Heavy sea -- Isle of Wight -- The commodore -- A
at gear -- Bow -- Running gear -- Sisterhooks -- Horse -- Tiller
THE BOY and his dog formed a small crowd on the little
pier to see the Rob Roy start again with a fine breeze off shore, but
freshening every minute until near Selsea Bill it blew half a gale. The
navigation round this point is difficult at low water, as may be seen
from the markings in the chart copied at page 246, merely as a specimen
of what a chart is for the sailor's eye.
At last it was necessary to reef mainsail and jib, the
wind blew so hard and in gusts, and the adverse tide met me as it
rushed out of Spithead with a heavy swell. Rain poured down slanting
with the wind, and the rocks, uncovered at low water, looked very
uninviting to leeward.
The little dingey was towed astern, as we had not expected
so much sea with a north wind, but for the first time we found how
perfectly this diminutive boat was adapted for towing, and after this
trial she was never again stowed in the cabin. The bluff bow above, and
the keelless, round, smooth bottom below, enabled the dingey to top the
sharpest wave, and I often forgot my steering while turning round to
watch the little creature as she nimbly leaped over the tumbling
billows. The weather got worse, therefore we changed for a storm
mizzen, and so many seas broke heavily over the Rob Roy, that the water
Ill the well washed about my ankles, and finally we were compelled to
give in and lie-to for an hour or more, after manning the pump.
This wind, rain, and sea together were the worst we had
met with, but the yawl seemed in high spirits, like her owner; though
the waves in the tideway were sometimes so short and sharp that it was
impossible to rise and fall fast enough, and she now and then buried
deeply. It was here that my chart was so wet that it melted before my
eyes, even with all endeavours to preserve it and therefore I bore up
for Brading Harbour, in the Isle of Wight and somehow managed to get
round Bembridge reef all safe into the quiet lake beyond.
Here, and on British soil again, was an end to all
expected anxieties of the voyage. The rest to' come were to be met, but
not anticipated. There had been first the goal of Paris to be reached
at a certain time for the Regatta there, and then there was the unknown
voyage over the Channel, homeward bound, but henceforth no more dates
or wide seas had to be thought of; and the rest of the summer was free.
The shores and seas about the Isle of Wight looked more
cheerful and lovely than ever, with a fair day next morning. Here we
soon pass one of the new sea-batteries, a huge granite castle,
reminding one of Bomarsund, but unfinished, and with scaffolds round
that are worked or stopped, as Ministries go out or in, and as guns or
iron plates are proved strongest in turn at Shoeburyness.
Portsmouth is in front, always with moving life on the
waves. A squadron of ironclads presses heavy in the water at Spithead,
and among them conspicuous is the five-masted Minotaur. White winged
yachts glide through the blue space between these and Ryde. Osborne
basks in the 'grin' shine, with the sailor Prince's pleasure boat by
the shore. If there be a gap or two in the horizon it is soon filled up
by some rich laden merchantman, with sails' swelling full in the light,
and gay signal flags flowing out bright colours; and all the scene is
woven together, as it were, by swift steamers flitting across a warp of
blue, like shuttles strung with a thread of foam.
But it is to that wooded point at Cowes we are steering,
and the tall yellow masts clustered there shew already what an
assemblage the yawl will meet at the Royal Yacht Squadron Regatta.
There was a certain amount of sailor's pride as we
steadily advanced, steering in among these, the smallest of all, but
ready to match the Rob Roy against any of its size and crew. She
quietly approached the crowded quay, and I put my portmanteau ashore at
the Gloucester Hotel, while my jib filled again to sail up straight to
Medina lock, where Mr. John White would see the craft he had modelled,
and after a careful survey, the verdict upon her was entirely
After so much experience of the yawl, tried in all points,
in all kinds of wind and weather, it may well be supposed that numerous
improvements had been noted in my book as desirable. These, however, we
need not here particularise, as the various descriptions given at
intervals through this book shew what the Rob Roy is in her latest and
On her safe arrival at Littlehampton, after crossing the
channel, a short account of the voyage had been sent to the 'Times,'
and this had reached the numerous yachtsmen at Cowes an hour before the
boat herself appeared in front of the club house. Therefore, the little
craft required no more introduction. My flag was my card, and I was
speedily made a member of the Club for the time being. Many old friends
here greeted me, and many new visitors came on board to congratulate,
while His Royal Highness the Commodore of the Canoe Club, whose burgee
flew at my masthead, graciously shook hands.
