by Sir Bertram Hayes. New York: The Macmillan Company. 1925. 8vo. x+200 pp. Illustrated. $4,50.
THE tradition of the full-rigged ship has passed on silver wings into the ocean of romance. Old logbooks are exploited yearly, and the confessions of gentleman tramps, foremast hands, apprentices, and passengers occupy an increasing space in the catalogues of publishers. Curiously enough the officers of ships have been for the most part reticent. Hull Down, by Sir Bertram Hayes, Commodore of the White Star Line and recently retired commander of the Majestic, is the exception, a record of forty-five years at sea in sail and steam.
These reminiscences are concerned with problems which one may recognize through experience. In the bargain, Sir Bertram Hayes tells his story simply and with an unusually keen sense of humor. He enjoys the ability to recreate scenes which are all more or less familiar and point out by means of entertaining anecdotes the problems which confront a commander whose duty is to keep his small ‘city’ in efficient harmony.
On one passage from Australia Sir Bertram Hayes notes that he had on board a Canon of Sydney Cathedral and two other divines. The first two Sundays the services went well. On the third, one of the clergymen, ‘of the tub-thumping variety,’ preached the sermon. After accusing all the passengers of a picturesque variety of sins, including a visit to the bar after service, he wound up his discourse with a tirade against athletic sports, and said; ‘There is n’t one of you would have gone in for them if it had n’t been for the money prizes attached to them. Let me tell you the Devil holds the stakes.’ To quote from Hull Down: ‘Afterwards I sent my compliments to the Canon and asked him if he would meet me in the Purser’s office. When he came l told him that I could not allow the gentleman who officiated in the morning to preach again . . when he took the wind out of my sails by saying, “I got it worse than anybody else.”“How was that?” I asked him, and he replied, “I am the chairman of the Sports Committee and I hold the stakes.” ’
The first section of Hull Down is devoted to Sir Bertram Hayes’s earlier years in sail on long voyages to India, Australia, and the United States. The rest is made up of various experiences in steam. With the development of the liner, transoceanic passenger service has become for the commander more of a problem in personalities than a grim conflict perpetually waged against wave and weather. He has many stories to tell as a commander of transports during the South African War and the late war, in which he saw life from many angles without loss of dignity or courage.
One of the most interesting, and in a measure naïve, anecdotes is Sir Bertram’s account of sinking a German submarine while in command of the Olympic, for which he was later awarded the D.S.O. ‘The sky was as black as ink with the exception of a low streak of light, looking like silver, in the northeast . . . when a submarine came to the surface . . . about half a mile or so away. There was only one thing to do, and that was try to ram it, so I altered course to bring it ahead. . . . He went full speed ahead on his engines — we could see the wash from his propellers— and tried to escape by turning inside our circle. We put our helm hard-a-port again, and at 3.55 A.M. hit him a swinging blow with our stem which put an end to his career. ... I kept the helm hard-a-port till the wreck was clear of our propellers and then resumed our course.’
Another extremely impressive chapter is devoted to the taking-over by the British of the monster German liner Bismarck, now known as the Majestic. The slow passage down the River Elbe, assisted by Belgian tugs, the silent crowds on the bank, the doubt in every mind as to whether the ship would ever reach Cuxhaven, have all the impressiveness of a tragic drama.
Altogether we are very grateful to the author for his highly entertaining account of life on the high seas. Hull Down is a straightforward record of an active life, delightfully’ spiced with humor. It is the fitting conclusion to an honorable career, and proof that all romance and seamanship has not passed on with the old sailing ship.