way?
I love learning about how to maintain the rigging and sails, such as splicing. I also kind of accidentally became the baker on board. Every few days I make fresh breads of different kinds. The sourdough living in the fridge is our only official pet on board.
How international is the crew?
I am currently the only non-French crew member. The others very patiently bare with my French language attempts. Besides maritime vocabulary, they teach me tonnes of useful terms and phrases such as colourful swear words and details of French cuisine. We laugh a lot though I also am known for missing out on jokes because of my rudimentary French.
Hardest part of living and working onboard?
Life in such a small space, even within our very lovely community, can sometimes be challenging. This teaches me a lot about acceptance, patience and how to create my own space, even when there is very little physical space to be alone. Music can be my little escape.
Also, it’s sometimes really hard to get up for the night watch from 2-6 AM!
You’re a musician. What’s it like to play music onboard?
I play violin, sometimes with other crew members. While we sail we don’t get to play music so much because there is always somebody sleeping onboard. Anchoring times are perfect for music and board games. I do also play the guitar, but mainly for accompanying singing, most of which I learned on De Gallant.
How do you celebrate big holidays on board?
We played Secret Santa for Christmas, and the presents we made each other very much reflected our particular (and sometimes quirky) traits and characters. Unpacking all of them was a blast and [showed us how well we know each other]. I got a harmonica, which speaks for itself. Before this ceremony we went for a swim in the middle of the Atlantic while there was no wind and finished the evening with an incredible dinner.
Favourite moments from the last transatlantic crossing?
We generally have a pretty good time here. Once I had to climb up the main mast to fix a part of the navigation lights. Seeing the sail being hoisted while being up in the mast was really beautiful. There are many moments of sailing, learning and communal life that I enjoy. That’s why I have stayed so long on De Gallant.
What will you do when this journey ends?
I will start working in climate research again in September  at Leuphana University Lüneburg. And though I love what I normally do, I have to see if I can manage to squeeze myself behind a laptop every day after being at sea for so long!
Interview by Katrin Helene-Deeg / Winter 2021