Cod and Chips
Maybe we should have bought radar for this trip and not a GPS. We knew we were two miles off the south coast of Iceland near Vestmannaeyjar, or the Westman Islands, but where were they? We could see nothing. It was 0200, and the midnight sun accentuated the diffuse, pearly quality of the fog. This fog was different from what we were used to in Ireland: Here, the moisture froze on contact with the boat. People said that May was too early to go north to Iceland, but Mithril, our 50-foot steel ketch, was well suited for the North Atlantic weather, and we wanted to make the most of the 24-hour daylight. The weather had been excellent for most of our five-day passage, with strong southeasterlies shoving us along.
Then the fog arrived, shutting down visibility. This wasn’t a problem until the decreasing digits to the waypoint started to worry us. We sailed slowly along a bearing until we should have been in the entrance, but still nothing. My partner, Peter Maxwell, called the harbormaster in Heimaey on the VHF and explained our predicament.
A small, red, wooden boat hurtled toward us out of the gloom. “Ahoy! Follow me!” bellowed a voice from the depths of an oilskin. Several singlehanded cod-fishing boats joined in, competing to lead us in. They motored alongside us, asking all manner of questions.
The Westman Islands were evacuated in the 1970s when a volcano erupted and made the islands uninhabitable. But the islanders gradually drifted back, and for once, nature was kind, causing a huge lava flow to form an excellent natural breakwater for the harbor. Puffins and terns nested on the cliffs at the entrance, but I was too busy trying to lower the mainsail to appreciate the view. “It’s stuck!” I called.
“The bloody thing’s frozen!” was Peter’s surprise verdict. We had to dock with the sail still flying and then go at it with my hair dryer-how embarrassing.
Early mornings in the land of the midnight sun are enchanting. There’s a still quietness alien to the brightness, when you feel compelled to sit and contemplate the world over a cup of strong coffee. This serenity was often disturbed by the wet slap of a fish landing in the cockpit.
We often got fish from our fisherman friends, but later that day, as one of them motored past Mithril, he shouted, “Sorry, no hake today. Only cod.” What did he mean by apologizing for cod? Wasn’t Iceland famous for it? Didn’t the Brits have a furious dispute with them in the 1970s over cod quotas and fishery limits? Now I’m finding that Icelanders don’t even like cod themselves. Fish-processing factories surround the harbor in Heimaey, where fish fingers and breaded fillets are made and then exported to Britain, where they’re still a family favorite. It surely is a funny old world after all.
Cod and Chips, Cruiser Style
2 large potatoes, scrubbed, not peeled
Garlic salt, to taste
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 egg, beaten
2 cod fillets
1 cup fine breadcrumbs
Salt, to taste
Vinegar, to taste
Cut potatoes into large chips and parboil. Drain, then toss chips in olive oil until well coated. Place in one layer in a shallow baking pan and sprinkle with garlic salt. Cook in a hot oven or under a broiler, turning occasionally, until golden brown. Add more oil if necessary. Sprinkle with grated cheese just before serving. While the chips are cooking, pour the beaten egg onto a rimmed plate. Coat each cod fillet in the egg. Put the crumbs on a separate plate, then press fillets into them. Heat oil in a frying pan and add fish. Fry until golden, turning once. Serve with salt and vinegar.