Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Wreck of the Amstelveen

In 1763, the VOC (Dutch East India Company) ship Amstelveen was headed from Batavia in the Dutch East Indies (now Jakarta, Indonesia) for Kharj, Iran with a load of mainly sugar and spices when she wrecked off the coast of Oman.  From the Cultural Heritage website:
On the 5th of August [the Amstelveen] sailed near Ras Madrakah (Cape Mataraca), on the South East coast of Oman. In the evening, as the darkness was setting in and hampered by the foggy conditions, the ship came too close to the coast and ran aground. Due to the very high and powerful waves crashing on and breaking over the ship, she capsized and broke into pieces and sank. On board were 105 men of which 75 of them drowned. Only 30 crewmen reached the shore alive.

DrKlaas Doornbos, a retired professor of education and friend of the Dutchman who discovered Eyks' logbook concerning the Amstelveen in an antique market in Southern France in 1997, has written a book about the wreck of the Amstelveen and the subsequent trek across Oman by the survivors,  titled Desert Survival in Oman, 1763: The fate of the Amstelveen and thirty castaways on the South Coast of Arabia.  It's set to be published in English and Dutch by Amsterdam University Press in October 2014, but from the news reports it looks like publishing has been scheduled for some years and has not yet happened.

Doornbos explained in The Week in 2012:

“I am not a professional maritime historian or a cartographer; I am a retired professor. But I was asked to solve the problem of the wreckage. The log that was found was useful, but I couldn’t solve it solely based on that. I used Google Earth and looking at the topography and the map I was able to determine the area where the ship wrecked. We still don’t know the exact location of the wreck because there was no evidence.

The ship was shattered and, I suppose, pillaged later.” Cornelis Eyks was the ship’s third mate and used his talent of writing to keep a detailed log of all the events that transpired from the time the crew set sail from Batavia (Jakarta, Indonesia), headed to Kharg, Iran in 1763.

Of the 30 survivors, 22 arrived in Muscat after an arduous trek that took the survivors from Ras al Matrakah, via Duqm, 500km to Ras al Hadd in Sur. After four days of walking, the survivors reached a cape (the cape of Ras al Matrakah), which helped them realise where they were and where they needed to head in order to reach civilisation in Muscat. They reached Muscat 31 days after they shipwrecked, encountering pillaging Bedouins, compassionate nomads, Arabian oryx and giant sand dunes.

According to AUP's website, Eyks' journal is the oldest European account of the coast of Oman and its inhabitants.

The Dutch Embassy to Oman produced a documentary about the trek and the search for the wreck, in coordination with the Ministry of Heritage and Culture.

More from The Week:

The other 30 would make it to a rocky beach in Ras Madrakah south of Duqm and about 20 of those would live through the torturous walk to Sur and Hadd. One of them would faithfully log the story of the survivors of the Amstelveen, a ship whose story ended in Oman and, almost 250 years later, is about to begin once again.

The subject of a new book as well as a whole new chapter in the relationship between the Netherlands and Oman, interest in the Amstelveen was rekindled recently after a chance discovery of a copy of the log kept by the ship’s third mate Cornelis Eyks. Surfacing in an antiquarian bookstore in the south of France, the log came to the notice of Dr Klaas Doornbos who researched it and wrote Shipwreck & Survival in Oman 1763.

A copy of the manuscript is here in Oman in the care of H E Stefan van Wersch, Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to Oman but as it has not been published yet, H E van Wersch has promised the author that he will not pass it on, but he was kind enough to narrate excerpts to us.

“The story is like the TV show Extreme Survival, where they drop someone in a remote place and they have to survive with what they can find, only in this case it was a real life or death struggle,” said H E van Wersch. “These men had to walk some 700km to reach a point from which they were taken by sea to Muscat. And this was in August, so you can imagine the heat they had to deal with.

The log describes how at day they would burn in the sun, their feet in terrible shape from walking without proper footwear on hot sand and rock, and at night though drained they could never sleep properly because of the cold. All of this with a terrible shortage of water.”

As not all of them could maintain the same pace, the survivors thinned out into small groups of twos and fours. Some, possibly injured or just unable to go on any further, would drop and have to be left behind never to be seen again. Perhaps due to some misunderstanding in communication, the men came under attack by some of the people they came across in the desert.

Eyks’ log speaks of being treated with compassion too with some people helping to treat their cracked and burnt lips with some sort of unguent. Some villagers they met also gave them dates and water as well as shelter from the cruel elements to sleep in. “The great thing about the log is what it describes but sadly he leaves so much out. There were many mysteries about the Amstelveen that have not yet been solved,” said H E van Wersch.

One mystery is why it ran aground in the first place. The captain was experienced and would have known these waters. Another enigma is the man whom Eyks met in Muscat who spoke fluent Dutch - he would surely have asked how the man had learnt Dutch but has not recorded that. Some of the anomalies caused the whole wreck story to be treated with suspicion by the Dutch East India Company who suggested that the crew might have fabricated the story and sold off the cargo.

