Arctic Skipper Academy

I couldn’t help but wonder how I fit into this group of modern-day vikings.

Tales of joy and snow

Written by Marion Le Tilly, follow Marion, @mlt_gonewild, on Instagram

Getting there

Thursday 5AM, Zurich. My alarm didn’t need to ring, I had been awake for a while, ready to go on a new adventure. I got dressed, dropped by the kitchen for a last minute snack and hopped on my first train, one of many. 

After two full days of trains, buses and ferries I arrived in Brønnøysund in the middle of a storm. Norwegians bus drivers impressively maintained 80km/h speed through heavy snowfalls. Little did I know that buses aren’t the only vehicle Norwegians drive into a blizzard.

Indeed, despite the strong winds, as soon as I stepped onto Nirvana, one of Seilnorge’s boats, we set sail for Ylvingen. I was impressed by the sailors on board: for everyone it seemed that 40 kts of wind was business as usual. I couldn’t help but wonder how I fit into this group of modern-day vikings. Docking the boat in these conditions was surreal and I lost track of time as we prepared the fenders and the lines. 

Saturday 5AM, Ylvingen. 48h after leaving my cosy room I had finally arrived.

I couldn’t help but wonder how I fit into this group of modern-day vikings.

Marion, first day on board, attending the Arctic Skipper Academy

Seilnorge’s identity: cold weather & warm people

Over the week-end I met the warmest people in the coldest weather and I couldn’t tell by whom I was most amazed. 

Emil, SeilNorge’s founder, walked us through the story of Seilnorge, its identity and its procedures. He didn’t try to impress but to inspire: he shared his mistakes and learnings and encouraged everyone to give feedback. I could already see that Seilnorge thrives on feedback and focuses on doing what’s best for the people, be it guests or crew.

Emil mentioned that SeilNorge is about offering incredible experiences to guests and that “quite often our guests make life-changing decisions after a trip with us”. I couldn’t help but laugh: that’s my story. After a Best of Lofoten trip in June 2023, I took a sabbatical from my office job to get my RYA Yachtmaster Offshore. As soon as I passed I called Emil and asked if they were looking for skippers.

The week-end is packed and feels like a full week. On Sunday I’m convinced that I belong with this group of sailing nerds, willing to discuss the physics of docking at any hour of the day.

The last boat arrived late that night, the Arctic Skipper Academy crew was finally whole, ready to set sail.

We shared meals, laughter, tears and stories, but above all a love for sailing


The perfect sailing day

Monday morning, Nirvana’s crew woke up excited to go sailing. I discovered that we have to remove the snow on deck (what was I thinking, really ?). Sailing to high latitudes involves a lot more preparation, including gear choice. I could barely move with all my layers on and untying knots with mittens turned out to be an almost impossible task.

Sofie was our skipper for the first leg and she led Nirvana into narrow channels under the arctic sun, using paper charts constantly questioned by Johannes, our instructor. Watching and listening was already a great learning experience. While the whole crew was in awe of northern Norway’s nature, Johannes kept us focused highlighting how a sailor should always think several steps ahead. 

During the rest of the week, we sailed days & nights in the toughest conditions I’ve experienced, using only paper charts. We were challenged as skippers, navigators, crew and cooks!  It’s funny how quickly sailors get used to blizzards and reefed sails. I found out that the direction of snowflakes is a great indication of wind direction when visibility is minimal. Nature amazes me 🙂

Every shift starts with a briefing, setting expectations, and is ended with a debrief, an opportunity to give each other feedback. This fosters learning and respect, the atmosphere on board is joyful despite the crew being sleep-deprived. After 4 days, Nirvana feels like home.

The most challenging sailing day

On Friday, we rotated the crew and I stepped on board Palander, the race boat. We spent the morning cruising at 9kts between islands, Palander was flying and it was exhilarating. 

I was less exhilarated when Øyvind, Palander’s instructor, asked me to skipper the boat for the afternoon. As if handling Palander while navigating so close to shore wasn’t enough of a challenge, a blizzard formed while the sun set, reducing visibility to 30m. I remember this surreal vision of our sister boat, Bien, appearing in the dark snow storm, 20m away from us while we prepared both boats for a raft exercise (docking two boats together to use a single engine).  

With the build-up exhaustion from the week, this exercise was the most challenged I have been in years. Adrenaline kicked in and gave me the energy not to give up until Palander was safely moored to the dock. This shift was so hard, I was proud just for not giving up, even if it meant I made a lot of mistakes. Looking back, I’m grateful for the challenge and so happy with how much I’ve learned (it also makes for a good story that’s too long to fit into this blog!).

Later that day, we made it to Bodø where we cleaned the boats, did some maintenance and had a group debrief.

Going south

Norway’s weather and nature are so humbling they foster connections, authenticity and vulnerability. This week was about sailing and challenging ourselves but the best part of it was meeting the amazing people gathered for the occasion. I had never experienced such an inspiring group dynamic! 

I left Bodø inspired by my fellow sailors and conscious of the privilege it had been to listen to the stories they shared. We shared meals, laughter, tears and stories, but above all a love for sailing. Two full days of travel to process everything were more than welcome before stepping back into my land life, wondering: what words could I use to share this incredible experience?

A huge thanks to the whole group, instructors and students alike. Thank you for your support, trust and humour. It’s been a wild ride and I can’t wait to be back on the water!

We're here to answer your questions!

Feel free to contact us +47 412 97 900 if you have any questions or want to book a trip.