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palisades

The farther upriver we went, the friendlier the natives.  One day we enjoyed a northerly and  sailed 60 miles.  Over 100 miles up , I went ashore in a canoe and met an old man, a chief.  About 40 men and 17 woman gathered there.  They killed some doves and a fat dog and skinned it with shells out of the water.

The land is the finest for cultivation that I have ever set foot upon, and it abounds in trees of every description:  a great  many handsome oak, walnut, chestnut, yew.  In addition, there is much slate  and other good stone for houses.  The natives are a very good people.  When they supposed I was afraid, they took their arrows, broke them in pieces, and threw them into the fire.  But our intentions of peace . . . our self-restraint, our tolerance of misunderstood difference, these things were not to last.

And when we failed as ship-borne explorers and discoverers, we had to turn south.  Either that or dredge and then dig a trench through dry valleys to Cathay.  Failures as of that moment.  A botched, bungled bumping into the bankruptcy of our ideas.  Bankrupted myself, as well, given the ire I face from officers of the VOC.

And as ambassadors, we didn’t manage things so well either.  A few days south into our retreat from finding Cathay,  we witnessed a person of the mountains jump from his canoe into the stern cabin window.  As he left with clothing and bandoliers, a hot-headed member of my crew shot and killed him.  This precipitated an attack by men in two canoes, one on either side.  We returned fire with muskets and killed two or three of them.  They continued to assault us, so we killed more of them with the cannon.  And this was to be a voyage of exploration, one I imagined would result in communing with the people of Cathay.  Communing, not massacring.

Near Manna-hata we anchored in a safe place.  A cliff close by has a white-green color as though it were a copper or silver mine.  No people there came to trouble us and we rode quietly all night, although with much wind and rain.

I confess it troubles me that our relations with the native people have not been what I imagined we’d have with those of Cathay.  It troubles me even more deeply that I seem alone in my distress.  I’ve seen this river leads nowhere toward Cathay;  I am fearful for the path we have blazed between the Algonquins and our people.

A postscript:  our ship’s Cat . . . Cathay seems to have gone missing.  I loved that cat, but after searching from the bilges to the mastheads, I’m certain Cathay has not been spotted since  the attacks upriver.

(Painting: retouched image of Sanford R. Gifford’s Sunset on the Hudson, 1876)

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When I came on shore, the swarthy natives all stood around and sung in their fashion;  their clothing consisted of the skins of foxes and other animals, which they dress and make the skins into garments of various sorts.  Their food is Turkish wheat, which they cook by baking, and it is excellent eating.  They always carry with them green tobacco, which is strong and good for use.  They appear to be a friendly people.

It is as pleasant a land as one need tread upon; very abundant in all kinds of timber suitable for shipbuilding, and for making large casks or vats.

ship canoesYet as Mr Juet is right in saying . . . as we lay at anchor behind a sheltered sandy hook, five of our men took the ship’s boat and sailed the Narrowing of islands and into a large anchorage.  As they returned, about a dozen natives in two canoes attacked the boat and with an arrow through the throat killed the leader, John Colman.

A few days on, the people of the country came aboard.  They showed signs of love, gave us tobacco and wheat, and departed.  How far can we trust each other? How can we avoid all intent of treachery?

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Two weeks out of the St George for the south, and I’m still preoccupied with our meeting the people of the new land, this new race and civilization.  So much food for thought was this encounter that in a perfect, unhurried world, I’d have our ship put to sea for a  thousand days so that I could process this fantastic exchange.  So wondrous were the Algonquin that I’ve thought this place may be as fascinating as Cathay.

dinnertalk

Juet has been mulling it over too, but for him the encounter has  generated sheer terror.  At dinners in my cabin, he wants to talk exclusively of weapons:  cannon, knives, and hooks.

I confess I’ve indulged him, as he goes on about “besting the new people.”  His every imagining relates to better catching to kill every beast, fowl, and fish.   I’ve never seen him smile more than when he talks of sailing as a teen  and seeing his captain then beating a sailor.  Along the sandy coast, he spoke incessantly of firing grape into the Algonquin’s wigwams.

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Sail away to the west!!   Twice now in the past fortnight our watch has spotted sail.  First on 25th of June a sail we spied and gave chase, thinking only to discover local knowledge from and compare position plotting with this vessel.  For whatever reason, they sped away and were more expeditious than we.
grandbanks
This morning as dawn broke we saw three vessels a few leagues to west southwest and two other to the south.  At first I suspected they might be Basque, but through the glass, we see by the vessels’ design, they likely are French.  The bottom when we sounded was at 30 fathoms;  these must be the Grand Banks.  Previously when we sounded, we found no bottom.  The men wanted to strike sail for a few hours and fish;  they are happier now that they’ve eaten fat fresh bacalao from the famed Banks.  The fish was so agreeable to Cathay, our fine ship’s feline,  that she’s purring, curled up on the capstan, happy we’ve left the cold, wet storms, ecstatic we’re no longer plumbing the icy NorthEast Passage.

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Henry’s happy to report that 2009 sympathizers of his have put together this game to help you appreciate cultural facts about his current employers. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know, there’s some time warp here. Your job is to match each half with its mate. You choose which half to start with: top or bottom.

drinkJenever

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Since leaving our beach promenade in the Faeroes, we’re had alternating fair weather and fog, along with gales and more gales mostly from easterlies.  Fog and gales . . . or as the Dutch crewmen say, mist en sterk wind.

