X: Are you a local one? You are from here?
AK: No, I am from the other side. Not far to Priekule. There is my land that I have too. I was a Curonian Sea cost man; my brother in law was a mechanic in marine farm. He invited me.
X: What encouraged you to move here?
AK: How it is said, I wished to wade in the water.
X: And you were fishing all the time? So probably you know everything about the Curonian Sea?
AK: Every little hole and shoal – all are known by me. I can go during the day and during the night and I will find what is needed.
X: You could make a map too?
AK: And it was. When they were making a map of the Curonian Sea, I have showed a lot and I have told a lot in what places are the shoals, how to find them. Now everybody is using it, this map is very well made. The bottom of the Curonian Sea is not changing. Just by Klaipeda, were they are digging. But here it is as it was from the old times.
X: Are you sailing just in the Curonian Sea or you have been in the Baltic Sea too?
AK: I was sailing in the Baltic Sea but later I came back to the Curonian Sea again. Now just my son is fishing by the shores of the Baltic Sea.
X: When you have moved here, with what ship you were sailing?
AK: Then it was such a wooden ‘dore’, we were fishing with it. That is such a boat, now there are the same metal ones. It was all rotten already when in Kaunas they started to make metal motor boats. With them it was already a good job. These little boats were designed for the Curonian Sea. The depth was satisfying, withstanding in the waves too – all as it should be. It was not afraid of anything. Till now they are sailing with them, but their bodies are already rusty, they are not very safe already. I have now a boat I have made myself, it stands in Nida port, its’ name is ‘Ovingis’. Tomorrow I will go with it to the Curonian Sea for fishing.
X: Are you going every day?
AK: We need to go every second day, so we do that, we put nets.
X: Is it much less of fish?
AK: Very much, there are no even these simplest fishes – roaches that are less value fish. Earlier we would take three tones of it every second day from Juodkrante brigade. It is not a fish for eating; they were taking it to Kaliningrad for animals to feed. Now it is not left anymore. Cormorants eat everything. It comes little of the Baltic herring too. Two years ago it was little of them, last year – a bit better, but not much too. We will see how much it will be this year. You are fishing Baltic herring with music. You cut the ice hole: meter wide, half meter long. You tuck the board and you beat on that board like this (demonstrates). Also by Juodkrante we put herring catchers too, ‘venters’. Fishermen amateurs for these Baltic herring are sitting during entire nights. It comes well for them during the night. But we don’t go at night. I don’t know even how to take an earthworm, how to put it on a rod. I have never tried it. All the life just with the nets. I know how to sew them, to make what is needed and to fix. Now you could say there is no one left from these old times fishermen at my age. Now all are young.
X: Are you eating fish?
AK: Oh, listen, I can eat fish during the day and the night. I never refuse fish. Wife knows already and she knows how to make it. One day in one way, second day in another way: fried, stewed, boiled, minced. Everything here depends on a house wife.
X: Which fish is the nicest for you?
AK: If you catch some catfish, of some twenty kilograms – a very nice fish. There are very nice wild carps in the Curonian Sea. It happens you catch ones seventeen, eighteen kilograms. There are not small sanders – for three, four, sometimes even five kilograms. Pikes. The biggest ones are up to twenty kilograms. The tastiest one is salmon. Also eel, but I like it boiled. I boil fish soup often on a ship. I make an excursion for friends, acquaintances and I prepare fish soup. The traditional fisherman’s one. You just catch a fish, clean it at once and – to the pot. If caught fish stays longer than three hours, the taste of the soup is already different. And you never boil it from one type of fish. You put four, five types of fish. And you should never economize salt for fish.
X: Who goes fishing together with you?
AK: My son. He started when he had eight years, during the spring vacations. He liked this job. My daughter is not afraid of the nets too, to take out the fish – it is a pleasure for her.
X: And for you it is better on the shore or on the water?
AK: On the water, much! When in springs ice goes out and I already launch a boat to the Curonian Sea, I just simply start breathing again: at once there is a fresh air, it seems that my chest is twice bigger. Like this.
X: Have some stories happened while fishing?
AK: Earlier we would catch poachers. The ones, that steel fish from the nets. Net is put, you would not lock it. So you are not sleeping at nights. When Curonian Sea was full of motors, when everybody had a lot of petrol. Approximately in the year 1980. There were a lot of eels, it was what to steel. We would catch them, we would teach them, so we made a lot of enemies after that. Fishermen from Nida are really very honest. They would never touch each other net. But from the other side, they were all kinds. The ones that do not like to work, but would like to take a ready one.
X: What is changing now a lot?
AK: It is much less of sanders left. The little ones are caught out by cormorants. And these cormorants – millions of them. They see a pool of little fishes, surround it, whip in one bunch and then hit it. They eat so much of it, that if you go with a motor boat inside of its party, they would not lift up. Then they vomit out all the fish and seagulls have what to do, they collect it after them. Cormorant knows how to regurgitate that he could lift himself. Now a new fish appeared – twait shad. It is very fastidious fish, if it comes to net in the morning, you would lift it in the evening – it is all pale already. Germans knew it, they were lifting nets twice a day. When they were planting potatoes then, they were putting two twait shads next to a potato as a fertiliser. Now there is no Baltic herring. All it goes direction to Riga now. The digging of the Klaipeda port, deepening of it and the big movement of ships had an impact for that. It was in spring time when they spawn, we were pulling up fifty-sixty tones in a week of two. We were working then during the day and night. We were paid for twelve kopecks, I remember. We live here just from fish. Unless you let in some holiday makers also. On the other side there they have gardens too, cows, pigs, they have meat. We have no ground even we could plant some grain. They have much better living conditions than with us.
Alfonsas Kauneckas was born in 1938 in Stirbiai village, Klaipeda region. He started to work when he was 14 as a painter, a thatcher. In 1957-60 he was taken to the army. In 1960 he has moved to Juodkrante. He was working as a fisherman in Neringa Fishing Farm, later – as a foreman. Together he was studying in Juodkrante eight year secondary school. He has finished ship pilots-machinists courses. Together with his son he has an individual fishing enterprise.
AS: Could you tell what your job is?
X: In the morning I am lifting papers from the left side to the right side, after lunch – from the right side to the left… Or otherwise it is state monitoring and research in the Baltic Sea and in the waters of Western Lithuania, environment control, air, sewage control, etc. Let’s say you live with the bad neighbour and you have decided somehow to ‘bite’ him, because he has harmed you dog – yesterday he threw snow at him while passing by. You wrote a complaint that he drains unclean sewage to the garden. And we are forced to control it. (…)
AS: How it is with the pollution in the Baltic Sea?
X: It is not a secret that our sea is polluted enough because of its’ geological situation, as it joins the North Sea by very narrow straits and water flow from the Atlantic Ocean is very poor. It needs approximately 30 years for all the water in the Baltic Sea to change. It makes problems. Our sea has almost fresh water: in one litter there is just 5-7 gr. of salt dissolved. If you compare it with an ocean, it is 5-7 times less – that’s why when swim you can’t float like in a normal sea with your hands stretched. Baltic Sea has only 15 thousand year and for the sea it is an infancy age. But by its shores there are around 60 million inhabitants which waters reaches the sea. Most of the countries around the sea have a developed industry and earlier almost totally unclean water was reaching the sea. Sea is polluted with various chemical substances, bio gens, that is various phosphor and nitrogen compounds that create so called ‘water blossoming’. In summer time, when there is enough alimentary products, when there is no wind and waves, water temperature rises and weeds start to propagate. Its lower lever dies, deposits on seabed and decay processes start. There are not so many seas in the world, which have by their bottom so called ‘dead zones’. But Baltic Sea has them. These zones depending on salty water flows sometimes increase sometimes decrease. They are approximately in 70-100 meter depth. There by the bottom there is no oxygen but the sulphuretted hydrogen, incompatible with life – nobody can live there. People also had impact on that. If there would be no such pollution, there were not so many zones.
AS: You have participated in the chemical weapon expedition in the Baltic Sea. Can you tell about that?
X: This topic becomes actual before an election and not just in our country. From the ecology point of view nothing changes there. But people have imaginations and journalists have written various things. That steam from chemical substances would rise, it will form a fog, ships would sail into that fog and will go out as ghosts – everybody will be dead… Six years ago youngsters from Klaipeda have decided to make a joke: they have thrown a metal pipe inshore with the inscription ‘iprit’. All the services got alarmed, not everybody in there knew what that iprit is and that nobody puts it inside the pipes. After the war, around the year 1946, anti-Hitler block countries were making decision what to do with the chemical weapon recourses, which were left in Germany. And they couldn’t think of anything cleverer than to sink it into the sea. Now there are already reduction technologies, but then it was not. Some of that chemical weapon Americans and British were trying to take out by ships far to the Atlantic Ocean, but part of that weapon has sunk together with ships by the Skagerrak Strait. Similar situation was by the Bornholm Island – here some 36 thousand tons of active substances were sunk. In the Baltic Sea maps there is one more territory indicated and approximately 15 per cent of it is in our economical zone. In the year 2003 we have organised an expedition to that territory. It was just us Lithuanians. We spoke with Latvians, but they have told it didn’t interest them. We spoke with Swedes – they answered they are interested, but they don’t have money. Before going there we have asked military to scan with radar the seabed and they have found that there are mines, artillery explosives, but they couldn’t identify if that is a chemical weapon. We took soil samples from these places. There are around 2 thousand tones active substances buried: iprit, sarin, zaman, acetaldehyde and more others. Around 60 per cent of it is the most dangerous gas – iprit, also called ‘sulphur mustard’, that in the easiest form evokes skin burns and when inhaled – death. Nobody could study this chemical weapon in Lithuania and in neighbouring countries, but we agreed with a sea laboratory in Monaco and our person was working there for half a year with these samples. We were trying to find out if there is an impact to the environment, are these chemical substances leaked out. There was arsenic concentration found, that exceeded background concentrations in the Baltic Sea. The walls of that chemical weapon – aviation bombs, mines and artillery explosives are not thick and after so many years it should definitely be rusted up. But it is good that exactly in this place there is a zone with no oxygen and because of that corrosion is slower. But these substances have already leaked out. Iprit is a jelly gas. When leaked out it pollutes approximately 30 cm of water layer around, it does not dissolve in water, it lies like a pitch on seabed, but when lifted from the water in 14.5 degrees it starts to evaporate. It can’t swim out to the shore itself or be washed ashore, but when these places were still not marked on the sea maps fishermen with nets have pulled that chemical weapon around to really big territory. After that expedition we have prepared instructions for the fishermen what they should do if that chemical weapon gets to their nets.
AS: How was this expedition going? How it was prepared for it?
X: I was made to toil. I have found two more sailors volunteers, as it was not clear what we will lift. We were working with respirators to save human lives. Others were in boat cabins on that time. The boat was placed against the wind; if these substances start to evaporate, wind would take everything aside. We had one solder that was measuring if gas evaporation is going on. First it was him to determine if there is iprit in the sample and just then others could go and take these samples. It was not a complicated trip but very responsible. Me is me, but behind there were twenty more people and I didn’t want to bring anyone back poisoned.
AS: Is it possible to dive to such a depth?
X: Technically yes, but there the visibility is very poor and the dive itself would last very long time as there is a risk of decompression illness. If you go up quickly, blood gets saturated by nitrogen and processes start inside like after opening a champagne bottle. I have experienced myself in an easy form what it is an air burble in your blood that moves insight your body. I have been diving over 5 thousand hours in other seas. Descending and ascending of a diver to 100 meters depth would last a day or a day and half.
AS: An opinion prevails that it is better not to touch that chemical weapon?
X: The technologies how to annihilate such weapon are already created, but how to collect it and to raise from such a depth – not. Imagine that territory, over a thousand or a thousand and a half square kilometres! And who knows how many behind its’ boundaries. And also – such an amount. (…) By the way, Lithuania’s impact in solution of these problems is really not small at all. More precise, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has presented a resolution about the chemical weapon to the United Nations. They were working hard and a lot; I was also included in that group. Let’s say we were successful to spotlight this problem.
AS: What is an impact of chemical weapon to the environment now?
X: Iprit under the water is not active but there are a lot of other substances that include a lot of arsenic and arsenic is a very dangerous substance. Through food chain it gets to small weeds, that small crustaceans eat, small fishes eat them, raptor fishes – let’s say Baltic herrings and cods – them, and we eat them, seals eat them too and so far. Water has such a quality – it doesn’t regard borders. Water in the Baltic Sea moves along the shores ‘against the clock’. You can build walls how you want, everything flows, and you can’t build borders among the countries. And fish is migrating. Mercury that gets in to environment from our and other countries industry waste is also very dangerous. We find a lot of it in cods, river flatfishes, and Baltic herrings. Veterinarian office once has forbidden selling cod’s liver in Lithuania. You know what Lithuanians did? – Transported it to Latvia. We also eat condemned fish from Norway as a highest quality. (…)
AS: You have sailed a lot?
X: I have spend some live on the sea. I was working in all the oceans except the Antarctic. We have started Sea Museum practically from zero, we needed various exhibits. We were looking for all possibilities how to sail to the seas. Naturally from a biologist I became a sea biologist and from that – some kind of a sailor too. And for collecting exhibits it was a need to go down to the seabed. My skin has impregnated so much of sea salt that no worms will take me.
AS: How you would describe the Baltic Sea?
X: Cold, green, dark, but with ambers. Nowhere will you find them sifted. How can you not to love the sea that you are living by. And you should accept it with all its problems and to make less of them.
AS: Do you have some wish?
X: I want to Antarctica. I want to go to see the penguins, to live in their colony. But will it fulfil? -Probably already not. I would like to go there for my own pleasure. When I was working in the Sea Museum and I was fed up with the bureaucratic job, I simply went to penguinarium and watched how they live, what they do, how they intercommunicate. What an idyllic love scenes you can see there! For example a male gives a stone as a present to a female. She looks at it if it is good, puts it in her nest. If she doesn’t like, she doesn’t put. Another male may be brings more beautiful one. (…). It is very interesting to watch them.
Algirdas Stankevičius was born in 1950 in Dotnuva, Kedainiai region, lives in Klaipeda. In 1969-74 he was studying at Vilnius University Faculty of Nature Sciences, in 1987-90 – in postgraduate studies in Moscow (Russia) at A. Severcov Institute for Evolutionary Morphology and Ecology of Animals. In 1974-75 he was working as higher scientific worker in Klaipeda Sea Museum. In 1975-81 he was working as a head of Sea Fauna Department in Klaipeda Sea Museum-Aquarium, in 1981-92 – as a deputy director. In 1992-94 – as a director of Lithuanian Laboratory of Marine Research, in 1994-2010 – as a director of Marine Research Centre and from 2010 – as a director of Marine Research Department at Environmental Protection Agency. He is amember of the HELCOM working group Baltic Sea Monitoring and Assessment. He teachers at Klaipeda University. He is one of the first creators of Sea Museum-Aquarium exposition. He was participating in the number of expeditions in Pacific, Indian, Atlantic and Arctic Oceans, was working under water. His hobby – underwater photography.
X: What associations do you have with Neringa? How it was earlier there?
