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Barentsz's Third Arctic Voyage: May - June 1597

On the first of May they cooked the remainder of their meat, which was as good as ever, at least they thought so, and it appeared such in eating: it possessed however this defect, that being dressed it would no longer keep.On the first of May they cooked the remainder of their meat, which was as good as ever, at least they thought so, and it appeared such in eating: it possessed however this defect, that being dressed it would no longer keep.

On the second of May there arose a violent wind from the S.W. which cleared the main sea, and left no more ice. They each began then to talk of embarking and returning to Holland, being very weary at the stay they had made in so disagreeable and incommodious a place. On the third all the remainder of the ice was carried away, except that which surrounded the vessel.

Nevertheless the best provisions, and which were the most fit to give them strength, as meat, oatmeal, and others, failed them at a time when they had occasion to strengthen themselves in order to support the labour they had to perform. With this view the master distributed the remainder of the bacon, and he found enough for three weeks, at two ounces a day for each man.

On the fourth five of them went to the vessel, which was more inclosed in the ice than ever, since in the middle of March it was only seventy-five paces from the open water, and at that time five hundred: this was a great subject of affliction, for they were not aware that they could drag the schuyt or shallop to the sea. In the night a bear having come to the door of the hut, retired when he heard the voices and noise, as one of the sailors observed who had ascended the chimney; so that it seemed the bears began to be afraid, and dared not attack the men with their usual boldness.

On the fifth, when the sun was at the lowest, they beheld it at a considerable height above the horizon. On the seventh and eighth the snow again fell is such quantities that they were obliged to remain in their hut, where some of the sailors proposed to speak to the master, and represent to him that it was time to leave that fatal place. Nevertheless no one dared to undertake it, because he had signified and had deferred their departure to the end of June, when they might hope the vessel would be disengaged from the ice, being the finest weather of the summer. On the ninth all the crew, still more urged with desire of returning, entreated Barentsz to speak to the master, and to persuade him to embark; but Barentsz stopped them by his remonstrances, and made them again defer their purpose.

On the fifteenth Barentsz having again been solicited spoke to the master, who told him that they should only wait till the end of the present month, and that if the vessel was not disengaged in that time, they should prepare to fit up the schuyt and shallop and depart. This answer revived the crew; but the period appeared very remote, because it would require a considerable time to refit these little vessels and equip them.

On the twentieth and the twenty-first the wind blew form the N.E. and brought back the ice: nevertheless, with the consent of the master, each began to prepare his cloths, and what he imagined he should particularly want for the voyage. On the twenty-fifth they observed the altitude in the afternoon, and found themselves in lat. 760, as they had done before. On the twenty-sixth and twenty-seventh the same N.E. wind blowing violently, again brought more ice. The crew having taken occasion from this to urge the matter, he permitted them to commence the work of equipment; and on the following day seven of them went to the vessel and brought every thing that was necessary, among others the old foremast sail, to make sails, some running rigging from the packets of ropes, and other articles.

On the twenty-ninth ten men went to the schuyt to draw it to the hut and refit it. It was so buried in the snow that they had great difficulty to disengage it; but they not able to draw it after them on account of their weak state, which occasioned them the most poignant grief, because they then feared they should end their days there. The master exhorted them briskly to exert all their efforts, telling them that in fact, unless they were willing to become citizens of Novaya Zemlia, and very soon to prepare their graves there, they must recover the schuyt, and that the hopes of return depended on it; the strongest and most affecting remonstrance that could have been made.

But of what little avail are words and reasons against a physical impossibility! Weakened by long exertions, and already fatigued with the labour, they were not able to proceed: the reposed themselves, and having dined, they returned again to try their strength. The shallop, which lay with the keel upwards, was again overturned near the hut, and they began to repair it.

While they were labouring with ardour, they perceived a frightful bear coming towards them: they immediately re-entered the hut, where they waited at all the three doors with firelocks, and a fourth mounted the chimney with a musket. The bear walked towards them with as much fierceness as any before, and approached to the declivity of the steps of one of the doors, where he was not perceived by the man on guard there, who was then looking towards the other door. Those who were within seeing the bear, cried out for him to take care of himself: he turned his head, and notwithstanding the fright he was in, he fired his gun, which having wounded the bear in the body, he fled.

This spectacle was distressing to those who beheld it, for when the man perceived the bear, that ferocious beast was close to him, ready to tear him to pieces; and if the prime of the gun had not taken fire, as sometimes happens, there is no doubt he would have been devoured. Perhaps the animal would even have entered the hut, where he would have made a dreadful carnage.

In the mean time, the wound he received prevented him from fleeing very far. When they perceived him stop, they ran to him with their arms, and having killed him, they ripped up his belly, where they found pieces of sea-dogs yet entire, with the skin and hair, which indicated that they had only just been devoured.

