Diving, sailing, swimming – Ronja Becker can’t imagine life without water. The 20-year-old, who is studying Nautical Sciences in Elsfleth, is currently on her second deployment as a nautical officer cadet on the “Antwerpen Express”
Underwater rugby? Sounds exhausting. But Ronja Becker waves it off, saying: “OK, the ball filled with saltwater has to be pushed into a basket at a depth of five metres. That takes strength and stamina. But, otherwise, it’s not so bad. I just enjoy it!” This unusual sport is just one of the Utrecht native’s many hobbies, including diving, swimming, sailing and ski mountaineering – the musthave is water! And since her dad worked as a captain and her mum as a geologist and weather researcher, seafaring wasn’t much of a stretch.“I’ve wanted to do this for as long as I can remember,” the 20-year-old says. Spending part of her childhood in the Welsh port city of Cardiff, where Becker’s mother was conducting research, left her fluent in English. When she was ten, her family moved to Karlsruhe, Southern Germany, where her father still heads an institute for mechanical engineering.
Becker is in her fourth semester of a Nautical Sciences program in Elsfleth, near Bremen, and already has her first training voyage under her belt. That was on the “Chicago Express”, which cast off in Miami; crossed over to the Mediterranean; made calls in Italy, France and Spain; and then sailed back to the US East Coast. “Everything was perfect on this voyage – the crew, the trainers, the team spirit,” she recounts. “We were 16 apprentices with a wide range of experience. While some were already done with their studies and just needed their sailing time, others were on a ship for the first time. And Mark Henschel, our supervisor, took a lot of time for each of us.” Though demanding, Hapag-Lloyd’s training programme is one of the best, Becker says: “The combination of theory and practice is unbeatable. You can immediately put into practice what you’ve learned in class, whether it’s how to keep a logbook or to take the big weather observation every two hours.”
During this time, she has written eleven papers on “just about everything”, including using the stars to check the compass, fuel systems and fire protection. And then there have been some unforgettable moments, like the big pizza bake fittingly off the coast of Italy. “We trainees took over the galley and baked for the entire crew – so much fun!” she recalls. And which shore left excited her the most? “I’m a bad person to ask, as I prefer to stay on board and help out in the engine room,” she says almost apologetically. “It’s fascinating to get to know the various systems and learn how all the engine’s individual aggregates work together.”
Ronja Becker also inspired by tall ships. “For my 18th birthday, my parents gifted me a voyage on the ‘Alexander von Humboldt II’,” she says. The cruise on the three-masted barque was supposed to last two weeks – but Becker stretched it into four months. “From Travemünde, we sailed several times to Sweden and Norway and back,” she continues. “Watchkeeping, steering, lookout, climbing up the masts, and unfurling the sails – I even became the topwoman in the regular crew!” Almost in passing, Becker mentions that she met her boyfriend on board, fell in love, and became pregnant – before adding with an irrepressible smile: “It wasn’t planned, but we were quickly convinced that this was what we both wanted.” Maarten, her boyfriend, also comes from a seafaring family. He currently works in Elsfleth and looks after Emil, who will soon be two years old, when Becker goes to
“I missed my son incredibly on the last voyage, but there are many ways to keep in touch,” she says. On board, she covers the walls of her chamber with photos of her loved ones. “I know that Emil is doing well at home and happy with grandparents, too,” Ronja Becker says. But she also admits: “I get annoyed when people say, ‘Oh, you have a child? Then it’s probably all over for you with seafaring.’ You wouldn’t say that to a young father!” Instead, she emphasises: “When I’m asked how I manage everything despite having a child, I always say: ‘I don’t manage it despite having a child, but with a child!’” In fact, she continues: “Seafaring and family are actually very compatible!” One drawback is that the internet doesn’t always work well on board, but it would be great if Hapag-Lloyd could find a solution for that.”
When asked about her role models, Becker first mentions Captains Klaus Ricke and Immo von Schnurbein, both of whom are over 80 years old. “The way they handled the crew on the ‘Alex 2’ with a mix of friendliness and reliable instructions, plus their unbelievable depth of experience – I learned a lot from them,” she says. And then there are her childhood heroines: Pippi Longstocking and Ronia the Robber’s Daughter, characters of the Swedish children’s fantasy author Astrid Lindgren. Even if the latter wasn’t the inspiration for her name, Ronja still feels a deep connection. “Ronia is so spontaneous, close to nature and full of joie de vivre – just like me!” she says, adding with a laugh: “On board the ‘Alex 2’, I sometimes sang the commands on my watch rounds – just because it was nicer!” Becker’s next port of call was New York at the end of January 2023, where she boarded the “Antwerpen Express”. “Saying goodbye to Emil and Maarten was hard. But now I’m looking forward to the voyage, and hopefully I’ll be back home in time for Emil’s second birthday,” she says, adding with a grin: “If not, we’ll just celebrate later, as Emil doesn’t care so much about exact dates yet!”