ON THE ZUIDER ZEE
AMSTERDAM TO THE DOLLART
I found much to interest me in this Northern Venice (I am not sure, by the way, that this title has not been copyrighted for Stockholm). Its general appearance is more strikingly original than that of Rotterdam. Built, as it is, entirely on piles, and having no more solid foundation than sand and mud, its houses in their uneven subsidence lean out of the perpendicular at all manner of angles, some hanging over the streets, some falling backwards. There was one large building just in front of where the Falcon was lying, which had sunk so far into the bowels of the earth that its gates and ground-floor windows had completely disappeared. While returning on board late at night, I came upon one broad straight street of lofty toppling houses. The street was paved, and had no doubt once been level, but now the ground was split by great cracks, and rose in hillocks or fell in deep hollows. The rays of the moon fell on the white walls; there was not a soul besides myself in the street, and all was quite still. The effect was strangely weird. It would not have required a great effort of the imagination to suppose oneself in some city over which an earthquake shock had passed, and which had been deserted by its inhabitants. I believe that even in London men returning home late after a dinner occasionally come across streets which present this same tottering and wavy appearance. To ward off any imputation that I had dined too well, I may mention that I passed through the same street on the following morning, and that it then appeared to me no otherwise than it did overnight.
Amsterdam is, I think, the only dirty place in Holland; not that it is very dirty — it would be considered a clean city in most countries — but it is quite foul in comparison with other towns in this morbidly cleanly land. The Jewish quarter, which is well worth strolling through, is the dirtiest portion of the city. Here the picturesque slovenliness and filth of the East appeal to eye and nose. These squalid streets and alleys, with their numberless fried-fish shops and old-clothes stores, are thronged with a crowd of unwashed but often singularly beautiful people of decided Hebrew type. The very schuyts that trade on the canals of this district seemed to me to be wanting in the usual Dutch polish, and looked dirty. But there is quite as much wealth as dirt in the Jewish quarter. The Jews have always been an important body in this tolerant city. Here dwell the famous diamond merchants and polishers of Amsterdam, and the numerous fine synagogues, rich in golden vessels, attest the prosperity of the chosen people.
On Tuesday, while exploring the Ryks Museum, I fell in with a friend, and in accordance with my rule already explained, I took him with me to discover what Amsterdam could produce in the way of a good dinner. We tried the Bible Hotel, and were satisfied with the result. We also visited some of the principal cafés, which being vast, magnificently decorated, and lit with the electric light, are even finer than those of Rotterdam.
On Wednesday the 15th of June we started at 2 p.m. for the Zuider Zee. As we were getting under weigh we saw a large steam-yacht coming in, flying the R.T.Y.C. burgee. We were told that she was the Rionag na Mara.
The Y or harbour of Amsterdam is an inlet of the Zuider Zee. In order to protect the city and its canals from an encroach of the sea, a huge dam has been constructed across the Y at Schellingwoud. This dam (I quote Baedeker) is one and a quarter miles in length, and has five locks, the largest of which is 110 yards in length, and twenty-two in width. There are fifty-six ponderous lock-gates, the two heaviest of which weigh thirty-four tons each. This will give some idea of the gigantic scale on which work of this description is done in Holland.
It was a very hot day with a cloudless sky and a light wind. We drifted slowly to the great dam, and entered one of the locks in the company of several traders. The outer gate was opened, we passed through, and were afloat at last on the Zuider Zee. We were glad to be free of the tedious canals for a time, and to cruise once more on broad water.
What small amount of wind there was came right aft, and we contrived, to the gratification of our pride, to run away from all the schuyts. As we came out of the estuary of the Y, the view of the Zuider Zee was a singular one. The heat had produced a thin haze, which did not obscure but surrounded objects with a golden atmosphere. Seawards only the horizon was not visible; there the sky and water mingled in a beautiful sunlit mist that Turner would have loved to paint, while distant fishing-vessels seemed to be floating in the air. Along the shore we were following, stretched as far as the eye could see the massive grass-grown dyke; above which rose here and there red roof-tops, steeples, and trees. Farther still a tall churchspire stood out of the waters, like an island; the low land round it being beneath the horizon; this, from its bearings, I took to be the church at Hoorn.