AV: We lived in Silute, in the opposite side of the Curonian Sea. Silute and Neringa seem to be next to each other, but indeed that are two completely different worlds. At the end you could see as you want, but Neringa is the place, geographically the most remote to the West. After the war time in Lithuania everybody’s eyes were on the West. Usually as we would climb on dunes we would feel like we are already in the West. Now may be there are more rich people going to Neringa, but then it was such a people going that wanted to feel freely, without restrictions. At the end, the same militia that was so full of in Palanga, Klaipeda or Vilnius, in Neringa practically was none. There were no fighting and in Palanga it was an everyday thing. There were sailing regattas, Union championships, hundreds of sailors would gather and there never was a fighting. Even now there is the most save place, the less thefts in all Lithuania.
X: Could you tell about the hikers in Curonian Spit?
AV: Interesting place. It is former interesting place as now there is Russia, Kaliningrad area, and you would not go to hikers place, even more as there is a Russian borderline zone now. I remember we were travelling through Curonian Sea with a boat and we stayed in big bay south from Grabstas Cape. There was a wonderful lawn, a lot of mushrooms grew there. We memorised that place and we visited it each year. Later we put tents; lake was nearby, next to it a lot of berries. It was hippy times and then in Lithuania J. Kerouac book ‘On the Road’ was published, that has that term ‘hiker’, so that place was also caller ‘hiker’ (‘haikeris’ in Lithuanian) as everybody was hiking to get there: who from Vilnius, who from Silute, who from Kaunas or Riga. Hiker has started in the year 1967-68 and lasted up till the 1990 when Russians closed the border. At the beginning there was just our bunch from Silute gathering – we were not hippies, but sympathetic ones – and when we started to go to the studies, our student community started to follow and to gather there too. First study weekend in September was always met there in a hiker, not somewhere in a beer pub in Vilnius or Kaunas. That place became like Mecca where you would feel free. Various people would gather there, exact scientists, like me, and psychologists, and artists, and jobless people, and drug users, and alcoholics, but everybody, everybody were friendly. Even now when we meet each other, we still remember hiker, even if there are not so many of us left, some have passed away. When we had kids already, we were going with kids there too. It is a very nice place, with very good aura, very good sky in the autumn… Some people were living there all the summer as there is food: fish, mushrooms, berries. You would go for bred to Marskoje village next to or to Nida, and that’s all, that’s enough. You need nothing more; there is plenty of water in the Curonian Sea. Water in the lake was good too, just it smelled a bit of mud, so we were drinking water from the sea. You swim, you go by the Baltic Sea. Border guards would forbid going by the Baltic Sea in the evenings, so we were trying to go in the middle of a day, then they would not catch us. There was no beach, meaning no people by the sea there, so you could swim naked like in Indonesia.
X: Nobody would catch you that you are gathering there?
AV: Problems started from the year 1979-80, since Brezhnev’s times. Each summer Soviet border guards would detain all the campers, they would dismantle the camp – there were fire places, special place for garbage, the Hiker itself was standing – we have made such a sculpture from a timber. They were bringing everyone not to Nida, but to Rybacyj, our days Rasyte, to a confinement centre, to jail to clean potatoes. After a week others would come, they didn’t know that others were already restrained – there were no mobile phones then. Border guards would come to catch again and like this it lasted year after a year, like some fighting with the wind mills, till the Lithuania’s independence. Each year border guards were detaining that camp but it was built back again. Now, of course, some things look like incredible. Now you tell to someone, they don’t believe how it is possible to punish someone for example for drinking milk. On the other side, why not to punish someone who even with milk managed to offend the system, find out the way to make fun of it. In the dance evenings, it was in a year 1972, I was already after the first year of studies, everybody was consuming alcohol. We were fed up with all these drunken ones. I don’t know how it came to the mind… Parents of my class made were living next to that dance arena in Silute and they had a cow. It was in the evening and her mother has just milked the cow: ‘So, kids, let’s drink some milk’. An idea rushed in to my head that we should take that milk and to drink it in the dances. Mother didn’t understood, she said, take it. We poured up the full three litters glass pot of fresh milk, I find glasses, these six angle ones, so called ‘shestigrannik’ that everybody was drinking vodka from. We put it to such a creel bag and we went with it to the dances. We sited down by the stage where live music was playing and we put those three litters of milk. We would cheer up to good health and we would clink glasses. I don’t know who then told to my parents, neighbours, or who, that they have jailed me. On the next day they have closed me in to a solitary cell. That fear, it was really somehow uncomfortable, such a little window above and a berth made of boards, no bed linen, nothing. Next morning I have heard how in the yard father was screaming, explaining something. On the same day they took me to the popular court, two militioners were taking me officially through the entire city, and I was sentenced 15 days for delinquency. Security policemen started to investigate me during the nights. They would call me at dusk, around 10-11 o’clock, they would put two spot lights and: ‘Why you were drinking milk?’, ‘Where you took the milk from?’, ‘Where you took the glasses from?’, ‘Why you were caring it with that creel bag, not in a closed bag?’, ‘Who has initiated it?’, – I remember it like today, that circus for the milk drinking. And here it is not the most interesting story still. (…)
X: What stories you remember from sailing?
AV: I remember the most that biggest storm, at least in my life. It has happened for us when we were coming back from Lubeck, three of us. Danes gave us inaccurate weather forecast. Around the Bornholm Island it was a favourable breeze, but after 50 miles, the air pressure has dropped and wind has reached speed of 74 meters per second. That is hurricane wind; I would never believe that such a wind is possible in the Baltic Sea. The waves were 12-14 meters high. We came back to Klaipeda, the port was closed because of the hurricane, so border guards couldn’t believe we just entered the port. Probably I will remember that storm all my life, as even later, when I was sailing around the world, I never experienced such one. So after that I always say to everyone: never believe in one source. And, second, never panic. Of, course, there are various cases, but it is better not to panic… There was such a case in the Baltic Sea, very close to us. Poles have built metal yacht some 12 meters long and there was a captain sailing with his daughter, he was teaching others to sail. Once they were sailing and a strong wind has raised and they have panicked on the ship, these young sailors that he was teaching. So these ones have called for a help on a mobile phone as like the ship is being thrown and something could happen. And the help has come – big Finish ferry came. It tried to moor by the side to that yacht but because of big waves it hit against and the mast broke. Captain was trying to rescue, to hold that mast, he fell down in between the yacht and the ferry and drowned in the eyes of his daughter. Story didn’t finish here. That ferry took all the crew from that yacht, even if that yacht was not drowning; there was no reason to panic. Like everything comes and passes, the storm ended too. That yacht was found in Lithuania, floating somewhere by Nida. Polish motor boat came, dragged that yacht to Klaipeda and started to clear it. The tragedy was there, that when they started to lift… When the mast breaks, so all the cables and all sails falls down to the water… They started to lift and they have found the captain in these cables. They withdraw captain from the water in Klaipeda, where now hotel ‘Memel’ stands and the saddest thing was that daughter was by that quay at that time. So, captain anyway has come back ashore with his ship, like all the captains ‘connected’ with his ship. We Lithuanians say that house is our fortress. But for the captain his ship is not just fortress, but a part of him too. And the lesson is like this: you can shake, be afraid, but not panic. I am telling to my daughter all the time that the biggest coward on a yacht it is me. I am afraid of a changing wind, of streams – I am afraid of everything. But that is what helps me to sail safe.
X: What is your relation with the Baltic Sea?
AV: It is the first sea that we have sailed in to. First water where nothing more is seen up to horizon. Already from Klaipeda or Palanga beach you see nothing. Really, first big water. Because if you want to go to another waters, you need to go through this water first. And when they say ‘love to the sea’… I can’t to love it or not to love it there, for me it just is. I can speak about the love to the children, not about the love to the sea. You don’t say that you love air as you are breathing it. To breathe the air is a normal condition. Exactly the same for me: sea is a natural condition. You need to sail to the sea. And in Lithuania we count that sea on the level of the same Nida or Palanga. Just as a resort area. We don’t need it all; we look at it just from the coast. It would be more precise to say not a ‘sea country’, but a ‘country next to the sea’. If waves brake by the coast so – oho! – what a stormy that sea is, but if you raise your eyes and you look – by the horizon waves do not brake. Waves brake when depth changes. Average depth in the Baltic Sea is 100 meters and when you go closer to the shore it decreases up to 20 meters and later – up to 10 and 5 meters. By the 20 meters ‘line’ is the first breakage of the waves, there are really big waves. Smaller waves are there where it brakes by 10 and 5 meters. Further in the sea there are no breaking waves. There is nothing to be afraid of.
X: What is your relation with this land?
AV: When I came back after two years of sailing around the world, I started to tell everyone that Lithuanians should be walking wearing glasses, but not against the sun, but against the green colour. Probably I was amazed the most that it is so green with us, that when you travel in the world and you come back you have too much of that greenness here… That green colour shades everything. But the point is that you want to be on a road, until your physical powers let you, until you are not ‘crumbled’. And you understand that land much better if you have not been on it for two years.
Andrius Varnas was born in 1953 in Silute, lives in Kintai. In 1971-76 he was studying in Kaliningrad Higher Maritime Technical School, in 1986-89 – in Klaipeda Maritime School. He has obtained captains’-engineers’ and unlimited sailing yacht captains’ education. He is a member of Lithuanian Seamen’s Union and Yachting Union of Lithuania, since 1994 – a chairman of Kintai Amateur Yachting Club ‘Mariu bures’. He is a participant and an organiser of international and local expeditions, supervisor, expert and consultant for water tourism development, port planning and environment protection projects. Since 2007 – organiser and expert of yachting. Captain and organiser for yacht trips in the Baltic Sea and in the North Sea. In 1995 he built himself a yacht ‘Ragaine 2’ and in 2008-10 sailed around the world together with his daughter Rasa.
AA: In 1974 I have entered Maritime School in Klaipeda. According to my education I am a steersman or ship navigator. I was sailing until the borders were opened and tourism came here. I have chosen the Maritime School not to go the army and because I was from the family with eight kids and they couldn’t help me. In the Maritime School there was a dormitory, clothing, alimentation and plus 9 roubles scholarship. That was my way to the sea, you can say, not at all an avocation. But I liked it. In Soviet times sailors were the only ones that would go abroad and see some life how the people live somewhere else. But there were various restrictions. Everywhere we should go three of us, we couldn’t have any contacts with locals, no cinemas, no theatres, practically just shops and always we were obliged to come back with the light. A trip would last six months. After that – some vacations and again out for half a year. Once vacations lasted for me just fifty days, I was not at home for almost a whole year. Psychologically it is hard. When I saw my son for the first time he had three months, when I saw him for the second time – he was already over a year. He has grown up without me, maybe there is no such contact till now. Also you are in a closed space with the same people. And not just for half a year, but for many years there are the same people working on the same ships. When somebody opens a mouth you already know what he is going to say. But you have to be. That is you can say a voluntarily prison – you can’t escape anywhere, around is water…
X: There were run-aways?
AA: From our ship there wasn’t, but from ‘Soviet Lithuania’ one radioman jumped to Americans’ ship. A captain incriminated him a stealing and Americans gave him back. Was he Kudirka?… I am afraid to tell. But another way… In our ship there was one man that everybody was receiving letters, but he not. He was upset very much. And one night everybody was waken up by saying that he has jumped out by the board. We had turned back, we were standing, putting light, listening, he was screaming ‘help’. We had pulled him back and we already started to observe him. And he had hanged himself. He left no note, nothing. Also in his pocket a razor was found, it means may be he was planning to cut his veins. And such to go mad… was there. Everything happened.
X: Where you were sailing?
AA: I was sailing further than the Baltic Sea. At the beginning I was working on the water carrier; we were delivering water. Usually sailors have very poor quality drinking water, which they make from the salty water by distilling it and a lot of sailors have problems with the stomach. We were bringing good drinking water from the shore, which they would take to the kitchen. That our ship would take 700 or 800 tonnes of drinking water. We were coming frequently to foreign harbours as we were pouring water there: Cap Town, Dakar, Canary Islands and more high: Antwerp, Island, Norway. And of course it was very strange for us that we are taking water in Norway and delivering it by Murmansk, very close to the Soviet Union. That was because when you enter a port abroad, an agent comes and in few minutes fixes all formalities, but if you want to enter a Soviet Union harbour – that is a full customs check that may last very long. Also for the big ships there was so called ‘rest’, so the direction of the fishing region wanted to shop cheaper and we were going on a trip somewhere from Murmansk to Antwerp to take water because we were taking that staff for the shopping. Later I was working on rescue ships: ‘Kastytis’, ‘Rambynas’ and ‘Starptyvij’ that has changed the name to Lithuanian ‘Uzsispyrelis’.
X: You were rescuing other ships?
AA: Our tasks were in the places where marine was concentrated. And in Soviet Union it was from Murmansk in the North till the South Africa or even Chile, Angola, Argentina shores. According to the international conventions it is obligatory to rescue people for free and ships for remuneration. Rescue operations are very expensive. Then they were afraid that our ships will be rescued by ships from abroad and each marine had its own rescue ship. I never had a chance to participate in very serious rescue operations. The main our job was such… We had three divers, later I became one too, because it looked like a very interesting job. I went to the school in Voronezh and later for four years I was a diver on a rescue ship. If propeller gets wrapped with some nets or ropes, the main task was to clean it. Another job was to clean the ships that sail for a long time in the South and their hulls accretes with shells and the cooling system overgrows, not enough water gets in to cool the engine, engine is not able to reach a speed or starts to heat… I was a sailor-diver and I received double payment and my salary as a beginning diver was the same as for the chief captain assistant, plus for diving hours they paid additionally.
X: Was sailor’s salary different from the one’s working on-shore in Soviet times?
AA: It was better oh ships. Plus we received some percents from our salaries in foreign currency. If you remember, there was such a ‘bonusing’. These currency rubbles were in bonuses and there were special specialised shops were you can buy for these bonuses some goods from abroad. So this so called ‘currency’ was a big help, a supplement to these simple payments. I was anyway already with the commanding, I was afraid to speculate with something, but ordinary sailors were buying more than it was allowed, they were changing these goods… Now they would say a ‘businessman’, then it was a speculator, that was a forbidden thing. So these, they were making good money from that currency.
X: Was the diver’s job more complicated, more dangerous than the steersmen’s?
AA: I was working together with divers, which were doing this job still after the war. They were telling me how they were mine cleaning all the port in Klaipeda – there were piles of explosives left. So they were playing with the death every day… Me too, each time I was diving with the fear if everything will finish well. Because there you are alone, even if your friend keeps you on the rope, but all kinds of surprises might happen. I was prepared to dive up to 20 meters depth, so that to reach the bottom of the ship. That is not much. When we were working by the swimming bases… According to all diving rules, they should stop working there. As all the waste is thrown by the board and sharks are coming. It wasn’t for me, I was on top, but my colleague worked in this way: he in cage and around sharks are swimming. I certainly don’t want to be in the situation like that, were some sharks pops their noses.
X: You have sailed for a long time, have some memorable stories happened to you?
AA: I remember the most how we had during one storm ‘to take one ship on a tow’. ‘Pasvalys’ if I remember well… Ship stands side to the waves and to the wind, imagine, what kind of swing is that, and you have to give to another ship a thin rope at the beginning, that is connected with the thicker one and at the end with the thickest. We were trying, trying for several times. I was a third steersman then, meaning responsible for pyrotechnics and alarm signals. If you can’t through a robe by coming close, there is a special cannon gun to throw a rope. But for us not a single one was functioning, no matter that everything was checked out before the trip. That was a very complicated operation. For that fisherman’s ship the engine has burnt out, the entire machine sector, all cables and it had no possibilities to sail itself. So we had raged it from the Chile shores for almost a month for a repair in Poland.
