The ocean is an integral part of Icelandic life

The vast ocean surrounding Iceland is rich and beautiful, home to some of the best fishing grounds in the world. As an island nation, sailing is in the blood of the Icelanders, and fisheries have for centuries been the largest part of the Icelandic economy, making it a traditional life style for many. After the economic developments within the last decade, tourism has been on the rise as the main driver for financial growth with more people than ever seeking to explore the Icelandic nature and connected to that, the Icelandic way of living.

Icelanders are internationally recognised for their good diet, healthy lifestyle and longevity as a result. To find out what a traditional Icelandic life connected to the ocean is constructed of, we met up with Kjartan Ólafsson, an independent sailor and fisherman. He finds himself in the intersection between the paradigm shift in the Icelandic economy, working both as a traditional fisherman and operating a tour company, taking tourists out onto the Atlantic Ocean.

First time at sea at 14

Kjartan, age 68, first got into fishing at the age of 14, when he spent his first summer out at sea. “Back in the day there was nothing called child labour. Instead, we were considered a part of the crew. Bullying of the new arrivals was rough in those days, but it was all meant to make us kids tough. I was big and had a strong stomach for the sea, so they pretty quickly forgot about me. After that first summer, I could return home with more than enough money to buy myself a moped, that was pretty exciting for a young kid.” The year later, Kjartan went out for another summer season and returned with enough money to buy himself a brand-new Jeep Wrangler. Year to year, his knowledge of the profession at sea became better and better, knitting the man and the sea closer to each other.

Since then, the sea would forever remain a part of his life. Kjartan worked as a fisherman until he, at age 25, decided to try something else, entering the police force for twelve years. “I had my share of adventures in the force, but I never felt quite satisfied. I had a hard time spending most of the day sitting down in a police car or in front of the desk at the station. In particular, I was missing the hard, physical work, the freedom and serenity connected to being out at sea, so I decided to turn back,” says Kjartan, who even during his years at the police force went out at sea once in a while after working hours. He just couldn’t be without the sea.

“The freshness, openness and isolation is what I enjoy the most and is what keeps me coming back.”

“The freshness, openness and isolation is what I enjoy the most and is what keeps me coming back,” says Kjartan, who normally heads out alone on his fishing boat when he isn’t taking tourists out at sea for puffin watching or sea-angling. He enjoys sharing the experience with travellers who can get a taste of the Atlantic Ocean, but his real friends are the sea birds which accompany him when he is out alone at sea. During the winter, the Atlantic Ocean can be a cold and unforgiving place, and Kjartan says that a trip to the local geothermal hot tub is the best way to warm up after a trip on the ocean.

At age 68, he says he has no intention of retiring anytime soon and plans to go out to sea for as long as his body will take him. Judging by the appearance, Kjartan seems to be in good physical shape and when asked about his health, he says he is convinced that being out at sea is a healthy lifestyle with plenty of good exercise. However, he also accredits his good health to the Icelandic food which he says he finds it hard to live without. Icelandic skyr, lamb, traditional blood and liver pudding, as well as a lot of fish is a part of his regular diet. He wants his food to be Icelandic and he wants to know where it is from. His favourite, is traditional salted cod, which he prepared himself from scratch; caught at sea, salted for a month in barrels and sun dried for a couple of days until ready.

Kjartan has never experienced any accidents during his almost five decades long career as a sailor and says he believes someone from above must be looking after him. As a result, he is a Christian man and has regularly been a part of the local church choir.