I had started from Amsterdam without troubling my head as to what port I should put into for the night, for my chart showed me that there was a large choice of harbours all round the Zuider Zee. True that most of these are silting up, and can only admit fishing-boats and such small fry, but then the draught of the Falcon is under three feet, a fact we were grateful for when on this very shallow sea, where the greatest depth in the centre is a little over two fathoms.
We steered to the northward, keeping close under the shore in about six feet of water. The wind, still very light, now headed us, so it was evident that we should not get far before nightfall. At about six o'clock we opened out the little island of Marken. Between this and the mainland is a channel two miles broad, with only four feet of water in it, and at the head of a small bay opposite the island is the town of Monnikendam, which is about fifteen miles from Amsterdam by water. I decided to bring up at this place for the night, so we sailed into the bay, where the water gradually shoaled till we had only two feet under us — a foot less than our own draught; but we contrived to drive the yacht on with oars and quant through the deep mud, which was almost as yielding as the water. This, we discovered, was a common method of navigating the Zuider Zee; there is no possibility of foundering under such circumstances.
The little town presented a pretty picture on this quiet summer's evening, with its quaint gabled houses, its background of green trees, and its flat-bottomed fishing-craft, lying alongside the quay or the canal — of course it has its canal, what Dutch village has not? There came to us from the shore the sweet scent of new-mown hay, and the sound of cackling hens and lowing cattle, and noise of children just let loose from school, that sounded pleasant and homely to our ears.
We pushed on through the soft mud till we reached the quay, which was already crowded with wondering people, and here we stuck comfortably in the slime, with only a foot or so of water round us, so that it was scarcely necessary to take warps on shore. This night our weary pump had a rest, for her bed of mud gave the Falcon an excellent Blackwall caulking.
No sooner were we alongside than a man came down to the quay, and spoke volubly to us for some time. We could not understand him at all, so he tried signs, and showing us a handful of stuivers, pointed to the yacht. Had he taken a fancy to our vessel, and was he making a bid for her?
Evidently Wright took this view, for he called out indignantly, "It isn't enough, Mynheer." The man stared at him for a moment, then despairing of our intelligence, he hurried off, and soon returned with a pompous little fellow in spectacles, who, I believe, was the schoolmaster. He was able to speak a little of a language which he called English. I don't know what it was, but it sounded stranger to our ears than the other man's Dutch.
I do not know how it was managed, but between these two individuals and various members of the crowd, who occasionally put in their suggestions, our dull brains did eventually grasp the idea they were so anxious to convey to us. We understood that the first speaker was the harbour-master and that he wanted our wharfage fee, four stuivers. I gave him his fourpence and he departed happy. I think this was the only port we visited in the course of the cruise in which we did not come across someone who spoke English.
We found the small boys somewhat of a nuisance in Monnikendam; but this was nothing to what was before us. As I shall shortly have to explain, the shores of the Zuider Zee produce in large quantities the most troublesome urchins of all Europe. Happily, it is the custom to pack them off early to bed, so at any rate we were able to sleep comfortably through the night. On the following morning we were awakened by a familiar sound on the quay above us, the cry of the milkman—they call it "mulk" here—so we turned out and bought a bucketful. In every Dutch port the vendors of milk and eels, and often the butchers as well, would thus visit us at an early hour to solicit our custom. On studying the chart I perceived a dot right in the middle of the Zuider Zee, and which represented the little island of Urk. A lonely island on the sea he happens to be navigating always has a fascination for a yachtsman, so, having before me as a further inducement the fact of its lying on my way to Zwartsluis, I decided to sail for Urk. The morning was sultry and calm, and there was no wind at all until 11 a.m., when a light air sprang up, but it was right ahead. Seeing that it was not possible to reach Urk that day, and having had enough of Monnikendam, and its boys, we punted the yacht through the mud out of the bay and made for the opposite island of Marken, which was visible about three miles distant. Every tourist who goes to Amsterdam is obliged to visit Marken. This is one of the rules laid down in the tyrant guide-books, and it must be obeyed. In vain I rose in revolt against this law and tried to sail elsewhere. The wind, which was in league with Baedeker, would not have it so, and I had to submit and go perforce to Marken.
