THE decisive incidents of our cruise were now fast approaching. Looking back on the steps that led to them, and anxious that the reader should be wholly with us in our point of view, I think I cannot do better than give extracts from my diary of the next three days:
’16th Oct. (up at 6.30, yacht high and dry). Of the three galliots out at anchor in the channel yesterday, only one is left … I took my turn with the breakers this morning and walked to Wangeroog, whose village I found
half lost in sand drifts, which are planted with tufts of marram-grass in mathematical rows, to give stability and prevent a catastrophe like that at Pompeii. A friendly grocer told me all there is to know, which is little.
The islands are what we thought them–barren for the most part, with a small fishing population, and a scantyaccession of summer visitors for bathing. The season is over now, and business slack for him. There is still, however, a little trade with the mainland in galliots and lighters, a few of which come from the “siels” on the mainland. “Had these harbours?” I asked. “Mud-holes!” he replied, with a contemptuous laugh. (He is a settler in these wilds, not a native.) Said he had heard of schemes for improving them, so as to develop the islands as health-resorts, but thought it was only a wild speculation.
‘A heavy tramp back to the yacht, nearly crushed by impedimenta. While Davies made yet another trip, I stalked some birds with a gun, and obtained what resembled a specimen of the smallest variety of jack-snipe, and small at that; but I made a great noise, which I hope persuaded somebody of the purity of our motives.
‘We weighed anchor at one o’clock, and in passing the anchored galliot took a good look at her. Kormoran was on her stern; otherwise she was just like a hundred others. Nobody was on deck.
‘We spent the whole afternoon till dark exploring the Harle, or gap between Wangeroog and Spiekeroog; the sea breaking heavily on the banks outside … Fine as the day was, the scene from the offing was desolate to the last degree. The naked spots of the two islands are hideous in their sterility: melancholy bits of wreck-wood their only relief, save for one or two grotesque beacons, and, most bizarre of all, a great church-tower, standing actually in the water, on the north side of Wangeroog, a striking witness to the encroachment of the sea. On the mainland, which was barely visible, there was one very prominent landmark, a spire, which from the chart we took to be that of Esens, a town four miles inland.
‘The days are growing short. Sunset is soon after five, and an hour later it is too dark to see booms and buoys distinctly. The tides also are awkward just now. (I exclude all the technicalities that I can, but the reader should take note that the tide-table is very important henceforward.) ‘High-water at morning and evening is between five and six–just at twilight. For the night, we groped with the lead into the Muschel Balge, the tributary channel which laps round the inside of Spiekeroog, and lay in two fathoms, clear of the outer swell, but rolling a little when the ebb set in strong against the wind.
‘A galliot passed us, going west, just as we were stowing sails; too dark to see her name. Later, we saw her anchor-light higher up our channel.
‘The great event of the day has been the sighting of a small German gunboat, steaming slowly west along the coast. That was about half-past four, when we were sounding along the Harle.
‘Davies identified her at once as the Blitz, Commander von Brüning’s gunboat. We wondered if he recognized the Dulcibella, but, anyway, she seemed to take no notice of us and steamed slowly on. We quite expected to fall in with her when we came to the islands, but the actual sight of her has excited us a good deal. She is an ugly, cranky little vessel, painted grey, with one funnel. Davis is contemptuous about her low freeboard forward; says he would rather go to sea in the Dulce. He has her dimensions and armament (learnt from Brassey) at his fingers’ ends: one hundred and forty feet by twenty-five, one 4.9 gun, one 3.4, and four maxims–an old type. Just going to bed; a bitterly cold night.