29 April 2006

all aboard

Yesterday I went down to Miðbakki (the central dock nearest town) to see if the foreign ship I mentioned yesterday had actually arrived. There she was, tucked in the rightmost corner, flying a Portugese flag on the stern, and an Icelandic flag over the bridge (nice touch!). There were a few people hanging over the railings next to the gangplank, and as I slowed, they waved at me and gestured me up.

I'm always up for an adventure, so I stepped around the security fence and up the railings, where I met with a horde of very short Portugese sailors. I might mention I was not dressed to be sea-worthy, in an ankle-length denim dress and boots with two-inch heels, which also contributed to the way I towered over these guys.

I can say one phrase in Portugese, a fairly well-accented "I don't speak Portugese", which got smiles all around and a rapid-fire of talk from the guys. I'm more used to Brazilian Portugese, since my mom grew up in South America and speaks it, so I'm not sure what they were saying, but their excitement at having a visitor on board was evident. One of them spoke French slightly, so we managed to have a broken conversation, and he said he'd introduce me to the captain. We went down a spiral staircase along the side of where the nets were rolled on enormous drums, along a narrow and rusty passage to where the captain was. He was a similarly short-statured fellow with graying temples on his buzz-cut hair, and spoke enough English that he could explain things to me.

We passed the kitchen where the cook was stirring what smelled like a lot of onions on an enormous stove, while his sous-chef worked through a pile of fish fillet slicing. Around the corner we climbed a narrow staircase to the bridge, where the captain explained how the different kinds of nets worked, and the controls on the boat.

Next we descended into a warren of corridors with dining rooms, lounges, and cabins with lines of laundry (very short jeans) strung up along the walls and towels slung over radiators, into the lower level where the fish processing happens. Here's where I learned why everyone was so short- this part of the boat couldn't accommodate me in most places with my heels and height, so I had to duck low as we crossed stiles over conveyor belts and freezer mechanisms. This place was a spaghetti-pot of fish-processing equipment- chutes, rollers, and ramps, with small openings where guys stood to fillet and clean the fish.

They had two different routes for the cod and other fish, both of which ended in the deep-freeze equipment that flash-froze the fillets in 20kg units. After that it was into the deep-freeze hold, where they had the capacity for five months of fish-catch.

One level below were the engines, still throbbing to keep the freezer and power going, so it was already warm and noisy down there. I cannot imagine what it must be like when all the engines are going, fish are sluicing through the doors in the stern, and all the conveyor belts and washers are running at once in this crowded windowless place. I see why fishermen make so much money- it looks like rough work.

We wound our way back out of the fish-processing area to the upper decks, where I was invited to dinner by the captain, the cook, the chief engineer, and anyone else who had enough English to phrase the invitation. I guess the presence of a woman on board is pretty thrilling after almost three months at sea.

When I landed back on to land, the sounds of Icelandic, the pale, tall people, and the freshly-painted buildings of downtown made me feel like I'd just been in a different country. I looked down at the the dark smudges of rust on my hands, just to make sure I'd just been there, amid all those shoulder-high sailors in the steamy hold of a boat of a certain age.


tsduff said...

Wow! You've got ovaries my dear! Sounds like a fabulous adventure all the way around :-) What was it like dining with the Captain - did you have cod for dinner? Very cool.

ECS said...

Terry- thanks! I didn't actually eat dinner with them, since I had other plans during the evenings that they were going to be here. I'm not sure I'm quite gutsy enough for a whole meal with these guys, but it would have been interesting, and probably quite good. It's the first boat I've seen that had herbs growing on the bridge. They had two windowboxes of parsley, which I thought was very endearing.