THE eighth day of a transoceanic yacht race frowned on a sea rising in long, crest-tortured rollers, sinking in foam-flecked hollows. The sky, a gray ceiling of nimbus, darkened here and there over falling showers of rain; and the sea, reflecting the hue of the clouds, ineffectually attempted independence with its flashing whitecaps. The wind, ever the tormentor of sky and sea, pressed heavily from the west, ironically belying its force by the delicate tracery of its invisible fingers on the breasts of the waves.
At about the forty-fifth meridian of longitude and the fortieth parallel of latitude — an intersection discernible only to the human imagination — a small schooner of low freeboard drove across the tumbling confusion of the waves. There were men aboard her, and by that token the schooner was superior to the chaotic triune of wind, sky, and sea — she alone having definite form and pursuing a definite course. And these were men indeed, as could be told from the sail the schooner carried. It was not in the reefed mainsail that they asserted superiority. The two tucks in that expanse of canvas, bellying outboard to starboard, were, in fact, a concession to the pressure of the wind. But the number three spinnaker, its four-inch pole flexing like a willow wand, its thin canvas straining at the seams! That impertinent kite showed invincibility of mind.
And yet the men aboard the 54-foot over-all schooner, half of them sitting in the cockpit while the other half slept below, saw nothing magnificent in their audacious defiance. Those on watch — except the captain-helmsman, who occupied himself otherwise — looked steadily at the whipping spinnaker pole, at the frail triangle of cotton interposed before the rushing strength of the hard westerly. They would have said — had said, in fact — that if the Lord objected He could easily blow it away. Failing divine interference, if the spinnaker drove the schooner so fast that the sea sucked aboard her stern, the sail could readily be handed and passed below. While it preserved its integrity against the wind it added three knots to the schooner’s speed and steadied her helm in the lifting overtaking seas. There was appreciation in the eyes of the three idlers of the watch on deck, an amused quirking of the lips as they regarded the spinnaker and reflected that under ordinary circumstances a yacht like theirs would have been hove to. But they were racing.
The captain, who was also the owner and at the moment the helmsman of the schooner Thetis, looked only occasionally at the racing sail, and then only when the heave of a swell rolled the little ship to port and he wanted visual assurance that the spinnaker pole would not jab the wave crests. He steered with an automatic coördination of muscle and sense, a coördination so perfect that it almost defies division into its separate elements.
The helmsman’s hands on the wheel, for instance, now lax and now suddenly white-knuckled, kept the schooner as true as might be on her easterly course — and it was the touch of the wheel which largely told him when to apply strength to right or left. So swift, so instinctive, was the reaction that the sensory impulses short-circuited direct to the muscles and even transcended instantaneity, to the end that for long periods of time the schooner hung immovable on her course, no more than a finger’s strength sufficing on one spoke or another to keep her so.
Yet the little black-hulled schooner, presenting her stern to the onward drive of the rolling seas, was potentially able to outdo the strength of two men if more than an instant’s inattention gave her charge. She could broach — that is the word of awful significance — and bury her nose and be pressed down by the weight of the wind in her sails while the sea threw high her stern and rolled her over. And then what of the men in her cockpit and those four below who had done their trick and had reposed their lives in the keeping of the helmsman?
But it was not by the delicacy of his strong hands alone that the captain steered. His eyes, clear, now snapping with enjoyment, now soft with content, watched intermittently the compass needle in the binnacle before him. That noiselessly oscillating magic of immovability gave the base course, the steering ideal. The hands, deceived by a groove in the sea when the yacht rode even-keeled and true, might have departed from the ideal by a point or more. But the needle, transmitting its immutability to the eyes and thence to the hands, brought her back again. Nor did the eyes linger in self-hypnosis on the compass card. They looked out ahead to seec that the course was clear; they sought every minute the telltale whipping forward from the mainmasthead; they watched the tumble of the seas near and far, and ranged often the sails and rigging. Each glance of the clear blue eyes conveyed to the captain’s brain a message of reassurance, each constituted an addition to his overflowing cup of timely knowledge.
With all going well, the sense of hearing was not called upon to aid the steersman’s other senses. His ears picked up but let go the spasmodic conversation of his watchmates, and the overtone of the wind in the rigging. They were attuned only to the sibilant susurrus of the schooner’s rush through the water, the rhythm of the waves overtaking.
