‘She had been a lifeboat’

One of the most thrilling aspects of The Riddle of the Sands is the way it overlaps with the real world, such that you can still read of people assuming that it is a true story. As RM Bowker says of it in his 1978 edition, ‘to me, as to others, this book and all its detail is so filled with life that it simply had to be true.’

Erskine Childers sailing his yacht the Asgard, the successor to the Vixen. Image copyright Hulton Archive/Getty Images

This weird mix of fact-and-fiction is most obvious in the way Childers describes the Dulcibella, the ugly yet practical yacht which Davies has sailed all the way to Flensburg. When Childers first sees her, there is great comic potential in the gap between his expectations of a gleaming, elegant super-yacht with full crew, and the cramped, crowded reality. On the 27th of September, when he first experiences sailing in her, there is even more complaining of her ordinariness:

She seemed very small (in point of fact she was seven tons), something over thirty feet in length and nine in beam, a size very suitable to week-ends in the Solent, for such as liked that sort of thing; but that she should have come from Dover to the Baltic suggested a world of physical endeavour of which I had never dreamed.

It’s now universally acknowledged that the model for the Dulcibella was a boat called the Vixen, which Childers acquired in or around 1897. He wrote an article about the Vixen for Yachting Monthly Magazine (my source for all this is the book The Riddle, by the magnificently-named Maldwin Drummond). In this article, he described the Vixen like this:

To start with, no one could call Vixen beautiful. We grew to love her in the end, but never to admire her. At first I did not even love her for she was a pis aller, bought in a hurry in default of a better, and a week spent fitting her for cruising – a new era for her – had somehow not cemented our affections.

Childers was refitting the Vixen for his own voyage to the East Frisians, which became the inspiration for The Riddle of the Sands and which we’ll cover in a future post. In his article, Childers describes Vixen as being thirty foot long with a draft of four foot, or six foot four inches with the centre-board down. She is listed in Hunt’s Universal Yacht List as being the property of R.E.Childers of 20 Carlyle Mansions, Cheyne Walk, London SW from 1898 to 1903.

The Vixen‘s certificate of registry says she was built by J. Price of Albion Road, Ramsgate, of whom little is known that isn’t legend and hearsay. But it is thought that Price specialised in turning lifeboats into yachts – and that he may have done his boat-building directly on the beach at Ramsgate. It’s also suggested that Price named all his boats Vixen, which suggests either a wicked sense of humour or a terrible failure of imagination.

The Thomas Chapman lifeboat at Kingsgate station - but is it the first Thomas Chapman, or the second?
The Thomas Chapman lifeboat at Kingsgate station – but is it the first Thomas Chapman, or the second?

According to Maldwin Drummond, the Vixen was initially the lifeboat Thomas Chapman, built by Thomas William Woolfe & Sons of 46-47 Lower Shadwell – just at the end of the Ratcliffe Highway, which Childers visited during the early pages of The Riddle of the Sands. The Thomas Chapman was the second lifeboat of that name, built for the lifeboat station at Kingsgate, near Margate in Kent. The only trouble was, it seems the boat was a little too wide for the gap in the cliffs down which Kingsgate lifeboats were launched, and it seems the Thomas Chapman only launched once, after which he was sold to Joseph Price, and became a she, the Vixen.

To turn a lifeboat into a yacht isn’t necessarily complicated: you give it a false keel, a centre-board, some internal ballast, you build a deck over the top, with a coach-roof to give it some internal headroom (though not enough for the likes of Carruthers), you stick in a mast and perhaps a mizzen-mast, and you build a counter at the back for the helmsman to sit on and to give the boat a more ‘yachty’ shape. All this Price did to the Vixen, and this was the boat Childers bought from him. He made some of his own changes – removing the false keel, for instance, so that the Vixen would stand upright in sand when the tide went out and the centre-board was up. Did he know, then, that he was about to do his own exploring in sandy, shallow waters?

And there we leave her, for now. We’ll come back to the Vixen, to discuss how she became the Dulcibella – in fiction, and in real life – and how she came to a sad, unregarded end on a backwater on the south coast.