While the ship carpenters at Medina dock are making my new
bowsprit, and a hundred other things, and Mr. Ratsey is putting the
last finish to my sails, we may examine a little the upper gear of the
yawl, as that has not yet been specially noticed; but as ladies and
landsmen often come on board, who do not require a minute description
of all the ropes and spars in the Rob Roy, they may perhaps save time
by skipping the rest of this chapter.
From the sketches of the yawl given in our pages, it will
be seen at once that she was under-masted and under-sailed. She could
bear a spread of canvas double of that she carried; but for safety, for
handiness, and for comfort, you must be content to sacrifice some speed.
Therefore, it was only in a very powerful breeze that the
beautiful build and lines of the hull had anything like fair play for
shewing her pace through the water. Then, indeed, and when others were
reeling about and shipping seas, even under reefed canvas, the Rob Roy
at once asserted her position.
We have spoken of the excellent mast already. The shrouds
were of iron rope. This is affected by heat and wet, but not so much as
cordage is. The screw links to tighten the shrouds seldom had to be
The bowsprit is on the starboard side, for this allows you
to use the right hand with the chain cable in the bitts. The jib has a
foot of nine feet in stride. Its tack is on a rope round an open hook
at the bowsprit end, so that in reefing you can get it in without
danger of falling overboard, while reaching out to unhook it; then it
is hooked on the stem. An iron bobstay we discarded, and an iron
forestay, as difficult to keep taut; but after trials with no bobstay
at all, we found it advisable to replace this, although it is
troublesome in dealing with the anchor.
The jib-sheets led aft, and the position of the cleats for
these was most carefully chosen, as they are more worked than any part
of the rigging; yet this position was twice altered, and the best place
seems to be on the deck, two feet forward from your breast and two feet
to the side.
The strain on these sheets in rough weather was greater
than had been anticipated, and at last I had to put a tackle on the
port jib-sheet, as that is the one less conveniently placed for
The gunwale has an opening of half an inch all round, and
this was enough for scuppers.
The fore hatch was thirteen inches square, so that I could
readily squeeze down into the fore cabin.
I painted about a foot of the chain-cable of a bright-red
color; at ten and at twenty fathoms, which was useful in telling how
much ran out with the anchor. Fenders I got in Paris, very neatly made
of line network, over canvas bags of cork.
The peak halyard was fast to the gaff; then through a
single block on the mast and one on the gaff, and again one aloft. The
throat halyard was fast to the mast, and through a block on the throat,
and then aloft. Both these halyards came down on the starboard side,
and to separate cleats, but I found it more ready generally to haul on
the two at once, and belay them together.
The jib-halyard had a block on the sail, and then with the
topping lift came down on the port side. A jib purchase I soon cut away
-- one learns to be economical of action when alone. Each of these four
ropes then passed through a sheave on deck, in an iron frame, properly
inclined to give a clear lead.
The fall of each halyard was coiled and pit under the taut
part. A small coil looks neatest, but the fall of it is sure to kink if
coiled close, being wet and dry ten times in a day. Before nearing
harbour, or in preparation to lower sail "handsomely," I found it well
to east the coil loose on the hatch, else a kink would catch in the
Sisterhooks are troublesome things. Some much better plan
as a substitute has to be invented, but I used for their mousings
india-rubber rings, which answered perfectly well, and were easily
replaced at six for a penny.
Stocking and re-stocking the anchor were the only
operations when I felt time want of another hand, either to do the work
at the bow or to give that one touch to the tiller at the critical
moment, which an infant could do when near it. One anchor was on deck,
at each side of the bitts, and fitting securely within the gunwale. Two
things, above all, one must set to work to devise in winter hours -- a
cleat that will need no bends, but bold anywhere instantly, and an
anchor-stock, self-acting in dark, rain, and wind, and without a
forelock to slip out or get jammed.
The main-boom had a ring working between cheeks, and
carrying a double block with a single block below. To reduce the long
fall of the sheet I altered the upper block to a single one; but in the
first heavy weather afterwards it was found to be too small a purchase.
The force of the wind is underrated if you reason about it in fair
The sheet was fast to a strong, plain, copper ring, as a
traveller, and after much trouble and expense about a horse for this,
trying first an iron one, then a copper rope, and then hemp, I found
that: a rounded piece of red ironwood straight across, and about two
inches above the bulkhead of the well, answered to perfection.
This was also a very smooth surface for time bottom of the
dingey to run over when it was shipped under the hatch, or hauled out
in a hurry. Moreover, the wood was convenient to stride across in
getting from the well to the cabin, and it was far more pleasant and
warmer than metal to hold on by during violent lurches of the sea.
