The Great Fishing Voyage – Útilegan Mikla

Here is an amazing story about Icelandic fishermen in 1869 - people who lost their lives and those who survived.

Vestmannaeyjar Rough Seas

Heimskringla Newspaper. 08 December 1937. Útilegan Mikla. Bréf úr Vestmannaeyjum.

Translation by Julie R. Summers. August 2015. Fulbright Scholar to Iceland.

The Great Fishing Voyage

The narrative of Hannes Jónsson, sea pilot at Miðhús (b. October 21, 1852; d. July 31, 1937).

The fishing season of 1869, Hannes was hired on the eight-oar Gideon by the farmer Árni Diðriksson in Stakkagerði. On Thursday, February 25, Árni planned to go out to sea and had shortly before put the Gideon in the boathouse, but the weather had been very unstable, so men were not often going to sea. Many went out that day. Jon Jónsson at Vilborgarstaður, captain of the six-oar Blíður, and Árni Einarsson at Búastaður, the father of Ingvar at Hólshús and the captain of the eight-oar Langvinnur, had already gone out.

When Hannes went to the ship that morning, he fell on a hill in the wet slush above Naustin, where the ships' equipment was stored, and he got completely soaked through. So he headed back home to change his clothes, since it was considered unwise to go to sea wet. When he was finished, he again went down to Sandur and all except the Langvinnur had rowed or come out to Botninn to read the útdráttarbæn, a prayer customarily recited before the first voyage of each fishing season.

Hannes didn't want to go with Árni because he was said to be a poor fisherman, although he was an intelligent and diligent man. So Hannes stayed on land for a few days.

There were unusually strong south breakers that morning. There had been stormy weather out of the south-south-east overnight, but in the morning the weather was calm and the weather frostless. The surf was so great that Leiðin was cut off and men had to take advantage of the pauses between breakers. Most of the ships that went to sea went south in the bay Flóinn and south near the bay Stakkabót, except three ships which went north and west around Heimaey. Shortly before midday came a flare of strong weather due west. Some ships had then already come home. The men couldn't even tell if they'd gotten any fish because it was so difficult to keep control on the rough seas and visibility was extremely poor.

Árni Diðriksson had just come in near Miðhúsaklettur on the Gideon. The storm was instantly so strong that they didn?t drag the fishing line out since the oars were blown up out of the oarlock. They, and all the ships that had gone south along the coast, turned around because of the weather and sought shelter east of Bjarnarey. Most rowed away from the storm. On board the Najaden they tried to raise the sail, but the mast broke.

Two of the ships that had gone west were right by the rock column Stóri-Örn when the storm broke out. It was Brynjólfur Halldórsson, a farmer in Norðurgarður and the father-in-law of Hannes, the captain of the eight-oared vessel Áróra, and Guðmundur Erlendsson, the sea pilot who commanded the Svanur. They landed at Eiðið, and the surf was not as strongthere since it was southerly. But not long after, when the westerly storm had continued for an hour, the water began to crash chaotically over Eiðið. When they landed, Sigurður from Brúnn under the Eyjafjöll mountains was there to help them. He hadn't gone out fishing because he thought the skies did not bode well and the surf was too high. He was a very astute and weather-wise man. He often went out fishing and enjoyed good weather while others stayed on land, and he sometimes stayed on land while others went out fishing if he found the weather uncertain, and so avoided many hardships. He had a fishermen?s hut at Grímshjallur for his crew, and he was captain of the six-oared rowing boat Ísak. Guðmundur walked from Svanur to Eiðið but Brynjólfur was put in charge and went with his ship to Hrófin. By that time, the weather was so poor that he didn't trust himself to row directly to Lækurinn, so instead he went south along Botni opposite Básasker and hurried from there in the wind east to Lækur. The current in the harbor was so strong, that the waters at Lækur dried up in the undertow even though the seas were great.

The third ship that had gone west was near the rock Latur when the storm broke out. Símon Þorsteinsson from Hólmur í Landeyjum was on the six-oar Dúfa. He turned east and searched for shelter in Faxabót. He remained there close by and held east of Yztaklettur and made his way to Bóndabót, where he stayed for the night. He reached land close to noon the next day.

The ships that went east around Bjarnarey searched for shelter in the bay or caves around Haganef.

These twelve ships were there:

1. The eight-oared Haffrúin. The captain was Magnús Magnússon, farmer at Vilborgarstaður. 2. The eight-oared Æolus, which belonged to Bjarni Einarsson, farmer at Kirkjubær. 3. The eight-oared Gideon. The captain was Árni Diðriksson, farmer at Stakkagerður. 4. The eight-oared Neptúnus. The captain was Símon, farmer from Steinn under Eyjafjöll. 5. The eight-oared