The 6th Adventure Club Podcast: the Danish Edition

This week, is a very special Danish edition, covering September 27 & September 28. We need to sail to the Als Sound as part of the great Adventure, but club members will need to brush up on their Prussian & Danish history if they’re going to join us…

We discuss: how German champagne funded WW1 – sort of (1:58); the various reasons why Davies & Carruthers are footling about in the Flensburg fjord (4:45);  tracking down Childers’s real-life Dulcibella (6:02); where to moor on the 28th & the Battle of Als (9:57);  a musical interlude by Piefke (13:21); what happened to the German battle memorials (14:21); an opportunity to re-enact the battle of Als (18:19); Lloyd on Danish princesses (20:22).

Club business: details of forthcoming Film Club (24:02); Ed Freyfogle on a contemporary Dutch-German border dispute (26:06);  Ramsey on Childers’s comical times at Trinity College, Cambridge (27:13); Tim about a curious link between himself and Childers (29:11); Aunt Liz on centreboards & Dutch ovens (29:55); Jeff on what really defines an Edwardian gentleman (31:47)

1866_Camphausen_Crossing_to_Alsen_anagoria (1)
Crossing to Alsen – Prussians take Alsen Island by storm.  By Wilhelm Camphausen (1866)

Missions for next week – members assistance required.

The Dulcibella: Lloyd has already done a fair bit of research about ‘The Vixen’, Childers’s boat that is the model for Dulcibella. We think we know when and where she was built, and how she was converted from a lifeboat to a yacht. But what happened to her after the voyage to the Frisian Islands. Anyone know?

Oilskins: It’s on September 29 that Carruthers is finally put to the test in rough weather. He’s not particularly complimentary about the oilskins he has to wear. Can any Club members advise us on what the correct outerwear would be for travelling through the Baltic in late September?

Books: Davies has a number of books on his boat. And it’s clear that Childers has done a fair bit of reading around the subjects of yachting and German imperial ambitions in the late 1800s and early 1900s. We’re wondering if any Club members have read any of the books that keep cropping up. If so, can you tell us about them?

Danish Coffee Punch: what’s the best recipe?

‘he produced with stealthy pride… a bottle of German champagne’

Last week grog, next week coffee punch, but this week German champagne. It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it – that is, research every food and drink reference that crops up in the Book, and make sure we head off on our Adventure in the autumn suitably provisioned.

There is no such thing as German champagne.

Of course you can’t get German champagne anymore – or rather you can’t call it champagne. Like Melton Mowbray pork pies or Gorgonzola cheese, ‘champagne’ must – according to EU Regulation No 1151/2012 of the European Parliament – hail from a specific region in France in order to qualify as real champagne. Decent German fizzy wine should really be referred to as ‘Sekt’.

Actually, German fizz hasn’t been allowed to be referred to as champagne since well before the EU was invented. According to Wikipedia, one of the stipulations of the Versailles Treaty of 1919 was that the Germans cease and desist from using the word. You’d think the French (and the British) might have had more important things to worry about at the time.

two scampering ‘Piccolos’

The oldest and most classic sekt of them all is Kessler and you can still visit the original cellar in Esslingen today. I feel sure this would be the kind of tipple Davies would have rolling around in his bilge. Let’s face it, Kessler advertising has always been compelling. In 1904 the classic  two scampering ‘Piccolos’ were invented (see above) and still in 1959 the ‘twin waiter’ theme was being used to marvellous effect:

Delicious and stylish as German champagne must have been in 1903, really Carruthers and Davies should have been shunning it.

All German champagne after 1902 was subject to a ‘Schaumwein’ tax brought in by the Kaiser precisely to raise money for his navy. Every bottle of bubbly sold contributed directly towards the development of the Kiel canal and the expansion of the German Imperial Navy – the very thing Childers was trying to warn the British public about. 

So explicit was the connection between German champagne drinking and German military expansion that by 1910 Kessler was using this ‘Dreadnought’ imagery in its advertising to encourage sabre-rattling Germans to drink their way to European military supremacy:timthumb

I think I can hear Carruthers choking on his bubbly…

The Northern Princesses (not a post about Frozen)

Excuse the naked SEO-baiting title for this post, but now we must talk about two northern princesses (and one northern prince). We have spoken before about how Childers takes Carruthers and Davies north to Flensburg for a very clear reason: a real-world history lesson for the reader, taking us to one of the places in the world where the rise of German power was most apparent. On September 28th, in fact, they sail into the Danish part of Schleswig-Holstein and take a drink in Satrup, surrounded by Danes who politely agree to speak German to these English interlopers, which can’t have been comfortable for them:

Nothing loth, we followed in the dinghy, skirted a bend of the Sound, and opened up the lights of a village, with some smacks at anchor in front of it. We were escorted to the inn, and introduced to a formidable beverage, called coffee-punch, and a smoke-wreathed circle of smacksmen, who talked German out of courtesy, but were Danish in all else.