X: How it was later with your jobs?
AA: When in 1988 the borders had opened, we have started little by little to work with the tourists as my wife knew German language well. When I saw that the earnings with the German tourists are not bad and it is very interesting to do, I have changed my job to the boat and was able to work all summer in tourism sector. Now I am an owner of the individual tourism enterprise, were it is me, my wife, our sun and sometimes somebody helps us in kurenas.
X: Are you still diving now? May be you go to the other seas?
AA: Sometimes I dive here, but here we have nothing interesting. Here everything is – how I can tell it – dark. I don’t have any outfit, just with the tube. I haven’t yet gone to exotic countries because it turned out that when you have your own business, it is difficult to escape. And here in Nida we work not bad, we earn not bad too during the summer, but later in winter we guzzle all away, as we don’t have incomes. You need to renew transport, you need for something else, you save. So I haven’t yet gone out for my pleasure… But there is some traction to those waters… Now I am a captain of kurenas ship. I feel such a privilege, that Jonušai asked me to be the one. Of course, what a ship is there: just twelve meters long, wooden, but there are just five such boats functioning in the entire world. We in Lithuania have all five of them: ‘Kursis’, ‘Omas’, one boat is in Sturmai village, one is museum’s kurenas and one more boat is in Trakai. So I am a captain of one of these kurenas sail boats ‘Kursis’. For me it is more a hobby than earnings. Earlier before the war it was a fisherman’s boat, as in the Curonian Sea it was forbidden to catch fish with the motor boats, just with the sail boats for ecology. Once it was 400 of them. They are mentioned from 12th century. That’s really unique ship; its gauge is just 40 cm, it can go through almost everywhere. Where not a single yacht, not a single normal boat would go through. There is just one case mentioned in historical sources when the squall came close to Dreverna and two brothers didn’t manage to close the sails on time. The boat capsized and has drowned. Kurenas of course is also so unique as it is so archaic, made from oak, its mast – from deal, sails – from flax and cotton. We try to keep authentic. There was one ship found in the water, uplifted, fixed and Sea Museum was sailing with it. That was one of these old. But you need a lot of money to preserve the boat that was in the water and that boat started to decay. So now that boat, that original is in the museum. And boat ‘Kursis’ – last year it turned eighteen – is the first boat in Lithuania and in the world that was newly made according to the old outlines.
X: I have moved here after the studies. I can say exact day: 16th of January in 1997. It was a very severe winter, minus 25 degrees and I with a heater was travelling by bus from Vilnius. As a real Lithuanian I am very sedentary and I became a real Kopgalis (end of dune) man. I live probably the closest to the sea than anyone in Lithuania. From my place to the sea – maybe 150 meters. All hurricanes I lived here through.
EB: You should feel you live even not on a land…
X: That is an interesting topic. Not on the land, as here – just sand. Probably the youngest piece of land in Lithuania is exactly here, it has less than 5 thousand years when everywhere else -12 thousand and more. Yes, all my life I have lived on the dunes! That is a mystical thing as my childhood I have spent in Dzukija, where continental dunes are as well, close to Marcinkoniai, Valkininkai and Merkine. When I came here it was difficult for me to understand that climate. Like there is water from all the sides around, but plants here – just xerotermic, psamofit, it means sand plants. There is a constant breeze and plants simply get dry. After the rain I was bringing all plants outside but after half a day all was evaporated, dried out. You should know where to put a flower as they simply burn. I’ve brought plants from my studies time, even from the school time. (…) Already at school I had various living creatures: lizards, snakes, birds, parrots. It was a challenge for me to raise something that is hard for others. At university I was studying plants physiology but I was forced to change direction of my studies and I became zoologist – I started to investigate frogs and reptiles. But where you can find such a job that working with frogs you can earn living? Nowhere, unless in the zoo. I was made to change profile.
I could hardly belong to Vilnius – it is a city of rich people with a certain way of thinking. For a year they were seducing me to come to Klaipeda but I never had anything connected with the fish. Once I saw the sea and I said: good buy, never. For the first time I have visited Nerija, here, Kopgalis, still at school, on 16th of August in 1988 with ‘Atgaja’ float trip across Lithuania. I have wandered till the Sea Museum, but it hadn’t made an effect on me as there were fishes, no dolphins at that time. And you wouldn’t believe! I was looking for some place to sit down as I had sandwiches. I’ve sit down on some stairs, I was eating that sandwich, looking around, it was so uncomfortable, such a grey building, not clear what kind of office was that. I ate and I retired quickly from that place. Not even such a mind would cross my mind that life will take me and this building, this place that hadn’t made an impression on me would be a part of my existence! Actually I came here to investigate fish parasites, but it was not needed so much, so with time I should live with the thoughts that I should work as a fish investigator. I didn’t know fish at all. I had just knowledge from books. For me fishing was already intrusive. And also that sea, that sway, you catch that fish in such an extreme circumstances and you should also describe it, that it is cod, what kind of cod as there are not the only spice of them. I was stressed a lot a lot, that was such a break for me. Work, people – everything was new. Even I went to the sea just more than half a year later. I would simply close myself in my little room and I would read books all stiffed. Also classical music would save me. That was a question of survive. Then it was really not to the sea for me. I don’t know how to swim even. Of course, now I have shaken it down. Now I go to the sea at night too. When you don’t know – that is one relationship, but when you start to study, to be interested in, you tame it.
I have written a lot of scientific and cognitive articles – when I would find for myself that sea and these fishes, I would try to write in the language for everybody to understand, try to share with happiness that knowledge, that discovery. And now you could show me any fish… But there is a difference between me and real ichtiologists. I know not just fishes, but also plants, birds. Sometimes I write about them, sometimes I even create some new word like ‘frog-call Kopgalis chatterbox’. I am speaking about a bird starling and the story follows. Here in summer time there is such a green pond frog. And little starlings learn from the sounds around. And it has happened that here, right in that nesting box one stray starling has settled. And he grasped that speech of frogs, meaning its sounds. Once we were drinking some tea with colleagues here and we here a frog call. On that side of the house frog call is not heard. So I think how it can be now. I took a glance to a nesting box – the starling is having a frog call! Not every day you would hear that, so I want to share this experience, that emotions with others, that people would be attentive to the environment. (…) Curonian Spit is such piece of nature! German naturalists were putting exceptional attention to this corner. For me it was also a discovery. (…) Here, in Rasyte or Rybacyj the first bird observation station in the world was established! In 1901 by Johannes Thienemann. And not all Lithuania ornithologists know that. University in Konigsberg – that is even deeper waters. There – first hydrobiology researches in Curonian Sea and in the Baltic Sea, first fish researches, first scientific and cognitive articles about fishes, plants in this region, about the origin of the Curonian Spit.
EB: What exceptional traditions do you know from this land?
X: In 2003 I have published a work about tromel-fischerei or klaper-fischerei in German or ‘bumbinimas’ in Lithuanian. It turned out it is not known exactly how this kind of fishing originally was called. There is a problem that here just one or two historians know German language and a lot sources from this region are not available for them. As I read German well, I have learned to read even German Gothic manuscript, I was searching what about that fishing contemporary authors were writing. It would be the most precise to call it in Lithuanian ‘shoo away ice fishing’ (poledinė baidomoji žvejyba). Ethnologists would say that fishermen while ‘bumbing’ attract fish. But me as a biologist I have written that really it is in an opposite way – they are ‘spuging’ or shooing it away to nets. Fish swims by, they would put nets in a certain positions, cut ice holes, ‘pliumpina’ to a putted deal board and that fish shooed away by vibration plunges to the sides and to the nets. That is an opposite effect than to ‘bumb’ and to attract that fish. That shows the knowledge of that entire phenomenon. Me as a biologist I looked differently to that entire ethnography thing. That was how I get acquainted with fishing even. (…) Also I prepare bibliography about weathercocks. Weathercocks were ‘shmuks’, ornaments or decorations for the ships. A fisherman would compete with other neighbour whose weathercock is nicer. It is like today – whose car is nicer. Another weathercock’s purpose is to mark the belonging of that boat to that village, that place. Of course, there was this information, these codes as for example the year written, but that it was like stories written – there are no such evidences. There is a fundamental book about weathercocks, written by Hans Woede, that I couldn’t find anything about him written neither in Lithuanian sources, nor in German ones. I have decided to retrace who was the author of that book, what were his motivations, what were his connections with this land, why we don’t know anything about him. I was lucky and I have found one of his sons still alive. I have written a letter to him immediately and the son has written me back. Hans Woede was a gardener from Tilsit. In 1951 there was an exhibition by Germans, emigrants from this region, and there were cultural phenomenon of this region represented, among them weathercocks too. He was ‘hooked’ by these weathercocks, which was unknown thing, he started to interest and this book is an achievement of his 15 years of single minded interest. That is how I managed to fill up that white gap in the history of this land.
EB: If we come back to the fish, how do you think, has a deepening of the port an impact for the fish diminution in the Curonian Sea?
X: Such diminutions were earlier too. Of course, there are changes because of the port deepening as the environment was changed anyway. But I think that unreasonable fishing makes the biggest impact. That is how business mechanism is turned on. Prices are being raised, then there is a need to bury unsold fish, to utilise it. Of course, it is concealed. Fishing has degenerated. I study mostly cod, I set its age and it is very difficult. You need to break fish ear bone and to polish the surface. Then, similar like with trees flutes you can see, how many flutes – so many years. Just in cod’s ear bones it is very difficult to see these flutes. Age, then the weight and the length of that age fish and then scientists have particular counting methods and they evaluates it for all the Baltic Sea, how many fish of that age and weight are, how many could be caught, how many not – to keep the particular constant amount of fish. So, in the time of my activity, during these six years, cods’ flock has recovered and reached the level of the 1969 again. Because when I came to work here the resources of the cod fish were smitten, it was almost none. That is already a good sign that such changes with difficulties, but are happening in the Baltic Sea. Quotas are established, reservations for fish spawning are established – simply the fish is being protected.
EB: Have it happened for you to withdraw something interesting when you were catching fish?
X: I have found a big piece of amber. We have mysterious things with these ambers. That was my first expedition. I am really not a sailor and I was feeling badly there. First trip, they took out that trawl and there – a lot of garbage as always. And they appointed me as a fresh one to sort that garbage. Just suddenly everybody looked – there was a piece of amber, as big as a good fist. People form Palanga say if somebody takes out such big piece of amber, the one will have luck always to follow him. These things are happening very rarely, but so it had happened. Now not long time ago some students have found may be just a bit smaller piece even if it was one of the first trips for them too. Another one was lucky on his birthday. Mystics, not mystics, but that how it is with these ambers. Some fishermen for twenty years or more are working in the sea and they didn’t find such piece of amber.
Egidijus Bacevičius was born in 1971 in Kaunas, lives in Kopgalis, Klaipeda city territory. In 1990 he entered Vilnius University, Faculty of Nature Sciences, biology speciality (plants physiology-zoology specialization). In 1995 he worked as a chief engineer in Ecology Institute, Sea Ecology Laboratory. Since 1997 he is a scientific associate in Lithuanian State Piscciculture and Fisheries Research Centre Sea Ecology Laboratory. In 1998 he was elaborating in Copenhagen University Sea Biology Laboratory (in Helsingør) with prof. M. Køie. He is a member of Lithuania Hidrobiologists Association, Baltic Marine Biologists Association and Baltics Society for Parasitologists.
GG: I am a head of the Hydrochemistry department and my department makes chemical analysis of the samples that we take in the Baltic Sea. It is water, sediment from the seabed and biota, it means biological samples – molluscs and fishes. In the Lithuania’s economical zone in the Baltic Sea, in that so called triangle, there are coordinates were we take samples. These points we call research stations. In the Curonian Sea expeditions are organised once per month, in the Baltic Sea – once a season, totally four expeditions per year. It takes three days to visit all stations. Some of the stations are placed according to the types of seabed sediments. Some are historical outcomes as monitoring continuity is important and these places should be constant, they should change as less as possible. Some places are just placed to cover all the territory. Some are by the economical objects, let’s say, terminal in Butinge. By the port of Klaipeda it is analysed how the waters of the Curonian Sea affect the Baltic Sea. When the port is being deepened and the soil is being excavated, they bring it to be buried in the sea. We have two stations there too, we check that environment. And by the Russian platform D6 we analyse if it has any influence. One more station is in the territory of the chemical weapon.
X: How do you sail to the expeditions? Do you have your own ship?
GG: Yes, now we have our own ship again. Before our days in Sea research centre, that was established when Lithuania got back the independence, there was a similar institution, responsible for the Baltic Sea monitoring, just then the data was going to Moscow. Somewhere from the year 1959 we had a ship ‘Jurate’, later it was ‘Oceanographer’, later – ‘Lev Titov’, that later became ‘Vejas’ (Wind). With this ‘Vejas’ they were going to the expeditions somewhere from the year 1982 and in the year 2010 it was discarded, probably cut into metal peaces or dismounted and for two years we hadn’t had our own ship. We were forced to rent, to search for another boat – there were a lot of disadvantages. Now we have received the new one, scientific boat, build in Sarema Island. This month, in February, the first expedition with it is planned. We named it ‘Vejunas’. We wanted to connect it somehow with ‘Vejas’. The votes for the ship’s name were organised, everybody was interested a lot what will be the name of the boat. This boat is smaller than ‘Vejas’, it should suite to the Curonian and to the Baltic Sea, it is faster. Earlier we would go for three days and we were working during the nights too. Now we will be able to go for a day and to come back in the evening.
X: When you do researches for the longer time, what alterations are observed?
GG: I would be afraid to comment other parameters, but from pollution mercury has a reduction tendency. Mercury concentration reduces in water, in seabed sediments and in biota. It is good, of course. However in fish we still find quite enough mercury even if it is not exceeding hygiene norms set for the food. But if you look at the fish as at the environment component, concentration norms for environment are exceeded. Especially flatfish has a lot of mercury. Last time also Baltic herring and cod exceeded the maximum concentration allowed. Mercury is a problem in all the Baltic Sea.
X: Where in the Baltic Sea the pollution has the biggest concentration?
GG: In Lithuanian zone most polluted place is Klaipeda port. Port is the place of pollution and together with that soil that is being taken out and buried in the sea, pollutants get there too. Port load pollutes too. For example, manures being loaded can get to the environment. In the port there are a lot of various possibilities for the pollution. The most relevant substance is oil. We have Butinge terminal where maybe there is no constant pollution, but accidents happen. The last biggest was in 2008, when over two tonnes of oil leaked to the environment. It had an effect to living entities too. The samples of molluscs were taken to examine genotoxicity and it turned out, that effects of this kind of pollution stays long; in molluscs it was seen even for half a year yet if in the environment we didn’t find chemical concentrations. Recently there was one project taking place trying to find the cleanest zone in the Baltic Sea. And such a zone was not found. In the place where they thought is the cleanest environment, in reality the same pollutants were found. You could say that there is no clean place in the Baltic Sea – all are polluted. Concentrations of dangerous substances could be found even in Antarctic, where no activities are taking place. Water streams, portage in the air – all are connected so pollutants go there too. Without chemical pollution there is also a biological pollution. This one is connected with invasive species when not local species get in, when conditions suite and it starts to reproduce and then atrophic relations among all organisms change. One species starts to dominate and structure changes.