The island possesses a small artificial harbour with not more than four feet of water, which, however, is quite enough for its fishing-boats and for our yacht. We tacked across the channel, entered the harbour, and made fast to the quay, which, to our surprise, was deserted. Were there, then, no boys in happy Marken?
I looked round me and saw that there were only two or three houses near the quay, for the village is towards the middle of the island. Marken is inhabited by a race of hardy fishing-folk, the most primitive people in Holland, who still go about in the costume in fashion with their forefathers three hundred years ago. The island has been much written up of late, is often visited by tourists, and has, therefore, become a recognized show place, and its inhabitants run the risk of losing their simplicity and being considerably spoilt.
The natives soon found us out, and first of all the harbour-master came down to us for his wharfage fee of two stuivers per ton. I then left Wright in charge of the yacht and proceeded to explore the island on foot. Marken is rather more than two miles long. It consists of flat pasture-land intersected by little ditches, and it is, of course, surrounded with a dyke. There is a church and a neat little village of tiny old wooden houses huddled up close to each other, with no streets between them, but narrow paths only, a plan conducive to cosiness in the long, hard winters. The men were away fishing, so I only came across women and girls, who were all dressed in the picturesque and becoming style of their great-great-grandmothers, and several of whom, though built much after the model of the native schuyts, having their greatest beam at the waist, were decidedly pretty. The girls of Marken have beautifully fresh and clear complexions, and many a one of these fair plump faces, with its honest blue eyes, and golden curls falling coquettishly on either side of the close-fitting skullcap, would have made a very pretty picture indeed.
I returned to the yacht and found that a schuyt had come into the harbour with a party of Dutch tourists from Amsterdam, who were being personally conducted by what seemed to be a native Cook on a small scale. And now I saw that the primitive islanders had acquired some of the tricks of civilization, even such as are practised by the simple mountaineers of Switzerland. For no sooner had the tourists stepped on shore than down trotted to the quay-side three pretty little maids of eight or nine, with their yellow curls flying behind them. They were not dressed in their everyday clothes, but in the gorgeous Sunday costume peculiar to the island. They had not even completed their toilet before starting from home, for they were assisting each other to arrange a ribbon here, or haul taut a refractory lace there, as they came along. They seemed very much amused and very proud of their finery as they stood hand in hand in a row on the quay, blushing and smiling archly and looking up occasionally with shy eyes at the strangers of the city. The little humbugs! It was so obvious that their mothers had hastily dressed them up, and sent them down for the inspection of the innocent tourists, as specimens of the famous Marken medieval costume, on the chance of earning a few stuivers; and the children certainly did not return empty-handed to their shrewd mammae.
Later on some of the fishing-boats came in, manned by sturdy, clean-shaven men, whose dress, if not so splendid, was as old-fashioned as that of the women. They wore tight-fitting black jackets, black skull-caps, and black knickerbockers of true Dutch voluminousness, while their well-stockinged feet were thrust into loose sabots. Save for the sabots it was a very Orientallooking get up, and its like can be seen in any Turkish city.
