The Lights of Dover Ahead

On the Dutch island of Terschelling, a seaman kept his boat behind the dyke. Whenever the owner came to the boat, he found three heaps of stinking turds. That happened every day, and in the end he became extremely angry. He thought "Of course some damned villains have done it, but I'll get them!" He decided to spend a whole night on board, but hidden where he would not be found.

No sooner said than done. The evening fell and he stayed on board the ship.

After some considerable time he had been sitting in a little corner and nothing came. "They've somehow realized that I'm hiding here," he said to himself.
Just as he was about to stand up and go away, he suddenly saw three old women approaching, strolling along the dyke. "I must first let them go by" he thought, and crept back into his hiding place.

But when the old women had come alongside the boat, they climbed down from the dyke and came towards it. They tottered over the gangplank, pulled it in, one took her place at the helm, the other two hoisted the sails and...the boat shot away. In the meantime, it had got dark, but the man dared not come out, so scared was he by the strange happenings. He wished that he had never begun!

They had not, according to his reckoning, got so very far, when he heard one of them say "How far are we now?". The other answered "The lights of Dover ahead!". A moment later he heard: "The lights of Dover astern!"

They continued sailing. The man could well realize that they were going extremely fast. Then, suddenly, the speed was diminished, and the boat lay still. He heard the plank pushed out and the old women walk over it. Understandably, he was terribly curious as to where they now might be, so he stuck his head out of the hatch. What did he see waving in the breeze but a branch full of oranges! Quickly he picked a couple and stuck them in his pocket.

After some time, the old women came back. Then the return trip to Terschelling began. Once more he heard one old woman ask: "How far are we now?". The other old woman answered "The lights of Dover ahead!". A moment later he heard: "The lights of Dover astern!"

Towards the end, the pace became slower. The boat lay beside the embankment and the plank was once more pushed out. The old women were about to leave the boat, when the man heard one of them say: "Hey, wait a minute, we must pay our toll". The dresses were pulled up and three heaps of turds were done. "You dirty old women!" shouted the man "Now I've got you". The three old women were naturally scared to death. They had had no idea that the man had been on the boat, so well had he kept himself hidden. And they said:

If we had only known that
On your boat we would never have shat!

And after that they never appeared again.

According to some, the seaman was so proud of his heroic deed that he wore the oranges on his hat, as a sort of trophy.

This so offended the witches (because they were undoubtedly witches, the three sly old women), that they let him know that they would get him. And indeed a short time later, when he chose to go to sea although it was a stormy day, he was swept overboard and tragically drowned.

A folk story from the Waddeneilanden (the Friesian Islands).

Translation © Peter J. Large, 7 November, 1999. Page last updated 1 April, 2018.