X: How does pollution affect living organisms?
GG: Fish illnesses became more frequent – it is parameter and evidence that pollution is getting bigger. Reproduction of fishes is at a loss. May be it is not actual with us, but in the north of the Baltic Sea, I know, they measure seals’ fat layer. And they see that it is getting thicker with the time. If she-seal will not have enough fat, she may be will give birth to offspring, but she may not raise him as during that time when she has a little seal she doesn’t feed herself, it is just the little one that feeds. If she has not enough food for herself, she leaves the little seal and he dies. It is not clear why that fat layer is getting thicker, but one of the reasons could be bigger concentrations of phenol – pollutant that slenderize.
GG: Does, let’s say, the use of medicaments have an effect to the environment?
GG: Contraceptives, for example. In other countries there are already researches that prove: contraceptives may have impact for living organisms in a sea environment. Also reproduction could be at a loss. So the lists continue to be prolonged with new harmful substances. Generally such compounds are stable, it bioaccumulates in living organisms so it stays in nature for a long time, – that’s why it is dangerous. I can’t comment about each substance but mechanisms of the nature are functioning and with the time nature should cope itself. It is difficult to say how long it would last as it depend on particular substance. (…) We use a lot of harmful substances at home. For example, talats are everywhere. There are a lot of toys for kids that are bad quality, with chemical substances what is very dangerous. Talats are in cosmetics, in toys, in furniture, building materials, in all plastics. Talat is a softener for plastics, used to increase plastics elasticity, can be used as lubricant too. So we need to look what has bigger weight: is benefit bigger or harm to nature turns to be bigger. So in this case I think harm to the nature is bigger. And it is a big harm to the people. Some of these substances are proposed to be forbidden to use at all. For example, fire extinction foam. At the beginning nobody even thought that it could contain so many poisonous substances. Always at the beginning it seems that benefit, the need is more important. For example me too, I was doing repair at home and for me it was important that construction materials would be non flammable. If fire would start somewhere, not the whole flat would be in flames at once. But just later I thought how many poisonous substances there could really be! But that comes to the head much later anyway.
X: What is your attitude towards the sea?
GG: Work in the sea is very interesting for me. I like a lot to participate in expeditions. I like, when it sways a bit as when it’s quiet it is not interesting. The more you know about the sea, the more you know it, the more you love it too. I am from Klaipeda, third generation. But really I go to the sea rarely. But I try. In summer, of course, more frequently. I like in winter, when it is windy, when sea is so beautiful, stormy, with big waves – you can feel its energy. I was by the Mediterranean Sea and I was diving there, but anyway Baltic is very own, it is closer to the hart. And it is more refreshing. There, when it is hot, you bath in the sea and you don’t feel anything. Here it is chilly and it makes good at once.
X: What is your dream?
GG: I would like to open the laboratory and to analyse substances that can’t be analysed in Lithuania now and to use innovative methods. Of course, I don’t know how much it is real as to equip such a laboratory it would cost a lot.
Galina Garnaga was born in 1979 in Klaipeda. In 1997-2003 she was studying ecology in Klaipeda University Faculty of Nature and Mathematic Sciences, in 2006-11 – doctoral studies in Vilnius University. From 2006 she is teaching in Klaipeda University Ecology Department. In 2003 she started to work as a chemist in Sea Research Centre laboratory, in Hydrochemistry department, in 2006 she became a head of the department. Since 2010 – Head of the Hydrochemistry Section at Environmental Protection Agency Marine Research Department Lithuania. She was on an internship in Monaco, in the Marine Environment Laboratory at International Atomic Energy Agency and in Finland, in the Laboratory of Biochemistry at Finish Institute of Marine Research. She participates in activities of HELCOM expert working group on hazardous substances, is CHEMSEA project coordinator in Lithuania. Her hobbies: diving, photography, massage, yoga.
X: How does forester‘s job in other Lithuania regions differs from the forester‘s job here in Nerija?
GD: Oh, differs. If in the continent the main task for foresters is so-called ‘production’, forest cutting, wood preparation, here it is much less of that. Some during the winters, but in summers – just occasionally. All the time we need to fortify the dunes. These works start in spring. You just finish the planting and you start preparation for the season: paths, stairs, fence weaving. We were planting grass on the dunes mostly in autumn time for the sand to cover it, to bury that in the spring it could start to strike roots. We were planting grass in such places where you can’t put brushwood, nor weave fences. The slope from the sea side – pure sand, its gradient – around 30 degrees, so we were planting in rows, chequerwise, somewhere around 60 centimeters. Last time we were planting when we were forming the predune dune that during the storm when waves come first they would erode that predune and wouldn’t erode the main dune hill. Parnidzio dune now is overgrowing with the grass completely, so we were going there, we were digging out the grass and replacing it to the seaside dunes. In these times when I came here, we were digging ammophila even in the dead dunes. Around the year 1985 forester Vaclovas Lukosius after reading one German book started to plant reeds by the Curonian seaside. Nobody in Lithuania was doing such kind of job. We started to fortify the shores in this way that beat of the waves would not undermine it. Here all what you see in Curonian seaside it is not natural; it is planted by the human hands. (…) Even spring afforestation here is going differently than in the continent. Especially in these places, were forest was never growing. We were using special drill. In the drilled place we were putting clay, mould. They were bringing this clay from Rasyte (now it is called Rybacij), or from Klaipeda. In one hectare we were planting 10 thousand sprouts, in the more infertile places, where is sand, even 15 thousand sprouts. Other jobs – like all other foresters do. Earlier it was called ‘forest plants education’, now it is surveillance. You need to weed out the young forest, to eliminate plants of other spices. On-going cuttings, in winter time – sanitarian cuttings. Mostly in autumn time there are storms. After it we eliminate wind dumps. Storms are repeating after some years. There were entire quarters that we needed to afforest from the beginning. Wind moves out pine’s roots, tumble them and pines start to dry. It lasts for couple of years until you fix it.
X: If in Curonian Spit you need to plant even the reeds, which plants are naturally growing here?
GD: Willow, usual pine and birch. Also black alder. And willows – there are several spices. Mountain pines were planted around the year 1875-85; later foresters were continuing that job. There were different arguments. That this territory needs to be fortified, that it is better than to settle out the inhabitants, that if the sand will not be fortified, it can go over to Klaipeda port. According the forestry inventory on 1963 around two and a half thousand hectares were overplanted with mountain pines.
X: Why the mountain pines were chosen?
GD: There was everything, when you read history, they were trying different things. These little mountain pines came from Denmark as they have already started to fortify dunes in this way. These little pines have a strong roots system, they grow slowly, they are not afraid of drought. From the beginning they were bringing not seeds but the little plants from Denmark. Just later they started to grow they own nurseries. It is written that for the mountain pines they were bringing clay one year in advance, digging it down, and just after the year they were planting pines. You should imagine enormous territories here, thousand hectares. According to the forestry census in 1963 around two and a half thousand hectares were planted over with mountain pines. Just imagine these mountains of clay they should have floated here, carried out with horses, dig it over by hands. It was a bugger job. Specially hired and local people were doing this job. Also there were prisoners among them, even the French war captives, as they say. Later this job was done by hired woman. Where are woman, there is love too. The name of Love valley remains from that time. Probably there is a connection with the amber mine, which was in Juodkrante in the years 1862-1899. Exactly at the same time when the afforestation took place in the amber mine there was maybe five-six hundred man working.
X: What happened that they needed to cut out the mountain pines and to plant ordinary pines?
GD: For the long time already we were not allowed to plant monocultures. When just one specie is growing, the illnesses start and they spread massively. Now if you compare with the year 1963 there is just around thousand six hundreds hectares of mountain pines left. I was always against the mountain pine. Just imagine these two and half thousand hectares wasted, used for nothing land. Not for the animals, not for the birds, no mushrooms, no grass. Nothing except the mountain pine – like a dead land, like jungle. And people are not able to visit it. I had a chance to fight mountain pine fire – it is really a terrible thing. If to the ordinary pine you can come to ten meters distance, to the mountain pine, when there is a whole segment on fire, you can’t come as close as twenty meters. Fire engines are coming backwards that if something happens they could rapidly drive away. I have seen the fire in 1995 in that place were after the ferry you go up on the hill. There is an open space, around 50 m wide. The forest was on fire on one side of the road, but then ascended such, I would say, peace of fire with branches, with cones and went to the other side of the road. There some kind of hot masses separate may be ether oils, and they fly rapidly over. When you are fighting the fire you are always looking backwards if the forest is not yet burning there. After that fire we were allowed to cut out more clearings, that there would be a possibility to stop the fire, that not such big territories of forest would be burned.
X: What was the reason of that last fire?
GD: There are various suspicious. May be some mentally ill people were starting fire as it was always on 22-23 of April when Lenin was born and we used to have ‘subotnik’ – Lenin’s Saturday bee in Soviet times. We knew that when this day will come there will be a fire somewhere in Smiltyne. The last fire was in May on the day of saint Florian, during the celebration for fireman. As there was a celebration so it took for a while for fireman to gather. If not helicopters, we would stop that fire just somewhere by Juodkrante. Fire engines do not afford, they can’t go everywhere, there is sand. So that is how it is with the fires here. Klaipeda is a complicated district and place, public is very various and as you know that democracy of these days… In Soviet times it was I would catch some youngsters and I would dust their coats but now you try to do that.
X: What is your favorite tree?
GD: It is difficult to say. All are kind, all good, except the mountain pine (laughing). When I have built a forestry office, next to it I have planted an oak tree. There was an old forest of the oak trees left, were in our days the rest house ‘Azuolynas’ is. According to the historical sources, after 1760 the first exact maps were drawn and in them three fragments of an old forest were shown: in Rasyte, in Nida and in Juodkrante. Now in Juodkrante there is around 40 hectares of an old forest. We have counted one pine that had 220 years. We forest officers are angry when they now let for cormorants to destroy all this nicest pine forest. These birds are choosing just the high and big trees. In the municipality there was a ornithologist conference so the most discussions were about cormorants. They were trying with fireworks to eliminate them but it just became clear that if you scare them out in one place, it is more of them in another place. We needed to eliminate them at the very beginning so they would spread so. I think that crow is a much better thing than cormorant. Crow collects all that trash that people defile. You just throw something, some food or anything, so crows are fixing it at once, they take away and it is left clean. They clean Curonian Sea shores too. How many dead fish it was there. Now of course not like in the Soviet times as it was. We could see from here how planes are flying above the Nemunas delta and pouring manure. After that you will find plenty of niffy fish fry.
X: Do you have any fears?
GD: When you live here? What kind of fear it could be? If you live here you live like in God’s house. There is no hooliganism, no banditry, which exists in our Lithuania. It was never here. Here it is quiet. In summer times there are more people, but during the winters it is left just us. You should try to drive through the city after the work, after five o’clock. You will not meet a single person.
X: You are a man of the sea of the man of the shore?
GD: They were laughing at me when we were sailing when I was saying that water is nice but it would be better to have trees in the water. It is nice to sail but anyway after coming ashore I find some park or botanical garden. I want a shade of a tree, that lee.
Gediminas Dikšas was born in 1944 in Birzai, now lives in Nida. In 1944 with his parents he has moved to Klaipeda. In 1963 he entered Lithuania Forestry Academy, Forests Faculty. In 1963-66 he was in the army. He came back to studies and in 1971 he obtained forest engineer education. In 1970 he started to work as forestry officer deputy in Neringa forestry, Nida forest office. Theoretical sailing base he obtained still in Klaipeda K. Donelaicio secondary school. In 1974 and 1976 in Soviet Union Baltic Sea Regatta in 1st class cruiser yachts category he took 1st place, in 1975 – 3rd place. In 1990-95 he was a chairman of Neringa Municipality Council. He was working as a forest officer till 2009.
X: Can you tell us from where are the cormorants in the Curonian Spit? If they were here before?
GG: They were, they were. In literature sources it is written about them since 1802. But the population of them sometimes increases sometimes decreases again. First colony or hatchery was close to Juodkrante in Gintaro bay. But when they were mining amber there, birds moved to another side of Juodkrante, but there was no Juodkrante at that time – it was Karvaiciai village. The King of Prussia legislated to exterminate cormorants as they were disturbing fisherman. Last wave of cormorants came from the West side, from Poland. Not far from Gdansk there is also a sand spit. There it was counted close to 100 thousands nets. This colony could even be seen from satellites. We don’t have so many of them. We have may be around 3 thousands and already such a problem is created. There are two or three people that do not want them, but there are ten that want. For example in Juodkrante when the observation desk was made it became one of the most visited places, the second after the Parnidzio dune. Foresters also have started to plant back trees by the observation desk in the places where trees were broken. Soil is fed well there, now even the oaks are growing there. Everything is settled well in nature. If there is no food, no conditions, cormorants would go away themselves. Now they fill up such a niche: fisherman catch all the rapacious fish, for example pikes, zanders, so cormorants now fill up that gap and catch all that little crummy fish, that fisherman call ‘rubbish’: rudds, roaches. These fishes compound 50 per cent of theirs nutrition. If a fish is healthy, moves, you would not catch it. So cormorants are as all the raptors-sanitarians. They catch that diseased fish. For a day they need 300 gr. of fish.
But if they catch some two kilos, after that they sit, they do not eat for couple of days, they digest that fish. They do not need new fish, they don’t have refrigerators! It is not a human that scoops with nets, puts to the fridge, sells and again scoops at once. Foresters are also counting from the economical side: there is a tree it means there will be money. Why forester can cut a tree, but cormorant – not? Now for four years there is a program to scare off the cormorants and to regulate their population. They do not allow them to go to the old forest itself. They shoot with petards and scare them off the nests when they sit the cubs. Germs from the cold air get cold and the cubs dye in the eggs. That is a horrible method, but what to do… As we are such horrible humans… Have you seen in Smiltyne there is a tamed moose, a female with the name Meile (Love). She was raised from the little one, now she is around half year old. She goes to the fisherman and asks for bread. They brought her from the Eastern Lithuania to the Kursiu Nerija as here mosses are under the protection, they are not hunted, it will be better for her. Now the municipality thinks how to get away from her. In Neringa we have problem after problem: midges attack, cormorants’ attack, foxes attack, now a moose is a problem. As it was with the stork Juozas: when it is a summer, stork Juozas is needed as it creates an attraction, but in the winter time, when it needs to be fed, it already creates a problem. That stork is now in Smiltyne, lives together with the sea eagle. One girl takes care of him, feeds him on her own money. Actually it is a female stork. Five or six years ago she as a little one was brought to ornithologist V. Jusys in Ventes Ragas. He was raising her, kept during the winter. But among storks there is strife and in spring time he was expelled from the nest. So he flew over the Curonian Sea to Nida. He was living during the summer but disappeared in winter.
It turned out that he flew to Rybacyj 30 kilometres away and there one woman kept him closed in the stable during all the winter, was feeding him, even put socks as he has no nails when they were frostbitten. Our storks from Lithuania migrate till the South Africa, but this stork has his migration instinct blocked. As birds make couples in wintering places, Juozas can’t find a spouse. (…)
X: Do you know how to catch crows?
