Sunday, 26 January 2020

A new book

A mysterious tale

As a father and son sail their yacht in a coastal area of shallow creeks, islands and sandbanks, they pick up de body of a young man drifting in a half-deflated lifejacket. Resuscitation fails, and after they have called the lifeboat to take the body away, they are ordered to the port of Harlingen to be interviewed by the Border Police. That same evening a mysterious young woman visits their boat, asking after the drowned man. 
A suspect encounter in the fog
In the ensuing weeks they are confronted with a ruthless gang of human traffickers who are active in the area, using an old trawler. The authorities remain deaf  until it is too late and more bodies turn up. 

This is a short introduction to my new novel Het Transport, which is expected to be published in Dutch next October, by Palmslag Publishers, who also published The Batavian. The title of the English translation is The Cargo.

One of the sources of inspiration for the book is a 120-year-old spy story: The Riddle of the Sands, by Erskine Childers, a British-Irish yachtsman and author, who sailed his yacht Asgard to the German Frisian islands and the Baltic during the years prior to the First World War.
Erskine Childers and his wife Molly sailing Asgard in 1910
Childers himself led an eventful life. He served in the British Army during the Boer War and in the Royal Navy during the First World War. He moved to Dublin in 1919 and played an important role in the negotiations on Irish independence. The resulting treaty with the English was disputed within the Irish leadership and led to the Irish civil war of 1922-1923, in which Childers, out of discontent, chose the side of the insurgents. Unfortunately, that cost him his life: he was arrested by the Irish Free State Army and sentenced to death by a military court.

1976 shipping news

Meanwhile I have added a new chapter to my seafaring memories: a six-month voyage in a tramp ship, made in the mv Amstelpark in 1976. I was on board for nearly seven months and the journey took me halfway around the world.
A stormy Atlantic crossing
We left Poland early in January after dislodging the frozen warps from the deck. The next two weeks we were hit by every storm that the winter ocean could fling at us. For some reason, the Captain wanted to follow the slightly shorter Great Circle Route north of Scotland, which regrettably means you will encounter more bad weather and therefore have a longer crossing. West of the Isle of Rockall, just beyond Scotland, we made about 60 miles a day for two days ... sideways!

Read more on my website.

Tuesday, 24 December 2019

A Christmas Carol

With Christmas approaching, we are often caught by nostalgia and emotion. Suddenly we think of old friends whom we have not spoken to throughout the year, but who we still regard as friends. We are overwhelmed by a collective good feeling, as if we have to make up for the past year, in which not everything may have been as good as we’d have liked.

Despite ourselves, the  nostalgia reminds us of days long gone. For me, Christmas is inextricably connected to a ghost story written by Charles Dickens in 1843, A Christmas Carol, the story of the miser Ebenezer Scrooge, who is visited by spirits on Christmas night, showing him the way to better his misanthropic life and opening his eyes to the poverty around him.

It appears that little has changed since the 1840s. The world is still full of poverty and refugees and displaced people in squalid camps, who have been deprived of all human rights and have no reason to celebrate. Spare them a thought as you sit at the table.

Albert Finney and Alec Guiness as Scrooge and Marley

Recently I re-read A Christmas Carol in an English edition which is part of my collection of Dickens writings. But I became acquainted with it first in January 1976, in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean, in heavy weather. I was on my way from Gdansk in Poland to Baltimore on the east coast of the United States, in a bulk carrier named Amstelpark, in which I served as Third Mate.

As usual, the ship had a movie box on board with three 16 mm sound films, which were almost the only entertainment on board such a ship. Those boxes were often exchanged with other ships when in harbour, so we had a new film almost every week. On board the Amstelpark, during that rough crossing, the film box contained the 1970 movie made after the Dickens story, starring Albert Finney and Alec Guinness in the lead roles of Scrooge and Marley. We showed it three times.

Heavy weather in the North Atlantic, mv Amstelpark, 1976

Conditions were so rough that one of us had to hold the projector down as it was running, because it nearly dropped off the table, so badly the ship was rolling about. I still don't know whether he was holding down the projector, or the projector was holding him... I do remember though, that in the following days, whenever we encountered each other in the corridors of the ship’s accommodation, we greeted each other hollering "Scroooooge!" 

Last night I watched the movie again with one of my sons - an old, poor quality DVD. The boys used to hate me for wanting to show that film each Christmas, but now we both enjoyed it. 

Tonight is Christmas Eve, the traditional feast in English-speaking countries. I wish you all a Merry Christmas, and those who are at sea and may read this, a safe journey.