Yachting for Rebels

Here we go with Part Four of our brand new Tale for Our Time – my summer serialization of Erskine Childers’ protean spy thriller of 1903 The Riddle of the Sands. We always get lots of interesting comments on our Tales, but listeners seem to be outdoing themselves with this one. Charles Hansard, a London member of The Mark Steyn Club (and maybe a relation to the parliamentary Hansard), writes:

A couple of observations: Childers learned to sail in the notoriously tricky waters just north of Howth, Dublin where the currents and fast moving tides as welll as the shallow water present a particularly challenging nautical experience. He would employ this knowledge to great effect in Riddle.

That’s very true – and one reason why Childers and his yacht Asgard were the obvious choices for the gun-running expedition from Hamburg to Howth a month before the Great War broke out. You begin to understand why no one could ever figure out quite what game he was playing: July 1914 – he’s running guns from Germany to Irish rebels; August 1914 – he’s back at the Admiralty fighting for King and Empire and drawing up plans to reverse-engineer The Riddle of the Sands and mount a British invasion of Germany through the Frisian Islands.

Incidentally, in a droll jest, when the Admiralty recalled Childers to naval service, they sent the telegram in care of the Irish Volunteers (ie, the rebels) headquarters in Dublin. His gun run was not exactly a great secret in London.

Charles adds, à propos yesterday’s notes on Nesta:

Nesta was a name associated with royalty in Celtic history I believe and was somewhat popular amongst the Anglo Irish gentry in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Childers may have known a few girls with that name. Magical book and loved it when I read it whilst at TCD in the dim and distant past… What a sad but noble death.

For our readers beyond the auld sod, TCD is Trinity College Dublin.

In tonight’s episode, Carruthers begins to warm to the Dulcibella and his new shipmate:

Davies’s sang froid was infectious, I suppose, and the little den below, bright-lit and soon fragrant with cookery, pleaded insistently for affection. Yachting in this singular style was hungry work, I found. Steak tastes none the worse for having been wrapped in newspaper, and the slight traces of the day’s news disappear with frying in onions and potato-chips. Davies was indeed on his mettle for this, his first dinner to his guest; for he produced with stealthy pride, not from the dishonoured grave of the beer, but from some more hallowed recess, a bottle of German champagne, from which we drank success to the Dulcibella.

‘I wish you would tell me all about your cruise from England,’ I asked. ‘You must have had some exciting adventures. Here are the charts; let’s go over them.’

And so they do – and for the first time the conversation turns to the Frisian Islands. Another UK listener, John Downes, writes:

When I read this novel about ten years ago I followed the progress of our heroes by means of the maps on Google Earth. It helped a lot.

Well, we’ll also pore over a few charts en route, John, so just for the general lie of the sand:

That’s the English coast in the lower left-hand corner. The West Frisian Islands are just off the Netherlands, the East Frisian Islands are just off Germany and the North Frisian Islands run up along Schleswig Holstein to Denmark. The islands are, as Carruthers says, “desolate” but they’re not remote: On the westernmost German island, it’s not much further to Yarmouth than to Hamburg. Carruthers joined the Dulcibella in Flensburg in the top right-hand corner of the map, whence they are now sailing out into the Baltic. But they will soon be turning westward.

Members of The Mark Steyn Club can hear Part Four of our tale simply by clicking here and logging-in. Earlier episodes can be found here.

Tales for Our Time is now in its third year. So, if you’ve a friend who might be partial to our classic fiction outings, we have a special Gift Membership that, aside from audio yarns, also includes video poetry, live music and more. And I’ll be doing a live-performance Tale for Our Time at sea on this year’s Mark Steyn Club Cruise – and next year’s.

Join me tomorrow evening for Part Five of The Riddle of the Sands.