A Winter In The Frozen Ocean

One stormy winter's evening, in the year 1579, Gerhard de Ver was

sitting in the warm and cheerful parlor of his plain but comfortable

dwelling, in the city of Amsterdam. He was a pleasant, good-natured

man, but evidently weak, and suffering from hardships recently

undergone. As he sat before the fire, in his easy chair, his eye

rested, with evident satisfaction, on a group of young sailors, who

were accustomed to visit him, both to show the sympathy they felt for

the sufferings he had undergone in the service of his native land, and

to gain information from his rich store of experience. After a lively

conversation, in which they had now and then, to their no little joy,

succeeded in bringing a smile to the care-worn face of their patron,

they began to converse together in a low tone of voice, and to show by

their manner that they were about to prefer a very unusual request.

"Father Gerhard," at last began one of the party, "you are well aware

that nothing would give us greater pleasure than the restoration of

your health, and that with you we are impatiently waiting for the

moment when you shall be able to leave your room again, but we know

well enough that when that moment arrives, the irresistible desire of

being useful to your native land, will drive you to distant parts of

the earth, and separate us for a long time again; do not, therefore,

consider it indiscreet if we now remind you of a promise formerly made

to us, and beg you to relate the history of your last voyage to the

Frozen Ocean, which must certainly be as astonishing as instructive;

indeed, the reports which circulate among the neighbors concerning it,

are so incredible that we find it almost impossible to believe them,

without having them confirmed by yourself."

"Truly," replied Gerhard, "you could have chosen no more appropriate

time to remind me of my promise than this evening. The storm, which

now sweeps through the street, and drives the snow against the

windows, brings most vividly to my recollection the wretched hut in

which I and my unhappy companions, of whom few ever saw their homes

again, passed the most miserable portion of our lives, tormented by

hunger and sickness, and in continual dread of the fierce and ravenous

polar bears; shut up in that distant part of the world, where the

winter lasts for eight months, and there is unbroken night from the

beginning of November to the end of January; where the cold is so

intense that it is impossible, even when wrapped up in thick furs, to

remain in the open air for any length of time; where the breath is

changed to rime; where one's hands, nose, and ears, freeze if exposed

to the air for a moment; where brandy is quickly congealed, and

quicksilver becomes hard enough to be struck with a hammer."

"You have roused our curiosity so," remarked the young man, when

Gerhard, who had betrayed considerable warmth of manner, suddenly

ceased speaking, "that it will really be an act of kindness to satisfy

it; therefore, pray commence, at least this evening, a recital of your

adventures, but steer your course so as not to fatigue yourself too

much; sail along gently, for a day's journey, more or less you know,

is of little consequence. But heave the anchor, Father Gerhard, if it

please you."

"In God's name then," said Gerhard, and commenced as follows:

