We sailed from Orkney to Norway last month.
One recent night found us at a small anchorage hidden among the rocks and shoals off a small island called Stokken. It is one of the hundreds of islands that gird much of Norway’s southwest.
One moves along the coast by weaving among these islands and related rocks and jutting peninsulas. Traveling through the area requires constant attention to the charts, but is really pleasant sailing that affords close-up views of simple summer cottages and lazy-looking fishing villages. The islands knock down the seas and make for flat sailing. As Alexander exclaimed during a recent easy trip, “Hey, that was easy! Aylin and I didn’t even get sick!”
We took to this place from the moment we entered the narrow passage into the anchorage. At first, we swanned about trying to figure out how and where to secure Leander. The anchorage was long and thin. On one side was a cliff face that dropped straight into the sea, ribboned by a long thin wooden dock. On the other was a short ledge that rose about fifteen feet out of the water, against which we could also tie the boat. There were single power boats on each side, and another sailboat was already anchored in the middle.
As we nosed around the cliff’s edge, we could see that in some spots there were rocks that jutted out from beneath the pier. Maybe we could find a clear stretch, but we didn’t pursue it. As we moved to look at the other side, the sailboat in the middle hailed us and, in a friendly way said that there was still plenty of space for our boat to anchor, and that he had 60 feet of chain out. He then pointed to where he had dropped his anchor, which enabled us to more easily get our boat in the right position. We dropped, and drifted back to within about 50 feet of him. We then cleaned up the boat after our trip, put the dinghy in the water, and ate our dinner.
We explored the island the next day. It was wonderful.
Alexander and I then went for a row around the tiny bay that night. We drifted close to the power boat along the dock, and met Kirsten and Apen. Countless small herring were jumping out of the water all about us. “The mackerel are chasing them to the surface,” Apen observed. “Are you going to fish for them?” he asked. I showed him that we were trailing a line off the back of the dinghy, as I began to teach Alexander about fishing. I then told him a story about fishing trips with my own father as a kid. It is a story that I have told before.
My father was a good fisherman, I said. Not unlike those mechanics described in Steinbeck’s Cannery Row. They could make an engine run better just by being around. My dad was like that with fish.
He used to take me fishing off the docks near the General Edwards Bridge, where Lynn meets with Revere, to the north of Boston. We’d fish for flounder and mackerel. Dad would bait my hook, and then his. After some time had passed, Dad would pull in a fish. Then another. And a third. None for me.
“Hey, you took the good rod and line!” I complained. “Let’s switch.”
So we’d switch, and dad would pull in several more fish.
“Dad, no fair. You’ve been saving the good spot for yourself all this time!”
So we’d switch places then, and dad would pull in several more fish. He had a touch when it came to fishing, my dad did. The fish knew to take his hook.
“I’m not a bad fisherman,” I told Apen, “but I don’t quite have my father’s touch.”
We rowed back to Leander. It was now dark, but the fish were still jumping. I baited a line on our fishing pole, and also put out a hand line with some smaller lures.
I cast the metal lure once, and pulled it back. Nothing. I repeated this about 15 times, with Alexander by my side. He chatted non-stop about catching fish. “Can I try, can I try, can I try?! How about now, Dad, huh?! Let me do it! Please! Now?”
Well, OK. I cast the line out again, tied the rod to the boat, and turned my attention to the hand line that dangled straight down into the water. Alexander took the rod and line and pulled it to and fro, tugging akwardly at the line in the water. I smiled at him. This was fun. Just like I had fished with my own dad. So what if he doesn’t catch any fish. It’s fun to be out.
“Dad, dad,” he asked about a minute later, “does it mean anything when the line does this?” I didn’t respond very quickly, as it was clear, at this time, that he was probably not used to the weight of the metal lure. He continued to chat. “Dad, why is the pole moving?” I turned and saw the pole jerking up and down. Was he doing that? He wasn’t. It looked like a fish.
“Mom, mom, I’ve caught a fish!” He had. I helped him reel it in. A mackerel. A good sized one.
Maybe this fish-catching skill is genetic, mused Sima, but it skipped a generation.
We kept on fishing for another half hour, as the stars came out en masse, and the milky way crossed above our head. It was the first time we’d been up to see the stars this summer. We found the north star, incredibly high in the sky. So it is this far north.
We chatted about it the next morning. “Alexander, you’re a good fisherman,” I said. “Thank you daddy. And you are not a very good fisherman.”
I laughed. “Go share that with mommy!” I chuckled.
“But daddy, mommy was the one that told me that!”
Now Sima, from the bedroom, laughed. “That’s the stuff divorces are made of!”
Editor’s note: The author has indeed caught several very big fish while sailing in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. You had to have seen them to believe them.
Editor’s further note: In the days that followed, Alexander has caught two additional fish. He has spent almost as much time fishing as his father.