EVERY MAN HIS OWN SKIPPER.
SINCE the Editor of the Spectator has paid me the compliment of expressing a wish to know in detail how I handled Lady Harvey ' and Zayda ' by myself, I can only do my best to satisfy his curiosity to the best of my ability. Zayda ' (twenty-five tons) was, by the way, the more difficult to manage, as she was six feet longer and three feet narrower than ' Lady Harvey ' and was quicker on the helm. I shall have to go into technical matters a good deal, I fear, but though these may be incomprehensible to some they are, I understand, what is wanted.
Let us, then, suppose the yacht is riding at anchor off Brightlingsea, as ' Lady Harvey ' was when I first tried to see what I could do alone (see Cruising Sails and Yachting Tales, p. 47. London : Potter). The first thing to be done was to go forward and examine the winch, an old-fashioned barrel affair with ratchet and lever—powerful but slow: This was the first time I had handled a winch, by the way, for my previous boat, Undirie I.,' which was only about four tons, had none. I but in the iron bar and shortened up the chain until it was nearly up and doWn. Tbexe was little breeze and the tide slack (H.W.). Then I looked at the mainsail. It did look a big job, but I cast off the bands that kept it together, raised the peak and throat slightly, eased the mainsheet sufficiently, then took a pull on both topping lifts, first one and then the other, and hoisted the sail. It was not so heavy as I expected. The blocks were large with patent roller sheaves, the running-rigging was manila rope, not wire as is so general now—naturally the size of the sheaves made it easier. I was able to get the jaws right up and well set, although there was no purchase on the halyard ; the blocks, however, were a treble and double. Then I peaked the gaff. This was quite easy, as there was a purchase to take a strain after I had got down the peak halyard all I could. The mainsail being now set, and the yacht riding head to wind, I went aft and set the mizzen, which was a standing lug sail. I left sufficient slack on both sheets so as to allow the boat to pay off easily on whichever tack I should decide to break away. Then I went forward and bent on the jib. I saw that the staysail (or foresail) was ready to hoist, made the sheet fast on the port side, hoisted the jib, set it very taut with its purchase, took a hurried look round—all clear. Then out with the anchor. This was the first time I had tried its weight at all. The chain is up and down, the yacht is filling on the port tack as I wanted, after trying to go away on the starboard while I was tightening the chain. Now a good heavy pull on the bar. Slowly something yields ; now the weight lessens ; the anchor is away. It is not so heavy as I thought, but quite heavy enough. I get it up to the chock, clear of the water, leaving the tatting " until I have more time. The anchor weighed 1 cwt., by the way. Meanwhile, the boat is paying off on the port tack. I rim aft, put the helm at the angle to keep her just jogging along close hauled ; run forward, hoist the staysail, ease the jib sheet, take it in on the starboard side ; let the staysail, which works on a horse, look after itself ; go aft again, ease main and mizzen sheets, and put her on her course or as close as she will go. And so with shore tacks I turn down the Colne to the Bar buoy and grope for the Raysand Channel.
I. ought to explain here that Lady Harvey,' although twenty-nine tons by Thames measurement, was only eighteen " registered."
This was my first experience. I found it quite easy. A big powerful boat with a straight keel allows one plenty of time, and one must only think of each job as it comes along, with, of course, a keen eye for anything that may turn up or go wrong. Fortunately the day was fine, the breeze fairly steady and the tide just on the turn ; and there were no craft in the way.
To handle a large boat it is obvious both wind and tide have carefully to be considered so as to judge how best to utilize your strength. I am always very careful to look ahead and economize my personal resources, but, of course, sometimes in spite of every care one is placed at a serious disadvantage. I am handling my present boat, Ailsa,' fourteen tons, generally quite alone, and she is above the average usually regarded as a single-hander by most men—Mr. Reynolds' boat Winnie,' for instance, being eleven tons, and always manned by two or three capable amateurs, if not more. I realize more than ever the need of carefully estimating the job before me, but I think I may say that to take a long (42 ft. over-all) fairly fast craft like Ailsa ' habitually (for I have no moor- ing, and there is no room to anchor where I berth) up the Hamble river in the height of the season, with a strong tide running in or out, and a good chance of the breeze drawing from quite a different direction just as one comes to the most critical part—to do this without a motor, and be obliged to carry on to the very last so as to have complete control, in order to avoid the number of large and small craft moored so close together as hardly to allow room to swing—does call for a fair amount of judg- ment, coolness, and even an element of audacity, expecially as I am in my " eighth decade," as one reviewer thought- fully observed. Of course, all this implies a good deal of work, but I have always held with the old monastic gag that laborare means any amount of orare. I regard this business as much more nerve-trying than anything I did in any of my other boats, yet it is patent that it can be done ; for during the summer I am out and in of the Ramble every week and even many days in the week. Although in actual terms the weights may not appear so great as in ' Lady Harvey' and Zayda,' yet as there is no purchase on the peak halyards the strain is not very different ; but after my experiences with the previous boats (yawls) I have always adopted ketches as the easiest and handiest rig. Now, just one other example, since apparently it is the size and weight of ' Lady Harvey ' and Zayda ' that seem to stagger people somewhat. I will take Zayda,' for she really was a terror, and I always regarded her much as if she were a tame tiger. I was lying in Dartmouth, living alone on board. It was November— some big gales had been making things lively. About ten weeks before I had nearly lost a leg owing to a tugboat fouling my warp which hitched round my right leg. It was supposed to be healed after seven weeks ashore. The friends who came down Channel with me had left. Being tired of the berth, close to the coal hulks, where I was lying, I thought I would try Torquay.
