His Time at Sea
from "Dadda" by Alexander Lee
He asked his brother to vouch for him in securing a post in the service of one of the many sailing ships at the port of Stavanger. He became a cook on a North Sea fisherman.
At fourteen he was confirmed and shipped as the member of the crew of a sloop in the Baltic. He qualified as an able seaman by his experience as a cook on the herring boat.
Then he transferred, still before the mast, to a brig on the Black Sea. Bringing down the colors from aloft in his arms after the halyards had fouled, he tripped high in the shrouds and fell down to the deck.
Both of his legs were broken badly. He was taken ashore and was put in a hospital at Ebral, Russia. Fortunately his captain spoke and understood a little Russian.
"The legs must be amputated," the doctors said after a brief examination. The doctors mentioned gangrene poisoning. When the captain told young Hans what the doctors had said, he cried out, "NO. NO. I’ll die first!"
He was in a strange bed, in an alien port where they spoke a foreign tongue. He was in great pain. He did not know a soul other than his captain who must soon leave and go back to his ship.
The doctors set his splintered legs as best they could, and ordered that both his legs be placed in ice, to lessen the possibility of gangrene setting in. His legs were in rigid splints and covered with ice. He lay that way for many weeks. His only reading matter was the Bible that the captain had left with him.
A very kind woman noticed him one day as she left after visiting a friend. She came again the following day and brought him some cookies that she had made. After that she came every day, bringing some fruit or cookies, until her friend left the hospital. They tried to teach each other the language each spoke, and did make some progress.
Then one great day another brig with another captain but from the same company, picked him up and brought him back to Stavanger. He was not able to work before the mast, but a place was found for him in the company’s storehouse, and he was still paid the full wages of a man, two marks a day, though but a crippled boy. When his legs were fully knit, he shipped before the mast again and crossed the Atlantic many times.
One time, with a cargo of oil for Rotterdam on the barque John Hays the ship went over on her beam ends, during a storm. There had been too much deckload, and they were top-heavy.
"Break out the axes," the captain ordered. It was difficult moving about with the deck at such an unusual angle, but they managed to find the axes with which they broke open 500 barrels of oil. That evened up the load and the oil smoothed the rough sea and the bark righted. But it had taken 24 hours, and she was full of water. None aboard was dry for a moment until they reached Rotterdam.
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