‘the tide had risen a good deal’ – NO IT HADN’T

Club members who have been paying close attention will remember that on October 16 in the book, Carruthers makes a note that “High water at morning and evening is between five and six”. He and Davies are somewhere between Wangerooge and Spiekeroog at the time, and he even adds a short footnote stating:

“the reader should take note that the tide-table is very important henceforward”

Sad to say, by October 21 it turns out to be not very important at all. Childers, by this point, has basically got his timings all wrong.

When Clara Dollman sails out to meet our heroes behind Norderney, the tide-table has been ignored entirely. If Carruthers is to be believed on October 16, then it follows that high tide on October 21 would be between 10:45 and 11:45. Clara appears just after 2pm, and a close reading of the book suggests that she heads back to her a ‘spruce little yacht’s gig’ at about 4pm.

That means the tide would still be going out at that point – and yet Carruthers clearly states: ‘the tide had risen a good deal’. No it hadn’t! The tide would have been doing entirely the opposite thing!!

Does this look like high tide to you?!

From about 5pm, Dulcibella heads to Norderney (“a tussle with the tide at first”), the wind then drops, and the yacht has to be towed using the dinghy. Childers/Carruthers explicitly states they went with ‘the ebb-stream’. But the ebb-stream isn’t there ’til well after 11pm, and yet somehow Carruthers and Davies magically manage to drop anchor at the eastern pier of Norderney harbour by 9pm. IT MAKES NO SENSE!!!

Even worse for all you sailors out there – even if we choose to abandon the idea that tide-tables are important, and stick to the details as given on this day, it’s come to my attention that this part of the adventure can’t really be done at all!

Alistair Buchan is yet another person who’s actually got out to the Frisian Islands and done parts of this adventure, rather than sitting in an armchair at home thinking about it (like me). And according to Alistair’s report in the January 2006 edition of Cruising World,  he’s pretty adamant that the events of October 21 could not have happened. He writes:

“I was heading for Greetsiel via the Memmert Balje when the impossibility of Davies meeting Clara… behind Norderney struck me.” … “To meet Clara behind Norderney, Davies and Carruthers would have had to sail against the tide in light winds. It can’t be done. Honest.”

 Lloyd (notDavies) chides me for taking a writer of fiction to task in this way (these storytellers like to stick together), but even he has to admit that playing fast and loose with time and tides in this way will inevitably muddy the waters when it comes to attempting the kind of date- and location-specific  Adventure we’re planning for next year.

The big question for me, though, is why bother getting into this kind of narrative pickle in the first place? Firstly, there was no need to say that tide-tables were important on the 16th – nobody cared, did they? And secondly, there’s no need for Clara and Davies to meet at this precise location – it could have happened pretty much anywhere on or near Norderney, or even on Langeoog. So why choose an impossible spot at a time that doesn’t make any logical sense? Seriously – writers can be very frustrating sometimes.

BTW I fear for tomorrow – by which I mean October 22. Carruthers and Davies are meant to be rowing to Memmert in a thick fog. If the tides and times are wrong on this bit of the adventure, the whole thing really starts to look like one giant… well… *fiction*.

One thought on “‘the tide had risen a good deal’ – NO IT HADN’T

  1. It’s a literary device. Childers chose the place so Clara and Arthur would _have_ to beach on opposite sides of the watershed. It’s symbolic of their situation, and foreshadowing. Two lovers separated by circumstance, and sidestepping the barriers so they can be reunited. And it lets their tender reunion be unencumbered by Carruther’s presence.

    And Childers hoped we’d all just forget about the bloody tide. He’d got spatchcocking to do.


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