Starting in Dartmouth always offers possibilities of all sorts, even for a small boat. I was berthed snugly just above ' Galatea ' with a steam yacht, the Oithona,' close on my port beam, but with room to swing. Long tiers of coal hulks were about fifty yards up stream occupy- ing all the space as far as the ferry just below the old ' Britannia.' Other small craft were all around. I was moored taut with kedge and anchor out. The tide will be slack in about an hour, so I get up the kedge—always a tough pull, but never too much yet—for if it is very stubborn one can tighten the rope for all one is worth and then go to the bows of the dinghy and start see-sawing. If that won't answer, then try a tackle—but that I scarcely ever have to do—and out it conies. Then I return aboard, stow the kedge, shorten the chain, and do just as I did off Brightlingsea. Only here I am in the midst of craft and very fitful, and occasionally stronger, airs are fooling all about. This makes it a little anxious.. Still, it's got to be done, so I know it will be. Zayda ' breaks away on the starboard tack, and I have to go about almost at once to avoid a collision. I run forward, having secured the helm, so that she will keep on coming round, hold the jib aback, for I have not yet set the staysail. Then when the after canvas is filling well I let the sheet draw, get it in on the. starboard side, run aft, take the helm and stand out into the fairway.
The breeze is abominably baffling, fluky and in flaws. I have an oar all ready, and use it as best I can. It just serves to make all the difference when there is a slight divergence of opinion about coming round, but it always took some good and wilful shoves to have any effect on so long and heavy a boat. Now, of course, I should not have the strength. Still, when things must be done, and one has command of the means, and does not depend on anyone else, I have usually found they are managed somehow. So we toddled down past the quays and round Kingswear Point and ferry pontoon, keeping in midstream to avoid the back eddies along the shore ; past Warfleet Cove and St. Petrox, taking a long time, great patience, and a good deal of tissue, wasting breath no doubt in useless swearing as the playful breeze toyed first on one side then the other, now astern and anon ahead, until at last the Checkstone is cleared, Kingswear Castle is abeam and the Range is all before us. Here the breeze is truer for a while, but it soon goes ahead and after the Mew and Black Stone are paised, and as the Channel swell is rolling down uncom- fortably after a night of strong east wind, poor old ' Zayda ' wallows and bangs in a miserable way. It is a dead beat to Torbay, with light airs and a tide just beginning to do its best to sweep us back into Start Bay. We make absolutely no progress. The days are short. Lunch is taken in despondent mood. Already the shadows of eve are looming all along the cliffs. Spouts of spray fly up over the Cod rocks, and it is actually getting dark as at last Berry Head is opened. Shall I put into Brixham ? No. I have always had a dislike of that busy place. Instinctively I know it is no berth for me, so I get up the side lights and prepare for a very black night, as we wallow and lurch across Torbay. Torquay Pier lights are hard to see. I hope the place will be fairly empty. It is now getting towards midnight. The S.W. going tide had delayed all the afternoon, and hardly a breath of air at any time. It is anxious work, for ' Zayda ' has little steerage way. Still she does steer, and after all it is better so, for I can just grope quietly for a suitable berth. We wallow along. The pierheads are opening. It is very black, but the lights show all the brighter. A light draught cools on the right cheek. I keep well to windward and peer into the blackness as if I were a cat and the harbour a mouse. Now I am rolling right up against the Haldon Pier as it seems. A swell carries us round. I starboard the helm—so far as I can see nothing is in the way—let the boat glide on in the quieting water, nearly run down a buoy, now another. The harbour seems almost empty mercifully. Now luff, round up, hook on to a buoy which suddenly gleams just on the port bow --- I have left the helm to do its own work—run a warp, laid ready for the purpose, through the large ring. I had done this trick so many times, notably in Lorient, where I made the authority swear, that it was easy to do once more. I made fast with about two fathoms on both parts. Down head sails, down main and mizzen, and all is still.
A church clock is striking eleven. A dog barks. It is quite silent otherwise in the corridors of night. I make all snug, carry out another warp in the dinghy to a buoy astern, and there we are in what is left of the darkness till dawn. Little did I know the tragedy in store for poor ' Neptune ' years afterwards as she lay just where I was.
In a short article like this I cannot give other instances which some might consider more strenuous, since there was bodily danger and imminent risk to life ; but the actual work was no harder than in the cases I have described or even demanded so much mental and physical toil. For the decision, after all is done that can be, does not rest with me, and I have no further responsibility, so can take what case I may and leave the rest elsewhere.
I am just beginning the second volume of Cruising Sails and Yachting Tales. Now that I know what my readers want I can shape it accordingly. Meanwhile, perhaps this crude, unvarnished yarn may suffice. It is pleasant to learn that so much interest is taken in a sport that more than any other fosters all the qualities that have made England great. When I look back on that fine diplomat. statesman and great Pro-consul, the first Marquess of Dufferin• and Ave, with whom I had the good luck often to cruise, and recall how Sir Arthur Channel handled Xanthe,' I can only wish that our present crowd of