Day 5 – Hitra Island

On our way to Hitra Island, we passed a number of salmon farms along the islands. There is not much to see above water, just the floats and structures to support the pens underwater. We were told that salmon farming is a $10 billion business for Norway. There has been a negative impact on the environment from the farms, but the long term effects are not known. Problems include use of antibiotics to promote health and growth, having to feed the fish a coloring agent to turn the flesh pink, escapees from the farm interbreeding with the native species, spreading disease, and sometimes outcompeting them, and the impact of concentrations of fish poop in small areas.

We spent all day on and near Hitra Island. We took a stroll on the island, which was covered in heath, a small plant with a small purple flower that sheep like to eat. In the late afternoon Amy Lightfoot talked to us about her project to re-create Viking ship sails.

Amy came to Norway from Boston in the 70’s as a biologist studying otters, and never left. In the 80’s a fragment of sail-cloth was found from the 13th century in a church in northern Norway, which she became curious about. This led her on a journey to figure out how these old sails were made. She identified the breed of sheep whose wool was used, and over years of study and interviewing the old inhabitants of Norway, the Shetland Islands, and the Faroe Islands, she determined how the sheep were raised, how the wool was turned into sail-cloth, and how the final cloth was treated to make it last (it was treated with a concoction of pine-tar, tallow, ochre, etc.).

She and a group of helpers then set out to make a sail from scratch, which took four years. Her research bas shown that the sails were more valuable than the boats, as they took more time and effort to create. Viking stories indicate that sail-cloth was a form of payment to cover your lodging and bar bills.

In the evening, Amy’s husband Per Johnson talked on his three seasons as a trapper on Svalbard in the mid 60’s. He and a buddy spent most of a year in a shack on the east side of Svalbard, trapping fox, polar bears, seals, etc. The season included the long winter months with little or no light. Dog sleds were their transportation, and they had to live off what they initially brought and what they hunted, since there was no contact of any kind with the outside world for the entire season.


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