The Old Man and the Sea

DHH’s father turned 90 in January. He started his sailor life at 15, and 75 years later he is still living it. Every summer he takes his boat up the coast of Northern Norway, and every other summer DHH and ES go with him.

DHH’s family has a house in Dønna, an island roughly on top of the Arctic Circle. In Norway that is actually not so far north at all. DHH & ES, having been driving from Switzerland to the ultimate north and then south along the coast, came to Dønna in late July. There we parked our car, took the coastal express from Sandnessjøen to Trondheim, and returned north with The Skipper on his little 25 foot cruiser.34_02_P1050297.jpg

As tourists on The Skipper’s boat we not only watch the scenery, we become part of it. We become part of a coastal life that goes back centuries. We move slowly, we sit close to the water watching the skies, the mountains, the birds and the other travellers. We do not plow thru the waves, we ride them. We do not watch the rain thru the panorama windows of the big cruiser, we listen to the thunder as it hits our canvas tent over the aft deck. And when the sun shines we roll the canvas back and enjoy the shining warmth and the ocean breeze.

We are not quite like the Vikings, however. The Skipper knows all the inlets and the islands and the small rocks, so we are not really discovering new land. He has been there before and done it all. And if the sea is unruly we stay in the harbor. We go out to enjoy ourselves, and when the waves turn white and the little boat starts jumping like a cork, then it is not so enjoyable anymore. The Skipper is very well aware of the dangers. He has seen several relatives and friends go out to sea, never to come back.

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DHH age 4 and The Skipper on the way to the west coast of Africa, 1957.

The Norwegian coastline is full of small marinas where you pay from 20 to 30 dollars per boat to stay overnight. Most places you get a shower, a kitchen, electricity and water included. The hardship from travelling the ocean is not so hard anymore, and if you do not challenge the elements on purpose it is all about enjoyment.

We are three people on board, and that is exactly what our little boat has space for. During the day we sit on a bench behind The Skipper, at night we sleep on the aft deck. The Skipper has a bed for himself in the nose of the boat. There is a double bed underneath the cabin floor, but we use that space for luggage. The downside to sleeping on deck is that we have to pump up an air matrass every night, but we really have no complains. The cabin on the Hurtigruten cruiser might be more comfortable, but it is much less of an adventure.

We spent a week from Trondheim travelling 5 to 8 hours per day, spending the nights at Stoksund, Vingsand, Rørvik, Brønnøysund and Visten, before starting on the long fjord towards the industrial town of Mo i Rana. The old man loves being on the sea. For him, steering his boat thru the waters that his own father taught him to master, is the best life imaginable. He spent the years of his prime as a captain of ocean going merchant ships, navigating between the likes of Vancouver, Yokohama, Dakar, Karachi, Bremen and Liverpool. Nowadays however, Rørvik, Brønnøysund and Sandnessjøen is just as exiting. Going there, that is. Once he has arrived, his eyes are fixed on going somewhere else. He is not that restless in daily life, but when the short Norwegian summer allows him to go out to sea, then on the sea is where he wants to be.

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Shipping timber between Vancouver and Japan, 1962.

From Mo i Rana we went to Dønna, and he did spend a few days with us at the house. The house was built by DHH’s grandfather in 1930, and The Skipper came there first time in 1950 as a potential son-in-law. He got married in the local parish a year later, and has been a frequent visitor ever since. Now he sits with us by the kitchen window in the house that was built right next to the water, so that The Grandfather could see the herring arrive. The fish would be given away by the seagulls following the schools, and The Grandfather and his neighbors would then race for their boats and their nets to get their fair share of the silvery treasures.

These days we watch the birds in a more relaxed manner. The seagulls still circle the house and make noise, but mostly in anticipation of the food scraps we feed them in exchange for some good pictures. The heron digs in the mud with his long beak on low tide, and some times reindeer and other deer patrol our garden at night. The place is not about hard work anymore, it is all about enjoying life and enjoying nature.

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Today he keeps his boat in Trondheim, close to the row of sea houses by the canal.

After a few days, however, The Skipper has had enough of the quiet island life. The urge for the sea takes over. ES and DHH stay for a few more days, but The Skipper insists that he can go south alone. He brings with him a few days worth of provisions and a good weather forecast, and off he goes.

Unlike Hemingway’s Santiago our old man does not have to fight the demons of the sea anymore. He takes life easy and he reaches his destination without exhausting himself. And nobody who knows him would be the least bit surprised if he does the same again next summer, aged 91!


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