‘Invisible forces were at work’

I wrote two days ago of our impressions of Holtenau on our initial visit during our Kiel road trip between October 2 and October 4. I said it was a quiet, well-heeled sort of place, full of pleasure yachts, less Kiel, more Kowes.

But that was only half the story. If you approach the Holtenau Lock at the mouth of the Kiel Canal from the south – in other words, if you don’t cross the Canal and stay on the Kiel side – you get a very different view. And that’s what we did on the morning of October 3.

Davies and Carruthers go through the lock on the evening of October 2, of course, and spend the night in what Childers calls a ‘capacious basin’ on the inside of the lock. We couldn’t see that basin when we visited on the 3rd, but there might be a reason for that, which I’ll come to shortly.

On the Kiel side of the Canal, you get a much stronger impression of the industrial and engineering might that the Canal represents, and which must have hit our two English heroes so forcefully. In fact, this ‘working’ side of the lock feels very English, a familiar collage of red brick, cobblestones and even the obligatory abandoned freight railway. One thing that wasn’t at all English, though, was the stone coat of arms cast into the wall, the shrieking eagle of the new German Empire, restored in 1871 by the first Kaiser with more than a nod to the old Holy Roman Empire.

The German Imperial Coat of Arms at Holtenau Lock. Crikey.

Presumably in 1898 this place would have been a hive of activity, but in these days of automation it felt curiously devoid of humans, apart from a small huddle of them on the viewing platform above the lock, which we made our way up to.

And here, for the first time, we got a real slug of the industrial awe that the visiting Edwardian Englishman must have felt. We watched a huge tanker enter the lock, heard the alarm, and then from beneath us saw the gate of the lock emerge and begin to close. The gate here moves across the canal, like a sliding door – it was a mechanism I’d not seen before, being more used to the swinging-gate affairs familiar on British locks. The whole process took something like twenty minutes, and then the tanker, by my reckoning, made its way out of the Canal, and into the Baltic.

A not-particularly-helpful picture of the Holtenau Lock gate beginning to close.

I promised some thoughts on the ‘capacious basin’ Carruthers mentions on the inside of the Holtenau Lock. As I said, we couldn’t see it – but I think I might know why. When the Canal opened in 1895, it was a lot narrower than it is today. At the waterline, it was 66.7 metres wide, and at the bottom 22 metres wide. Soon after it opened, though, it was decided this wasn’t wide enough – not least because the new warships of the German Navy, which had grown bigger and wider thanks to the arms race with Britain, were too big for it. So work began on widening the Canal almost immediately – by 1914, when this project was finished (in timely fashion), the Canal was 102.5 metres wide at the surface, and twice as wide – 44 metres – at the bottom.

And then, in the 1960s, as supertankers revolutionised international freight, the Canal was widened again, to its current surface width of 162 metres; the bottom was doubled again, to 90 metres. So today’s Canal is almost three times as wide as the one Carruthers and Davies sailed down – so it may be that the capacious basin has simply been absorbed by the wider Canal.

We got back into the car, and drove back over the High Bridge, heading back to Holtenau town for breakfast on the same quayside we’d spent the previous evening. Now, the sea outside was literally brimming with pleasure yachts, all of them waiting to make their way into the Lock, accompanied by enormous tankers which looked like they might fall on them.

The Baltic side of the Holtenau lock on October 3rd
The Baltic side of the Holtenau lock on October 3rd

After breakfast we spent a very pleasant morning tracking the roads as they switched back towards the Canal and away again. Away from the Canal, the landscape was green and very beautiful – Childers calls it ‘grey and monotonous’, which may have been down to the weather in 1897 when he visited, or may have been down to his odd lack of interest in non-waterborne matters, at least in this book. Like any landscape bisected by water – or by rail, or by motorway – there was an odd interrupted feel to the topography, as we kept encountering dead ends and sleepy canal-side villages. The only other vehicles were saw were bikes, and at one point we drove along a three mile stretch of road alongside which was being built a very impressive cycle path, though no-one was working on it, and no-one was cycling on it.