In this art which the captain practised, the sense of touch informed him by another means. The wind, ruffling the short hairs of his neck, was a truer guide even than the masthead telltale. The eyes must impart many messages to the brain, but the skin has only to feel the direction of the wind. If the skin of the cheek as well as that at the back of the neck feels the draft, then the wind has shifted and some change must be made in steering. If, however, the check warms again, then it was only a temporary flaw and the course may remain the same.
Blending with all these sense impressions which made steering possible in that hard-pressed sea was the authority given by still another sense — the captain’s sense of balance. At intervals the ship rose to a wave and for an instant hung. Then occurred a transition so slight as to be indefinable — so slight that not the compass card could detect it, not even the trained responsiveness of the hands on the wheel. But the helmsman’s body as a whole felt the infinitesimal change in balance, and the anticipatory message was telegraphed to the wheel. Sliding off the crest of the wave, the yacht drove fast and true.
All this complicated human mechanism of steering was accomplished without fettering the imagination of the helmsman. His conscious brain forged ahead to possible eventualities, reflected back to past experiences on such stormy days at sea. His judgment hovered in a state of delicate equilibrium, ready to interpret an unusual sound in the schooner’s rigging or to seize a portent from the sea. On a moment when the Thetis lifted high on a greedy, disappointed wave, he looked ahead and saw a patch of weeds in the course. Instantly a ferment started in his cup of knowledge.
The schooner had cruised for days the axis of the Stream, where Gulf weed floats in long brown disrupted banners. She had ploughed through it, and her men, leaning over the side, had scooped up handfuls of the growth to examine it for crustacean life. Gulf weed had been a commonplace of the voyage. But, the Stream curving northeast while the yacht continued east, its distinctive weed had thinned. This patch ahead lacked the suggestion of buoyancy and mobility. Better, then, not to sail through it, but to give it a berth and watch it as it went by. At the next wave crest the patch was dead ahead and a hundred yards away. Tenderly the helmsman altered course to starboard and prepared to look overboard to port. The weed flashed by and a wave in the schooner’s wake broke over it.
The helmsman spoke: ‘Boys, did you see that? The stump of a spar with moss growing on it. Three feet in diameter and twenty feet long — end on.'
The three in the cockpit jumped up and looked astern. They sat down. One of them spoke: ‘Hmph. Good thing you saw it, Charley. It would have gone clean through us.’
‘Good thing it was n’t night,’ said another. ‘Bye-bye Thetis.'
The spell of silence having been broken, the captain, shifting slightly on the wheel box, asked one of his shipmates for a cigarette. When it had been thrust, ready lighted, between his lips, he puffed and offered comment. ‘Good going, this. Wonder how the boys on the sloop Alcazar are making it?’
‘I dare say they’re carrying on,’ said the first speaker in the cockpit; but added, admiringly, ‘I never saw a boat pushed like this one, Charley.’
The captain shifted position again. ‘A grand rag, that small spinnaker. I don’t see why it stays with us.’ Thus he disclaimed personal merit. Of his skill as a helmsman, no thought entered his consciousness. A clock struck in the cabin, its quick double notes faintly covering the rush of wind and water. ‘Read the log, somebody,’ continued Charley. ‘We’re making knots.’
One of the three rose and half climbed, half walked around the helm to the low taffrail. He leaned over, his bare toes hooked over the mainsheet traveler, supporting and steadying himself on knees and elbows. Astern the white cotton log line spun dizzily and whipped the water in long, serpentine billows. The revolving wheel of the log stopped reluctantly as the sailor bent his hands from the wrists and brought the moisture-beaded dial into range of his vision. ‘Twelve point eight,’ said he. ‘That’s—let me see — ten and a half miles since five. A tenth less than the previous hour. I wonder if the wind’s letting up, Skipper.’
The captain stole a second from his employment and cast a glance around the heavens. ‘Maybe,’ he conceded. ‘But as long as we’re doing better than ten we’ll carry on with this short rig. No use running risks.’
‘Oh, I was n’t criticizing!’ exclaimed the sailor, steadying himself with a hand on the captain’s shoulder as he stepped back into the cockpit. ‘If I were in command I’d have been hove to all night.’
‘Yes, you would,’ jeered one of his watchmates. ‘You’d be blowing away topsails, ten every hour.’
