It's not supposed to be the Love Boat

Relationships: Though frowned upon, clandestine romances have arisen among the Scandinavian crew members of the coed Danmark.

June 27, 2000|By Allison Klein | By Allison Klein,SUN STAFF

Throw together 80 young, fit, attractive Scandinavians on a coed world-traveling ship for five months and tell them they are forbidden from romance. What happens?

Exactly what you think.

Don't ask, don't tell.

Restraint is a lot to ask of a crew of 17- to 23-year-olds that is working, showering, dressing and sleeping side-by-side.

But the rules are set on the Danmark, which is in town as part of the OpSail 2000 tall ship tour. It is one of the few mixed-gender boats taking part in OpSail 2000.

"It's just one of the things you have to learn on the ship," said Nicolai Rasmussen, 18, who lives in Copenhagen and says he joined the crew to see the world. "We have some beautiful women on the ship. Have I been tempted? Maybe at the start. Not now."

Added 20-year-old Kirsten Moller: "I understand why they made the rule. It's to avoid drama."

The crew members of the Danmark - 60 males and 20 females - had never met before being thrown together on the 253-foot ship in April.

The 120-foot-tall ship, built in 1932 to train young sailors, started accepting female crew members in 1983 by government order. And it was decided then that women would do everything men do, right where men do it.

The mostly blond-haired, tanned group maintains a good-natured, brother-sister-like bond - for the most part. At least that's what the crew tells the 17 supervisors aboard.

When they're docked, they can do as they please on land. But aboard the ship, the supervisors keep watch.

"I have a father role, I keep things in good order," said Lars Christiansen, 38, chief officer of the Danmark. "I do things parents would do at home. I say nice things if they do things well and the opposite if they don't. Most come to me directly from their families."

He said he knows there are secret romances on board, but as long as they don't get in the way of the crew's duties, he doesn't want to know about them.

"You can't behave like a couple," he said. "We don't want the boys to have to compete and show off for the girls. We want them to be brothers and sisters."

Before the voyage, cadets go to school for a month in Copenhagen to learn about marine safety. They learn about sailing once they get on the ship.

Their first stop was the Virgin Islands, next was Miami, then Baltimore. Thursday they head for New York, then Boston, and they're scheduled to arrive home in Copenhagen on Aug. 10.

The voyage is a school for Danish marine officers in training, but many use it as a rite of passage, an experience for themselves, and don't enlist in the marines, Christiansen said.

When he was a cadet traveling the world in 1978, there were no women aboard. Four years later, when he returned to the ship as a quartermaster, it was still a year before the crew was open to women. But having sailed with both types of crews, he prefers the mix.

"Sailors tend to be the most conservative people in the world," he said. "A lot of people thought we couldn't handle them together. But it's otherwise. The women have been a good influence. They're nicer to each other and have more mature behavior.

"And for the physical work, a lot of it has more to do with technique than muscle."

Wake-up is at 6:30. When the ship is docked, Christiansen leads the crew on a 2- to 3-kilometer run.

The rest of the day is spent cleaning the brass and the bathrooms, scrubbing the deck, straightening the officers' rooms and showing the ship to tourists. Sometimes they get away and take a small-engine boat for a spin.

"We're mostly here as ambassadors," Rasmussen said.

Anna Lea Olsson, 21, who lives in Copenhagen, took the voyage because she wanted to see if she could handle the life at sea.

"I'm trying to live in a way that's very basic, primitive," said Olsson, who was working as an assistant in an architecture firm before she applied to be on the crew.

"I wanted to know what it was like to be together with a group of people and work together. Kind of like `Survivor,' but we don't eat rats."

Olsson said her parents can't understand why she wanted to do it.

"My parents were a little bit flower power in the '60s and '70s. They don't understand why I'd want the discipline," she said. "They just think I'm crazy."

But compared to some others on the crew, she has been tame. She is not part of the four clandestine couples aboard involved in budding romances under the noses of the supervisors.

"We have to sneak around," said Kirsten Moller, 20, about her boyfriend, Adam Kjeldsen, 17. "It's more like we're very good friends, but sometimes it's hard to stay cool. I didn't imagine I'd find a boyfriend here. It's very illegal."

If they get caught, they have to fill out a form admitting they made a mistake. But some things are worth the risk.

"It happens when you least expect it," Moller said. "It's hard to stay away when you're so in love."

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