Hidde Dirks Kat (1747-1824) is the best-known commander of Wadden island Ameland. This is partly due to the diary he kept about surviving a winter in Greenland.
On March 5th 1777 Hidde Dirks Kat departed with the brig "Juffrouw Clara" from Hamburg. In that year a huge disaster took place, during which 10 ships were lost in drifting ice. From the 450 whalers only 140 returned, Hidde Dirks Kat included, who returned to Ameland on September 27th 1778. Between 1771-1777 he caught 9 whales. Afterwards, Hidde Dirks Kat became merchant ship captain and he also became a trader.
Hidde Dirks Kat, born and raised in Hollum, is a man of the sea. At the tender age of 16 he leaves for a whale hunt, and he is just 24 when he becomes a commander himself. For six years he sails with the brig "Juffrouw Clara" for a Hamburg shipowner. It is March 1777 when the ship from Hamburg with 51 sailors leaves for Greenland to hunt for seals and whales. Initially, the trip is without complications. Enough seals are caught (good for 30 barrels of seal blubber) and further north a whale is killed (good for another 30 barrels of blubber). In July, things start going wrong, and the "Juffrouw Clara" gets stuck in the ice, together with a number of other ships.
For many weeks the ships are unable to move in between the vast sheets of ice. A storm exacerbates the situation: the ice starts moving. Two ships are crushed by enormous ice shelves. End of September doom strikes. The heavy ice shelves crush the remaining three ships. The crew of the "Juffrouw Clara" has the presence of mind to save supplies and 7 rafts, but the future does not look bright.
After much deliberation, a desperate decision is made on October 7th: leave the rafts and try to reach Greenland across the ice.
With a mere 3 rusks per person left, the crew embark on their journey. From the one ice shelf to the next, they struggle their way towards the main land.
Some sailors slide of an ice shelf and drown, others are being crushed between the ice. On October 11th, the commander reaches the shore with only 17 survivors. Further inland they go, searching for help, surviving on berries and clams. On October 15th they see their rescuers at an estuary: three Eskimo's in a small raft. The Eskimo's get help and return 2 days later. They take the crew from settlement to settlement, after which (not until August 10th 1778) they can embark on their return journey.
On September 27th Hidde Kat arrives on Ameland, 18 months after he left his beloved island. After this adventure Kat says goodbye to whaling permanently and decides to go into merchant shipping. This earns him significant wealth. In 1824, the commander passes away in Hollum. According to island stories he then weighed 303 pound. He was buried at the Dutch Reformed Church in Hollum.
Source: Ameland, ander land, de complete reisgids