”Here Leif, take this woolen made shirt with you on the trip. Your mother made it for you. Now take care, we will all miss you very much. Remember that I’m very proud of you, son.” “I will, father,” I replied. It’s not easy saying farewell to my family and all my friends. Especially not to my beloved wife and beautiful newborn daughter. My family did support me, though. Throughout the war, our economy was poor and the family needed someone making a decent sum of money. This was important, and I had to go.
It was time to set course for Vesterisen for sealing. Vesterisen is an area of extreme weather located between Greenland and Jan Mayen. This area clearly showed that nature has an evil side. You can say that the gap between man and nature is huge around that area. In our profession, we make a bridge between men and nature with more or less luck. It has resulted in countless deaths.
A group of people had gathered to see us off. Moments like this have a certain solemnity about them. It’s an honor to be a part of the crew; only the strongest men could join this dangerous mission. One can never predict the outcome of such a trip, and many are those who have set out for the Vesterisen never to return again.
It’s been approximately one week. We’ve caught about seven hundred seals, which are pretty good, considering to the weather conditions. The crew has become very good friends; we are almost like a family. The reason why the atmosphere was so good was maybe because of the mixture of experienced men and newcomers. As a newcomer, I felt safe talking and learning from the old shippers. Hermod, one of the experienced, became my best friend. In contrast to me, he really knew how to make a story exciting. I’ve enjoyed myself this interesting week. But I can ensure you that this isn’t just a game …
With its constant storms and drifting snows, this treacherous stretch of sea can be extremely wearing. Luckily, our boat was a sturdy sea-going vessel, capable of standing up to most of what one can encounter on such a journey. However, when storms — and the ice and the sea decide to join forces — the outcome can be fatal.
The perils are worse at night when the ice slams into the ship in the dark. A moment’s inattention by the helmsman or the radio operator can result in dramatic damage and, in the worst case, a shipwreck. On such nights the ice is a dangerous bedfellow. Nights like these invade one’s body and soul making sleep impossible. The ship rolls so violently, keeping one’s balance is fulltime occupation. My mind is constantly on my little daughter. I really miss my wife and family.
Being quite interesting, the first week was not too bad. However, it was about to get worse. The lack of food over the past few days is taking its toll, making us even more susceptible to the extreme cold. Tempeture’s drop to minus forty degrees Celsius around here.
We are quite a sight. Our teeth are chattering and we are frozen to the bone, but our spirit is high. The hand-knitted woolen underwear I got from my mom comes handy in times like these. It may be a bit scratchy, but it keeps the body warm!
The extreme waves makes cooking a comical situation. An aggressive wave can result in potatoes everywhere at the floor. At the same time outside, the hurricane scoops up some sea, slams it down upon the deck and then, almost like magic, it turns into a sheeting of ice. This is not an ideal situation. Several men are set on the task of removing it. Spending any length of time on deck is impossible, though. It’s like being naked; the wind and frost penetrate right through our clothing and within a few minutes we are numb with cold.
The weather forecast is reporting that the hurricane will expand and strengthen. To confront a hurricane would be disastrous. On top of that, we can neither go with nor against the storm nor can we go around it. The huge breakers would destroy us and a shipwreck would be the outcome.
The work of removing the ice outside is done in shifts. Soon it’s Hermod and mine’s turn. I’m looking forward to get some fresh air. The air in the cabin has become indescribably nauseating. This is caused by the bloody remains of fish rotting in the bilge water, creating a vile stench that causes many of us to become sick to our stomachs.
It was our turn to face the hurricane now. The dreadful wind caught me right away. Hermod said something, but I couldn’t hear him. He climbed up the mast. Keeping one’s balance was really hard; you had to hold on to something all the time. The weather was awful and water splashed in our faces, turning into ice in a matter of seconds.