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How does a ship’s crew spend Christmas?

How does a ship’s crew spend Christmas?
Jimmy Thomson December 25, 2022

They may be away from home, but the crew of the Maersk Trader is making the most of the holiday ashore

More than a dozen commercial ships are spending Christmas off the eastern shores of Vancouver Island, between Ladysmith and Victoria. Some are waiting for a spot at the busy Port of Vancouver, while others are tied up at piers in the course of other work.

All of them have crews who are away from home over the holidays.

We reached the crew of one ship, the Maersk Trader, which is currently tied up at Ogden Point.

“If I have to be away at Christmas, this is the way I’d like to have it,” said Captain Trygvi Dalgaard, a Faroe Islander with three kids at home. “Normally when we have Christmas we’re out to sea.”

Being alongside the pier means the crew have been able to get off the ship and gather what they need to prepare a mixed-nationality Christmas celebration, complete with the meals they’d have at home. With Danes, Faroe Islanders, Poles, and Brits, all with their own Christmas traditions, that means everything from fish to mincemeat pies.

Dalgaard’s traditional Faroe Islands meal—rice pudding with duck—will be part of the ship’s celebration.

The crew has also been able to take in some Victoria sights, like the snow-draped Christmas lights, a meal at the Garrick’s Head pub, and some Government Street shopping. Some have even caught a Royals game—a highlight for the Second Mate Billy Snook.

“I’ve always followed ice hockey,” says Snook, who’s away from his Durham, UK home. As a hockey fan, “Canada was always the place we always looked to, and wished we could go to.” He plans to see the next game too, and to bring along those crew members who have never been.

Snook says in the 11 years he’s been working for Maersk, he’s been home for Christmas about half the time. That’s a better record than many seafarers; we reported this year on a demographic “time bomb,” due to disenchantment with the challenges of life at sea, that’s hitting maritime employers like BC Ferries and the Royal Canadian Navy hard.

Most of Snook’s holidays spent on the ship have been truly at sea—off the West Coast of Africa, or in the Mediterranean, or far out in the Pacific—and those, he says, are harder.

“Work goes on and you don’t even really realize it’s Christmas,” he says. Here, they’re able to feel the Christmas spirit, especially with the snow, something Snook has rarely had at home in Durham. Still, he says, “I’d rather be home with my wife and kids—but it’s part of the job.”

Before leaving home two weeks ago, he had a Christmas celebration with his wife and four kids, between four and 12 years old.

The ship’s crew is between shifts at sea, where they’re engaged in the Ocean Cleanup project to lessen the impact of ocean plastic pollution.

Last year, they were part of the firefighting operation when a fire broke out on the Zim Kingston.

“That was quite an experience,” Dalgaard says. The fire hoses, which normally sit unused except for routine tests and maintenance, were put to use for the first time in Dalgaard’s time as captain. “The potential was very bad. The whole point of this was to contain it and to make sure the situation didn’t get worse.”