But, in fact, Denmark at this time is even more interesting, by virtue of its extraordinary royal family. The king of Denmark, Christian IX, had been made Prince of Denmark (now, there’s a title to conjure with) in 1852 as part of the London Protocol which attempted to settle the blessed Schleswig-Holstein question, which we have discussed before. At the time, Christian was a distant cousin of the incumbent king, Frederick, who had been through two marriages already, had no children, and was widely believed to be infertile. Essentially, the Danish throne had become an instrument of international realpolitik, a way of trying to sort out Schleswig-Holstein.

Dagmar, Vilhelm, Christian and Alexandra - an extraordinary family.
Dagmar, Vilhelm, Christian and Alexandra – an extraordinary family.

Christian became king of Denmark in 1863, and the following year the Schleswig-Holstein question was answered by a more direct route: Prussian arms. Schleswig-Holstein became a province of the German Reich. But by then, the Danish royal family had become even more enmeshed in European dynastic affairs.

Here’s where it becomes rather medieval – and it seems astonishing to modern eyes the extent to which princesses (and, to a lesser extent, princes) were still instruments of diplomatic relations as late as 1863. That was the year in which Princess Alexandra, Christian IX’s eldest daughter, was married to Albert Edward, the future Edward VII. She became a hugely popular queen-consort, mother to the future George V, and a stoic bearer of her husband’s infidelities.

The following year, Alexandra’s sister Dagmar was betrothed to the Tsarevich Nicholas Alexandrovich of Russia, son of Alexander II and the heir to the Russian imperial crown. But only months later, Nicholas Alexandrovich died of meningitis, and declared as one of his dying wishes that Dagmar be betrothed to his younger brother, the future Alexander III (we warned you this was medieval). Alexander proposed to Dagmar in June 1866, and that September she travelled to Russia to be married in November. She converted to the Orthodox church, and changed her name to Maria Feodorovna.

So, the Danish royal family’s daughters were now the wives of the future king of England, and tsar of Russia. But it didn’t end there. In the same year that Christian became king of Denmark, the Greeks chose (under British influence) his son, the brother of Alexandra and Dagmar, to be their king. The Greek National Assembly had deposed their king Otto, and were keen to butter up the British. The suggested replacement was the 17-year-old son of what had been until then an obscure Danish royal line, and on 30 March 1863, young Prince Vilhelm became George, King of the Hellenes. His grandson is the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip.

It’s hard not to be swept away by this story. The relatively obscure house of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg of Denmark moved from being a modest household in royal Copenhagen, with an income of only £800 a year, to occupying the Danish throne, and to having its children seated on the thrones – or at least, next to the thrones – of the United Kingdom, Russia and Greece. The joke ran that if Victoria was the grandmother of Europe, thanks to her dynastic shenanigans, then Christian IX was Europe’s father-in-law. At the outbreak of the First World War the grandchildren of Victoria and Christian sat on the thrones of Denmark, Greece, Norway, Germany, Romania, Russia, Spain and the United Kingdom. Their influence is felt even today: the descendants of Victoria and Christian occupy the modern thrones (if such a phrase is possible) of Belgium, Denmark, Norway, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

And our SEO-baiting Frozen reference is somewhat justified. When they were growing up in their townhouse in Copenhagen, the Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg girls Alix and Dagmar – and their brother George – would receive a regular visitor, who read them bedtime stories and wrote movingly of Dagmar’s departure for Russia. He was, of course, Hans Christian Andersen. And he needn’t have worried about Dagmar. The cold never bothered her anyway.


‘Isn’t this rather an open anchorage?’

The first day of sailing for Carruthers is September 27th, and it takes him and Davies out from Flensburg, so this is our first opportunity to do some serious mapping, though Tim NotCarruthers got us started with his post on the location of their first night after Carruthers’s arrival.