Not sympathetic to the harshness endured by the men, the company sent Eyks to Kharg where he was questioned and from there back to Batavia for another round of interrogation before finally buying his story and paying him his back salary but only up till the day the ship was wrecked. As to the treasure the Amstelveen was carrying? A load of mainly sugar and spices, so there is not much in those rough waters to go diving for - other items such as the cannons, which commanded a good value in those days, would almost certainly have been salvaged shortly after the wreck by whoever learnt about it.
I very much hope the book is eventually published, because it is the only source I can find for this story.

Wreck of the Cromdale

The 1,903-tonne steel barque Cromdale ran aground in heavy fog off the coast of Cornwall in May 1913 while carrying nitrates from Chile to Fowey.  Within ten minutes she had to be abandoned.  All passengers were saved by local lifeboats but the ship was a total loss and within a week the wreck had broken up completely in a heavy gale.  Her steel ribs and masts still lie underwater.

According to the St. Keverne wreck diving site:

The Lizard is not named after some legendary beast - although it is a land where such stories abound. The name actually comes from the Cornish lezou, or headland. The Lizard is, in fact, a peninsula, whose cliffs support the moorland plateau of Goonhilly Downs, some 300ft above sea level.

The Lizard sticks out into the Channel so far that it is the biggest ship trap in British waters. In fact, so many ships have fallen victim to the Lizard's cliffs and underwater reefs that the Admiralty advises navigators to keep three or more miles off in any kind of rough weather. Those who failed to take that advice have made the Lizard a Mecca for today's wreck divers.
 - A Diver's Guide to the Shipwrecks of the Lizard
Wreck of the Cromdale (Image from Helston History website)
The [Mount Stewart and Cromdale were the] last two ships to be built specially for the  Australian wool trade were the magnificent steel skysail-yard ships Mount Stewart and Cromdale. The former was launched in May, 1891, and the latter in June, both from Barclay, Curie's yard. They were identical sister ships, and were the very latest development of the full-rig ship. They were of course good carriers, with the modern short poop and long sweep of main deck. Yet, in spite of their carrying powers, they both made some excellent passages out and home. [...]

The Cromdale came to grief in 1913 when commanded by Captain Arthur. She was 126 days out, bound home from Taltal with nitrate and was heading for Falmouth. There had been a dense fog for some days, when, most unfortunately, a steamer was passed which advised Captain Arthur to alter his course. Not long after a light was suddenly seen through the fog ahead, but before the ship could be put about she struck on the rocks right at the foot of a cliff. This proved to be Bass Point, close to the Lizard light. The ship was so badly holed  that the captain ordered the boats out at once. Luckily it was calm weather, and some rockets brought the Cadgwith and Lizard lifeboats upon the scene, but the Cromdale settled down so quickly that there was only just time to save the ship's papers and the crew's personal belongings. Lying on the rocks in such an exposed position, it was of course hopeless to think of salving the ship, and the Cromdale became a total loss.
 - from The Colonial Clippers, pg 336 (Basil Lubbock, Glasgow, 1921)
Postcard of the Wreck of the Cromdale (from Helston History website)

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Beach photos and the supermoon

A few days ago the full moon of Ramadan rose over the darkened houses of my neighbourhood as I was walking to the beach.  It was a supermoon this year, at its closest point to the earth.  It hung in the sky like a great gold coin.

The Supermoon rises over houses in Olvera, in the southern Spanish province of Cadiz, July 12, 2014.
The supermoon over Oman.  This image has been circulating on Whatsapp.

More moon photos: NASA; Reuters

I have been bored lately.  I can't even really say I'm bored, as I have plenty to do.  I work, and translate, and write fiction, and read nearly a whole book a day.  But I'm restless and distracted and so I've taken to walking to the beach every day even though it's a tad hot in the afternoon and there are men in the street at night.  It beats sitting at home chewing on the furniture.  I feel restless at the beach too, but at least there are dead things to photograph (does anyone want to see?  I can post pictures), and after an hour of walking at least I'm tired and somewhat less restless.  And 4pm during Ramadan is the perfect time to go to the beach!  I usually have it all to myself.  The soccer players don't come out to jog until 6pm.

Portuguese Man of War

Seagulls at low tide.

Mosque behind a palm grove.

Running the pump to fill up the falaj.

A fishing boat.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Juha and the wali's donkey

From the arabicprose tumblr:

