Paul B. (Paul Belloni) Du Chaillu.

The Land of the Long Night online

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At four o'clock the next morning we were up. It was the dawn of the day.
It was wonderful how quickly the nights shortened. Coffee, flat bread,
butter, and cheese made our breakfast.

When we came out almost all the boats with their full crews were ready
waiting for the hoisting of the flag at five o'clock, which is the
signal for the start, the time changing according to the length of the
day. We all had to leave together, and to return the same day. Every
one, including myself, was dressed in oilskin garments, sou'wester, and
high sea-boots. There were more than nine hundred fishing boats. As soon
as the flag was hoisted over five thousand oars struck the water at the
same time, and filled the air with a deep booming sound. I had never
seen so many sea boats and oars together. It was a grand sight!

As soon as we were out of the harbor the boats hoisted their sails, and
soon we were scattered in every direction, each boat going towards its
buoys. I looked at the thousands of white sails with wonder.

Our fishing boat was a fine craft, forty-two feet long and about seven
feet and a half beam. The poop was decked under for a cabin, with bunks
for the men to sleep in. The rudder-like oar, several feet long, is held
by the captain, who sculls and steers at the same time.

Captain Ole was a regular "old salt." Our crew was composed of Sven,
Hakon, Fridthjof, Ivor, Evert, Harald and Erik. Evert and Harald were
lads about seventeen years old; they were learning to be hardy sailors
like their father.

After a sail of three hours' beating against the wind, we came to the
fishing banks and towards our buoys. The water for as far as I could see
was filled with buoys and glass balls (floaters to hold the nets)
enclosed in netted ropes. These glass balls were attached by a short
cord to the nets to keep them floating, while stones at the bottom held
the nets stretched. It was no easy matter to sail among them.

Looking at the multitudes of buoys I asked Captain Ole, "How can you
ever find and recognize your own buoys?"

He answered smiling, "We can find our nets by the bearings, and every
buoy has its special mark of ownership. It is hard work to haul in the
nets, especially when the sea is rough. Each net is one hundred and
twenty fathoms long, and about three fathoms deep; - we sailors do not
count by yards but by fathoms. Each fathom is six feet long. In our boat
we have to raise twenty-four nets tied together in fours."

[Illustration: "It is hard work to haul in the nets."]

"I will help you all I can," I replied; "I am willing to work. I have
come to sea and I am in your boat as one of the crew, and I will try to
do my part. I hope we are going to have good luck, and that the catch of
cod will be big."

To Evert and Hakon was assigned the duty of pulling in the nets. Two
other men stowed the nets carefully. Near the net-reels were two men who
hooked the fish as they appeared and threw them inside of the boat, and
another man and I arranged the nets. How eager we were as the nets were
hauled up to peep and see how plentiful the fish were; for these
represented money - and the poor fishermen work so hard to get a

The sea was rough and it took us about ten minutes to haul each net.
After they were all in, we estimated that we had caught about eight
hundred codfish. This was considered a very fine catch. Then a
consultation was held to decide where to re-set the nets. It was very
important to know the direction in which the fish had gone on the banks,
for these big shoals were constantly moving as they spawned.

After they had decided where to go our sail was hoisted, and we started
for another part of the fishing banks; in the mean time the nets were
inspected and put into good order. When we reached the spot, we sounded
twice and found the sea too deep. When we found a depth of one hundred
fathoms we set our nets, after which we returned home.

On our return we went on board of one of the ships, and our fish was
bought by the captain at a little over eight dollars a "big
hundred," - that is, 112 cod.

On the deck of this ship were already several boat-loads of cod; the
fish were cleaned, flattened, washed and salted, and laid in the hold on
the top of one another.

The captain said to me: "When I am loaded I shall sail for my farm, and
then lay the fish on the rocks to dry. I have a nice little home by the
sea. I hope my boys will one of these days be sailors as I am." Then we
shook hands with the captain and returned to our cabin.

Before we went to bed we learned that the catch of all the boats of the
settlement that day had been over six hundred thousand cod.

The following morning found me ready to start at the appointed time for
fishing with hook and line. The departure of the boats took place in the
same manner as the day before. Our boat was not so large as the netting
boat; it was not decked over.