"You all know the difficulties and dangers of a voyage to the East

Indies, but you do not know what wealth may be gained by a commercial

intercourse with those distant regions, or that, as is very natural,

men for a long time have had their attention turned to the discovery

of a nearer route than any one at present known of. At first, repeated

attempts were made to find out a strait which, as many still believe,

divides the continent of America, but as the voyagers met with no

success whatever, their attention was drawn to the Arctic Ocean, which

washes the northern coasts of Asia and Europe. The enterprising

merchants who had been engaged in former expeditions, now resolved to

send one to that part of the world which though so near to them was so

little known. It is true that a small squadron which was sent out for

the purpose, and with which I sailed, failed in reaching its

destination, owing to the advanced state of the season, but it was

found that the northern coast of the continent ran off in a

southeasternly direction, and great hopes were entertained that an

expedition sent out at a more favourable season, would be attended

with the happiest results. Although many who had engaged in

enterprises like these, had lost both money and courage, yet, induced

by the accounts which we brought home, and by my advice, the city of

Amsterdam resolved to make another and final attempt. It fitted out at

its own expense, a couple of vessels, and having provided them with

all things necessary, entrusted them to the care of myself and three

others, viz: Jacob Heemskerk, John Cornelius Ryp, and William


"On the 10th of May, 1569, we left Amsterdam, accompanied by the good

wishes of the whole town, and as a favourable wind filled our sails,

we made our way so rapidly towards the north, that by the 5th of June,

we encountered vast floes of ice, which covered the sea as far as the

eye could reach. Four days later, we discovered land, which was not

noted down on the chart; it proved to be an island some four miles

long, and evidently hitherto unknown. Some of the men took one of the

boats and went ashore; they found many gull's eggs, and had a narrow

escape from losing their lives. They ascended a hill of snow which was

as solid as a block of marble, but in attempting to descend, they

found themselves obliged to slide to the bottom, and were in imminent

danger of being hurled upon the sharp rocks by which it was

surrounded; happily, they received no injury. The next day we had a

hard struggle with a polar bear, for dangerous as these creatures

were, we always felt desirous of attacking them, and we now undertook

to take one alive. Accordingly, seeing a big fellow not far from us,

we took a boat, and set out with the intention of capturing him, by

throwing a noose over his head, but when we came near to him we did

not dare to attack him, on account of the ferocity he exhibited, but

returned for more men, muskets, and pikes. Ryp's people were coming to

our aid; we went after him again, but we were obliged to fight for

more than four hours, as our shots did him very little harm. After

having received a blow in the back with a hatchet, which was wielded

by such a strong arm that it remained sticking in him, he attempted to

swim off, but a cut on the head finished him. We took the carcase on

board Ryp's vessel, and stripped off the hide, which measured twelve

feet in length. The flesh we cooked, and some of us liked it as well

as beef. In consequence of this adventure we named the island 'Bear's


"After remaining here for a few days, we continued our journey towards

the north, and after sailing for ten days, through a sea blocked up

with masses of ice, we arrived at a coast which ran off in an easterly

direction, where we determined to cast anchor. We imagined it to be a

part of Greenland, and as it was formed of sharp pointed hills, we

gave it the name of 'Spitzbergen,' (pointed mountains.) We were not a

little surprised to find an active vegetation existing in this high

latitude, and went on shore to gather sorrel and scurvy grass, which

are excellent preventatives against the scurvy, a disease which, as

you know, breaks out with great violence on board of vessels going so

far north, and is occasioned by a want of fresh meat. We saw also a

great many bears, foxes, and reindeers, and also immense flocks of

wild geese, which we drove from their nests in order to procure their

eggs, which we found excellent.

"As the wind remained unfavorable, and the masses of ice continued

to press closer together, we were obliged to give up our plan of

reaching the most northern point of Spitzbergen, and then sailing

towards the east, and return to Bear's Island. The two captains now

differed in their opinion as to the best course to be pursued; Ryp

persisted that if we were to keep on towards the north, we would

without doubt, reach an open sea, while Barents thought we were

already too far north; so it was finally determined that each

should go his own way. Accordingly, on the 1st of July, the two

vessels parted company, Ryp sailing for Spitzbergen, whilst we

steered towards the south coast. From this moment commenced all the

suffering and danger, which we experienced on our adventurous



"After having with great difficulty and danger, worked our way between

huge blocks of ice, for two weeks, we at last, on the 16th of July, at

noon, came in sight of Nova Zembla, a spot very frequently visited by

whalers, and steered our course along the western shore, as our object

was to sail round the island, in order to make our way towards the

east. But although it was now the middle of summer, we were much

impeded by floating masses of ice, which covered the sea in every

direction, as far as the eye could reach, and obliged us to wait until

an opening offered, through which we might sail. We arrived at last at

an island which from the number of crosses the whalers have there set

up, is called the "Isle of Crosses." Here we anchored to take in a

supply of fresh water. Heemskerk took one of the boats and went

ashore to visit the crosses. I accompanied him, and we were walking

along, not dreaming of danger, when suddenly we came upon a couple of

bears, who were hid near by. As we were totally unprovided with

weapons, we were not a little alarmed at the sight. The bears, as is

customary with these animals, raised themselves on their hind legs, to

find out what was going on, as they can smell further than they can

see. As soon as they became aware of our presence, they came running

towards us. Our hair now actually stood on end at the frightful danger

we ran, and we started off for our boats as fast as we could go. But

Heemskerk, who had far more presence of mind and courage, stood still,

and swore that he would put a boat hook he held in his hand, into the

first man who attempted to fly. 'If we run away one by one in this

way,' cried he, 'some of us will most assuredly be torn to pieces, but

if we stand still and raise a shrill cry all together, the bears will

be frightened and retreat.' We followed his advice, and it turned out

exactly as he predicted, so that whilst the bears stood stupified, we

regained our boat. This shows how good a thing presence of mind is;

fear always rushes into danger sooner than courage.