In the evening, after we had finished our dinner, I believe that all the girls in Marken were down at the quay-side, drawing buckets of water to carry home for that last general wash-up of everything, which is never neglected in a Dutch establishment. They stood on the wharf chatting and laughing and peeping into our cabin with the curiosity of their sex, as fresh-featured, pleasant-looking a lot of blonde lasses as one could wish to see, and very smart too in their bright-coloured frocks and snowy linen.
I did not mind the girls. I may as well confess that I rather liked their presence; but by and by school broke up, and down to the quay-side ran all the naughty boys of Marken. We suffered a terrible persecution at their hands, so that the tender-hearted girls pitied us and rebuked, but to no effect, their unruly brothers. The Hollanders spoil their children, never punish them, and allow them — provided they don't play the truant from school, for education is a serious business in this country — to do pretty well as they like. Should a stranger — my authority is one of our consuls over here — take it upon himself to spank one of these little rascals for throwing stones at him or otherwise misbehaving himself, the whole of the parents of the locality would rise in a body and seek that stranger's blood. A Corsican vendetta would be child's play to what he might expect. If you value your life, put up with insult, robbery, blows, torture at the hands of a Hollander infant, but do not venture to chastise him. Of all the children in Europe the Dutch child is most to be feared. Now the Zuider Zee child is the most terrible of Dutch children, and the Marken child the most terrible of the Zuider Zee, and hence of the whole species. Our position can, therefore, be imagined by any father of a large family.
These small ruffians stood on the quay and reviled us in unknown tongues, they hurled stones at us and also bricks from a convenient stack — bricks are very dear in Marken and are imported here by sea, and yet the owner of those bricks, who happened to be standing by, contented himself with a timid remonstrance, but dared take no stronger measures.
As we could not defend ourselves, we dissimulated, pretending to be altogether unconscious of what was going on; then, as our persecutors waxed bolder, we smiled at them with an affectation of amiability we were far from feeling, for infanticide was in our hearts. But the most pathetic smile fails to move the ruthless Marken boy to mercy.
At last a fisherman who spoke a few words of English took compassion on us. He came on board.
"I vill show you vere you was better go," he said, "not to have bad children alongside. Dey vas very dam here, de children."
This good Samaritan piloted us to the other side of the harbour, where we lay moored to some stakes.
"You stop better here," he said, "not many boys throw so long as this was."
But some few of them could throw as far, nevertheless, and worried us occasionally; and let me warn yachtsmen who visit Marken that the boys are not sent early to bed here, as they are in most Dutch villages, but are permitted to stay up and annoy the poor foreigner half the night. Some people pay blackmail to these brigands, but that makes matters worse unless it be done in a scientific manner. Had I been able to speak Dutch, I should have picked out some half-dozen of the strongest boys and offered to give them sixpence each on the morrow in consideration of their thrashing the other boys and keeping them quiet during our stay. I mentioned this to Wright.
"It's a very good plan, sir," he said; "and then, after we'd set them all fighting like Kilkenny cats, we could sail away to-morrow morning without paying them their sixpences."
That would have been a sweet revenge, indeed, for all our ill-treatment at the hands of the children of Marken, but alas! we knew no Dutch, and found it impossible to make delusive promises in pantomime.
But I must do Marken the justice of saying that its women are charming and its men kindly honest fellows, somewhat subdued in manner, perhaps, and sad-visaged; but what else can be expected of a people who are groaning under the heartless tyranny of an infant democracy?
The wind howled dismally through the night, and on turning out the next morning we found that a fresh north-east breeze was blowing. We set all sail and escaped from the island before its demon boys had left their beds. My intention on starting was to cross the Zuider Zee to Urk, but when we got clear of the lea of Marken we encountered a very choppy sea; the water was leaping up round us, not into waves, but into pyramidic lumps like sugar-loaves. Urk was dead to windward of us, and we first put the Falcon on the port tack. "She don't seem to be making much way against this lop," remarked Wright, after a while, and she certainly was not.