Captain Johansen steered. The men of our crew were Mats, Pehr, Anders,
Ole, Knut, and Roar.

Captain Johansen had fished in the Arctic regions for forty-two
consecutive years. His face had been permanently reddened by the wind.
Whenever he had a chance he had his pipe in his mouth, and he told me
that his pipe was one of his best friends.

We had a fair wind at the start and in about one hour the men came to
their buoys. Then we lowered the sail. The sea was covered with boats;
there were nearly fifteen hundred in sight, for they had come to that
part of the banks from several other fishing settlements. These boats
were manned by about eleven thousand sailors; men enough to man a big
fleet of men-of-war.

Captain Johansen said: "We are going to have hard work raising our
lines, but if we catch many fish the work will seem to be much lighter
to us."

"That is so," I said, "Captain, for when I go hunting and see no game I
get tired; but if I see plenty of game, then I can tramp all day without

A large reel was placed on one side of the boat to haul in the line.
Before we began to haul the lines the captain remarked: "We attach four
lines together; each line is one hundred fathoms long. The hooks are
generally from four to six feet apart and there are about one hundred
and twenty on each line. We have to pull in over twenty-four hundred
fathoms or over twenty-six thousand feet of line, to which are attached
about five thousand hooks."

"Indeed," I said to the captain, "it will be hard work and will take
quite a while, especially if many fish are caught."

"I hope, nevertheless, we shall catch many," he replied with a smile,
"for most of us have a home to keep and a wife and children to clothe
and feed."

We began to haul in the lines on the reel. How we watched! How deep our
eyes tried to see into the water! It was quite exciting. We were
fortunate: a big shoal of fish had been passing on that part of the
banks, and on many a hook a cod was hanging. After we got through, we
pulled towards another of our buoys, passing several that belonged to
other fishermen on the way.

Having pulled in about three hundred fathoms of our next line, we found
that the rest of the line had drifted into a net and some of the hooks
were caught and entangled in it, and we had a hard job to free the line.

Then we rowed to a third buoy belonging to us and began hauling. Almost
every other hook had caught a fish. The faces of the fishermen were full
of happiness. They felt that on that day they would have a great catch,
when suddenly one of the men shouted, "Our line is entangled; I wonder
whether it has fouled a net or another line." But as we pulled in the
line we raised another line with it not belonging to us. We had a hard
time to separate them, but after nearly half an hour's work succeeded in
doing so. We had caught over two hundred cod on this line.

Our fourth line proved to be entangled in nets as well as also in
several lines belonging to different owners. The untwisting was
something awful, and it was no joke to separate them. Fortunately we
could tell to whom the lines belonged, for each one is marked from
distance to distance with the number of the boat and the letter of the
district from which the craft comes. The rest of the lines were so badly
tangled that we concluded to cut them. Then we pulled the cut pieces
with the fish on them into our boat, intending to give them to their
owners - not a difficult task, as the marks of ownership were on the
tackles - and if they belonged to another settlement the fish would be
sold and the money given them.

Captain Johansen and the crew thought the cod would remain two days
more. Their advance guard had passed, but a great deal of the shoal was
going northward; and there were miles of cod still to pass over the bank
upon which we fished.

The wind had been gradually rising. We had had two days of good weather,
and now the sea was covered with white caps. The daughters of Ægir and
Ran were all white-hooded. But as we sailed for home the wind suddenly
increased; squall after squall followed each other. We had to reef the
sail; the sea at times washed over us, and the poor fishermen began to
think seriously of throwing our cargo of fish overboard, for we were
pretty deeply loaded, but it would have been like throwing away money,
and they had worked so hard to get it.

A big black cloud overspread our heads and hail fell thickly upon us,
and it hurt us badly for the hailstones were hard and very big. I tried
to protect my face, for my sou'wester only protected well the back of my
head. The hail was succeeded by sleet, the rigging and mast were covered
with ice; our garments and sou'westers were stiff, and we looked like
big icy things. The captain, looking at me with a smile, - for he saw I
did not like this sort of weather, said: "This weather is the
forerunner of spring in these high latitudes; the sun is getting higher
at its meridian every day."

