Five former Shetland whalers have just returned from a reunion in Norway where two of them bumped into old shipmates they had not seen for half a century.
Gibbie Fraser from West Burrafirth, who compiled the book Shetland’s Whalers Remember, Geordie Robertson from Bigton, Billy Craigie from Lerwick and Yell men Alastair Thomason and Davie Clark were joined by another five veterans of the South Atlantic from Edinburgh. They spent eight days near Tonsberg, where many of the catchers were based when the industry was at its peak.
The whalers visited the Sandyfjord Whaling Museum and also the restored catcher Southern Actor, which made a trip to Lerwick in 2000.
“We met ex-whalers from Norway at the old customs house in Tonsberg,” Mr Fraser said. “We had a meal of pea soup, salt beef and salt pork. Traditional whalers’ food – and very good it was too.
“We stayed at the Atlantic Hotel and the guy in there had bought a complete store building from a firm called Pelagos, which used to send catchers down to the Antarctic. He bought this four-storey high building and rebuilt it on to his hotel. Many artefacts came along with it such as harpoons, guns, grenades and rope blocks. He even had a model of a catcher hung for a breakfast bar.
“We were of the opinion that it was the best museum that we were in, for all that it was a hotel.”
Mr Fraser and Mr Thomason took the ferry to Horten, another former whaling port, and waiting for them was a Norwegian who Mr Thomason had worked alongside during his time in South Georgia.
“He had not seen Alastair in 50 years,” Mr Fraser said, “but he recognised him right away.
“We then went to Frederikstad, to a very small but very good whaling museum. This man came along to meet me and it turned out to be Kai Andersen, who I had not seen for 49 years.
“He was a crewmate of mine on the Southern Broom, which was towed all the way from Enderby Land in the Antarctic back to Middlesbrough by the Southern Main, which Davie Clark was on. I had not seen him since April 1960.”
The plan is now to stage another reunion in Shetland next year, Mr Fraser said, with a number of Norwegians interested in coming over and hopefully men from Edinburgh as well.
“We’re hoping to organise something in May, and will try to get it by with before the Hamefarin’, probably some time between 17th May and 1st June.
“This will be a one-off reunion, and it will probably be the last one, as they’re all getting older now.”
If anyone is interested in the reunion they can contact either Mr Fraser on (01595) 809203 or Mitchell Arthur on (01806) 242519.