GILLELIE AND THE SOUND
THE next morning I went to the Consul's, and mv letters were delivered to me. One of them, I found to my dismay, necessitated my speedy return to England. "Still, I shall have time," I said to myself, "to see something of the Sound and its ports on both the Swedish and Danish coasts before I lay up the yacht at Copenhagen, and take steamer home." So I planned, reckoning without my host. "Host," as I learnt at school, is derived from a Latin word signifying "enemy," which at last, in consequence of the unfriendly disposition of most landlords, came to acquire its present meaning; I am using the word in its original sense, for the host I allude to is our old foe, the northwest wind.
I took train to Frederikssund, and thence, tide and wind being against me, and a choppy sea running on the fiord, I had a hard pull back to Hundested, which I did not reach till after dark. I found that the fumes of the haven had still further deepened the brown stain on our paint, which Wright had been vigorously scrubbing with hot water and soda, but all in vain; he now abandoned the attempt in despair, for nothing but a scraper could take the stuff off. Should the Medicinal Bath scheme not come up to the expectations of its promoters, there might be a fortune in the Hundested Patent Indelible Brown Stain.
The next day, August the 6th, was too fine. Not a cloud was in the sky, and a very light breeze from the north-east scarcely ruffled the water; this would be a head wind for us as far as Gilbierg Head, the most northerly point of Siaelland, twelve miles away. We tacked up the coast, progressing very slowly, by barren sand-hills, pine-forests, and bleak heaths, a land that appeared to be but sparsely inhabited. We passed one little red-roofed fishing-village with a row of brown fishing-boats drawn up on the sandy beach in front of it, and with sombre pine-woods rising immediately behind, the whole forming a very picturesque scene. A Swedish square-topsail ketch had come out of Ise Fiord with us; for many hours we could not shake her off; with every tack either we passed close under her stern or she under ours, and her skipper became wild with annoyance that he could not show a clean pair of heels to so small and clumsy-looking a craft as ours. We heard him using dreadful language to each of his men in turn, reviling them for their careless steering, and at last he took the wheel himself to show them how the thing was to be done. Then, no doubt to his great astonishment and disgust, we crossed his bows on our next tack quite one hundred yards ahead, and rapidly left him astern.
Later on, the wind fell away altogether, so we tried a mode of progression which certainly seemed a strange one to adopt on this open and usually stormy sea, with no land to the northward between us and the far-off coast of Norway. We got close under the shore in four feet or so of water, and punted the yacht along the coast with the quant. The bottom was well adapted for punting, being of hard sand, with rocks here and there. The sun was shining full into the clear water, so that it assumed a beautiful pale emerald tint, and we could see the submarine gardens beneath us, the swaying sea-weeds growing to the rocks, the delicate hued anemones, and the dark sea-mosses; while the grotesque crabs crawled amongst the stones, and the transparent rose- and violet-coloured medusæ floated lazily half-way down. The fish did not like the look of us, and we could see them darting away as we approached.
We picked our way through crowds of rocks, shoving off from one to the other with the boat-hook, and sometimes our keel grated on the bottom. It was a queer sort of navigation, but interesting for a change, and we got along at a good rate.
In the afternoon a south-east wind sprang up, and, forsaking the shallows, we set sail again. But there was not enough wind to do us much good, and at nine o'clock it had all fallen away once more; so we brought up under the shore for the night in four fathoms of water, being still about five miles from Gilbierg Head. And now I saw that the glass was falling rapidly, and the moon rose over the land with a lurid and watery appearance like a bonfire seen through a haze. Bad weather was evidently coming on. But had we not had three fine days in succession? More than this cannot be reasonably expected on the fickle Baltic.
