WHEN I awoke the next morning, after dreaming that I was lying weather-bound for ages in some desolate bay of Friesland, and realized where I was, I experienced a keen sense of relief and satisfaction. It was Sunday, the 10th of July, a hot and fine day; but as there was no longer any necessity for making use of every rare spell of decent weather, and as, moreover, the wind was still south-west, and therefore unfavourable for the ascent of the river, I decided to take a holiday and remain where I was till the morrow.
We brought up our wet clothes and bedding and hung them up to dry in the sun, and after breakfast I set sail in the dinghy and went forth to explore. I perceived an English steamer discharging coal on the other side of the river, so I first sailed over to her in the hope of borrowing some home papers. She hailed from the Tyne and had a Scotch captain and a crew of big Geordies. The captain lent me several papers a fortnight old and then accompanied me on shore.
Tonning is a pleasant-looking, old-fashioned town of 4,000 inhabitants, who show more traces of Danish blood than I had expected to find in the south of Schleswig. Most of its houses seem to have been built about two hundred years ago, and many of them have gardens full of fine roses, which were now in full bloom. Nearly everyone we met spoke English, but none of the custom-house officers could do so; curiously enough I found this to be the case in all the German ports I visited.
We entered a café in the quaint old market-place. We found no one in it, but soon a tall, graceful, and very good-looking young lady came in to serve us with beakers of Rendsburg beer. The skipper and myself were expressing our admiration of this very charming person and remarking upon the great superiority, in point of figure, of the women of Denmark over their sisters in the Teutonic and the other Scandinavian nations, when her eyes flashed with a lively amusement, and she said, with a quiet smile, "I understand what you say, gentlemen."
I do not think she was offended at the very respectful praise we had been giving expression to. She was the daughter of the host, who now appeared on the scene, a jolly old chap who had fought as an officer against Prussia in 1864. She was a well-educated girl, and had been a governess in good families both in London and Brighton. Her English friends had sent her the Jubilee numbers of the Graphic and Illustrated London News, which she was able to lend us. She said that Tonning was a very quiet town, but that in the autumn steamers left here several times a week with cattle fattened on the surrounding marshes, for England. But this trade, she told us, was now falling off, as meat had become so cheap in England that it did not pay to export it. This was, indeed, news to me, and I made a note to talk the matter over with my very affable but not little-charging butcher on my return to London. When we rose with reluctance to bid farewell to our agreeable hostess, she took us into the garden and presented us each with a bouquet of magnificent roses.
In the afternoon Wright and myself called at a butcher's, a baker's, and a grocer's to lay in stores. In each we were served by young women who had acquired the English language in London. It seems as if it is the custom for all the girls of Tonning to complete their education in our country.
In the night there was half a gale of wind from the south-west and heavy rain, so we again tumbled about merrily at our anchorage.
The next stage of our journey was a pleasant and interesting sail up the River Eider and the Schleswig-Holstein canal to the Bay of Kiel. This waterway between the North Sea and the Baltic, whereby the long and stormy voyage round the Skaw is avoided, is unfortunately not practicable for vessels of much more than one hundred tons burden, for the river is very winding and of little depth, and the ever-shifting sand-banks that obstruct the mouth of the Eider cannot be crossed by any but shallow craft. No vessel of more than ten feet draught can take this short cut across the peninsula. But the new canal, now in course of construction, from the Eider to the Elbe, will admit even large men-of-war, and is destined to be one of the most important ship-canals in the world.
The distance from the mouth of the Eider to Kiel Bay is, as the crow flies, rather more than fifty miles, but so tortuous is the route by river and canal that I imagine it must be double that distance. The canal itself is only twenty miles long and joins the river about six miles above Rendsburg. The tide flows as far as this last-mentioned town, where the first sluice is met. There are altogether six sluices, each one hundred feet long, and the greatest altitude attained is twenty-five feet above the level of the Baltic.
At midday, July 11th, when the flood was just beginning to make, we weighed anchor. Our luck had indeed changed. The wind had followed us all the way up the coast from Wilhelmshaven, had then considerably altered its direction to help us up to Tonning, and now it turned round to the north-west — the fairest wind possible for a vessel bound from here to Rendsburg.
