Tide waiter -- Beachy Head -- Night Ghost -- Man
overboard -- Ship ahoy ! -- Overfalls -- Thoughts -- Thunder -- A
question -- Day -- Good-bye, dingey ! -- Dungeness -- A nap
THE barometer mounted steadily all Sunday, so we resolved
to start next morning at break of day. But though the night was quiet
the vessels near my berth were also getting ready, therefore at last I
gave up all hopes of sleep, and for company's sake got ready also
before two o'clock, that we might have all the tide possible for going
round Beachy Head, which, once passed, we could find easy ports all the
way to London. So we are rowing out again on the ebbing tide, and the
water at the pier-head looks placid now compared with the boiling and
dashing there when the yawl passed in before.
Dawn broke about three o'clock, and mist skirting up
distant hills, and a gentle east wind breathing as our teacup smoked
fragrant on deck. The wind was only playful yet, so we anchored,
waiting for it to rise in earnest or the tide to slacken, as both were
now contrary; and meantime we rested some hours preparing for a long
spell of unknown work; but I could not sleep in such a lovely daybreak,
not having that most valuable capacity of being able to sleep when it
is wanted for coming work, and not only when I want it after labor past.
The east wind baffled the yawl and a whole fleet of
vessels, all of us trying to do the same thing, namely, to arrive at
Beachy Head before two o'clock; for, if this could be managed, we
should there find the tide ebbing eastwards, and so get twelve hours of
current in our favour.
This feature -- the division of the tides there -- makes
Beachy Head a well-marked point in the navigation of the Channel. The
stream from the North Sea meets the other from the Atlantic here, and
here also they begin to separate. After Cheating, in downright sailing,
one after another of the schooners and brigs and barques in company, I
saw at last with real regret that not one of us could reach the point
in time, and yet the yawl was there only a few minutes too late; but it
was dead calm, and I even rowed her on to gain the last little mile.
One after another the vessels gave it up, and each cast
anchor. Coming to a pilot steamer; I hailed: "Shall I be able to do
it?" "No, sir;" they said; "no -- very sorry for you, sir; you've
worked hard, sir; but you're ten minutes too late." Within that time
the tide had turned against us. We had not crossed the line of
division, and so the yawl had to be turned towards shore to anchor
there, and to wait the tide until nine o'clock at night, unless a
breeze came sooner.
After three hours' work she reached the desired six
fathoms' patch of sand, just under the noble white cliff that rears its
head aloft about 600 feet, standing ever as a giant wall, sheer,
upright, out of the sea.
Dinner done and everything set right (for this is best
policy always), I slipped into my cabin and tried to sleep as the sun
went down, but a little land-breeze now began, and every now and then
my head was raised to see how tide or wind progressed. Then I must have
fallen once into a mild nap, and perhaps a dream, for sudden and strong
a rough hand seemed to shake the boat, and, on my leaping up, there
glanced forth a brilliant flash of lightning that soon put everybody on
the qui vive. Now was heard the clink of distant cables, as I hauled on
mine also in the dark, with only the bright shine of the lighthouse
like a keen eye looking from the cliff overhead.
Compass lighted, ship-lantern fixed, a reef in each sail,
and, with a moment's thought of the very similar events that had passed
only a few nights ago, we steered right south, away, away to the open
It was black enough all round; but yet the strong wind
expected after thunder had not come, and we edged away eastwards,
doubly watchful, however, of the dark, for the crowd of vessels here
was the real danger, and not the sea.
