THE ROB ROY IN THE BALTIC.
HARPER'S NEW MONTHLY MAGAZINE
1867, pages 430-442
AMONG the remarkable voyages which have attracted the attention of
Christendom since Columbus discovered America, and Captain Cook
circumnavigated the globe, the canoe cruises of amateur Captain J.
MacGregor, M.A., Trinity College, Cambridge, deserve a place. The
readers of the Magazine, some months ago, followed the course of the
stanch little Rob Roy in her trip of a thousand miles. But although
that expedition was a great success, the master of that enterprising
craft was not entirely satisfied with when he was in search of
perfection. So he carefully designed another canoe, with every
excellence possessed by the original Rob Roy, and a hundred more; and
this, having been tested on many lakes and seas, proved to be the
owner's beau ideal -- he has been unable to find a fault in her build.
The new canoe -- also christened Rob Roy -- was built of
oak, except the top streak, which was of mahogany, and the deck of
cedar. She was shorter, narrower, shallower, lighter, and stronger than
her predecessor, being only fourteen feet long, twenty-six inches
broad, eight and one-half inches deep, and weighed, with all fittings
complete, seventy-one pounds. He, she, or it was designed to sail
steadily, to paddle easily, to float lightly, to turn readily, and to
bear rough usage on stones and banks, and in carts, railways, and
steamers; to be durable and dry, as well as comfortable and safe.
Mr. MacGregor's theory was that "a canoe ought to fit a
man like a coat;" and to secure this the measure of the man should be
taken thus: The first regulating standard is the length of the man's
feet, which will determine the height of the canoe from keel to deck;
next, the length of his leg, which governs the size of the "well;" and
then the weight of the crew and luggage, which regulates the
displacement to be provided for. The Captain was measured, and the
canoe fitted. She was furnished with a little basket of cooking things,
and rice, soup, tea, coffee, chocolate, sugar, salt, and a good supply
of biscuits, also with a spirit furnace; the whole affair in the basket
weighing only about three pounds, and the owner's personal luggage for
a three months' tour weighing nine pounds. It was a mathematical
problem to decide how many inches of portable soup, how many ounces of
rice, squares of chocolate, cups of coffee essence, and spoonsful of
tea should make up the cargo; but when this problem was solved the
captain, mate, crew, and passengers of the Rob Roy were ready to
commence a canoe cruise through Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Schleswig,
Holstein, the North Sea, and the Baltic.
Two days in a steamer from London brought Mr. MacGregor
and his canoe to the town of Christiana; thence by the railway that
runs along the lovely Glommen River, they were carried to Konigsvinger,
about sixty miles northeast of Christiana. Norway and Sweden are
covered with an entanglement of waters in rivers, lakes, and pools,
netted together all over the broad surface for a thousand miles; and
our enterprising canoeist resolved to push his way through these, in
some way or other, to Stockholm.
In giving a brief sketch of this tour, we shall keep,
without special marks of quotation, the form of a personal narrative.
And the reader must fancy himself listening to a recital of adventures
by the justly proud owner of this little skiff.
The next morning after arriving at Konigsvinger, the Rob Roy
was placed in a dresine -- a carriage on the railway, moved by cranks
and treadles, as a velocipede is worked, and to which vehicle there
clung as many persons as could hold on. We rumbled along until the
shore of a small lake was reached, when the Rob Roy was carried over
the rank grass, and gently launched upon the water, amidst cheerful
smiles and encouraging glances from many visitors.
The Rob Roy's engine soon settled down to work with a
regular swing; and the even stroke of the dark-blue blades were long
and strong in the new water. Then the mind, placid in solitude, turned
itself inward, thinking of the length of the journey -- the possible
perils of the enterprise -- the unknown difficulties to be met, the
mysterious future of incidents to happen, the strange people and queer
languages, and curious nights and days, the falls and deeps the rapids
and shallows, the waves and whirlpools, the upsets and groundings, the
calm and breezes. These and all the other countless varied features of
a lonely water journey in foreign land were all imagined with an eager
intense longing to meet them every one.
At the end of the quiet lake, wooded thickly to its edge,
the map showed a river; but, alas no river was there; and as I wondered
in silence the quiet woods resounded with the blast of a trumpet. In a
deep, sequestered nook there were three companies of men drilling
amidst the trees.
Every man of them had caught sight of the Rob Roy, and
though they marched on in column, all had "Eyes right," for all were
staring sideways at the canoe. The officer, being a wise man, dismissed
his array, and down they rushed en masse to the water.