Carruthers wakes on the morning of the 27th to find Davies already awake (of course!) and scrubbing the decks. After a quick dip in the Baltic for a wash – an undertaking described by Childers as ‘a short and furious swim’, a phrase which is missing the obvious words ‘bloody freezing’ – they’re off, out into the Flensburg fjord. They spend the next two days essentially enjoying themselves in this stretch of water, during which time Davies begins to slowly reveal what happened to him in the East Frisians, and Childers gives the reader the benefit of a history lesson which we discuss elsewhere.

Here’s a contemporary map of the fjord – Flensburg’s in the bottom left corner.


And here’s a more modern rendering, via OpenStreetMap – you can click through to a full-size version on the main OpenStreetMap site here.



The first place Davies takes them is to ‘Ekken Sound’ – but remember, at the time of The Riddle of the Sands this whole area is part of the German Empire, and the placenames are all German. Today, the north side of the fjord is part of Denmark, so the names are Danish – the border on our modern map is represented by the purple line down the middle of the fjord. So Sonderburg (which we’ll come to in another post) is now Sonderbørg, and Ekken Sound is now Egernsund. The sound is the body of the water at the top middle of the map, accessed by the narrow strip of water that connect the Flensburg Fjord with the sound.

They sail into Ekken Sound, but Davies is suddenly – and oddly – bored by it, so they now turn around and sail south again, and then turn left and sail south-east down the fjord. And now we must talk of winds, which shouldn’t come as a surprise in a book about sailing. Prepare yourselves for a little sailing lesson – a very little one, we promise.

Davies says the wind is coming from the south-west – ie, from the direction of Flensburg at the bottom left of the map. This seems to be confirmed by the need to ‘gybe’ the Dulcibella as they sail up towards Ekken Sound. To gybe means to turn the stern of the boat through the wind – ie, to change the side of the boat which is ‘windward’ while the wind is coming from behind you. It’s a notoriously difficult manoeuvre for neophyte sailors (I speak as someone who has been thrown into the water a number of times while attempting it in a dinghy), far more difficult than the equivalent manoeuvre of ‘tacking’, which is turning the bow of the boat through the wind. A diagram might help to explain:


The red arrow represents the wind, so in this particular gybe, the boat changes its ‘windward’ side from the port beam (in figure 1) to the starboard beam (in figure 5). In non-sailing language – the wind is blowing on the left-hand side of the boat in figure 1, and the right-hand side of the boat in figure 5.

So, if the Dulcibella is sailing broadly north-east, and needs to gybe, we can assume the wind is coming from the south-west, which helps locate the next place on the map – the place Davies and Carruthers spend the night of the 27th, out on the fjord. Childers doesn’t tell us explicitly where this is; the only clue is the weather. Davies says they will anchor ‘here, we’re just at the mouth of the fiord,’ and then tows the Dulcibella inshore using the dinghy. When Carruthers says, somewhat querulously, ‘isn’t this rather an open anchorage?’, Davies replies that ‘it’s only open from that quarter’.

With my amateur sailor’s hat on, I’d guess that the quarter that the anchorage is open on faces north, as the wind is blowing from the south-west, and Davies is unlikely to choose an anchorage with a lee shore – ie, a shore onto which the boat is blown by the wind. When I was taught dinghy sailing – a long time ago, in a place far, far away – I was told to avoid a lee shore in the same hushed tones as dieting fashion models are told to avoid cakes. It would be safer to have a windward shore, so at worst the boat is being blown away from the shore (though it’s held in place, of course, by the anchor).

All of which suggests that Davies and Carruthers anchor themselves on the night of the 27th on the southern tip of the fjord, around Nieby; here’s a closer view of that bit of the map.


This is all extrapolation, of course – and extrapolation based on somewhat limited understanding of the mechanics of sailing and navigation. Experienced sailors may have a different view – if so, leave them in the comments, and we’ll update the post if necessary.

So Davies and Carruthers fall asleep for the second night on the Dulcibella, at the mouth of Flensburg fjord. Given what Davies is planning to do, you would expect them to wake up the next morning and turn south out of the fjord. But they don’t do that. They do the opposite of that. But that’s a subject for another post.