    دخل جحا قصر الوالي فسلم عليه وقال له : أخبروني بأنك أرسلت في طلبي يا سيدي الوالي ..!
    قال الوالي: نعم .. فقد أرسلت إليك لأستشيرك في أمر هام ولن يقدر عليه إلا أنت ..!
    قال جحا : تفضل ياسيدي .. أنا في خدمتك !
    قال الوالي : أخبروني بأنك لديك قدرة عجيبة على تعليم الحمير أفعالا خارقة للعادة ..!
    قال جحا : صدق من قال لك ذلك يا مولاي ..!
    قام الوالي واصطحب جحا لحظيرة القصر وعرض على جحا حمارا مليحا ، وقال لجحا : ما رأيك في هذا الحمار الذي احتفظ به وأوليه عناية فائقة دون غيره من خيلي وحميري ..؟
    قال جحا : حقا .. إنه حمار مليح ويستحق الرعاية والعناية دون غيره ..!
    قال الوالي : هل تستطيع تعليمه الكتابة والقراءة ..؟
    فكر جحا قليلا وقال مندهشا: الكتابة والقراءة ..! الحمار يكتب ويقرأ .. ! أه فهمت .. فهمت .. تريدني أعلم الحمار .. هذا أمر بسيط ولكنه يحتاج لوقت طويل وصبر وجهود جبارة ..!
    قال الوالي : سأجعلك تقيم هنا في القصر طوال مدة تعليمه ولك ما يكفيك من الطعام ولوازم الإقامة وسأجعل لك راتبا شهريا مثل أكبر موظفي القصر ..!
    قال جحا : ولكن ذلك يحتاج لعشر سنوات حتى يتعلم حمار الوالي تعليما يليق به.. !
    قال الوالي: ولكن إذا انتهت المدة ولم تعلمه سيكون عقابي لك شديدا جدا ..!
    قال جحا : اتفقنا يا مولاي ..!
    وبينما جحا ماشيا في الشارع ، لقيه أحد أقاربه فسخر منه قائلا : يا لك من أحمق يا جحا .. ألم تخش من عقاب الوالي إذا لم تعلم الحمار ..؟
    فقال له جحا : يا أحمق .. أنا اتفقت معه على عشر سنوات وفي هذه المدة إما أن أموت أنا أو يموت الوالي أو يموت الحمار ..! ”
 Juha entered the castle of the wali and said: they told me that you sent to ask for me, O Wali.

The wali said: Yes.  I sent to you to ask your advice on an important matter, and no one can do this but you.

Juha said: Go ahead, my lord.  I am at your service.

The wali said: They told me that you have a strange ability to teach donkeys to do extraordinary things.

Juha said: Whoever said that was truthful, my lord.

The wali got up and accompanied Juha to the palace's stock pen and brought before Juha a handsome donkey and said: What do you think of this donkey; it and its excellence have been protected by superior care, apart from any of the others of my horses and donkeys.

Juha said: Truly it is a fine donkey and deserves care, apart from others.

The wali said: Can you teach it to read and write?

Juha thought for a while and then said in surprise: Reading and writing!  A donkey, read and write!  Ah, I understand...I want me to teach the donkey...this donkey.  It's a simple matter, but it will take a long time and require enormous effort.

The wali said: I will let you stay here during the period of its instruction and give you sufficient food and necessities of living and will give you a monthly salary like that of the greatest employees of the palace.

Juha said: But it will take ten years to give the wali's donkey a suitable education!

The wali said: But if the period ends and you have not taught it [to read and write], there will be a severe punishment!

Juha said: We are agreed, my lord.

While Juha was walking in the street, he met one of his relatives, who mocked him, saying: You are the stupidest, Juha.  Aren't you afraid of the punishment of the wali if you don't teach the donkey?

And Juha said to him: O stupid one.  I agreed with him on ten years, and in that period, either I will die or the wali will die or the donkey will die!

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Iftar in Sama'il

I went out to Sama'il with the family of a friend for iftar.  It had rained that afternoon and there was standing water all over the roads, so not all of the family members were able to make it to their grandmother's house for iftar.  Sometimes there were wadis in the way.

I wasn't able to take any pictures, we were in a hurry to get there before maghrib was called, so I'll borrow someone else's.  This is the largest thread I've seen of pictures of rain and clouds (source).

Sama'il fort, which I saw from a distance:

Sama'il is in Dakhiliyya province, about 40 km from Muscat, and Wikipedia tells me it has a population of about forty thousand.

I do at least one embarrassing thing every time I eat at someone else's house.  This time, I bit off half a fresh bone-in herring and chewed.  And chewed.  And chewed.  And then my friend's mom leaned over and showed me how to split the fish open and pull out the spine fringed with little bones before eating it.  It was really obvious I'd never seen a herring before that wasn't pickled or canned. 

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

The Tree That Grew From Her Bones

In the book this was titled simply “Omani Cinderella (2)”, but I think it bears more resemblance to Snow White.  I’ve taken the liberty of translating sidr (Ziziphus spina-christi) as the Christ’s Thorn tree in some places instead of just leaving it as sidr, giving it a significance I don’t think the name had in the original.  Mea culpa.

It is said that there was a happy family composed of a father and a mother and their one child, a girl, except that the wife was struck by an illness that led to her death, and the father was saddened just as his daughter was by the loss of the love of their wife and mother.

However, the father’s work often required a lot of travelling, to India one time and to Zanzibar other times, which decided him to marry another woman who would take care of his daughter and raise her while he was gone.  And indeed he married a woman who appeared in the beginning to be good and of generous character, but not long passed before she began to be jealous of the love of her husband for his daughter, and not long passed before the jealousy turned to strong hate which filled her chest with venom, although she continued to hide it.