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Archive for the ‘Hudson quadricentennial’ Category

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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I fear ambush, although better judgment tells me Juet has gotten under my skin, into my head.  Day after day, and night after night he urges me to set more men on watch, expecting the people of the country to come over the bulwarks.

extraordinaryfish

I see nothing by night, and by day my eyes detect shoals at every turn.  Juet, in the attracting pull of the new continent, has been so thoroughly transformed that I suspect he’s no longer the same man.  Days before, we caught a most extraordinary fish. As Juet struggled to bring the fish in, he spoke of dominating this new people. He’s a new soul, his old soul having been banished back to England by the spirits of these waters.

Cathay, the ship’s cat, knows it.  As captain, I’m resisting it, denying  any distraction.

Bend on more sail, tomorrow I’ll tell the men.  Full speed ahead;  drive us northward and then on to Cathay, ye zephyrs of August.

(Painting: retouched image of Frederic Edwin Church’s Grand Manan Island, Bay of Fundy, 1852)

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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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Crash!  Tear!   Rend!  Rip!  Thwack! all sounds of terror added to wind and thunder in the darkness before dawn!  Horrors for any mariner until reason intervenes and fights back.  So it was when the foremast splintered and crashed into the sea last night, leaving the foredeck a confused jungle of rigging.  Any crew tangled in this web would have found himself dragged to his peril as waves pulled the debris away from the ship, mostly away.  Crew took up knives and axes and quickly severed the fibers, keeping the colluding wind and water from capsizing our ship. . . .

dismasted
No one was injured although Cathay, the ship’s cat, was saved only by pouncing back onto the deck as her favorite spar was about to plunge into the wild seas.  Lucky Cathay.  Her previous near-communication-with-the-sea came at Nord Kap, where she leapt from the foremast to the forehouse, not realizing it was sheer ice, and nearly slid into the chilling seas.

As the crew labors to fashion a temporary foremast, I realize that for the first time in weeks  the crew have put aside their feuds, their divisions; they ceased cursing each other in their different languages.  With united purpose, we can juryrig a foremast that’ll get us to the forests described by Champlain and Smith, where we’ll fashion a new mast, new spars.  By my calculations and give or take a few hundred leagues, we are at latitude 48 north and now closer to North America than to Nord Kap where we turned.    With this new unity of mission, we will soon reach the rocky pine coast, make repairs, and begin the next leg of our journey to Cathay.

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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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The “keeper of the north” has rebuffed but forgiven me once again:  icy billows washing over our ship, gusts, snow, hail.  Adding to this, this arctic demon seems again to have possessed my crew, stealing their souls perhaps but more threatening is this demon leads them to mutiny.  Blackened right eye and bulging left one have convinced me: we got as far as latitude 71 N, but to save our ship and this mission to Cathay—after all, not to the borealis—I order the helm made for the southwest, VOC and their contract notwithstanding.

at stern

Here’s my plan:  after stopping here in the Faeroes to replenish our fresh water, we make for the southwest and to Jamestown so that from thence . . . we cross the isthmus and make for Cathay.

Thanks to Towmasters, for the background photo.

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((Editor’s Note: Although Henry channeled this logbook installment some days back, we’ve lost the artwork–water color–several times, owing to the splash of the North Sea washing the tint off the medium.  Be assured that Bowsprite and I are consulting  the best 17th-century telecom specialists still around to assist with technical onshore aquarelle dehydration aka TOAD.))

Half Moon, my equus maritimus, has been riding the North Sea well, galloping happily away from the wharf in Amsterdam.  Our course has taken us close enough for brief landfalls at Peterhead in Scotland and Lerwick in the Shetlands.  From there we make for the Lofotens, which the high mountains will reveal some distance out at sea.  We follow that over the top of Nordkap and east to Cathay.  Except for Cathay, these landfalls are nothing new;  we were here only 12 moonths ago.

Spirits are high on board;  the crew seem as elated as I am to leave our beloveds and our places to seek out and discover.  Each landfall conjures up ideas of adventures deferred.  How might Peterhead girls sing?  What grog can be bought in the Shetlands?  What savory fish permeates Lofoten kitchens?  I’d love to know, but not now.  Nordkap beckons and Cathay awaits with its own girls, grog, and grub.  Spirit us there, equus maritimus aka half moon, a name I despise as it associates closely with halfs like half-hearted, half-baked, and a farmer’s term I recently learned from the bawdy Dutch … half-assed.

And if the privacy of the journal allows–I pray you speak to on one of this–a word about contingencies:  a map came into my possession one moonless night on the Amsterdam wharfs, a map copied from John Smith.  Virginia, he suggests, is but a thin isthmus beyond which lies the great Ocean that laps on the shores of Cathay.  If no Northeast Passage opens, then Smith’s map will present an alternative.

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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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Yope took me to the docks on the Amstel, where wharf cats feasted on rats and herring.  Of course, none of these cats seemed so intelligent as my Cathay.  He had something to show me, he said.

A large ship called Batavia had just arrived from Java (“YA vah” as Yope pronounces it).  The crewmen tanned from the tropical sun, their hair bleached.  And Batavia , a heavy laden treasure vessel, its cargo a heady perfume of  cloves, nutmeg, and pepper.  And doing some of the work on deck were Javanese, small but powerful dark-skinned men shouting at each other in some musical language.  Some crew still on duty aboard ship  called out to friends on the dock, and in my best (cough!) Dutch writing, let me transcribe what I heard.

“Yope, hoe gat het?”  I guess that means “how are you?”

amsteldockAnd so a dialogue went on awhile, with Yope seeming as excited as the mariners, “Yope, wij zijn blij terug de komen.”
Then another sailor might see him, and being here now almost two months, I could recognize a repetition.  “Yope jongen, hoe is het?”

Yope had something to show me.  Beyond the great Batavia was a smaller ship, the Halve Maen, my ship he said.  Frankly, seeing its size, so dwarfed by Batavia disappointed me.  Rather than Half “Moon, I thought it should be called “last quarter,” as that would describe.  Still, a ship means that soon I might sail again, sail into Cathay.

*Art modified above was by Ludolf Backhuysen (1630-1708).

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