The captain explained to me in French that they were the
local Landvehr, camping out for six days; and as the men crowded round,
each holding his hat in his hand whenever he came within a certain
radius of his captain's august presence; and caressing the little canoe
with smiles of pleasure, he posted a sentry with fixed bayonet to guard
the Rob Roy, lying on the green rushes in the sun; and led me off to
his hut, so prettily garnished with nasturtiums and pictures.
After refreshments were served a cart was got, and we
started for another lake. The soldier leading the horse allowed it to
go too fast, and in vain I shouted to stop. All the others shouted too.
Off started the spirited nag downhill, and dragging the man after him,
until the pace quickened into a full gallop; the more we shouted the
worse it was; the horse kicked and plunged, and overthrew the man; then
darting into a corn-field, he rushed headlong down to a gate, where the
cart was dashed to pieces, the wheels going one way, while the shafts
and canoe were dragged along at a racing pace, till at another fence
the whole was overturned amidst a crash of broken palings. While
running at full speed I endeavored to become cheerfully resigned to the
terrible catastrophe, and even to arrive at the scene with a laugh,
which was probably hysteric. I heeded not the broken cart and the
runaway horse, but rushed to my canoe.
I turned her over as one would tenderly handle a child
thrown from a carriage; and what was my wonder to find she was
perfectly whole -- only the flagstaff broken, and one or two ribs, and
scarcely a scratch on the fine varnish, and not one crack in the cedar
deck. Nay, there was not a bottle broken in my stores, and all this
because she had made a somersault on the paling just broken, as she
landed on it most happily on her strong oak stem, which still hears a
deep mark, but no other injury.
A new cart took us to Oklangen Lake, deep and dark, with
matted trees and luxuriant plants overgrowing its rocky sides. The roar
of a waterfall announced that a river was near; so, after landing and
satisfying hunger with soup and biscuits, we launched on this river,
which for miles was like a little trout stream, with purling ripples
and long pools quite concealed by thick foliage, tangled ferns, and
fallen larches, drooping so low as to cause me to stoop again and
again. Sometimes I had to wade; but the warm sun made it pleasant to
dabble in the bright crystal stream, and chase the water-ouzels or
grasp at the fish, always, however, in vain.
Another lake : and with it new pleasures, grander distances,
lofty cliffs, rocks, and islets, stately trees, lively waves; or, in
the evening sunlight, a beautiful picture on the liquid mirror, with
floating clouds piled high in the air, is reflected from below. But
these clouds are not always so romantic and so far out of reach. Soon
they closed round, and very prosaic rain teemed forth and hissed again
on the surface of the lake. There was no eluding this straight
downpour, and the crew might have mutinied had we gone on much longer
in a deluge; so it was determined to stop at the only house, and to
fish in the evening if the rain should cease. I put the Rob Roy safe
under a bank, and walked through thick bushes to the humble dwelling.
Only an old woman was inside -- all the men were away; but
we praised the scones she was baking, so she brought them in with
coffee, but was evidently uncertain whether it might not all be he a
dream to see, for the very first time in her life, a grown man dressed
in gray flannel, and talking what sounded to her like gibberish, yet
manifestly very well able to eat like the mortals of her acquaintance.
The worthy old dame was persuaded by signs to give me a
room; and I coolly pulled the canoe right into this bedroom. My bed, to
be sure, was only straw, though the lady gave me a sheepskin -- and a
great population in it -- to sleep upon, with my cork seat and
macintosh for a pillow. The surrender of comfort which was made to the
inhabitants of the sheepskin was compensated for in some measure by the
fresh air of the morning, the new sun of another day, and the soft dip
of the blue-bladed oar.
In this northern tour, among lakes and intricate seas, it is
not always easy to "find the way." There is either no current to guide
you, or an unseen one which deceives; and there are countless islands
to mislead. You sit so low in the boat that one tree-clad rock may hide
for an hour the very bay you are in search of. The sun behind the
clouds is no index, and the wind changes with every bend of the shores.
A compass, unless the needle is six inches long, only puzzles your
pate. It gives the general direction; but what you want is the right or
left of a particular islet perhaps only a hundred yards long. But one
charm of the canoe trip is this very demand upon that instinct -- for,
after all, it is something like the faculty of an animal -- which,
being developed by months of travel in this manner, enables you to say,
with confidence, "I feel sure that the inlet to such a village is
behind that rock."
In most of these lakes you can not inquire your way. There
is nobody to inquire from. You are going where nobody else goes, and so
nobody knows the way, and nobody could make you understand it if he
tried. "The map ought to help, then," it may be said. Yes, the map
helps much in the easy places, but it confuses you in the hard ones.
