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Barentsz's Third Arctic Voyage: November 1596 - January 1597

On the twelfth the distribution of the wine was fixed at two small cups each day, and they had nothing besides to drink but water from melted snow which they took from without. On the eighteenth the master distributed to each person a piece of thick cloth, to cover themselves, or to use in any manner they should choose against the cold. On the twenty-ninth the chest of sheets was opened, which were also distributed to make shirts, for the pressing necessity obliged them to seek every method to relieve their persons.

On the twentieth, the weather being tolerably fine, they washed their linen, but it was not perfectly washed: for as soon as they drew it from the boiling water, in order to wring it, it froze. It even continued frozen near the fire on the outer side, and only the side facing the fire thawed; so that it was necessary to plunge the other side again into the boiling water in order to thaw it.

On the twenty-second they ate together a large Dutch cheese, one of seventeen which they still possessed, and the remainder was divided that each man might manage his portion at discretion. On the twenty-third as they saw foxes, they constructed traps of thick planks, which they furnished with stones in order to render them the heavier, and fixed short stakes in the ground about the place where the planks fell, in order to prevent the foxes from digging, and escaping; and they took some by this method.

On the twenty-fourth two men who were indisposed bathed, and on leaving the bath, the surgeon made them take a purgative medicine from which they derived much benefit. On the twenty-sixth, twenty-seventh, and twenty-eighth there fell such a prodigious quantity of snow, that they remained buried in their hut, without being able to leave it on any occasion whatever. But the weather clearing up on the twenty-ninth, they began to dig the snow with shovels, made an opening, and finally got out, by crawling through the hole they had dug. They found their traps covered with snow, but disengaged them, and on the same day took a fox; an aliment which became necessary, there being no other to be found in the snow, even when it was possible to remove it. By this they were also furnished with skins, to make caps proper to secure their heads from the severity of the cold.

On the first of December the snow still environed their hut on all sides; which occasioned so great a smoke when they wished to make a fire, that they were obliged to lay in bed almost all day, except the cook who at length arose to prepare some victuals. On the second day they mad use of stones which they heated and placed around them in their beds, because the cold and smoke being equally insupportable, they could scarcely find means to protect themselves at the same time from both of these evils.

On the third, while in their beds, they heard the ice of the sea crack with so horrible a noise, that they imagined the mountains of ice which they had seen during summer, and which had appeared of so many fathoms in height were detached and heaping upon one another.

In the mean time as during two or three days that they had not so much fire as usual, it froze so hard within the hut, that on the floor and walls was ice of the thickness of two fingers, and there was some even in their beds where they lay. They then prepared the sand-glass of twelve hours, and took care to keep it in good order, that they might know the time, for the frost had suspended the motion of the dials, though they had increased the counterpoises.

On the sixth the cold was so great, that not being able to support it any longer, they regarded each other with languishing looks and pity, believing the cold would still encrease and extinguish their lives: in fact, however great they made the fire, they could no more warm themselves. The dry wine of Serez, which is of a very hot nature, also froze then, and they were obliged to thaw it on the days of distribution, which was performed every other day, when each man had half a pint, and after that they had only water, a drink very little fit for their condition, and the cold which overwhelmed them, and besides it was snow water.

The seventh was as sad a day as the preceding. This day they consulted together as to the best means of resisting the cold: it was resolved to fetch from the vessel the pit-coal which was there, because it affords great heat, and burns for a long time. It the evening they made a large fire of this coal, which warmed them surprisingly; but they thought not of the return and the sad effects this pleasure might possess. This warmth, which had done them so much good, they were willing to preserve as much a possible, and for this purpose they entirely closed the windows and went to bed, very contented to lie so warmly, which rendered them gayer than ordinary, and occasioned them to talk together for a long time after being in bed.

In the end they found themselves all attacked with vertigos and swimmings in the head, some more than others, which they perceived by the means of one of them who being sick would less support them, and made lamentations. They all found themselves in excessive pain, not being able to stand up: some however crawled to the chimney and door and opened them; but the man who opened the door fainted and fell down on the snow. De Veer, whose head was near to the door, having heard the fall, threw some vinegar in the face of the man who had fallen, and brought him to himself.

When the door was opened, the cold, which had done them so much harm, was of service and recovered them; without it they must all have inevitably expired during the fainting which seized them. The master distributed to each a glass of wine to strengthen their spirits.

On the ninth, tenth, and eleventh, the weather was fine and clear, and the sky starry; yet the cold increased to so great a degree, that those who have not felt it are unable to conceive: the leather of their shoes froze on the feet as hard as if it had been horn, so that they were of no more service. They made a kind or covering, resembling large flippers, of the upper part of sheep skins, which they might wear with three or four pair of socks over one another, in order to warm their feet: their garments were even quite white with snow and frost: when they remained without sufficiently long, the pustules and pimples on their body, face, and ears also, were frozen.