It blew hard and the squalls were often severe. We scudded along fast and soon reached the little town of Friedrichstadt, where a railway-bridge spans the river. This bridge, the only one between the sea and Rendsburg, is built at a sharp bend of the river, and the tide runs under it with great velocity and in an oblique direction, so that sailing-vessels have difficulty in passing safely through the narrow opening left by the swinging portion of the bridge. In consequence of this, the railway company is compelled to keep a tug always ready under steam to help vessels through free of charge. The bridge was open when we approached, and as wc had the wind right aft we did not need the steam-boat's services.
After sailing some miles through a monotonous flat country of marshy pasture, we entered a region of low hills, among which the river, now much narrower, took a very winding course. The scenery appeared very charming after the artificial level landscapes of Holland. We were no longer hemmed in by regular dykes, but the woods and grassy slopes came down to the water's edge. Comfortable-looking old farmhouses with high thatched roofs, nestled among the beech-trees and called to mind the homesteads of our own west country. This was evidently a rich pastoral district, and the people appeared happy and well-to-do. Great numbers of sleek cattle were in the rich pastures, and vast flocks of geese marched along the tow-path under the command of urchins. The day, though windy, was sunny and warm, so the haymakers were busy on the banks, a jolly lot of fellows who addressed us cheerily in unknown tongues as we sailed by. We passed several small villages, each with its ferry-boat traversing the river on a chain, like the "grinds" at Cambridge. The scene was always lively and cheerful, and I soon came to the conclusion that the Eider is one of the pleasantest rivers in Europe for a yacht cruise.
"Hullo! look there, sir. What's that great bird on the bank?" cried Wright suddenly. It was a stork standing on one leg and gazing at us with an expression of profound melancholy. Then it flashed upon me that we were in the land of storks, and as a student of Hans Andersen I should have remembered this before. We saw many more of these birds in the course of the day; they were always alone. The stork seems to be a very meditative bird and fond of solitude.
We passed a good many vessels, schooners and ketches of about ninety tons, clumsy-looking craft with lofty square sterns, but very handy; they turned to windward in the narrow reaches of the river as smartly as a Thames barge will. Those coming from the Baltic were generally laden with timber, those from Bremen and Hamburg with coffee, sugar, and other colonial produce.
The wind was abaft us most of the way, but in consequence of the windings of the river we were often reaching or tacking. We carried the flood with us for nine hours, and we sailed on, with no mishap save that we once missed stays and ran ashore on a hay field, until nine in the evening, when we came to an anchor near a picturesque old farm. Having no chart or map of this river, I had no idea where we were, and did not much care, for there are no dangers on the Eider, and pilot directions are not wanted. It was a perfectly calm night, and it was pleasant to hear round us the lowing of cattle, the song of nightingales, and the chirping of crickets for a change, instead of the howling of wind and the dashing of waves.
I was awakened early the next morning by the cackling of hens and other noises of the farmyard, and turning out I found that a cloudless sky was overhead and a light south-west wind was blowing. The haymakers were already at work in the fields, and the milkmaids were bustling about with their wooden pails. We got under way after breakfast and sailed to Rendsburg, which we reached early in the afternoon. This is a fortified town of about thirteen thousand inhabitants, quite as old-fashioned and quaint as Tonning, but far more lively and interesting. The remains of an old castle dominate the town, and a considerable Prussian garrison is now stationed here.
We made fast to the quay close to the sluice and remained here for the night. A crowd, as usual, gathered on the quay to stare at us; but the children did not annoy us at all. German boys are not so rough and troublesome as the Dutch, in fact I consider them to be the most staid youngsters in Europe they are so hard-worked at school, and such massive learning is driven into their young heads, that they have little life and energy left for mischief. If boys had any voice in the matter, they would refuse to be born in Germany.
I reported myself to the custom-house and paid the canal dues, which amounted to ninepence. A large ketch that had entered the Eider the same day as ourselves, came in shortly after us and brought up alongside. I chummed up with her skipper and we repaired to a public-house he knew of, whose host was one of those English-speaking ex-sea-captains, who seem to compose half of the population of these countries. He told me that many English yachts used to pass through the canal some twenty years ago, and that it was very rare to see one now. He said that a yacht flying the German flag, but in charge of an English skipper and crew, had been in Rendsburg the day before. She was drawing too much water for the canal, so it was found necessary to take all her ballast out. She had chartered a steamer to tow her to the Baltic while the ballast followed astern in the boats. I afterwards discovered that this was an English-built yacht, the Carlotta, which had been purchased by a German officer resident at Kiel, and that she was about to race at the Kiel regatta on the 24th. She is a fast boat, and I believe she carried off the first prize
The skipper of the ketch told me that he had come from Bremen, where he had been weather-bound by the north-west wind for three weeks. Nearly all the profits of the voyage had been eaten up by this delay, for his freight was only five marks a ton, and out of this he had to pay a mate and three hands, and meet heavy dues.