For example, you get among the 1400 islands in the Malar
Lake; there are not thirty of them marked even on the largest map.
Consequently any attempt to depend upon a map involves one in immense
The obstruction of timber logs is another novel
embarrassment. These logs are cut in the forests, and then tumbled into
the water to find their way down stream. Men with long poles push them
into the current when they get embayed in crooked corners. But in
August these men are not allowed to walk by the river for this purpose,
because the crops are grown up; and so one or two logs will become
fixed, and then, hundreds and thousands gradually arriving, the whole
water is covered with a brown colored raft.
Once, in a very lonely spot on the Vrangs, we found the
timber reached as far as the eye could see, so we concealed the boat
under a dark tree, and then toiled up a hill on a calm, hot day. The
view was at once charming and alarming. Wood, wood, wood, on to the
horizon; the wood on shore being green and growing, and every winding
of the river entirely covered with dead logs, thousands and thousands,
silent and brown. Nobody in sight and no house, I sat and waited for
events, but nothing would happen, nothing seemed disposed to turn up --
only birds chirped.
Lunch and a cigar braced me up to the inevitable task, for
we must drag the Rob Roy through the forest, or we must die and be
buried there, like the Babes in the Wood. This was a heavy work to
contemplate; but soon a vigorous spirit was aroused; the magnitude and
novelty of the undertaking -- the curious plans we had to adopt for
getting over dykes, hedges, brooks, and hillocks -- the exertion
required to penetrate thickets and copses where no man (much less a
boat) had ever roamed, became deeply interesting, and we worked for
hours, until by double journeys the boat and things were transported to
the open country, and we launched the Rob Roy on its proper element.
At length we passed the Swedish boundary, and entered a
beautiful chain of lakes of all variety in size, shape, depth, color,
and kind. Rocks of every shape and curve, covered with spruce, larch,
and beech, with bays, promontories, and islands, opened in gradual
panorama as we passed along; and a gladsome buoyancy of spirit in the
fine fresh breeze forced me to shout and sing aloud and alone, or to
whistle in bright merriment gayly by the hour.
One fine sunny evening we landed at the end of Lake Ranke,
and walked up to a house where was a very old woman with one eye. She
was terribly puzzled when I invaded her cottage and urged her to come
and see the boat. But when she had seen it she at once took a motherly
interest in the skiff, and we carried the Rob Roy to a cow-house, where
it was concealed in the rafters, while I took my luggage to a fine
farmhouse, and knocked, and walked in. At first only a cool reception;
but when the host, his wife, and three comely daughters went down to
inspect the canoe a complete change followed. "They came, they saw, I
conquered!" Luggage may be brought by a tramp; but a boat, and such a
boat, could not but certify the traveler and arouse great enthusiasm.
Triumphant progress, therefore, of the Rob Roy on the shoulders of
plowboys -- proud to bear her home -- grand concert in her honor by the
three maidens -- admission free -- feast of bacon, pancakes, potatoes,
rice and milk, in honor of the occasion.
A sail on the lovely Elga Lake, through the Glava Fjole and
the Bjorno Sje, resting here and there as pleasure or convenience
dictated, until at length, early one morning, the Rob Roy embarked on a
squally sea; for the noble Lake Venern may really be called a sea.
There were many interested lookers-on, and all hats were off; and warm
adieux wished "happy travel" to the little boat, no doubt the smallest
craft that had ever ventured on this great lake. For an hour or two the
course was among landlocked bays and high hills, with dense wood to the
water's edge and we did not feel the strength of the breeze there ;
but, on facing round the last lonely wooded point the white waves, and
angry clouds, and thick drizzling rain, showed that full steam must be
put on if we meant to reach Carlstadt that night, where letters were to
be forwarded, and my packet of reserve provisions.
A more unpromising day could not have opened. Wind, rain,
and fog; and each was vigorous in opposing me. Therefore I landed where
I could ponder half an hour, with a cigar, and consult with the
boatswain and mate over our chart; and the question was solemnly
debated, "Is it not foolish to go on with thirty miles before me in
this whistling mist, and on this huge lake?"
A black squall then varied the dull gray of the horizon, and
I had to land for shelter while its fury was spent on the rocks above
me. Another portentous cloud followed, and I resolved to land at the
very next house. It proved to be a poor fisher's hut, where two
sailors, a rosy faced boy, and a woman with a dirty baby, were eating
fish and potatoes in their hands. I gave some sugar to the baby and
some rice to mamma; in return for which I received some bread, joined
in the howl of potatoes, and made my coffee by their fire. Then again
into the tumbling waves! The numerous islands were perplexing, and the
wind veered so that I was utterly puzzled. But overcoming all
difficulties, we at length reached Carlstadt.
