FROM THE JADE TO THE EIDER
ONCE again in the deep water of the Jade, we let go our anchor close to the letter E buoy, and here passed a very uncomfortable night. The wind was blowing straight in from the ocean, and when it met the ebbing tide, which was quite as furious as the flood had been, a very nasty sea got up, in which the yacht pitched, rolled, and strained at her anchor with violent jerks as if she would be pulled to pieces.
I turned out of my bunk several times to see how we were getting on. The anchor was holding well, but the sky had a stormy appearance and the northwest wind was howling again after its old fashion. Our faithful barometer had not gone down for nothing. I was glad indeed that we were not lying at our anchorage of the previous night at the back of Norderney. For there was now little cause for anxiety; we had the Jade under our lee, well marked by buoys by day and lightships by night, so that if it should become too rough to remain where we were we could always make for shelter.
The glass dropped another two-tenths in the night, and on the following morning, July 5th, the sky looked so bad that I saw we should have to run up the Jade to Wilhelmshaven and wait there till the weather improved. This port is twenty miles up the bay. I did not like to go so far out of my course, but it could not be helped, for the breaking seas of the Jade are dangerous in a north-west gale, and that a gale from that quarter would soon overtake us I had little doubt.
At six o'clock the tide began to flow, so we got up anchor and set all sail. It rained in torrents and blew harder every minute. Soon the squalls became so violent, with promise of worse coming, that we had to close reef the main-sail. We rushed along over the tumbling waves, picking our way from buoy to buoy. At first we could see no signs of land, but numerous gigantic beacons of grotesque form rose from the submerged sands as a warning to vessels. Later on we perceived on our starboard hand the low coast of the Duchy of Oldenburg, about two miles distant, and four miles away on our port hand stretched the great sands of Hoher Weg, which divide the Jade from the Weser, but which are covered at high water, so that then there is no dry land between the channel we were following and the coast of Hanover fifteen miles away.
The Jade is generally described as a river on the charts, but it is nothing of the sort. It is a long bay opening out at its head into a broad, shallow gulf, resembling the Dollart, and like this last was produced by a mighty inundation centuries ago. The channel narrows into a neck at the entrance of this gulf, and it is on the west side of the neck that Wilhelmshaven is situated.
At ten o'clock we saw the harbour in front of us; two large men-of-war lay at anchor in the roads. Of the town itself we could distinguish little save the massive dykes that surround it, and the gates that open to the great docks within. When we were not half a mile off, a stinging torrent of rain drove down the bay, obscuring everything, and then the gale broke on us with all its fury.
"It strikes me that we have got here none too soon Wright," I shouted.
"No, sir. We're just in time as usual," he replied.
"Just in time" became a regular catch-word with us this summer; for though we were very unlucky in encountering a lot of bad weather, we had a wonderful knack of always reaching a snug port just as the weather was becoming dangerously troublesome.
When we were near the town we perceived two piers close together. Under the impression that we were entering the harbour we luffed up between these and lowered our sails. We now found ourselves in a very small haven surrounded by deserted quays, with a dock gate at the end of it. But there was no shelter, for the waves were rolling into this haven and dashing against its lofty walls. This was clearly no safe place for us to remain in, so we hoisted the foresail as hastily as we could with the object of running out again before the wind should drive us against the stone quays.
At this juncture a man clad in oils appeared above us and motioned to us to get outside and steer to the right. We followed his advice, and after nearly fouling one of the pier ends we escaped from this cul-de-sac, which, I afterwards discovered, was the entrance of one of the man-of-war docks. A hundred yards or so farther on we opened out another harbour, in which the water was quite smooth. We sailed in and made fast to some stakes at its inner end. Our work was over for the day; and though wet and weary, we were very hungry, and felt very contented and jovial, now that we had at last found a safe berth, after having passed fifty somewhat anxious hours at sea. We had taken no breakfast before sailing, so the first thing we now did was to open a tin of beef and a bottle of pickled onions and do justice to a square meal.
After this we looked around us. The harbour we were in did not present a cheerful appearance. It was surrounded, not by quays and buildings, but by muddy waste ground strewn with old railway iron and timbers; behind this were grassy dykes which prevented us from seeing what lay beyond. The harbour contained two deserted lighters only, and no human being was in sight, save one small girl who was milking a sheep on one of the dykes. This desolation puzzled me extremely, for were we not in Wilhelmshaven, the second war harbour of all Germany, and her chief naval station on the North Sea?
I went on shore and walked up the dyke, so as to command a view of the scenery and discover what manner of place this was which we had now reached. I looked down on several cheerless rain-swept docks of considerable size, in which some men-of-war were lying, but the only people to be seen were a few disconsolate sentries in caped great coats, struggling with the wind and rain. Beyond the docks I perceived the red roofs of the town, so I walked towards it.
