Wind from Danyari Chapter One
The 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, the first mate, a burly man in his late twenties, 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 would 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, man and object
not battened down.
Jan held to the rigging to stop from being washed overboard. Rain whipped his face and
hands. He ducked his head involuntarily when lightning struck the topmast. A wind gust stronger than any before drove the
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 an hour ago. It’s been sunny with
a fine breeze all week, then we had to run into this.”
Jan could barely hear William’s voice above the storm’s din.
“Look forward.” Willem yelled as lightning flashed around them,
then he screamed, “What’s that?”
Jan turned. 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 had imagined them, then lightning
flashed, and they 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 desperately to turn the Zuytdorp from
smashing against the cliffs.
We should have turned north before the storm hit, Jan thought as he
strained on the ropes, nearly pulling his heart out. These big square-riggers couldn’t tack effectively before a gale.
Then 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 cried, his gaze following
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
down, 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,”
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 if anyone can make it, it will be an agile young
man like Willem.
From the fallen mast, Willem cut a length of rope and tied it around his
waist. “Does it look secure enough?” he asked Jan 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 safely 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 began his struggle through the boiling surf.
Jan held tightly 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
had 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. He gripped a jagged rock, his fingers curling into it when the
surging water would have taken him into the sea. When the water receded, he 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 make it. 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 when 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. He made the rope secure to the deck, then said to the crew, “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
one by one.”
He climbed over the ship’s
side and grasped the rope. Placing one foot after the other he struggled across the rocky 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 when 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 foam.
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 had been proud to sail in, pounded to pieces. It was a bad dream, a nightmare he
would wake from.
He waved to the men left on the Zuytdorp. 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 are left of a crew of
two hundred souls, he thought in anguish.
During the days, which followed, the men built a bonfire of branches they
dragged from the bush. They talked about the Kochenge that 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 one morning to find the sea calm, they could scarcely
believe it after the raging waters of the past week. There was scarcely a whitecap to be seen. The Zuytdorp sat on the flat
sea riding the little waves, which ran up onto the ledge and back to 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, which would knock a man
off his feet and sweep him into the sea, smashed in vengeance against 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 they would have to find other
sources of water.
They had brought wine and spirits from the wreck. The heap of empty green
bottles grew. Jan stepped around two men wrestling on the ground. They were 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 ignored him.
“I can see a sail,”
a voice shouted from the cliff top.
By the time Jan had scrambled up the cliff face, the sailor who held the
telescope said bitterly, “It was only a mirage of clouds.”
The men drifted away. One stopped to gaze at a pile of green bottles, most
of which had been smashed when they were carelessly thrown onto the heap.
Jan sat on a limestone block at the head of the steep track 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. Like a gallant beast, she had gone to slaughter. The tears ran down Jan’s cheeks. He
had sailed with her through many an ocean storm, but now ill luck and incompetence had doomed her. Images of Tanneke, his
little daughter, he and his wife, Els, had named for his mother, 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
had survived the wreck, struggle to remove one of the cannon from the Zuytdorp. “Why do they want to bring a cannon
ashore?” Willem said.
“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?” He watched the men 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,” he tried to say calmly. “We’re going to be rescued.”
“I knew we would. 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 top of the cliff. Jan had the telescope whipped from him.
The man held it to his eye. “I knew we’d be rescued,” he cried.
“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, which had been 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.