The next morning, July the 13th, we were off at seven. This was another glorious day; and if I was charmed with the country we had traversed so far, I now became enthusiastic in my admiration. Few rivers can show such a succession of lovely scenes as the Eider above Rendsburg.
We passed through the sluice and then found that the river widens into a lake-like expanse at the back of the town, bordered with trees and presenting a very picturesque appearance. So fine a piece of water in the vicinity of an English town would be crowded with pleasure craft; here there were but a few skiffs and no sailing-boats. There is no doubt about the English being far ahead of all other European peoples in what the Germans call the water-sport. Even in such maritime countries as Holland, Denmark, and North Germany the most glorious facilities for yachting are almost totally neglected.
After this the river narrowed, but to open out again shortly into a far more extensive lake of very clear water, surrounded by hills whose abrupt outlines made them appear far higher than they really were. It was a beautiful scene; the water, scarcely ruffled by the light breeze, lay blue under the cloudless sky; the hills, save in places where there were miniature precipices, were clothed either with woods or green pastures. At one corner of the lake was a pretty little village nestling among the trees. There were not many habitations elsewhere on the shores, and but few signs of man's presence, but of other life there was no lack.
There were many well-fed cattle standing on the shingle beach by the water's edge; the air was full of birds; white swans were floating on the water; and the fish were jumping all round us. As I had no map of it, and had thought that the Eider would probably prove as uninteresting as a Dutch canal, it was very delightful to come thus unexpectedly on so beautiful a country.
I should recommend that village at the corner of the lake as a good place for a jaded man from the town to pass his holiday in. He is certain to find some cosy little inn there, and with a sailing-boat, a fishing-rod, and a few books, he might dream away a summer's month very pleasantly. Those sailing men, too, who wax so enthusiastic over the Norfolk Broads, should try this water. The cattle boat from London would carry a small centre-board boat on her deck to Tonning, and the voyage thence to Kiel will be found superior to anything that can be done on the narrow rivers and shallow pools of East Anglia. I may mention that between Rendsburg and the Baltic there is no perceptible current, and there are only three bridges to pass through.
We sailed on, now up the winding stream, now across other Brednings — the local name for Broad — lying under the smiling hills. Later on, the river became much narrower, but was no less beautiful. It flowed between steep high banks covered with timber. We were crossing what appeared to be a more thinly populated district, and there were few signs of cultivation, but it was a region of luxuriant wild vegetation. Honeysuckles, dog-roses, and other flowers in profusion were growing at the lower edge of the woods, scenting all the river. Tall bulrushes bordered the water, and we were often forcing our way through the white water-lilies that floated on the surface. The larks and other birds were singing merrily above us, and the bees were busy among the honeysuckles; and for almost the first time this year there was a genuine appearance of summer around us.
We had plenty of exercise on this journey, for when the wind headed us, as it often did, we took it in turns to tramp along the tow-path and tow the yacht — no light weight — and as the wind died away altogether in the afternoon this was our only means of progressing for nearly five hours; it was very hot work, and the gnats worried the man with the tow-line terribly. We passed through two more sluices, at both of which the guardian was, of course, an old sailor who could speak English, and at eight o'clock we went through the first bridge we had seen since leaving Rendsburg; it closed behind us, and then, hot, tired, and very ready for supper and bed, we made fast to the bank close to a schooner laden with bricks.
Soon a young man came down and talked to us a good deal in his own language. He pointed to our warps and went through an unintelligible pantomime, but we could make nothing of him till of a sudden Wright called out, "Didn't he say 'pert' then, sir ? Why, that's something like the Dutch word for a horse!"
Of course! How stupid I was not to have recognized the word over which I had puzzled so long at Assen. No doubt "pert" was the Low German equivalent; so, calling to mind how our Dutch towing-man had conveyed his meaning to us, I brought out paper and pencil and made a rough sketch of a horse. I showed it to him. He knew at once what it was intended for. "Jah, jah! pert," he exclaimed in a delighted voice, nodding his head in the affirmative. Then, by pointing to the sky, by pantomime and by diagram, I endeavoured to explain to him that if the wind was not fair for us on the morrow we would be happy to engage his pert, otherwise we would dispense with his services. I believe he understood me; at any rate he went away seemingly contented.