We enjoyed a quiet night, for the breeze was off shore; but the next morning brought dirty weather — a fresh and squally wind from the south-east, and heavy rain. The glass had fallen half an inch in the night, and was still going down. It did not look much like getting to Elsinore, for the south-east wind was a head one for us, blowing as it does right down the Sound, and the northerly current the pilot at Hundested had spoken of would, most probably, be still setting out. Between us and Elsinore no port existed, to my knowledge, and my charts indicated no harbour under the rugged cliffs on the opposite coast of Sweden. The prospect before us was not a pleasant one. It seemed very doubtful whether we should get anywhere if we proceeded on our voyage; but we felt so disinclined to give it up and run back to Hundested that we decided to push on and trust to luck; the wind might change at any moment, and make it all right for us.
We tacked towards Gilbierg Head in the smooth water under the shore, but I knew that after we had rounded this point we should encounter a wind right in our teeth, and, most probably, a nasty sea as well As we approached the headland we saw a good-sized village lying at the foot of it, lavishly decorated with Danish flags as if some festival was in progress. Wright took up the glasses, and scanned the place.
"Hullo, why, what's this?" he suddenly cried in tones of amazement; "do you know that there's a fine harbour there, sir, and fishing-boats in it?"
I could scarcely credit such good news; but, looking through the glasses, I saw that it was even as he had said; a well-sheltered haven was before us, situated at the very spot where it would be of the highest service to us; for round the point, a mile farther on, the sea was already in violent commotion, and we should have been unable to make any way to windward.
This harbour was altogether ignored by my chart and the pilot-book did not allude to it, so its existence was a pleasant surprise. Seeing good-sized herringers within, I knew that there was water enough for us; we therefore tacked up to it, and passed between the jetties. On the beach, in front of us, was the fishing village with the usual large wooden building in which the herrings are salted. The haven was constructed on a more scientific principle than that of Hundested. Two rough jetties, formed of great stones rounded by the sea, and kept together by balks of timber, had been carried out from the shore at a distance of sixty yards apart, and from the end of the northern jetty another stout breakwater turned off at right angles towards the southern jetty, so that the entrance of the haven was on the southern side, and protected from the prevailing storm-wind. Here there is no tendency to silt up, and a depth of five feet is always maintained. The harbour was crowded with smacks, all gay with bunting, and many others were drawn up on the beach between the piers. The whole of the population were promenading in their Sunday best, seemingly in a very merry mood, and not one, but even three or four of the inevitable English-speaking sailors were alongside of us in a moment as we touched the quay.
"What's going on here to-day?" I asked one of these as he lent me a hand to make the yacht fast.
"It is the annual regatta for our fishing-boats," he replied; "you've just come in time to see it; they will start in an hour."
My informant, whose name was Andersen, was himself a fisherman, but his boat was on the beach undergoing repairs, so he could not compete. He took me under his charge during our stay, and showed me round. The boats were of a larger size than those of Hundested, and the race would have been interesting were it not that each vessel started when it pleasecl, so that, unless one carefully timed and remembered the exact moment when each passed the buoy that served as starting-point, it was impossible to say which was winning. And again, the vessels were so much alike that even the spectators on shore, who had taken the time, at last got very puzzled, and were unable to recognise the craft of their own relations. But I ought to mention that the people of this place have a very confused idea as to their relationships; they are all connected with each other in some way, for the fishing families will not intermarry with strangers. Every fisherman we met was introduced to me by Andersen as his cousin, and he said that the old lady who kept the grocer's shop at which we bought our provisions, was his step-grandmother-in-law. Such a relationship requires some thinking over, but it seemed clear enough to him, and, no doubt, was a comparatively uncomplicated one for this much-connected community. But to return to the regatta. The boats carried plenty of spare canvas — huge square-sails and balloon jibs — and seemed to be well handled, and to be travelling fast. Each boat was crowded with the relatives of the crew — only some of the nearest ones, of course — women, children, and even babies, and dozens of bottled beer were placed in each hold for the thirsty mariners. The wind was fresh, and one vessel lost her mast, and another her bowsprit in a strong squall. At last one smack was declared the winner, and the regatta was over. But the best part of the festivity was still to come.
