Journal - Napló

Becoming a fisherman

Posted on July 5, 2010 at 3:20 AM

 A year has passed since we set out on the mission to hitch hike around the world. We had plans for everything. Where we would travel, when, how we would film, what we would do. We planned to work in every country, to trade our items in every country, to visit organizations on the way. We even made a time schedule. The trip did not go according to plan. Not even close. We were supposed to hitch around the world together and we didn't get further than to Lebanon before we split up. Still, despite of the fact that most of our plans went out the window, in a way it still turned out exactly as planned. We headed out on the road with a mission. We wanted to let the randomness of hitch-hiking lead us to places and people we wouldn't have been able to find in any other way. But perhaps more importantly, we wanted to see how the life on the road filled up by random encounters would shape our lives. We wanted to learn about ourselves and discover what we want to do with our lives. For me, this has been a year full of opportunities, challenges, changing environments, dreams and realizations. I wouldn't have been the same today had things turned out differently, obviously, but as long as I am happy about who I am now, I see no reason to question the path that led me here.

The decision to stay behind in Lebanon and work was a tough one, but even though nothing turned out like I hoped it would there, I don't regret it at all. It was an experience on so many levels and I learned a lot from it.

When I finally managed to bring this disaster Mercedes from Lebanon to Norway I really didn't want to head back on the road with no money in my pocket. Maybe all the dreaming about making it big in Lebanon importing tools from China had made me overemphasize the importance of money. Or maybe I just wanted to stay in Norway a bit. In any case, my purpose in Norway was clear, I wanted to make as much as possible as fast as possible. How do you do that, I'll tell you, you become a fisherman.

The idea to go fishing had crossed my mind some years ago as well, but at that time I was dissuaded by the compulsory safety course you have to take and the amputated paycheck you get in the begging while you are considered a greenhorn. When I came back to Norway I had had this idea swimming around up there for quite some time and the urge to try my luck grew really strong as soon as I came back. I guess because then it suddenly became a very real possibility. In the course of two hours I went from contemplating this, to decide on it, registering for the course and buying the ticket to go there.

It can be fun to travel in Norway as well. I flew to Alta to take this course that is held on a ship specially fitted to run them. They have a container they do fire extinguishing exercises in, they have smoke diving equipment, survival suits, dummies and stuff to practice first aid and classrooms. We were even supposed to get picked up from the water and from the deck by a helicopter. That would have been awesome fun, but for reasons I'll get back to, that didn't go according to plan. Some minutes after I exited the airport in Alta I got a call from a woman in charge of the administration of the course. Because the ship had experienced engine trouble she said, all those signed up for this weeks course would be moved to next weeks course in Hammerfest.

I am not the one to miss an opportunity for some sightseeing, so I decided to hitch-hike down to my friend Sean. He has a beautiful cabin in the woods, with self generated electricity and water brought up by hand from the river flowing right by, curving around the land his cottage is built on. It was a 900km stretch that took me a day and a half to hitch hike. Luckily I had decided to bring my winter sleeping bag, so it was no problem at all to camp at the side of the road when I gave up hitching the first evening. The first ride I got the next day was from a mountain guide. He told me had taken some tourists on a northern lights safari that very night and that it had been one of the most spectacular shows all winter. I had slept under open skies and still managed to miss the show.

I had planned to spend my days at Sean's place just taking it easy. But when Sean said he could arrange for me to join him at work I didn't hesitate. He is working for this master metal worker doing all sorts of cool stuff. When I got there they were taking part in the work to expand this huge salmon incubation plant. It was a strange feeling to trail Sean in there among all the other skilled workers who all knew what they were doing. Electricians, plumbers, welders, etc. Of course I managed to drill holes in the wrong place right away, even drilled into some wiring that the electricians had just installed. But it was fun working with Sean, taking coffee breaks and chatting with the other dudes in the lunch shack.

Hitching back north went really fast despite it being even further north to Hammerfest than to Alta. I had a good 1000km ahead of me when I got picked up by an old friend that was heading north as well that day. The course would start the next morning, so if it hadn't been for the opportunity to go with her for a nice long stretch I would have left a day earlier. I finally arrived in Hammerfest around twelve o clock that evening. I had got a ride from a fisherman based in Hammerfest that had a boat moored up right next to the ship where I was taking the course. The boat was idle because of some insurance dispute he had going on with someone, so he said I was more than welcome to stay there. I was sharing quarters with a middle aged russian guy who looked like he really wanted to get back on the seas to make some money.