The cholera, however, had been prevailing among the poor
people living on the flat shore, and the air was pestilential; so it
was with no small pleasure that I found a little steamer alongside the
quay, and we were soon on its deck. Kind Captain Dahlander came forward
"How do you do? Are you wet?"
''Then change instantly; this is no place to get a chill
and in a few minutes I had his big great-coat around me, and
a stiff glass of grog inside. The curious old bottle from which he
poured this opportune brandy, that saved me from a chill, and probably
from cholera, was shaped like a dog, with its tail for a handle, while
the fiery fluid came from its mouth.
Not long after this adventure the Rob Roy and her Captain
landed on the island of Bromo, where a steamer would pass at night,
which might prove a convenient conveyance to West Gotha Canal. The
evening was cold, and it was tedious work to wait seven hours for a
steamer; but the keeper gave me the key of the lighthouse, and I rigged
up my kitchen and made coffee there, and then put on two complete suits
of clothes to keep me warm, and paced the harbor quay until the stars
came out. Then, mounting into the lantern of the lighthouse, I sat by
the camphene lamp both for light and heat, reading and sketching and
thinking through the midnight hours, with a lonely feeling and anxious
expectancy of a steamer's whistle in each gust of wind. A quiet passage
in the steamer brought us to Vadstena, where the canoe was laid out for
a thorough overhaul and examination. The ship's carpenter duly reported
that, with the exception of four ribs broken on the Vinger See, she was
perfectly stanch and sound; and so we launched her with confidence on
Lake Vettern, under a parting cheer from the assembly on the pier.
The Motala River, as it rushes out of Vettern to run through
a chain of lakes, and by devious ways to the Baltic, is seized upon at
once, that it may yield some of its water power to every body on the
banks, and so there is a network of barriers, dams, sluices, forces,
falls, weirs, and rapids, with a ceaseless splashing sound, and the
rap-ap-ap of busy waterwheels, and clang of great hammers, and hoarse
hissing of swift saws -- all mingled with the hum and hustle of many
men at work. At Motala there was a Swedish gunboat, very like a canoe
in shape; and the Rob Roy was carried into the building-yard and placed
beside its enormous fellow of the waters to the great amusement of the
workman and myself.
When washing-day occurred on board the ship Rob Roy all
hands were piped on deck by the boatswain at an early hour; and the
last pair that came up were told off to "scrub ship and wash clothes."
All these articles were then put out to dry on the boom, where they
dangled in the sun and the breeze, quite regardless of the public
opinion or otherwise of landlubbers ashore.
It was the duty, of course, of the mate to make a correct
list of the washing, and to enter the same in the log. These lists were
not dissimilar, nor were they voluminous. The following is a copy of
the longest ever known: "List of washing: One sock, one
pocket-handkerchief; another sock, the collar."
When it was necessary to wash the sails of the canoe (to
maintain her respectable character under critical examination), this
was done during her stay in some port, while she was dismantled for a
time, and the crew had shore leave. Then the sails were sent to a
The head cook of the Rob Roy was an ignoramus in his art.
His attempts were humble failures; and he trusted his guests to enjoy
rather the circumstances and poetry of the repast than the delicacies
thereof. His first attempt to make an oatmeal cake was most
disheartening. He mixed the water and oatmeal, and had a round tin
plate heating on the flame, whereon the mixture was poured. It steamed,
it set, it dried hard ; and then he removed the plate from the fire,
but, alas ! the cake would not come off the tin plate till it was torn
away with struggles and a knife; and then all the lower part of the
brown cake was covered with bright tin, and it had to be thrown away
with a sigh, and gone was my only hope of breakfast; for even sea air
does not enable you to digest sheet metal.
Practice taught by hunger improved the cuisine steadily, and
in a rough way we soon learned to put smoking soup on the table,
improved by the addition of bread, rice, or biscuits. Chocolate
succeeded well, and tea and coffee; and the crew soon became accustomed
to eat raw fish when they saw other people eating it with gusto.
Early one morning a crowd gathered to see the Rob Roy
launched on the beautiful Lake Roxen. The canal by which I had reached
the little village, where I had found a night's lodging, approaches
close to the lake, but about seventy feet above it, and the usual
descent is by eleven locks ; but as they are close together, the canoe
had merely to slide down the grass sloping to the verge of the water. A
large party of people happened then to be coming up the ascent, while
their steamer would be delayed two hours or more in passing the locks;
and a good deal of amusement was afforded to them by seeing the swift
traverse of the Rob Roy over the grass.
from the Canal
Fishing was a grand addition to the pleasures of canoeing.