I learnt from Andersen that the village was called Gillelie, and that the haven, like that of Hundested, had been constructed by the fishermen, but that here the harbour had proved a success, so that the Government loan was being rapidly paid off by the dues. Our share was tenpence.
This, he said, was the greatest holiday of the year for the fishermen; by and by there would be great fun on the hill above the village, as a fete had been organized, the proceeds of which were to be devoted to buying an organ for the church. The fishermen intended to amuse themselves, for this was the last day of their idle season, and all the herringers were ready for sea, and were about to sail to the fishing-grounds round the island of Anholt on the following morning.
"I suppose you will be starting at the same time," he added.
"I don't think that any of us will sail to-morrow," I said.
"How's that?" he asked; "the herringers must sail."
"It will be blowing a gale from the north-west," I replied.
"Ah, you are wrong, captain; you don't know this coast like I do; it looks wild now, but it will be fine to-morrow."
"I don't know anything about the coast; but come below, and look at our glass."
It had fallen another quarter of an inch, and was now much lower than on any occasion since we had left England. I was sure that a strong, if a short, blow was coming. I was willing to stake my reputation as a weather-prophet on it, and, if I was wrong, I would never trust in a barometer again. As a man must be who cruises on strange coasts in small boats, I was always a close observer of the glass, and understood its ways and warnings pretty well; one's life depends upon such a knowledge. But my friend scouted the idea of an approaching gale, said he did not believe in glasses, and, what was more to the point, did not understand them.
"The wind's south-west," he urged; "we never get bad weather from that quarter."
"Then it will shift to the north-west by and by," I replied; "I am sure that I, at any rate, will not sail tomorrow."
He told some of the other fishermen standing by what I had said, and I noticed that the older men shook their heads as they looked round the sky, and were evidently inclined to be of my way of thinking.
It was a day of revelry in Gillelie, and the men were making the best of it, for were they not to be off at dawn to spend the wild northern autumn on the fishing-grounds? and those who do not know the fisherman's life cannot picture to themselves what this means. A pine-clad hill rises above the village, commanding a fine view of the Sound and the opposite Swedish coast. On this tents had been pitched, and all the fun of a rustic fair was going on. There were refreshment-booths, shooting-galleries, merry-go-rounds, swings, and the other usual attractions, and in the evening there was to be a grand ball, a display of fireworks, and a theatrical entertainment.
I have been at a good many gatherings of this description in many parts of the world, but never at one which impressed me with such a high opinion of a people. True, there was a little drunkenness—for northern races will drink on occasion—but very little of it, and not one of these fishermen became objectionable in the slightest degree in his cups. It was very pleasant to watch the hearty enjoyment of these sturdy men, their well-dressed and comely wives and sweet hearts, and pretty children — the Danish children are true children, and are just the jolly innocent little beings that one would imagine Hans Andersen must have lived amongst and been inspired by when he wrote his delightful tales.
Another noticeable feature of the fête was that a good many people of the higher classes were present — the "quality" of the neighbourhood — and also several ladies and their children from Copenhagen, who had come to Gillelie for the bathing, and were lodging for a few weeks in the fishermen's cottages. In Denmark all classes mingle together quite naturally in places of public entertainment in a way that is altogether unknown even in the most democratic lands, and it says a great deal for all that this is possible. This is the case not only in the country but in Copenhagen itself; for there is a charming simplicity in Danish life, which, it is to be hoped, what is called progress will not do away with. The peasant proprietors and their belongings were also present; and these farmers, ultra-radicals as they are, did not consider it necessary to prove their sturdy independence by an aggressive rudeness, but were as well-bred as the rest; there were some jolly clergymen also who put on no clerical airs, but enjoyed themselves as much as any. I was introduced to the leading fishermen and their families, and was soon very much at home; and I do not think I have ever been at a more delightful ball than the one which took place in the big tent among the pine-trees, and at which, by the way, the ladies from Copenhagen were dancing with their friends in the same country dances as the buxom fish-wives and peasant girls. In Denmark the different classes evidently respect each other; but where else are the working people so refined and courteous in their manners' and, I may add, so neatly dressed, so cleanly in their habits?
