Dear Coast, From Jennifer

For Jennifer Drescher, the urge to see the Northern Lights on what might have been her last trip in life led her to sail The Coastal Express. This is her love letter to the Norwegian coast.

 

In the middle of a wide fjord, the ship switches off its engines and slows to a stop. Ahead, just a few metres away, a pair of playful whales take their time crossing in front of the ship. Everyone watches in wonder as the duo dance in the water, rolling their bodies in circles. It is still and silent except for the sounds of the whales blowing water from their flukes and slapping the water with their fins. And a buzz of amazement from those seeing this special show.

Jennifer is where she often is: out on deck at the bow of the ship, photographing every movement and loving every moment. The usually shy and quiet 32-year-old is excited and emotional. “I’ve never seen whales do this before,” she says. “It’s like they’re waving!”

This is Jennifer’s 17th voyage with Hurtigruten, but as she wipes tears from her eyes at the spectacle before her, it’s clear that the joy she feels for the Norwegian coast remains as deep and as strong as it was on her first voyage.

That was six years ago, and taken under difficult circumstances. “To be told at 26 years old that you have brain cancer…” Remembering that time, Jennifer’s sky-blue eyes search her mind for the words in her native German. “I felt confused… angry… sad…”.

On advice from her doctor who was concerned her cancer could advance rapidly, Jennifer decided that she needed to start doing all the things she had always wanted to do but had put off. At the top of that list was seeing the Northern Lights, which led her to Hurtigruten.

Lighting up her life

Her first voyage with Hurtigruten was the first time she ever sailed on a ship.

From that moment she first stepped aboard, both the ship and the Norwegian coast became her “new world, a beautiful world where the cancer is far away”. It began a life-changing love affair with Norway and the comfort the coast could bring her.

“I will never stop sailing the Norwegian coast,” she says to us resolutely. “It’s a way to keep myself alive.” Jennifer has returned time and again to sail with Hurtigruten, booking voyages in between her treatments, be it major surgery or months in intensive care.

Jennifer explains that each time she booked a new trip, “it was a reason to keep going, to keep fighting, to stay alive for the future”. Because, on the other side of the pain and sadness of her cancer, the beauty of Norway and the peace of being on the ship were waiting for her. “Every voyage, I experience something new,” she says. “And so, I keep coming back. I will keep coming back.” 

The Northern Lights are still the main reason Jennifer loves the Norwegian coast. She makes a point to mainly sail Hurtigruten between October and March when she often stands out on deck till 3am, looking for the lights. A now self-confessed aurora addict, she laughs as she describes how she sleeps in her clothes to be ready to go out again at 7am, just so she misses as few photo opportunities as possible.

Asked about her favourite photos in her ever-expanding portfolio, she describes a Christmas voyage in 2022 when the Northern Lights lit up the sky. “It was like an explosion. I’d never seen such a deep green colour.”

She didn’t manage to capture the best of that display on camera because she was so overwhelmed by it, bursting into tears that she had managed to live to see that moment, as if it was “nature’s way of celebrating across the sky” that she had survived and was there.

A new family on Norway’s coast

More than photos and life-affirming moments, Jennifer has found her home. “I love the sea – on it or in it!”. She even has a favourite ship in our fleet that she returns to time and again. It’s clear she knows many of the crew well and they welcome her back on board like old friends.

It was on this one ship that Jennifer met Henrik, one of the crew working on board. “I’d seen Jenni many times,” says the tall and charming Norwegian bartender and waiter. “I’d heard about her circumstances from other crewmates. What attracted me to her was that, rather than being sad and unfriendly from being unwell, Jenni always seemed happy and was kind to others. She was always smiling.”

From their initial friendship, Jennifer and Henrik are now a happy couple. It’s a nice thought that for many Norwegians on the coast, our ships are a way to bring them home to their family. For Jennifer, it has turned out to be the same.

In 2023, Jennifer moved to Norway to live with Henrik. She has regular check-ups for her cancer and continues to pursue her passion in photography, while Henrik’s mum teaches her Norwegian.

And of course, she still sails with Hurtigruten as often as she can, sometimes on the same sailing as Henrik so they can enjoy the coast together. We’re pleased to say that she has already booked her 20th trip.

But even more special than another voyage is that, on Friday 2 February 2024, coincidentally the date this article is published, she and Henrik were married. What a beautiful moment! Congratulations to you both!

Thank you for sharing your story with us, Jenni. We wish you many, many, many more voyages ahead, and much happiness to you and Henrik!