UPDATE: The estimable Tony Fuell, who may well have to become an Adventure Club Emeritus at this rate, has suggested a different anchorage, a little further out into the fjord at Gammellück – for his full argument, see the comments, but here’s a map showing his suggestion (boxed in red) against my original (boxed in green). As Tony is actually a sailor, I’m going to bow to his experience on this one – even though this anchorage feels a little too far past Sonderburg (Sonderbørg) in the north, but that’s a landlubber speaking. Here’s Tony’s suggestion (click for a bigger image, or click here for the page on openstreetmap.org):



Raven Mixture revisited

A few weeks back, Lloyd carried out some important and detailed research into the ‘Raven Mixture’ tobacco mentioned early on in the novel. He even went as far as to acquire a pipe and pouch of the good stuff for us to sample. It was highly enjoyable, and I experienced what I can only call ‘pipe envy’.

Strolling up St James Street after lunch in a club (I really am getting into the role of Carruthers) I chanced upon a tobacconists called James J Fox) and felt an immediate urge to get my own pipe. It would be no good having this Adventure with just one of us puffing on a briar, now would it?

Raven Mixture turns out to be a real thing

My luck was very much in when I was served in the pipe shop by one Philip Shervington, who’s been in the tobacconist trade for many a year (he claimed to have retired three times already). Having heard my story of being ‘NotCarruthers’, he steered me towards a pipe with a flat bottom so that I would be able to lay it on my charts in a boat without fear of it falling over. Very smart.

The real surprise, however, came when I mentioned I was looking for a tobacco akin to the fictional ‘Raven mixture’.  Lloyd & I had become convinced this was a playful reference to ‘Craven Mixture’, but Philip dropped a bit of a bombshell by asserting that Raven Mixture was not a fiction, but a very real thing!

Philip claimed there were big pots of the stuff suitably labelled in a tobacconists called G Smith & Sons at 74 Charing Cross (now defunct), where he had worked as a younger man, under the tutelage of someone called Harry Lewis, and also Vivian Rose, known in the 1960s as ‘the Snuff King’, a man famous enough to have appeared on ‘What’s My Line?’. Not only did Philip handle the pots, he used to prepare the mixture.

As well as a Luxury Blend, Radford’s make a rum-infused tobacco for the German market – highly appropriate for a trip to Flensburg, rum capital of Germany.

Flipping open a drawer packed with dozens of different tobacco mixes, Philip declared that ‘the closest equivalent you’d get today is Radford’s Luxury Blend.’ Like Lloyd’s pseudo-Craven mixture, there’s Virginia in there plus a small percentage of Latakia. But the extra element in Radford’s is Perique from Louisiana, a rather romantic and quite rare tobacco that was cultivated in ancient times by the Choctaw and Chickasaw native American tribes.

In essence there’s a little bit of the indian peace pipe in this blend – a blend that turns out to be not quite as ‘made up’ by Childers as we first thought.

‘Grog’s ready!’

It doesn’t take long on September 26 for Carruthers to start sloughing off his London snobbery and relax into the adventure on board Dulcibella:

‘There was left a fashionable and dishevelled young man sitting in the dew and in the dark on a ridiculous portmanteau which dwarfed the yacht that was to carry it; a youth acutely sensible of ignorance in a strange and strenuous atmosphere; still feeling sore and victimized; but withal sanely ashamed and sanely resolved to enjoy himself. I anticipate; for though the change was radical its full growth was slow. But in any case it was here and now that it took its birth.

‘Grog’s ready!’ came from below.’

There are three things in this passage from which Lloyd and I can take inspiration. First, we can be perfectly at home with the idea of being ‘acutely sensible of ignorance in a strange and strenuous atmosphere’ – that’ll be us to a tee throughout September and October. Second, we are indeed ‘sanely resolved’ to enjoy ourselves. Third – and to my mind most important – there will be grog.

In December 1970, it is believed that excess stocks, no longer needed, of Royal Navy reserves were drawn from their barrels and placed into wicker clad stone flagons. These stocks lay silently ageing in bonded underground warehouses around the world, remaining property of the admiralty. http://thefloatingrumshack.com/main/index.php?option=com_content&id=575:british-royal-navy-imperial-reserve-rum&Itemid=5

Grog is a word we’re probably all familiar with, and I guess we all take it be rum and water (usually with a bit of lime juice and brown sugar). In a previous podcast, I cooked up some using Pusser’s Rum, which is supposed to be based on the original British Royal Navy rum recipe. I was drawn to this rum because it feels like the closest thing to a true English sailor’s rum that you can get (unless, of course, you can get hold of some of the original navy stuff, which still supposedly exists in flagons hidden away in underground warehouses at various military stores such as in Munster, Antwerp and Bellefield – see here for the full story .