"It doesn't look much like getting to Urk to-day," I replied; "we'll go about. She'll just lay up the coast on the other tack, and we can put into Hoorn or some other port if the sea and wind don't go down. We'll be well to windward at Hoorn, and if the wind is in the same direction to-morrow we can fetch Urk easily from there."
So we put the Falcon on the starboard tack and followed the coast to the northward, travelling very slowly, for each of the short, steep seas slapped the yacht violently in the nose and almost stopped her way altogether. However, we staggered along somehow, with much more noise and motion than speed, our decks constantly wet, and we came to the conclusion that if a moderate breeze like this can raise so nasty a sea on the shallow Zuider Zee it must be a very uncomfortable piece of water when a strong gale is blowing. It has the reputation of being so. Luckily the currents are feeble, the rise and fall of the tide being almost imperceptible hereabouts, else this would be a very dangerous sea indeed.
After two hours or so the wind headed us so that we had to tack, and the sea became so confused that we missed stays several times in getting about. We stumbled on — that is the best term to describe the boat's motion on this day — through the muddy water, past the monotonous stretches of the dykes, until about ~ p.m., when we perceived the town of Hoorn before us, almost hidden by the branches of its many trees tossing in the gusty wind. We passed through one of the two channels that lead to the harbour, and made fast to the quay close to the picturesque old Water Tower, which dominates the town and serves as a landmark to vessels far out to sea.
The usual crowd gathered on the quay above us, and an old woman commenced to address us. She became quite angry when she found that we could not understand her, and she began to scream at us at the top of her voice, heedless of the fact that we were not deaf but merely ignorant of her language. Had it been a man we should have jumped to the conclusion that this was the harbour-master demanding his fee; but what could this irate lady want with us?
Having failed utterly to explain herself, she suddenly ceased her clamour and beckoned me with her bony hand to follow her. Her air of authority was such that I dared not refuse; I crawled on to the quay and did her bidding with a sinking heart. She led me through the street in silence till we reached a small house. The door was open. Again she beckoned. I hesitated. Then she seized me by the hand and dragged me in. A crowd of inquisitive boys had followed us, so she slammed the door in their faces, and I was left alone with this mysterious woman. Her next proceeding was to unlock the drawer of a fine old carved oak bureau, of which I envied her even in that moment of trepidation. From this she took out a small book, which, without saying a word, she placed in my hand. I opened it at the title-page, and lo! it proved to be a French-Dutch dictionary! It was shrewd of the old lady to have thought of so excellent an interpreter between us.
I consulted the pages and pointed out to her the Dutch equivalents for the words "What want you with me?"
She opened the book in her turn, and, following her finger with my eyes, I read in succession the two words huit sous.
A light broke on my dull intelligence. I hastily turned over the dictionary again and showed her the uncouth Dutch word that stood for harbour-master. "Ja Ja!" she cried, laughing and slapping me on the back. We understood each other at last; this was the harbour-mistress after all, so I paid her the fourpence and she allowed me to depart.
Hoorn is one of the pleasantest-looking towns I saw in Holland. It is pierced by numerous canals, all crowded with craft and bordered by avenues of fine trees. In its streets are many quaint old gabled houses, and it has preserved all its original medieval appearance without being by any means a sleepy and stagnant place, for it is a garrison town and its public ways are full of life and colour.
And yet Hoorn is one of the famous dead cities of the Zuider Zee. I was prepared to see ruined houses and grass-grown, deserted streets, but there was nothing of the kind in this tidy, busy settlement; it is the most lively "dead city" imaginable. As for the grass-grown streets — tourists in these regions, whose imaginations run away with them after reading Havard, sometimes speak of these — I doubt that they exist in the deadest Dutch city. True that at Urk, which is not a dead city, I saw a tuft of grass in one of the streets. I stood and looked at it in wonder; how could neat Dutchmen tolerate such an eye-sore? Now there happened to be a native sitting in front of his shop, smoking his huge pipe placidly. His eye followed mine; he saw the dreadful thing, started, blushed deeply, and hurrying to it plucked it up by the roots. Then he looked at me sadly, as one who should say: "I would not for many barrels of herrings that you, a stranger, had seen this thing."