Beachy Head Ghost 
Look at the ghost of Rob Roy flitting on the white sail as
the lamp shines brightly, and now down comes the rain, and with it
flash after flash, peal upon peal of roaring thunder, and the grandeur
of the scene is unspeakable. The wind changed every few minutes, and
vessels and boats and steamers whirled past like visions, often much
too near to be welcome. A white dazzling gleam of forked lightning
cleaves the darkness, and, behold! a huge vessel close at hand, but
hitherto unseen, lofty and full-sailed, and for a moment black against
the instant of light, and then utterly lost again. The plashing of rain
hissed in the sea, and a voice would come out of the unseen -- "Port
you lubber!" Ah, it's no use peering forward to discover on which side
is the new danger. The ship or whatever it is has no lights at all,
though on board it they can see mine; for when your eye has gazed for a
time at the lighted compass it is powerless for a minute or two to see
in the dark space forward, or, again, if you stare into the blackness
to scan the faintest glimmer of a sail ahead, then for some time after
you cannot see the compass when looking at it dazzled. This difficulty
in sailing alone is the only one we felt to be quite insuperable.
Again a steam whistle shrieked amid the thunder, and two
eyes glared out of the formless vapour and rain -- the red and the
green lights -- the signals that showed where she was steaming. There
was shouting on board as she kept rounding and backing, no doubt for a
man overboard. As we slewed to starboard to avoid her, another black
form loomed close on the right; and what with wind, rain, thunder, and
ships, there was everything to confuse just when there was every need
of cool decision.
It would be difficult for me to exaggerate the impressive
spectacle that passed along on the dark background of this night, but
we may quote the following paragraph from the 'Pall Mall Gazette' of
next day, the 20th of August :*"The storm which raged in London through
the whole of last night was beyond question by far the most severe and
protracted which has occurred for many years. It began at half-past
eight o'clock, after a day of intense heat, which increased as the
evening advanced, though it never reached the sultriness which was
remarked before the storm of last week. The first peal of thunder was
heard about nine, and from that time till after five this morning it
never ceased for more than a few minutes, while the lightning may be
said to have been absolutely continuous. Its vivid character was
something quite unusual in the storms of recent summers, and the
thunder by which it was often instantaneously followed can only be
described as terrific. The storm reached its greatest violence between
two and three o'clock, when a smart gale of wind sprang up, and for
about ten minutes the tempest was really awful."
* The singular volcanic
eruptions in Iceland occurred also this day.
We had noticed some rockets sent up from Eastbourne
earlier in the evening; probably these were fireworks at a fete there,
but the rain must have soon drowned the gala. Certainly it closed up my
view of all other lights but the lightning, though a shining line
sometimes appeared for a moment in the distance, perhaps from Hastings;
and at one time the moon came out red and full, and exactly at the top
of a vessel's lofty sails. One steamer had puzzled me much by its
evidently being still. This drifted close up at last and they called
out, "Ahoy, There ! -- are you a fishing boat?" They wanted to know
their bearings, as the current and shifting wind made the position of
Beachy Head quite uncertain in the dark. I replied to their hail -- "
No, I'm the yacht Rob Roy, crew of one man; don't you see my white
sails?" and they answered -- "See? why, who can see to-night?" The
numerous vessels met now were some of those we had been with in the
morning, and they looked even more in number, for we crossed and
recrossed each other frequently, and this part of the Channel is a
highway for nations.
Sometimes a sudden and dead lull came with an ominous
meaning, and then the loud plashing of rain could be heard advancing to
us in the dark till it poured on the yawl in sheets of water, and the
mere dripping from the peak of my sou'wester was enough to obscure
And yet, after a few hours of the turmoil and excitement,
this state of things became quite as it were natural, so soon does one
get accustomed to any circumstances however strange at first. I even
cooked hot tea; it was something to do, as well as to drink, and
singing and whistling also beguiled the dark hours of eager, strained
watching. In a lighter moment once a great lumbering sloop sailed near,
and we hailed her loudly, "How's the wind going to be? " for the wind
kept ever changing (the thunder and lightning were going on all this
time). A gruff voice answered, "Can't say; who can say -- night -- this
sort -- think it'll settle east." This was bad news for me, but it did
not come true. The sloop's skipper wished for an east wind, and so he
A stranger sound than any before now forced attention as
it rapidly neared us, and soon the sea was white around with boiling,
babbling little waves -- what could it be? Instantly I sounded with the
lead, but there was no bottom -- we were not driving on shore -- it was
one of the "overfalls" or ripples" we have mentioned before, where a
turbid sea is raised in deep water by some far down precipice under the
waves. The important question at once arose as to which of the
"overfalls" on my chart this could be -- the one marked as only a mile
from Beachy Head, or the other ten miles further on. Have we been
turning and wheeling about all this dreary night in only a few square
miles of sea, or have we attained the eastern tide, and so are now
running fast on our course?
