People of Iceland: The captain

HUSAVIK, ICELAND — Alfred Rafnsson has spent 40 years as a captain, on small fishing boats and trawlers, giant factory ships, and with the United Nations food and agriculture organization. When he retired, he taught navigation in Namibia, Africa, before returning to Iceland.

“Now it is just a hobby for me to go to sea,” he laughs, standing in the wheelhouse of the Donna Wood, as crew members stock drinks and prepare the boat for departure.

If they leave by 5PM, they will reach the western fjord in 20 hours. There’s a storm coming, so they need to be sure to go then, he says. They will pick up Swiss tourists, take them to a fjord to climb a moutnain, then retrieve them on the other side. The rooms are below deck; it’s rough seas around Iceland. Living aboard for tourists is more like an adventure, he says.

The most important thing as a captain is to keep the crew safe, he says. His lifelong career was sort of bred into his blood. Alfred was born in a small fishing village and went out with his father on the boats. Being a captain, he said, “just happened.”

There are a lot of beautiful things to see in Iceland. He hopes visitors get to know its people, too. His land is changing; more foreigners are moving in, and settling down. He sees nothing wrong with it.

“I have been working in several countries around the world and I know how to be a foreigner,” he says. “When you enter a country that you don't know before, it starts with a culture shock. Always. And it is most important how you are going to solve that problem. You have to start to understand the people with whom you are staying. You are the guest and you respect that. If you keep that in mind, you will get well off.”

The Donna Wood, in front