Wind from Danyari
Wind from Danyari
The Dutch East Indiaman, Zuytdorp, on its voyage to the Dutch East Indies port of Batavia, ran into an unexpected storm as night came on. It was one of those squally things: a threatening cloud mass bearing down on them with frightening speed as the ship ran under short sail before a northwesterly gale.
Jan Bakker, a burly man in his late twenties and the first mate, was worried they might be too near Eendrachtsland, the great south land. He hated this blind sailing when he didn’t know what lay ahead. You couldn’t rely on dead reckoning. If he were Marinus, the captain, he’d turn north now and make a run to the Sundra Straits.
He watched the storm approaching. The dark clouds spread across the horizon, blotting out the setting sun. The wind caught the sails before they had time to haul them down and the sea turned into a raging animal. Hugh swells swept across the deck of the ship, taking everything not battened down.
Jan held to the rigging to stop from being washed overboard. Rain whipped his face and hands. He ducked his head when lightning struck the topmast. A wind gust, stronger than any before, drove the Zuytdorp forward.
Willem, the sixteen-year-old cabin boy who held onto the rigging near Jan, shouted over the noise of the flapping sails, “It’s damn different to what it was a couple of hours ago. It’s been sunny with a fine breeze all week, then we ran into this.”
Jan barely heard Willem’s voice above the storm’s din.
“Look forward.” Willem yelled as lightning flashed around them.
Ahead, out of the rain and darkness loomed cliffs more than twenty times higher than the Zuytdorp, then were lost in a veil of rain and spray. Jan thought he’d imagined them, then the lightning flashed and the cliffs were there again.
The lookout had seen them too. He shouted a warning to the captain.
Marinus bawled orders to tack.
Men sprang into action as they tried to turn the Zuytdorp from smashing against the cliffs.
We should have turned north before the storm hit, Janthought, as he strained on the ropes, nearly pulling his heart out. These big square-riggers couldn’t tack effectively before a gale. When he thought the Zuytdorp would smash head onto the cliffs, the ship swung aside. “Thank God, we’ve escaped,” he muttered as he held on to the rigging and tried to get his breath.
The sound of grating came over the piecing noise of wind and driving rain. The men in the rigging stared in horror at each other.
The deck tilted as the Zuytdorp ripped her bottom out on the rocky platform and left her lead ballast on the sea floor. The surf swept over the angled deck as the rising sea drove the ship sideways towards the cliffs. The hull crashed on the reef with each monstrous wave. Cannon broke loose and hurtled across the deck. A mast snapped and fell in a tangle of rigging and sails.
Those who weren’t injured, killed or swept overboard in the first minutes of the disaster, clung to the rigging.
Jan hung on through the night, enduring the biting wind and teeming rain. Before dawn, the wind dropped and the rain eased as the sun came up.
Cold and exhausted, the survivors stared at the calamity surrounding them. The flooded ship had heeled over on its side against the reef as the surging sea pushed it towards the rocky shoreline.
Willem fought his way along the sloping deck to reach Jan. “We’ll have to get to shore. The ship will break up on the reef.” As he spoke, a huge wave emerged from nowhere and beat over the Zuytdorp’s deck in boiling white foam.
Jan stared at the rocky platform between the Zuytdorp and the land as the sea rose and crashed over it. “It will be risky getting to shore. A man could be dashed to death against the rocks.”
“We can’t stay here.” Willem’s gaze followed Jan’s. “We don’t know how long the ship will hold together.”
Waves taller than houses crashed over the decks. The wind might have died, but the sea didn’t look like it was ever going to calm.
“I’ll tie a rope around my waist and make a dash across the ledge,” Willem said.
How like the resilience of youth to think he’ll succeed, Jan thought. A rope won’t save him if the sea smashes him against the rocks, but he knew if anyone could make it, it would be an agile young man like Willem.
From the fallen mast, Willem cut a length of rope and tied it to him. “Does it look secure enough?” he asked as he pulled at the knot to make sure it was tight.
Jan tested the knot. “It’s as secure as you’ll get it, but whether you reach shore will be in the hands of the gods.”
“In luck, you mean.” Willem gave the other end of the rope to Jan before he climbed over the side of the boat. He stood on the ledge with the water surging to his waist and tried to keep his balance. Before he could steady himself, a wave washed over him and knocked him over.
For a moment, Jan thought he would be crushed between the Zuytdorp and the ledge, but the boy clambered to his feet and struggled through the boiling surf.
Jan held to the rope, ready to pull him back if he was swept into the sea. He glanced at the other twenty or so crew who stared over the ship’s side at Willem, their expressions dazed as if they couldn’t comprehend what had happened. He took in their identities. He hadn’t seen Marinus since he’d heard him screaming out orders last night to the crew before the ship hit the reef. There were ten or more bodies floating in the sea. He couldn’t see if Marinus was one of them.
He watched Willem negotiate the slippery rocks in spite of the waves crashing against him. Once he slipped and fell under the raging water. When the water receded, Willem regained his feet and stumbled the few paces to shore. Undoing the rope from his waist, he looped it around a boulder and tied it as taut as he could. He waved his arms and shouted to Jan, but the words were lost in the surf’s roar.
A wave crashed across the disabled rigging. Too much of that and she wouldn’t stay in one piece long, Jan thought, as the rush of water receded. Lucky Willem to have reached the shore before that monster arrived. It would have dragged him into the fury of surf and rocks, and smashed his body to a pulp. The rope wouldn’t have saved him.
Jan made his end of the rope secure to the deck, then said to the survivors, “Who will go next?” When no one spoke, he continued, “We’ll die if we stay on the Zuytdorp. The ship will break up.”