The incessant and irksome pitching and rolling which the
overfalls caused, might be patiently borne, if only we could be assured
the yawl progressed. But all was still left in doubt.
So sped the storm for eight long hours, with splendours
for the eye, and deep long thrills of the sublime, that stirred deep
the whole inner being with feelings vivid and strong; thoughts I had
never felt before, and perhaps shall never know again. The mind
conjured up the most telling scenes it had known of "alone" and of
"thunder," to compare with this where both were now combined.
To stand on Mont Blanc, the round white icicle that is
highest in Europe, and all alone to gaze on a hundred peaks around --
that was indeed impressive.
More so was it to kneel alone at the edge of Etna, and to
fill the mind from the smoking crater with thoughts and fancies teeming
out of the hot black, and wide abyss.
Thunder and lightning, also, in the crater of Vesuvius, we
had wondered at before; but it was grander when the flashes lighted up
Niagara,. pouring out its foam that glistened for a moment dazzling
white and then vanished, while the heavens sounded louder than the
heavy torrent tumbling into the dark. But here in my yawl on the sea,
was more splendid than these. Imagination painted its own free picture
on a black and boundless background of mind strung tight by near
danger; and from out this spoke the deep loud diapason, while the quick
flashing at intervals gave point to all. Then that glorious anthem came
to my memory, where these words of the 18th Psalm are nobly rendered :-
"He bowed the heavens and came down, and darkness
was under His feet.
"He rode upon a cherub and did fly; yea, He did fly upon
the wings of the wind.
"He made darkness His secret place; the pavilion round
about Him was dark waters and thick clouds of the skies.
"The Lord also thundered in the heavens, and the Highest
gave His voice: hailstones and coals of fire.
"Then the channels of waters were seen, and the
foundations of the world were discovered: at Thy rebuke, O Lord, at the
blast of the breath of Thy nostrils.
"He sent down from above, He took me, He drew me up out
of many waters."
The sensations were prolonged enough to be analyzed and
reasoned upon, and it was a difficult question which cannot yet be
answered -- "Would I willingly have all this over again?" Lying on a
sofa in a comfortable room, I would not go out to this scene; but in a
boat if all this began again, I certainly would not go ashore to avoid
its discomforts and lose its grandeurs.
The profound uncertainty as to what was to come next
moment being one of the most exciting features of the occasion, perhaps
the whole scene would be tamed sadly by a mere repetition; but one
sentiment was dominant over all at the time, that I had lived a long
year in a night.
Soon after four o'clock, there suddenly stretched out what
seemed to be a reef of breakers for miles under the sullen rain-clouds,
and, with instant attention, the yawl was put about to avoid them.
This extraordinary optical illusion was the dawn opening
on the coast then actually ten miles away, and in a very few minutes,
as the cloud lifted, the land seemed to rush off to its proper
distance, until at last the curtain split in two, and I found to my
intense delight that in the night we had crossed the bay ! *
Now came joyous sounds from our moist crew "Hurrah for the
day! Pipe all hands to breakfast -- slack out the mainsheet here's the
west wind;" and up rose the sun, well washed by the torrents of rain.
* The portrait of the lookout
man who saw this will be found on the cover of this book.
An elaborate friture of my last three eggs was soon cooked
to perfection, and I held the frying pan over the side, while it
drained through a fork; when, alas! there came a heavy lurch of the
boat, and all the well-deserved breakfast was pitched into the sea,
with a mild but deep meant "Oh, how provoking!" from the hapless,
hungry, lonely sailor. Shame that, preserved through such dangers, we
should murmur at an omelette the less! But this tyrant stomach exacts
more, and thanks less, than all the body besides.