In fact, there were no people anywhere, other than the occasional cyclist. We encountered a gaggle of a dozen motorhomes parked alongside the Canal, facing another dozen on the other side, but they seemed to be empty. We drove down to a German military base alongside the Canal, surrounded by fences and barbed wire. It, too, was deserted. The only things moving was the ships on the Canal, which we glimpsed through the trees. It was as if gigantic office blocks were taking a stroll through the woods. At one point, I heard notCarruthers speaking in English to someone, and thought he had met a Human Being. But no. He was chatting to his wife on his phone.

Roads, houses, Canal, ships – but no people. What on Earth was going on? We stopped at Rendsburg for lunch to try and find out – but that’s the subject of another post.


The 21st Adventure Club Podcast: Boating Books, Dodgy Tides & Ladies’ Cocoa

When Clara Dollman comes to meet our heroes off the coast of Norderney on October 21, it all kicks off. Carruthers has to make the cabin fit for a lady, Davies gets hot under the collar, and there’s something fishy about the library of sailing books on board.

We discuss the best books to have on a small boat, the history of Norderney, what makes a cabin woman-friendly, Edwardian cocoa, and how Childers has got his tide tables terribly wrong. We then drift off into a long diversion about the popularity of 1970s TV series ‘The Onedin Line’ in Romania. Hopefully, we’ll be back on course in time to discuss the row to Memmert in the next podcast.

Lloyd notDavies dives straight in by announcing he’s going on a sailing course (00:52), but what books might he have on board any boat he skippers? (05:11); Davies favours E. F. Knight (05:58),  Cowper (09:29) and McMullen (10:44); we list the top 25 books that one might except to find on a cruising saloon bookshelf (12:38); a brief discussion of George Crowninshield Jnr and the birth of small boat cruising culture (14:37).

Tim notCarruthers gets very cross about Childers’s frankly cavalier disregard for tides and tide tables (16:55); he cites an article in Cruising World by Alistair Buchan proving the events of October 21 are impossible to re-enact (18:09); there are consequences too for October 22 and the row to Memmert (22:52). Lloyd notDavies offers brief notes on Norderney (25:58); we discover that the island is practically British thanks to Hanoverian connections (27:14); the case is made to put Isak Dinesen into our growing onboard library ( 29:49).

Fry's chocolate ad
Fry’s chocolate & cocoa – fit for a lady

Tim notCarruthers tries to understand womens’ cabins (31:30); details of the HMS Daring ‘unisex’ warship (32:14); drawer management on boats – it’s different for girls? (34:50); cocoa as a woman’s drink and the story of Egbert Fry (36:52).

the diver’s lucky find

Club business:  Tony F reminds us about the German TV series ‘Das Rätsel der Sandbank’, allowing us to reprise the theme tune (42:08);  how ‘The Onedin Line’ fuelled the revolution in Romania (43:14); Jon on Boulter’s lock in Berkshire (45:55); more on ‘The Onedin Line’ and on to ‘Howard’s Way’… (46:50).

Radio Times 1973: another popular tale about sailing – image via http://www.gilmore-stallybrass.eu/

Missions for next week – members assistance required.

‘the row to Memmert’: this is bound to dominate discussions in the next podcast, chiefly because it’s probably the most famous passage in the book. But how easy would it be to do? Is it possible at all? We need to hear from people who are experts in dinghy rowing – especially in the fog.

‘Memmert’: we’re reliably informed that this island is not going to be accessible to us when we take on the full adventure next year. Really?

‘the king of breakfasts’: there are several meals we need to discuss and get details about – breakfast in a Norderney hotel, tongue and biscuits on the dinghy, fully dinner at the Dollmans. What would have been a typical spread in 1898?

‘the Schwanallee’: we can’t find this street on Norderney. Did it ever exist? Or was there a name change at some point?

‘A galaxy of coloured lights’

notCarruthers has already written about our impressions of Kiel on our mini adventure of October 2 to October 4, and as is his wont he’s focussed on retail. It falls to me to talk about more serious matters, in this case Holtenau, which is at the Baltic entrance to the Kiel Canal and which, it turns out, is a fair old way from Kiel itself, and has very much its own character.