The hatch of the well was in two parts, and one of them a
foot in breadth had chocks on each side, so that in rain and dashing
spray it was flied up at an angle before me, and thus only my eyes were
above it exposed. A tarpaulin of one-faced india-rubber over this and
under the horse, had its loose folds round one of my shoulders to the
weather side, so that even in very rough water not much could get into
the open well.
The oars were stowed one on each side of the hatch
combing, with blades aft, and looms chock up to the gunwale at the
bows, so as to be seldom moved by a rush of sea along the deck, and yet
one or other or both could be instantly put into the iron crutches
always kept ready shipped, and so placed that I could row comfortably
while in the well and facing the bow. The boathook had its handle-end
always near my right hand, and this saved me many a run forward in
The tiller of ironwood was well wedged into the
rudder-head. Of course any joggling or slackness here is like a broken
front tooth or a loose steel pen. No plan that I heard of; or saw, or
could devise yet, is perfectly satisfactory for enabling the tiller to
be set fast in a moment, at any angle, and yet to be perfectly free in
ordinary times. I used a large piece of rough cork as a wedge to set
the tiller, and a cord loop at each side of the gunwale, to keep it
"hard down" when going about. At night, to stop the vibration of the
rudder, I knocked in a brass wedge between its head and the iron
bushing of the rudder hole.
Every bit of iron above water was galvanized; but this
operation weakens small pieces of iron unless it is carefully done.
However, the only part which carried away was my smaller anchor stock,
and this took place at the first cast of it into the Thames.
Such is the Rob Roy yawl, and the map given here in a
woodcut shows the general course of the first sea voyage by a dotted
line, but many a long night of zigzag had to be sailed besides.
Ducklings -- Victoria Park -- Yachtsmen -- Cowes --
Floating family -- The 'Zara' -- Lifeboats -- Wrecked -- Mop -- An odd
story -- The law of anchors -- Experiments -- The Royal yacht
MEDINA Dock is the place to see all sorts of ships and
boats for steam, sailing, or rowing, lifeboats, rafts, and models. The
basin is full of brokenbacked men-of-war, whose old black bones are
being disjointed and dragged asunder here to make strong knees again,
just because they are black and well-seasoned. Alongside the quay we
had seen the three American yachts which came across the Atlantic amid
many English cheers for a vessel of two hundred tons crossing from New
York, while we scarcely record the voyages of our own hundred-ton
vessels that have often sailed to Australia.
In Mr. White's garden there are Chinese junks and
catamarans afloat in a pond, and even the walls around are not allowed
to be quite of dry land, being painted with sea soundings and charts of
the neighbouring coasts. This may indeed be called the Admiralty of the
yacht fleet, and Cowes is its Portsmouth.
"Nauta nascitur non fit" which is in English, a British
boys are like ducklings born to the water," though many of them have
affectionate parents not web-footed. The filial duty of the little duck
to the motherly hen is a very difficult question of conscience when a
pond is near; but then there is no positive need to boat while there is
a positive command to obey. This solves the question with all brave
loving boys, who are manly enough to obey the woman dearest on earth to
A little vessel two feet long may be called a toy ship,
but it is a toy that can teach much to an Admiral, and I should not
like to have as my comrade on a voyage the man of forty who can pass
the Serpentine without a glance at the little ragged urchin who, half
in the water himself, reaches with a twig his tiny lugger after its
long voyage over, among ducks, and rowboats, and billows two inches
Victoria Park, again, has a feast of nauticalities now and
then for boys who love boats, when the Model Yacht Club sails its
lilliputian squadron for a half-crown cup.
* The competing yachts lie on the green grass first for
inspection. They are made in "off hours" by working men, who sail as
well as build them. Wife or a schoolgirl daughter has sewed the sails,
and the paint on the hull is gorgeous. Crowds of all classes and ages
are at the starting post, and when the pistol fires the cheers begin.
Each favourite in the fleet has its admirers, who run alongside, and
the Secretary alone has a grave face, as of a man on important duty.
Who can say what sailors' seedlings may be watered in that pond, and to
grow up in manhood afterwards as hearts of oak? And if a boy is too
young, or lazy, or clumsy-fingered to make a boat for himself, let him
go along Fleet-street till he comes to the spot where he can turn his
back upon St. Dunstan's church. Depend upon it he will cross over to
the Model Dockyard there, and after buttoning his jacket over his
watch-chain, and a good shove down to his pocket-handkerchief , if he
has one, let him wriggle in by elbow and knees till he gets a good
place among the crowd at the window.
