The cod fishing season lasts from February to April around Vestfjorden. The seasonal weather around Lofoten at this time means strong winds, sleet, snow and icy cold nights. The fishermen had open boats powered by oar and sail, and there was no place to sleep on board. Thousands of fishermen needed to rent a room ashore where they could sleep and spend time when not at sea.
The fishermen’s shack (Rorbu) was a 1-storey shack with a thatch roof turf roof. A typical shack was four x four meters in size and the inner room was heated. The outer room was cold, in which equipment was stored like oilskins, salting barrels, half barrels for storing lines, tools and of course the day’s catch.
There was a window or two in the sitting room and the all-important wood-burning stove. The shacks had log walls, wooden floors and frugality were furnishings. They usually had a table and some stools, a shelf for cups and plates, and maybe a small cupboard on the wall. It was common to have four simple bunks, with no mattress.
The room served as kitchen, workroom, cloakroom, drying room and bedroom. The room was used to make and eat meals and repair tools. Fixing and cleaning the shack were not priority number 1. Lighting came from small oil lamps that burned cod liver oil. The smell of the lamps has been described as intense. Smoke from the oven, from cooking and from tobacco was a constant; the smell of fish, sweat, wet wool and damp clothes was hung in the air.
The traditional fishing villages had row upon row of these shacks. The Lofot Museum itself had more than 90 rorbuer. Hygiene and sanitary conditions were not good, and fresh clean drinking water was not always available in the village.
Crews on board the fishing boats consisted of four to six men, each of which composed a boat team (båtlag). It was normal for two boat teams to share a shack. That means as many as twelve men shared a shack with four bunks.