We drove about 15 kilometres and over our first of several Hautbrücke, or ‘high bridges’, of which there are ten crossing the Kiel Canal – or the Nord-Ostsee-Kanal, as the Germans more accurately call it. The one at Holtenau was initially built in the 1880s, but has since been replaced by something more modern.

The old bridge at Holtenau. Now, that’s a bridge.

So we found ourselves on the far side of the Canal, in the very pleasant little town of Holtenau. A more different place to Ost-Gaarden in Kiel can’t be imagined – this is a very yachty community, I would guess, all immaculate townhouses interspersed with expensive-looking boutiques selling silk scarves and expensive objets. And it is nothing like we would have expected from the description in the Book.

Childers has it thus:

We rounded the last headland, steered for a galaxy of coloured lights, tumbled down our sails, and came to under the colossal gates of the Holtenau lock. That these would open to such an infinitesimal suppliant seemed inconceivable. But open they did, with ponderous majesty, and our tiny hull was lost in the womb of a lock designed to float the largest battleships. I thought of Boulter’s on a hot August Sunday, and wondered if I really was the same peevish dandy who had jostled and sweltered there with the noisy cockney throng a month ago. There was a blaze of electricity overhead, but utter silence till a solitary cloaked figure hailed us and called for the captain.

It’s a brilliant passage, and it seems to me full of industrial threat – there’s something almost sci-fi about the ‘coloured lights’ and ‘colossal gates’. But, from our particular point of view on October 2nd 2015, the passage is a bit of an odd one. It seems a very industrial scene, while the view that presented itself to us was almost bucolic.

Holtenau at dusk - not exactly industrial
Holtenau at dusk – not exactly industrial

Yes, there were huge ships waiting to go into the Lock (more of which in my next post), but they were surrounded by dozens of pleasure craft. It was more Cowes than Portsmouth. The weather was astonishingly mild (Childers paints a picture of grim and rainy weather on the days before the Dulcibella’s arrival in Kiel). There was a long quay by the water along which yachts were moored, and their owners sat in the cockpits drinking wine and eating meat and cheese. There was a café open, and at the end of the quay was the Holtenau lighthouse, built on a mound of earth excavated from the Canal, where we sat, smoked pipes, recorded some readings and generally took in the view. All very peaceful, all very pleasant.

Ships waiting to enter the Canal at Holtenau
Ships waiting to enter the Canal at Holtenau

So, first of all, let us imagine a light drizzle. That’s going to change the scene a fair bit, I would imagine.

Secondly, let’s imagine two sailors who have not seen the things we’ve seen. They’ve not taken a Channel ferry, or walked for miles through Gatwick airport for a low-fare flight, or seen the gigantic cranes at London Gateway. For them, the Holtenau lock gates might indeed have seemed ‘colossal.’

And what about the ‘galaxy of coloured lights’ and the ‘blaze of electricity overhead’? Again, let us change our point of view. We’ve come from London, which is perhaps the most advanced city in the world at the time, but it is a city where street lighting powered by gas has only existed for a few decades, and where electric street lighting is still very new-fangled and groovy. Here’s a description of it from 1895 – only three years before our adventures:

The ends of two wires attached to a powerful battery are called poles. When these poles are brought together and then separated a short distance, the current of electricity jumps across the space, and fills it with intense light. Now this light is so very hot that it will melt the hardest metals, and even the diamond. So something harder than metal is made, called carbon, and placed in holders connected with the wires, and then this carbon forms the poles. The light is found to arise chiefly from the white-hot tips of the carbon rods, and from an arch of flame which spreads from one to the other, and through which little pieces of white-hot carbon pass over from one point to the other. This light can now be used to light our streets or our rooms, or the miner may carry it with safety into the dangerous mines, or the diver down into the sea. It also is used in some of our lighthouses. Uncle Jonathan, Walks in and around London, 1895

So yes, it was delightful to figure out the topography of the book by visiting the locations. But it was also potentially misleading. We must remember that we are not two well-fed and well-watered middle-aged dullards bouncing randomly around North Germany. We are two Edwardian fellows in their twenties, and we are bound to find it astonishingly uncomfortable that these German chaps seem to have harnessed the power of the elements to drive a bloody great Canal from the Baltic to the North Sea, build massive iron gates at either and, and light it with this new-fangled stuff called electricity.

