mánudagur, júní 06, 2005

sjómannadagur

Yesterday was Sjómannadagur here, which is Sailor's Day. It's always the first Sunday in June and it's a chance for Iceland to honor its sailors. It's a big deal here because most of Iceland's prosperity has historically derived from the sea. Even now fishing is the largest industry here.

So the whole weekend Reykjavík was putting on the Hátíð Hafsins (Harbor Festival) and E and I went down to the piers on Saturday for a walk around. The activities were mainly kid-based, with some inflatable climbing castles, a go-kart course, and face painting. There was a grill selling shellfish and the requisite SS pylsur trailer selling Iceland's famous (and Bill-Clinton-approved) hot dogs. An indoor tent had exhibits from the Marine Traffic center and harbor association, an accordion band, and a teenage girl dispassionately slingin' bags of dried fish.

Past the inflatable castle there was a walk-through display of old and new B/W photos of fishermen at sea, pulling in the nets and doing on-board fish curing while different types of hellish weather raged in the background. Near that there was a long walkway bordered by plastic fish tubs filled with ice. On top of the ice in each one was a different kind of fish, with a wood-backed informational placard jammed in the ice. There were probably 30 different species of fish, including the Alien-esque Lúsífer and other obscure creatures of the deep ocean, as well as more familiar fish like cod and haddock. Kids were playing with starfish and sea-spiders in the hands-on exhibit. At the end of the fish-on-ice promenade there were a couple of mountain rescue Land Rovers jacked up on 44" tires.

E and I had pretty much gotten the feel of the place and were trying to decide what to do next when we noticed a towering vessel motoring across the harbor toward us. A crowd gathered to watch the captain parallel-park this giant up against the dock. The vessel, Sæbjörg, is the floating school for the sea-rescue operations of Iceland.

An old man in a forklift moved a gangway over to the side of the ship, and there were all kinds of raggedy, regular folks disembarking, so we began to wonder if we were perhaps eligible to ride on the boat, too. Sure enough, the crowd we were in started shuffling down towards the gangway and we found ourselves heading onto the boat with no clear idea where we were going or what was happening, and both a little too proud to ask.

A hundred or more people got on with us, and we all stood on the top deck, towering over the midway below. The ship blasted its horn, pulled away from the dock, and took us out into the harbor. The views back to the city of Reykjavík were beautiful, with Keilir and other distant mountains visible. A couple of chase craft, also from the sea-rescue team, were following us. We were headed out between some of the harbor islands toward the town of Akranes. We were half-wondering if we were going to make it all the way there when the boat slowed in the water and wine bottles began flying overboard. We looked down and they were being chucked out by kids who had written messages in them. After the bottle-volley, we picked up steam again and turned around back for home. One of the chase craft, an inflatable boat with giant outboards, was driving up along side us and then catching air off of our wake. The bridge was open and completely jammed with people and the captain was busy both singlehandedly piloting the boat and explaining the navigation gear to swarms of parents and kids.

We waved at some fishermen fishing from a lighthouse on the way back into the harbor, and when the captain again bow-thrusted us into the berth, there was already another crowd gathered for the next ride.

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