I also liked the idea of Davies & Carruthers drinking Pusser’s because post-Black Tot Day, the RN eventually sold the rum recipe to an eccentric millionaire called Charles Tobias, a keen sailor who kept a cheetah and a chimpanzee on board as companions. Tobias is exactly the kind of person we need in the Adventure Club – slightly bonkers, a sailor, keen on grog, and ultimately a ‘good egg’ because he’s raised millions for charity from his business.

A selection of Flensburg rums – via http://www.johannsen-rum.de/rumkultur/rumstadt-flensburg/

Having said all that, I’m not now convinced that Davies would have brought his rum all the way from London, and he has no formal naval connections that would have allowed to get hold of anything akin to Pusser’s.

Far more likely is that he got his rum in Flensburg, which, let’s face it, was the rum capital of Germany at the time. It was the Danes who started importing rum via Flensburg from Caribbean islands such as St. Croix, St. Thomas and St. John. When the port became German, there was an explosion of over 40 ‘rum houses’ in the town including famous brands like Schierning, Dethleffsen, Hansen and Sun Mountain. At its peak, the Flensburg rum families were controlling up to 70 percent of the German rum market.

Today there is only one rum house left – Johannsen – which we obviously need to visit as part of our adventure in the autumn. And it’ll have to be Johannsen rum we make our grog with from now on, I think.


Flensburg still celebrates its rum roots, by the way, with a large sailing regatta in May called the Rum Regatta. If anyone out there is going to this, please do send us some details of what you get up to. And don’t forget to splice the mainbrace while you’re there!


p.s. a note from Adventure Club member Jon on grog:

‘A small detail to fill out your research, perhaps: are you aware it is from the sailors’ rum ration of grog that we get ‘proof’ as a measure of alcoholic strength from?

Occasionally, the sailors would be convinced the purser would be watering their rum rations, in order to sell the excess later to line his own pockets, and so would demand proof the rum hadn’t been diluted. And one thing naval ships had on board was gunpowder. So, the rum was mixed with a small quantity of gunpowder, and ignited. If it still burned, this was the proof the rum was still suitably alcoholic for their rations, and not watered. So this is why our 100% proof is just over 50% alcohol (about 57.5 to be exact) – the minimum quantity to still allow gunpowder to burn.

Frankly, the combination of sailors, rum and gunpowder makes me wonder how the Royal Navy didn’t lose a huge quantity of ships to mishaps.’

The 5th Adventure Club Podcast: Mainly About Sailing (and Tobacco)

This week, Lloyd (aka NotDavies) has disappeared on to the Continent, so Tim (NotCarruthers) is sailing solo. Luckily, we recorded a couple of discussions before Lloyd left, interviewed an experienced ocean sailer at a club in London, and also received some gripping material from several Adventure Club members.

We discuss: the size of Carruthers’s luggage (00:34); the search for a Flensburg carpenter (03:50); Kass Schmitt tells us about the perils of a first visit to a ships chandlers and where it might take you (06:08); how to join the Riddle of the Sands Adventure Club (17:50); another visit to a pipe shop and BIG news about the supposedly mythical Raven Mixture (19:15).

Club Member Anthony’s real-life reenactment of Davies’s voyage from Dover to the Baltic (24:32); details of Childers’s original 1898 sailing log supplied by Adventure Club member Jerry (29:54); more about the influence of ‘The Riddle of the Sands’ on other great spy writers and the ‘spatchcocking’ of Clara Dollman – according to Adventure Club member Jeff (32:08).

‘Let’s get under way at once,’ he said, ‘and sail down the fiord.’ – September 27

Breaking news: We’re having a film club evening at Arthur Beale – a showing of the 1970s movies with Michael York and Simon McCorkindale. Grog will be served! http://www.arthurbeale.co.uk/BookingRetrieve.aspx?ID=17143

‘We were entering a little cove encircled by trees’

Now that our two heroes are finally out in the field (see September 26), we’re starting to think more directly about the logistics of our own adventure. For each day in the book we need to chart where we think Carruthers & Davies are, so when we get out there in the autumn (funds allowing), we can be confident of following in their wake as closely as possible.