Hastings was soon passed, and we skirted the cliffs
towards Rye. I had written to the harbour-master here to send out a
boat if he saw my craft (enclosing him a sketch of it), as the entrance
to that harbour seemed to be very difficult by the chart.
But the breeze was fresh and invigorating, and though
sadly needing sleep after two nights without any, the idea of "going to
bed" while such a fine breeze blew seemed preposterous, and Rye was
soon left in the rear.
From this place a very low flat tongue of land stretches
along in the strangest way, until at its end is the lighthouse of
Dungeness. Martello towers are on the shore, but for miles outside of
this, the nearest beach is all one can see; and therefore the tall
lighthouse, viewed even through the glass, looked only like a small
gray speck on the waves, without any land whatever between. About
midday the yawl neared this very remarkable beacon, which is painted
red and white; strong, lofty, and firm set on a cape of pure gravel,
with here and there a house, not visible at all till you come close.
There was a heavy sea here, and it was more and more as we
came quite near the cape; until one fine bold wave, following our
little craft actually cast the dingey (then towing astern) right upon
the deck of the yawl, and it dealt me a severe stroke on the back, by
which I was cast forward and stunned. Recovering again just in time, I
saw another wave send the dingey once more on board with a crash, and
splinters flew up, so we thought she was smashed, but it was the jigger
boom that was broken by the collision. The very next billow broke the
dingey's painter of strong canoe rope, but much worn. Away floated the
tiny cockleshell, and it was very soon hid in the trough of the sea.
"Down with the helm! " --
"Haul the sheet!" --
"Slack the jib !" --
and we gave chase in great glee, and catching her soon
with the boathook, we quickly pulled the dingey on board, and lashed
her securely down to the deck, an arrangement that answered well.
One of the great delights of real sailing, is the large
variety of incident that comes. Mere sitting in a yacht, while others
have all the work in a breeze, and all the responsibility, is no
pleasure to me; nay, I confess frankly, it is a "bore".
Once round Dungeness, we could see Folkestone and Dover
cliffs; and after a few minutes of rest to put all in readiness for a
fast run before the wind, we steered straight for Dover pier.
The breeze freshened so much that the mizzen had to be
lowered, and as the wind was now favourable, the only thing to beware
of was falling asleep; in which case the boom might jibe (swing over
from one side to the other) with great force, and if it hit me on the
head, then I should certainly have either a very short nap or a very
One of the pranks to be prepared for in a boat is this
jibing of the boom, and until by practice you know the exact range of
safety for your head in relation to that swinging spar, caution should
be the rule. Long ago I had learned the exact length of the Rob Roy's
boom in relation to my nose; for even in the Thames, soon after
starting, it had once caught the back of my head, and knocked my face
down on the deck, where a bloody nose (but no worse result) speedily
settled the question as to which must yield when the boom and the
captain are at loggerheads.
Dover pier was, we must say, welcome to see. Often we had
intentionally lengthened the day's journey, when we arrived near a
destination sooner than it was absolutely necessary to stop the
pleasure of sailing, but we ran into Dover as fast as the flying wind
would speed us.
The friends who greeted the Rob Roy at Dover knew her well
from a long way off, as she danced lightly over the sea; for hence had
we started months ago, and here was, in one sense, the end of my
voyage, as Ulysses said when alone from his raft:-
"And now two nights, and now two days were past,
Since wide I wandered on the watery waste,
Heaved on the surge with intermitting breath,
And hourly panting in the arms of death."
-- Pope's 'Odyssey,' Book V.
"Then first my eyes, by watchful toils opprest,
Complied to take the balmy gifts of rest,
Then first my hands did from the rudder * part,
So much the love of home possessed my heart."
-- ibid., Book X.
* Alford translates it "sheet." The
lonely sailor has to look after that also.
