The days of black plastic bags and cardboard covering the portholes on the Bro Anton are now over. Thanks to the steward, Camilla Högberg, there are now specially sewn blackout curtains with an elastic edge which can be easily stretched over the portholes. Camilla was recently rewarded with 20,000 kronor by the Foundation for Swedish Seamen for her inventiveness.
– I thought of calling them Milla’s darkness, she says and laughs. It really is dark in the cabin when they are on and you sleep a lot better.
Camilla likes working on ships but she has always had a problem sleeping onboard. It has to be really dark in the cabin for her to be able to sleep well.
– Lack of sleep has always been my curse. Normal curtains always have a gap when the ship rocks, so they don’t work well. Even a small shaft of light feels like a headlamp shining at you after a while.
So she had an idea. When the fire resistant blackout curtains from the mess were being replaced with more colourful material she kept the old material. After she had finished work for the day she took out her sewing machine and designed a couple of porthole covers with an elastic edge.
Blackout curtain like saddle cover
– I wanted them to be easy to put on and take off. You can stretch these over the porthole rather like a saddle cover. Many of the crew tape pieces of cardboard or black plastic sacks over the portholes but they are often left in place because people can’t be bothered to take them down and put them up all the time. It does not look very nice either in the cabin or from the outside.
She started by sewing a pair for her own cabin, but then her colleagues became interested and so far she has sewn about 20 porthole covers.
– I have sewn them in the evenings and in my spare time, and everybody who has asked for these covers has got them. They say that they sleep much better with the covers, and you can notice the difference. If you sleep well you are not as easily irritated and you have a better appetite if you are well rested, says Camilla.
Family: live-in partner
Home: Moved to Kalmar for love last year and now lives in an apartment in the centre of town.
Work: Ship’s cook on Broström’s oil tanker Bro Anton, which sails in Europe, mainly Antwerp, Amsterdam and Rotterdam.
Background: Trained cook. Worked for eight years at Gorthons in the 1980s. Then went ashore and worked in various restaurants and cafeterias. Started working at sea again three years ago.
Present: Rewarded with 20,000 kronor by the Foundation for Swedish Seamen for her porthole covers, which have helped many onboard sleep better.
On 5 May she was at Skeppsholmen in Stockholm where she was rewarded with 20,000 kronor by the Foundation for Swedish Seamen at their annual awards ceremony for praiseworthy innovations. But nominating her porthole covers to the foundation did not feel easy, she says.
– I thought that my idea was so simple so it felt a bit ridiculous sending in something so straightforward. But the others onboard thought that I should do it and now it feels great fun to have been given this award.
Unwilling ship’s cook
Since both her father and uncle were ship’s cooks, Camilla decided early in her life that she would not work as a cook. But then she met a seaman and started working as an assistant in the mess at Gorthon. Once she was in shipping she discovered that life onboard suited her and despite her earlier ideas she became a ship’s cook. Even though she then worked for almost 20 years in pubs and restaurants ashore, she always felt that she wanted to go back to sea. She has not regretted signing up again three years ago.
– I like to pack my bags and leave. At the moment we work six weeks on and six weeks off, which is great. You can go travelling for a couple of weeks and still spend some time at home before the next tour of duty. That Monday to Friday thing has never attracted me, she says.
Although Camilla feels at home onboard and the atmosphere is good, she says that sometimes you need to make an extra effort to make things better.
– The porthole covers are an example of something which makes life a little better.