But though what remains of Hoorn is alive enough, especially its boys, it is a genuine dead city, for it was once a far more considerable and important place, being the ancient capital of North Holland; and Cape Horn, which was first doubled by Schouten, was named by him after his native town, then a flourishing seaport.
I looked into my Baedeker, and there read that in 1573 a naval engagement took place off Hoorn between the Dutch and Spaniards, when the admiral in command of the latter was taken prisoner. Late in the afternoon I was sitting on deck smoking, and as I gazed across the yellow Zuider Zee I was thinking how ridiculous it seemed to associate the idea of a naval action with that shallow water — only eight feet deep in the neighbourhood of Hoorn — when I saw a sight which made me leap to my feet and rub my eyes. Was I dreaming, or was I looking at phantoms? For I beheld two men-of-war making straight for the harbour. One was a full-rigged ship, and the other a very beamy iron-plated gunboat, with no masts to speak of. The ship was of very old-fashioned build, the other an ug]y modern steamer; they approached slowly side by side, good representatives of the old and new styles. The ship furled her sails and came to an anchor off the entrance of the harbour, the gunboat steamed right in and brought up alongside the quay opposite us. These vessels had doubtlessly been constructed expressly for the Zuider Zee defence, and must have a very light draught. The clumsy ship stuck fast in the mud when she got under way the following morning, but the gunboat tugged her off again. Possibly the former always accompanies the latter for this purpose.
I have made no mention of our pump lately, but it must not be supposed that it was at all idle, for the Blackwall caulking of Monnikendam had been washed out in a very short space of time by the choppy waves of the Zuider Zee. This very necessary apparatus had got completely out of order, its india-rubber valves were worn away by much friction, and on this day it definitely refused to pump at all. Now ours was not an ordinary or garden pump — which is as good as any and is easily put to rights — but a patent arrangement, and therefore exceedingly difficult to mend. I doubted whether the tinkers of Hoorn could restore it to its pristine condition, so I thought it best to take the job in hand myself, and, instead of repairing it, convert it into an entirely new pump on the good old garden system. I cut a valve-plate out of a piece of hard wood, and then, as I required leather to complete my job, I sallied forth to procure some.
I soon found a cobbler's shop, entered, and endeavoured to explain my wants — a piece of hard leather for a valve and a soft piece with which to serve the piston.
"Some leather like this, please," I said, pointing to the sole of my boot. The cobbler put on his spectacles, seized my foot, and closely examined the boot, evidently under the impression that I wanted him to repair it. But as there was nothing amiss with it, he looked puzzled and shrugged his shoulders. "Vor de pomp of de ship," I cried; this ought to be good Dutch if it is not.
He seemed to understand me at last, and, motioning to me to wait for him, he went into an inner room and shortly returned, bearing in his arms a great load of every description of foot-covering, ranging from a dandy's patent-leather chaussure to a fisherman's sabot. He threw them on the floor before me with a gesture that said "Take your choice."
"No, no!" I said, shaking my head.
"Then what the deuce do you want?" he cried impatiently.
I don't know Dutch, but I could swear that was the signification of his words.
I was about to retire in despair, when I noticed that a policeman was standing in the doorway smiling grimly to himself. Our eyes met.
"What is it you want, sir?" he asked in English.
An interpreter had arrived very opportunely on the scene, and now the cobbler and myself were able to carry on our negotiations. This policeman had been for many years in the employment of the General Steam Navigation Company, hence his acquaintance with our language. Having procured the leather, I set to work before an admiring crowd, and soon put the pump to rights again.
On the following morning, Saturday, the 18th of June, we started at 8 a.m. for Urk. This island is only twenty-five English miles from Hoorn, but we were so unfortunate with our wind that we must have sailed three times that distance.