The first sailor and the captain grinned. ‘ You ’re a sail-carrying crew,’ observed the latter, happily. ‘And look at the smile on the face of Chris.’
The paid cook had emerged from the galley hatch and stood by the fore shrouds, reacquainting himself with the appearance of a stormy sky and sea. He looked aft and caught his employer’s eye. ‘Where we go now?’ he shouted. ‘To hell maybe?’
‘Speak for yourself, Chris,’ returned the captain. ‘We’re all pure aft here. How do you like ocean racing, Chris?’
The cook nodded his head in enjoyment and admiration. ‘You fellers sure know how to sail!’ he exclaimed. ‘I’ll get you a good hot breakfast.’
A murmur of appreciation rose from the cockpit. ‘Good man, that,’said one. ‘The first pro I’ve ever seen that was n’t sick or scared in an ocean race. But he positively likes it.’
Chris, with one foot down his hatchway, took a look around. He pointed suddenly to northward. ‘Look!’ he shouted. ‘Schooner in distress!’
‘The Alcazar, I hope,’ said the captain, skeptically.
‘No. Honest. A coal hooker or something. Mainmast gone and sails carried away. See the shirt in the fore ringing?'
Everybody jumped up, and one sprang to the weather main shrouds. ‘Yes,’ he confirmed. ‘Her hull’s practically awash, and I see men waving from her quarter-deck. What do we do, Charley?’
‘Get that spinnaker in quick. We’ll have a look.’
There was instant concerted action. The man in the rigging jumped down and ran to the lee pinrail, from which he upset the spinnaker halliard to the deck. Another jumped to the foremast, and the third, at the word of command, cast off the after spinnaker guy. The outer end of the spinnaker pole swept forward, spilling the wind out of the sail. The man by the foremast jumped the jaw of the pole clear and staggered aft with it. The man at the halliard cast off, but kept the line within the circle of his arms as he hauled down the shaking spinnaker and smothered it. As the racing sail came in, Chris, acting spontaneously, shot the staysail up.
‘Snappy work, boys!’ called the skipper. ‘Set the jib too, cast off the boom tackle, and then come aft on the main sheet.’
For the moment interest in the discovered wreck was in abeyance, and even when the Thetis on her new course plunged toward it the crew were concerned with their own change of circumstance. Instead of flying smoothly (however dangerously) before the wind, they were now jammed hard upon it. Two men from the watch below, finding themselves thrown from their weather bunks to the cabin floor, came up rubbing sleepy eyes. A vicious burst of spray doused them from head to waist and they descended with howls of protest. The Thetis became a leaning, laboring thing, her decks and booms dripping and her bow rising and falling with a force that jarred. Instead of slipping quietly by, waves now broke against her port side, and the wind which whined evilly in the rigging threw the crests high.
‘There’s weight behind this breeze!’ exclaimed Charley, whose helmsmanship was now concerned only with meeting the onrushing waves to best advantage. ‘Glad we have n’t had this for the last eight days.’
A shout from below preceded the eruption of four men from the cabin. They were all clad for heavy weather, and they scrambled to places in the crowded cockpit with expectancy in their faces.
‘What’s the big idea?’ asked their leader, amateur mate of the amateur crew. He was large, his bulk accentuated by the close fit of the borrowed oilskin jacket into which he had thrust himself. The straining sleeves stopped short of his wrists and the button and buttonhole at the throat came not within three inches of meeting. With the first dash of spray his bare head glistened, while drops streamed from his rugged face and coursed unregarded down the strong column of his throat.
Charley glanced at this tower of strength affectionately. ‘Glad you came up, Hank,’ said he. ‘We’ve sighted a shipwrecked schooner, and we’ll need your moral support.’
‘Not one of our compet—No, I see her. Golly, she is wrecked. Say, Charley, it’s been blowing out here.’
‘And still is. We’ve got all we can stand under this rig, but I need both headsails for manœuvring.'
‘Right. What’ll you do? Come up under the schooner’s lee?'
‘Yes, but they’ll have to jump. We can’t go alongside.’
‘We-ll,’ the mate drawled in disagreement, and then changed his mind. ‘I guess you’re right. We’ve still got the race to think of. Hope they can swim.’