Of course, if they’d only visited South London, Carruthers and Davies might not have found this so alarming. Electric Avenue, the first market street lit by electricity in the world, was built in 1888. Even the Germans must acknowledge the engineering superiority of Brixton, after all.

Electric Avenue in 1895. More impressive than the Kiel Canal - possibly.
Electric Avenue in 1895. More impressive than the Kiel Canal – possibly.

‘in the Kiel post office’

To be honest, I was a bit shaken by NotDavies’s metrosexual behaviour at the beginning of our mini-adventure from October 2 to October 4. He devoted a disturbingly high number of minutes to a consultation with a female shop assistant in Kiehls about the merits of various face moisturisers and ‘serums’. Shortly afterwards he then asked me to order him not a coffee or a tea, but a ‘quadrado’. I have no idea what a quadrado is.

notDavies behaving not like Davies…

I thought I was the effete landlubber on this trip, always seeking out opportunities for clothes shopping and fine dining. But somehow the roles have been reversed. Hard, then, for me to concentrate on the matter in hand, which was to find the Kiel post office where the adventure of October 2 begins.

post office
the modern-day Kiel post office

Orienting oneself in Kiel using 1898 landmarks proved to be a bit tricky. There seemed to be very few old buildings here at all. Down at the harbour we found just one – the old Fish Auction Hall, which has become a very pleasant sailing museum, with an equally pleasant cafe adjoining it. Whilst Davies  ordered another coffee (the German for quadrado turns out to be ‘quadrado’), I recorded the ambient sounds of the modern harbour – chatter from men on tourist boats, boats devoid of tourists now that the tourist season had well and truly ended, the slop of a boat engine, a few gulls, the zoom of a Volkswagen, a light Baltic breeze…

the modern-day naval yard

Across the water was a huge sign for the German naval yard, written in English – who knows why – and a gun-metal grey warship lay anchored before it, its clean sharp lines softly complementing the bright autumn blue of an Indian summer day. Hardly the threatening armada our heroes come across in the early hours before mooring at Kiel.

It doesn’t take us long to locate the post-office, but it is suspiciously modern-looking. So too is the massive shopping centre, near the equally modern-looking train station. We walk into the old town and continue to find nothing old at all. The supposedly medieval church confesses at its door that it’s a 1950s facsimile of the original. The biggest clothes store I can find here is a TKMaxx and it doesn’t appear to stock rough mud-coloured sweaters or seaboots.

Kiel in 1902 – By Pratyeka  – via Wikimedia Commons

The bierkeller we retreat to for a lunch of herring, wurst and locally brewed beer, is not a cellar at all. The walls have been slopped over with mounds of dirty plaster in an attempt to make the place look like it’s been hewn out of rock. Very loud, very unpleasant German Europop blasts out over every table. There is no hiding place. The beer is at least authentically local, but our very friendly waitress admits to us that the brewery again is not that old – it started making beer in the 1980s.

Kiel in 1944 – via http://www.bunker-whv.de/kiel/bunkerkiel1.html

So where did the original Kiel go? Well, it turns out it’s us Brits who destroyed it, bombing it into oblivion during World War 2. 80% of the old town was destroyed, 72% of the central residential areas, and 83% of the industrial areas. When Davies and Carruthers turfed up here, with Tirpitz just hatching his First Fleet Act  and the pan-German League distributing free pamphlets on the streets, they can’t have imagined that it would lead to this – an entire city reduced to rubble.

The rebuilt modern Kiel of today has, at least, reverted back to what our heroes needed it to be on October 2 – a vast shopping centre. Indeed Kiel has one of the largest shopping centres in Germany. As mentioned in a previous blog, I had no intention of buying up vintage sailing garb, so I was very happy to pass an hour in TK-Maxx looking at modern-day Carruthers outfits. NotDavies went in search of an iPhone cable, rather than petroleum or flour.

As for boat supplies, we were reliably informed by a local that the best shops for that kind of thing moved years ago to where the boats are now – at Holtenau. Premises down by the harbour that would have previously housed chandlers and shipwrights have now been taken over by businesses with names such as ‘The Eros Centre’ and ‘Sex City’. 