It’s a secret confided only to my personal diary that our heading west southwest is my choice, my defiance of orders from the VOC to attempt only the Northeast Passage over Nova Zembla to Cathay, but this adverse weather plays in my favor.

westerlies
Some day after we arrive at and register the VOC letters with Cathay, we shall return to Amsterdam and besides the Directors van Os and Poppe, I will face my friends Yope—Jodocus Hondius—and Emanuel van Meteren, and they may demand explanation for my traveling to the west rather than the north and east.  But here I have my excuses:  we made for the Northeast Passage, we tried, we struggled, but the weather overwhelmed us.  To save VOC property . . .  this vessel Half Moon, we had no option to heave-to,  lie-a-trie, or even lie-a-hull and allow the easterlies to have their way with us, almost, nearly throwing us onto numerous icebergs and the shoals of many fata morgans.  .

Driven by the gales to Cathay . . .  auspicates well.

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Déjà vu . . . déjà vu. That’s the term coming to mind. Only last year we followed the Norwegian shore. I know its tricky winds and my crew have seen the denizens of its waters . . . from spouting whales, feeding puffins, and at least one frolicking mermaid. I can’t be sure I’ve seen her, but my dreams of her are quite vivid. I sense she knows me and guides our ship. Maybe her destiny and mine are somehow intertwined. Maybe what Cathay offers me, it also offers her. My obsession is hers too, ours shared.

monsters

As we climb the latitudes I spend much time on the quarter deck with the spyglass and cross-staff. Taking readings and looking for Nord Kap is what the crew thinks, and of course that’s what Mr Juet and I are doing, but in my case . . . .in my case, I’m imagining that our mermaid also guides. I watch all signs of nature, including the supernatural ones At at such point that she suggests in her inimitable non-verbal communication that we turn for the isthmus of Smith and Champlain, then that we certain shall do, VOC be damned.

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I love the warm breezes on my cheek telling me it’s spring. Soon, soon we will be under way and cold winds will plow us through white-capped seas and ice mountains all the way to Cathay. Let Smith stay in his Virginia and Champlain in his wide dead-end river . . . Half Moon will light the way to the East.

Soon, but an old dispute has broken out about which calendar to use . . . our English calendar seems unacceptable to some of the Dutch. The Roman Pope Gregory 13 decided some years back to revise time-keeping itself! As for me, I’m an explorer whose destiny draws me to Cathay, not a man of religion. Let’s just sail . . . on Gregory’s calendar or ours—they call it Julian’s—be gone with stilo novo or stilo Julio.

calendars

Soon we cast off. Watching Half Moon rock and strain in these breezes, I imagine the vessel eager like me, impatient to run her beak deep into blue water and then raise it upwards, washing its decks to the scupper holes with white foamy salt water, frothy as Dutch beer, as we speed our way to Cathay. I’ve dreamt of arriving in Cathay, with its palm trees, silks, spice, and gold. Soon I, like my ship, will be released. With the awesome power of the wind, Half Moon will race seaward with a spirited stallion. That lion on the bow . . . when we arrive in the East I’ll barter that feline for a horse’s head, equus maritimus.

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As the vernal equinox approaches, so grows my awareness that by this month’s end I hope to be at sea.  At sea and Cathay-bound!    My new crew seems more excited about this departure than my two previous commands.  Maybe it’s their chemistry, as we have some English, some Hollanders, even some Frisians, and possibly the Javanese Pernomo—who quickly became adept at skating—although by now the canals are free of their ice.  He’s eager to get past NordKap so he might there skate again.

Labors ongoing on the wharf have increased in frenzy, as there is much much to getting Half Moon shipshape.  Riggers reinforce the lines and stays.  Gunsmiths work out the most favorable array of cannon and other arms.  Carpenters attend to dozens of repairs and  modifications for the cold voyage.  And VOC wharfmen provision the ship with casks of flour, cheese, salted meats, and of course grog.  The crew with families spend as much time as possible with their loved ones while the crew with no families seek Amsterdammer fellowship in the drinkhouses.   My son John will again sail with me, and he has spent much time with his mother Katherine and siblings.

jenever2

It will thrill my soul to have him beside me as we sail into Cathay, for I know on this voyage we shall.  I’ve told him that as ship’s boy, he will do the honors of drawing the spirits from the juniper grog cask as we enter the port of Cathay.  He will offer drinks to the wealthy Cathaynese merchants there.

*Art modified above was by Jan Karel Donatus Van Beecq (1638-1722).

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So now I have a ship, and I’ve started working with VOC to hire a crew.  Yope, as usual, has been an enormous help, sending letters across the Channel up to Van Meteren in London, and we’ve started getting English sailors applying to sail.  Robert Juet from last year’s trip has responded already, for example.  A good sailor/mate he,  but I’ve never gotten along famously with him.

Then there’ve been the Dutch who applied, and one of those named Bram brought with him his  Javanese assistant Pernomo.

serangskating21

But Pernomo seems wretched in the cold of Amsterdam putting on sarong after sarong and many turbans to seek warmth.  How would he get on if we sailed over the Nordkap looking past the icebergs for the Northeast Passage, I wondered.  And I’ve hit on hiring requirement:  I’ll list ice skating as an essential skill.   We are, after all,  sailing north to a place where ice and snow might bar our passage,  so if Pernomo can learn to iceskate, then surely I can hire him.  And now that I think further on this, Bram mentioned that from sailing the Eastern ports and transacting on those faraway docks, Pernomo can speak many languages of the East, including some words from Cathay!

Pernomo may be a valuable crewman even if he can’t skate well, for he can interpret once we arrive later this year in Cathay!

*Art modified above was by Bart van Hove (1856-1914).

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