I was walking along Toronto’s lakeshore and was treated to a rare experience: a viewing of the King of Norways’ Royal yacht, KS Norge which was docked alongside George Brown College’s lakeshore campus. While she yacht was not open for boarding by the public, the gangplank was down and there was a Norwegian Navy guard stationed dockside in uniform. She appeared very approachable so of course I struck up a conversation to find out about this unusual event. After talking for a while, I asked if I could photograph her for my Human Family project and she was happy to participate. We shook hands to formalize our encounter and I gave her my contact card. Meet Anna.
I learned that King Harald of Norway is visiting Toronto to participate in the World Championships of sailing. Is his presence merely ceremonial or honorary? No, I learned, King Harald (who is 79 years old and a former Olympian) is crewing Norway’s eight meter racing sailboat and combining the competition with a summer vacation. (royalcentral.co.uk/europe/norway/king-harald-of-norway-in…) The KS Norge (KS stands for King’s Ship) carried the racing sailboat on its deck to Toronto. The KS Norge made the Atlantic crossing in 11 days and had a rather uneventful crossing by avoiding ocean storms. It sailed to Toronto through the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario, making stops in Quebec City and Montreal en route. King Harald joined the yacht in Montreal and the boat is serving as his quarters during his stay in Toronto.
Anna explained that she is a 20 year old private first class in the Norwegian military and that following her completion of basic training she competed for a position to crew the Royal Yacht and was one of the few successful applicants. The yacht has a crew of 54 sailors and Anna’s primary role is to maintain the woodwork on the ship. It sounded like a tough job, but she feels honored to be serving the King in this way and it does indeed seem like an experience any young person would tell stories about for the rest of his/her life.
Anna’s English was excellent and her friendly personality made her a perfect fit for taking shifts guarding the yacht and interacting with the curious public. While we were chatting, a few other locals stopped by to listen to Anna’s explanations and to ask questions. She was very professional and seemed to have lots of information at her fingertips which she gladly shared when asked. She explained that King Harald and his wife Sonja (who remained in Norway) are well-liked. Harald is described as a somewhat shy man who doesn’t seek the limelight. One of the perks of being crew on the KS Norge is that the King’s cook is exceptional so all the crew benefit from cuisine “fit for a king.”
Taking Anna’s photo was a bit of a challenge in spite of her willing participation. We were on the shade side of the Royal yacht with strong backlight and the sunlight was dappled because of trees planted along the dock. Because she was on duty, Anna was not supposed to move from the small rubber pad she was standing on but she kindly took the small liberty of stepping in front of the gangplank for a moment at my request before returning to her assigned station. She was kind and friendly and her youthful appearance would have made one think she was about sixteen but her poise was definitely adult.
I wasn’t sure if Anna would feel comfortable in answering some personal questions for my project story but I figured there was no harm in asking. It turned out to be no problem at all and she was delightfully open. Challenges she has faced in life include having lost her father to cancer when she was only 4 and growing up in a single-parent family. She also told me she had learning disabilities which made school very difficult. Her teachers didn’t know how to address her issues and were pessimistic about her future. When I asked how she overcame this she gave a shy smile and said “I’m a very stubborn person and if someone says I can’t do something, I’m just that much more motivated to do it.”
What is her plan for the future? After serving her year in the military (something all young people are expected to do in Norway) she wants to continue her education and become a Psychologist. “I’m motivated to help others because of the difficulties I’ve faced in my own life. I think that will give me an understanding of what others are facing and it also makes me unafraid to hear their struggles.” When I asked if she has outside interests, she said “I have a project of my own that I do.” She is a knitter and she feels compassion for the homeless she sees on the streets in Norway so she knits small blankets and gives them to the homeless to provide a bit of padding and warmth between them and the cold pavement. Something tells me that Anna has the right personality to help the troubled. Anna’s message to the project? "It’s very important that we all care for each other."
While in Toronto the crew will pay a visit to nearby Little Norway Park to do maintenance on its commemorative flagpole. The park honors the memory of the Royal Norwegian Air Force training camp which was in exile from occupied Norway and operated at this location in Canada during World War 2. (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Little_Norway)
Just as I thanked Anna for a delightful conversation, her two-hour tour of guard duty came to an end and her replacement came down the gangplank. They went through a small ritual of salutes and high-steps and he took her place on the small rubber pad. One more handshake and I wished her an enjoyable stay in Toronto and a safe sail back to Norway. She wished me well with my photo project and provided me with her email to send a souvenir photo.
When I noticed her on deck high above me a couple of minutes later, about to enter the interior of the yacht, I called up to her with a final goodbye and she gave a friendly wave.
Thank you Anna. You are a great representative for your country and your photo is my 309th submission to The Human Family Group on Flickr.
You can view more street portraits and stories by visiting The Human Family.
Tagged: , Anna , street , stranger , Toronto , The Human Family , Norway , KS Norge , Royal yacht