Get those whales out of the way!

Saxon Blue's Blog
Harvey Jones and Andrea Stokes
Fri 18 Jun 2010 21:47
66:08.885N 018:54.451W Friday evening

Alongside the fishing boat dock in Siglufjordur.

Cind and John arrived on time last night - it was great to have them with us. We had a delicious dinner of Icelandic Fish Stew made by Kali from the Husavik Haddock. It was better than the restaurant version and the Icelanders would have been proud of her, had we left any for them to try. After dinner we went off into Akureyri town to see the celebrations. There were people everywhere, most of them young. There was a very good live band in the town square and everyone listening and clapping politely while eating hot-dogs and candy-floss. Nobody was drunk. Nobody was fighting. I didn't see a single policeman. Very civilised.

There were still loads of people driving around in the posh monster trucks. John thinks the balloon tyres are for floating over snow which sounds likely although I think most of these vehicles only come out on high-days and holidays. There was a bit of revving and tyre-squealing going on but it was a still night with no wave slapping on the transom so I slept really well.

Got up early for an 8-o-clock departure. I tried the ferrymans trick of a quick burst ahead with the helm hard over into the dock to push our stern out. I couldn't motor off as the bollards were so ropey that we wouldn't have been able to slip the line so we had to manouvre while not attached to anything. It worked fine although no wind so that made life easier.

The new guests were stunned by the trip down the fjord back to the open sea. Many photographs were taken, some of them with Kali's new camera. She's now an expert on the technology thanks to John. We saw a group of small dolphins in the fjord and were hopeful of some whales outside, especially given the calm conditions. As we went along, the scenery was magnificent but no whales. Lunchtime approached and I had a cunning plan. If we motored away from the land, we'd be on top of a steep underwater slope and I had a hunch that this would be a good whale-spotting location.

Soup and bread were consumed, followed by a discussion on the chances of being able to make Panettone in the bread maker. I think the whales must like Panettone as much as John as that was the signal for them to start performing. First there were 2 Humpbacks ahead of us, then some to either side. We just switched the engine off and drifted with them all around us but none came very close. We could hear them breathing and blowing and watch them diving with a lot of "flukes-up" action.

Then a group of 3 came towards us and did a couple of dive-surface-dive cycles right in front of Saxon Blue. Cind was standing on the Dolphin Seats on the bow and nearly jumped over the side when this huge Humpback emerged from the water and blew right behind her about 5 meters away. It was so close that I think it was trying to give her a kiss. We were stunned. You could clearly see their fins under the water and the details of their skin. They moved off after a couple of cycles and we carried on watching as Humpbacks blew and dived all around. A pod of White Beaked Dolphins joined in as well for a while as we drifted away from the main area.

We decided that the day was getting on and set off again only to get waylaid by another group nearby so we stopped to watch them, too. Then it really was time to get going.

As there was no wind, we were just motoring so we made quick time into Siglufjordur which is renowned as the Herring capital of the world. I wanted to see the Herring museum so I went off with John and Cind as soon as we were tied up alongside. It was amazing. The first building has a dozen or so boats in it. Everything from dinghies through the open purse-seine boats up to a 55 foot boat that I suppose was a kind of mother ship. Each of these would set out with two open boats. These would trap the Herring in a purse-seine by rowing around a shoal and then the larger boat would come and scoop the almost solid mass of fish out. They went into the fish hold then, when that was full, just onto the decks. There are pictures of them coming into port only just afloat with their decks awash with fish.

Many of the fish were beheaded, gutted and salted into wooden barrels for export but tons of others were just rendered down into oil and fertiliser. It was as if there were so many fish that they couldn't really think of anything worthwhile to do with them. It was wholesale slaughter with no limits except when the stocks suddenly collapsed. According to the museum, the Herring boom more or less created the modern state of Iceland as there was no real industry until then. The big Herring companies were Norwegian originally but the Icelanders eventually kicked them out and it began to drive the domestic economy.

The original film footage just showed so many people working. Everything was done by hand with so many processes. Fish were handled, then handled again and again. Every scene showed dozens of people working and equal dozens just loafing about. Extraordinary. Then we had dinner of Arctic Char in a tiny cafe right next to where Saxon Blue is moored up. We sat outside looking up at the snow-capped mountains until it got a bit too cold.

So that's another great day. I really missed having Andrea around. She would have loved the whales and the pickled Herring that we had for dinner. Still, she'll be back soon and I have good friends here for company in the meantime.


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