"After much suffering and danger, we at last reached the northern

extremity of the island, and began to double it. Some of the men, who

had been sent on shore to ascend a mountain, and report what was

visible from it, surprised us with the joyful information that they

believed the sea to be free from ice towards the east. But, alas, the

next day showed how much they had been deceived; we had not sailed

but a few miles further, when we encountered a huge bank of ice, which

rendered further progress in that direction impossible. As the snow

storm every hour raged more fiercely, and the cold grew more intense,

we determined to retrace our course along the eastern shore, in order

to reach the continent, there in some secure harbor to wait for more

favorable weather. But we had only gone a short distance in this

direction, when the ice closed in all around us, and on the

twenty-sixth of August we remained firmly fixed in it. All our

endeavors to float our vessel again, were in vain, and we very nearly

lost three of our best men in the attempt; the ice on which they were

standing suddenly gave way, but fortunately they were near the vessel,

and very active, so they seized hold of the ropes which hung down from

the yards, and clambered on board. It was an anxious moment for all

parties, for they would most assuredly have been driven away with the

ice and lost, had they not been saved by the aid of God, and their own


"The ice was often in motion, but did not break up; but masses of it

piled themselves up in all directions. In consequence of this, our

vessel was hoisted up as if by pulleys, and then thrown on its side

with such a fearful crash, that we expected every moment to see it go

to pieces. We found it necessary to bring the boat and shallop to

land, as in case of the ship's going to pieces, we depended on them

for our safety. We also stored away, under a tent hastily constructed

of sails, provisions, ammunition, and useful tools. The sea was now

covered with ice as far as the eye could reach; part of it swam about

in huge masses, whilst the rest was smooth and firm as a frozen

mill-pond. The cold was now so intense, that we found it impossible to

keep ourselves warm under the upper deck, where the kitchen was, but

were obliged to remove the stove to the hold, and were almost

smothered by the smoke in consequence.

"Some of the men, who had been sent further into the country, to

ascertain its character, brought back the welcome news that there was

a stream of excellent fresh water not far distant, and that along its

banks lay piles of drift wood. As we considered it possible, after

this discovery, to pass the winter here, we gave up the desperate plan

we had formed, of making our way back to the continent in our two

miserable boats, and commenced erecting a roomy and substantial hut.

While thus occupied, we were much troubled by the increasing cold, and

the hungry bears, who lay in wait for us in every direction. In order

to give you a correct picture of our hardships, and miserable life, I

will endeavor to relate to you the most note-worthy events as they

occurred day by day, and in this way to keep the thread of my

narrative unbroken.

"September 1st.--This day we began to build our hut, and transported

to it, on sledges, sufficient drift wood to be used for fires during

the winter, which we piled up in convenient places. Whilst part of the

men were occupied in this arduous task, the rest remained on board the

vessel to prepare the meals, and keep a watch for the safety of those

on shore. One day we received a visit from three huge bears; two of

them came towards the ship, but the third remained hidden behind a

piece of ice. It happened that a tub of salt meat, which we intended

to soak in fresh water, was standing on the shore; one of the bears

ran up to it, and putting his muzzle in, was about to help himself to

a piece, when a shot struck him in the head so cleverly that he fell

dead without a groan. It was curious to see how the second bear stood

gazing at his motionless companion, with a stupified look, and then

walked round him, trying to discover what was the matter with him.

