Posted in 17th century cartography, 17th century French exploration North America, 17th century polar explorers, Algonquin, canoes, creative nonfiction, Dutch culture, Half Moon, Henry Hudson, Hopewell, Hudson quadricentennial, samuel de champlain on August 23, 2009|
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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.
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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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. . . .
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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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.
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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((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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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.
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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