On the thirtieth all those who were in a condition to work at the refitting of the bark employed themselves, and the others mended the sails, or made in the hut other necessary things for their departure. Another bear came again to present himself to the workmen without, who killed him. On the last day of the month, while they were engaged in their most laborious work, there came again a fresh one, who walked fiercely towards them. It seemed as if these animals perceived that their prey was about to escape, and which they wished to prevent by returning three successive days.

It was therefore necessary to quit their work and retire to their hut; the bear followed them: he was received with a volley of three firelocks, which all took effect, the one from the chimney, and the other two from two of the doors. This death cost them dear, for having cut the beast in pieces, and dressed the liver, and eaten it with pleasure, they were all indisposed: three of them were so very ill that they thought they would die; nevertheless they recovered, having a new skin from the head to the foot. Their re-establishment scarcely gave less pleasure to the remainder of the company than to themselves: for the loss of three men would perhaps have put them out of condition to work with any effect for their return.

On the third of June their strength having returned, they resumed the refitting of the bark, which was completed after six days' labour. At night there arose so violent a wind from the west that the water again became free, and they prepared to embark. On the fourth they went to the number of eleven to the schuyt, which was on the sea shore, and dragged it to the vessel; this labour being then more easy than it had been when they were obliged to quit it, either because the snow was not so hard, and that the schuyt glided more freely over it, or that they possessed more courage by seeing water free, and being on the eve of embarking.

They left three men there to refit the schuyt, which was properly a little herring-bark or herring buss, and was sharpened behind. They cut off a part from the poop, made a little stern frame, and added some planks to the sides, that the vessel might have more depth, and be better able to stand the sea.

The other part of the crew which was in the hut did not work with less ardour for the other preparations of the voyage. On this same day they conveyed two sledges laden with provisions and other articles from the hut to the vessel, which was nearly half way between the hut and the place where the water was free, that they might not have so long a carriage when it was necessary to embark. On the sixth they dragged two more sledges laden with some provisions and merchandise.

After this there happened a violent storm from the S.W., accompanied with snow and hail, and particularly rain, which they had not beheld for a long time. The carpenters were obliged to quit their work and retire with the others into the hut, where nothing then remained dry; for the planks had been taken away to refit the little vessels, and there only remained the sail, which was not fit to keep out the rain. The path which was covered with snow began also to thaw, so that it was necessary to leave off the shoes they had made of hats to resume their leathern shoes, in whatever state they might be, and to make the best use they could of them.

On the seventh they packed up the best merchandise, and that which they chose to carry back, and wrapped them round with tarpawling in order to protect them from the water, which could not fail frequently to splash in a little vessel without cover. On the eighth they dragged their packages to the vessel, and the same day the carpenters completed the repairs of the schuyt. On the same day also they dragged the shallop to the vessel; and on the tenth they made four journies with the sledge laden each time. They put what little remained of the wine in small vessel, in order to distribute it between the two boats; and also that in case one should remain inclosed in the ice, as they well foresaw what might happen, they could easily remove all the things from one boat to the other, or unload them on the ice in order to transport them.

On the eleventh they experienced a fresh subject of apprehension. A great tempest arose from the N.N.W., and they thought it might break the remainder of the ice on the sea shore, and occasion the vessel to float, or perhaps split it, in which was then every thing of the best they possessed both as to provisions and merchandise; a misfortune which would have far exceeded all the others they had experienced, and against which they would not have been able to bear. But God did not permit so great a misery to overwhelm them.

On the twelfth they all proceeded with hatches, spades, and all other necessary implements, to smooth a passage by which they might drag the boats to the sea. The labour was severe: it was necessary to break the ice, dig, throw it aside, transport it, and undergo a fatigue not to be expressed. Yet they would have consoled themselves if they could have done it in peace; but they were interrupted by a large ugly bear, lean and scraggy, coming from the main sea on a piece of ice, and which they conjectured to come from Tartary, because they had already met with it formerly at twenty or thirty leagues at sea. As they did not expect such an adventure, only the surgeon had a musket, and De Veer was obliged to quit the others and run to the vessel to fetch two or three more.

The bear perceiving De Veer detached from the company ran after him, and would have reached him if they had not immediately fired to prevent it. The report made the bear turn his head: he turned round and the surgeon fired a second time, which wounded him: he immediately fled; but being impeded in his flight by the inequalities and height of the ice, several other shots struck him, which knocked out his teeth, and he expired.

The fourteenth was fine weather. The master and the carpenters went to the vessel, where they completed the equipment of the schuyt and shallop, so that it only required to launch them. After this perceiving the waters were open, and that it blew fresh from the S.W., the master told Barentsz, who had been sick for a considerable time, that he was of opinion they should embark. This proposition was no sooner communicated to the crew than it was accepted, and they prepared to launch their vessels.

Barentsz then wrote a memoir, containing the circumstances of their departure from Holland, their voyage, their arrival at Novaya Zemlia, the stay they made there, and their retreat, and put it in a musket charge, which he hung in the chimney, in order that if any one should land in the same place, they might be informed of what had happened to them, so as to profit by it, and to know by what adventure they found the remains of a little house, which had been inhabited for ten months.

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