The course lasted four days. During lunch the first day I met a guy by the wonderful name of Kent. He had noticed that I stayed in this boat, so he asked me who I was working for. I told him that in fact I didn't have a job, but that I might be looking for one. He then looked at me, waited maybe five seconds and asked me if I wanted a job. I looked at him approximately in the same way for approximately the same amount of time and extended my hand to shake on it. He took my hand and that was that. We finished our lunch and didn't speak much more about it until the next day. By that time I was getting very curious what kind of job it was I had accepted. It turned out to be an absolutely awesome job.

The last day we were supposed to get picked up from the water and from deck in survival suits from a Seaking helicopter. The Icelandic's however wanted it differently. That was the first day of the volcano eruptions on Iceland that disrupted air traffic in large parts of Europe, northern Norway included. Hammerfest was until recently the northernmost city in Europe. Now it is supposed to be Honningsvåg. To be honest, neither of them are even close to qualify as a city, but anyway, the point is that I had a 2000km journey ahead of me to get home. It was the first time I could make some good use of my hitch-hiking experience. People were finding all sorts of ways to get to where they needed to be, some rented cars, old busses got fixed in a hurry and put to work and I don't know what. Mostly it cost people a lot to travel though. I simply went to the closest gas station and started hitching rides. I was the only one I saw that did that. Something I find absolutely insane. You need to go south, there is a road going south and cars on it, how is it not obvious to simply ask people in those cars if you can come along? Some people are strange.

The second ride I got on the way south was an experience. I was at a petrol station looking for something cheap to munch on when this really cracked out guy came jittering in. At first I thought he was planning to steal something and that he was nervous about that. As it turned out, he didn't steal anything, and he had a car. So I asked him for a ride. He was more than willing to take me to Alta. It was first when we were underway together over the mountain that I realized why this guy was so excited. His brain, his mouth and his car were all going a hundred miles an hour. He was interested in history, so I kept asking him about history stuff. Whenever he would tell a story about the second world war or something he would calm down and more importantly slow down. The windshield of his tiny little car looked like someone had thrown a brick at it. It was really smashed up. Half way over the mountain I asked him what had happened to the car. Upon hearing this question he looks with amazement to his right and exclaims: "WAAA, DÆVEN!!" He hadn't fucking noticed that there were cracks running all up and down his windshield. At this point I seriously considered getting out of the car, but then again, he was in the middle of a long story about how the Germans burnt down Finnmark as they were retreating from the Russians at the end of the 2nd world war, so I took my chances. When we got to Alta we passed a police car that immediately turned around and pulled us over. As it turned out, this guy and the police in Alta knew each other quite well. He didn't have a drivers license, the car was not his and he told the police to go fuck themselves so it was obvious that we would be going with them. I didn't say anything for ten minutes until one of the officers came around the car to me. I had been wondering how this conversation would go. First of all, this guy was obviously a drug dealer, but I didn't want to say anything that could incriminate him. After all, he had just given me a ride. Second, I was wondering if they would believe that I was just hitch hiking and that I had just met him. Thirdly I was wondering what they would say about the 300g of tobacco I had in a plastic bag in my pocket. I had bought a pipe in Istanbul some weeks earlier and asked for 10$ worth of tobacco on the street. I got a lot. So when the officer finally turned to me I was really curious how long it would take to clear this all up. It took about five minutes. I guess he could see that I was unaffected by anything and also I had proof that I had been in Hammerfest on the safety course that same day. It all ended with the police giving me a ride to the closest gas station. I thanked both the police and the guy for giving me a ride. The guy that just got arrested found this extremely amusing.

Although it took a while, the rest of the trip south went without incident. It was different to be able to give a very precise and understandable answer to the question of why I am hitch-hiking. The answer was simply Iceland.

After some hectic days in Oslo it was time to start my new job as a crab fisherman. The ship, or boat, it is 24 meters long, had been moored up in a yard in Tromsø for some time when I came aboard. The ship had been rebuilt to do crab fishing. Some days after I arrived we set sail for Båtsfjord. It's in this small town on the Finnmark coast we have our home port and factory. The first couple of weeks in Båtsfjord we spent working on the pots and lines we use for catching the crab. It is hard work for greenhorn hands. We use 21 mm rope, and when you have just learned the knots and splices and thus unable to do them properly and fast enough with gloves on, the result are pink hands without much skin left on them. Then again, with this kind of shock therapy your hands adapt fast.


With 300 hundred pots ready to set out, we did just that. We have 100 pots in each line. Depending on how deep it is where we set them we have a buoy line between 100 and 500 meters on each end. Then there is about 40 meters between each of the pots. When we set them, we take them off the stack, close the bottom with a special knot and put in the bait bags. The ship steams at a speed of maybe 6 knots and we set them out from the stern of the ship, (I'll go with ship) When we drag the pots we throw a hook out to pull in the buoy line, then we use a winch to drag it in. When the pots come up, we open the pot on a table, count the crabs and sort out stuff we don't want. The crabs go down a slide and into a tank, the pots get re-stacked and the rope coiled away. Then we do it all over again. It really is repetitive work, but then again, as soon as something doesn't work exactly the way it is supposed to, it all becomes very challenging.

