Grapevine visits the Reykjavik Maritime Museum
Fittingly, Víkin, the Reykjavík Maritime Museum, is located in an old fish plant down by the harbour. As any maritime museum worthy of its name, it celebrates its nation at sea. The abbreviated version of Icelandic maritime history goes something like this: in the nineteenth century, Iceland was a very poor country and mainly used rowing boats for fishing. The industrial revolution brought the first fish trawlers to replace the rowing boats and increased fish exports. More trawlers were bought in the mid-twentieth-century from England. Then England and Iceland went to war over cod and Iceland built more fishing boats. The museum displays this history (obviously in a more detailed manner) prominently amongst its exhibits.
The highlight of the Maritime is a tour of Óðinn, a Danish built 910-tonne coast guard rescue vessel that was active in all three cod wars. During its span of active duty, Óðinn sailed over 200 rescue missions. An equally captivating exhibition is the stunning 3-d work of photographer Þorleifur Þorleifsson of the Reykjavík harbour. The museum also features a replica of the historic vessel Gullfoss, built in 1915 and the country’s main transportation to the continent in the early twentieth century.
It is the little quirks within the exhibitions that make the trip more memorable. For example, on the engine telegraph of a trawler Iceland bought from England in the late 1940’s, “dead slow” is used as a measure of velocity. An exhibition focused on the shark liver oil industry offers free capsules of shark liver oil, taken to heal wounds. A word of warning: don’t bite straight into them. Also, the fish hanging over the exhibits do indeed smell, so it’s probably better not to visit straight after lunch.
Other highlights include the sheer quantity of fishing paraphernalia whether marlin spikes, hemp nets, or bobbins. The wax models also create a lifelike backdrop to the encyclopaedic information boxes. The lasting impression though is the poignant fact that 142 ships weighing over 12 tons were lost in Icelandic waters from 1928–42. These boats are named on a map and this touched a personal nerve for me, born and raised just outside Grimsby and Hull in England, as both towns that have had their share of loss at sea.