On the fourteenth of the same month of December they observed the altitude, and found themselves in lat. 760. On the eighteenth seven of them went to observe the state of the vessel. The water had risen an inch in eighteen days, during which time they had not visited the vessel, though it was not properly water but ice, because the water froze immediately it appeared above the ice. The water brought from Holland in casks was also completely frozen.

The twenty-fourth, which was Christmas-eve, they disengaged their hut from the snow, in order that they might go out; a labour they were at that time obliged to perform every day. Although there was no day-light, they were enabled to see to a tolerable distance, and they perceived there were several places in the sea perfectly free, which was occasioned no doubt when the violent cracking of the ice was heard. Christmas-day was dreary, yet they heard foxes around the hut, which they would have been well pleased to have caught, to use in the pressing want. The fire no longer appeared to cast its accustomed heat, or at least it could not pass to near objects; for their stockings were burned before their feet received any warmth, and the burning of the stockings would not have been perceived, if the smell had not been affected.

In this manner passed the close of the year, and in the midst of these sufferings the remainder of the crew of the vessel entered on the year 1597. The commencement was not less severe than the preceding year had been: they began it by again diminishing the portions of wine distributed every other day; and as some of them feared it would be a considerable length of time before they left the place, though they always flattered themselves with this hope, they spared that very necessary aliment, in order to make it last the longer and to retain some in case of a more pressing occasion.

On the fourth of January they put on their chimney a lance with a small piece of cloth, in order to know the quarter of the wind; but to learn it, they did will to observe it placing the linen, for it was frozen in a moment after, and became as stiff as a stick, without being able to play or turn.

On the fifth the air being a little milder, they cleared their door, which had been shut for some days, and opened it: they made use of this opportunity for regulating the most necessary matters; among others they cut some wood and carried it into the hut, that they might not be in want of it, if possible.

The whole of the day being thus passed in laborious occupation, they recollected at night that it was twelfth-day, and entreated the master to permit them to take at least some hours of recreation, among so many hardships and causes of grief. They were unwilling to use any thing but the wine they had voluntarily spared, and perhaps two pounds of flour, of which they made a kind of fritters cooked with oil; a mess which was eaten with as good an appetite as they would have eaten the greatest delicacies, if they had been at their own dwellings. They even celebrated the feast in all its ceremonies, drawing tickets, and the gunner was king of Novaya Zemlia; a country perhaps more than two hundred leagues long, situated between two seas.

On the tenth of January they found the water had risen nearly a foot in the vessel. On the twelfth they observed the altitude of the star called the Bull's Eye; and it appeared to them that the altitude of this star, and some others besides, which they had observed, and that of the sun, accorded very well, and that they were in lat. 760, but rather higher than lower.

On the thirteenth the weather was clear and serene, and they perceived the light of day began to increase; for on throwing a ball they perceived it roll, which they could not before. From this time they went out every day, and exercised themselves at walking, running, throwing, in order to revive their limbs: they also remarked at the same time a redness in the sky, which was to them an aurora, the harbinger of the sun. The air was also found less cold during the day; so that when they had a good fire in the hut, there fell from the boards and partitions large pieces of ice which thawed in the beds, a circumstance which never happened before, however great they made their fire; but at night it always froze equally strong.

On the eighteenth, as the wood-fuel diminished greatly, they again used pit-coal, with the precaution of not closing the chimney, which prevented the former bad effects: nevertheless they judged it proper to be careful of it as well as the wood, and still more so, for they expected to reimbark in their little vessel without any covering, where they would have great occasion for coal. It was also necessary in the same manner to diminish the portions of biscuit, as well on account of the quantity already consumed, as because the casks were not exactly of the proper weight. Again, the capture of foxes was not so abundant as formerly; and this retreat of the fox was still more grievous, as it was an indication of the speedy return of the bears, who in fact appeared very soon after.

The twenty-fourth of January was a clear and fine day. James Heemskerk, Gerard de Veer, and another, took the opportunity of walking towards the southern shore of Novaya Zemlia. De Veer, when they least thought of it, perceived a side of the sun's disk: full of joy they all there returned quickly to carry this agreeable news to Barentsz and the others. Barentsz, an experienced mariner, would not believe it, because according to all the computations, it would be fifteen days before the sun could be seen in that altitude. The others maintained that they had seen it; and this dispute gave rise to wagers.

The twenty-fifth and twenty-sixth were so very misty that they could not see one another, so that those who had wagered that the sun had not yet appeared imagined they had already won: but the weather clearing up on the twenty-seventh, all the company together beheld the full disk of the star of day above the horizon; whence it was easy to conclude that a part had been seen on the twenty-fourth.

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