Perhaps it’s not surprising that Davies and Carruthers scull off with their shopping asap. We, in turn, high-tailed it off to the other side of the harbour to find our overnight lodgings in Gaarden-Ost.

The modern-day Kiel shopping centre

This area became an official part of Kiel in 1902, the year before ‘The Riddle of the Sands’ was published. It was growing like topsy at the time, thanks to all the work opportunities the ever-expanding  naval yard was offering.

These days the ever-shrinking naval yard means Gaarden-Ost is quite a rough area with high unemployment levels. Our landlady referred to it blithely as ‘little Istanbul’ – the area has a high number of immigrants living there,  and an al Qaeda terrorist was discovered to be operating in the area only a few years back. Tellingly, a baseball bat had been left by our front door.

For dinner and a bit of Friday night entertainment , we decided to hop back again to the posher side of town. Alas, all we found was the beer ‘cellar’ again (now with even louder music ) and only one other waterside bar called ‘The Blue Angel’, where a heaving crowd of middle-aged Germans strutted their stuff vigorously to yet more appalling Eurodisco.

It was here that it dawned on me that Davies and Carruthers spend very little time in the book carousing with the locals, and certainly no dancing is mentioned at any point. Apart from coffee schnapps with the fishermen at Satrup, and a spot of duck shooting in the Eckenfjord, our two heroes tend to keep themselves to themselves, passing their evenings heating up tinned meats on the Rippingille, smoking a pipe and reading Mahan or Brassey’s.

I suspect our modern-day adventure is destined to be a bit more social and lot less peaceful in the evenings. I leave you with the image of a freshly moisturised and ‘quadroadoed’ notDavies making his way onto the Blue Angel dance floor, and reflect that the small boat sailors and literary ‘adventurers’  of today are a much more frisky bunch than the cruising gentlemen of 1898.


For more photos check out:

The 20th Adventure Club Podcast: An Adventure on the Kiel Canal

Finally, after months of talking about having an adventure, Lloyd (notDavies) and Tim (notCarruthers) head off to Germany, using ‘The Riddle of the Sands’ as their guide.

It’s October 24, both in the book and in the real world. The route is Holtenau to Brunsbüttel. But how does the Germany of today match up to the world of Carruthers and Davies in 1898?

We start with a discussion about the difference between ‘reliving’ and ‘replaying’ a book. Inevitably, we ask you again to pledge your support for the full Adventure Club experience, by supporting us at unbound.co.uk (00:54)

Tim (not Carruthers) starts us off at Kiel, taking in the harbour, the bierkeller, the post office and even some of the edgier parts of town (03:22); a musical interlude with Ulrich Schnauss (11:10); Lloyd (notDavies) describes Holtenau and indulges in a bit of container ship spotting (12:03).

IMG_5824 copy
October 2, Holtenau: ‘Having made fast alongside a vacant space of quay, we had our dinner’

October 3 finds the two adventurers in Rendsburg, (22:40) enjoying eels from the canal  (29:26) and finally realising it’s German Unity day – *not* German Unification Day (31:36); the final stop is Brunsbüttel, leading out to the Elbe and the sands… (36:52)

Club Business: Nick on house numbers on Baltrum (not Borkum!) and in Japan (42:03); Meg knows a song about kümmel (44:32); Brian brings coals from Newcastle (46:22); Jeff helps on the history of foghorns (46:35); Peter focusses on apples from Kappeln, putting the Finkenwerder in the mix  (48:08)

Missions for next week – members assistance required.

Norderney:  another day, another Frisian island – what can you tell us about this one?

the Clara rendezvous: where exactly is this meeting, and is it actually possible given the tide tables and the time of day?

‘the little drab book’ (and other naval books): is there a real-life model for the book that Clara spots on Davies’s bookshelf? And what of the other tomes that are named: Cowper’s ‘Sailing Tours’ and MacMullen’s ‘Down Channel’?

‘a worthy reception-room for a lady’: so come on, women club members, tell us how a cabin should be organised to suit the fairer sex? Generally, do men and women sailors organise their boats differently at all?