After the ball the wood was illuminated with Chinese lanterns, and the firework display took place, unfortunately in the middle of a violent squall, which somewhat spoiled the effect. The wind had now shifted to the north-west, and was sweeping over the hill, howling through the bending pines, while the Sound beneath, which was only visible occasionally, when the moon gleamed out between the swift-driving clouds, was white with foam.
"What do you say to the weather now?" I asked Andersen.
"I think you may be right, captain; it looks bad; but wait till to-morrow; it may fine down," replied that oracle.
At about midnight all the revellers returned to the village, and I went on board, crawling carefully along the narrow, slippery jetty so as to avoid being blown into the sea by the fierce gusts. It was now blowing a heavy gale; the waves were washing over the weather jetty, and showers of spray were being driven across the harbour. Before turning in, Wright and I shifted the yacht; for, being on the lee side of the harbour, we were banging about against the jetty and the fishingboats alongside of us. We took an anchor to the middle of the harbour, and, slacking out our stern-line, hauled out clear of everything.
On waking shortly after daybreak on August the 8th I found that the glass had fallen still lower, and that a regular hurricane was blowing from the west-north-west. The fishermen, far from putting to sea, were all busy securing their vessels, for there was some danger of these being dashed to pieces, even in this sheltered harbour. It was as wild a morning as I have ever seen. The sky presented an extraordinary appearance, being of a cold green colour, while high up masses of cirrus clouds traversed it in parallel white threads, following the direction of the wind The lower strata of clouds seemed to have been blown right out of the heavens. We were battened down all this day, for not only spray but solid lumps of water were hurled right across the haven, and fell upon our decks. We were wetter than we had ever been at sea.
After breakfast I clambered along the jetty, being, of course, soaked through long before I reached the shore, and walked up to Andersen's house.
"I shall believe in barometers for the future," were the first words he said; "as soon as I can afford it I will get one for my boat."
I had made an enthusiastic convert of him, and he was anxious to learn all I could teach him on the usc of the aneroid.
"It is a very fortunate thing for us fishermen," he said, "that yesterday's fête kept us all in port. Had it taken place two Sundays ago, as was originally intended, we should now have been off Anholt, where there is no harbour, and I think that many vessels and lives would have been lost. A few years ago a gale came on suddenly like this one, and twenty boats were capsized by the seas on the Anholt shoals, and all hands drowned."
He told me that none here remembered a summer in which the weather had been so unsettled, and in which strong north-west winds had been so frequent. All the fine weather had left this part of Europe for the English Jubilee. This was, at any rate, encouraging for me; I could look forward to getting along a little faster when I resumed my cruise on the following summer, instead of being weather-bound half my holiday, as had been the case this year.
In the afternoon, the storm being now at its height, I walked along the hills bordering the coast to the lighthouse on Nakke Head, and thence overlooked a seascape not easily to be forgotten. Nakke Head is a steep bluff surrounded by drifting sand-hills and heaths, with here and there clumps of dwarfed firs and black thorns, a desolate wind-swept tract on which only the hardiest plants can support existence. The scene landwards was of vast extent, and had a dreary grandeur that was very impressive; but on such a day as this it was the turbulent sea beneath that riveted all one's attention. Before me was the mouth of the Sound, and on the Swedish coast, twelve miles away, rose the promontory of Kullen—a huge, isolated mass of granite, 900 feet high, standing out dark and gloomy in contrast to the verdant hills that elsewhere bordered these straits.