So where is this ‘little cove’ where Dulcibella is moored? What we do know is that on leaving Flensburg harbour in the dinghy, the two men pass ‘a long frontage of lamp-lit quays’ on their left-hand side. They then reach a broader stretch of water and see dark hills on either shore. The only other clue we get is that Davies wanted to be in a place near a local carpenter.

Screen Shot 2015-04-19 at 09.16.47
Where is ‘the little cove’?

Looking at the map of Flensburg fjord today, I think there are three possible options. If they kept rowing in a straight line they’d end up in a cove at Wassersleben, which today would put them bang smack on the German-Danish border. If they headed further out and up the fjord the first obvious coves would be on the right. Today that would mean they’d either be mooring at the Flensburg yacht club  – which doesn’t seem that out of the way to me – or bang smack outside the German naval academy at Mürwik, built by the Kaiser in 1910 as a showy statement of his maritime ambitions – a location that has a nice touch to it, given what Carruthers & Davies get up to later in the book.

Main building and tower of the “Marineschule Mürwik”, Germany’s naval officers school in Flensburg-Mürwik. By Felix Koenig (King) (Self-photographed) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
I guess it’s sensible to look at an older map and make a decision about what looks like the most obvious spot for Davies to be able to find a carpenter, but keep away from the main town.

Map of Flensburg & environs 1910, taken from http://discusmedia.com/maps/german_city_maps/3481

These days you’d probably favour Wassersleben as the least crowded spot, but on the 1910 map you can see that the main road out of town still runs that way, whereas the other two possible locations are a bit more off the beaten track. So that places us either at the yacht club or the military academy.

To be clear, we are not seeking to do this Adventure on a boat. For the most part our plan is to hug the coast on bikes and then take trips out on boats where and when we can.  That way we can’t get too knocked off course by the weather (and we don’t have to learn to sail).

It means also that we need places to stay en route that are as close as possible to where the Dulcibella would have moored. Given we’re thinking of  hanging around with local people as much as possible, this AirBnB place – https://www.airbnb.co.uk/rooms/3837048?s=4 – is exactly the kind of place we might need to hole up in for the night.

The Flensburg Boat Museum

Encouragingly, Flensburg does have a boat museum so we’ll be contacting people there this week, to see if we can get a day out on the fjord in a suitable aged boat. I’m quite keen, too, to find a ships carpenter to talk to.  Flensburg would have been packed full of them back in the day, since this was a huge boat building town. But it seems a lot of them ended up leaving for America or even further away. I’ve found, for example, a Carl Heinrich Thomas Schoenherr on an ancestry site, who would have been working in the area around the time that Carruthers & Davies turn up. But that family has ended up in Chicago. I guess Childers could not have guessed how much emigration and exile was going to happen in the coming years.

We’re never told why Davies needs a carpenter, by the way. But, what with the bandaged hand, the substantial caulking and repainting job he’s doing and the need for new rigging screws, it’s pretty obvious that something bad happened to the Dulcibella out in the Frisian islands in the weeks before the adventure proper begins…


What have Carruthers, the Kaiser and Prince Albert got in common?

Adventure Club member Jon Ratty has dug up yet more interesting information about the Lancaster guns that Carruther favours for his supposed duck-shooting holiday:


I turned up another few items about Lancaster guns in the last day or so, which may add some interest.

People collect old shotgun cartridges like other people collect stamps, so it’s possible to find all sorts of brands online. Sure enough, I found some Lancaster shells here:


And what’s lovely about this piece? Lancaster’s shells are not only supplied to the king, but to ‘His Imperial Majesty, the German Emperor’. There’s an irony.

lancaster gastight
“Lancaster’s loading facility was a 2, Bruton Street where he began specializing in shot-sizes which he advertised as “Medium Game”. It was claimed that they had greater penetration than No. 6 and a tighter pattern than No. 5.” – image via http://www.midlandcartridge.com/

The next item is that there is a sale of historic guns coming up on April 15th at Sotheby’s, and it will include a number of Lancasters. The auction catalogue is here:


The exciting lot will be number 272: A pair of Lancaster 14-bore percussion guns, given to Prince Albert as a gift by Queen Victoria in 1850. A snip at the estimated price of £35-40,0000.

Looking forward to the next podcast.

This is exactly the kind of extra information we’re hoping to get from Club members to build up the material that could go into our Handbook. Thanks Jon! You’ve earned an Adventure Club badge (when we get round to making them).