‘a foghorn, whose music roused hosts of sea birds’

We can’t let a second reference to a foghorn on October 20 go by without speculating on what kind of foghorn it might be. In the last podcast I put money on it being a Typhon, made by the Swedish foghorn specialists Kockums  – a bit like this one:

A 1900 Typhon – all yours for less than £400 at http://www.sellingantiques.co.uk/262917/kockumsonics-tyfon-fog-horn-c1900/

But looking back at a previous reference to the foghorn on September 28, I find this:

‘A blast in my ear, like the voice of fifty trombones, galvanized me into full consciousness. The musician, smiling and tousled, was at my bedside, raising a foghorn to his lips with deadly intention.’

So Davies’s foghorn had no pump and didn’t use compressed air. It appears to have been more like a fog trumpet. Was there such a thing? And was it of any more use than the whistle that comes into play on October 22?

Well, a quick survey of ebay tells me there were indeed very basic foghorns that you blew like a trumpet back in 1898. It’s possible that they doubled up as musical horns for playing… er… hornpipes? The more bespoke horns worked a bit more like a clarinet or a bassoon, in that there’d be a vibrating reed as part of the mouthpiece, offering a more ‘wood-windy’ low frequency sound. Here’s one that looks more like something Davies might blast into Carruthers’s ear:

Handheld solid brass foghorn – http://www.ebay.com/itm/MARITIME-NAUTICAL-HANDHELD-BOAT-SOLID-BRASS-FOG-HORN-/141797901446

Happily, these more basic trumpets are about the tenth of the price of the Typhons on the antiques market, so if we wanted to take one on our trip we probably could (or we could take advantage of the enormous market for fake Typhons that apparently exists). Even cheaper still are spirit trumpets, used in Victorian times to amplify the voices of the dead at seances. One of these could be easily adapted to become a foghorn. And thus, with each blast, we could be helping to raise Carruthers and Davies from the dead.



1. Huge thanks to Club Member Jeff for this email about the history of foghorns:

Ask for fog signal information, and you shall receive. It’s a bit US-centric, but here is a 2-part article on the history of fog signals, because you can’t cover such a topic in a mere single article.




2. Here is the video about The Foghorn Requiem, performed at Souter Lighthouse, as mentioned in the last podcast:

Foghorn Requiem from Joshua Portway on Vimeo.

‘an anchorage behind Baltrum’

Wangerooge, Spiekeroog, Langeoog… one by one, we’re crossing the East Frisian islands off our list – or rather adding them to our charts. And now, on October 20, we drop anchor just off Baltrum.

Baltrum is a lot smaller than the other islands we’ve encountered, but has many of the same characteristics of its larger cousins: it’s blown about by the tides and winds; it’s secured by groynes and sea-walls; it relies these days largely on tourism; cars – apart from electrics one – are not welcome; pirates and wreckers used to think of it as home.

Baltrum Strand – By Lokilech (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)

Yet again, it’s curious that Childers has bothered to plot out another night where our heroes simply hang around. In terms of pure story, it would make more sense to motor straight on to Norderney. But I guess the idea is to stick to the same rate of progress as a real small-boat sailor. So for us that means noodling in and around Baltrum for a while, dropping in at the local museum, perhaps, or dining on a dish of local oysters.

Just to be clear, there were hotels on Baltrum when Carruthers and Davies sailed past. The Hotel Küper and the Hotel Zur Post were welcoming guests from the mid-1890s. So on the night of October 20, there was really no need at all for our heroes to slum it in the fog. At low tide they could have trudged ashore and got a warm bath and a decent meal.

One curious quirk of the island, by the way, is that there are no street names on Baltrum, so finding a hotel might be tricky. Each house is simply given a number when it’s built. Number 1, Baltrum, is not necessarily the oldest house on the island, however. If you knock down an old house and build something new in its place, the building still retains its original house number.

Finding your way to, say, Number 22, Baltrum, without a map might be a tricky business. Thank goodness, then, the Dollmans decided to live on Norderney, where there are standard street names and addresses. If Clara lived on Baltrum, Davies might never find her.

To Brunsbüttel and beyond: our plan for today

We didn’t report live from the Canal yesterday. Did you miss us?