Each corkscrew heave of the Thetis brought her nearer to the wreck, which was now seen to be heeled to an appalling angle. Five men clung to the weather rail of the slanting poop deck, and their calls for help came thinly clown the wind. Charley, on his feet now, sized up the situation. He knew little of merchant schooners and could not guess the life expectancy of this one. She might float for an hour or a month. His problem was how to approach her. There might be — there was — wreckage to leeward. He must not go too close. And yet he must not expect her crew to swim far. Perhaps they were on the edge of exhaustion. Nor could he throw his own vessel into the wind and let her lie there indefinitely, her sails spilling. Slatting about, they would blow to pieces.
‘Boys,’ he suddenly said, ‘her stern’s pretty much up in the wind, and we’ll pass under the bow and come about to weather. I ‘ll luff past as close as I dare and we’ll tell ’em what to do as we go by. Then we’ll have to work fast. As soon as I get room I’ll run off, jibe over —’
‘Jibe, in this?’ someone asked incredulously.
‘The boom will be hauled flat. She’ll stand it. We’ll jibe, shoot up, and lose headway abreast her stern. Hank, you tend jib sheets; Chris, stand by to back the jumbo; and the rest of you heave lines and haul the men aboard. Somebody fetch the megaphone now, and stand by to come about.’
They passed close to leeward of the wreck. Her mainmast with its smaller spars and shreds of sail trailed in the water, still held by the starboard shrouds, which on the instant snatched the sticks back to punch hollowly against her. Of her decks all but the poop and forecastle were under water, and the sea tumbled over her weather bulwark to resurge convulsively over her waist. The foremast and the bowsprit, still upthrust, seemed to lean despairingly from the wind’s blast. A sound of the groaning of tortured wood and wire came to the Thetis as she punched by.
Now the Thetis lacked to weather of the wreck, and the crew saw how her main chain plates had been torn away, opening up her port side and letting the mast go by the board. This side was high out of water, — at least, as the breaking waves fell away from it,— and all the opened seams of its black planks wept rivulets.
A leaping sea threw the Thetis bodily so that scarce twenty feet of open water kept her from the sullen hulk, and a voice which carried upwind arose from her poop. ‘Sheer off, you fools! You can’t do anything to weather of us!’
Charley smiled as his crew watched him anxiously. He raised his megaphone. ‘Pipe down and take instructions. Can you all swim?’
‘All but one. What’s the matter with your dory?'
‘It won’t live in this sea. I’ll round up to loo’ard. Jump as you see your chance. We can handle you all at once.’
Hank added a postscript. ‘Here’s a lifebuoy with a rope. Give it to the one that can’t swim.’ He swung his powerful arm and a white ring bounced over the ship’s rail. A grasping hand caught the attached rope and Hank let go its end. The Thetis passed astern.
Instantly Charley brought up his helm and paid her head off. Her jibs, from curved, straining boards, became gently shaking cloth. The spray dropped and the motion eased, but now the mainsail, feeling the wind on its leech, began jumping and pulling intermittently at its taut sheet. ‘Jibe oh!' cried the captain. ‘Weather jib sheet! Hold on!’ With a sudden shift from port to starboard the main boom swept rebelliously through its narrow arc, and for the instant that the Thetis swung broadside to the wind she lay over on her starboard beam ends. Then, rudder and pressure of wind assisting her, she whisked around, presented her bowsprit to the eye of the wind, righted, and lost headway. She lay where her captain wanted her, no more than a long jump from the hulk, smooth water between.
‘Your only chance, men!' he shouted through his megaphone. ‘I might crock up next time.’
They slid, scrambled, and fell down the sloping deck and plunged, heads thrown back, into the water. Three swam independently and reached the Thetis’s side in ten strokes and were hauled aboard. The fourth wore the white life ring beneath his arms, and the fifth paddled with the end of the rope in his fist. He passed it up to reaching hands, and turned back to his helpless comrade. But impatient voices restrained him. ‘We’ve got him, all right. Come within reach. We can’t lie here all day.’
To these persuasions Charley added his. ‘We’re gathering sternway, boys. If we get meshed in those spars and rigging we’ll never get out. Now! I’ve got to let her fill away. Back that jumbo, Chris.’
‘Heave ho!' cried Hank, hauling in the port jib sheet, but watching the rescue operations over his shoulder. ‘There are five aboard us, Charley. Is that all, Cap?’
‘That’s all—and damn glad to be here. Where are you bound?’