I conscientiously explored the city of Wilhelmshaven, and, making all due allowance for the inclement weather, I came to the conclusion that this was one of the most depressing and cheerless-looking places I had ever visited. In this city everything is new and useful, but little is beautiful as yet. It has been planned on a large scale; its brick-paved streets are broad, straight, and very clean, but empty of people. The public buildings are imposing. I came across a post office big enough for London and a spacious naval hospital. There are also great open places where parks and gardens are being laid out. But there is something very cold and dreary in the appearance of this young and inchoate settlement, which is yet far too vast for its present population; many of its chief streets have only been sketched out, having a building every hundred yards and desert spaces between.
In another forty years or so, when Wilhelmshaven is fully grown and has a sufficiency of inhabitants to fill it, it will no doubt be a pleasant and magnificent city; but I believe that even Dido's Carthage, despite the pious Eneas' polite expressions of admiration for it, could not have appeared a very inviting place while the carpenters and masons were still at work on its half-finished walls and temples.
Wilhelmshaven is as yet but the skeleton of a town, and to a stranger seems sadly wanting in life and colour. It is a great war-station and nothing more; a camp of soldiers, sailors, and dockyard officials, who all attend to their work in the uncompromising German fashion. That air of roistering jollity that invariably pervades a British garrison town is altogether wanting here. The strict discipline of the German service and the impecuniosity of the average German recruit prevent anything of the sort. This is a very serious place indeed, where there is much work and very little play.
The history of Wilhelmshaven explains the character of the town. About thirty years since, the Prussians, anxious to acquire a naval station on the North Sea and possessing no territory on that coast, purchased what was then little more than a mere mud-bank on the Jade, from the Grand Duke of Oldenburg. It was very far from being the best site for the purpose, but it was the only one in the market, so the best was made of it. Land was reclaimed, dykes were constructed, and docks excavated at an enormous cost. On one occasion, at least, great embankments and works over which months of labour had been expended were swept away, before their completion, by storm and flood. The Prussians have been steadily working here for thirty years, and there is much to be done yet before this becomes, what it certainly will be some day, one of the strongest places in Europe.
The Eider and Elbe canal and the cana1 from Wilhelmshaven to the Weser and Elbe will be completed in a few years. The German gunboats will then be able to steam from the Baltic to this port without putting to sea. Another important ship canal, that from Wilhelmshaven to Emden, will be open in a few months. It will thus soon be possible for a yacht to travel all the way from Ostend to the Baltic by river and canal, and the Danish fiords will then no doubt become a favourite cruising-ground of the Corinthian sailor.
When I returned to the yacht I found an amiable-looking giant in a green uniform vainly but patiently attempting to make himself intelligible to Wright. I saw that he was a custom-house officer, and though I understood nothing else of his discourse, I managed to catch the word zollhaus, which I knew was German for custom-house, so I presumed that he wanted me to go on shore with my papers and report myself to the authorities. I motioned to him to lead the way, and he took me to an office where sat several intelligent-looking gentlemen in uniforms and spectacles. I produced my register and Admiralty warrant; but not a word did any of them know of English, so I was unable to give them the information about myself which they required.
"Do any of you gentlemen speak French?" I inquired in that language.
They shook their heads and smiled. I found that Germans in their own country generally exhibit amusement when asked that question.
Then one of the superintendents of the department took me with him all over the town, and we called upon several merchants, store-keepers, and others in the hope of finding an interpreter of some sort. It was all in vain, and we returned to the custom-house to report our failure. Next they sent out messengers in all directions, with the result that at last a naval petty officer was discovered who understood English. Through him I explained who and what I was and how I had run into the harbour for shelter. Upon which I was told that I could stay in Wilhelmshaven as long as I liked, and that I had no dues to pay.
Now I have heard a great deal about the rude and overbearing manners of Prussian officials, and surely this was an occasion on which I might fairly have expected some unpleasantness. I put these officers to a good deal of trouble, and I must have been a horrid nuisance to them; but they showed no signs of impatience and were as courteous as possible all the while. I had plenty more experience of German officialism in the course of this voyage, and I am inclined to believe that the British opinion on this subject is about as well-founded a prejudice as the French theory of our Smithfield wife-market.
An ex-man-of-war's man, who spoke English well, found us out in the course of the afternoon He told us that he was now a schleusenwarter, which I suppose signifies a dock-watchman. He was a very decent fellow and was of great use to us during our stay, showing us where the best stores were, acting as interpreter, and so on. He was no novice at this work, for when the British squadron was at Wilhelmshaven in '86 he took charge of all the stewards and piloted them in their marketings.