It was dark long before we reached port, but the men knew every rock on
the coast, and yonder was the lighthouse guiding us on our way. Boat
after boat entered the harbor, and not one of them was lost.

The next day the gale was such that no boat was permitted to put out to
sea. In the evening there was very little talking, and for a while no
one said a word; then Captain Johansen broke the silence and said:
"Paul, this Arctic Ocean is the home of gales; these often bring sadness
to many homes; some of us here have lost friends and relatives at sea.
Some years ago a fishing fleet of eight hundred boats was caught in one
of these sudden gales. After the boats had come safely into port the
roll-call showed that twenty boats with their crews were missing."

"How sad!" I exclaimed; and as Captain Johansen was speaking I wondered
how many people thought, when they ate fish, of the hard life of the
poor and brave fishermen and of the gales they encounter.

The fishermen wanted to entertain me before we retired for the night,
and Captain Larsen said, "I will tell you, Paul, about one of the great
sea battles of the Vikings."



After we had clustered round Captain Larsen, he gave three or four big
puffs of his pipe and began:

The battle of Svold took place in the year one thousand. Olaf
Tryggvasson, King of Norway, had left Vindland in the Baltic and was on
his way back to Norway with his fleet. He was on his ship the _Ormrinn
Lange_ (the "Long Serpent"). Svein, the King of Denmark, Olaf King of
Sweden, and Erik Jarl of Norway, his enemies, lay in ambush for him
under the island of Svold with all their ships. The three chiefs landed
on the island. After a while they espied some ships of the fleet of
Olaf. Among them was a particularly large and splendid one. Both kings
said: "This is an exceedingly fine ship; it must be the _Long Serpent_."

Erik Jarl, who knew the _Long Serpent_, answered: "This is not the _Long
Serpent_, which is much larger and grander, though this is a fine

Ship after ship passed by and the two kings took each of them to be the
_Long Serpent_, but they received invariably the same answer from Erik

The three chiefs drew lots to know who should first attack Olaf
Tryggvasson's ship. Svein, King of Denmark, drew the lot to attack
first; then Olaf, King of Sweden, and Erik Jarl last, if it should be
found necessary. It was agreed between the three chiefs that each should
own the ships which he himself cleared of men and captured.

Erik Jarl's ship was called the _Jarn Bardi_, an iron-clad ram which had
the reputation of cleaving through every ship it attacked; there were
beaks on the top of both stem and stern, and below these were thick iron
plates which covered the whole of the stem and stern all the way down to
the water.

When the chiefs had arranged their plan, they saw three very large
ships, and following them a fourth; they all saw a dragon-head on the
stem, ornamented so that it seemed of pure gold, and it gleamed far and
wide over the sea as the sun shone on it. As they looked at the ship,
they wondered greatly at its length, for the stern did not appear till
long after they had seen the prow, as the ship glided past the point of
the island slowly; then all knew that this was the _Long Serpent_ - a
ship about three hundred and sixty feet long, with a crew of over seven
hundred and fifty men.

At this sight many a man grew silent.

Sigvaldi Jarl, one of Olaf Tryggvasson's commanders, let down the sails
on his ship and rowed up towards the island. Thorkel Dydril on the
_Tranan_ (the "Crane"), and the other ship-steerers (for the commanders
were so called), lowered their sails also and followed him. All waited
for Olaf Tryggvasson. When King Olaf saw that his men had lowered their
sails and were waiting for him, he steered towards them and asked them
why they did not go on. They told him that a host of foes was before
them and that the fleets of the allied kings lay around the point.

Advancing further the King Olaf Tryggvasson and his men saw that the sea
was covered far and wide with the warships of his foes. Thorkel Dydril,
a wise and valiant man, said: "Lord, here is an overwhelming force to
fight against: let us hoist our sails and follow our men out to sea. We
can still do so while our foes prepare themselves for battle, for it is
not looked upon as cowardice by any one for a man to use forethought for
himself and his men." King Olaf Tryggvasson's men now missed the ships
that had sailed ahead.

King Olaf replied loudly: "Tie together the ships and let the men
prepare for battle!" for in those days it was the custom to tie the
ships together. Then the commanders arranged the host.