I went up to the Lord Warden hotel, meaning to write home,
dine, and go to bed after fifty three hours without sleep; but while
waiting for the servant to bring hot water, and with my jacket off, I
tumbled on the bed for a moment -- then it was three o'clock, P.M.
Soon, as it seemed, awake again, I saw it was still light,
and bright sun shining; also my watch had run down, the water-jug was
cold, and it was a puzzle to make out how I felt so wonderfully fresh.
Why it was next day, and I had soundly slept for seventeen
Di Vernon -- The Gull light -- Naked Warriors --
-- Medway -- Eyes right! -- Old Things -- Barges -- Street boys --
Young Skipper -- Scene by night -- Barge lingo -- Holy Haven -- Sailing
solicitor -- Margate -- French bathers -- The Empress at sea -- The
three ships -- Worcester -- Swedish lesson -- English boys -- A
prophecy -- Request -- Reply -- The 'Dolphin'
PERHAPS a sleep in wet clothes, such as we have awakened
from, was more likely to do harm than any of the blasts and breezes at
sea; but nothing followed, and indeed during the whole voyage there was
in the Rob Roy neither a headache nor any other ache, nor even a cold,
and the medicine chest was never opened.
Dover had been the port of departure and again of arrival
for my first canoe voyage, and the memory of that delightful tour was
recalled now by seeing a canoe paddling in the harbour. On closer
scrutiny it was perceived that a young lady was its crew. Now though
there are several fair members of our Canoe Club, we had not yet been
fortunate enough to see one of these canoeists on the water, so at once
the dingey gave chase. This was the lady's very first essay in a canoe,
yet she succeeded admirably, for it is far easier to learn a little of
paddling than a little of rowing, as every neophyte can tell you. Yet I
had not known until now, that a Rob Roy can well be matched by a Di
Vernon, and how much the most gentle movement afloat can be refined by
Paddle and Parasol. 
grace. A few hints from the older paddler were rapidly
taken up by the apt scholar whose friends rowed beside us in a boat and
at length with that English pluck which so many English girls possess,
she boldly steered into a steamer's swell, and then to the open sea,
where, before a soft zephyr murmuring its undertone whispers, we
hoisted her parasol for a sail and the visitors on Dover Pier had a
novel treat in the duet between dingey and canoe.
Fairly rested next day, the yawl sailed by Ramsgate cliffs
until calm and tide made us anchor in a hot baking sun.
The "Gull Lightship " was not far off so we sculled to her
in the dingey. This was the very first time we had actually seen the
Rob Roy on the water with all sails set nor dare we conceal the pride
that was felt in looking at her graceful contour, and her smart and
practical rig, and her snowy sails so beautifully set as the sunbeams
lit them up; viewed from a little distance, the yawl was only like a
toy boat resting on a sheet of glass.
The men of the "Gull" with its red sides and red lantern
masts, received me with surprise but with most grateful thanks for
books to read, and then they pressed their visitor to stop for dinner!
But he could not well feast in comfort while the Rob Roy
was left alone and all sails up, and especially as one of the numerous
vessels then drifting past (we had counted more than forty in sight at
one time), seemed to be borne dangerously near to the little craft.
On this lightship there are seven men and four more on
land to relieve them regularly.* In the course of a lively conversation
with their visitor, they said, "flow lonely you must be!" Surely when
the men exiled to a lightship pronounce the Rob Roy 'lonely' there must
be something in the charge; but my obtuse perception has not yet
enabled me to find it out.
Meantime the tide had turned strongly, and my row back
from the lightship in the hot sun was one of the hardest pulls I ever
had, so that the lesson will not be forgotten "Stick by your ship in a
In passing along the fine gravel beach near Walmer, a
curious sound was heard through the quiet haze; it was distant and
continuous, but like the gabble of 10,000 ducks, and though staring
hard through the binocular glass, one could only make out a confused
jumble of lightish coloured forms all in a row afar off. Soon, however,
a bugle sounded the "Retire," and then it was plain that a whole
regiment of soldiers were in the water bathing; their merry shouts and
play had resounded along the level sea, and at the bugle order they all
marched ashore in naked array forming altogether one of the oddest of
* Bravely they worked to save
life on the Goodwin in last night's gale (Dec. 1).