In the lakes fish are caught best with the minnow and the trolling
line, they being dainty animals that like to dine methodically, and to
begin by eating fish. As for the artificial fly, their ignorance of its
satisfying sweetness is lamentable. Therefore, as I had brought only
flies it was chiefly in the rivers that I had profitable sport, for
sport it is even to fish without catching; and the man who fishes for
the fishes, and not for the fishing, is not a true fisherman. But the
streams were frequent, and good luck sometimes attended me. Once,
casting my fly behind a great rock, it was taken by a huge fish, who
played in the most puzzling manner, often jumping out of the water and
dragging the canoe near rocks and rapids.
Three times he got under the boat; and at length, what with
the fish, the paddle, the rocks, trees, and current, I got so entangled
that my rod slipped from my hand. But it had no reel on, so it floated,
and we gave chase up the stream and grasped it again the fish still on.
After various ineffectual attempts to secure the prize I fairly
shoveled him into the canoe -- a nine-pound grayling, and well worth
all the time and trouble. To fish, however, in a small canoe, when you
manage the sails, the paddle, and the rod, when you have to attend to
the wind, the current, and your flies, is a full tax on energy and
demands great attention.
By the Nose
At length, emerging from the maze of inland waters, we
reached the shores of the Baltic Sea. To give me a good long day in the
open sea, I arranged with a steamer to take us along the winding
estuary of the Broviken until she had to turn southeast on her course,
and there to drop me in the waves, to paddle and sail northeast for
Stockholm. When we came into the bay the steamer stopped, and I shoved
the Rob Roy over her side, stepped in, and in a few seconds I was
paddling away on my course. It was a supremely fine morning, and I
glided along under the tall cliffs with a feeling of romantic solitude.
Later in the day the wind suddenly turned about right in my teeth, and
a great thick fog bank came hustling up along the sea, yearning to
enfold the poor Rob Roy in its clammy and dim cloud, like soft cotton
wool. I landed at a little village to wait for finer weather, which
came not; and I resolved to wait for the steamer, which was to pass
there about midnight, and to take my canoe on board.
Sailing and Fishing
The rain soon began to patter, and I had to pass weary hours
in a very poor inn, away from my boat, and therefore miserable. At last
when the red lantern was run up as a signal for the steamer to stop,
some of the men told me that this particular captain was "not good,"
and would insist on my going out to him. And so in fact he did. At the
last moment I was obliged hurriedly to launch my canoe, wholly unaided,
tumble my luggage in, and paddle away in the darkness. When the steamer
stopped there were a dozen hands reached down, but all too short to get
hold of mine; and just then a great lumbering boat came alongside,
before I had handed up my rope to the steamer, but after I had resigned
my paddle. It was a moment of great peril. The Rob Roy roared a loud
shout, but the other clumsy boat would not hear. One foot more and we
should be plunged under water with a broken bow. An instant decision
was made to shove off from the steamer; and there was the luckless
voyager standing up in a canoe in the dark, on the waves, without his
paddle, and with his long rope dangling in the water.
It is easy enough to stand up if your paddle is retained as
a balancing pole, but the position depicted in the woodcut was one of
no small difficulty. Still it was best to keep standing, because
gradually the wind bore me to the steamer's side again, though I found
her side far too well polished for me, as my nails vainly clung to the
cold, smooth iron.
Nevertheless the Rob Roy was speedily housed on the
steamer's deck; and I at length fell into a deep sleep, from which I
was not aroused until we arrived in Stockholm. So ended my first paddle
on the Baltic. Stockholm is the place for a good rest, which was much
needed by the crew of the Rob Roy. A comfortable hotel and plenty to
see and to do was a wholesome interlude. Stockholm, also, is the very
place for a canoe, or any other pleasure boat, though few are to be
seen on the waters. But for the utilitarian purposes of traffic and
speedy carriage the people make good use of their lakes and rivers. A
fleet of lively little screw-boats play upon the waters. As these are
of every size, some only as large as a small rowboat, their constant
movement, and the puff! puff! of their tiny engines, creates an
animation on the water which relieves Stockholm from being dull -- if
indeed, a place can ever be dull which rests upon the graceful eddies
of a sunlit sea.
The Rob Roy went by steamer through Lake Malar to
Orebrö; thence in various ways, by steamer, by rail, or by the
impulse of her own paddle, to the shore of Lake Venern ; for the
Captain had resolved to enjoy one more pull on its broad bosom. The
great Lake Venern is one hundred and forty-three feet above the sea,
and has more than thirty rivers pouring volumes of water into it ; but
only one stream, the Gota River, issues from the lake to the sea. This
rushes out noisily, with a series of mad bounds and vigorous plunges.