Even when it is time to go home he will not have seen half
the naval stores here, or the little sailors -- from Cork -- all
waiting to be engaged; but if he buys the Illustrated Handbook inside
from Mr. Lawrence to con over at home, perhaps at his next visit he may
be admitted upstairs to a delicious treat where he can gloat over the
more hidden fleet of the future.
Some perhaps many, people keep yachts who do not enjoy
sailing. We have seen yacht-owners who could not steer their own
dingey. There are others whose chief anxiety when once on board is for
their speedy arrival at the next port. To have the best yacht of the
year is no sign of its owner being a good sailor. The horse that wins
the Derby would most likely not be first if he carried his owner, and a
man may have a good carriage who cannot "handle the ribbons."
It is no discredit to anybody that he cannot ride a race
or steer a schooner, or drive a drag; but it is well to remember more
than we do whose is the skill that wins in each of these exercises.
At Cowes one perceives very soon that a good deal of
yacht-o-mania is fed upon good meat and drink afloat, and balls and
promenades ashore, and the pomp and bustle of getting from one to
another, not to forget the brass buttons which fasten more vulgar minds
to some Clubs. Leaving aside all these in peace, provided they play
with the thing as they have a right to do, and as openly as now, so
that none can mistake them, we have besides a splendid set of fellows,
yes, and of women too, who really love the sea. We know a hardy
canoeist who said he would not marry anybody unless she could "pull bow
oar," and it must be a great addition to the family hearth when the
help meet can "mind her luff"
In the regatta week the tide of a congregation coining out
of the pretty church at Cowes is thoroughly aquatic. Fine stalwart men
with handsome faces, girls with chignons as big as a topsail bunt,
yacht skippers of bronze hue and anxious eye, well fed sailors with
Jerseys blue, children with hat ribbons and neckties labelled with
yacht names. There were 150 yachts on the water here and the Rob Roy
anchored close to the Hotel, from which the sight was magnificent at
night, when each mast-light was hung, and the whole made a brilliant
crescent reflected in calm sea, while excellent music played softly on
shore, and at each half-hour the bell of every vessel tolled the time,
Rob Roy adding her note to the jingle by so many thumps with an iron
Near the yawl was a strange little cutter of five tons, as
remarkable for the number of people on board it as mine was for having
so few. There was the grey-haired hearty papa, and when we had noticed
him taking observations with a sextant we knew he was "a character."
Then there was his active son, and a younger brother, and a sister in
bright red, and a sailor boy. They looked even more numerous, because
they kept for ever moving out of sight and then appearing in new
costume, under and above the awning like a large umbrella spread on
It was a treat to lunch with this kind hale yachtsman, and
to see the one minute cabin full of mirrors, pictures, statuettes, and
crockery, and furniture. To make room for the visitor two of the
inhabitants ate their share of a huge pie in the punt alongside.
Then, to rise at once to the largest yacht of them all,
there was the beautiful 'Zara,' a schooner of 315 tons, fitted out for
a Mediterranean cruise, but making her first voyage from Cowes to
Southampton, convoyed by the Rob Roy, and as her reefing topsails and
her Flemish horse got entangled aloft by new stiff ropes, she drifted
against another fine schooner; but with cool heads and smart hands on
board of each of them, the pretty craft were softly eased away from a
too rough embrace, and no damage was done.
About twenty of the yachts were steamers, and at least as
many besides had steam launches, a new adjunct rapidly becoming
popular, and which soon will be almost a necessary for every yacht of
200 tons. All of these that I saw were lifeboats, "built on "Lamb and
White's" principle, that is, with air chambers along the sides, so that
they decline to upset, and if they are filled by the sea, they are not
only still floating but steady also.
* The Royal National Lifeboat
Institution build boats with air chambers so disposed at the ends and
in the bottom as to cause the boat to right itself when it has been
overturned, while Mr. S. White's boats are constructed so as rather to
prevent a capsize than to right the boat afterwards.