The vessels now constantly crossing my course were of all
sizes and in the quiet air we could hear their various sounds, that
seemed to tell in each of a self-contained world, where every item of
life was summarized on board. Men chatting, women laughing, dogs
barking, cocks crowing, and pigs squealing, a floating farmyard, such
is life on the sea. For the Rob Roy I had tried to get & monkey as
a funny friend, if not as a tractable midshipman, but an end was put to
the idea by the solemn warning of an experienced comrade, who stated,
that after the first two days, a monkey pursues steadily one line of
conduct afloat -- he proceeds to throw everything into the sea.
Rounding the Foreland in a lovely afternoon we observed
how the cornfields had become ripe and yellow, that were only growing
and green when our yawl passed the cape before. Here is the 'Long Nose'
buoy again, and all the familiar landmarks, and once more Margate,
where the people warmly welcomed the little Rob Roy, which they had
sped on its way outward bound with a parting cheer.
The next dawn from its grey curtain rising, saw her
sailing from Margate up the Thames, but so light was the baffling wind,
that we could not reach Sheerness that night and so had to anchor in
five fathoms not far from Cheney Rock, with dense fog closing round,
and the Nore gong ringing, while my bright little cabin glowed with
comfort, and the newspapers were studied in peace. Thence sailing into
Sheerness and up to Queenborough, we anchored close by the Coast guard
hulk, in safe and quiet waters. Sunday was a delicious rest and the
dingey took me aboard the hulk, where a number of sailors and their
large families living, give a very remarkable appearance to the vessel
'tween decks. The children were delighted to receive books and
pictures, and until late in the dark they squealed with all their might.
An expedition of river discovery up the Medway seemed to
be worth trying now, for no bonds of time or engagements fettered that
glorious freedom of action which is one of the prize features of
sailing thus. The yawl went bowling along on this new errand amid huge
old hulks, tall-masted frigates, black warrior-like ironclads, gay
yachts, odoriferous fishing-smacks, and a fleet of steady,
brown-sailed, businesslike barges. This is a pleasant and a cheerful
river for some days' excursion with a mild excitement in sailing over
banks and shoals, and yet not striking once, although we had no chart
The tide helps much, until the high ground near Chatham
adds rock and sylvan scenes to the flat banks of the winding estuary.
Now we come on a busy industry of peculiar type, thousands
of convicts working on the new seawall, closely guarded by armed
keepers. These poor criminals are paid or privileged according to their
good behaviour, and it has been found that their labor thus stimulated,
is very productive.
Once fairly up among the war ships at Chatham, the Rob Roy
anchors by the Powder Magazine, and while a waterman rows away for the
usual supplies -- " Two eggs, pat of butter, and the 'Times;' " we
inspect the Royal Engineers as they are engaged alongside at
pontooning, and are frequently pulled up by the command of a smart
sergeant -- "Eyes-right," for they will take furtive glances at my
dingey gyrating so, as they had never seen boat spin round before. The
comment on the dingey's shape was ventured, too, "It's for hall the
world like 'alf a hegg." Pushing on again, still up the river, the Rob
Roy had to beat against an east wind all through the densely packed
brigs and barges in the narrow bend at Rochester, where the difficulty
of working her added zest to the journey, and now and then a resounding
crash from some great barge blown in or drifting down against other
vessels, told me that not every one of the craft was as fortunate in
navigation as the yawl. There is the Cathedral before us, but it is far
too stiff in its sharp outline to arrest the eye for a moment. Turning
to the other side, the fine old weather-worn and time-eaten Castle
rears its great tower, and challenges a long and satisfying look,
especially as this was the only ancient ruin we had seen in the tour,
and so there had long been a yearning in the mind for such, just as
there is when you travel in Norway or America, until at last the hunger
for old things becomes ravenous and intolerable.