The eddies and regurgitations caused by this violent exercise produce
some eccentric phenomena, one of which is called the "minute tide," in
which a swelling of the water once every minute fills up and empties
again a quiet pool a little withdrawn from the river course.
The gale was blowing and the rain falling as we launched the
Rob Roy on the waves of Lake Venern, amidst the plaudits of the
spectators and their best wishes for my voyage. The wind was southwest,
right in my teeth, and I had a hard pull to breast it; but then the
current of water was with me, and when this expanded into Lake
Vassbotten the voyage became exceedingly interesting. It was here that
in the murky distance I noticed a steamer coming, and steered straight
for her, to show to all on board how well the canoe behaved in heavy
surf. Just as we neared each other a loud cheer came from behind me.
This was from the crowded decks of another steamer, which had overtaken
me unperceived, because of the deafening sound of the wind; and as the
passengers and crew of both steamers cheered and waved handkerchiefs,
crying "Bravo, Rob Roy!" it must be owned that the little boat felt a
thrill of honest pride in its heart (of oak), and dashed the white
spray from its breast with an exuberance of buoyant energy.
But soon a black cloud came looming up; then a strange lull,
foretelling one of those terrible squalls which cover the water with
foam, whisked from the crest of every wave, and borne along on the
blast in a blinding shower of spray. Therefore I paddled swiftly to
land, to find shelter there during the hurricane. This was the only
squall the Rob Roy ever "shirked."
The two whirlpools on the Göta were, after careful
examination, easily passed, amidst the cheers of a crowd of spectators.
In previous trips I had found whirlpools of a similar kind, and had
practiced crossing them until I thoroughly understood the proper
method. I made a tour of the pretty town of Göteborg in the canoe,
traversing its canals and carrying the boat over obstacles in the
streets, until the crowd running after the Rob Roy got breathless in
After a pleasant passage in the steamer Svea, we enter the
Sound, with Denmark on the right hand and Sweden on the left; and the
captain yields to my request to lower the canoe there and then into the
sea, to the great surprise and amazement of all on board. Away goes the
Svea; the engineer of the Rob Roy receives the command "Ahead easy,"
while the natives of Helsingborg line the shore, amazed to see a canoe
approaching them from outside.
Here the Rob Roy rested over Sunday; and then we were to
cross over the Strait from Sweden to Denmark. It sounds grand as a feat
to do, but the passage is at most only three or four miles ; and in a
gloriously fine morning the canoe was carried down to the water, and my
paddle plashed in the new ripples, eager for the start, as a horse paws
for a gallop. Ocean was at last in good humor; but, nevertheless, he
was not to be trifled with, so we skimmed over his face daintily, lest
the sleeping sea might be awaked. Soon the old gray towers of the
Kronberg, on the Danish side, showed clearer and looked almost lively
under the morning rays, while the spray spurted up somewhat lazily
against its seaworn walls, now hoary with the splashes of many
Idlers we had left on the pier of Sweden, and we passed
idlers also on the Danish pier. who had, of course, seen the little
boat gliding over the waves, and welcomed her arrival eagerly.
A day was spent coasting along the pretty shores of Seland,
until countless villas, pleasure boats, and bathing boxes announced
that Copenhagen was being neared. The Rob Roy, carried through the
streets of Copenhagen, of course, attracted a great crowd; and the head
waiter of the hotel (being a man of sense) conducted her upstairs,
where the great ballroom was allotted for a boathouse, and there the
canoe rested gently on an ottoman.
After some delay at Copenhagen the Rob Roy was taken by rail
across Seland. In the harbor of Korsor I launched her fearlessly, and
had a charming time of it (quite wet, of course, with spray) bounding
over the rollers and dashing through the white water, while the whole
population assembled on the pier, longing to see how the bar would be
crossed by the little "kayak," as they call it; but their plaudits
urged me to more daring trials; and at last, having got out farther
than usual, among waves sharpened by opposing wind and tide, I lost my
head for a moment.
