Two outstanding sailing adventures in one special edition
The author of this book, Keble Chatterton was a well known and prolific writer on the history of the age of sail. He was of course an experienced seaman, but this book concerns his person experiences before the Great War sailing around the British coast, her adjacent waters and the harbours and coastlines of her Northern European neighbours. These are two gentle accounts of yachting for pure pleasure which will be a joy to fellow enthusiasts and those who love simply to read about the sea. Whilst devoid of espionage, much of these recollections will put the reader in mind of 'The Riddle of the Sands'.
We remained in Flushing for twenty-four hours, during which there was time to see all that was worth seeing. There are really three portions of Vlissingen (as the Dutch spell it). There is first the port which is used by the mail-packet boats from Oueenborough and now from Folkestone. But the passengers are in such a hurry to catch their train to Amsterdam or Germany that they see nothing of the place. That is at the extreme eastern end. At the western side is the newer portion, with a good bathing beach, hotel, sand-dunes and gardens: while in between the two portions is the old town and the little harbour where the hoogarts land their catch.<br>
The latter is full of interest, and on this Saturday afternoon it was a strange and entertaining sight to watch a fleet of these sprit-sail craft running in to port up the Galgeput channel before a fair wind. I have elsewhere described the rig of these craft in detail, but the reader who is unfamiliar with their appearance will find one of them sketched on another page.<br>
But for me the choicest spot in Flushing is on the high ground near the old round tower, which was already standing long before the Armada came to Northern Europe. It is now merely a show place, and contains relics of that great Dutch seaman Admiral de Ruyter, who, to our shame, brought his fleet up the Medway and burnt our ships of war. His name to this day is to the Dutchmen what Nelson’s is to us, and you cannot get away from this reminder wherever you wander in the Low Country. His statues and portraits are everywhere; he gives his name to streets and tug-boats. But his was the time when Holland was a magnificent sea-power, and he and Tromp and our English Blake were making history.<br>
Come a little way from this tower and you get one of the grandest marine views that you have ever seen. Straight ahead of you there is an uninterrupted view down towards Blankenberghe, to your right is the Walcheren coast stretching away to Westkapelle, whilst away to the left the mighty Scheldt extends to the low, distant shore. At the back of you are the Belgian and Dutch pilot clubs, side by side. They are ever on the lookout for the big liners that here come close in, bound for Antwerp, which every year increases in importance as a great maritime port. I have often watched these men in their straight peaked caps and gold-buttoned uniform go down to the beach below and be rowed off in their well-built, well-manned galley and board the steamship as she slows down. There is much to be learnt from even a short conversation. They know their own job to perfection, and a great deal else besides. They speak very good English, and like all true seamen are singularly modest and humble-minded.<br>
Everyone who has not visited Holland imagines that all the natives dress as you see them depicted on the posters and in musical comedy. This is not so. What is true is that you find these costumes in Flushing, Middelburg, and Veere, but after leaving the Island of Walcheren you scarcely ever find them, except occasionally in villages, until you come to the Zuyder Zee ports. These are the old fashions—oude modes, as the Dutch call them—and in the towns the advance of modernity has swept these away. But in Flushing a large part of the population still adhere to the older idea.<br>
Here are the boys dressed up like little men, and the girls like little women. The former have their severe black suits, long trousers and either a round clerical-like hat or a peaked cap. Their fathers are dressed exactly the same, but it gives you quite a shock to see both fathers and small boys smoking cigars. The women-folk have tight sleeves which end several inches above the elbows, and the consequence is that the lower part of their arms becomes as red as raw meat. It is not pleasant. They never seem to hurry, but just saunter slowly along in their white caps and metal head-dress. But the most surprising sight of all is to see a girl thus habited riding along the bank of the canal mounted on a very modern bicycle. It seems too ludicrous to be real.<br>
But even apart from the costumes and the ships, you might know you were in Holland, and not France or Belgium. There is a continual cleansing of their footpaths and houses, and a persistent polishing of every inch of brass. The dogs wearily drag carts jolting along the street with milk-cans that have been polished till they sparkle like silver and gold, and there is something very attractive in the curious, old-world shape in which these great brass milk jugs have been designed. And then as you go down these neat thoroughfares you wonder how it is that every house must have its little mirror outside the window, until you learn that it is not good form for the inhabitants to be seen gazing out, so the mirror reflects what is going on below.<br>
There is a great deal in the history of Flushing that is wrapped up in the nautical history of the world. As you go through the picture galleries in the old Dutch cities, you can see what an amount of shipping used to come to its gates even in the sixteenth century, and how strongly fortified was this place. The old round tower that we just visited is seen with jetties and great galleons where today the pilot galleys lie riding on the short choppy waves. And then you pass beyond the period when Holland shook herself free from Spain, and come to the time of the three great Anglo-Dutch wars, and endeavour to contemplate the excitement that must have obtained on shore when de Ruyter and his ships were seen retreating towards Flushing before the English fleet, who had chased them for a night and a day, until the latter, fearing to trust themselves among the shoals in the neighbourhood of the Wielingen, brought up well to seaward of where today Zeebrugge’s breakwater runs out.<br>
They were strenuous times in that seventeenth century, and even when these formal naval wars ended Flushing continued to be a bugbear to us through the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as the headquarters of the smuggling fraternity, who used to build their 150-ton cutters here, arm them with carriage guns, fill the holds with brandy, tea, and tobacco, and then cross to our eastern and south-coast ports especially.<br>
There was no secret about the Flushing smuggling industry; it was done on a grand scale, employed a good many hands, was well financed, and paid handsome dividends. And even in this twentieth century Dutch North Sea coopers—floating grog shops—have been a source of great anxiety to the Customs authorities, until one of His Majesty’s ships has had the good fortune to appear on the scene, and make a capture at the right moment.