GG: It happened. I know. I even have equipment, but there is no time. The uncle of my wife was practising that. He lived in Nida and probably was the last one to practise this craft. He died around 1980. He was catching in autumns and springs. Later he picked them, salted and was feeding everyone. Me too at the beginning I was watching so crabwise, but when I have tried it, it was quite a good thing. He had learned it from the local Germans. He was catching migrating crows, not the ones from the city, but the clean crows. They are feeding themselves not in a rubbish heaps, but in the nature, in fields. They would fly from the north; he was making traps for them by the sea side. He would pour grains, put some fish. There is a rope that you tier and net closes. He was attracting them with the live crow. Later I made for him crows’ jackstraws, gave him tamed crows for the effect to be better. He would kill them by biting their necks, as all old Prussians. For the life bird not to torture. Why Prussians were eating crows? Because when the fishing was over, when it was forbidden to catch fish in Curonian Sea they needed to eat somehow. There was no agriculture, they were not planting anything. During summer was fishery and in spring and autumn they were eating several kinds of crow meat: there was a pale crow, rook and jackdaw.
X: How do migrating birds fly such a long distances? A lot of them even die, right?
GG: Scientists have counted that 70 per cent of all young birds die during migration period. That is a lot! And also they need to come back. For example polar seagull that breeds in North Pole migrates to the South Pole, 25 thousands kilometres. During one season it flies this distance forward and backward. There are bird migration paths. After breeding birds fly for migration above the continent until they reach the sea. Small birds are afraid to fly above the sea; they go by the shore further to the South. Let’s say by Klaipeda birds divide in two parts: one goes above Curonian Spit, another – above Curonian Sea shore. Most of the birds fly during the night and very high – up to three-four kilometres. They catch required wind there and – ahead. One in Ventes Ragas ringed goldcrest, which weights two or five grammes, on the next day was caught in Sweden. Imagine he flew 300 kilometres above the sea! He went up, the wind was blowing from the South and took him. One ouzel that I have ringed in Smiltyne – after ten years I have received an answer – was caught in Italy live and healthy. Imagine after the ringing he has lived migrating for ten years!
X: How do sea birds that live by the sea differ from other birds?
GG: Their organism is adapted to live on the water; they have fat glands to oil the feathers. For example, if the duck cube lives without the mother during the first year he would die from plunge inflammation. As if there is a mother, he goes under her feathers, oils with fat and then he stays dry in the water. But in other ways birds are adapted, also in winter they can dive in the sea up to 40 meters to the bottom to pick some molluscs.
X: And the people that live by the sea are different from the ones that live not by the water?
GG: Of course, they differ. Take a person that lives in the forest and a person that lives by the sea. The one that lives by the sea can’t live in the forest. For example for me now to go to Kaunas or Vilnius – for me there is a lack of air. For some reason it is like that. Probably, like a bird, a human is flying, flying, goes to the journeys and at the end he settlers in one place and then already sits there all his life.
Gediminas Gražulevičius was born in 1951 in Lazdijai, lives in Klaipeda. In 1969-74 he was studying biology in Vilnius University Faculty of Nature Science. In 1974-78 he was working as a higher scientific researcher in Zuvintai Reserve. In 1978-88 he was working as a junior scientific researcher in Lithuania Science Academy Institute of Zoology and Parasitology. In 1988-89 he was working as a higher scientific researcher in Klaipeda Sea Museum. In 1989-98 he was working as a higher engineer in the Ministry of Environment, Klaipeda Region Environmental Safety Department. In 1998-2011 he was a head of the Curonian Spit National Park Nature Department. In 2000 he obtained guide qualification. Since 2011 – a higher specialist in Ministry of Environment, Klaipeda Region Environmental Safety Department. He has published more than 70 scientific and cognitive articles about Lithuania Baltic seaside, Curonian Sea, Western Lithuania birds; he is a co-author of some scientific publications and books. Hobbies, connected with the profession – birds observation, nature photography.
IS: I was born in Klaipeda, but it happened so, that we left to live in the North of Lithuania, to Mazeikiai. Just later I have entered studies in Klaipeda University and that’s how I stayed here. There was a wish to study in Vilnius, I came to Klaipeda with the tears, but now I am here with pleasure. When I was at school for the last year I dreamed about the underwater archaeology. After the second year at university in Klaipeda I have started to attend underwater sport club ‘Amphibious’, that belonged to university. I started to dive and to participate in various archaeology expeditions in the water. In reality I went to the sea in 2009. My first experience was in the Red Sea. There specific is completely different, all that beauty – it is fantastic: fishes, corals… Later I was diving in Lithuania, mostly in lakes: Plateliai, Luokesa, were an old pole village was discovered and later already in the Baltic Sea. I had a chance to dive to two ships: one approximately in three meters depth, not far from the coast, another had sunken to 23 meters depth. Here it was a challenge for me.
X: How these kinds of expeditions are going? What you are looking for and what do you find?
IS: Specifics depend on is it a sea or a lake. In the sea we sail further and with special device explore what is on the sea bed. If we find an object during the scan the group of divers goes in, if it is not too deep. We collect information about that object; we see when it could have drawn. We research historical sources. Then already the expedition is planned for a certain time. But you can’t joke with the sea, even during two planned weeks it could happen that you will not dive a single time, as it will be a strong wind, big waves. It could be even too dangerous for a boat to go to the sea. Depending on the weather conditions the expedition could extend and from two weeks became a two months expedition. During one expedition they were taking out such a stump as it is an opinion that once there was a forest. That expedition lasted very long, several sails to sea took place and it is an expensive pleasure. They wanted to know how many years ago that stump originated there as it means that the sea has moved. I was not participating in the expedition itself that was exploring mentioned ship in 23 meters depth. I have dived to it already in autumn time, when it was a poor visibility. It was very interesting to see what that ship was and to try my possibilities. At the beginning everything went well but in one moment I couldn’t see my partner. He was the only one to have a spotlight. Before that I think I saw him going in to a hole, but all of a sudden I turned around and I saw that I am left alone by the boat. I wanted to see inside that hole, I went in and got stuck. I just realised that I can’t go out. I got excited, started to panic, the burbles were going up. Of course I started to scream and under the water you can hear it very well. But I have remembered the words of my couch, that the most important it is to get calm, that the way that leads to death it is panic. And I tried to get calm, to concentrate and then I swim away backwards. I can’t convey it, but it was a very strong experience – like a meeting with the death and all that… Because of that now I look at the sea with some caution. I like diving in the sea, but I dive with fear. Especially in the Baltic Sea as there it is dark, the visibility is pour, and it is cold. Visibility by that ship that I dived was less than half a meter. Just when you flatten yourself against the ship you can see it. Of course, the ship looks so beautiful, overgrown with various little shells, but you should definitely wear gloves if you want to touch anything. When you see almost nothing sometimes it is scary. That feeling of unsafe. You got frightened if your colleague touches you. When I have dived for the first time in the Baltic Sea, there was an expedition not far from Šventoji village. There was a drowned wooden ship, may be from 17th century. We were swimming three of us. Two boys had to assemble such bars and to put an iron net on it for me to be able to draw the ship with all its lines. There is such a plastic board, you have outline lines there and with the ordinary pen you draw everything on it. So, they were assembling may be an hour or one hour and a half; I was waiting on a boat. When they appear up they said for me to dive now alone as they don’t have air left. I have started to panic, but I resolved and dived. And I couldn’t see that ship in any way. One time I dive, another. Later I said to myself to find it whatsoever. And when it suddenly appeared in front of my eyes I got really scared. It was huge, spooky, like they show in films.
X: What else are you doing under the water?
IS: The main job is a fixation, when you should measure each part of the ship, each little desk that you could later write a report. You make pictures, you film the ship. As in archaeology on the ground; the same is under the water. But after the storm the ship can be covered by sand and you could not find it already. I forgot to mention that first of all we clean the founded object with a special device ejector – that is like a vacuum cleaner. We clean it from the sand – by special tubes it is pumped out to other place – it is a physical job. It is not happening that you swim there and the ship is placed for you like on the tray.
X: But under the water everything probably is so fragile?
IS: Yes, you need to be very careful, but in the water you can’t move fast anyway. Everything is happening very slowly, you work relaxed. I have little experience in the sea, but when we were excavating old village in Luokesa Lake, there were four square meters appointed where you work, you clean sand with the ejector. I look – wow, a string! And I understand that it is from the Bronze Age period, such a string, weaved from four parts. You need to take it out as much as possible, to clean everything. And you withdraw it, wow! You show it to your supervisor. That is indescribable feeling when you need to preserve such a fragile object and to conserve it later. When you know that it is four or eight hundred years before the Christ and you have these strings and you understand that somebody was weaving them and now you are touching it. That is such a big joy of discovery that you can’t describe it. That was my most wonderful finding.
X: Do you have a fear under the water to meet a drowned man?
IS: Yes, it is. It was such a moment in Plateliai Lake. It is such a mysterious lake where various things have happened. They tell they have heard various voices, that there are ghosts there. We with the group were swimming in the place where all kinds of Christmas trees are decorated under the water that I personally don’t like at all. There is such a table with the mirror that you got scared when you see yourself. I have swum to such an edge where I haven’t been before and I see some bush, various toys, picture of one couple, look like just married. And I see – a person! Oh no! Oh my god I thing, what is here now?! Like a diver all like… like drowned. I got so scared but I have swum closer and I see a boat and a jackstraw next to it. There is such a yacht club there so they are making it specially to attract divers, to have what to see, like the nature would not be nice by itself and they need to put various attributions to be more interesting on their opinion.
X: Have you heard about the underwater black archaeology?
IS: I have just heard that it exists under the water too, like in land. People don’t have an understanding that they are stealing from all of us that immaterial wealth – the heritage itself. They can be professional archaeologists or former students that understand what is valuable and what is not. But they simply damage, they don’t work by specifics and it means that it will not be possible to publish this material and science will not be made of it because it will be damaged already. There are such sorrowful cases when there is a valuable necropolis, important for the science and its further development, but it is damaged by black archaeologists. They can be quite rich people that make money from that but they are the biggest prejudicial for the science. Because of these black archaeologists nobody tells us the coordinates too. Just few people know it, the captain knows, but others not. Because everybody can come there at any time and damage everything. When you excavate inland often people come and ask if we have found gold or coins, journalists would come, but you can’t tell when still in process. You finish job, you leave home and anybody can go in to that territory, even if it is fenced.
X: What is your dream?
IS: If you try diving once, you will not beat it out. No matter what kind of feelings you experience there, it entrains you to the profound. You want to see more, to experience more. If there are any expeditions, of course I will want to participate in them. In the future I would like to earn my living from the underwater archaeology. I dream about it all the time. Also I would like sometime to go somewhere by Roma to excavate or to explore amphoras in Egypt. That is a very old world already that I would like simply to touch. But for me it is interesting everywhere. Sometimes you could find such ‘gold’ in the places, where you don’t expect at all but later you would remember all your life. These simple things also make an impression. You could dive somewhere in Plateliai lake and see a wonderful view: a lot a lot of poles in the place where in 16th century there was a bridge from the peninsula to the island and you find yourself like in some forest under the water. That is such a strong delight and I like such simple things very much.
Indrė Šimkutė was born in 1986 in Klaipeda. In 2005-9 she was studying history (archaeology specialisation) in Klaipeda University. Since 2009 she has a divers’ qualification (CMAS*). In 2009-11 she was a secretary in the History Department. Since 2009 she is studying for master thesis in Klaipeda University (Study Programme History of the Baltic Countries). She is a researcher of Klaipeda University Baltic Region History and Archaeology Institute. She participates in scientific conferences, archaeology excavations and under water archaeology research expeditions.
X: We have heard that your garden is the best, that you are able to raise the most?
KN: Here in Juodkrante it is just me that has eleven and half are. I have prepared it myself; here it was just nettles and garbage. One meter after another, I was digging until it reached the sea. It was no place further, further it was already water. The soil is poor, sand, just sand is here. So I work hunched and that’s it… All the remnants from the fish go to the garden. I don’t buy any chemistry. (…) I am fishing with the rod since I was small. Now I attained ninety years already while fishing. My dad was a fisherman, so I am too. In the lake in Telsiai, I was waded together with the boys… I was coming back all wet, these little fish on a thread – what is that fishing of a kid – I would take home, mother doesn’t do anything, so I clean it myself, I fry my fish myself. I am angling in the Curonian Sea since 1949. I was going on the ice too, but there is no good ice for the few years. Thanks God, I haven’t swamped anywhere, haven’t slipped my foot. I have boats, even two. One is big, another – smaller. When I go out, I see and if there is no stream, I sail back. I know, that fish doesn’t feed, if there is no stream. If there is – then I catch as it should be. I am working, working in the garden and to rest I escape to the sea. I am fishing with the rod until the nightfall. I bring back a bucket. Then I unpeel it, wash it, clean the meat and I put it for the rissoles. Fishes feed my garden too. But now there is no fish left at all in the Curonian Sea. When they step aside these cormorants, all the fish disappeared. And there is no for fishermen too. And where ever – one cormorant consumes five kilos of fish during one day. They will make it will be no fish in the Curonian Sea – you will not catch even the small ones. All the fish now is in the Kaliningrad area as here already salty water from the Baltic Sea comes, there is no fresh water all the way up to the Nida.
X: Tell us how you came to this land?
KN: I am from the capital of Semogitia, in Telsiai I was going to elementary school, from the age 14 I was serving, I was babysitting others’ kids, I was cleaning houses. After the war, when there was no life, we have escaped to Klaipeda. Later after a year in 1949 we have moved to Smiltyne, my husband got the job, he was repairing yachts. There was a department flat – all ramshackle, there was no stove, cold – we put in everything and we lived here. We have chosen a room on the first floor and below I was keeping a goat, cow of yacht club chairmen in one room, in another – a piggy. (…) When you catch a full bag of fish, you go to Klaipeda, you bring it to a market. What you could sell out of that fish – from half a bag you could only buy food for kids to take back. There was no ferry then, so you come to a boat and again go – my hands were just blisters from the paddles. In 1956 we have moved to Juodkrante, we wanted our children to go to school, here it was a four year school. All the sons have risen in different places – in Telsiai, in Klaipeda, in Smiltyne, in Juodkrante. I was left with no husband when I was 39, all alone with four boys. Two little ones were not even going to school. I was working all the time in two jobs: I was a cook in pioneers’ camp for couple of years, I was working in canteens, I was even cleaning the streets, I was caring fences, bricks with the stretchers in the constructions to the first floor. All kinds of jobs I was doing – I should have to maintain four kids, to raise them, to educate.
X: Why you stopped keeping animals?
KN: It was allowed earlier in Smiltyne, now it is forbidden. Here in Juodkrante there was the biggest herd of cows. I kept a goat – there was no need even to band it, I would let it to the forest and she would come back herself to milk. Once six goats came to the forestry office, so they have closed them to a warehouse and send us neighbors to a court – why we are keeping goats free. They would take it away after the court, so I just ‘cakt’ and butchered that goat – we had meat for all winter, she was wide, broad… Now people are talking about troubles how it is bad – I am not, nothing. Just to be healthy. In spring time – to the garden. I would hire some woman, but there are no such normal women in Juodkrante. If they come – just drunkards, they would make more troubles in the garden that the use. Once I took one for work, I came myself to cook some food, I came outside, I came to the garden, I look: all my strawberries are earthed up – no leafs are even seen! I am asking what you have done. – ‘So I have weeded’. Go on with you, until I will undo it – how much struggle I will need again!