When he found that he could make nothing of him, he left him, and went

away. But we had no idea of trusting the fellow, and as we wished to

go ashore, we armed ourselves with muskets and pikes, in case he

should come back, which he pretty soon did. He raised himself on his

hind legs, in a threatening manner, but one of us shot him in the

stomach, which caused him to sink down with a howl on all fours again,

and make off as fast as he could go. We now took out the entrails of

the dead bear, and placed him on his legs, in order that he might be

frozen, and so preserved until spring, when we intended to take him

home with us. Some time afterwards, one of the men was chased by a

bear, and happened to come by this spot. His pursuer was close on his

heels, but as soon as he saw his immovable companion, who was covered

with snow, his front paws alone being visible, he stopped short, and

approached him. In this way the sailor gained sufficient time to reach

the ship, and alarm us with the cry of 'a bear! a bear!' We hastened

on deck, but not one of us could see, so much had our eyes suffered

with the thick smoke in which we had been obliged to remain during

the bad weather, in order to escape being frozen. Our aid, however,

was not needed, as the bear, when he saw the number of his opponents,

made off in great haste.

"September 24th.--On this day we began to put up the beams of our hut,

as the idea of being obliged to pass a winter here, filled us with

great anxiety; but as the vessel was now firmly embedded in the ice,

and we saw no prospect of getting it free again until the return of

fine weather, we were obliged to make a virtue of necessity, and

submit quietly to our hard fate. We tore up a part of the deck of our

vessel, and made a roof for our hut of it; then we plastered the walls

with pitch, and when, on the second of October, the building was

finished, instead of putting on the roof, as is customary, a pole or

bush, we erected a kind of staff, made of hard snow. We now took our

sleds, and drew tools and provisions to it; but the cold was so

intense that the beer casks burst, and their contents became a solid

mass of ice. After we had, for greater security, drawn the boats on

shore, and turned them upside down, we betook ourselves to our hut,

and arranged every thing within it as well as we were able.


"With the beginning of November, the cold became so intense, that we

could venture out into the air for a very short time only, long enough

merely to collect what fuel we needed, and to set the traps which we

had placed round the hut to catch foxes, which I assure you were

considered quite a dainty by us poor wretches, greedy as we were after

fresh meat. On the 4th of November, the sun was no longer visible,

and a long and dreary night set in. All the light we had came from the

moon, aurora borealis, and the lamps which we hung around our hut, and

fed with bear's fat. The only consolation left us was that with the

sun the bears had left us, and we could now leave the hut without

danger of being devoured. The cold still continued to increase hourly,

and we were obliged to distribute our stock of clothing among the men,

in order to protect them better against the frost, yet in spite of

every precaution, hands and feet which were wrapped up in thick furs

and cloths, became stiff and numb, when only a few paces from the

fire. The best protection against the cold, we found to be heated

stones. We felt the want of spirituous liquors sadly; those we had,

froze, and when thawed lost both strength and flavour. Our health,

however, was much better than we had reason to expect, when our mode

of life is taken into consideration; but this, I imagine was owing to

the good advice of the surgeon to bathe daily, which we always did.

One morning, towards the end of November, one of us wishing to leave

the hut, found the door tightly closed by the snow, and was obliged to

dig through it. This work we had to repeat daily, or otherwise we

should have been completely buried. On the 16th of November, we found

that we had used all the fuel that was in the hut, and were therefore,

obliged to dig out of the snow the rest of what we had gathered for

use, and bring it into our dwelling. We worked alternately in couples,

and had to make all the haste we could, for in spite of fox-skins and

extra clothing, we were not able to endure the cold long. Until the

29th of December, we experienced dreadful weather; snow fell in

abundance, and for three days we were unable to leave the hut. On the

evening of the fourth day, it moderated somewhat, and one of the

sailors ventured to make a hole through the wall, near to the door,

and creep through it in order to see how things stood without. He came

back pretty soon and told us that the snow was piled up higher than

the hut, and that it was just as cold as ever; he said that if he had

not returned, his ears would have been frozen. On the 29th of

December, some of the men dug the door free again, and made a kind of

a tunnel through the snow, out of which we emerged as from a cellar.

