I do not know if you have ever thought about it but living is similar to sailing: from the outside it looks very easy, but when you find yourself at the helm, you realize how difficult it is; sometimes you have to deal with high waves, which seem insurmountable, while other times there is not even a breath of wind and you have to surrender to the monotony of life with the hope that a more exciting future is coming.

Moreover, in life as in sailing you learn the importance of teamwork and sometimes you can let yourself go and enjoy moments of pure happiness, keeping attention just to the beauty that surrounds you.

Perhaps this is why sailing has a special charm on people. I discovered it by looking in the eyes of the 400,000 visitors of the Hempel Sailing World Championship that was held in Aarhus from 30th July to 12th August.

According to Lars Lundov, the CEO of Sport Event Denmark, the Sailing World Championship was “the biggest and greatest sailing event in the long history of hosting sailing events in Denmark in every aspect of the hosting”, but it seems like it will become a milestone not only in Denmark, but worldwide. Indeed, the Hempel Sailing World Championship broke any attendance record thanks to the presence of 1,500 sailors with their 1000 boats from 90 countries.

However, the sailors were not the only ones to be so numerous. Like in any other Danish event, many volunteers answered to the call and did not hesitate to contribute to the success of the Hempel Sailing World Championship.

The 800 volunteers had had many months of preparation on their shoulders just like any other athlete. Because to reach the level of a world-class event, nothing can be improvised. They became trained in a first aid course, took part in information meetings and they even met the Danish sailors in order to thirst their curiosity and get closer to this fascinating sport.

Of course, there was also time for hygge and the Volunteer Coordinator Anne-Sofie Thomsen organised many activities for the volunteers: a welcome party, an expedition in the maritime festival area, a trip free of charge to experience Lisbjerg Incinerator, a guided tour in Godsbanen, at Aarhus City Hall and at the Naturhistorisk Museum.

During the two weeks of the Hempel Sailing World Championship I had the chance to talk with many volunteers. I found out that a lot of them were Rethinkers, the Aarhusian volunteers while the city was European Capital of Culture in 2017. Another surprise was the fact that not all of them were experts in sailing. I expected them to arrive at their shifts jumping off from their boats anchored nearby at the harbour, but a lot of them barely had been on a boat in their life.

However, with the time passing by, they were all able to tell the difference between a 470 and a Laser and to say what speed a 49er can reach. Experiencing that has been a big lesson for me because I realized that volunteering gives you the chance to discover an unknown world and to become an expert of it if you are passionate about what surrounds you.

There is another factor that fascinated me: the average age of the volunteers was higher than the one that I have usually experienced among volunteers at Danish events. I started growing a high esteem for all those people because I have the impression that when I get retired I will not have so much energy to do something valuable, let alone do something valuable for someone else.

To investigate this subject and to find out more about volunteering at the Hempel Sailing World Championship, I decided to interview Mette Bøjgaard, a 70-year-old lady who lives in Viby.

How did you hear about the opportunity to become a volunteer at the Hempel Sailing World Championship?

“I did not know anything about this event as I am not a fan of sailing. One day, a friend of mine called me and encouraged me to volunteer as it sounded something perfect for me. Indeed, I am an active person and I have been volunteering a lot since I have retired because now I have the time to do what I like, which means also volunteering.”

Where have you been volunteering recently?

“Every year I volunteer at Skagen Festival working as bartender and at Aarhus Festuge. You know, you can decide to be a volunteer in so many sectors and for me it was natural to choose music and cultural events because I am fond of them. In this way I discover them from the inside and I feel part of them. I also volunteer at the Loppehuset in Viby and in September you can visit us on 16th from 11 to 15, on 20th from 17 to 19 and on 22nd from 11 to 14.”

What encouraged you to volunteer also at the Hempel Sailing World Championship?

“I decided to embark in this adventure because I was sure I would have met nice people and I did not get disappointed. For me it was very nice to spend time with young people because I get along with them and I think they can feel that I am still young inside. What impressed me was to see many international young people. The first day I had been working with a German girl who has been living here in Denmark for one year and then I also met a Spanish girl who is studying at Aarhus University.” 

What are your tasks here?

“I work at the VIP Lounge, which is on the first floor of the new International Sailing Center, the building which was inaugurated on 23rd May by Crown Prince Frederik and Princess Mary and which is the heart of the Hempel Sailing World Championship. Together with my colleagues, I welcome our special guests and serve food to them. During the week we also received the visit of Jacob Bundsgaard, the Mayor of Aarhus. But of course, there are different teams and every volunteer could choose the tasks that suit him the best. Besides the VIP Lounge team, there are the Press Team, the Logistic Team, the Chauffeur Team, the Volunteer Check-in Team, the Catering Team…”

What would you say to young people to encourage them to start volunteering?

“I would say to them to try once and then I am sure they will keep on doing it because they will realise what a nice experience it is. You have fun and enjoy the nice spirit around while you are doing something good and you are with people who are there for the same reason.”

What are the three concepts that you associate with volunteering?

“The feeling of being useful and that someone needs me. Then, the fact that you receive something back because paradoxically by volunteering you receive more than you give. And finally I say “happiness” because that is what you feel while you volunteer and this feeling is probably the consequence of the first two concepts I mentioned.”

I said goodbye to Mette while I was still impressed by her vitality. I started thinking that maybe volunteering is responsible for that because it gives you the opportunity to remain active. After all, Einstein said that “life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving” and where should this quote be more true than in the bicycle friendly Denmark?

Are you curious about what is going on in Aarhus while the city is holding the title of European Volunteering Capital? Don’t miss the next stop of Genny Cabas' pilgrimage around the city.

Genny Cabas is an Italian taking a European Volunteering Service in Denmark. In February, she started working at Studerendes Frivillige Netværk (SFN) based at VIA University College and she finished her project on 1st October.

To know more about her and SFN visit the Facebook page SFN - Studerendes Frivillige Netværk.