X: What is the most important for you while fishing?
KN: For me fishing with the rod seems like lottery – you are waiting what you will take out, what catch you will have. You say, that’s all, I am finishing, just I will take the last one – and you take a big nice one, so you need to try more. It gets dark, the night comes… (…) Once in a competition one group has one woman missing – so they came and asked me to come to Nida in the winter, on the ice. There it is not like this that you go alone where you want – places are measured, but still I have won. I have received bamboo rod as a prize. We came for a second day – I was already going to the other place and I have caught a zander of 5 kilos. I need to take it out – it doesn’t go through that small hole. So I grasp it with a hand and I am pulling. That hand had soaked in the water, blood goes from that fish and from my hand too, all bloody – somehow I have flattened it, have drawn it out and put it on the ice.
X: And usually you are fishing alone, aren’t you?
KN: Alone. Just with a drill I am not able to make an ice hole – I am too small, I am not able to press it anyway, there is no power with the hand lifted so high. Then I would take such a hack, all my tools and – on the ice. When I see lights ashore I am coming back. Once I came back on food from the sixth kilometer, I had felt shoos putted on and the water have raised, streams have turned and on the ice there was already 10 cm of water – all my food wet; I was not going fishing already on a second day.
X: You are not catching with the nets?
KN: No, for that you need to buy a license. You need men, where I will find that group. I am alone – it is better for me. No need for that license, no taxes – earlier it was required to buy a fishermen’s ticket, now it is not needed at that age. They say that I am dotard already; I don’t need a ticket (she laughs).
X: Are you socializing with the fishing men?
KN: Neighbors, everybody know each other, we communicate friendly. We ask were fish takes, where it is possible to drive or to sail. Earlier it was unusual – they would say ‘oh, a woman comes – now there will be no more fish’. Now already there are more women fishing with the rod. You come and nobody says anything. Just it is disgusting, when in winter time on the ice groups of Russians, of young people gather and ears clash from swear words. Even at night when I am in bed already it still sounds in my head. It is rare that normal men come that you can converse normally – all with the swear words. They speak Lithuanian, but they put Russian spices.
X: How many fish you have caught the most?
KN: One time, it was a short winter day, we went with car for the catch. During the day I was bringing that fish to the bag in the car boot; in the evening I need to lift it – impossible. Men had helped, children, one was still going to school then, say ‘lets’ count them’. I have caught then 777 Baltic herrings, with a rod. But I have pain in all my muscles…
X: Do you have grandchildren, are they fishing?
KN: I have eight. The entire bunch. One my grand-grand-child was fishing with the rod in the pond. I have a pond in my garden and I have crucian carps there. It is interesting for me. In summer time I buy white bread and bring to them. Especially in the evenings, they paddle, all the pond splashes. It is interesting to see, I like to feed them. Son has told that I need to catch out the big ones, but let it be, in spring time they will bring kinds for me.
X: Do you have some secrets with the fishing? Or it is that just you know?
KN: But nothing… Everybody says: for you fish takes, for us not, but I know no secrets. I bring my ‘whips’, the others – theirs’ modern branded rods. Mine are simple, reel is Russian, I tie hooks myself and I fish. And they take as mad…
Kazimiera Genovaitė Norvydienė was born in 1921 in Telsiai, lives in Juodkrante.
KP: From geological point of view Baltic Sea was changing. Four sea formation stages can be separated. First one is not even called a sea, but a Baltic Ice Lake. Of course, the lines of the shores were different. Shore line as we have today exists approximately 2-3 thousand years. Its seabed is quite monotonous. By the Lithuanian seaside it has several types: either sand dessert, etched with waves, also called ‘ruzgos’, or entire stone fields. Some years ago divers were successful in finding new type that at once was named ‘canyons’. That are the hills, scoured by rivers during the sea formation time, that now are corridors of some meters high, as small canyons. But we know just about few such places. Mostly our seabed is sandy and quite boring. This monotony of the seabed if compare with other seas is the fact why a fair part of the divers like our sea. You swim, you see almost nothing and all of a sudden some flatfish appears or you see some stone. That waiting and expectation to see something give the effect. On the other hand that flatness of the seabed could be misleading. We don’t know what is under that sand layer. Certainly there is what to explore. For most people it is new that crabs live with us, dolphins live, that we have corals too. Corals are not live any more, they remain from the old times – they have some million years. But dolphins and porpoises now drift in our waters too.
X: What does diving mean for you? What is that feeling?
KP: The process itself is a hard job and a hobby too, but it is interesting ten times more than hard or may be hundred times. It is hard and interesting and pleasing. The feeling is like flying. A person by itself can’t fly, but there you like hove, you float in that medium. If everything is alright, if you are relaxed, you can understand these people that dive just for the hobby. It would be interesting to try to have a nap on the bottom. Theoretically it is possible. For example we were drinking champagne under the water on the New Years Eve, but that was in a swimming pool.
X: How did that wish to dive come?
KP: As a teenager I was watching TV edition ‘Club of the travellers’ by Yurij Senkevic that was broadcasted on Russian channel. Later one of Russian TVs started to broadcast series of documentaries about French Jacques Cousteau that invented aqualung, about his activity and work. These things ‘hooked’ me. When I was still a child there were several Soviet animation movies that showed how certain heroes dive and what is hidden on the seabed. Already then I was thinking it would be interesting and this thought never abandoned me. When I get acquainted with the sea from inside, my opinion about it has changed a lot. My tongue would never call a sea a ‘swamp’, even in a figurative meaning. It is a living organism that most of Lithuanians unfortunately know just from the sandy beaches. But if they would see, more precise, would feel what is hidden insight there, these temperature differences, this flora and fauna although inhospitable but exists here, most of the people would certainly change their opinion. For example, I have a tradition to drink the water of the sea I go to. I have drunk water from Black Sea, Red Sea, Mediterranean Sea and Azov Sea. The water of our sea is comparably fresh.
X: What objects are found under the water?
KP: One of the interesting objects was found in the year 2001 – on the plain sand bottom we have found a big rock, approximately 2-3 km from the shore. It was massive enough for archaeologists to make an assumption that let’s say in stone age, when there was no water in that place, there could have been a pagan place of worship as when you look at analogies of such big stones in land as a rule it is a place of worship. Another similar finding – block of stone, approximately 25 meters long. That is the biggest stone I have seen in Lithuania territory, just of course it is under the water and not everybody can reach it. The biggest finding of mine – drowned ship from 16th century. It was three scientists from our university. We were searching another ship, but we hadn’t found it and already when we were coming back by accident we run into another ship, drowned in 2 meters depth north from Palanga. We have measured it, after some time we cut some details for dating and it was stated that ship is from 16th century, probably from Holland. We have asked local fisherman if they knew that place when they were placing nets, so they thought it is a part of bridge from Palanga that was taken there by the hurricane Anatoly. These old wooden ships usually got stuck in sand by our shores. Some of them were dragged, some were just left. The biggest part of these ships lies on shoals in 2-3 meters depth. When they couldn’t save the ships, they would unload goods and then as we say they would ‘undress’ the ship. All the details that they could take off: sails, ropes, cables, masts. That is why ships barely survived. There it is really not that picture as they show in the movies.
X: What else could be found except stones and ships?
KP: The most interesting place is Sea Bridge in Palanga – there you can find a lot of things. People are dropping a lot of things from the bridge. We find money, ornaments, fisherman loose knives, rods. We have found mobile too. It is fun to see that bridge as an exceptional gathering place that reflects tastes and culture of contemporary people. In one place there is more cash dropped, in another – less. Then you think why. May be that place is more romantic, let’s say… These things were not investigated, but it would be useful for sociologist to see it too.
X: May be you know an extraordinary story of some ship?
KP: Each ship has its own story and each of it is extraordinary. There are not functioning ships that remained and they are included in the list of cultural heritage. The symbol of Klaipeda city a ship ‘Meridian’ was built in 1948; theoretically it would be possible to make it a going ship. Of course, it would cost a fortune. But there is his brother, made in the same ship factory – there were around 50 ships of that series – for several decades it lies on the Curonian Sea shore, pressed by concrete block. I guarantee that almost hundred per cent of people from Klaipeda doesn’t even know that such a ship exists. There it is not a skeleton, it is even worse. It hasn’t survived, rather wasted. Sadder destiny. ‘Meridian’ although reconstructed several times but still floats.
X: Do you have a dream connected with your profession?
KP: May be it is more a wish than a dream. We, Lithuanians, we are not a sea nation anyway. I would really like people to know the sea not just from the coast. That our sea festival would be more connected with the sea, that people would have a possibilities to go to the open sea. That at least people from Klaipeda would know when walking on the beaches why there is such a construction, why here it is that concrete block, where it comes from. There is a lack of activity from the society itself. My wish would be for the people to be more interested in. On the other hand if people are more interested in the potatoes harvest than to the sea, what you can do. And the reason for that is very simple. From the year 1252 practically all our coast was not belonging to Lithuania. For almost 700 years the entrance to the sea was almost completely blocked for Lithuanians. And after the year 1945 these old seaside citizens are not left here, our day’s people in Klaipeda are the ones that came here from Semogitia, from other regions. They are not seaside people; they have other mentality, another understanding. Also a big numbers of not local workers that came mostly from Slavic countries here to work in port enterprises… In our country now you would find more of the fresh fish not in Klaipeda, but in Vilnius or Pasvalys, as there they bring it from Latvia. And how many specialised sea food restaurants we have by the coast? It does not exist or it is not intended for the people at large. Abroad you can buy fish directly from the fisherman. Here – hygiene permissions, additional taxes, quay rent – that is not normal. Port city, sea country and no fish. These are the realities of today. It is good that we have at least Baltic herring period and its traditions from the old times. May be because of that exceptional smell. Horde of fisherman invade that later they need to rescue with helicopters from the floes. Somebody gets frustrated, but I like it as at least there is that kind of attraction to the sea. We say with irony that real Klaipeda men would go to the sea may be once or twice per year. But such people like me go there really not once or twice. I like more to travel to the sea in such weather when everybody sits warmly at home. For example, during autumn storms or after the hurricane I will always visit and examine the sea. Completely other waves, other sough, humidity in the air, wind is different, landscape is different. Various remains from ships are being discarded. For others may be that is garbage, but for scientists – not. It is very interesting to see in which place what kind of peace is discarded. May be by that place there is a sunken ship somewhere. And various weeds, nice sticks – it is just nice to watch these things.
X: May be you have your favourite song?
KP: I can demonstrate you what song I have on my mobile for the ring. Again, I can guarantee that for 99 per cents of Lithuanians this music would say nothing. An Irish group sings it, but it is not so important who does it. This song belongs to shanty genre; it is the best known one. Shanties are sailors’ songs, in most cases – work songs. And motive is more or less like this: sailors are speaking among themselves and they are asking each other what they will do with the drunken sailor. Later comes all sequence of answers. First one – we will put him on the long boat for him to sleep and to recover, in another column – we will give him a hair of a dog that has bitted him, it is probably some kind of sailors’ superstition, and so on. There are a lot of different singing versions, but I like how this one sounds and it is connected with my hobby. There were plenty of such songs in all sea countries. With us it is just popular folklore, fisherman’s, seaside residents’ songs with water motives. But if people from our country were working on the big sail ships, these were not Lithuanian and even if they have learned songs, these songs were not Lithuanian of course. I remember such a paradox. In our newspaper ‘Klaipeda’ it was a little article about shanties and an author has written that we also have some kind of sail song from the seaside, which remained from the German times. And there was approximately such a sentence that in such and such year there was a musical arrangement made for that song designed for grand piano and something more. That is absolute nonsense. Nobody sings these songs with grand piano and orchestra. It is impossible thing. Here it is just nuance, but it shows as well our attitude toward these sea matters.
Klaidas Perminas was born in 1975 in Klaipeda. In 1993-97 he was studying at Klaipeda Higher School of Pedagogy and obtained qualification as an English teacher. In 1998-2002 he was studying at Klaipeda University, in the Faculty of Social Sciences and obtained bachelor of historical studies. In 2002-04 in KU Faculty of Humanitarian Sciences obtained master degree of history of Baltic region countries, in 2008 – doctor of science degree. In 2003-05 he was working in KU Baltic Region History and Archaeology Institute. In 2005 he was participating in the international scientific expedition ‘Amber route-2’. He has a divers qualification (CMAS**). He teaches in KU Faculty of Humanitarian Sciences, in History Department. He publishes scientific articles, participates in scientific conferences, projects of cultural sea heritage, underwater archaeology research expeditions.
LL: I was born in 1929 in village Mickuniskiai, in Panevezys region. In Smetona times my parents had a farm of 27 hectares, but my father was not farming as he was an invalid from the First World War. He had a truck shop in village Traupis. When Soviets ‘liberated’ us, the trade was closed and we came back to the country side. When I was in school in 1944 my father was shot. Me and my older brother we were lying on hay in barn, we heard the shot and scream ‘mama!’, and then it was quiet. Behind our house there was a big garden – my father was dreaming to live from that garden when he will be old. He had planted 210 apple trees and garden gave fruits in that year already. On that night father was feeling sick in his stomach. He went outside and he sees somebody is shaking down apples in the garden. Probably he wanted to scare them, he went closer and he got a shot, so through the hand to the chest. There was a trench behind the house, so he tripped up in that trench. We were going to school three of us: two brothers and a sister. My father was strongly for that, that without an education a person is stupid. But when we lost father it was a little few month old sister left at home, also a small brother and we three – five kids. And mother alone. Then I took on a farm, I was fifteen then. I was seeding, cutting, cultivating ground – I was doing everything to have bread. And my brother with sister was going to school. I came back on the school bench after three years when I was almost a man. They were calling me a father. We were studying in Anyksciai, they were renting a flat for us and bringing food from the farm to the flat hostess and she was making meals for us. When I have entered 10th grade, the collectivisation started and they took everything from us: land, houses. When they took away even the cow, there was nothing to bring. My sister was already a teacher. I was looking for a job, I couldn’t find anywhere and I went to my sister to Sirvintai region. There I was assigned a teacher-governor for the seven year school. School was Lithuanian, but there were just Poles, they know nothing in Lithuanian. In that time in all Maisiagala district there were two Lithuanians: head of the post office and head of the education department. And so, I was forced to work there. And may be for the luck they just caught me and – bundled away to Voronezh to the army. In the year 1950. And – what a luck – I came to auto battalion. When I just arrived they send me to auto school and there I have learned how to drive. It was very difficult as everything was in Russian language, all parts, everything and I knew just how to work with the plough, to harrow, nothing more. I came back from the army approximately in the year 1953-54. As I left school at 10th grade, it meant I have no school, no family, without anything – who will take me to job. So what, my brother Ipolit was studying at Forestry department. He received an order to create a forestry office in Neringa. I had nowhere to go so I came to brother and I was a scout in forestry office. My brother still hasn’t finished university so he left forestry for me, all the forests and left to defend his diploma work. In that moment fishermen brigadier found out that I have a driving licence and they needed a driver. And for me it was just to finish scout job as I didn’t like it: just something and you go, where some tree has dried to ‘cleim’ it. Such job was not for me. And in these days the driver was ohoho! So I left that forest, I took a car, I sit in and I am going. Brother comes back with a diploma and I am standing by the ferry with a car. I say, brother, I will take you home. That’s how it went.