The weather was glorious, and only a few small fleecy clouds, very high up, crossed the blue sky. At first the wind was north-west, but it did not remain long in that favourable direction; it gradually freshened up and blew right in our teeth. We put the yacht first on one tack, then on the other; but whenever we went about, the wind would veer round also and head us. We were pursued by Vanderdecken's ill-luck; however, it was very pleasant sailing, and the sea, though choppy, was not nearly so rough as on the previous day.
At midday we were in the centre of the Zuider Zee and out of sight of land. I brought up my sextant and took the latitude, an operation, I imagine, very rarely performed on these waters.
Later on the atmosphere became very clear, so that we were able to distinguish in several directions the summits of far-off steeples and the isolated tops of trees. It was exactly as if we were looking over a country that had been submerged by an immense flood, for no land was anywhere visible.
In the afternoon the wind dropped and there was only a slight ripple on the Zuider Zee. We progressed very slowly until about four o'clock, when we perceived on the horizon, right ahead of us, a group of red lumps which we knew must be the roofs of Urk.
As we approached it, the tiny island — its size is not quite a third that of Marken — presented a curious appearance. There rose, seemingly straight out of the sea itself, a row of little houses dominated by a church and lighthouse. To the right of this village was a dense forest of pole masts, each with its long pennant streaming to the breeze, showing where the fishing-smacks were lying in the commodious haven. And the whole of the shallow, tideless sea was dotted with a vast number of other schuyts, all making for this harbour as fast as they were able with sail and oar.
Urk, diminutive though it be, is a most important fishing-station, and a population of upwards of two thousand is here supported solely by this industry. This was the very day to see Urk at its liveliest, as all the fishermen flock home on Saturday and stay in port till Sunday night. The scene reminded one of a hive on a summer's evening into which all the working bees are hurrying laden with the spoil of the day.
As the harbour seemed to be already full to its mouth I did not care to venture within, for I feared that the boats that came in after me would block up all the available space and prevent my getting out till Monday. Again I preferred to rely on the mercy of an open roadstead than to risk persecution at the hands of diabolical boys; so our anchor was let go some fifty yards from the shore in about eight feet of water. We found that the bottom consisted of hard sand and gravel. This considerably surprised us, for we did not expect to find stones anywhere on the muddy Zuider Zee. I thought that we had anchored over the remains of some ruined dyke or flood-destroyed village — there are many such in Dutch waters. But I believe that Urk is one of the few places in this half-liquid land where the solid earth that lies beneath asserts itself and sends forth stony offshoots to the surface.
As we had only tinned meats on board, I went on shore in the dinghy to buy stores. I pulled between the piers into the harbour and was astonished to see so many fine oak fishing-boats lying in tiers along the quays. The letters on their bows told me that they all belonged to Urk. I do not think that any other place of its size in Europe can boast of so large a fleet.
On landing, I found myself the centre of an admiring crowd of what appeared to me to be the strongest and healthiest people I had ever come across. The men, in their baggy trousers, tight jackets, and broad belts, looked like a race of giants, possessed too of hard and wiry frames that few giants are blessed with. The buxom women were proportionately tall and broad, and the children were far too robust to be otherwise than terribly naughty. When I looked at the boys I was glad that I had left the Falcon outside. The men seemed well disposed to strangers. Many of these sturdy fishermen had fraternized with our sailors on the Dogger Bank and understood something of English. Two or three of them piloted me to a little shop where every commodity that the people of Urk require can be purchased. But fresh meat is evidently not considered a necessary here; for they all shook their heads and laughed good-naturedly when I spoke of it. I could have as much salt pork as I liked, but beef was an unknown luxury. Just then, very opportunely, a hen began to cackle, and the sound inspired me to ask for eggs. The good lady of the shop sold me a large number for tenpence; but they were the smallest eggs I have ever seen. I met some of the fowls in the street and saw they were proportionate in size to their island, which the men certainly are not. I now bade Urk farewell, a proceeding that lasted some while, for all those who had joined in the procession that had followed me round the village considered themselves to be my friends and came up to shake hands at parting.
