From my dad’s journal of memories: a story from his life when he was a teenager on a farm on the isolated island of Siø during the dirty thirties.
My uncle had purchased a large 40-foot fishing boat from the retired skipper Christian for shipping the produce from the island across the strait to the town of Rudkobing on Langeland just a few miles away.
Initially the old skipper sailed it but when he got hurt his oldest son Johannes took over. But the old man was still trotting all over the place morning and night, tending the island’s three lighthouses, and in between doing light work on the farm such as rope splicing.
I worked with him and listened to his stories such as when he sailed around the horn of Africa before the Suez Canal was built. Life was tough then, the food aboard the ship after weeks out on the sea left a lot to be desired; there were also problems with tyrannical superiors.
The old skipper played the violin by ear and well enough to be clowning with it. Sometimes I was invited to his home, and often, if we were working on the fields nearby, his wife Magda would come out with coffee and cakes.
Changing times saw me more and more adopted by the *skipper’s family although I did not realize this at the time.
I went sailing with the younger skipper, Johannes, who treated me like his little brother. A few years before they had lost a little brother in a shooting accident at a neighbour’s place and maybe I was filling in.
A couple of experiences come to mind when sailing with Johannes:
One stormy night we took off in the boat and when nearing Rudkoping harbour a freak wave swamped the boat. We stood in the wheelhouse and I said, who gets the life-belt and Johannes said, you do, I can not swim anyway, and he was white in the face. However the boat slowly popped back to the surface.Another time one morning we had a cage on deck with a very large sow in it. Nearing the harbour the sow became alarmed by a foghorn signal in the harbour and it jumped through the flimsy crate and overboard.
Johannes left the wheelhouse to me and made a lasso and roped the animal who floated nicely on the calm waters. I slowed the boat to a crawl and steered it to a landing ramp. With the sow between the boat and the ramp, and help from the folks at the harbour the screaming pig was lifted back aboard and the cage nailed together.The old skipper Christian often fantasized about bringing an old boat he owned up to snuff so we could go sailing together. When I told my aunt about these plans she became very alarmed.
My dad, uncle and aunts were worried about the time I was spending with the old skipper and his son, and my growing interest in life on the sea. A big concern was that the seafaring family had lost a large number of young sailors on the sea during the First World War.
Thinking ‘out of sight, out of mind’ they quickly moved me to a farm in Fyn, a place more interesting to me than life on the rather isolated island of Siø without any of the modern amenities that we associate with civilization.
*Editor/Daughter’s Note: At this time my father had been living at his Uncle Peter’s farm on Siø, a tiny island between the islands of Langeland and Tåsinge in Denmark. In 1937 he would have been 16 years old and was spending a lot of time with an old skipper Christian and his son Johannes who also lived on the island of Siø and ferried the farm produce over to Rudkobing on the skipper’s 40-ft fishing boat.