Flying the Flag for Hurtigruten
From stewardess to championing sustainability
- Name: Karin Strand
- Job: Field Operations and Expedition Teams Manager
- Expeditions: 100+ expeditions to Antarctica since 2003
- Time with Hurtigruten: 15 years
- Dream job as a child: F-16 fighter pilot
See Karin working with the shipbuilders to make MS Roald Amundsen the most sustainable passenger vessel in the world.
Working on various Hurtigruten ships over the years has taken Karin Strand to some of the most pristine areas of the world.
How long have you been working for Hurtigruten?
Hurtigruten was my first real full-time job (although I was an assistant librarian during school vacations in the 80s). I started working for Hurtigruten in the summer of 1998, as a Stewardess cleaning cabins and in the restaurant on board MS Richard With, while I was still at university studying Law. I moved onto becoming a Tour Manager and Purser Assistant during school holidays. I went full-time with Hurtigruten in 2002, as the Chief Purser on MS Nordnorge, in what was also my first season in Antarctica. In 2005, I took the step towards becoming an Expedition Leader. Ten years later in 2015, I took the next step of becoming Field Operations and Expedition Teams Manager for the whole of Hurtigruten’s Explorer fleet.
What is your day-to-day role?
I work out of Tromsø, Bergen and Oslo in Norway and also on the ships, so my workday is rather unconventional. My only permanent companions are my laptop and my outdoor gear. I recruit expedition staff for the Explorer vessels and am in daily contact with the expedition leaders on the vessels for day-to-day issues and future planning. I also plan the activity content and expedition equipment needs for the ships; everything from tender boats, staff uniforms, to kayak gear and our science center. The science center is a part of the operation I am working very hard on at the moment, making ‘Citizen Science’ a part of our core activities. The aim is to make the most of us roaming the polar waters and to encourage our guests to participate [in doing experiments and collecting data]. We will then feed back the information to different science communities.
Part of your role focuses on how to operate more sustainably. What issues do you look at?
I am part of the field operations committees for both the Arctic and Antarctic operators (AECO/IAATO), so part of my time goes into giving input as to how we can operate more sustainably in the future from a field perspective. The most important issue is to ensure we have a minor to transitory impact on the places we visit – not to trample on vegetation unnecessarily, keep waste to a minimum, be rigid on biosecurity. I think this sustainable focus will be imperative for our industry.
What aspect of your job do you like the most?
Being on board the ships, with our guests and expedition teams. There is a very special feeling of accomplishment and teamwork on board between guests and staff/crew after a day of particularly difficult landings. It’s hard to explain. You have to come and experience it.
What is the most amazing or unique experience you've had since working for Hurtigruten?
It’s hard to pick just one so I’ll have to go with three. The time when I saw a leopard seal catch seven Gentoo penguin chicks in four hours on Peterman Island in Antarctica…amazing! Also, the first trips with MS Midnatsol this season, seeing the project come to fruition and working well after 18 months of planning.
Most recently in February, I experienced a three-week kayak expedition together with four Hurtigruten colleagues in Antarctica. One of our team, Tomasz Zadrozny, discovered a previously unknown channel and island in the Melchior Islands in 2003. His discovery and name proposal - Bremen Channel and Bremen Island – were officially recognised by the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research. Our ‘working holiday’ expedition returned to Tomasz’s geographical discovery and from there, we followed a route inspired by the Belgica Expedition (1897-99) - the first scientific expedition in the Antarctic to investigate species of flora and fauna. On our journey, we also took the opportunity to scout out new kayak trips for Hurtigruten.
Do you have a favourite Hurtigruten voyage?
South Georgia without a doubt – I never get tired of it. We call it the ‘Serengeti of the Southern Ocean’. It’s unparalleled, there’s no other destination on the planet like it. Wildlife galore with thousands of king penguins, elephant seals, fur seals, nesting albatrosses and southern giant petrels. Alpine landscape so beautiful that it makes my eyes hurt. It’s also a very challenging destination with high swells on the beach, offering little protection in some places from the big, raging ocean. I love the challenge of making it work. My dream is to operate an extended South Georgia voyage, because it is a destination in its own right and deserves more time.
What inspired you to become an expedition leader?
In 2005, when my career was safe and sound as Chief Purser, I did a 180 degree turn and was persuaded to take the leap towards being an expedition leader. My mentor was Hurtigruten’s first Operation Manager Tomas Holik. He inspired me a lot and he convinced me that I could do it. I was the only woman and I had to think hard if I was up for it. In the end, I thought ‘just go for it’ and I have never regretted it. In terms of the role itself, it was a combination of logistics, teamwork, timing, field knowledge and the ability to change plans on the spot with ever-changing weather and ice conditions that appealed to me.
How would you encourage more women to become expedition leaders?
Gender is totally irrelevant as an expedition leader; if you are capable, it doesn’t matter whether you are a woman or a man. If you’re interested, start as a staff member and get to know the business. Also, be curious, be patient, be generous and think boldly. Enthusiasm is the most important ingredient, especially after 8 hours standing in -1°C water, catching boats for a day.