The Sound, that narrow gateway of the Baltic through which all the vessels that sail between the Ocean and the inland sea must pass, is at all times crowded with a remarkable quantity of shipping; but on this day the aspect of this great highway was exceptionally wonderful. Many hundreds of craft of all sizes and nationalities — transatlantic steamers, full-rigged ships, barques, schooners, and fishing-smacks — were running into the Sound from the open sea, making for the shelter of the roads of Elsinore. Not a single vessel was heading the other way, all were scudding in before the tempest; many of them, no doubt, had put to sea several days before, bound round the Skaw into the German Ocean, but had been compelled to turn back by the violence of the hurricane. They were all staggering along under the smallest possible amount of canvas, pitching heavily into the frightfully high seas; here a full-rigged ship under close-reefed topsails; here a schooner under fore and main trysails; here a brig under bare poles; here a pilot-cutter under spit-fire jib, and the balance-reef down in her mainsail. Several vessels had lost spars or portions of their bulwarks; one Norwegian barque was evidently water-logged, and in a sinking condition, and was floundering slowly into smoother water, but just in time; and outside the Sound, on the raging Kattegat, were hundreds of other vessels, some hull down on the horizon, making for the same refuge, their fate still uncertain among those gigantic rollers, and, no doubt, with many an anxious heart on board of them.
I had brought the glasses with me, and, crouching under the lee of a thorn-bush, I watched vessel after vessel coming into the Narrows. There was a terrible fascination in the scene, and it was impossible to turn away from it. It seemed like a battle-field between the elements and vast fleets, the latter routed, and in full retreat, crippled and disheartened. There was one old brig that must have been caught by the gale on some bay on the Swedish coast, and was now endeavouring to weather the dark crags of Kullen. She was close-hauled under reefed topsails, and seemed to be doing little else but plunge into the furious seas that washed over her decks, while she slowly but surely sagged towards the iron-bound coast to leeward. But at last she got an offing, and, just before sunset, wallowed into the Sound, and was safe.
The storm lasted for three days, and detained us in Gillelie till August the 11th. This upset my calculations, and instead of visiting some of the towns on the Sound on my way I had to sail straight for Copenhagen. But the four days during which I was weather-bound in the little fishing-port passed pleasantly enough. The Danish fishing-folk are exceedingly kind to the stranger who visits their shores in a small yacht, so that he leaves each hamlet with regret, as if it were his home, and he were saying good-bye to old friends.
There was one old fisherman — I suppose he was old because he had been upwards of thirty years at sea in big vessels before adopting the profession of fisherman, but he looked like a young man, and behaved like a boy — who became my particular chum during my stay. He was the most popular man in the place, especially with the children, a world-wide wanderer with the heart of a child. He had been a terrible rascal all his life, all out of boyish thoughtlessness and love of mischief, for none could look into his frank blue eyes and believe him capable of a mean or ill-natured action.This old boy, whom I will call Frederiksen, lived with his sister in a little hut among the fragrant pinewoods by the beach. There I dined twice with him during my stay, and his sister put on the table in honour of the guest the beef-steak and onions of Old England by the side of the rye-bread and aquavit of Scandinavia.
Frederiksen had quite a little library of books, among which there was one, he said, which was very interesting, as it was all about Kronborg Castle and Elsinore and the old kings who used to drink and fight there; he wished that I understood Danish, and could have read it. He showed me this volume, and I found that its title was — Hamlet. It was Shakespeare's play paraphrased and set out in the form of a prose narrative. When I told him that a dramatic version of this novel had been produced in England, and had met with considerable success, his national pride seemed to be highly gratified, and he said he was glad to hear that Danish literature was appreciated in England. In his version of the story all ends well: Hamlet and Ophelia marry and live happily ever afterwards.