During an experimental trial in a heavy sea, one of these
boats was intentionally overturned, and its air chambers then kept it
steadily floating bottom upwards, so that the crew clambered up safely
on the keel where the handles provided for the purpose enabled them to
hold on. Of the fourteen men, however, only thirteen could be counted,
and so it was found that "Jem" was missing; but when he was called, Jem
answered from the inside of the boat, "All right." "What? Are you
inside ?" "Yes, I'm looking for my cap." He was safe enough in the
vacant space between the water and the floor, upturned over him, while
he had plenty of fresh air through the scupper gratings, and there was
room for several more of the crew inside. The two rival systems seem to
represent (1) a boat which will more readily upset, but will speedily
right the men, therefore, if upset, should not cling to the bottom if
thrown out, but must keep inside, cling to the thwarts and trust to be
soon righted ; and (2) a boat which will upset only under strongest
pressure, but the men can either stop inside, or if east out can cling
to the keel.
To decide between the merits of these lifeboats would
require actual experiment outside and inside of each by the judge, who
ought to look at all parts of the question; but my opinion is, at
present, in favour of the side chamber plan, even for the largest
boats, and certainly for small ones, and of course for steam launches.
But whatever may be finally settled as to the best
position of the air-cases in lifeboats -- and the best men in the world
for these matters are engaged in earnest upon the subject * -- it
certainly is prudent for all who care not to be drowned, that the boat
they sail in should be so built as not to go down bodily when a mere
hole is knocked in her, and this may be insured by dividing her into
* A foreign sailor, examined
to a shipwreck case in Court, was asked, "How did you know it was the
coast of England?" "Because a lifeboat came out to us," he said. Rule
Some years ago I had a sharp lesson on this point. It was
in Dublin Bay, where I was sailing entirely alone in an iron
cutter-yacht, very small, yet far too large to be managed by one boy.
The throat parrell suddenly broke, and the mainsail jammed at once, so
that she would not stay. Then I tried to wear ship, but the running sea
poured in over the counter at each plunge, and baling was impossible,
for it ran fore and aft. As the water got deeper inside she settled
down, for she had no compartments, and being of iron, of course she
must speedily sink. A yacht had humanely come out, seeing my distress,
and she rounded to and dropped a boy on board me with a strong rope;
but when the boy set foot on my bows they plunged deep under water, and
with a loud cry he hauled himself back on board the other yacht.
The captain instantly tacked and came again, and cast the
rope to me, which I fastened securely to my mast and then got safely
aboard the preserver's vessel, while mine sunk down, but suspended
still by the rope, until we towed it into shallow water.
This sort of thing was fully provided against in the Rob
Roy by the watertight compartments, three in number, besides the
air-chambers, so that if she was filled in any one, she could still
sail on, and if all three compartments had been entirely full of water;
she would still float with her air-chambers, and with five
hundredweight to spare.
The buoyancy of the yawl was very remarkable. She easily
carried twenty men, and in the same space one could accommodate five
ladies (of the pattern 1866). Three hundredweight of ballast was thrown
off at Cowes, besides what we took out at Dover; and still the yawl was
A boat's mop is, of course, well known to be always fair
spoil to him who can take it, and whatever other article the yachtsman
leaves loose on an unguarded deck, he never omits to hide or look up
the mop, for a mop is winged like an umbrella, it strays but seldom
returns. The usual protection of mops is their extreme badness, and it
is on this account, no doubt, that you never can find a good mop to
buy. The Rob Roy's mop was the only bad article on board, and I left it
out loose in perfect confidence. Often and often it had evidently been
turned over, but on examination it was found supremely bad, worse than
the thief's own mop, and not worth stealing. At last, however; and in
Cowes, too, the focus of yachting, if not of honesty, my mop was
stolen. The man who took it is to be pitied, for, clearly, before he
coveted a bad mop, he must have been long enduring a worse one.
Nor is the property in boats' anchors quite free from the
legal subtleties which allow but a dim sort of ownership in things that
are "attached to the soil."
When, indeed, your boat is at one end of the cable, you
will scarcely fear that the anchor should be stolen from the other end.
But when necessity or convenience cause you to slip anchor and sail
away, you must recollect that though the anchor is the emblem of hope,
it does not warrant any expectation that on returning you will find the
anchor acknowledged to be yours. It has now passed into the category of
"found anchors;' and it is not yet decided how the rights to these are
best determined However, I may here mention one mode of settling the
A gentleman we shall call J. I., sailing from a port on
the Thames, had to slip his anchor, and said to the lad ashore -- " You
see I am leaving my anchor here, and be good enough to tell your father
to get it when; the tide falls, and to carry it to where my yacht is,
and when I return here to-morrow I will give him half-a-crown."