‘Never mind that now,’ answered Charley. ‘I’m jibbing again.’ His heart thumped with the exultation of a dangerous job well done. His eyes shone. ‘Somebody write up the log and get their names and facts. Oh, and the patent log. Did that foul anything?’
‘No. It was taken in.’
‘Fine. Stream it, and—jibe oh!’
Again the close-hauled mainsail thundered over, and now as its sheet was slacked out the Thetis resumed the long rushing roar of her former gait. The derelict dwindled rapidly over her port quarter.
‘ I guess you can set that spinnaker again. No. Wind’s moderated a lot. Make it the size larger. . . . Well, men, you’re welcome to what hospitality we have.’
To the crew of the Thetis these five shipwrecked mariners who lay exhausted on the schooner’s deck were Titans of the sea. They belonged to that unfathomable, almost mythical order of beings who keep to the sea in all seasons to wrest a scanty living from it; who, with inadequate equipment and in insufficient numbers, drive ponderous schooners through winter gales, and arrive, overdue, unconscious of their heroism. These five, who had suffered shipwreck and stared death in the face, who had accepted rescue without visible emotion, were objects of special admiration. Under their eyes, and particularly under the eyes of their captain, who had shown his contempt of amateurs in the moment before his rescue, the Thetans must sail with every ounce of smartness at their command.
As was to be expected, the story of the mariners’ privations was simply told. In a hard blow seven days previously the schooner Maribella’s cargo had shifted. To top that, the main chain plates had pulled out of timbers which had long been rotting, and the mast had given way. A week of pumping had been in vain. The stores were wet and the fresh water was gone. The end had been in sight when the Thetis came up. Luck had been with them, and now where were they bound?
Hank brought brandy, and Chris fresh water and biscuits, and promised hot food within the hour. Feeling the stimulant, the shipwrecked ones sat up and looked about them in amazement.
Their captain, who gave his name as Duggan, voiced their wonder.
‘What the hell is this little peanut shell doing here with no harbor to run to? Racing? Where? To England from New York? What for? For the sport of it? Could anybody be so crazy as to look for sport in mid-ocean in a thing like this?’
These questions prodded the pride of the Thetans. Their schooner was a staunch little ship, designed especially for ocean cruising. They raced her because there was no sport like it — no other sport in which man pitted his wits against the elements while in competition with his fellows.
It was Duggan’s opinion, candidly expressed, that if they wanted to live to race another day they’d better be jogging along under foresail and wungout jumbo.
‘But what about the other birds?’ asked Charley, who had been relieved of the wheel. ‘There are four of them back there who won’t be jogging along. They’ll be carrying on.’
‘What! More of them doing the same?’ asked Duggan, his wonderment increasing. ‘Well, if there were any professional seamen in the lot they’d be riding easy under square sails.'
Professionals. The Thetans had small opinion of such as ship aboard yachts, looking for soft berths and generally finding them; and these shipwrecked mariners had been excluded from that category. But here was the classification out of Duggan’s own mouth — if they had the wisdom of professionals they’d be playing safe under square sails.
‘If any of our adversaries are carrying square sails,’ said Charley, ‘you don’t have to ask why they’re behind us. This number two spinnaker of ours makes us know we’re racing.’
‘So that’s what you call that balloon, eh? I was wondering what it was. Looks to me like a man-killer.’ Duggan cast his glance aloft. ‘Look at your spars buckling. And look at that damn slender preventer stay. It is n’t heavy enough to seize a clew to a boom, and if that lets go you’ll be like we were a week ago.’
‘That’s a chance we have to take,’ said Charley; ‘and I hope you won’t feel you’ve jumped out of the frying pan into the fire.’
‘Who, me? Race your fool heads off for all of me. But suppose the ship does break up beneath your feet and you have to take to the small boats. Where’d you be in that dory, even without the five of us?’
The crew of the Thetis, attending to this conversation with interest and a sense of disillusionment, glanced at the dory lashed bottom up on deck and grinned. It was intended for ferrying men to shore in quiet harbors. Five was its maximum capacity in still water. There were now fourteen souls aboard. The dory situation was one of the inherent humors of ocean racing. It never had seemed more laughable than at the present moment.
‘We’d have to swim ashore,’ said Charley; and the conversation lapsed.