The main reason for our absence was the lack of decent web access (or indeed any web access at all!) from the Canal. That’s a problem we think could solve on the Adventure proper next year, with better planning, better kit and a bit of help from people we’re meeting who live and work out here.

For now, though, we’re going to use this last day out in the field to try something different.

‘Clothes were my own chief care…’

What this trip has made us realise is that the real magic lies – as it always did – in the book itself. So for the remaining time we’re here, we’re going to concentrate on recording readings of the book in the locations described  – and we’ll do it as close to the right timeline as possible.

If we can do that live, we will. But we won’t be able to alert you in advance, so you’ll have to keep an eye on our Twitter streams (In the Adventure proper next year, we’ll aim to have everything timetabled properly for you so you don’t have to miss a thing).

We will promise to put up recordings of everything we’ve done out here as soon as possible when get back. But remember – you’ll only get hold of this stuff, the Handbook sample and the field Audiobook sample if you pledge support on Unbound at https://unbound.co.uk/books/riddle-of-the-sands. The link to the live stream remains: https://unbound.co.uk/books/riddle-of-the-sands/updates/kiel-canal-reconnaissance-live-october-2-5

‘For two days we travelled slowly up the mighty waterway…’

We’re already excited about how the original text comes alive when you release it into the modern world. It’s also really great to put the visuals and the soundtrack of the modern world onto this book. Something weird and delightful happens when we do this. You’ll see what we mean when we put some examples together for you.

This trip was always a trial run. We’re learning a lot about how to do the full Adventure properly. We’ll discuss this a bit in the next podcast. If you have any thoughts yourself, let us know in the comments.


We’ll be live-streaming from the Holtenau lock at 18:15 UK time


We’ve made it to Kiel, have visited the post office and done a bit of shopping, and now it’s time to head to the Holtenau Lock. We’ll be live streaming via the Unbound Shed page from about 18:15 UK time (*subject to bandwidth*). Join us!

The URL to use is https://unbound.co.uk/books/riddle-of-the-sands/updates/kiel-canal-reconnaissance-live-october-2-5,  but you can only access this if you’ve pledged support for the Adventure Club.

The main post-office at Kiel – a modern version of the one Carruthers and Davies would have visited on October 2

If you pledge now, you will get a free sample chapter of The Handbook Edition book, an opportunity to influence what goes into the book, and how we design it. You’ll also get a free episode of the field audiobook of ‘The Riddle of the Sands’, recorded in the places that the book describes.

If you are joining us at 18:15, do ask us questions or make requests via Twitter to @rotscarruthers and @rotsdavies.

If there are places you’d like us to visit, specific photos you’d like us to take, or particular items you’d like us to get hold of, just let us know. We’re happy to be led by you – as long as we all stick to the principle that we’re being guided chiefly by ‘The Riddle of the Sands’, in terms of where we go and when.

If you can’t make it this evening, we’ll be online again tomorrow on the Kiel Canal, aiming to live stream again at midday UK time and at 18:15 tomorrow evening, probably from Rendsburg. We’ll keep you posted about our progress here, on Twitter and on Facebook.

‘Spinnakers, flying jibs, and what not’

The strangely aimless and liminal pages for October 20 – there are only two – include Carruthers complaining that the Dulcibella simply isn’t going fast enough:

‘Can’t we go any faster?’ I burst out once. I felt that there ought to be a pyramid of gauzy canvas aloft, spinnakers, flying jibs, and what not.

Davies is unimpressed. ‘I don’t go in for speed,’ he says, sniffily. But the outburst from Carruthers got us to thinking: what sails are on the Dulcibella? As we’ve said before, we’re not sailors (if you hadn’t got the message by now), but thankfully many of our Adventure Club members are, and they’ve helped out a good deal with this post.

It’s worth saying at this point that there is no single point in the book where a complete description of Dulcibella’s sail complement is given us. I found this odd, until Tim NotCarruthers pointed out that he, and not me (NotDavies), is the book’s narrator. And, frankly, despite his little outburst here, Charles Carruthers does not care a fig for sails.

All we have to rely on are clues, sprinkled throughout the book – one-line descriptions of a particular sail, given in an offhand way. There are around 20 of these before October 20th – I know, I counted them. And adding them up can give a good idea of what the rigging would have looked like.