In the evenings, while the storm was shrieking outside, and the Falcon was tumbling about in the haven as if she had been in a sea-way, Frederiksen used to smoke his pipe with me in our cabin, and spin strange but true yarns in an inimitable manner. His career had been varied and adventurous enough to fill a dozen boys' story-books; but he had never saved a penny till he gave up wandering, and settled down as a fisherman in his native village. He told me that he was now a rich man, having put by a thousand kroners — fifty-five pounds — and on the strength of this he was about to build himself a new and larger house. Unlike most sailors, he had seen as much of the land as of the sea; for it seems that he was always shipping on vessels with something wrong about them, and then deserting them. He had dug for gold in California, and diamonds in the Cape. He had served with the Confederate army in the American Civil War, and had on two occasions narrowly escaped hanging as a "bounty jumper." He was before the mast on a British man-of-war during the Crimean war. He had fought for the Chinese rebels. He had cruised on the Pacific and Indian Oceans in a Yankee schooner which carried on a trade scarcely legitimate, indeed, almost piratical. Some of his tales of those experiences were exquisitely funny, and his Yankee skipper was a character who would make the fortune of a nautical novelist. Among other things he had been a policeman in Calcutta, and a jailor in a West India prison. After one of his many desertions he had walked from Trieste to Hamburg without a penny in his pocket; he said that all the people he met on the road were very kind to him, and fed him well because he looked jolly, and had not the hang-dog aspect of the ordinary tramp. He would sing Danish and English sea-songs to the German and Austrian peasants at night, and, like Goldsmith, earned many a supper by his musical talents.
One night Frederiksen came to me and said, "My mother has got a little sing-song in her house this evening; you must come up there with me. I'm the black sheep, the ne-er-do-well of my family, but they're always glad to see me and my friends."
I, of course, gladly accepted the invitation, and accompanied him to one of the larger houses of the village. We entered a room comfortably, and even in a way luxuriously furnished — for though the Danish fishermen endure great hardships at sea, at home, thanks to their womankind, who are the best of housewives, their life is an easy one — and there found a very pleasant-looking, handsome old lady, and about twenty people of both sexes — sturdy young fishermen in blue jerseys, and some very bonny lasses. I was introduced to everyone. I had been prepared to find that they were all relatives; for, as I have explained, anyone in Gillelie is at least a cousin to anyone else, but now I learnt that everyone in the room was a descendant or a descendant-in-law of our hostess.
"There," said Freleriksen, "are my mother, brothers, sisters, nephews, and nieces, or, at least, some of them. Now make yourself at home."
It was indeed a jolly evening. The girls played the piano, and sang the simple and beautiful ballads of Denmark; many of the men, too, had good voices, notably Frederiksen, who rolled out the sea songs of England to perfection; one young fellow played admirably on the violin, and several glees were sung to the accompaninent of both instruments. I was ashamed to find that I alone was unable to contribute to the evening's anusement, till I remembered that I had once acqured some renown as an amateur conjuror, and succeeded in extemporizing an entertainment that seemed to amuse and astonish my audience.
There were some well-executed water-colour drawings on the walls representing views of the neighbourhood. These, I was told, were the works of some of the young people present. All that I saw and heard showed me that this was a family of cultivated tastes, and yet it was but typical of many another family among these noble Danish fishing-folk. I marvelled to find poor men who live such rough and arduous lives having such gentle manners and such refined homes. The natural and well-bred courtesy of these kindly people made this reunion contrast very favourably with the average evening party of the London society of to-day. After a supper of home-made cakes, coffee, and aquavit, the glee-singers sang the Danish national hymn and "God save the Queen," and, bidding each other good night, we returned to our several homes.
The following information, which I picked up in Gillelie, may be of use to any of my readers who projects a yachting cruise in the Baltic. A strong oak boat, like those used by these fishermen, can be built at Malmo or in any of the Swedish ports on the Sound at a very moderate cost. For instance, a four-ton oak boat fastened with galvanized iron bolts, twenty-eight feet in length, with nine or ten feet beam, and three and a half feet draught, with all spars, ropes, sails, anchor, chain, four sweeps, and two boat-hooks, will cost forty pounds. The builder could be instructed to put in a commodious cabin in place of a fish-well, and then the yachtsman would have a craft in which he could cruise comfortably from one end of the Baltic to the other.