The _Long Serpent_ was in the middle, with the _Short Serpent_ on one
side and the _Crane_ on the other, and four other ships on each side of
them; but this fleet was but a small one compared with the overwhelming
fleet which their enemies had.

When Olaf saw that they began to tie together the stern of the _Long
Serpent_ and of the _Short Serpent_, he called out loudly, "Bring the
_Long Serpent_ forward; I will not be the hindmost of all my men in this
fleet when the battle begins!"

Then Ulf ("Wolf") the Red, the king's standard bearer, and who was also
his prow-defender, said: "If the _Long Serpent_ shall be put as much
forward as it is larger and longer than other ships, the men in the bows
will have a hard time of it!"

The king cried: "I had the _Serpent_ made longer than other ships so
that it should be put forward more boldly in battle, but I did not know
I had a prow-defender who was faint-hearted!"

Ulf replied: "Turn thou, King, no more back in defending the high deck
than I will in defending the prow!"

Olaf Tryggvasson stood aloft on the high deck of the _Long Serpent_. He
had a shield, and gilt helmet, and was easily recognized. He wore a red
silk kirtle over his ring-armor.

When he saw that the ships of his foes began to separate, and that the
standards were raised in front of each chief, he asked: "Who is the
chief of that standard which is opposite us?" He was told that it was
King Svein of Denmark with the Danish ships.

"What chief follows the standard which is to the right?" He was told
that it was Olaf of Sweden.

"Who owns those large ships to the left of King Olaf of Sweden?"

"It is Erik Jarl Hakonson," they replied.

Then Svein of Denmark, Olaf of Sweden, and Erik Jarl rowed towards the
_Long Serpent_.

The battle horns were blown and both sides shouted a war-cry, and soon
the combat raged fiercely, - at first with arrows from crossbows and long
bows, then with spears and javelins and slings - and King Olaf
Tryggvasson fought most manfully. King Svein's men turned the prows of
many of their ships towards both sides of the _Long Serpent_. The Danes
also attacked the _Short Serpent_ and the _Crane_. The carnage was

King Svein made the stoutest onset. King Olaf Tryggvasson made the
bravest defence with his men, but they fell one after another. King Olaf
fought almost too boldly, shooting arrows and hurling spears; he went
forward in hand-to-hand fight, and cleft many a man's skull with his

The attack proved difficult for the Danes, for the stern-defenders of
the _Long Serpent_ and of the _Short Serpent_ hooked anchors and
grappling hooks to King Svein's ships, and as they could strike down
upon the enemy with their weapons, for they had much larger and higher
boarded ships, they cleared of men all the Danish ships which they had
laid hold of. King Svein had to retreat.

In the mean time Erik Jarl had come first with the _Jarn Bardi_
alongside the farthest ship of Olaf Tryggvasson on one wing, cleared it,
and cut it from the fastenings; he then boarded the next one, and fought
until it was cleared of men; and as the men fell on his ship, other
Danes and Swedes took their places. At last all of Olaf Tryggvasson's
ships had been cleared of men and captured except the _Long Serpent_,
which carried all the men who were now able to fight.

Erik Jarl then attacked the _Long Serpent_ with five large ships; he
laid the _Jarn Bardi_ alongside, and then ensued the fiercest fight and
the most terrible hand-to-hand struggle of the day, and such a shower of
weapons was poured upon the _Long Serpent_ that the men could hardly
protect themselves.

King Olaf Tryggvasson's men became so furious that they jumped upon the
gunwales in order to reach their foes with their swords and kill them,
and many went straight overboard; for out of eagerness and daring they
forgot that they were not fighting on dry ground, and sank down with
their weapons between the ships.

When only a few men were left on the _Long Serpent_ around the mast
amidships, Erik Jarl boarded it with fourteen men. Then came against him
King Olaf's brother-in-law, Hyrning, with his followers, and between
them ensued a hard fight. It was ended by Erik Jarl's retreating onto
the _Bardi_, which took away the dead and the wounded, and in their
stead brought fresh and rested men.

When Erik had prepared his men, he said to Thorkel the High, a wise and
powerful chief: "Often have I been in battles, and never have I before
found men equally brave and so skilled in fighting as those on the _Long
Serpent_, nor have I seen a ship so hard to conquer. Now, as thou art
one of the wisest of men, give me the best advice thou knowest as to how
the _Long Serpent_ may be won!"