When waves are long enough to allow the boat to descend the
face of one and then to rise on the back of another without being
caught in the trough between them, then it is really of no consequence
how high they may be, for the canoe will ride over each wave like a
cork. On this occasion I had got into a position where it was not
expedient to turn the canoe round, and was therefore returning stern
foremost, which practice enables one to do quite safely. The Rob Roy
was progressing gallantly with the wind and against the tide, when, on
arriving at the top of one of the billows, I suddenly saw that the next
one was thin and the top curled over. Forgetting at the moment that I
was going stern foremost, which, of course, reversed every operation, I
gave a powerful stroke precisely in the wrong direction -- that is to
say, forward, and thus both my own arm and the high-topped crest drove
the bows of the canoe deep into the base of the wave before me. As the
deck disappeared, foot by foot, but all in an instant of time, it
flashed upon me that I had made a fatal error. My nerves shrank up as
when a schoolboy expects the cane. Down came the great crested wave
full on my back, and deluged me with water. A good ducking was endured
and a good lesson learned: "Never go stern foremost against short seas."
Sonderburg, which we reached by steamer, is a very pretty
place; and the little inn was close by the water, and therefore
convenient for the Rob Roy. Yet it possessed the usual features of an
inn. First, the box bed, with sloping pillow and footboard, far too
short. Then there is the saucer of a basin, and teacup of a water jug,
and handkerchief of a towel, and the blind that won't pull down or stop
up, and the pepperbox that won't pepper, and the door that won't lock,
and the bell that won't ring, and, finally, the maidservant that won't
go away out of your room -- nay, bolts in to see you at any hour -- all
hours, night or day -- and without the slightest attempt at a knock
beforehand. Pooh! these are the trifles of travel; and it is really too
bad even to allude to them when so many days of glorious pleasure have
been enjoyed with zest by the crew of the Rob Roy.
Our next destination was Flensborg, which place we reached
after a series of romantic adventures. The little Rob Roy was put on
the top of a railway carriage, while I went inside; and thus we arrived
at Altona, a suburb of Hamburg; arid next day I launched on the great,
dull, white-colored Elbe, and paddled along the lines of tall ships,
huge steamers, bright-colored smacks, and boats of every rig, hue, and
nation in this fine, rich harbor. I had resolved on a three days'
cruise on this broad river, and amidst the pleasant canoeing came many
a curious adventure.
The first night was passed at Gluckstadt, a quaint,
old-fashioned village in Holstein. The people and the place seemed to
be so interesting that I resolved to make a canoe voyage into this
strange country; but this was by no means an easy matter, for the
navigation is intricate and the language unutterable; but then the Rob
Roy was not to be stopped by difficulties; and when it was given out in
the town that "the Englishman" was to sail up the Rhyn River, and get
on the net of canals which go forty miles into this flat land, every
one was astir. The river led through a perfect series of market
gardens, full of most magnificent fruits and vegetables, with every
foot of ground tilled to the water's edge, and pear trees drooping over
the canoe. They were capital, sweet pears, I do assure you.
Then we came, after some miles, to a village where the
schoolchildren rushed out en masse upon the rustic bridge, screaming
joyously, and every house was emptied. Next came the fishers' boats,
and then the vegetable-boats, with women rowing them, and then the Rob
Roy emerged from trees and gardens among the verdant pastures, with
tall reeds and pink clover brushing my blue paddle blades, and
wondering cows staring, but not convinced. In one village I noticed a
man among the crowd, who at once ran away; but he presently returned,
carrying upon his back no less a person than his grandmother. Her
position was by no means a comfortable one, for he held her by her
wrists over his shoulders; but his young face was ruddy with delight
that he had brought her in time to see. With due respect to hoary
heads, I approached and made a profound salam to the lady; while she
stared at me over her grandson's shoulder, evidently not at all
satisfied with the arrangement of things in general.
A thick drizzling rain was falling, the wind whistling, and
muddy waves were tossing on the Elbe, when the time came to paddle
through them from Gluckstadt, if we would catch the steamer to
Heligoland. This steamer would come along the other side of the river,
it was said, and to reach it we must paddle through an angry sea;
moreover the labor, and two hours' wetting, would all be in vain unless
the captain would stop his steamer for the canoe, which was doubtful on
such a day. Therefore I engaged a pilot boat, which would sail further
up the river, and hail the steamer some way above me, to point out the
Rob Roy in the waves; and while the crowd wondered at it all, I pushed
out from the little harbor into the great, white, rolling Elbe. After
an hour's hard work, during which the Rob Roy, buffeting and boxing the
waves, behaved nobly, I ran the canoe into a mass of tall reeds to see
if she had any water in her. Only three "spongefuls." The swell rose
and fell sleepily among the tall reeds, which only rustled; otherwise
there was blank silence. Soon I heard a sharp conversation between the
pilots and a number of men on the bank, who could not then see me among
the reeds, but who had crowded down to the spot. Suddenly the pilot
called out "Come away, Sir! Come away, Sir, instantly! The men are
going to catch you!"
