Today I woke up at 11:30am. Which is a far cry from the usual 5:30am start when I'm at work. The reason for the 5:30am start? To be dressed in costume and in the hair and makeup chairs by 6:15am of course. This is only on filming days obviously. On normal work days I'm up at 6:30am and at marine base for 8am.
What do you do? I hear you ask!!
In my mind, I play on boats all day long, and I absolutely love it. In reality, and on paper, I’m marine crew on History Channel’s Vikings. And how did I get into that job?? I lucked out!! I'm a volunteer member of The Ardglass Vikings and we own several of the boats in the show. The production company sought us out to hire the boats and we come as a package deal.
As marine crew we spend most of our days transporting boats from one set to another and craning them in and out of the water. Whether this be the pond at the studio or Blessington Lakes where even a passing wedding got in on the Vikings action getting some very unique photos for their album. The Ardglass section of the marine crew are the lucky ones! We get to be extras to crew and captain the boats. There are twelve boats in total this year for season 5. We usually only have six maximum out at any one time.
Being extras of course means costumes!!
And what costumes we have. The females are all shield maidens whilst the men remain your average viking warrior. That being said, I can tell you I've been the only female marine crew, as yet, to play a male character. Twice. I played a young french male crew member on Rollo’s ship. I stand on his left hand side as we row into battle against Ragnar on his barge. Don’t worry, no spoilers here, all has been seen on screen already.
I've also been the only female to be dunked into a tank of freezing cold water with an all male crew, including Ragnar himself for a soon-to-be-seen episode. Four days of having freezing cold water dumped on us from above only to be tipped into the freezing water below resulted in four days of minor hypothermia. Lucky me eh?! But we no sooner got our heads above the water again and someone scooped us out to dry off and warm up before the next take. We had a cushy set up that day. Plenty of crew on hand to dry us with nice warm towels and then sit in a heated tent drinking hot soup and any amount of tea and coffee we wanted. And of course we always find our own ways to keep warm. The easiest is to fill a normal bottle of water with hot water from the tea station, hey presto instant hot water bottle. Stick it under your costume and it’ll last an hour at least.
Some filming days aren't quite as busy and active as others.
There are many spent with rowers and extras sleeping for hours while out on the water. Those are the days we dread!! Lunch is shuttled out boat by boat and isn't always hot by the time it reaches you. Being crew means we don't get to sleep like the rowers. When the call comes we must get the boat into position immediately, even if you’ve only managed one mouthful of food so far. Some days we spend ten hours on the water constantly repositioning. Even toilet breaks are a group effort. A call is sent out requesting a toilet boat to come pick up crew, if you're nearing a take then you could be waiting another hour before the toilet boat comes. But the best words to hear on those days undoubtedly are “That’s a wrap”. Even if you don't hear the actual words, the cheers and clapping by all the rowers and extras let you know the filming day is over.
Notice I said filming day and not work day. As marine crew we are often the first on set and the last to leave on filming days. Once wrap is called we have to take the boats back to the dock and tie the up for the night. Some locations have strong currents and waves that could cause the boats to bash into each other and the dock. We make sure the boats are securely tied up with lots of fenders to prevent damage. It’s usually a five to ten minute trip back to the dock so this is spent clearing the boats of rubbish, and by rubbish I mean water bottles. They are the bane or our existence as marine crew.
Who knew 20 people could drink so much water in one day?!
Once all that is done, it's back to costume to become a normal person again. Some days that signals home time, other days it's back to the dock to pump water out of the boats.
Mostly it’s just rain water or splash from the days activities, but on occasion it can mean a leaky boat. Cue the panic! Can you see the leak? Is it bad? Can it be filled with filler? Does the boat need lifted out of the water? Will the boat be ready for the next filming day? It’s not often major repair work needs done on the boats. Sure we’ve had bits come off in the middle of a take, for ‘bits’ read ‘tiller bracket,' but we always get them fixed and we’ve not missed a filming deadline yet. It’s all part of the job as marine crew and I wouldn't have it any other way.
Sixteen months ago I was a retail store manager running a mini empire of discount goods and 23 staff spending 40+ hours a week indoors and unfulfilled. Now I spend my days out in Ireland’s elements with a family of boat loving nutters, getting paid to do something I love. I for sure never thought that would happen to me.
Right, I'm off to watch myself and my friends on tv now, if I can spot myself that is.
I have what I like to call ‘Clarke Kent syndrome’ I look nothing like myself when my hair’s pulled back from my face and i’m wearing contact lenses. It’s a handy disguise to have when most of your friends are big fans of the show. Make sure you give Ardglass Vikings a follow on Facebook. We travel all over Ireland with our now famous replica Viking longships raising money for charities from Guide Dogs for the blind to Marie Curie. Ragnar himself has even shown up to an event, he even brought Bjorn with him. Where possible we allow the general public to row themselves, you may even sit in Ragnar’s spot!!