The yawl's mast will be able to pass under the bridge, for
the tide is low, and beyond it now we are in sunny green fields, and
sailing on smoothly amid quiet villages, rich pastures, and the
exuberant hop-grounds of thoroughly English Kent.
Three boys bathing from a boat came near, and for a treat
we took them on board, while their hair dripped wet, and their teeth
chattered fast after too long a swim, but they had read the name on my
white flag, and they had also read two canoe books, and so for miles
they devoured all that was said and shewn on the yawl, then thanking
much because they were "awfully glad," and they rowed home. How
pleasant it is to give pleasure to boys!
The Rob Roy got aground only once in this trip above the
bridge, and that only for five minutes, which, except the bump on a
rock at Bembridge, was her sole mishap of this sort, an immunity quite
extraordinary from the seaman's dreaded foe, the shore. The barges that
were now floating up the crowded Medway interested me exceedingly, and
acquaintance was readily made with their inhabitants almost every day
for the next three weeks, until it became evident that "Barge Life" is
a stratum of society quite as full of character and incident as any
other, and wide open for examination by those who would study a genus
of mankind very little known. Large and important duties are entrusted
to these men; rich cargoes are committed to their honesty and skill.
Families live on barges by thousands, and the coasting journey of a
barge is by no means an easy thing or a dull one. We must not judge of
them by the black boxes full of coals, and floating on the water above
London Bridge, with one man and a long oar, and yet even one of these
is worth watching.
In the dank mist of a dull November evening it will drift
unseen past the Temple Gardens. Wonderful sounds launch into the fog
from an invisible shouter on board, whose 'Tom' or 'Bill' on a wharf
ashore instantly knows the call and answers. Then there is a colloquy
loud and public in the extreme, yet utterly private in its meaning to
any one besides the two who are talking. It is only paralleled by the
shrill interjections of London street boys calling to each other across
the Strand, of which the grown-up public cannot make out one syllable,
but which the stratum below them of three feet high is perfectly
contented with, discerning every word.
The barges that trade to the Medway are fine, strong,
sea-boats, their sailing qualities are excellent, and they are improved
every year by a regatta specially for them, where forty gay-dressed,
bluff and burly craft compete for prizes. In this match the utmost of
skill, sharpened by years of river sailing, is shewn in wind and tide,
and knowledge of intricate channels, and among such competitors
"fouling is fair."
As the yawl glides on the water among hayricks and
whetting scythes, one of these gallant barges floats beside us with the
name on its stern -- S.E.C.P.T.E.R. -- dubious in import we allow,
whether it means that the stout matter-of-fact lighter has been
christened as a shadowy ghost or a royal symbol. The veriest urchin
steers her, with a little fat hand on the heavy tiller twelve feet
long, and a hunch of good rye-bread in his other fist. Now and then he
sings out in a thin soprano, "Fayther, boat's a'ead," and his father,
(hidden below), answers deep-toned, from the cabin, "Keep 'er away,
From him I asked, "How old is your boy?" and the parents
head popped up to see, but it was the child that smartly answered,
"Eight years old." He looked five.
Round the next reach the barge bears down, and shakes her
sails in the wind to arrest progress a little. They have come near
home, but not to stop. It is only their country house, and up steps the
bargee mother from out her small boudoir in the cabin below, and
jumping heavily into a boat she pulls ashore to where a little girl is
meekly waiting ready for orders -- "Get the fish directly, Hagnes," and
the daughter runs off fleetly and back soon, and the mother is speedily
aboard again -- all this marketing being done while the barge has been
drifting slowly past and then her sails are filled to continue the
voyage. Night fell, and the yawl anchored by a soft green field, with
the bowsprit among the rushes. Bright furnaces for lime and
plaster-works show here and there around, and they roared and blazed up
fitfully with waving jets of flame, like the iron works in Shropshire,
while the reflections glittered on the river, and reddened long reaches
in a glow. The barges kept streaming by in the dark laden with rich
commerce, and merry, singing crews -- a very curious scene.