We rose at six on July the 14th. It was another fine sunny day, and the wind was south-west, so we did not take the young man's pert, but got away under sail. At ten we reached the fourth sluice, and found that we had now attained the highest point on the canal; for at this lock we were lowered about ten feet. In another hour we passed through the fifth sluice, which is at a hamlet called Knoop. This was a lovely neighbourhood; magnificent beech-trees overshadowed the canal; and the manor-house, with its park and its gardens sloping to the water, called to mind some of the summer-palaces on the upper Thames. There is a pleasant beer-garden, too, under the trees at Knoop, for this sweet spot is a favourite resort of the citizens of Kiel.
At one o'clock we passed through the last sluice, and shortly afterwards we came to the village of Holtenau, where the canal opens into the sea. We sailed out into the salt water and were in the Baltic at last.
Before us lay the beautiful fiord of Kiel, surrounded by hills covered with beech woods, and about two miles up the fiord were visible the roofs and shipping of Germany's greatest naval station.
The fiord looked more like a lake than an inlet of the sea, and this we found to be the case with all the fiords on the coast; for the water of the Baltic is extremely clear, and it contains so much less salt than that of other seas that it nourishes a rank aquatic growth which rises to the surface of the shallows and much resembles the long weeds that choke some of our English rivers. Again the range of the tide is so small — a few inches in the Southern Baltic — that the trees and other vegetation grow to the very edge of the sea; and despite the rigorous climate there is a luxuriance in the plant life on the Eastern slopes of the Cimbrian peninsula that recalls tropical shores.
What a change was this after the North Sea! Here we would never have to trouble our heads about tides and currents; instead of coasting along dangerous shallows out of sight of land we could now sail for a thousand miles and always remain within a stone's throw of the shore, and in water so lucid that it would never be necessary to sound, a glance over the side would tell the depth; for here all the rocks and weeds at the bottom are clearly visible when many fathoms below a vessel's keel.
We tacked up the bay, and after passing many enviable country seats came to as pretty a suburb as any city in Europe can boast of. Here, embowered in fine trees, were the villas of great merchants, each with its lawn and well-tended flower-garden sloping to thc tideless sea, and each with its little landing-stage at which a pleasure-boat was moored. The next thing, that struck my attention was a nice-looking restaurant on the shore, with a large garden in front of it, in which an excellent band was playing to a crowd of well-dressed people, who were sitting over coffee or bocks of beer in the admirable German fashion.
This was just the sort of cheerful place I liked to anchor off, and as I saw that several small yachts were moored about here, and as the centre of the town could be little over a mile away, I thought it better to bring up where I was than to sail on to the commercial harbour. We let go our anchor some thirty yards from the shore, and I quickly put myself into shore-going apparel, for I was anxious to get my letters, which had been waiting for me here more than a month. I hoisted the sail in the dinghy and tacked towards the restaurant. On the way I passed a yacht, which proved to be the Carlotta. Her English skipper had watched us coming in. "I did not expect to see a small boat flying the Royal Thames burgee out here," he shouted out as I went by him. I landed at the restaurant landing-stage, and while enjoying a bock of cool lager I was informed by the waiter that this was the Folker's Garten and that trams for Kiel passed the gate every few minutes.
I was driven to the town through an avenue of beautiful trees — Kiel is full of beautiful trees — and found my letters at the British Consul's. Then I set out to explore the streets. There is always something very fascinating in a first stroll through a strange city, but especially so when one has just landed from a little yacht in which one has been roughing it for some time. This sudden plunge into luxury and civilization gives a charm to travelling that the railway-tourist can scarcely appreciate. The yachtsman, too, is in such rude health and high spirits that he is ready to enjoy everything keenly; and even the change from jersey and rough sea-clothes to white shirt and decent apparel produces a sense of comfort and happy Jack-ashorishness that lends further zest to his amusements.
I found Kiel one of the pleasantest places I visited this year; but for what there is to do and see in it I refer my readers to the books of Baedeker. I stayed here three days, and I did not find the time hang heavy. When I wearied of the streets I sailed in the dinghy about the fiord and among the German men-of-war in the harbour. There were many fine vessels here at the time, but I could not quite fancy the German men-of-war's men, though they are no doubt excellent sailors. Militarism can perhaps go too far. One can put up with railway-porters, postmen, and other landsmen being uniformed and drilled to resemble soldiers; but to an Englishman's taste a sailor should be allowed to look like a sailor, and not be goose-stepped till he has the stiff bearing of a guardsman. The slouching ease of our own blue-jackets seems more appropriate for one whose profession it is to tumble about the seas. There was a Chinese man-of-war in Kiel. Her men did not look like either sailors or soldiers; after thinking it over some time I cannot say what they did look like.
