Northwest Passage, Part Five

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November 1633—New Amsterdam Harbor

 

The two Dutch fregätten floated quietly, wrapped in a white shroud. The dense fog that had settled over the New Amsterdam harbor was both a blessing and a curse. It hid them from potential enemies but made navigation hazardous and obscured what was happening onshore. That something was happening was evident. The muffled cries and the reflection of flames in the fog were noticeable even out in the harbor off Fort Amsterdam. The Friesland and the Rotterdam had used the cover of the fog to sail unobserved into the anchorage. When the disturbance on shore became evident, they had quietly gone to quarters, with their guns loaded but not run out. Ever since the decision to try and reach New Amsterdam after the defeat at Dunkirk, the ships' captains had worried that they might not reach the colony before their enemies. It appeared that the worst had happened. Captain Tjaert de Groot of the Friesland used the fog as cover to send his last remaining boat ashore with his first officer to scout the situation. The boat was overdue and he was worried.

Visibility was now down to twenty yards. Every swirl of the fog brought visions of a French or English ship bearing down with guns run out. Finally, he could wait no longer. He picked up a speaking trumpet, and stepped to the railing. He made sure the trumpet was directed at the Rotterdam's aftercastle, away from shore and hailed the ship. "Captain van den Broecke, my boat is overdue and I have no others left to send. Can you send one? We must know what's happening." He placed the trumpet to his ear to catch the reply. Instead of the expected words, a laugh could be heard close by on the water. He reversed the trumpet and hailed the Rotterdam again. "Hold off, we've heard something." Slowly a lantern became visible through the fog. It came from the direction the ship's boat had taken earlier when it headed toward shore.

"Ahoy, the Friesland. Where the hell are you?" The shout was loud enough to carry across the harbor. It was the first officer, Pieter de Beers, and he was obviously drunk.

De Groot raced to the opposite rail. A drunken sailor revealing their presence to possible enemies was the last thing he needed. If the French or English had somehow beaten them to New Amsterdam, they could be facing serious opposition. Surprise would be their only hope if they were outnumbered. The boat bumped alongside and he hissed down at it, "Quiet! You fool! You'll give us away. Come aboard and make your report."

De Beers boarded slowly, holding onto a rum bottle. When he reached the deck, he swayed more than the wave motion would account for and there was a broad smile on his face. De Groot could smell the rum half way across the deck. "Everything is fine, sir. The town is celebrating a successful harvest. The director general extends his greetings . . . " He raised the rum bottle. " . . . and an invitation to both crews to join the celebration." He extended the bottle to Tjaert.

"Very well, Mr. de Beers." In his relief at the news, Tjaert reflexively accepted the bottle and took a small taste, then a longer swallow. The rum sent a warmth to his stomach that drove away the chills of the fog and his fears. "It seems you've already received your share of the invitation. You'll be staying on board." He turned to the watch officer by the companionway. "Have the men secure from quarters and pass the word over to the Rotterdam that everything's fine. Then tell off some men for an anchor watch. Everyone else can go ashore. After what we've gone through the past months, they deserve it."

Word of the invitation quickly spread and sailors appeared on the deck ready to disembark as if by magic. They ended up milling about for some time. The battle damage from Dunkirk had left only one usable boat. The captain went ashore in the first trip. It took nearly an hour after he left to finish rowing the remainder of the crew ashore.

De Groot intended to seek out the Director General, Wouter van Twiller, to learn the latest local news and pass on what had happened at Dunkirk. The director general apparently had the same intention and was waiting for him on the dock. Van Twiller was short, stout, and very well off, judging by the cut of his clothing. "Captain de Groot, to what do we owe this pleasure? It isn't often that two ships of the fleet come to call. I want to assure you our full cooperation to make your stay enjoyable. Your men are welcome to join our harvest celebration." He gestured toward the crowd around the building. "Your first officer mentioned that you have news, but he said I had best talk to you."

Other well wishers started to drift toward the dock. Tjaert took van Twiller aside. "Is there someplace I could speak to you and your other leaders in private?"



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