A Wild Chinaman
These natives had watched us riding over the waves, and
could not make out what all this meant; but the pilots had told them I
was a wild Chinaman escaped from a ship, and that they were in chase of
me. Away went the duped natives, and presently brought clubs, sticks,
and a great hatchet. They were a clumsy and ignorant set; but I thought
it was all meant for fun, so up rose the captain of the Rob Roy, his
head only over the reed-tops, and his face grimacing, and paddle
whirled aloft, just as an escaped Chinaman would doubtless do, with
wild shrieks as an accompaniment. The natives became frantic; but there
was only mud there -- no stones to be had. The pilots, to humor the
joke, sailed after me, splashed with their oars, lowered their sails,
and shouted aloud; while the canoe darted hither and thither wildly,
but always eluded their grasp, and sought refuge again in the reeds.
At length the steamer came in sight; the pilots hailed, and
I placed the Rob Roy where it could plainly be seen as it rose and fell
on the waves. It was a moment of suspense, as the great black hull came
looming on. But suddenly it stopped, and I shouted, "Hurrah!" "Thanks,
Captain, thanks!" Then before me, in the jumble of waves, mist, and
rain, there rose up two great pointed crests, where the steamer's swell
crossed the waves of the Elbe, and these must be passed.
As the little canoe came rapidly to the first of these waves
it was so much higher and sharper than usual that I felt,
"Here is the Rob Roy's grave. If in the upset now
certain I let go of my boat and hold by my paddle, the steamer people
will save only me and let the canoe drift away, for why should they
stop for her? Therefore I must loosen my hold on the paddle and cling
to the boat, however difficult, for then they will rescue us both. But
and looking up (this the last thought vivid on my brain), a
"by that boat hanging on the davits, I see it is ready." All this was
as a flash of instant thought, and then a thud of angry, muddy water
struck my cheek and knocked off my straw hat (luckily secured by a
cord), and then down, down, down we swooned, and again a blow, a twist,
and a squeeze, and both waves were past, and I could hear the end of
the word "Bravo-o-o!" as the mate shouted loud from the steamer above.
Right swiftly leaped I by the side of the vessel, while a
last spiteful wave followed me running up the steps, and embraced me
with one cold grasp about the loins -- a drench to say "Goodbye." The
Rob Roy was safe aboard, and I rushed into the steamer's cabin, still
trembling with a certain thrill of excitement, and repeating over and
over again, "I never will again board a steamer in a gale."
During the three days we spent at Heligoland the sensation
of "incongruity" was most powerful. A charming island quite neglected.
An English land full only of foreigners. A rock with wooden houses. A
poor town with rich visitors. A splendid beach without a pier. The
airiest of nests with drains so foul. Crowds of thinking Germans, but
only one bookshop. Planks for pavement where no tree grows. One church,
one school, a good brass band, and a beautiful glee chorus. What a
neat, little, pretty, open, confined, old-fashioned, interesting,
neglected place to be sure!
We had a holiday trip in the Rob Roy around the island, and
then a paddle up the River Geste, before we met the Falke steamer which
was to take us to England. About ten miles below Gravesend the Rob Roy
became impatient to be paddling again, and was let down into the water.
She sped on and on, till in the distance I saw the funnel and masts of
a great steamer, which had been sunk by a collision in the river, and
we made straight for her midships; and though the men in boats around
shouted to warn, and ordered to go back, the Rob Roy actually paddled
right over her deck, with a powerful stream rushing and hissing through
the rigging, and many tangled ropes all hanging about, exulting that
she had certainly run over a steamer, though no steamer had ever run
One more danger must be encountered, one last peril bravely
met, before the Rob Roy and her Captain could rest in quiet at home. A
dreadful current must be passed, on which no steamer or ferryboat could
sail, and where it would be madness to paddle my canoe. The waves of
the Baltic looked insignificant, and the deepest part of Lake Venern
seemed shallow, in comparison with this surging stream. I sought in
vain for aid while gazing into the fearful vortex; then nerving myself
for a desperate effort, I dashed in with a shout. A short, fierce
struggle and we had safely crossed the Strand, and landed on the dark
old bridge of Temple Bar.
Here we will bid our hero -- whose language we have
so freely used -- goodbye, and join in the words of the poet: "Now let
us sing, long live the King, Macgregor, long live he ; And when he next
doth sail a voyage, May I be there to see !"
Running Over a Steamer
VOL. XXXV. No.208.
© 2000 Craig O'Donnell, editor & general factotum.
May not be reproduced without my permission. Go scan your own damn