After his sailing was over, J. I. came back and said to
the father, "Well, have you got my anchor?" "I have found an anchor,"
he answered. "Yes, that is mine, and I told your son I would give you
half-a-crown if you brought it here." "I have found an anchor; and I'll
not give it up under five shillings," said the man; and their argument
and remonstrance gradually enveloped the subject in a hazy
abstruseness, while the usual knot of idlers listened all round.
At length J. I. said, "Come, now, we really must settle
this matter. I'll fight you as to whether I am to pay five shillings or
nothing for the anchor)' and he took off his coat and waistcoat, so it
was plain he was in earnest. The other man stripped too, a ring was
formed, and after J. I., worsted at first, had well thrashed his
opponent, the latter gave up the anchor. Here, perhaps, we might think
the case had ended, but J. I. had still a point to be settled, saying
to the man, "Your bargain was not only to give up the anchor, but to
bring it here;" and as the fellow refused to do this, the valiant J. I.
cut the second discussion short by saying "Well, then, I'll fight you
again as to who shall carry it up," and it need scarcely be said that
the anchor was not carried up) by J. I.
Is there any other country but England where two men can
pummel each other in hard earnest, and yet with less passion at the
time, and less grudge afterwards than often exists for years j between
two combatants who battle with their/ tongues, or even fight with their
pens and post stamps?
* As anchors are important
parts of one's equipment, I had begun early to experiment at once with
mine, and the small one had been tried once as a kedge. With the first
heave it broke off short; the stock had snapped in the place which
ought to be the strongest, but which is really made the weakest by the
present faulty construction of anchor-stocks. The memo in my logbook
was, "Invent a proper anchor;" and even at Cowes I could not find any
plan that met this need.
Other inventors, knowing the experimental turn of my crew,
had sent me several instruments and things of various sorts to try in
practice, and to report on. One of these was a beautiful little anchor
made of bronze, and in form very peculiar and apparently an
improvement, indeed an admirable novelty to look at. This, too, I
heaved overboard for trial, but it simply dragged through the soft mud,
and proved quite useless. Before the end of my voyage, a score of
minutiae, as well as things of some importance were marked as lines for
great at improvement, when a nautico-mechanical brain shall be brought
to bear upon them. The mental consideration of such points afforded
varied subjects for many weeks' thought. Indeed all the fittings of a
sailing-boat seem open to much improvement. Meanwhile we have laid down
the large Trotman as moorings in We Medina, while we range about the
bays of the & island with the smaller anchor duly repaired.
Of course the dingey had its Sunday voyage at Cowes, and
was everywhere received with kindness. It went to the Royal Yacht here,
as it had done to the Emperor's yacht at St. Cloud, and the sailors
were grateful for books to read, for they have plenty of time on
It did not appear to be the fashion at Cowes to work them
seven days a week; indeed, we saw only one vessel sail in on Sunday,
and she was arriving after a night's voyage.
The life-raft -- A travelled hen -- Prussian
-- American -- Going up stairs -- Portsmouth -- Fair visitor -- Cruises
-- A review -- Questions
THE "Nonpareil" American life-raft was in Cowes after her
Atlantic voyage of forty three days at sea. Two of her three
adventurous crew were Prussians, who could speak English only
imperfectly, and the third was a Yankee. This uncomfortable voyage was
undertaken partly to promote the sale in England of these rafts, and
partly to pay the three men by fees from visitors, while they could see
Europe themselves at a cheap rate. One of Mr. White's steamers towed
the raft out to the 'Castle,' where the members of the Royal Yacht
Squadron Club have their spacious house, with a sea wall over the waves.
From the accompanying sketch it will be seen that she is
schooner-rigged, and very coarsely rigged too. Gigantic flags and
streamers overwhelm her masts, but fourteen of us on her deck seem to
sink the buoyant life raft only an inch more in the water.
The Life Raft 
She is made of three long tubes of india-rubber, blown up
by bellows; and when the air is out, these can be packed away snugly,
weighing in all about a ton, and intended to be inflated and launched
from a ship's deck in ease of disaster. A small raft in the capacity of
a dingey, but formed like the other, was towed beside her, and as a
special favour I was allowed to go away in this, which was easily
worked by oars or sculls upon outriggers.
The men had for shelter during their long voyage only a
small waterproof tent on the deck, with a gutter round its edge to
catch the rainwater, and so to replenish their supply, kept in bags On
each side, and now handed about in glasses as "travelled liquor," to
wash down biscuits, still surplus from the "sea store." Their cooking
apparatus was at first worked by petroleum, but this speedily burned
the metal out, and they were driven to manufacture a very ramshackle
sort of oil-lamp, fed by the oil for their ship-light and their
compass, and supplied by passing vessels.