But all our trouble was in vain, for the next day another fall of snow

blocked up the door, and made us prisoners again. Stormy days were the

more unendurable, as the fire would not burn, but filled the hut with

smoke. At such times we commonly lay in our beds, which like the walls

of the hut, were covered with a thick coating of ice, whenever the

fire did not burn brightly. Whilst in this unpleasant situation, one

of us happened to remember that there was a good store of coals on

board the vessel, and the most hardy of the party immediately made an

attempt to bring them to the hut, and after great exertions, succeeded

in their attempt. We immediately kindled a good fire, and for the

first time an agreeable warmth spread through the room. In order

better to retain it, we stopped up the hole we had made to let the

smoke escape, and merrier than usual, went to bed and began chatting

together; but soon, giddiness and then stupefaction attacked us, and

had not one of the party had the presence of mind to crawl to the

door and open it, we would soon have been suffocated by the poisonous

gas which came from the coal. Thus ended the year 1596. The next year

commenced with the same unpleasant weather, so that we were obliged to

pass New Year's day in the house. We had now used up all our split

wood, and on account of the cold, were unable to go out to procure

more. On the 5th of January, the weather at last moderated, and we got

the door open, cleaned the house out, and split some more wood, as we

were afraid that we should again be buried by the snow. After working

hard all day, we began in the evening to talk about home, and it

occurred to us that our countrymen were at that very moment

celebrating one of their merriest festivals, namely, that of the Three

Kings. We determined, therefore, to forget our sad lot for a while,

and prepare a little feast. Each one of the men put by some of his

biscuit, and the captain gave some wine. We now made a good wine soup,

and prepared also some pancakes, which we made of a couple of pounds

of starch which had been taken on board for the purpose of pasting

cartridges, and some oil; the biscuits we soaked in wine. We now

celebrated the evening in fine style, and for the time, forgot our sad

lot, and imagined ourselves once more surrounded by our friends and

relations. In this way we enjoyed our humble meal as much as if it had

been a sumptuous feast. We got into such a good humor that we chose a

king, as it is customary to do on such occasions, and saluted him by

the title of "Lord of Nova Zembla," a kingdom which though of

considerable size, is not very well provided with either inhabitants

or revenue.

"On leaving the hut next day, we found the air a little less keen, and

felt that since the snow had ceased to fall, the cold had somewhat

abated. We could now hope to see the sun before long, and on the 8th

of January we really perceived a faint glimmering in the sky, at which

we rejoiced not a little. Eight days later we perceived a reddish

tinge, which we hailed as the harbinger of the near approach of the

sun. We perceived, also, a slight warmth in the wind, which, joined to

the heat of our fire, partially melted the ice on the walls of the

hut, which, until now, had remained perfectly solid. As the glimmering

light grew stronger every day, we at length ventured, well-armed, to

the ship, which still remained in the same position as formerly, but

had been frequently visited by bears, as their footsteps in the snow

plainly showed. We took a light, and descended into the hold, where we

found the water a foot in depth, and frozen perfectly tight.

"As the weather remained fair, we went out into the open air daily.

Our usual resort was a hill about a half mile distant, from which we

brought stones to our hut, and heated them, in order to warm our beds.

It now grew brighter every day, and we were soon able to amuse

ourselves by shooting with a cross-bow, using for a mark the top of

our snowy flag-staff, which, until now, we had been unable to see.

Indeed, we took exercise in any way possible, and endeavored by

throwing, running, and other gymnastic sports, to restore strength and

suppleness to our half frozen limbs. The foxes, in capturing whom we

had formerly been so busily engaged, now suddenly vanished, a sure

sign of the re-appearance of the bears. These dangerous beasts soon

visited us again, and the war against them was renewed; they evidently

came from some more southerly climate, where they had been passing the

long winter, as they were very fat. They often endeavored to break

open the door of the hut, and one of them even clambered upon the

roof, and endeavored to get inside through the hole we had made to

allow the smoke to escape; it required the united energies of all of

us to defeat his intentions.

