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Saturday, 8 July 2017

FOR BETTER, FOR WORSE


It’s often said that sailors are married to the sea. For the fishermen of Hönö, that’s not the case. The sea is at the center of their lives but family has always been the bond that holds everything together. Nowhere is that bond stronger than onboard the Västerland.

Hönö is a small island community perched on the edge of the Swedish west coast. It’s part of a rocky archipelago, carved by the unforgiving wind and waves that drive in across the slate-gray North Sea. The harsh natural forces also shape the people who live there. At its height in the 1940s Hönö was all about fishing. Home to over 60 vessels and many thriving boatyards, everyone on the island was involved – men, women, even the children.

Bound by the sea

Life was a shared rhythm: Preparing the boats and the nets, setting sail, fishing for days, returning safely, and unloading the catch before finally reuniting the families and capturing some much-needed rest. Then it would be church on Sunday, a few prayers for protection at sea, and the weekly cycle started again. It’s a unique way of life that’s difficult to understand if you haven’t lived it. There was certainly a strong sense of togetherness in Hönö and within the families who shared every good catch and every punishing loss, some of them tragically fatal. It was into this world that Douglas Sörensson was born in 1934. There was never any doubt that he would head out to sea when he turned 14 and left school. As Douglas says, “My father was a fisherman and his father before that. That’s the way it’s always been.”

A family affair

Douglas is now in his 80s and no longer ventures out on the open sea, but the family business continues with his sons. There’s a lot to be said for sharing a passion as well as the risk and hard work that comes with it. The wives and mothers are equal partners, perhaps even bearing the heaviest burden of taking care of family and work on the island. It’s a bond that is strengthened and renewed every time they are apart and then reunited. When asked what Douglas loves about fishing and the moments he remembers the most, it’s not the sea and the friendship onboard, it’s coming home: “The best thing about fishing is when you’ve been out and caught lots of fish. Then you come home to the wife and kids – that’s absolutely the best feeling.”