On the weekend of May sixth, I took part in a fishing expedition! I was invited by Hilde’s parents, both members of the Jøa Kystlag, or local coastal organization. On Friday evening, amid glassy waters, the eleven other crew members and I set out aboard the Straumingen (a 1955 fishing boat that the Kystlag keeps in working order). Our destination? Nordøyan, a tiny island three hours away. We were to shelter in the harbor at night and fish during the day. (Of yore, thousands of fishermen arrived from far and wide to fish in the rich waters surrounding the island. They sold their catch on Nordøyan, before heading home). Ship life proved novel and thrilling. My previous boating experience was limited to very small motor boats or huge ferries. This was something different entirely. I had my own fisherwoman outfit and life vest, and slept below deck in a dear little berth.
Perhaps not such a dear berth… Our bunks lay one on top of the other, right below the deck. In the afternoon, I noticed—oh horror!—that my mattress—and all the clothes I had left lying on it—was soaked. Had my water bottle leaked? That was the only plausible cause. That night, I aligned myself on the outmost dry rim of bed. I really hoped no one would think that I had wet my bed. Then on Sunday, as we were preparing to leave, a fellow crew member started propping up all the mattresses to dry. Was I then not the sole hapless victim?
“Er … how do they get wet?” I asked, my tone that of the detached bystander.
“Oh, the water leaks down through the planks when they hose off the deck,” she said with a matter-of-fact smile. I nodded. Well of course.
But back to the actual adventure. We motored into port late Friday evening. Saturday we spent at sea, fishing with proper rods and letting out nets for halibut, to be collected on the morrow. Our visit to Nordøyan coincided with the Seagull Egg Festival, held on Saturday evening. However, not the festival but rather the sunset was my definite highlight. Nordøyan faces open sea, the waves rolling in unhindered from Iceland. This gave the sunset a huge canvas upon which to paint its colors. A strip of orange stretched across the whole horizon. I actually saw the sun slowly dip into the sea.
The next day, we left harbor after breakfast, first stopping by our halibut nets. They delivered no halibut—apparently a tricky fish to catch—but so much cod! Our largest weighed in at ten kilos. From there, we slowly wove our way homeward.
As they hauled the fishing lines up, I could spot each catch a few meters in advance. It would show as a silvery rainbow growing steadily larger as it rose from the depths. A doomed rainbow. Quickly slit open, it joined its mates in a bucket of water. Later on, we gutted all the fish at the same time and sacrificed their innards to Neptune. This gained us a royal seagull escort. One fish carried a whole ‘nother fish in his stomach. Another had recently dined on shrimp; you could make out their bulk through the thin membrane of his stomach. Most interesting and gruesome: Many fish, when we reeled them in, had this huge mass grotesquely bulging out of their mouths. Did you know that fish possessed a swimming bladder? I did not! Novice as I am, I was disgusted and enthralled. Was it their stomach? I wondered. Their heart? No! A fellow crew member enlightened me. When fish live very deep and are pulled up quickly, their swimming bladder swells up due to the sudden pressure change … and that was what I was seeing. So you see, in addition to learning about sheep husbandry, I am now an initiate of fish anatomy!