The Warlock and the Skipper

Updated on December 13, 2016
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Eva Weggelaar is a writer and translator, especially interested in poetry and folklore. She also runs her own blog: Paradise is this Way.

Wenceslas Hollar
Wenceslas Hollar

A Journey and a Guest

The brown-tarred hulls of the ships with their bright green or yellow decorations scraped restlessly against the wooden sheet piling of the dock. The lumbering bodies of the ships were being loaded with trade goods. Around the pointed masts, which let their narrow dark pennants ripple, the seagulls shrieked. With screaming sounds they lured the ships to sea and the ships pulled restlessly at the ropes.
Already late, the harbour was still very busy. Men with wagons and horses dragged heavy loads on board or made large chests keel over with loud thuds on the wooden dock. Their calling voices were carried by the gusty evening air.
Skipper Martens was ready to sail for his journey home to Harderwijk, when at the last moment, right before he was about to depart, a grass-mower came to him and asked whether he could sail with him. He said he lived right below Putten. The kind sailor agreed and the grass-mower came on board. He sat himself down on the little house1 and made himself comfortable. The skipper pushed off. The sails billowed. A thick coolness blew from the south-west.
By the time the docks had merged into the twilight and only the thousands of red and green lights of the harbour could still be discerned, the faraway sounds of the large trading town resounded across the water. ‘We’re sailing before the wind tonight,’ said the skipper, ‘within approximately four hours we can be in Harderwijk, God willing.’
But the grass-mower answered: ‘Oh, I’m in no hurry, if we arrive at five tomorrow morning it’ll be fine by me. What would I do in Harderwijk in the middle of the night?’

A Prediction

They had already passed Pampus and it was still cool. The ship was heading straight in the direction of Harderwijk. The tumbling waves made it dance across the wide waters. All around, it was now quiet and dark. Only the masthead light cast a weak glow. From high up in the air a squeaking sound could be heard, softly at first and from far away, but soon stronger and nearer. It had already become too dark to distinguish what it could be. It had come from the North. Now the strange sound was right above the ship. A shadow moved past the stars.
‘What could it be?’ asked the grass-mower. ‘That’ll be migratory birds,’ answered the skipper. And the grass-mower: ‘They’re coming home late tonight.’
Across the wide sea it disappeared to unknown lands.
Now they only heard the splashing of the waves against the ship and the creaking of the rigging and the sails. The grass-mower wasn’t very talkative and the skipper smoked his pipe. ‘The wind is still coming from the right direction,’ the skipper spoke at last. ‘We can be in Harderwijk in two hours.’ ‘Oh, I’m in no hurry,’ answered the grass-mower. ‘If we reach the place at five in the morning it’ll be early enough for me.’

Suddenly the ship was sheered by the wind, so that the skipper was thrown from the helm. Filled with fear, he stood up and firmly grasped the tiller. Suspicious, he regarded the grass-mower, who still sat calmly on the little house pretending nothing had happened.
In silence they sailed on, but Martens wasn’t at ease, what was this? They were sailing through a canal and on both sides the grain stood drying in stooks. Farther on he could see a meadow and houses and trees. ‘What is that, where are we?’ said the skipper. ‘I know nothing about it,’ answered the grass-mower, ‘I’ve never been here; but I do know that the Zuiderzee will one day be drained2.’ They sailed on between the banks of the canal, still accompanied by the same coolness, for two more hours.

Abraham de Verwer
Abraham de Verwer

Five O'Clock

Suddenly the ship was sheered by the wind again; but now the skipper was prepared and stayed at the helm, even though his legs were shaking. The ship was sailing across the sea again. Martens didn’t say another word. Had he dared, he would’ve thrown the grass-mower overboard, as it was obvious that the man wasn’t right. He felt convinced that he had taken a warlock on board.
There, behind them, the whistle and roll of a train could be heard. Startled, he looked around, but there was nothing to see except the calm surface of the water. But thank God he could see the light of Harderwijk ahead and over the forest of Drie, which stood drawn against the sky like a beacon, the day was dawning.
When Martens docked his ship in the harbour and the grass-mower, thanking him kindly, stepped ashore, the clock sounded the hour of five. From the sea, the sound of a crowing cock was heard.

From Legends of the Veluwe/Veluwsche Sagen by Gust van de Wall Perné, published in 1910-1912 by Scheltens & Giltay and translated by Eva Weggelaar

Jan Hendrik Weissenbruch
Jan Hendrik Weissenbruch


1. Space on the after part of the ship where the rigging is stored.
2. The Zuiderzee, or Zuyderzee, which means 'South sea', is a former bay of the North sea, now dammed.
The story contains true elements: Harderwijk, Putten, Pampus, the forest of Drie, and the skipper is mentioned by name. These elements make the story ring true.
The train that occurs in the saga places this story – at least this version – in the 19th century. In the tale the boat sails for two hours through a canal in what would now be southern Flevoland. This part of the Zuiderzee was dammed between 1959 and 1967, but the plans for the ‘Southsea-works’ (completed in 1975) by Cornelis Lely had already been presented in 1891. And as early as 1848 J. Kloppenburg and P. Faddegon launched the first series of plans that would eventually lead to the ‘Southsea-works’. So the inventor of the tale could indeed have had prior knowledge about the damming of the Zuiderzee. The legend also features a train. This is possible, as a railway (the well-known ‘Flevolijn) runs through southern Flevoland, which first ran between Amsterdam and Almere (1987), going on to Lelystad since 1988. That ‘the legend’ had prior knowledge of this, is therefore unlikely and Gust. Van de Wall Perné (1877-1911) could not have known it either. As far as we know, Gust. van de Wall Perné’s version of the tale is the only one there is – with many thanks to Hans Overduin for mentioning these extremely interesting facts.


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