A sailing adventure

Harald Hansen
Mountain Home, Ark.

Part of our childhood we grew up in Farsund, a small town that in those days was about a day’s drive from Kristiansand. Small towns like that don’t have much business; most families had a son or father in the merchant marine, and a few owned their own ships.

In Farsund there was one sardine factory, and the son was a good friend of our oldest brother. A few times a year, a fleet of nice fishing vessels came from Denmark. They always had lots of lobsters.

One of the captains had his 14-year-old son with him this year. The Danes always asked if our dad had any eels, and this time they gave a bucket of lobster for an eel about four to five feet long. We didn’t like eels but the Danes did, and we like lobster.

One day we heard a loud siren from the fleet, and they were coming really fast in to the pier. The captain shouted if there was a hospital, doctor or so, but this little town had only a nurse, and she had also heard the siren and was right there.

They said the boy had fallen overboard, and they were searching for a long time and finally got him in one of the nets, but he wasn’t breathing.

The father was hysterical, saying “do something!” The nurse worked on the boy for almost an hour and asked if anybody knew how to do this, and several took turns, and finally, unbelievably, the boy started coughing up seawater and slowly came around. People were clapping and laughing, and the father was so happy and excited, and he told the helpers there would be free lobster for them all summer, and to the nurse he said he would take care of her expenses for further education.

One day our parents told us they wanted to move to a bigger city. It would be better for all of us. We told them it would be hard to leave; we had our own little harbor. They said, “just wait and see what a nice place we have found in Kristiansand.” They were right, and it was also right by the small harbor. It didn’t take long to get used to this place and make new friends.

Our parents told us that in 1604 the Danish King Christian the Fourth came over to Norway and came to a sandy part of the coast, and the King said, “I will build a town here, and I will call it Christiansand.”

Just about everybody had boats, there were very few cars.

One day in 1938 we had a visitor, a cousin of our mother. He was a captain on a freighter. In those days a ship would come home once every two years or so. He told us that when they were in America he’d bought a used sailboat, for his retirement years, and loaded it onto the ship. We ran down to the pier to see it, and it was a beauty: nice cabin, built-in compass next to the steering. It needed a little paint job, but we could take care of that, and he said, “Use it as your own. I will be back, hopefully in two years.”

He helped us get the sails out of the forward storage, and we took it out for about an hour. It was fun and people were waving to us. He asked us to take good care of it, and asked us to write him a letter, as our mother had an address to get ahold of him if needed. Little did any of us know that he would be captured a little later around the south China Seas and held prisoner for five years. Meanwhile, we enjoyed the sailboat and almost lived in it.

One day our older brother said to us, “Let’s sail to Denmark. I have it all figured out, and we should make it in between 12 to 15 hours.” Some older guys said that a nice place to sail to is Fredrikshavn, where a lot of vacation boats stop.

The weather was a beautiful summer day and off we went. Soon we couldn’t see land anymore, and it was a funny feeling, but our older brother knew all about reading the map and using the compass, so we weren’t afraid. A little later we saw lots of other sailboats and motorboats, mostly Swedes.

We had been sailing for about 12 hours and we should have been there soon, our brother said. And sure enough there it was. We pulled up to a pier where there were other small boats and talked to a couple, and they told us to go and see the harbor master. He was a friendly guy, and when we told him we hadn’t told our parents where we were going and they thought we were just out for the day, he said, “Let’s call them.” He talked to them first, and we could hear our parents now, they were worried, but he told them everything was fine: “I will take them home to our house tonight, have a good meal and a good night’s rest. My wife will enjoy it; we have no children.”

When we came to his house, his wife had a table set and there was all kind of delicious food we love. Now she also called our mother and told her not to worry about a thing: “In a few days the Danish fishing fleet will leave for your town. They will have the sailboat in a tow, and your children will stay on board one of the fleet’s boats.” To make us feel better, the fleet let us go in our sailboat when we neared our town.

Not long after we returned home, my older brother said a trip to the west coast of Norway would be fun. We could stop in Stavanger and say hello to our cousins. The oldest was into sailing, and we were told he had a big boat. His younger brother was into motorcycles, and he and his wife had made many trips to various parts of Europe.

So, the next year, maybe. Meanwhile, we enjoyed our home in Kristiansand, with all these islands, big and small, places to tie up our boat, swim, and explore.

Happy sailing!

This article originally appeared in the Jan. 22, 2016, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.