X: For how long you were working as a driver?
LL: I was working in fishermen kolkhoz ‘Pasienietis’ (borderer) until they joined fishery farm with the kolkhoz and made one of them eliminating kolkhoz. Later I was working as an ambulance driver. You know, when I have started to work here in all Nida, all Neringa there were two cars. One that I was working on, another – old truck GAZ that belonged to fishery farm. Here it was village. All the government here was a director of fishery farm, school director and chairman of the parish – that was the highest. Here was just a shop, food and manufacture goods in one house, and a bistro opposite the road were you can get to drink and to eat. And that’s it. They were not bringing milk, or sour cream, or cottage cheese here – you needed to go to the market in Klaipeda. There was a boat ‘Nevezis’ going, but just in the summer. Autumn comes – no transport goes. So when I was going to Klaipeda always there were some passengers. Also because everybody that lived here was going to their fatherlands. You go to Klaipeda, you take a fisherman. You come for a fish to that fisherman, how he would take money? I was bringing post from Klaipeda too as there was nobody else to bring it. After the war the surface of the road was damaged, nobody was renovating it. To go to Klaipeda it would take two, or two and half hours. The minister of light industry Filipavicius noticed one empty German villa, restored it and started to let the holidaymakers. Then all big life started. Then they let regular bus to go, they gravelled the road. Constructions started. First they have built a restaurant, not a hospital or something else.
X: What was your job in fishermen kolkhoz?
LL: The driver was needed to bring a net once per month, to take it to the seaside. But mostly – when a chairman needed to go to Klaipeda, accountant – to Kaunas and a cashier was from Veisejai… Our fishermen kolkhoz duty was to catch fish and to deliver it to fishery farm – there they were corning it, smoking and bringing out to Klaipeda. They were catching cod in the sea; it was they would catch up to tone of cod with hooks. I needed to go to the seaside and to wait for that cod, then to bring it to deliver to the farm. Later farm started not to take that fish. Once I was bringing it to foxes, to fox farm in Kretinga. How many times I was bringing cod, not a single one I took it for home to fry. We were counting it as a worst fish. Just a head, nothing more. The best fish here always was eel, next to it vimba, bream, pike. But it happened for me in fatherland to eat pike caught in river and there is a big difference caught in river and in the Curonian Sea. River pike is much tastier that the sea pike. Once in Klaipeda they have stolen a whole box of smoked eel. People have seen how from other car they have climbed to mine and took it. When I told men in Juodkrante, they have brought for some kilos of eel and I didn’t need to pay for it, I compensated. Fishermen have saved me. Then they would catch eel well in Juodkrante. Such a Russian has invented such catchers, so when he placed them from Juodkrante almost till Pervalka, and one day he lifted seven tones of eel. We couldn’t load so many with the car, they have sent a barge. I was taking fresh fish to Klaipeda and on the way back I was collecting smoked eel and I was bringing it to farm. When I collect through Juodkrante, Preila, Pervalka it was a tone of eel. They give me 10 kilos of eel, I can take. But if I take, where I will put it. Here it was a fishermen village, nobody was buying fish. When the fishermen come with the herring, they unload that herring, pour salt and they close the barrels. And such a herring Klaipeda would take. Later we bring it from Klaipeda to the farm, here women sort it. Where is a first sort, where the second, which to smoke. It happened, we would stole some of that herring to eat. Here you would not catch herring – they catch herring in Norway.
X: You were fishing yourself?
LL: No, no. It never happened. I am not a fisherman.
X: But you were going to the Curonian or Baltic Sea?
LL: Just for a ride I was going. But what king of entertainment is there on the water: when there is no wind – not interesting and when there is wind – not interesting already. In the Curonian Sea water was clean, we were swimming by the shores. It was plenty of kids. And now they built toilets, all kinds of devils, and there is no swimming in the Curonian Sea any more. Now sea is polluted, Russians pollute it, also pollution comes by Nemunas. Baltic Sea is cleaner, but it depends on the wind. Now they go for swimming to the Baltic Sea. It is many years I haven’t been. I am so bored of it. When I was taking that cod, so when they load it, such a liquid goes from it. The entire trailer gets soaked, everything stinks. It was I would go by the sea and I don’t know when they will come back. They sail four hours further into the sea, then they put the hooks, ten thousand of them, then until they lift all that fish… I am sitting, I see a small dot in the sea – already they are coming back! You are waiting until they come… The speed of the boat – 12 kilometres per hour. Until such a dot turns into a boat, long time passes. Hours and hours. So I am so fed up with that sea, I can’t even look at it. They say to me, let’s go to the seaside, I say go alone… I was going to the sea just when relatives or friends were coming. We would take half a litter and we would go, but what is characteristic, that you can drink as you want, anyway all the glasses are full of sand. Then you bring your guests home already.
X: Now you would go to the sea, if you had health?
LL: Absolutely, absolutely not! No to the Baltic, or to the Curonian Sea. When I was swimming in Nevezis River by the Traupis, there it was yes! Completely other water. For me – river, where water flows rapidly. There, were I was born, where I was growing up, there my heart goes. Here is just one profession – fishery. There was no other trade. But for me that water, that fishery… To love it… not really. It is not in my heart. I am here for so many years… now I don’t see any beauty here, any. At the beginning I would go to the dunes. It was earlier, you climb the dune and it is fun to run down. You just start… When we were newcomers. Later it became boring too. The same valley, the same bushes…
X: We have heard that earlier you were feeding crows and growing little ones?
LL: That was such a nature on mine. I would catch a little crow, domesticate it and keep it. Just one was a toad, what came to her. If the man comes, it is nothing for her, but if a woman – it follows and hits with the beak to the legs. It has a name Karka. They had various characters. You would adopt them very easily. You give them to peck once, twice. They were friends. I was taking the small ones that would fall from the nests. But later these old crows would beat and beat these grown up ones. When I was not there, they just hit them. But with them you will always be behind with cleaning: they would come on the chair – they would smear, they would come on the table – they would smear. That was why I have stopped to adopt them. You would not teach them not to do it. There were people that were catching them and eating, but not me. My brother once was offered by local German. He ate all and just then they told him that he was eating a little crow. You take a crow, clean it, you add some sour cream, butter. You would eat a chicken or a crow – you would not recognise already. But I was not participating in that company.
Leonas Laurinavičius was born in 1929 in village Mickuniskiai, in Panevezys region. He lives in Nida.
RŽ: First of all we should say that sea covers 71 per cent of the Earth surface. It is more sea than a land. And it plays an important role. 60 per cent of all transportations go by the sea. World economy can’t exist without the sea as just the sea allows spreading globally materials, stocks, goods and even working force. But if you speak about the sea and Lithuania, question is quite complicated. For many centuries we were nesting to it with our backs or just with one shoulder. What is sea for an ordinary Lithuanian? – ‘Oh, summer comes, Palanga, swimming…’ Listen to our popular songs, sea there is connected just with love and with plays in the waves. Who from the old times was seeking to dominate by the sea and who was really dominating? In 9th century – Vikings, they were seeking and they were dominating. Sometime later – Vikings were seeking, but Kurshes were dominating some. Another stage – Hanza, a union of German trading cities was created, that practically hadn’t set in Lithuania. Klaipeda didn’t belong to it, ships by Hanza people were attacked in the port itself that they couldn’t trade. Later they were replaced by crusaders and when these were declining just then in Lithuania first people appear to understand the meaning of the sea. Probably the first was Radvila as he was fighting in Kurshe and was even dreaming to make Birzai a port. But Radvila had an opinion that Lithuania should control Riga, not Memel or Konigsberg. Second person was Chodkevicius that won the only Lithuania’s battle in the sea against Swedes in Salaspils by Riga. So, after crusaders Germans came. They were specialists; they had funds and ships in their hands. They were controlling all our seaside and they were dominating in Kurshe Duchy of these days too.
But another power appeared – Russians, which in the times of Catherine and Peter occupied Baltic countries. They were dominating politically and Germans – with funds, with specialists, with ships. You could not even smell Lithuanians there. And that was continuing till the end of 19th century when such a people appear as the first sea captain Stulpinas, engineers Lasinskis and Simoliunas. They had inspired an idea that independent Lithuania should create its own marine. But even in the period of independency if Lithuania was seeking to dominate, politically Russians were dominating and realistically – Germans. During that short period of independency from 1924 till 1939 we have made a lot, we put the basis for that idea, but we couldn’t achieve more. War has come and new force appeared – Soviets. How many Lithuanians and how many Russians were working in port? How many Lithuanians and how many Russians were studying in nautical schools and working on ships? It was not taught in Lithuanian, not spoken; on the fishing boats in the Baltic Sea there were around 30 per cents Lithuanians, but all the terminology was Russian, ship factory – Russian, Russian was spoken in the port. Just one field remained controlled by Lithuanians – recreation. In Soviet times even more people than now had possibilities to be at least two weeks by the sea, factories had its resorts there. The massive holiday by the sea has started. That was how this image was created as practically there were no possibilities to create another one. Actually just now, during these last twenty years of independency, we are trying to dominate and to range it ourselves. We are seeking to dominate and we are dominating. Our sea industry ranges even better than our neighbours’ Latvians’ or Estonians’. We can be proud of that – our port works very well. But for politicians in Vilnius neither the sea not the sea science is interesting.
When Lithuania got back independence in Lithuania around 130 ocean fishery ships had its base. We practically then could had became the biggest fishery state in the world. But that entire marine then was transmitted to the Department of Ponds Fishery by the Ministry of Agriculture; for these that grow carps. And it collapsed as these officers practically knew nothing about the sea. Here it is a very specific field. Ships were standing for years, they were getting older, people were plundering them and there were debts. Now there are may be just 5 or 7 ocean fishery ships. And nobody thinks about that Lithuania has lost world fish fishery quotas that probably have a value hundred times bigger even than that marine. If we would like now to get permissions to catch and to sell in world markets even after creating a marine, we wouldn’t.
X: What is Lithuanians relationship with the sea today?
RŽ: Today we have already turned to the sea. But we don’t have sea politics, strategy how we would like to rule and to range by the sea. For example, there are ideas that the world oceans, that equator that is not inside these 200 miles zone, should be divided. We would ask for something there? And if yes, what area we would like to have? What we need it for? We have no attitude. (…) Two years ago there was a celebration for the anniversary when Klaipeda region became part of Lithuania. In the Parliament they were speaking what is an importance of that reunification. It was about how culture of big Lithuania was refilled, that writing came from there, how many songs, folklore motives and so on. And imagine there was not a single word said about the sea! That finally we got back the entrance to the sea, our port.
X: How do you think, if there were more people living closer to the sea, would it affect sea politics?
RŽ: Of course. The ones that live by the sea have a wider thinking, they see the world closer. In Soviet times, for example, people from Klaipeda whose fathers or brothers were sailors they knew where and what is better to buy, where to take to sell as they knew what are the prices in other countries and what can be found where. So they were earlier integrated to the world economy and they had another understanding of our earth space that is linked by water. That is why even today seacoast region is among advanced ones. (…) Sea industry doesn’t make us a sea state. Let’s say in port there is a docker that works with a crane, he lifts cargos, distributes them. So he may be never sees that sea… Real sailors and sea lovers become from the ones that fish in the sea and especially the ones that sail with yachts. But Lithuania even doesn’t have a little port in the open sea for the yachts and little motor boats. We are the only ones like this in the entire Baltic region. A small sail ship during the day can sail approximately a 50 km distance, so small ports should be about each 50 km of the shore line. In Latvia, together with the ones in rivers there are close to 20 of them, in Poland – around 60. I am not already speaking about such countries like Sweden that has hundreds of them. And we don’t have a single one. True, now there is one in Klaipeda in the port itself, but to enter a big port for the small ships is complicated thing.
X: What personal wishes do you have?
RŽ: I want to finish a book about Nemunas delta. For 19 years I am investigating Kaunas Sea, I want to write some day what is started and left. And also – to get ready for some cruise with my wife.
Rimas Petras Žaromskis was born in 1944 in Birzai, lives in Vilnius. In 1962 he entered Vilnius Institute of Pedagogy, geography-physical education speciality. While studying in 1963 he was going to engineers’ divers’ courses and when he has finished them, he was taken to the army. He came back in 1966 to the second year of studies, continued them and finished in 1970. Since 1967 he was working as a laboratory man in Lithuania Science Academy Geography Department, Sea Cost Dynamics Group. In 1970-71 he was working as a geography and physical education teacher. In 1971 he came back to SA Geography Department and was working as an engineer. In 1980 he has finished post graduate studentship in Moscow Shirshov Institute of Oceanology. In 1980-87 he was a higher lecturer and a docent in Vilnius University of Pedagogy, since 1987 till 2008 – docent and professor in Vilnius University Hydrology and Climatology Department. In 1997 he has defended habilitation theses. Since 2009 works as a chief scientist in Klaipeda University Baltic Seaside Research and Planning Institute. He has published about 150 scientific articles, 4 monographs and 5 books.
X: Why you have decided to be a captain?
SŠ: It seems to me that you can hardly decide such a thing as you can’t take this decision yourself. I wanted to see the world, to look how people live elsewhere, to travel. Also – it was a hard enough life in my times. I am from Skirsnemune, first generation from a plough, my parents were not rich. In marine school it was a full maintenance, you had enough to study. You become a sailor, then captain’s assistant and later already a captain. Of course, you should want it, you should work and you should show yourself, like everywhere. But I should say that Lithuanians somehow doesn’t like sea. There was so little information about the sailors’ education. I was working in kolkhoz that had a big garden and we were bringing apples to sell in Klaipeda with a truck. When we would sell them, there was still time for a walk. Then completely by accident I found out about the marine school. Now our sailors already sail everywhere in the world and they are evaluated quite high. I think that Lithuanians have a good character, they like to work. Lithuanian is not afraid to take oily rag and to clean something, to do something.
X: What was your first journey with a ship?
SŠ: As I have finished very well and in that time it was a lack of steersman I was sent to not big fishing ship and my first trip was to Atlantics. I have an opinion that every sailor should start practice on the fishing boat. If on that passenger’s ship, that turned down in Italy, there would have been a captain of a fishing boat that would never happen. Such kind of person has less arrogance than the one that started and made a quick career on the big ship. Fishing boat is low, you are closer to the water and you know how dangerous it is. There are a lot of such sea practice possibilities that are just on the fishing boat. When I was working already on tankers and that was in Finland, ship constructors were building ships there that made reloading on the sea so they were inviting me and we were speaking for a long time what king of equipment is needed for the load to be easily forwarded in the sea. So that, and fisherman know that as a first ones. You know such a big fender, bumper of a board that two ships would not hit each other? The whale hunters when they would shoot a whale and they needed to moor to a big ship, they would have that whale as a bumper by the board.
X: How many year you were sailing?