"The 27th of January was a sad day for us, for on it one of our party

died. He had been sick at the building of the hut, and we had been

obliged to convey him to it on a sled. We buried him in the snow, with

a prayer, and held a funeral feast to his honor; but we soon recovered

our wonted flow of spirits, as we were now confidently expecting a

speedy release from the wretched situation in which we had been


"The cold continued unbroken for three months longer, although it was

not so severe as formerly. Our provisions now gave out, and on the 3rd

of May we cooked our last piece of pork. During the latter part of May

we began to make preparations for our journey, and as we found our

ship was no longer sea-worthy, we dug out the shallop and boat, which

had been protected by the deep snow. We spent all the month of May in

mending and fitting out these two vessels. Whilst we were prosecuting

this work, we were more than once in great danger of being torn to

pieces by the bears. We shot a great many of them, but it happened we

found them more dangerous when dead than when alive. Being greatly in

want of food we cooked a liver of one of them, and found it very

palatable, but all of us fell sick in consequence, and some were so

very ill that their lives were despaired of; they were covered from

head to foot with a loathsome eruption. However, they at last

recovered, for which we thanked God most sincerely, for had we lost

them, the rest of us would not have had sufficient strength to launch

the boats. In spite of this warning one of the men was imprudent

enough, one day, to bring a pot of bear's liver to the fire, as he was

hungry; but Heemskerk, who was standing by, threw it out of the


"The weather often grew milder, and the sea began to be free from ice,

but a single north wind brought back the most intense cold, and the

sea was again covered with ice. In the meanwhile we worked hard to get

out of our leaky vessel all that was necessary for our dangerous

voyage, but suddenly we experienced a more dreadful storm of snow,

hail, and rain, than had yet overtaken us, and which we did not expect

at this time of the year. The weather was so bad that we were obliged

to leave every thing and retreat to the hut. But we found this in a

miserable condition, for we had used the boards, of which the roof was

composed, to mend our vessels, and a piece of sail, which had taken

their place, answered its purpose so badly that the hut was full of

water. Often and often did our courage sink, and we give up in

despair, but Heemskerk always cried, 'If you do not wish to remain in

Nova Zembla, and dig your graves in the snow, you must exert all your

remaining strength to equip the boats, on which depend all our hopes

of safety.' These words acted like an electrical shock on us, and

spurred us on to do what seemed almost impossible.

"In the beginning of June, we dragged the two boats to the vessel, in

order, when all was ready, to take them from there to the edge of the

ice and launch them into the sea. Suddenly another storm arose

unexpectedly, and we were in constant dread lest the ice should break

up, and all our property be lost. In that case there would be no hope

for us; but Providence watched over us, and the storm passed by, and

did us not the slightest harm. We had now to perform our last but most

difficult task, viz: to open a passage through the ice from the ship

to the open sea, through which we might take the shallop. This, after

incredible toil, we accomplished, and loaded our two boats with the

tools and provisions we had just taken from the wreck, which consisted

of thirteen casks of biscuits, and several more of bacon, oil, and

wine. Then being all ready, we started on our voyage on the morning of

the 14th of June, 1597.


"In high spirits and full of courage, we now began a voyage, which

certainly was the most remarkable ever undertaken. Crowded together in

two wretched, open, and heavily laden boats, we had to cross a space

of not less than two hundred miles, in order to reach the nearest

shore, and this in a climate where the middle of summer is as cold as

our severest winters, and upon a sea covered with huge masses of ice,

which at one moment are stationary, and in the next hurled together by

a storm, with terrific force. Besides, we were weak from our previous

exertions, and had not really the strength to strive successfully

against the dangers which threatened us.

"As the eastern shore of Nova Zembla appeared to be bound up with

unbroken ice, Barents, with admirable prudence, had advised us to

steer towards the north, so that having passed round the northern

point of land, we might reach the western coast, and from there run

for some Russian port, where we might hope to meet some vessel bound

for the Netherlands. We had not gone far on this projected route, when

we found ourselves so hemmed in by icebergs, as to be totally unable

to make any further progress. Such an unpropitious commencement would

have disheartened many men, but fortunately, we were accustomed to

danger and disappointment in every shape; so we kept up our spirits,

and cast anchor in order to wait until the breaking up of the ice

should afford us an opportunity of proceeding on our journey again. In

the meantime we employed ourselves in seeking bird's eggs for our

sick, of whom we now had several, and in melting snow by the fire for

drinking water. On the 15th of June, the ice in which we were

embedded, broke up, and a favorable wind springing up, our men handled

their oars so well, that by the 17th we had reached the most northerly

point of the island. But, unfortunately, on the same day the icebergs

were put in such violent agitation by a storm, and struck the boats

with such force, that the boldest grew disheartened. We took a last

farewell of each other, and expected every moment would be our last.