He took me round the town and showed me all that there was to be seen. Being a German, he was, of course, a well-instructed man; he had the history of Wilhelmshaven at his fingers' ends and was better than any guide-book. He pointed out to me some old man-of-war hulks that had been purchased from the English Govermnent, among others the Renown, which had last seen service in the Crimean War, and to my surprise he related to me her whole previous career. This well-informed person, when off duty, used to come on board of us in the evening and yarn over his pipe. He was well up in all the latest English news. He described to us the Jubilee festivities and the yacht race round the British Isles; he discoursed to us on the Irish Question. Germans belonging to classes which with us know and care nothing about what is going on in other countries than their own, take a lively interest in the current history of the entire world, and, what is more, can discuss foreign matters with intelligence. This dock-watchman had followed the careers of our principal statesmen, and he knew quite as much about our ex-premier's policy as most Englishmen do; but this is after all a doubtful compliment to his knowledge.
But the subject which he had read up most carefully of late, and of which he was never weary of talking, was the Jubilee. He and all the other Germans I came across appeared to be excessively gratified at the way in which the Crown Prince had been received in England. Even the most insignificant German papers were printing long quotations from the English Press which testified to the popularity of their future king with our people. The result is that a most kindly feeling towards us has been aroused. I found the same favourable impression in Denmark and Holland. The Jubilee has brought about much goodwill and sympathy between the races nearest allied to us and ourselves, and there can be little doubt that it has served a far higher purpose than that of a mere costly pageant, as some foolish cynics would have us believe it.
I was told that the deserted harbour in which the Falcon was lying was the old Torpedo Haven, now abandoned on account of the rapidity with which it silts up and the consequent heavy dredging expenses. But this is the only tidal harbour here that affords shelter from all winds, and vessels drawing more than five feet have either to remain at anchor outside or to enter the docks and pay heavy dues. At low water the Falcon was here left high and dry for several hours.
For three days it blew a whole gale of wind from north-west to north-east, so we once again remained weather-bound in port, reviling our persistent ill-luck. Readers will begin to look on Wright and myself as a couple of very timid mariners, so often do I chronicle delays in consequence of foul weather and so much have I to say about the perils of the North Sea. But this was an exceptionally stormy season on this coast, and to show that we did not shirk the open sea without good reason, I may mention that while we were in Wilhelmshaven there was lying at anchor off the back of the town, where shelter is afforded from off-sea winds, a considerable fleet of coasters weather-bound like ourselves. Many of these schooners and ketches had been here nearly a month, and as the skippers and crews are generally part owners and share profits, they would not be inclined to lose freights by unnecessary delay. These vessels were all far bigger than the Falcon, and though Wright and myself should be the last to say so, were most probably quite as weatherly craft as our own. Some had lee-boards like the Dutchmen and hailed from the Elbe and Weser, others were of deeper draught and heavier tonnage, that traded between the Baltic and North Sea by way of the Eider Canal.
The dock-watchman, who was a Hanoverian, told me that the wind usually blows from the sea on this bleak coast during the winter, spring, and early summer, and that the only fine and warm season is the autumn, when south and south-west winds prevail.
On the evening of the 7th the wind moderated and one of the weather-bound schooners got under way. I was about to follow her example, but the watchman dissuaded me from doing so.
"She is a stranger," he said, "and has never been here before. Her skipper belongs to Lübeck. He is making a mistake, and you will see that he won't be able to get outside. He will be obliged to run back here to-night."
My friend was quite correct in his surmise; the wind freshened again in the afternoon, and on the following morning we saw the schooner lying at her old anchorage.
"You can't feel in here how hard it is blowing at sea," he explained, "but I know what it is doing by the height of the water outside the dock-gate. So long as there is a strong wind from this quarter in the North Sea the water is piled up in the Jade."
But on the 8th the weather improved considerably and the glass rose steadily. At midday the clouds were travelling from the south-west, so once more I was impatient to be off.
"Not to-day, captain," said our mentor. "Tomorrow you can sail. You must always give the sea twenty-four hours to calm down before you start for the Eider from here. You have to cross the banks, where the water is very rough unless the deep sea outside is almost smooth."
A glance at the chart showed me that this was a precaution not to be overlooked. Sailing from the Jade to the Eider one is always in very shallow water though out of sight of land, and the tides are very strong; so the sea breaks dangerously, on very little provocation, over these extensive shoals and ever-shifting channels.
At three o'clock on the morning of the 9th of July I turned out and saw that the wind was south-east and that the day was breaking with an appearance that promised fine weather; but the glass had fallen two tenths in the night and was still going down.