SŠ: I was sailing for twenty years, 11 of them – as a captain. On the first trip in the sea I was on ‘Meridian’ that was a training ship, specially constructed for that. There was such practices accepted to start teach a sailor from a sail ship, that he would know what power is a wind, how it can be used. I was also a captain of the biggest ship in Lithuania – ‘Antanas Snieckus’. I was on a trip that lasted for one year six months and fifteen days. For so many time I didn’t see my kids, nor the wife. After that trip I was offered to work on a shore so I agreed immediately.
X: What is the most difficult in the captain’s job?
SŠ: It is difficult when you leave let’s say for one week trip and all of a sudden the owner asks to go to Antarctica… It is very important what microclimate is in a crew. The more people, the more troubles. I was sailing on a ship that has 170 people. So, of course, I didn’t know names or surnames of some of them, but you don’t need to bother your head with such things. They should know me, not I – them. But when the crew is smaller, you know the names, the surnames, the names of the kids, the wife’s’ names because what else you can talk about. When you come to work to a new ship, also the most important is how the crew will accept you. But the glory about each captain goes some steps ahead him. In my opinion for a captain it is useful to change a boat. When you get used to a ship, you know everything on it, sometimes some neglecting may appear. Each time you go to a new ship you should gear up.
X: Do you remember any events?
SŠ: I remember such an accident. For me a man disappeared in Bay of Biscay, we were thinking in various ways and we came to a conclusion, that he has jumped himself. There is such a thing on a sea that from time to time people disappear, in good weather and in bad weather too. I think this is something with a psychological state of mind. So, we were turning in that place, we have announced to all the ships, but we haven’t found that man. When we came back home already and his mother has asked me ‘Captain, were have you put my son?’, so of course, the feeling was very bad. But God will forgive me for that lose, I really haven’t done anything bad, but anyway I am responsible for everyone.
X: When being on a shore you would miss sea immediately?
SŠ: Of course. It is already on a second day. When you are on a ship, you go into a work rhythm and then there is no better life. You don’t have there all these domestic problems, for example that son has smashed a window at school. Here a sailor is already a bad husband, as he weans off the family, of the family troubles. Of course, I always know that my home is Klaipeda. I can dance let’s say in Monte Video with exotic women, but I still know that my home is in Klaipeda. Ship will never replace home, but on a ship a sailor feels safe. He is like one body with the ship. You feel another sailor anywhere at once. I say ‘from a smell’, but you really feel. From some little words, from some phrase, some characteristic things. And you ask at once: hey, where were you sailing, where have you been? That in some way brutal way of communication is romantic in some way and good in some way too, respectable. We know how to make jokes from each other without insulting and that makes such kind of sailor’s friendship. That surrounding, that closed space, that closed communication make such inter relationships. I don’t know why but there are no homosexuals on ships. Men’s company, but these ones I haven’t met during all these years.
X: Are woman sailors?
SŠ: It was. And now each year in marine school there are 1-2 girls that a preparing to be ship pilots. But rarely some of them work. I think they shouldn’t go there. Tell me if a woman could swear in such a voice that boatswain will understand that he is performing bad on a bridge? We can speak in different ways how we appeared here, but God has created woman not to pull timber, not to lift the weights, but to love husband and to give birth to children.
X: And how it is with alcohol, are sailors drinking a lot?
SŠ: You could speak a lot about the sailors’ booze, but I, that have spend half of his life on shore and half in the sea, I know that in the sea I have drunk hundred times less vodka that ashore. And in the sea I have made thousand times less jags of all kinds. So, sailors are holly people. There is no restaurant, no bar on a ship, it is just ashore. A sailor is a most virtuous man, the most devoted like it could be. The less drinking one. May be he would drink more, but there are no restaurants, no ‘schnapps’. On the sea there is such a strict order of work and rest that there would be no time to go to a restaurant even if it was one on ship. Pretty and hussy women ‘take us out of the road’ too. Where more of them are, the more hussy men are too. In Klaipeda there was so called ‘16th division’ – girls that would manage to get in to closed club for sailors even if other were not able to get in. I don’t know how, but they were getting in. Such are the women. Wife of one sailor was always standing on a quay waiting in any port here in Soviet Union that we would go. Off course, sailors are sin people: they need to go off somewhere and you – cannot already, you have a wife by your side. Once we were working on a tanker. There is a port of Archangelsk in the White Sea and next to it – various military ports that are not even marked on the map. And we have received a task to go to such a secret port. So that sailor was so happy: ‘So, folks, this time my Masha will not come in’. We go there and she is already standing on a quay with such a high heels. And that quay is quite a muddy one. And she is using swear words, how we are forcing a women to freeze on a quay, ‘I am standing here for all day waiting for you’. A secret military port! How she got in, it is not explicable.
X: In Soviet times do you feel KGB breathing to your shoulders?
SŠ: To be honest, I didn’t feel. I knew that is exists, I knew that there is such a state regime, I knew that there is such a politics and for me it was not difficult – I was behaving naturally, like a person, like a specialist and they were not bothering me. It would become clear very quickly who are the ‘stukachs’ (traitors) on a ship. May be I was lucky, I don’t know how, but it haven’t happened for me to meet some very dishonest men among them. Like everywhere, there are various people, I would say. During these entire soviet times the will not to come back to homeland ever appeared to me. To speak openly, nobody was offering for me very much to stay there but even if they would, I saw there are other problems, other mentality… Anyway here is home and what kind it would be, but here is a homeland. And sometimes it seems to me that people speculate now how it was earlier then… There is one captain, Eimutis Astikis, so his parents were exiled and he had problems to go out to the sea but he became a captain. And sometimes after a drink he says that if you wanted to become a sailor, so you become one. Yes, there were difficulties, there were people, that were harmed unfairly. There were such ones, so what, now everyone is like this? Shortly speaking, I remember these times just for that if you study well, it was not important at all if your parents have money, or not, you could have had an education. (…) Each system has its own troubles and its own privileges.
Sigitas Šileris was born in Skirsnemune, Jurbarkas region, lives in Klaipeda. In 1959 he has finished Klaipeda Marine School, in 1972 – Kaliningrad Institute of Technology. For years he was working as a sailor, as captain’s assistant, finally – as a captain. In 1985-92 he was a chairman of the Baltic Fisherman Kolkhoz. In 1992 he became a director general of Klaipeda Sea Trade Port. In 1994-98 he was Lithuanian consul in Kaliningrad. Since 2004 was teaching at Klaipeda Marine School. Now he is retired.
X: How big are the salmons now?
ZK: Oh, various. From 200 grams to 11 kilograms caught this year. The biggest I have caught – 21 kilo. Such we sell. For us it is enough 3 kilos. All the week you are eating sandwiches. We catch salmon in the sea, but when it spawns it goes to the river, up to Vilnius even goes. During the last fishing we have caught even a crayfish. I remember they were there just when I was small. Probably, water got cleaner again.
X: Do you practice fishing on the ice too?
ZK: Local Curonians called it ‘bumbinimas’, they would say ‘Let’s go to bumb’. In December, when it gets covered with ice, Baltic herring from the sea goes to the fresh waters to spawn. It goes in hundred thousand tones. It eats the little herring from the Curonian Sea, follows it. One flock is eating another one. In February, when it eats all the little herring, it spreads and eats everything what is on Curonian Sea bed, in mud – it exterminates everything, it eats itself. Its fishing is different in Nida and in Juodkrante. In Juodkrante they use so called ‘venters’, such an intelligent way. We use a desk, a pole, there are special hammers, ice picks, all like in the old times, just now often we use petrol saws. We have a pole, three such little nets, 18 meters each, we cut hole in the ice, put them inside and we beat the desk with wooden hammers by the rhythm: ‘stinta puki, stinta puki, stinta, stinta, stinta puki…’ We beat for 15 minutes, there are floats that shows if fish takes. If it does, we look if it is not ‘pukis’, such very prickly fish. We throw it out on the ice, foxes and boars come and eat it. The same ancient method from the Curonian times. All the time they were fishing here like this, all the time. I have ‘opened’ business fishing just for that Baltic herring fishing. It was the most interesting for me from my childhood. I was always going to help fishermen, they were giving 10 kilos of herring for me, but it is not the thing I was interested in, for me interesting was the fishing method itself. Just now the deepening of the port channel has changed Baltic herring paths. Already for ten years I do not catch as many as I used to.
X: Are you all from Nida keeping together?
ZK: Everything happens, but everything is alright. Now I am replacing a friend that we used to be champions in windsurfing when we were young. You can read about it in Lithuanian Soviet Encyclopaedia. In these times we argued too. Later when I have decided not to participate, they were blaming me that I have ruined sport of windsurfing in Nida. But I say: who was sailing, that one will continue. It is not important if you put some rag up, you will sail anyway. So from us three famous sailors just two of us are left, the third one just comes from time to time to watch. One of my yachts is the sea one. I would like to collect all crew from the Nida people. As here there are a lot of sailors, but they ‘go with the wind’. And we have such conditions here for sailing as nowhere in Lithuania. From the school to the water it takes less than ten minutes to go. It is an education too, I think. Overall, if not a sailing, I don’t know what kind of paths I would go through. Here it is a resort, you catch all kind of streams. For the one that comes to live in Nida it is difficult, they start to teach everyone, here it is a specific life. In Soviet times here it was a sixteenth republic. You can tell seriously, you cannot. When local Germans went away, a lot of houses were left. Who was coming here? The ones, that couldn’t live in the homeland, so much they were in for a rough ride. It was such an invasion of angry people here, really. Some – escaping from the hunger, some – for the house, for the flat. It was easy to get a flat in Soviet times. Here they need a plumber – you will get a flat, a doctor – you will get a flat at once too. There were such privileges. But for the local one, that was born and grown up here – no chances! Here they were living the friendliest from the friendliest ones, they were sharing a last piece of bread as here it was difficult to survive, just fish. (…) At the beginning here it was a frontier zone, if you unregister, to register back it was very difficult even in your parents place. Later – the Park of Curonian Spit, so again we were considered as aborigines here. Even for the relatives to come to visit it was the biggest problem… Soviet times – interesting times. But in all the times it is good, in all it is fun to live.
X: When you have started to sail?
ZK: From the year 1969. There were no yachts then. There was such a ‘shlupk’ in Soviet times – friends have it, they would take me too. Yes, it was interesting, but there was no will to steer it until I saw a yacht. I could have a motor boat too, but I saw a yacht and that was all for me… I don’t know, that is destiny. I don’t want anything else now. You go with yacht and you have peace at once. Just to mizzle out of the city as fast as possible. You just mizzle out – and there are no problems. Just nature and you are left.
X: Since when you sail to the sea?
ZK: In Soviet times it was difficult to go out to the sea. You would give the documents in winter time and still in spring it is not clear if they will let you go to the sea at all, to the Soviet waters still. And to go abroad at all it was a big thing. First time we went to Bremen in 1998, with my mother that has already 70 years then. I have seen the sisters of my mom for the first time then, they haven’t seen each other for 46 years.
X: What is your attitude towards the Baltic Sea?
ZK: Small. Little of water. My yacht would go to Sweden during the night, to Poland – sixteen hours or even nine.
X: You don’t feel fear in the sea?
ZK: The stronger the wind is, the calmer I am. Somehow I know all the manoeuvres in advance. Just you need to be friends with the nature; you should not blow against the wind. For me everything goes by itself, hands do everything itself. I don’t know, it is like this from the childhood. When I came to a yacht – for me everything went well at once. But I need always water to be close. It is not good for me without the water.
X: Have you any critical situations to live through?
ZK: I would tell about the hardest one, when it happened to feel the critical moment. Like drowning, you could say. Ice was going in the Curonian Sea. With friend we were going to rescue nets. Wind was so strong, that you can’t row against it, it takes you anyway. We were pulling, pulling and we have turned the boat. Depth was not big, friend just run away. But boat was mine and I don’t loos that boat, I am pulling it. And what happens in such case? It makes you sick. Because of the cold you get so exhausted, you start to vomit. And that is all, you start to gulp. That’s how you get drawn. A person in water of temperature 0°C can stay 25 minutes. After that he loses conscious. If you were for 30 minutes – your blood gets cold, it doesn’t circulate and already nobody can save you. When I landed, I had no power at all, I was lack of the air, I couldn’t even walk.
X: And when sailing it happened to be in difficult situations?
ZK: This year it was an unlucky season. Four trips collapsed. On the way back from one journey I have broken the ship rudder, 60 sea miles away from Klaipeda, during a storm. I came back with an anchor. Later I asked my friends to pull me to the port. We don’t want marine safety inspection to know as then we should ask for a tracker, there – international waters, it means one hour – 600 euro. After a month and a half, after the storm my rudder was thrown ashore in between Klaipeda and Juodkrante. I had a feeling deep in my heart it can be so. We found it and I brought it back. Still in summer we with wife were ‘dropped’ in a storm. I said let’s go to Minge. So, we go, but it is impossible to enter – water has dropped. So we go then to Klaipeda. We have prepared after all, we have bought some food. We went, in Pervalka we sited on a shoal. It is not due for me to sail in the Curonian Sea – in some places here there is not deep enough. But we have beaten out, we went to Klaipeda. We invited some guests, next day they were sailing with us to Juodkrante. Everything is fine, everybody feels euphoria, my wife too. We passed Pervalka and – boom! little squall of 10 points. That is a big one, it came as a white wall. Squalls like this are not forecasted. After 10 minutes it stopped, but the big sail, so called ‘grot’ has torn until I took it down. My wife says ‘You what? Wanted to drawn us?’ She said she was telling the prayers already. But you came as a fresh man after such stresses. You know, what you want. You understand that you live well, you are healthy – shortly, everything is alright then. That is sailing.
X: We have heard that quite often you are rescuing others? How do they call for help?
ZK: They deal number 112, they call back to borderline or rescue office. And these ones know me, so they call. They know that I will offer really professional help for a yacht. I will take her out from the shoal, I will not crash it. As official teams would send lifeguards, they would take just people; it is not for them to rescue boats. If it happens that drunken ones have grounding, so I would not be in a rush to rescue them, let them sit a bit then. It happens that people just pass the licences or even buys them, they don’t have practice and they strand. Simply they don’t respect themselves and the boat. It happens that something brakes too. We rescue each other. There are no jokes with the sea.
X: What wish do you have?
ZK: Oh, I am happy. There is a family, what else do I need. Life and limb. I am fishing, business goes well. What else do I need? The more you want, the harder it goes. You should never jump higher your belly. You should weight your possibilities. We go fishing as to some celebration. For us it is important to be in a nature. You take some bard, bread, tea and what else do you need…
Zigfridas Kairys was born in 1957 in Nida. He has learnt automachinist speciality in the 1st professional technical school in Klaipeda, in 1978 he has finished ship pilot-machinist courses and driving courses. For 15 years he was working as a driver. In 1969 he started to surf. He become a Soviet Union champion of windsurfing sport in 1975, 1976 and 1977; in 1980 he was participating in Olympic games in Moscow, in windsurfing sport demonstrative competition. Shortly he was working as windsurfing sport coach, he established windsurfing club ‘Vetrunge’. He was working as a captain on ships ‘Aistis’, ‘Nerija’, ‘Neringa’, passengers ship ‘Venus’. First his own ship – little fishing boat ‘Artve’. He is working in tourism business since 1975, in fishing business – since 1995. He has two ships: ‘Lana’ and ‘Daile’.