In this fearful extremity we held a consultation as to what was best

to be done; no other means of safety could we see, than to work our

way out of the floating ice, and get upon some iceberg. But all our

endeavors to get alongside of one of these were in vain, and unable to

endure longer the lamentations of my companions, I caught hold of the

end of a rope, and leaped like a frog from one place to another, until

I reached the firm ice. As the rope was fastened to the two boats,

they were quickly drawn to the spot I had reached, when the men took

out their cargoes and pulled them upon the ice. We found they were so

much injured by striking against the ice, as to need a thorough

overhauling, which we set about without delay. The driftwood, which

lay along the shore in considerable quantities, now stood us in good

need, as by means of it we were enabled to boil our pitch and tar.

"For four long and dreary days had we lain among ice and snow, when a

south wind sprang up, and once more opened a passage for us. We

hastily launched our boats again, and put their cargoes into them; but

hardly had we commenced to row when we found ourselves surrounded by

masses of ice again, and were obliged to pick our way out of them with

great difficulty; at last we reached the open sea once more, and were

able to continue our voyage until the 25th of June, when we were

obliged to cast anchor again near a field of ice. At the same time a

violent storm arose, and drove our miserable crafts to sea, where they

were tossed about in great danger of being dashed to pieces against an

iceberg, or upset by the wind. Our men now employed what little

strength they had left in striving to get back to the land, but as

this could not be done by simple rowing, we ventured to hoist a small

sail, which we had scarcely done when the foremast of the boat I

commanded suddenly broke in two places, and I found myself obliged, in

order to keep up with the shallop, to raise the mainsail, which,

however, I had to lower again immediately, or my boat would have been

inevitably upset.

"We now deemed our destruction inevitable, as the storm of wind, which

had hitherto blown from the south, suddenly changed to the north-east,

and drove us from the shore. In the meanwhile the shallop had

vanished, and we sought for it in vain for a long time, owing to a

thick fog which covered the sea. At last I ordered some shots to be

fired, and to my great joy they were answered by others from the

shallop. I afterwards employed this means of finding the whereabouts

of our comrades with great success on all such occasions.

"On the 28th of June we were again shut in, and obliged to anchor

alongside of an iceberg. As we were much fatigued by the incessant

tossing about of the boats, we erected a tent on it, and determined to

pass the night there; but that we might sleep in safety, we set a

watch, and it was a happy thing for us that we did so, for at midnight

we received a visit from three immense bears, who, had we not been on

our guard, would most assuredly have made a comfortable meal off of

some of us. At the cry of 'Bears! bears!' we seized our muskets, and

although they were loaded with shot merely, fired them at the animals,

who were so stupefied at the inhospitable reception their friendly

visit met with, that they allowed us time to load with ball. One of

them had fallen at the first fire, and the two others made off in all

haste. Pretty soon, however, they changed their minds, and coming

back, dragged their dead comrade away with them for a short distance,

and then set to work to devour him. As soon as we remarked this, we

let them have another shot, and this time they ran off in earnest.

Four of us now went to look at the carcass of the dead bear, and found

to our no little astonishment that they had devoured half of it. The

wind, on this and the two following days, blowing from the same

quarter, we were obliged to remain where we were.

"The night of the 1st of July, was one of the most fearful and

dangerous that we had as yet experienced. The storm gradually

increased in violence, and at last by hurling the floating masses of

ice against the firm bank on which we were encamped, broke off that

portion of it which held our boats, so that they got loose and were

driven away. Many bundles and casks fell into the sea, and it was with

great difficulty, that by springing from place to place, we succeeded

in securing our boats, in which were the sick. After the storm was

somewhat abated, we endeavored to collect our provisions and tools

together, but alas, missed a great many which were very necessary for

the completion of our voyage. Whilst one half of the men were thus

employed, the others went over the ice to the land, in order to get a

tree that they might mend the broken mast of the shallop. They found

not only what they sought, but also, wedges for splitting wood, and

wood already split, from which we judged that men had been in this

place before.