Two centre-boards, like narrow long doors, placed
diagonally between the web joinings of the tubes, dipped into the
water, and served as a keel, so that when we cast her off from the
steamer, the raft managed to sail a little over to windward.
* The actual substratum, or
raft proper, seems to be strong and substantial, but the gear, sails,
and all other things were miserably contrived, and worse executed in
preparation for a long dreary voyage, drifting in wet and weariness
during six weeks, which I could not but contrast with the pleasant six
weeks just passed in the Rob Roy.
The most interesting thing on the raft was a passenger,
who had come on board her about a thousand miles away in the sea. This
was an old hen, given to the crew by a passing vessel. It was a common
brown, dowdy, grandmother-looking hen, and in this prosaic state it was
very odd and incongruous tethered to the deck by a bit of tarred
lanyard, and pecking away till you looked hard at it, then it cocked up
one eye with an air that said, "Why are you staring at me?"
Among the visitors to the raft was a wealthy gentleman,
who surveyed the whole with interest and at last fixed his eye upon the
barn-door fowl, and asked if it was to be sold. "Yes, sir, for a
hundred guineas," was the answer; but he deferred any immediate
purchase by saying, "If I thought that eating that hen's eggs would
make me as plucky as you are, I might buy it." As for being "plucky" in
the matter, what will not men risk for money? The risks run by many
sailors in the rotten coffins that bring our scuttles of coals round
Yarmouth Sands are quite as great as the hazard on this raft, and their
forecastles are almost as comfortable as the tent on its open deck. If
it were not on such a serious subject as risk to human life, it would
be amusing to hear the wrong estimates of danger in various sorts of
voyage, hastily expressed by benevolent people who are ignorant of the
I advised the raft-men to take her to Berlin for
exhibition as "the Prussian raft from America;' for such she is; but
they persisted in their scheme for shewing her in London, where folks
are already tired of "flotsam and jetsam" from the West. Their
enterprise failed; and the poor Prussians had to depart from England
deep in debt instead of laden with money, and their raft was left for
Since the 'Nonpareil,' there has come to England from
America (let us hope) the last floating monstrosity, a boat called the
'John T. Ford,' worse "found" in every sense than the others, with
three men drowned on the passage, and one nearly starved -- a sad
finale to the failures of the 'Henrietta,' 'Red, White, and Blue,' and
'Nonpareil,' as speculations. Perhaps, for a time at least the
Americans will be cautious how they exhibit their boats for sale here,
when the principal characteristic of each of them is only the
sensational foolhardiness of the crew.
Every day at Cowes the yawl Rob Roy was under way for a
sail, and sometimes in good breezes she would thread in and out among
thickly clustered yachts, so as to shew her handiness. Certainly,
without previous practice, it would be highly improper to attempt this
sort of cruising; for the yachts, with bowsprits run out, and jiggers
and mizzen booms projecting, are at anchor here on the implied
understanding that no one will wantonly endanger a collision by sailing
about in the crowd, merely for fun. After practice, however, for weeks
in the same craft, the operation of guiding her safely through a maze
of boats, and on a strong cross-tide, becomes like the unnoticed and
nearly involuntary muscular efforts of the body which carry us safely
through a crowd on shore. I recollect once seeing some very (dignified
Arab Chiefs, who for the first time in their lives had to go upstairs
and their awkward stumbling, even in the ascent of a few steps) shewed
how much our nerves and limbs have to learn before we can perform this
feat without even a thought or a look.
One day the Rob Roy sailed to Portsmouth, and into all the
creeks and crannies, and through all the channels and guts she could
find in that complicated waterway, and then anchored near the 'Duke of
Wellington,' with the old 'Victory' close beside. There also was the
'Serapis,' the new and magnificent troopship, of a size and build found
to be the best success of our last naval efforts. By the quay was the
'Warrior,' the first seagoing ironclad, and of beauty indisputable, and
the celebrated 'Wyvern,' with its tripod masts. Others later made, and
always more and more stumpy and square, need a strong pressure of
utilitarian conviction to restrain us from pronouncing that they are
downright ugly. But we shall soon become reconciled, and then
enamoured, of forms that are associated with proved utility, and the
grand three-decker of our youth will look as clumsy then as the ships
of Queen Elizabeth do now, which seem to have carried, each of them, a
lot of toy guns, and a country mansion on its deck.
