In 1920, Achton Friis bought the 30-ft. long Great Belt fishing
boat, Rylen for 4000 kr. His plan was to use it for research on the
Danish islands. The idea came up eight years earlier during a visit
to Jeppe Aakjær, the poet and author. Achton Friis had just
mentioned to him that he was thinking of doing a travel book about
Greenland. Jeppe Aakjær wondered why he had to go so far away;
right here in Denmark there was much uncharted land. "Just think,
Denmark has no fewer than 527 islands! What do we know about them?
Stay home and write us a book about them!"
Since Achton Friis' primary task on each island would be the
collection of literary material, he needed another artist to go
along on the expeditions. "My companion had the be the person who
had the very best abilities for carrying out his calling. That's
why I turned to the painter Johannes Larsen, who to my great
pleasure said "Yes" right away".
Through Larsen's network in Kerteminde, Friis found the boat
"Fremad", which had to be refurbished at Kerteminde Shipyard. Among
other things, the hold had to be fitted out as a cabin, giving more
living space than the two narrow bunks in the original interior.
Presumably, Larsen the bird painter had a lot to do with this
process, because the new name of the boat, Rylen, refers to a
little sandpiper called a dunlin, a frequent summer guest along the
Danish coasts. Larsen and Friis also planned to be frequent summer
"Yesterday morning we went aboard Rylen for the first time and
sailed away on our long journey. Behind us were the endlessly
boring preparations. In our wake whirled a shower of paid bills
like withered leaves after a fall storm," according to Achton Friis
in his account of his and Johannes Larsen's first sailing trip to
the "Isles of the Danes".
Aside from the two artists, there were two other crewmembers.
One was Johannes Larsen's son, Puf, who was the engineer and the
ship's cook. The other was the 87-yr. old Kerteminde skipper,
Christian Andersen, Johannes Larsen's old friend and hunting
partner, called "Old Dammit".
In spite of careful planning, the travellers had to revise their
original time plan. Visits to the 132 islands were spread over four
years instead of three, and the three-volume publication expanded
from the planned 7-800 pages to approximately 1200.
Since almost all their work went on outdoors, their travels had
to be confined to the warmer months. In all, they took five
journeys from 1921 until 1924. The publication of The Isles of the
Danes was such a rousing success that Achton Friis continued his
collaboration with Johannes Larsen, which later resulted in the
publication of The Land of the Jutes in 1932-1933 and Denmark's Big
Islands in 1936-1937. Together, the collection of volumes goes by
the title The Land of the Danes, a unique description of