"About this time we lost two of our men, who had been sick for some

time, having been obliged to be carried from our hut to the boat, when

we started on our voyage. When Barents, who had also been ailing,

heard this, he assured us that his end too was approaching, but as he

at the same time regarded with attention, a chart of that part of the

country which we had seen, which I had prepared, we did not believe he

was so ill, and paid but little attention to his words. Pretty soon,

however, he laid down the chart and asked for water; but hardly had he

drank, when suddenly he bowed his head and died, to the great grief of

all of us. We lost in him a brave comrade and intelligent man, on

whose skill rested most of our hopes of again seeing our native land.

"Sorrowing deeply, we continued on our journey, and at length, on the

4th of August, reached the Russian coast, after having suffered much

from the cold, and also from the scurvy, which on account of the want

of fresh provisions, had broken out among us. We landed to try and

find some signs of life, but could see no habitations, and the ground

produced nothing but wild shrubs. Some of the party proposed that we

should continue our journey by land; but as we could easily lose our

way, and fall into great danger, in a desert, which was very likely

filled with wild animals, the majority decided in favor of continuing

along the coast. But we could not hold out much longer, for our

provisions were reduced to a few mouldy biscuits; the most of us,

tormented as we were by hunger and sickness, would have welcomed death

as a happy release. Happily, however, we discovered a Russian barque

coming towards us under full sail; when she reached us, Heemskirk

went on board, and taking some money in one hand, pointed with the

other to a cask of fish which stood on deck. The Russians understood

him, took the money, and gave him the fish, together with some little

cakes. Half starved as we were, we rejoiced greatly at this purchase,

and hastened to refresh ourselves with the food.

"We now very often met Russian vessels, and they sold or gave us, very

readily, a part of their scanty stock of provisions. By the 20th of

August, we reached the western shore of the White Sea, and by good

luck arrived at a spot where some little houses were standing. We

entered them and were received with great kindness by their owners,

who were poor Russian fishermen. They led us into a warm room, where

we could dry our wet clothes, and gave us a meal of good fish and


"After continuing our journey for several days more, we were obliged,

by a storm, to land again, and found a hut where three men dwelt. They

cordially welcomed us, and when at their request we had told them our

story, informed us that a vessel from the Netherlands was at anchor at

Kola, a Russian port not many miles distant. We entreated them to go

with one of our party to Kola by land, but as they could not go

themselves they sent a messenger, who in a few days returned without

our comrade, but with a letter, through which we learnt to our joy and

astonishment, that Ryp himself, the commander of the other vessel,

from whom we had separated at Bear's Island, had arrived at Kola in

safety, after seeking for an eastern passage in vain.

"It was not long before he arrived himself, in a boat loaded with

provisions, and after a warm greeting we took, for the first time

since many days, our usual food and drink. Favored by the wind,

Heemskerk soon brought us to Kala, where the Russian governor listened

with great sympathy to the history of our adventures and sufferings,

and ordered our two boats to be preserved as memorials of our wondrous


"On the 18th of September we set sail, and after a prosperous voyage

entered the Meuse. From there we went to Amsterdam, and doubtless it

is still fresh in your memories, how we were conducted into the town,

dressed in the fox skins we had worn at Nova Zembla, and followed by

the acclamations of the whole population."

Father Gerhard ceased speaking, and for a while the young people kept

silent too, so much had they been astonished by the recital of such

strange adventures. Most did they marvel at the calm resignation of

the voyagers to their sad fate, and they hoped that in the voyages

which they themselves might hereafter make, that they should have as

excellent and brave companions.

They now thanked their patron for the trouble he had taken to gratify

them, and with a hearty squeeze of the hand wished him good night.

A Tornado At Sea Account Of The Loss Of His Majesty's Ship Phoenix facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail