Read CHAPTER I of A Yacht Voyage to Norway‚ Denmark‚ and Sweden 2nd edition , free online book, by W. A. Ross, on

I believe the old Italian proverb says, that every man, before he dies, should do three things: “Get a son, build a house, and write a book.” Now, whether or not I am desirous, by beginning at the end, to end at the beginning of this quaint axiom, I leave the reader to conjecture. My book may afford amusement to him who will smile when I am glad, and sympathise with the impressions I have caught in other moods of mind; but I have little affinity of feeling, and less companionship with him who expects to see pictures of life coloured differently from those I have beheld.

At three o’clock on the boisterous afternoon of the 1st of May, 1847, I left Greenwich with my friend Lord R, in his yacht, to cruise round the coasts of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden; and, although the period of the year at which I quitted London was the one I most desired to remain in it, and join, as far as I was able, in the pomps and gaieties of Old Babylon, I did not like to miss this opportunity, offered under such favourable circumstances, of seeing countries so rarely visited by Englishmen, more particularly as the invitation had been pressed upon me so unaffectedly and kindly, that I could not, with any reason, decline it.

Dropping down with the tide, we arrived the same evening alongside the guard-ship at Sheerness; and, being desirous of making ourselves snug, and of landing two unfortunate friends whom we had originally promised to send ashore at Gravesend, we made fast to a Government buoy, and remained in smooth water till the following morning.

The “Iris” cutter belongs to the R.Y.S., and is the sister-vessel of the “Corsair.” She was built by Ratsey for the late Mr. Fleming, with whom she was a great favourite, and for whom she won many valuable prizes. From England to the Mediterranean, she safely bore her first master many times; but with flowing canvass and with rapid keel at last enticed him once too often from his native shore; for, during a cruise in the Mediterranean, after many months of pain, he died while gazing on her. Passing through several hands, serving all equally well in gale or calm, she came at last into the possession of Lord R, who has travelled farther, and made more extraordinary voyages in her than any member of the Squadron; and in spite of all improvements adopted of late years in yacht-building, there are but few, if any, vessels of seventy-five tons, that can surpass her in speed and symmetrical beauty, or in the buoyant ease with which she has encountered the fiercest storms.

Her crew consisted of seven or eight regular seamen, a sailing-master, mate, cook, steward, and a boy to assist him. A fine Newfoundland dog, called “Sailor,” and a droll little ring-tail monkey, called “Jacko,” also joined in the mess for’ard. Lord R, with Captain Pand myself, made up the entire complement.

On Sunday morning, the 2nd, at eleven, as the church bells of Sheerness were chiming a merry peal, we commenced preparations for our departure, by sending our two friends off in the jolly-boat, in which they must have got pretty wet; for a sea was running sufficiently high to cause them some little discomfort. After a gloomy day’s work, we reached Harwich, and at nine in the evening rested again in five fathoms water.

We rose betimes the following day, and strolled about the town in search of stores. We collected on board every kind of preserved meat and vegetable one could think of; and every kind of wine, from champagne down to cherry cordial, the taste of man could relish. We had milk, too, in pots, and mint for our peasoup; lard in bladders, and butter, both fresh and salt, in jars; flour, and suet, which we kept buried in the flour; a hundred stalks of horseradish for roast beef; and raisins, citron, and currants, for plum-pudding.

We had rifles and guns to shoot bears and wolves; and large rods, large as small maypoles, to catch salmon, and small rods to secure the bait. We had fishing-tackle which, when unwound, went all the way into the after cabin, and then back again ten times round the main cabin.

We had water-proof boots, reaching up to the hips, for wading the rivers; and India-rubber pilot-jackets for keeping the chest and back secure from the spray of foss, or wave. Indeed, we had all that the heart of man could wish, and all that his judgment could devise.

I contrived, before the day had passed, to become very sick of Harwich and myself; for of all dull holes in this kingdom of England, does not this one claim the superlative degree? Tuesday, the 4th, still found me on the same spot, gazing on the two lighthouses; and, to enhance my gaiety, Rand Pwent to Ipswich to see a schooner yacht, being built for an old friend of Rand at that moment on the stocks. They returned laden with turnips, carrots, radishes, and cabbages. The luckless schooner was rated in great style berths too numerous, and cabin not lofty enough. A fiddle also was bought to-day for Jerome, a sailor, who, though self-taught, had some idea of music and afterwards, wiled away, in Norway, and on the ocean, during the calm evenings, many a weary hour, by playing to us some of Old England’s most plaintive airs.

The following day came and went in the same monotonous fashion as its predecessor, since I find its events recorded thus: “Fine day nothing new. Went ashore. Bought fish, mutton, and beef. Eat all the fish, and some of the beef. Wind E.S.E.”

Thursday dawned beautifully calm, and not a cloud was visible between earth and the blue Heaven. As I paced up and down the deck, yet damp with dew, I thought the serenity of the morning emblematic of our future wanderings and was I wrong? As the sun gained altitude and power, the water became rippled with a light air, and nine o’clock found us fairly under weigh.

There was not a heavy heart on board; even Jacko chirupped, and, swinging by his tail from the bowsprit shroud, revelled in the warm sunshine. Being desirous of showing the exuberance of our spirits, R, who had observed an old dame and her maid plying in a wherry round the cutter probably to take a nearer view of our beautiful craft and her adventurous crew, or, perhaps to breathe the morning air, I know not which ordered the two quarter swivels to be loaded, and watching his opportunity, when the cautious wherry came rather near, fired both of them right over the old lady’s black bonnet, and sent the wad fizzing and smoking into the servant-girl’s lap. I need not describe the alarm of the old woman, nor the shriek of the young one; but the grin of the well-seasoned tar who rowed, coupled with his efforts to keep the fair freight quiet where he had stowed it, were worth our whole cargo.

We shipped from this port a man named King, who was to act as interpreter. He had been in Norway, and was well acquainted with the people and language, having been for many previous years of his life employed in the lobster fisheries. He proved a most willing, honest, good-tempered servant, and a most useful linguist.

The wind being light, the Iris found it tough work in stemming the strong tide which sets into Harwich; but we contrived at half-past eleven to pass Orfordness Light. At six, the breeze having eastern’d a little, and increased till it became what sailors term “pleasant,” we lost sight of Lowestoff; and lastly, being this day’s work, as well as for the information of all nautical men, we sounded at half-past seven on Smith’s Knoll, in seven fathoms.

Friday morning, the 7th, dawned upon our glorious craft dashing through the water in great style, with a moderate breeze from S. to S.S.E. As I cast my eye round the horizon, and descried no land, thoughts of old days crowded to my recollection, when I left home for the first time, and England for the West Indies. How all the high hopes of youth had vanished; and how unaltered my condition now from what it was then! Had an angel come down from Heaven and told me, twelve years ago, when I, a boy, stood on the hencoop of a West Indiaman, gazing at the Lizard, that I should be the same creature in feeling and condition, I should have questioned the prophecy. But the wind is fair, and this is no time for sorrowful thoughts.

“Hard-up the helm! Dick,” said D.

“Ay, ay, sir.”

“Steady! So.”

“Steady, sir.”

“Some man there, heave the lead!” and down it went, rushing, in five-and-twenty fathoms on the Silver Pits. At nine, the vessel was hove to, and we tried our lines for fish, but did not succeed. We filled on her again, and stood away, as before, to the N.E. At two o’clock, while we were trying our lines for the second time, I felt, suddenly, squeamish; and, in spite of the splendid weather and pure air, wished myself most heartily in the middle of Bond-street, or any, the most ignoble alley in the neighbourhood of Leicester-square. I closed my eyes and fancied myself seated on a bench in the Green Park, watching the sheep browsing round me, and listening to the rumbling of carriages as they passed along Piccadilly. I opened my eyes; the vision fades, and, lo!

Nil nisi pontus et aer.”

However, I plucked up courage, and remained on deck until half-past six, when the gaff-topsail was unbent and the top-mast struck; D, the sailing-master, anticipating no good from the calm, and the dense fog, which had succeeded a fine wind and cheerful sunshine.

Early in the morning, about four o’clock, I was awakened by a good deal of laughing and shuffling of feet on deck, and by an occasional thump, as if a cargo of pumpkins was being taken on board.

I leaped out of my berth, and, putting my head above the companion, saw all the men who composed the watch hard at work with their fishing-lines, and the main-deck covered with several large codfish. Witnessing the pugnacity of one or two fish when they were hauled out of the water, I turned in again: for it was no easy matter to stand, the swell increasing as we got more on the Dogger Bank.

While we were at breakfast, eating cods’ sound and talking of smoked salmon, the sailing-master came below and told us a small vessel was in sight, and, by running down to her, we might speak her and send letters home by her. Of course, all the married men commenced scratching in great style both paper and their pâtes, and in a shorter time than could be imagined, made up a small mail. The more strenuously, however, we endeavoured to approach the vessel, the more she bore away; and, being a long way to the eastward of us, and going before the wind with her square-sail set, it was doubtful whether we should fetch her. At last, we fancied she mistook us for pirates; for, I must confess, we looked suspicious; and the squadron ensign flying at the peak made our cutter appear more warlike and determined than she really was. By eleven, notwithstanding our friend’s manoeuvring, we were pretty close to her, and, lowering the dingy as quickly as possible, two men were ordered to pull to the strange smack, and, ascertaining her destination, to deliver the letters. This last action on our part took the poor craft by surprise; for it was curious to observe the pertinacity with which this little vessel avoided our boat, although we used every stratagem devised by seafaring men to allay the consternation of the weak: such as the waving of our caps, the hoisting of pacific signals, the lowering of our gaff-topsail, &c., &c.; nor could she be persuaded of our amicable intentions before poor King had shouted, at the top of his lungs, that we were Englishmen in search of pleasure, and destined for no marauding purpose.

She turned out to be, what our glasses had anticipated at daylight, a Norwegian, laden with dried fish, and bound to the coast of Holland; and, therefore, our letters were brought back.

Scarcely had the incident I have just mentioned come to a conclusion, than another sail, just emerging from the horizon, was discovered on our weather bow. We rubbed our hands, plucked our caps over the forehead, and walked up and down the deck more briskly than ever; for there is no man who has not been to sea can imagine the feelings of sailors when, far from land, a sail is seen.

Every minute now brought us closer, and at two P.M. we had come within hail. There was little wind, but a nasty short sea was running; and it was comical in the extreme to observe each man endeavouring to steady himself, and place his hands to his mouth for the purpose of hailing, when a sudden swell would send him rolling over Sailor’s hutch, or seat him gently on the sky-light behind. After a little trouble, the speaking-trumpet was found and brought on deck, and by its assistance a communication was opened with the vessel. She was a large Norwegian bark from Christiansand, and bound to London. To our request that they would take charge of some letters, the captain, leaning over the weather-quarter, assented in a loud Norwegian dialect. The question which now arose was, how were we to get the said letters on board; but necessity, being here established as the mother of invention, gave a prompt answer. P, holding the letters in his hand, desired that a potato might be brought. The largest from the store was presented. It was then lashed with a piece of twine to the letters, now transposed into a tidy brown-paper parcel, which P, balancing in the palm of his left hand, suggested was not of sufficient weight to reach the ship. We were not long at a loss, for the cook appeared, grim and smiling, with a tolerable-sized coal exposed to view and approbation, between his thumb and forefinger. Side by side, like a fair-haired youth with his swarthy bride, the coal and potato were placed; and P, poising for the second time the precious parcel, rolled up his shirt-sleeve, and, throwing himself well back, hurled, with all the elegance of a Parthian, coal, potato, and parcel toward the Norwegian captain’s head. But, horror! the potato and coal combined proved rather too heavy, and, retaining their impetus longer than intended, carried the luckless brown-paper bundle over the lee-side and into the North Sea.

The ship immediately backed her main-yard, and, lowering one of her stern boats, sent her off in search of the unhappy letters; but having rowed about for some time without catching a glimpse of coal, paper, or potato, the search was abandoned, and the boat came alongside of us. After delivering another packet of brown paper, and presenting each man (there were four) with a bottle of brandy, we parted company with mutual good wishes conveyed through our interpreter, King, not omitting sundry well-meaning gesticulations telegraphed between the fat Norwegian captain on the weather quarter and ourselves. This was the first specimen we had met with of northern kindness; and, although we had heard a great deal of their unaffected goodness of heart, this act of civility made no slight impression upon us. At four o’clock, while our Norwegian bark was just hull down, the gaff-topsail was taken in, a strong S.E. wind with rain having arisen. The wind still increasing, at seven the first reef in the mainsail was also taken in, jibs shifted, and the bowsprit reefed.

During the rest of the evening I was a martyr to all the miseries of sea-sickness, and, stretched at full length on the cabin sofa, I closed my eyes, and, allowing my thoughts to wander where they would, hoped to cheat myself out of my present discomfort; but nausea, like no other ill to which we are subservient, is not to be pacified, and I lay the whole night sensible of the keenest pain.