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The Crimson Waters

DENMARK | Saturday, 10 May 2014 | Views [708] | Scholarship Entry

I’ll never forget the day I saw whales in the wild for the first time, only to witness the sea turn red in their wake.

It was the boats I saw first: fishing boats, lifeboats, even a dingy or two. Every seaworthy craft in the southern Faroes had answered the call, and now they made their way methodically up the fjord in a wide, crescent formation.

Feeling curious, I abandoned my search for mountain trolls and ran to join the crowds gathering at the water’s edge.

‘What’s happening?’ I asked breathlessly, puzzled at the colourfully nautical scene. A bearded, weather-beaten man of the sea answered:

‘Whales’ he said simply, pointing to a spot a hundred metres from the prow of the leading boat, where dark shapes could be seen rising and falling among the waves. It was a ‘Grindadráp’, a Faroese whale hunt. I had seen the photos and read the articles, but now it was happening only metres away.

Except it wasn’t. The dark shapes had disappeared and now the small armada of boats bobbed redundantly in the ink-black waters. Skippers scanned the dark fjord, onlookers scratched their heads and a band of knife-wielding men stood impatiently in the shallows, waiting.

‘I would do a better job if I still had my boat’ the seaman grumbled, kicking a small rock into the sea.

Suddenly, the water began to bubble and roar. Great heaving masses appeared at the surface and spouts of foamy water shot from them in one mighty broadside of defiance. The boats turned, shouts went up and the hunt was back on, driving the trapped whales closer towards the beach.

‘Ha! Even whales need to breath sometimes!’ yelled the seaman, jumping into life.

This was the only jollity of the day. Soon the armed men in the shallows were wading further out to begin their grim work. None took pleasure in it, but all finished the job with a well-practiced swiftness, the sea turning a sickening red as each whale was dispatched.

Just as it seemed the work had been done, a crashing sound - one of broken wood and shattered bone - shook the air. A single whale remained – the largest and toughest of the lot - and it had cut a small boat in two with a fierce whip its tail, leaving a mangled fisherman flailing and wailing in the wreckage. A shout of anger went up, blades flashed and soon the whale’s thrashing ceased.

‘What happened to your boat?’ I asked the seaman as the hunters paused for breath amidst the crimson gore.

‘One of those did’ he sighed, nodding to the lifeless body of great whale.

Tags: 2014 Travel Writing Scholarship - Euro Roadtrip

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