First of all, let us start with something magnificent – the painting by Martyn Mackrill of the Dulcibella at sea, which we unveiled at our screening of Riddle of the Sands back in the summer. Here it is, and we think it’s rather glorious – you can click on the image to see it in all it glory.


In Martyn’s image, you’ll note that the Dulcibella has two masts – a main-mast, and a mizzen. And apologies here – I said in the podcast that there wasn’t a mizzen in the picture, and there clearly is! So this shows the Dulcibella after the additions Davies had made in the Baltic. She also has two foresails. And finally, she’s gaff-rigged – which is where we turn to another club member, the always-reliable Tony Fuell, who explained this stuff to us in a series of comments on our 18th podcast. They’re worth repeating in full – here’s his ‘introduction to sails for non-sailors’:

At the time of the story, Duclibella was configured as a yawl, a small yacht with two masts – main mast and mizzen. Her sails would have been basically of three types:-

1. Foresails – hanked on to, and hoisted up the forestay to the mainmast by the jib halliard. It would be usual, in the days before roller furling became common, to carry several foresails of different sizes allowing one to be chosen to suit the conditions: the stronger the wind, the smaller the sail.

2. A mainsail would be hoisted behind the mainmast, and attached to the mast itself either by a bolt-rope running in a groove up the mast, or by hanks of rope. The sail would be held out by the boom and attached to it by an out-haul. Reefing points in the sail would enable the sail’s size to be varied to suit the conditions, but there would only be one mainsail. A point not really made clear in the book is whether the mainsail was hoisted with a gaff or not. A gaff rig has a rigid pole (the gaff) holding out the top of the sail. This type of rig was common at the time of the book, but due to the fact that it is more difficult to handle, the Bermudan rig, where the sail goes to the top of the mast without a gaff has become the most common. If a gaff rig is fitted, another sail, the gaff topsail, could be hoisted to fill in the inverted triangle formed by the end of the gaff and the top of the main mast.

3. The mizzen sail. normally there would only be one of these, quite a small sail, flown on a small mast set aft in the boat. If the wind became too strong, it would be hauled down and stowed on its boom.

Other sails: apart from the gaff topsail, if she had a gaff, I don’t think it likely that Dulcibella would have had many other sails. A spinnaker was mentioned, which is a big balloon sail, flown from the top of the mainmast in front of the boat and attached by two ropes to points near the stern. The windward side of a spi is usually held out by a small boom attached to the mast. A very complicated thing to set up and manage, only used when going downwind.

It was at this point that Jersey City Frankie, another regular Adventure Club member, interjected with his discovery of this illustration of the Dulcibella, taken from the film version of Riddle of the Sands:

Dulcibella from Riddle of the Sands, from Fotolibra. Available for purchase here.
Dulcibella from Riddle of the Sands, from Fotolibra. Available for purchase here.

When we showed Tony this, here was his response:

The Dulcibella illustration shows a gaff-rigged yawl, right in keeping with how I imagined her. It is showing her with what must be pretty much her full complement of sails set.

From the front of the boat, she has two foresails set, an outer jib and an inner, a gaff-rigged mainsail, a gaff topsail and a mizzen sail. I would assume he probably also has a smaller jib and a (storm) jib made of heavy canvas stowed somewhere.

I don’t see Davis, who is a practical seaman, having any use for racing frivolities such as a spinnaker. The cost and complexity of the sail and its gear, the room it would take up and the infrequent occasions on which he could set it would rule it out, I’m sure.

He would run the gear as shown in light winds. In anything more of a blow, he would first take down the topsail, then the inner jib, then the mizzen. As the wind increased, he would reef down the mainsail and set a smaller jib, if he had one. In a real blow, he would use his storm jib with the main reefed right down or stowed completely. With this rig, and the small size of the individual sails, he has a lot of options to enable him to stay at sea in rough conditions. But handling all the gear is much easier if he has a crew, the reason he asked Carruthers along!

So there we have it – the definitive, never-before-on-the-Internet description of the Dulcibella’s sail complement. An amazing effort from Tony, Martyn and Frankie – thank you chaps!

You can find out more about marine artist Martyn Mackrill at his website.