October 26

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Our flight from the harbour was unmolested, unnoticed. Only the first ghastly evidences of dawn were mingling with the strangled moonlight, as we tacked round the pier-head and headed close-reefed down the Riff-Gat on the lees of the ebb-tide. We had to pass under the very quarter of the Blitz, so Davies said; for, of far away to the south, between dun swathes of sand, I thought I saw–but probably it was only a fancy–two black stranded specks. Rail awash, and decks streaming, we took the outer swell and clawed close-hauled under the lee of Juist, westward, hurrying westward.

‘Up the Ems on the flood, and to Dutch Delfzyl,’ I urged. No, thought Davies; it was too near Germany, and there was a tidal cut through from Buse Tief. Better to dodge in behind Rottum Island. So on we pressed, past Memmert, over the Juister Reef and the Corinne’s buried millions, across the two broad and yeasty mouths of the Ems, till Rottum, a wee lonesome wafer of an islet, the first of the Dutch archipelago, was close on the weather-bow.

‘We must get in behind that,’ said Davies, ‘then we shall be safe; I think I know the way, but get the next chart; and then take a rest, old chap. Clara and I can manage.’ (She had been on deck most of the time, as capable a hand as you could wish for, better far than I in my present state of exhaustion.) I crawled along the slippery sloping planks and went below.

‘Where are we?’ cried Dollmann, starting up from the lee sofa, where he seemed to have been lying in a sort of trance. A book, his own book, slipped from his knees, and I saw the frontispiece lying on the floor in a pool of oil; for the stove had gone adrift, and the saloon was in a wretched state of squalor and litter.

‘Off Rottum,’ I said, and knelt up to find the chart. There was a look in his eyes that I suppose I ought to have understood, but I can scarcely blame myself, for the accumulated strain, not only of the last three days and nights, but of the whole arduous month of my cruise with Davies, was beginning to tell on me, now that safety and success were at hand. I handed up the chart through the companion, and then crept into the reeling fo’c’sle and lay down on the spare sail-bags, with the thunder and thump of the seas around and above me.

I must quote Davies for the event that happened now; for by the time I had responded to the alarm and climbed up through the fore-hatch, the whole tragedy was over and done with.

‘X– came up the companion,’ he says, ‘soon after you went down. He held on by the runner, and stared to windward at Rottum, as though he knew the place quite well. And then he came towards us, moving so unsteadily that I gave Clara the tiller, and went to help him. I tried to make him go down again, but he wouldn’t, and came aft.

“‘Give me the helm,” he said, half to himself. “Sea’s too bad outside–there’s a short cut here.”

“‘Thanks,” I said, “I know this one.” (I don’t think I meant to be sarcastic.) He said nothing, and settled himself on the counter behind us, safe enough, with his feet against the lee-rail, and then, to my astonishment, began to talk over my shoulder jolly sensibly about the course, pointing out a buoy which is wrong on the chart (as I knew), and telling me it was wrong, and so on. Well, we came to the bar of the Schild, and had to turn south for that twisty bit of beating between Rottum and Bosch Flat. Clara was at the jib-sheet, I had the chart and the tiller (you know how absent I get like that); there was a bobble of sea, and we both had heaps to do, and–well–I happened to look round, and he was gone. He hadn’t spoken for a minute or two, but I believe the last thing I heard him say (I was hardly attending at the time, for we were in the thick of it) was something about a “short cut” again. He must have slipped over quietly … He had an ulster and big boots on.’

We cruised about for a time, but never found him.

That evening, after threading the maze of shoals between the Dutch mainland and islands, we anchored off the little hamlet of Ostmahorn, gave the yacht in charge of some astonished fishermen, and thence by road and rail, hurrying still, gained Harlingen, and took passage on a steamer to London. From that point our personal history is of no concern to the outside world, and here, therefore, I bring this narrative to an end.

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One thought on “October 26

  1. I have 2 comments which may be of interest. First an amazing story of MOB survival. In 1972 I was returning from South Africa on a Union Castle ship, the Windsor Castle, which then was a fast mailship running from CapeTown to Southampton. I learned that on the previous voyage a passenger was discovered missing at breakfast time and presumed to be MOB. He had last been seen sitting on the after-rail about midnight.The ship sailed a reciprocal course and after some hours the man was found still swimming. He was picked up safely and was unfazed by his ordeal, saying he knew the ship would come back for him.
    Bear in mind the ship had been sailing for at least 8 hours at say 25 knots before his loss was discovered. Luckily he was in tropical warm water, the weather was perfect, and the bridge of the ship is about 100ft above sealevel giving a wide field of view.

    Next, about the freezing of the water in channels inside the islands. This is because the water will only be slightly salty due to the influx of fresh water draining off the land, like the Baltic, which tastes only a bit salty, freezes over in the winter, and supports both fresh and saltwater fish to my surprise.


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