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A fisherman's story

The last voyage

A tale of a man that lived on the ocean

Text, photos and videoBjörn Steinbekk
Location66°8'48"N, 18°53'38"W

Comparing the life of fishermen in 1968 to the environment they work in today is like comparing the world before and after the internet.

Becoming a fisherman was not a difficult decision

The ocean covers seventy percent of the earth. It's truly a magical place with uncharted areas and species. In some sense, the final frontier on this planet we call home. It has also been my father's, Kristján Björnsson, other home for the last 55 years. A home he is about to leave for good as he retires due to age.

Before we take your imagination out to the North Atlantic for a few minutes, I need to give you some background about my father, Kristján Björnsson. He was born on December 31st, 1951. His parents, Björn, a fisherman, and his mother, Sigurveig, a housekeeper and later the best grandmother who made the most outstanding fish & chips in Iceland.Kristján has five children, one stepdaughter, and eleven grandchildren, and his incredible wife and fantastic grandmother is Kristín. They live on the north coast of Iceland in the town of Siglufjordur, located on the beautiful Troll peninsula, where the mountains are steep, and the ocean is fierce.

Becoming a fisherman at an early age was not a difficult decision for my father, he says. It was really the only option, that or becoming a truck driver. Which was never as exciting as becoming a fisherman. In the sixties, the school system in Iceland was not favorable to young men and women that were dyslexic, hyperactive, and with a dash or two of ADHD.

My father felt that further education was not an option. This energetic, handsome teenager was in a lose-lose situation. When he did good in school, his teachers found a way to humiliate him, and when he did poorly, they humiliated him also. That made his decision to become a fisherman on his cousin's herring ship just after he turned sixteen much easier.


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The stories he tells are sometimes so outrageous that you wonder if his life at sea is fiction.

Comparing the life of fishermen in 1968 to the environment they work in today is like comparing the world before and after the internet. My father remembers fishing for herring in the North Sea, sharing a cabin with four other men. To clean their work clothes, they dragged them after the ship in the cold sea and used some water afterward to wash away the salt. Washing machines, TVs, or a simple way to talk to loved ones far away was not a luxury the crew nor owners entertained. They were away for months, and some lost parents, wives, and even children while out on the sea and had to settle for saying goodbye in the cemetery when they finally came home.

Today, on new ships, the crew has single cabins with private bathrooms, high-speed internet access, and all possible TV stations to watch. This becomes especially handy when your favorite team in the English premier league is playing. My father has seen it all. He has been on all kinds of boats and ships, and he talks ever so fondly about his time on the ocean. He remembers all the men he has shared the deck with. He has made more friends than he ever expected and the stories he tells are sometimes so outrageous that you wonder if his life at sea is fiction. Something that happens in a parallel universe and can only be discovered out on the waves and is kept as a secret among fishermen.

Men like my father will not be around in the future. Instead, they will become legends, stories, something that happened in the old days.

The last voyage

At sea, he is a leader. The one that can be counted on to solve problems, to step up in harsh environments. To have once back when times are tough like can happen out on the sea, in the hostile weathers on the north Atlantic. He is also the one that can say the same story in the mess hall a hundred times, and you feel that you are hearing it for the first time. Doing all that takes character, which is something he has plenty of.

I felt compelled to document my father's goodbye to the ocean. I realized that his story is essential to younger generations that don't know what a Sony Walkman is, can't understand why Iceland had no TV on Thursdays and the whole month of July and why the sale of beer was not legal until March 1st, 1989. The reason is that men like my father will not be around in the future. Instead, they will become legends, stories, something that happened in the old days.

For my dad, the ocean has been his other home for the last 55 years. A home he is about to leave for good as he retires due to age.