The men stared at him. They looked too traumatized to make a move. Jan knew he had to show leadership by example now Marinus was dead. “Okay. I’ll go. When I reach the shore, you follow.”
He climbed over the ship’s side and grasped the rope. Placing one foot after the other on the slippery rock surface, he struggled across the ridge between the stricken Zuytdorp and the shore. When he was within arm’s length of Willem, a wave bigger than any of the others crashed against him and swept his feet from under him. He clung to the rope as the undertow tried to drag him into the sea.
Willem stepped into the water and pulled him to safety through the foaming water and up onto the rocks out of reach of the raging waves.
Dripping wet, Jan scrambled to his feet. His head bled from a gash on his forehead and his hands were torn and cut from the sharp rocks. He stared at the Zuytdorp askew against the ledge. From here it was worse seeing the ship he loved and been proud to sail in pounded to pieces. It was a bad dream, a nightmare he’d wake from.
He waved to the men left on the ship. As he watched, one slipped over the side and began the perilous journey across the ledge.
Willem returned twice to the Zuytdorp to help a shocked survivor reach shore. By late afternoon, everyone stood on the cliff top, staring at the stricken ship.
Jan counted twenty-nine survivors. We are all there’s left of a crew of two hundred souls, he thought in anguish.
During the days that followed, the men built a bonfire of branches, which they dragged from the bush. They talked about the Kochenge, the faster Zuytdorp had left behind a day out from the Cape. The Kochenge would see the bonfire and send a boat to rescue them. Their other hope was the Belvliet, scheduled to leave the Cape soon after the Zuytdorp. Following her, three more Company ships were expected to depart. Everyone agreed they wouldn’t have long to wait before they were rescued. Jan shaded his eyes in the bright sunshine. Please God, please don’t let the ships pass by in the night.
When the men awoke to find the sea calm, they could scarcely believe it after the raging waters of the past week. There was hardly a whitecap to be seen. The remains of the Zuytdorp rose above the flat sea, awash with the little waves running onto the ledge and back into the sea.
The men made their way across the rocky platform to the Zuytdorp. When they reached the ship, they worked fast to salvage what they could. They suspected this gentle lull was unlikely to last.
By late afternoon the sea had come up again. Waves that would knock a man off his feet and sweep him into the sea, smashed in vengeance against the ship and the rocky shoreline.
The men had rescued enough barrels of food from the ship to last months, but drinking water would be a problem. Now water lay in pools in the limestone gullies, but Jan knew they would have to find other sources of water.
They brought wine and spirits from the wreck. The heap of empty green bottles grew. Jan stepped around two men wrestling on the ground, too drunk to hurt themselves. They were fools who had forgotten their plight. Wine and spirits were the masters now. With the captain dead, he as first mate had tried to take command, but they had ignored him.
“I can see a sail,” a voice shouted from the cliff top.
Jan scrambled up the cliff face to hear the sailor who held the telescope say, “It was only a mirage of clouds.”
The men drifted away. One stopped to gaze at a pile of green bottles, many of which had been smashed when thrown onto the heap.
Jan sat on a limestone block at the head of the steep track, which everyone used to climb down to the Zuytdorp. One of the ship’s masts still stood upright. The surf had driven the hull into the shallow water beside the rock platform. The tears ran down Jan’s cheeks. He’d sailed in her through many an ocean storm, but now ill luck and incompetence had doomed her. Images of Tanneke, his little daughter, named for his mother, and Els, his wife, overwhelmed him. Dear little Tanny and Els. He wiped the tears from his eyes. Poor Els wouldn’t know of his shipwreck on this desolate coast.
Willem joined him. They watched Dirk and Leon, the only two soldiers who survived the wreck, struggle to remove one of the cannon from the Zuytdorp. “Why do they want to bring a cannon ashore?” Willem asked.
“They’ll never do it in this surf.” Jan thought of the wild North Sea out of Rotterdam. It was never as constantly rough as this treacherous sun-drenched coast. “Why do they worry about the inhabitants attacking us?” He watched Dirk and Leon scramble defeated across the rock ledge. “The land and the sun are our greatest enemies, not the inhabitants of this country.”
Willem shaded his eyes against the harsh glare and peered seawards. “Is that a sail?” He grabbed the telescope from the wooden box, which was weighed down with stones for safety. “It is a sail,” he cried.
Jan snatched the telescope. Against the vivid blue of the sky, he saw the topsails of a ship. It was a ship! He tried to keep calm, but his excitement overwhelmed him. He grabbed Willem’s shoulder. “It is a ship. We’re going to be rescued.”
“I knew we would be. I didn’t doubt it for a moment.” Willem ran to the gully where the men had gathered to smoke their clay pipes out of the wind, shouting, “There’s a ship. There’s a ship.”
As one, the men rushed to the cliff top. A man whipped the telescope from Jan and held it to his eye. “I knew we’d be rescued.”
“Light the bonfire. Light the bonfire,” the men cried, milling around on the cliff top.
Someone struck a spark from a flint against a bundle of dry grass. Another man knelt beside him and blew on the little wavering flame. “Not too hard,” warned the man who held the flint. “You’ll blow it out.”
The grass leapt into flame. They thrust on more bundles of grass and leaves until the stack of wood flamed into the sky. “They’re sure to see it,” a man cried as they flung on wooden chests and broken planks washed ashore from the Zuytdorp.
“It’s too late to send a boat tonight. They’ll wait until morning.” They assured each other. They kept the fire burning all night. When morning came, there was only the turbulent green sea, the pitiless blue sky and the sun.
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