However, the wind was fair for the present and off shore, and I knew that if we wasted this chance we might have to wait a week or more for another one; so I decided on an attempt to fetch the port of Tonning on the Eider before the bad weather came on again. This was a run of only eighty English miles, and with ordinary luck we ought to accomplish it before dusk. I awoke Wright and we got under way at once.
This was a somewhat curious voyage, for after we left the Jade we saw no land until we were well into the estuary of the Eider, and yet we never were in more than two fathoms of water, often in very much less, and were at times crossing shallows which are left high and dry at low tide. Our route was very well marked by buoys and beacons and the sky was clear, in fact too clear, for when the sun's rays do fall powerfully on these cold waters a thin haze rises, accompanied by a peculiarly dazzling glare that makes it difficult to distinguish any object until one is close to it.
Our luck seemed to have changed at last, for this day we experienced neither calm nor storm, but a fresh and favourable breeze which carried us along at a good pace. As there was no rough water on the banks, we were enabled to shorten our distance considerably by cutting great corners across the sands at high water, and we were generally quite out of the track of other vessels. From the mouth of the Jade we steered for the tower on the Rother shoals, a signal-station standing among the quicksands off the mouth of the Weser. Great difficulties were overcome in the construction of this tower; after many endeavours the engineers almost despaired of finding solid ground, and on one occasion, after it was supposed that a substantial foundation had been prepared, the whole of the massive masonry sank bodily into the treacherous bottom.
From here we sailed across the mouth of the Elbe, where we crossed the path of many craft of all nations and sizes, that were bound to and from Hamburg and other ports of that mighty stream. We could trace the channel by the double procession of craft, but of the land itself nothing could yet be seen.
Thence, feeling our way with the lead, we passed over the sands by the Suder Piep and the Norder Piep, and at 3 p.m. we reached the beacons at the mouth of the Eider, and, altering our course, steered from buoy to buoy towards the shore. Soon we saw land ahead of us, no longer low and flat, but the undulating hills of Schleswig.
For some hours we had heard distant thunder, the glass had fallen a good deal more since the morning, and now dark clouds were rising over the sea. We were almost in sight of our port, but it began to look as if we were destined not to get in there after all, and I began to think of Vanderdecken again; for the channel we had to follow across the shoals now began to take a south-easterly direction, so that we had to tack, and as the tide was running out strongly we could make no way and soon found that we were going astern.
It was a very exposed place to anchor in and bad weather was coming on, but there was no help for it.
"Our usual luck, Wright," I cried. "Down with the head-sails. We'll have to bring up here till the tide turns, or rather till to-morrow, for we can't find our way up the Eider in the dark."
And now a remarkable thing happened. Even as I spoke, and as Wright was about to take in the jib, there came a terrific peal of thunder.
"Hullo!" he cried. "Look out, sir; here it comes." I turned round and perceived a squall of wind and rain rushing across the sea towards us with a hissing sound.
"Scandalize the main-sail, Wright!"
No sooner said than it was done, and the next moment the squall was on us and we were scudding fast before it. The squall was from the south-west, which I knew was a fair wind for us to Tonning. Here was, indeed, a piece of luck. We had carried the south-east wind behind us all the way up the coast, and now, at the very moment when we had to alter our course, round had run the wind to the direction we needed to drive us up the estuary against the tide.
We felt very jubilant. The wind freshened and the sea got up and another dirty night was evidently coming on, but we cared nothing for all that now. Every gust was hurrying us towards safe shelter; the storm was exactly what we wanted. Soon we had sand-banks dry or just awash on either side of us, and the channel became narrow and winding, so that the water was almost smooth.
"We're just in time, as usual, sir," cried Wright, laughing, as he looked back towards the open sea we had left behind us, already leaping in angry whitecapped waves.
We were, indeed, just in time; had we been an hour or so later we should have found it highly unpleasant, if not dangerous, on those perilous shoals.
At last we passed the sands and had genuine dry land on either side of us, with green hills, trees, and houses, and at five o'clock we came to an anchor in Tonning roads after a fourteen hours' pleasant voyage.
It rained so hard that I did not go on shore that evening to explore the town. The yacht tumbled about a good deal during the night, for these roads are quite exposed to the south-west wind, and the sea, though broken by the shoals outside, was very choppy. But we heeded not the weather now; we thoroughly enjoyed our dinner of bacon and potatoes, and smoked our pipes afterwards in a very happy frame of mind; for at last we had done with our persistent foe the North Sea. We were practically in the Baltic; we were no more to be weather-bound in dismal places for days at a time; in short, our troubles were over and our real and enjoyable cruise was to commence.