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Monday, 2 August 2021

When the Aurora Capsized

A map of the Lofoten archipelago, with places mentioned in the legend marked.
A map of the Lofoten archipelago, with places mentioned in the legend marked.
(Click on the image for a larger view.)

A newly built jekt lay in Stamsund, taking on stockfish. It was the jekt from Kangerur, as some called her, even though the skipper, who owned half of her, was from Sennesvik. And he was but newly married. It was a beautiful sunny day towards the end of the summer, and many young folk there were who would have liked to go along on this maiden voyage to Bergen. It was as if adventure lay tempting them, far away there to the south, and on such a good new jekt, this trip had to be especially fine.

A crowd of folk stood down on the harbour, watching the jekt being loaded and made ready to sail. There was a fellow among them who was sighted. He thought so clearly that he could see a round, dark head bobbing up by the forestem. It looked like a grey seal, and the others expected it was, but the fellow said he could see a cold, evil grin on the ugly face, and he immediately thought of the draug. But at first he said nothing.

“They’re loading her heavy,” said someone.

“Oh, the Aurora is new and strong, she’ll be fine.”

Folk kept coming with several bundles of stockfish, which they put on deck – loading her a good distance up the mast. They had tarpaulins and chains to fasten across the deck load.

Jekts on their way to Bergen, by Frederik Martin Sørvig (1823–1892). Note how the cargo is stacked up above the gunwales.
Jekts on their way to Bergen, by Frederik Martin Sørvig (1823–1892). Note how the cargo is stacked up above the gunwales.

“Do you see him? The one who stands still by the mast the whole time?” said the sighted one.

“No one is standing still, they’re all labouring and working with life and lust,” someone replied.

“Indeed, there’s a tall man standing by the mast. He is different from all the others; he is most like a shadow to behold.” The others just snorted and ignored the fellow.

“Yes, yes. Just be sure to look upon the Aurora, now. It’ll be the first and the last time you’ll see her,” said the fellow. Then he turned and walked away, deep in thought.

The others began to talk a little about what the fellow had said. But they dismissed it. “Surely nothing can happen on a summer’s day in God’s good weather,” they said.

The crew and the handsome young, newly-wed skipper waved their hats and shouted life and hurrah. Then they began to sing, as the Aurora, like a proud giant bird, slipped out of the harbour and sailed south, down Vestfjord, in sunshine and fine weather. The large, square-rigged sail hung quite slack, for there was too little wind.

It was late in the afternoon when they passed Fleinvær and Helligvær, and they could see Landegode lying in the haze, as if it were floating above the horizon. Then came some gusts of wind and furrowed the surface of the sea – such petty winds as sometimes arise during the summer, so that you don’t know where it really comes from. Then the rain broke loose, a fairly heavy summer shower – so that it streamed and flowed down. Thunder rattled, striking to the east and south, and flashes of lightning fired into the sea. It was just a squall, as there often is in the summer, and the folk aboard the Aurora saw no danger. Still, an old sea wolf advised them to take in some of the sail. They then ran to haul it in and reduce the sail. But the strong winds hindered their progress. And now the load on deck began to shift. They worked hard, toiling to secure it. But then an ugly sharp gale blew up – and before they could sigh to themselves, the jekt had overturned.

It’s said that afterwards the weather stilled again. Some of the men sank like stones, others floated for a while on bundles of stockfish and other wreckage. They screamed and cried for help, but there wasn’t a boat to be seen on the whole broad blue surface. They caught glimpses of the tops of Landegode in the distance, and sometimes they saw islands that were closer.

One by one they found their watery graves in Vestfjord that night. Only one man was saved, that was Petter from Kartnesset. He had found a hatch or something like that from the jekt, and he clung to it and lay drifting. Never in his life could he forget that night – or the screams of his comrades.

When the sun stood low to the north for the second time, he drifted ashore on a small holm. It wasn’t far from Helligvær, and he occasionally saw boats. He called and screamed, but no one heard him. It was painful to be so close to people and still sit alone on a holm and waste away with hunger and thirst. Hunger gnawed at his intestines, thirst tightened his throat and his tongue swelled up. First he dried his clothes in the sun, and then he crawled around the holm, looking for water. He licked the slabs on the mountain, there were a few drops after the shower of rain – and it soothed him.

He lay down in the lee of some rocks and fell asleep there. He didn’t know how long he slept, but he was refreshed when he woke up. His hunger plagued him, so that he blacked out from time to time. Something round lay bobbing in a small inlet. He went down to look and – well, was it not a pat of butter! He dug out some of the butter, and it relieved his hunger. Later he also found a bundle of stockfish that had drifted ashore. Now he had some food that he could live on for a while. But he fell into depair from time to time, for he saw boats all the time, but no one heard him shout or saw him wave.

One day, some youngsters came rowing to the holm. He who was happy was Petter! But when the youngsters saw this strange man waving his clothes and hat and shouting, they were scared and rowed home. Then he threw himself face down and wished he had perished together with the others, for this protracted torment was worse than anything. But the youngsters had certainly spoken of “the man on the holm,” for the next day a couple of strong men came rowing out and rescued him. By then he had been clinging to life out on the bare little holm for more than eight days. Petter received food and care and recovered.

When he came home, people certainly thought he was a ghost. People in Lofoten had by then learned of the fate of the Aurora. The people of Kartnesset had also learned of it, even though it is far from folk and transport. It was the old sexton Wulff who had borne the news. He lived at Gravdal and had gone by foot to Valberg, where he had a married daughter. There were no roads in those days.

Petter never went on a trip to Bergen again. He lived in peace and quiet at Kartnesset until he was more than a hundred years old. And the beautiful young widow of the Aurora’s skipper had a son who never got to see his father.

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