Once we were pulling a set of pots that had been jumbled up really bad by a trawler and then the currents. So instead of having one line coming up and pots every 40 meters. We had 5 pots coming up at the same time with 10 lines going down in every direction. On our way out to these pots we had noticed that the Norwegian coast guard vessel KV Barentshav was on an intercept course with us. Probably to do an inspection. When we started pulling the buoy line they were getting closer and closer. When they saw the chaos however, it didn't take long before they slowly but surely starting drifting away instead. 

Life on the boat is great in the sense that we are all literally, in the same boat. Our salary is based mainly on how much we catch. So everybody shares an interest in working hard. There is also the fact that the work is very much life a factory line. If one guy on the line doesn't do his job properly, or even just fast enough, it really fucks up a lot for everyone else. What this results in is that if you see a guy struggling to keep up with his tasks for some reason, you are quick to try to think how you can make it easier for him. And because we are doing something that is very repetitive, we have a lot of practice in finding ways to help out up and down the line when this or that happens.

By far the worst thing about working at sea, just to talk about that as well, is sea sickness. It is horrible. It feels like you have a bad flew and a terrible hangover at the same time. My skipper commented that a properly seasick person perhaps can retain as much as ten percent of his intellectual capacity. I would concur, you become completely irrational. There is nothing in the world that can tempt you to do anything other than lie down and try to ignore the nausea. There are few circumstances I can think of where I have exercised more self control than when I've forced myself to eat while seasick so that I can puke it back up again and feel a little better.

Another side of the sailors life is of course drinking. It is a culture that I felt had to be both respected and enjoyed, so I have been going out with the crew every time we had the chance. One interesting thing to mention to any Norwegian readers who have delusions about how dangerous it is to travel and what might happen in terms of robberies and assault in other countries. Båtsfjord is the first place in the world where I have ever been in a fight. It was a stupid one, but none the less. Because of a misunderstanding, this guy hit me square on the nose and planted another one on my temple. What happened was that my friend gets a really big mouth when he's drunk and he forgets how to shut it. He had been kicked out of the bar and was mouthing off at all the ladies that passed him where he was sitting on the steps. After a while, one of these girls had enough. She marched right up and clubbed him in the head with her fist. Then she marched off to this guy. Some seconds later she started towards my friend again, but this time she had this guy right behind her. I figured they were going in to beat up my friend, so I went over and pulled this guy away from my friend. He fell, then he got up again, then he came like the wind with knuckles flying everywhere. I blocked a couple of punches , but he hit me good. It didn't take more than a week before it all got cleared up and forgotten though. It is a small town, you can't afford to have people not like you. 

After some two months working onboard MS Havnefjell, I've already started liking the fisherman routine very much. You work hard, dinner is served when you finnish on deck, you drink when you come ashore, the comradeship. It's all very good. Also, the environment we are working in is stunningly beautiful. At this time of year you even have sun 24 hours a day. It is funny what this can do to you when you work on a boat like this. We work very irregular hours. Maybe we work 5 hours, have 12 off, then work 20 have 3 off, work 10, have 20 off. Then when you wake up after a long sleep and look at the time, if it for instance shows 3, you have no idea if it's night or day.

Now I am in Beijing. A short vacation to come visit Peter in China. It was great to try hitch-hiking in China. I used to live here in 2007 and I speak some Chinese, but I never really travelled much here. So although I didn't join Peter and Alex for many of the miles here in I China it was awesome fun. I forgot my passport at a hotel in Yuci. We had hitched one ride about 60 km towards Beijing when we were standing there at the side of the highway and I realized I didn't have my passport. It was a challenge. I was sure it had to be at the hotel, the problem was I had absolutely no idea where the hotel was or what it was called. We had taken a taxi to the hotel and then just wandered off. Given, Yuci is a very very small Chinese town of about 560.000 people. So no problem right. I did find it eventually though. The cleaning people hadn't found it where it was half hidden in a crack between the bad and the wall.

We are planning a big party on the 7th of July. Actually we have been planning this party celebrating the first year of anniversary of this trip since way before the trip even started. So our expectations are high, we will see what Beijing has to offer. As a fisherman I refuse to spear any expense on this party. It will be awesome.

Categories: English, Thoughts&News / Gondolatok&Hirek, by Kenneth

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