On the morning after our arrival I was reading an English paper in the cabin, when I was startled by a sound that was very familiar, but the last I should have expected to hear in Kiel Fiord. Had I been dreaming, or was I still lying off the Doves at Hammersmith? It was a human voice screaming and cursing in the purest Thames tow-path dialect, reckless of aspirates, rich in horrible invective. It was a Cockney addressing men whom he called respectively Five, Four, Three, and so on as if they were so many convicts. He was urging them in impassioned language not to feather under water, to keep their something eyes in the boat, not to sugar, and to do or to avoid doing several other things. How often had I been bullied in a similar fashion by a similar tyrant on the Cam! I leapt on deck and lo! there was a genuine racing four pulling by! There were several other fours and funnies on the bay, and it was evident that the "Wasser-sport" was much patronized at Kiel.
I afterwards learnt that the rowing regatta was soon coming off, so all the rowing men were in training, and this particular crew of young Germans had imported a professional coach from the Thames to teach them how to row. They were very enthusiastic and plodding, but the coach with all his skill and blasphemy could not drive any real style into them. It seems strange that the North Germans, well set-up as they are physically, can never approach the English in any athletic sport.
"It's all that d—d lager they drink," said a professional oarsman, who had been to Hamburg, to me; "it swells them out till they're all wool and flabbiness."
The Kiel rowing men made a good deal of their tutor, admired him greatly, and bore his fearful language with patience. They wanted to learn rowing at any cost, and they had been led to understand that it was quite impossible to become a true English wassersportsman unless one has been well cursed through one's apprenticeship.
Our berth opposite the Folker's Garten was certainly the best we could have selected in Kiel Bay. The gate of the garden is open all night, so that I could leave my dinghy at the landing-stage and return on board at any hour. It is possible that I ran some risk in doing this, for several boats on hire are moored to this landing stage, and the University students have a habit, after a heavy kneipe, of coming down here at three in the morning and going away with the first boat they find, to take a sail on the bay and cool their fevered brows.
The University of Kiel is famous for its school of medicine. Of an evening, when the band played, there were generally a good many of the students in the Folker's Garten. I had never before seen German students at home, and they struck me as being somewhat swaggering young gentlemen. Many of them, especially those who had no good looks to lose, proudly carried on their faces the ornamental scars of their duels.
At sunset the scene from our yacht's deck was always an animated one. The gardens were illuminated, and pleasure-boats glided round us, usually containing pretty and well-dressed girls, who amused themselves by burning coloured fires while their husbands or brothers or others took the oars.
The narrow locks of the Dutch canals had taken a good deal of the varnish off the Falcon's sides, and she was beginning to look very disreputable, so before proceeding on the voyage I took the yacht back to Holtenau and laid her alongside the canal bank for two days, while Wright and myself set to work scraping, cleaning, varnishing, and painting till she looked quite smart again.
And now, having reached the Baltic, I had to decide whither we were to journey next, not an easy task, for a great choice of delightful cruises lay before me. I studied the charts, and longed to explore all the deep winding fiords of these seas. There was Liim Fiord, in the North of Jutland, the largest and most interesting of all. There was the Gota Canal, which would take me through lakes Wenern and Wettern to Stockholm. There was Lubeck and the coast of North Germany, Danzig and the Vistula — how splendid it would be to sail up the Vistula to Warsaw! Then there were the lakes of Finland, St. Petersburg, and — but I was too ambitious, and I sighed as I remembered that the end of July was near, that my holiday was almost finished, and that I had no time to carry out even the least of the above projects.
I realized that it would be impossible for me to see much of the Baltic and sail back to England this year; so I gave up all idea of taking the boat home and made up my mind to cruise about these waters as long as I was able, and then to lay her up for the winter in some convenient place to which I would return the following summer and complete my voyage.
My intention was to sail to Copenhagen, not directly, but by a circuitous route through the Little Belt into the Kattegat, and so to the Sound. I should thus see some of the most beautiful coast scenery of Schleswig, Jutland, and Zealand.