The church service on board old 'Victory' was most
interesting to take part in when Sunday came round, and next day her
captain came to visit us in his well-manned gig, which, indeed, was
longer than our boat and he said that the Rob Roy "fulfilled a dream of
his youth." This from a "swell of the ocean" was a high compliment to
our little yawl.
A boat full of boys, from the Portsmouth Ragged School,
sang hymns on the water in the lovely evening.
Among the other remarkable visitors to the yawl was a
pleasant young lady, who sat in a very pretty boat rowed by a trusty
man. She had hovered round and round the Rob Roy with a cautious
propriety, which, however, could not conceal a certain wistful gaze as
the narrowing spiral of her course brought her nearer at each turn. My
little dingey was the attraction, and the lady confessed boldly that
she "would so like to have a boat like that to row in." Next she
consented to see dinner cooked on the Rob Roy, and -- just because she
was a lady -- she complied with the request not to fly away when I
began to eat. Finally, as curiosity increases by gratifying it, the
good humoured girl (with the full consent of the trusty guardian)
accepted one mouthful of the newly cooked rations, stewed steak, on Rob
Roy's fork, and then suddenly it had become "very late, and time to
The variety of life during a fortnight here, yet all
afloat was abounding. One day sailing in company with other small boats
up the winding Medina, or tacking about, close-reefed, in rough water;
the next day cruising in some splendid schooner away and away towards
the Needles. Every one was kind and hospitable and often dipping their
ensigns to the yawl. Surely we have named her cruise wrongly as "the
voyage alone;" and, indeed, I could scarcely get time in my cabin for a
glance at a paper, to see the news and doings of the land folk, bricked
up ashore; their wars and congresses, and the general rasping they get
for it all by a hard squeeze in the press at the end of every week, to
keep them from forgetting their own discomforts or their neighbours'
ills, for, Parliament being dispersed in vacation, there is the fourth
estate to legislate by public acclaim.
Most remarkable it is, and a feature only a few years old,
that the principal morning and evening papers should take up one after
another of philanthropic institutions, and even of individual cases,
and advocate them vigorously, while they spare no wrong from censure,
and freely discuss remedies, which are much harder to talk of than any
wrongs. Philanthropy is made popular by the press, and many a good
worker is cheered by this powerful help.
But on the other hand, lest we should subside into doing
good, hoping better, and making the best of things in a practical way,
the whole has to be reviewed at the end of each week by a hard
hebdomadal board, on which a dozen clear thinkers sit aside and
criticise all the rest of us. Perhaps it is a part of the irreverence
of our times that one should gradually lose awe in the presence of this
weekly printed wisdom. Or is it that experience finds types are just as
fallible as tongues for telling truth, and that years give us hardiness
even in the presence of that most mighty, wise, and impudent of all
earthworms, man, that judges the very God of Heaven.
However, the brilliancy of these critics flares out and
attracts, and it ought to attract, though it need not dazzle, even if
it be the brilliancy of the electric light, warming as little, and
darkening one side as much. Their thoughts reach thousands, and without
the answers: thus to thousands they are judgments, not arguments. It is
a tremendous responsibility to wield such powers, and perhaps it is not
felt by a corporate body, as each one of them would acknowledge for
Is it a good sign of them, or of the age, that they should
yield to man's innate love of continuous detraction?
Is not their own shibboleth the hardest of all, the most
shifting, the most inaudibly pronounced, if it be not a universal "No,"
and yet the most rigorously insisted upon? Is there not a "cant" of the
vague and complacent denial, quite as bad as that of the too positive
and assured belief? Will it cure the weakness of the milk-and-water
they complain of' to pour in mustard and vinegar? and would not any one
man, with all these bristling points of sarcasm, dispraise, and
bitterness, be about as pleasant in social life as a porcupine? Surely
this powerful literary lever could be plied to raise heavier stones,
and to settle them in goodly order, rather than to grub in the rubbish;
and the leading organ of the week could sound with a grander harmony,
more pleasant, and not less piquant than its jarring notes of discord.
Perhaps to write thus is too daring, for while Saturn
masticates his own offspring, it is a bold child that complains to his
face; but it is better to be called rash than to be proved timid.
Meantime we are nearing Cowes in our sail from Portsmouth,
and must mind the rocks and beacons rather than soliloquies, for this
one question may be put after all:- Is it right to moralize at all in a
log-book? and will not the reader say, that when there is not a storm
in the yawl, or a swamp, there is sure to come a sermon?
© 2000 Craig O'Donnell
May not be reproduced without my permission.