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139 5 THE SEA’S SIREN CALL AND THE JOBS SEAWOMEN TAKE IN REPLY I wandered up the Reykjavík side street looking for the School of Navigation, the institution that, since 1891, had been teaching people the skills needed to be larger-vessel oceangoing skippers. I was heading there to see Magni, the director, to ask him about female students and graduates, and also to visit Inga Fanney, who had recently started teaching there. The School of Navigation announces itself: it stands on the brow of a hill, venerable, stone, four stories and topped by a windowed crow’snest tower. As I approached, three young men bounded out the door and held it open for me. Immediately the pleasant smell of old wood greeted me. I crossed the foyer—remarkably high ceilings, wainscoting of blond wood—and ascended a curved stairway backlit by a two-story window. I came to upper corridors flanked by graceful arched windows, lined with paintings and busts of stern-looking men. In his office, Magni greeted me graciously and we immediately began talking about his various female students over the years. He showed me his computerized lists of students, dating back to the school’s inception. Knowing I was coming to visit, he had already taken the time to highlight the names of all the women, including their years of entrance and graduation. When I asked him how many women were currently studying at the higher levels, he at first shook his head. “There aren’t any right now,” he said. “But,” I replied, remembering that the marine engineer Jónína had 140 CHAPTER FIVE recently told me that she was also now studying to become a largevessel command officer. “What about Jónína?” Magni actually blushed. “Oh,” he said. “I forgot she was a woman. . . . I mean, I didn’t forget, but I never think of her that way . . . or . . .” Blushing even more now, he could tell this was not getting any better. I laughed. “That’s okay. I get it.” Magni shrugged. “She’s one of the guys.” • • • Still smiling at Magni’s delightful blunder, I went in search of Inga Fanney . “Let me show you the turret room where I teach navigation,” she said when I found her. “You’ll love it.” So we climbed the stairs to the crow’s nest, and she was right—I did love it. Large windows opening on all sides, you could see for miles over the city and beyond to the sea. Above us rested the school’s beacon light, which shines out to sea, specifically as a signal for ships. Unfortunately, that light is now partly obscured by a tall corporate building erected in the pre-2008 years, when a number of things seemed to have occurred in Reykjavík with impressively little forethought. Inga Fanney and I returned to the faculty room, chatted, and then began looking over marine charts. She laid out various charts, showing me different routes, the various interesting currents that run along certain fjords and coastlines of Iceland. Then, still looking at one of the charts, she sighed. “I miss being home,” she said. “You mean at sea?” I replied. She laughed. “I said home, didn’t I? So, yeah, I guess that is what I mean.” And with that I knew that although Inga Fanney said she liked the teaching gig, it was not going to last long. • • • The seawomen I have met are not romantics—quite the opposite, in fact. But there is a current, simultaneously elusive and concrete, that runs through so many of their sea memories and descriptions: that the sea called them. Most told me they had wanted to go to sea for as long as they could remember. They played along the pier, they followed their fathers, they made fish part of their childhood games, and they went The Sea’s Siren Call 141 to sea while they were still very young. This call of the sea overrode everything. In telling their stories of getting that first large-vessel job, the seawomen reiterated that they would take almost any ship position they were offered, even jobs they initially disliked—oiler of the engine, for example, or cook—just to get on board. I found that they worked in all positions on these boats—with the exception, as yet, of large-vessel skipper. It was in part this willingness to take any job that enabled women to get on board again...


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