During the night the wind blew on shore so that we tumbled about at our anchorage a good deal. The sky was wild and crossed with mares' tails, and, to all appearance, we were in for an unquiet night. The wind moaned dismally, as it always does in Holland on very small provocation. In this country a stranger finds his meteorologic wisdom much at fault at first; for the weather has a habit of looking worse than it really is, especially when there is any north in the wind; then, even in midsummer, there comes suddenly over a fine sunny day a chilliness, a hazy bleakness, a wintry howling of wind that dismays the imagination and leads one to believe that a storm is imminent.
On the following morning (Sunday, June 19th) we resumed our voyage across the Zuider Zee immediately after breakfast. Bad weather had not followed the threatening signs of the previous evening. It was another sultry, cloudless, and almost calm day, and the light wind was again right in our teeth. We tacked in an easterly direction, intending to sail round the north end of the island of Schokland, which lay between us and our destination, the entrance of Zwarte Water.
For two hours we saw no signs of the land towards which we were sailing; then we perceived a line of yellow sand-hills to the north of us — the mainland near Lemmer. But ahead of us, towards the rising sun, there was a dazzling glare on the water, and a mirage which prevented us from distinguishing anything, save here and there a phantom-like schuyt greatly magnified by the heated atmosphere and appearing to be floating in mid-air. There was a considerable ripple on the sea round us; but it was difficult to say how it was caused. The surface of the shallow Zuider Zee seems to be sensitive to the slightest breath of air. So feeble was the wind that, after tacking with flapping sails for nearly four hours, we had not left Urk more than two miles astern, and the only sound to be heard on this quiet Sunday morning was the persistent cackling of the hens of that island.
But about midday a nice north-west breeze sprang up, and, setting our tanned square-sail, we began to bowl along at a good rate. At last we sighted that commonest landmark of the Zuider Zee, a steeple, bearing south-east, and we ran down towards it under the impression that it belonged to the church of Schokland. But we were mistaken, for Schokland and its low buildings were not yet visible above the horizon, and we were really looking right over the island at some lofty town spire on the mainland far beyond. After running on some way farther we saw three small hummocks, like three separate islands, ahead. Then as we approached we perceived a low sandy coast connecting these three hillocks, and we now had no doubt that this was the island of Schokland before us.
This island is very narrow, but it is three miles long. It seemed to be an almost barren sand-bank, with few houses on it, and not many fishing-boats in its small harbour.
We gave the north corner a wide berth, for the water is very shallow round Schokland, and, indeed, there is but little more than six feet anywhere between it and the mainland. Having passed the point we sailed into an extraordinary labyrinth of tall sticks that puzzled us a good deal. At first we thought they were intended as marks for the different channels; but we soon decided that there were far too many of them for that purpose. These sticks were planted close together in double rows which stretched across the water in every direction as far as the eye could see, like so many streets. There must have been some thousands of them in sight. They were doubtlessly the stakes to which the fishermen attach their nets or lines; but it seemed strange to find such crowds of them stuck right across the fairway of vessels.
We could now plainly distinguish the mainland, and we made out the Kraggenburg lighthouse ahead of us. The Zwarte Water river empties itself into a very shallow bay, across which, from the mouth of the river, a deep channel, known as the Zwolsche Diep, had been dredged for four miles out to sea. This channel is bordered on one side by a pier, at the end of which is the Kraggenburg lighthouse, and on the other side by a submerged embankment of stone marked by big beacons. The wind was now freshening every moment and a nasty sea was rising; but we ran on merrily under all canvas, and at last rushed suddenly into smooth water under the pier-head, and we had done with the Zuider Zee.