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Ships ahoy

The other day when I got home from my trip, I was distressed to discover a guest post that Elisa had sent me while I was away, and I had failed to notice. [I curse that stupid gmail interface!] I would have loved to publish it then, but no matter — it’s still as good today, so here it is. Enjoy.

I’ve always had a strange love of boats, so one of my favorite features of living in Reykjavík is the constant presence of ships of all kinds. It’s a proper working harbour here, and the comings and goings in the summertime are literally front page news. In the past week we’ve been visited by the MS Octopus (now I know where all the money Microsoft products cost goes!) and a couple of massive cruise ships, in addition to the usual to-and-fro of the fishing boats and cargo ships.

Occasionally, ships that stop by will offer open tours. Last week I was out on my running loop and passed a German coast guard ship which had posted a sign next to the gangplank that visitors were welcome the next day. S and I showed up and were graciously ushered on board and handed pamphlets that explained details of the ship and its activities. From there we climbed up to the bridge where a host of sweet and enthusiastic officers showed off the books they used to identify the fishing boats in their area of patrol, the alarm panels, the undersea radar that told them how deep the water was below the hull, the computer systems, the maps, their hometowns. It was obviously a big day for them to have so many people so curious about their little world.

We even went belowstairs through a maze of narrow corridors, past their tidy dining room and sparkling kitchen to the engine room where the pale-green Japanese engines were presided over by a very short engineer in a brown coverall. We could peer at the two diesel engines, the nest of tubes running hither and yon to cool things, lubricate things, transfer things, the two generators, the pulley system to move parts for repairs, the hatch door above. From there we also proceeded into the repair shop where the tools were neatly lined up, wrenches bungeed down, and a small welding station neatly tucked behind a curtain. Back upstairs we complimented the captain on the shipshape nature of the boat and he said it wasn’t to his credit since the ship was so brand new, then dashed off to reprimand two boys attempting to breakdance on the deck.

This isn’t the first time I’ve been able to tour a ship- many research vessels have an open afternoon, and occasionally the fishing boats from parts foreign will be happy to receive a visitor. I once got a thorough tour of a Portuguese fishing vessel this way, including an enthusiastic invitation to dinner. It’s particularly nice that this is such a workdaday area in spite of all the efforts to class it up with the in-progress concert hall. One of my running loops goes through the shipyard where the tugboats and dredgers are regularly hauled in for barnacle scraping, where Russian and eastern European ships stop by for repairs.

Just beyond the shipyard is another favorite of mine, the Maritime Museum. It’s a bit heavy on the Eimskip paraphernalia but is arranged in a way to please almost any visitor. The best part is the model of the turn-of-the-century ship cabin, complete with a dock beyond the window and an indoor seawater pond where skates skim the sandy bottom. Upstairs, the museum marches through sailing and fishing history from many perspectives, including a sample of a fishing family’s mid-century living room. Just my style of museum.

On the other side of the shipyard, a row of long-empty blue storage sheds are now full of life. For a long time the only restaurant there was the Sea Baron, once kind of cool but in my opinion is now over-advertised and not worthy of the fame. Now there are several new restaurants, tourist shops, cafes and galleries, and even a small cinema. On weekends they close the dockside road to car traffic and throw in a fish market too.

It’s really exciting to witness this new appreciation of Reykjavík’s seafront. I suppose the earlier settlers of Reykjavík didn’t understand why someone would want to stare at the ocean when they spent so much of their lives at sea, and the water’s edge tended to be more important for business purposes. It’s still one of the best views in town and despite the tricky wind, a place that I look forward to visiting as things develop. I just hope that the original workaday character, macabre whaling ships and all, is not totally lost in the glamorous new plans.


Iceland from the inside: http://reykjavikharbor.blogspot.com

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  • maría August 26, 2010, 1:41 pm

    I love her blog, it’s a pity she doesn’t write more often. I like her style very much. She’s one of the people whose blogs/photography got me thinking about Reykjavík way back then. Lovely person.

  • JB in San Diego August 26, 2010, 2:36 pm

    A post worth waiting for, indeed, and it reinforces my desire to visit Reykjavík some day… but, since you brought it up Alda, was it really the gmail interface that was to blame? I love that interface, I feel like it reduces the clutter in my inbox.

  • alda August 26, 2010, 2:40 pm

    JB — well ultimately I must take responsibility for my own oversight, but I do find the interface massively confusing. It’s because new messages don’t appear as new messages but as addendums to the original message … I can’t get used to that.

  • Alexander E. August 26, 2010, 5:09 pm

    Just to add some “flavor” to the story – Octopus in Reykjavik

    “American millionaire Paul Allen, the co-founder of Microsoft, and his entourage will the first divers to examine the wreckage of US battleship Alexander Hamilton which lies at the seafloor of Faxaflói bay outside Reykjavík. The ship was sunk in 1942.”

  • PeterRRRRR August 26, 2010, 6:46 pm

    Interesting article, for sure. For all of my own half dozen visits to Iceland, I’ve either arrived or departed by one of the afore-mentioned research vessels. Reykjavik is a very accommodating port-of-call. And, as you might imagine, there are plenty of reasons, from a scientific research perspective, why Iceland gets visited so often. I know the ship’s crew usually look forward to Iceland, though the alcohol prices are always a source of grumbling.

    Elisa — one thing — if you want a really attentive, deluxe, comprehensive tour of one of the ships in the harbor, I suggest that, next time, leave your husband at home 🙂

  • kevin oconnor,waterford,ireland August 26, 2010, 11:06 pm

    “I just hope that the original workaday character, macabre whaling ships and all, is not totally lost in the glamorous new plans.”

    Just email sea shepard they have lots of glamorous new plans for the likes of them ha ha.

  • idunn August 27, 2010, 6:50 am

    An interesting, thoughtful, and attentive account.

  • Col Matheson August 27, 2010, 11:31 am

    Great article, it illustrates perfectly how even in this age of air travel, Internet, etc, so much of Icelandic life is connected to the harbour. It was interesting also to see the variety of vessels which visit besides the container ships and fishing boats.
    Having lived once on an island where the mail boat’s daily visit was the main event, and every home had binoculars on the window ledge to study passing ships, I would imagine most Icelandic homes with sight of the harbour and approaches will be the same.
    The Maritime Museum looks interesting as I was not aware of it, as does the Odinn, which I was aware off…at one time!
    While I was showing my wife some views of the Fjords from Alda’s tour, and some from a link that Gunnar D gave me, she said unexpectedly that it might be nice to visit, so who knows… I may return yet!!

  • ECS August 27, 2010, 11:41 am

    thanks for all the nice comments! It was an honour to be allowed to participate in such a well-respected blog as this one 🙂

    @peter: I did experience the solitary tour once and it did result in an invitation to dinner! I wrote about that on my own blog here