Around midday, by which time the rescued mariners had fed and had fallen into a heavy sleep below decks, the wind moderated still more, and changes were made in the schooner’s sail spread. The reefs in the main were shaken out and the whole sail hoisted. The spinnaker was taken in. The balloon jib and balloon staysail were set and the course was slightly altered so that these swollen acres of canvas would fill and draw to top advantage. By these changes the schooner’s speed was maintained despite the softened wind.
As Duggan came topside in the afternoon his eye lighted to see blue between the scurrying wefts of cloud. But his square, unshaven jaw dropped as he looked forward and observed the schooner’s mountain of canvas. Speechless, he walked gingerly to the foremast and with his tough fingers felt the texture of the balloon staysail. It was thin, like the cloth of a much-laundered shirt. He returned aft and sat down. Like a man in the zoo he inspected one by one those of the Thetans who were on deck, seeming to see rare specimens in which indications of rampant madness were all too evident. But he remained silent, neither displaying interest in the badinage which flashed back and forth between the light-hearted watchmates nor offering to help them in the minor details of ship’s work which engaged their hands.
Three of Duggan’s shipmates dribbled up, refreshed, and grouped themselves compactly near him. They were clad in an odd assortment of flannel trousers and varsity sweaters with the initials turned in. In response to questions they declared that they had never felt better; but they too seemed disinclined to talk or mingle with their rescuers. They exchanged words among themselves, but these were monosyllabic. They touched cleats and rope ends and such other small objects as lay within their reach — touched them wonderingly, as one will a baby’s hand, or a tiny bird’s egg.
At supper time the commander of this incomprehensible craft came up from a berth which he had fashioned for himself on the cabin floor. He inspected carefully the stand and trim of the sails and climbed aloft to look for signs of chafe. Satisfied, he came down and for some minutes watched in silence the run of the sea and the appearance of clouds and westering sun. At length he gave the result of his deliberations.
’I think we’ll have a good night, eh, Hank? Certainly no reason for shortening before sundown.’
‘Everything’s as slick as hair oil. We batted off 240 between afternoon sights, yesterday and to-day. And that’s going.’
Captain Duggan stirred and spoke. ‘’Scuse me, Cap’n, but you ain’t thinking of carrying this light stuff all night, are you?’
‘Why, yes. Every mile we make in this westerly weather is good for two miles at the other end. Play your luck while it lasts, or it won’t last.’
‘I was just wondering. S’pose there was some other derelict like the Maribella on your course at night. What then?’
Charley shrugged his shoulders. ‘I’ve also heard,’ said he, ‘of icebergs, and ships struck by meteors. We take those chances.’
‘At least you keep a proper lookout?’
‘I’ve been thinking of that. You noticed, I suppose, that we have places in the two cabins for only six to sleep at one time. Your cook has gone forward to help Chris, and there’s a spare berth for him in the fo’c’sle. So that leaves just a dozen of us aft. Now, I don’t want to make you work, as we have a full crew without you; but I’m afraid you’ll have to stand watches with the rest of us, so there’ll be room to sleep. If you and your men care to do lookout duty, it would be a first-rate solution of the difficulty.’
‘That’s fine. Men, we’ll keep the regular watch order, and I’ll stand with the captain here. And, Cap, don’t think we don’t want to work. Anything we can do, or any advice my mate and I can give, we’ll be glad to.’
No doubt it was the memory of his almost fatal shipwreck which warped Duggan’s weather judgment in the continuing days of fine westerly weather. This, and his deep-rooted conviction that a yacht less than sixty feet long was a rich man’s toy, fit only for harbor sailing. The advice which he contributed with less and less reserve was always on the side of caution. Fair-weather clouds, when robbed of the lingering luminosity of the setting sun, became the forerunners of black squalls. Minor fluctuations of the barometer aroused his concern.
Once, calling upon his years of experience to back up his dicta, Duggan persuaded Charley to take in his kites on the advent of a midnight squall. But his acceptability as a weather prophet terminated when with the lapse of two hours of expectant waiting nothing happened.
Duggan’s men, ever suspicious of the amateurs’ sailing ability, but faithful to their duties as lookouts, met their Waterloo on the day when, the fine weather ending, the Thetis crashed into an easterly. This was in the Chops of the Channel, where the ocean shoals and the waves are steep. The Thetans could and did make allowances, for they had been unmercifully shaken up the day after the start. They knew, too, that a man who is immune in big ships or even in ships of moderate size may succumb to the violence of a small yacht lying on her ear in a short head sea.