Thorkel replied: "I cannot give thee sure advice, but I can say what
seems to me best to do. Thou must take large timbers, and let them fall
from thy ship upon the gunwales of the _Long Serpent_, so that it will
careen; then thou wilt find it the easier to board the ship."

Erik Jarl did as Thorkel had told him.

King Olaf and his men defended themselves with the utmost bravery and
manliness; they slew many of their foes, both on the _Jarn Bardi_ and on
other ships which lay near theirs.

When the defenders of the _Long Serpent_ began to thin out, Erik Jarl
boarded it and met with a warm reception.

Olaf Tryggvasson shot at him with spears. The first flew past his right
side, the second his left, and the third struck the fore part of the
ship above his head.

Then King Olaf said: "Never before did I thus miss a man; great is the
Jarl's luck."

In a short time most of King Olaf's champions fell, though they were
both strong and valiant. Among them Hyrning, Thorgier, Vikar, and Ulf
the Red, and many other brave men who left a famous name behind. The
_Long Serpent_ was now cleared of men and captured, but Olaf Tryggvasson
was never seen or heard of more. He probably threw himself into the sea
not to survive his defeat.

"It was a grand fight, Captain Larsen!" I exclaimed, as the narrator
concluded his story. I thanked the captain, and after this we all went
to our bunks to sleep.

The following day was Sunday. There was no buying or selling of fish.
Every man was shaved and wore clean linen; the church was crowded with
fishermen, and the afternoon was spent in making social visits.

I had fished with the four boats of our house, and now I made my
preparations for sailing northward. Our catch of fish and that in
several neighboring fishing settlements during the fishing season had
amounted to over twenty-two millions of cod.



Leaving the fishing settlement, the _Ragnild_, which I had rejoined,
sailed along the rugged and dreary shore of Finmarken, the most northern
part of the continent of Europe, passing now and then a solitary
fisherman's house, or a settlement hidden from sight, though the
stranger would never dream that any human being lived in this land of
rocks and desolation.

We next came to Hammerfest, in 70° 40' north latitude, the most northern
town in the world. In its commodious port were English, French, Russian,
German, Swedish, and Norwegian vessels. Hundreds of fishing boats were
there also, waiting for favorable winds to continue their voyage.
Steamers were going and coming from the south.

The population was about three thousand souls. There were warehouses
owned by rich merchants, a church, a comfortable hotel, good schools
where boys and girls can learn French, English, German, Latin and

The streets were filled with snow. But though so far north there was not
a particle of ice in the port, on account of the warm Gulf Stream,
though sometimes the thermometer reaches 20 degrees below zero. Often
during the winter the mercury stands for consecutive days above the
freezing point.

After leaving Hammerfest we sailed towards North Cape. Suddenly I heard
one of the sailors on the watch shout, "Light! Light!" "What," said I,
"a lighthouse so far north?"

"Yes," replied the captain, who was standing near me; "it is the most
northern light on the globe. It is the light on the island of Fruholmen,
situated in latitude 71° 5' north." We sailed as far as North Cape, on
the island of Magerö, rising majestically to a height of nine hundred
and eighty feet above the sea, and in latitude 71° 10'. At the top of
the cape there was evidently a gale, for the snow was flying to a great

As we were sailing along the shore, I saw some strange-looking
weather-beaten logs, covered with barnacles. The captain said to me,
"Some of these logs come probably from the coast of South America, from
the Amazon and Orinoco rivers; the Gulf Stream has brought them here. It
has taken them a long time to reach this place, for they are covered
with barnacles."

Instead of doubling North Cape, we sailed through the narrow Magerö
Sound which separates the island from the mainland.

[Illustration: "We sailed towards North Cape."]

We had hardly entered the sound when I was astonished by the view that
met my eyes, for now there were fishing settlements coming suddenly into
view, with comfortable, white-painted houses, ships at anchor,
glittering churches shining in the sun, and school buildings.

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Online LibraryPaul B. (Paul Belloni) Du ChailluThe Land of the Long Night → online text (page 13 of 16)