So on this revealing occasion the Thetans said nothing, and did not even exchange meaning glances among themselves. But the distressed mariners, more distressed now than they had been in a lifetime of sailing, dropped their heads in mortification. Lookout duty might have seemed to them a supererogation when each tortured, sea-whipped lurch of the frail Thetis promised to be her last. They huddled wet and miserable during their tours on deck, and one of them expressed the sentiments of all when he said, ‘We knew we were going to drown on the Maribella schooner, but this damn being half drowned and half bounced to death is what gets me.’
When the strong clear easterly gave way to a thick southwesterly and the Thetis once more laid her course, her captain showed first signs of worriment. He was now, after more than two weeks of unlimited sea room, running fast on a lee shore, and a reliable fix was as important as the need for making every minute count. But here luck intervened. At noon the sun showed itself long enough for an accurate shot for latitude, and two hours later two coasters crossed the Thetis’s bow — one bound north and the other south.
At sight of them the worried frown left Charley’s face. ‘Boys,’ said he, bringing a folded chart up on deck, ‘here’s where we are. Latitude by observation, forty-nine, fifty-two; longitude, a line drawn close to westward of Wolf Rock. See? That’s where those coasters are going — one south out of the Irish Sea, having rounded the Longships and given the Wolf a berth, and the other on the reverse course.’ He gave the helmsman a steering order that, allowing for tides, would take them close past the Lizard.
But Duggan interposed his last objection. ‘I want to say, Cap, that in the last nine days I’ve changed my mind about yachts and gentlemen sailors. I take off my hat to you for making a schooner go. But going it blind on a day as thick as this ain’t seamanship.’
‘How do you mean, “going it blind"?’ asked Charley. ‘My latitude was good; and what could be better than longitude gained from those two coasters? Don’t they know their way?’
‘Yes, they know it; but you don’t. They might be going anywhere but where you say.’
‘But where? Would they be running on to the rocks of the Scillies? Or full bore into Mount’s Bay? And we can’t be as far east as Plymouth. You’ll find I’m right, Duggan. I’ve cruised this region.’
‘That’s all right, but if this were my ship coming on to a foreign coast I’d feel my way. You’ll pile her up, and then what will the underwriters say? Were you taking it easy? Did you run a line of soundings?’
‘I’m not insured. So what do you say, boys?’ And Charley put it up to his men.
‘I say I’m with you until the keel rises up through the deck,’ said Hank. ‘That bad spell of easterly weather let the sloop Alcazar and probably a couple other windward workers slip through us. At least we don’t want to finish last.’
So the final hundred miles were run in an atmosphere brittle as icicles. The Thetans felt intuitively that if ever they had held the ascendancy over their rivals they had lost it in the head winds. The Maribellans knew that they would yet have to swim for their lives, holding to the gunwales of that ridiculous dory. And the quartering sea roared, and invisible steamers bound down Channel shaved them as darkness came in, and every man jack stayed up to see the finish.
The siren of the Lizard boomed too close as they flashed by it in a thin fog. But it sounded when and where the captain of the Thetis wanted it. And four hours later — but it seemed like fifteen minutes — they clocked their time of rounding Plymouth breakwater and brought up in the anchorage. No committee came to greet them, and until morning there was no way of telling whether they were first boat in or last. This gave to the transoceanic its final fillip of excitement.
There were people at home fully as anxious for news of the finish of the race as the crew of the Thetis, and they had only another day to wait for it. It ran, from the facile pen of a shore correspondent: ‘At 12.15 Monday morning the yacht Thetis won the transoceanic race in the remarkable time of seventeen days and seven hours, setting up a record for small yachts that may stand for many years. She defeated her nearest competitor, the sloop Alcazar, by twenty-three hours and forty minutes. On the harrowing voyage the Thetis figured in the thrilling rescue of the captain and four men of the merchant schooner Maribella, abandoned in mid-Atlantic. While there is no inclination here to belittle the sterling performance of the amateur crew of the Thetis, it is believed in shipping circles that they could not have won such an overwhelming victory without the superior ability of the professional seamen from the Maribella. If this is true, the race must take its place among the stirring romances of the sea. In return for their lives, Captain Thomas Duggan and his men from the Maribella showed the amateur sailors the way to the winning post. . . . ’
There was more in this vein, but a little should suffice.