To them the Rob Roy, of course, looked quite as strange,
and one hailed us gruffly --
"Who're you?" answer, "I'm the Rob Roy !"
"What in the world did you come here for?"
"To look at the beautiful lights on your river."
In a murmuring grumble, he said to that, "Too many on 'em
there is -- we can't see where we're goin' with them;" and this is
indeed perfectly true, for the light of these furnaces dazzles by its
brightness, which is not diffused, whereas if no lights were there at
all, the men could see well enough, for it is marvellous how the eye
will perceive at least the bounds between land and water, when practice
sharpens keen vision and no false light is shining. It is, however,
quite true also, that the language of the barge-world is not to be
found complete in Johnson's Dictionary. It is far more powerful than
elegant Words that are unused ashore except in anger or the coarsest
abuse seem to be the gentle appellations of endearment between father
and sons afloat. But we must not forget that it is the meaning attached
to a word by speaker and hearer, and not that given to it by a world
outside of both, which the word will represent.*
* The use of the word "bloody"
is now general among the lowest classes all over England. The meaning
intended by this is not what scholars would agree to. Hundreds of times
the word is employed only for "very," and it is strange how soon one's
first shudders at the sound become faint, and even die.
From the highest point we could reach towards Maidstone,
we soon ran down again to Rochester, and various were the conflicting
verdicts of bargees as to whether or not my mast would now go under the
bridge, for the tide was very high, and I sailed back and forward,
getting opinions, and surveying the bridge on all sides. At length I
determined it could be done and my heart beat nervously as the yawl
neared the centre arch not as to danger, but the dishonour of breaking
a goodly spar at the end of a cruise, and in so trumpery a feat. It
passed clear, however, by inches.
The evening was too fine at Sheerness to think of
anchoring yet and with sudden resolve we set off again to Southend.
Here the advice of a yacht lying near was followed foolishly (get facts
from experts and decide on deeds yourself), for I anchored without
sounding, and too late found it was in shallow water, only eight feet
by the lead, and the tide running out. To bed but not to sleep, for the
water sunk to five feet, and, angry with myself, I roused at one
o'clock, gave out all the rope, sheered off shore by the rudder, and
then, again at rest, gained only six inches of depth; but once more
sounding, there was only six inches to spare under the keel and with a
strong breeze on shore. Therefore, once more on the move, we fastened
the inner end of the cable to the larger anchor and heaved this out,
and then paid out all the chain, and sheered with the rudder, but still
she was in shoal water. Finally, as the wind increased, I had to haul
in both anchors and shove out into the deep, and thus, by omitting to
do right at once what was easy at the time, the whole night had been
consumed by intervals of wet and needless trouble. Life in the yawl had
now become such a pleasant life, that to leave it was a duty deferred
as long as possible. We ranged several times up and down the Thames,
visiting many an old nook, well known in former days; Holy Haven for
instance, it was eighteen years since we had harboured there in a
little sailing-boat and spent a night with a collier captain, and
learned more of coals and colliers than one could read in a week. This
was done by keeping him resolutely on the point the man knew all about
until he was quite pumped dry. This nice little refuge-harbour is the
one I like best in all the river. Only one house -- no bother from
shore folks, deep channel, and clean sand to anchor in. If it were not
for this narrow and safe retreat, there would often be hard times in
stormy days between Gravesend and Sheerness.
The first time the Rob Roy went into Holy Haven, we found
a yacht there with a lady and gentleman on board, who of course
(invariable and excellent custom) were hospitable when they read my
flag. Tiny ripples were the only sounds of the evening, and on looking
out on a new day the round smooth sand was bare beside me, with a
lonely gull preening its soft white wing, and with its eye
unfrightened, for no one could have the heart to harm the pretty
creature there. The next time of a visit to this peaceful haven, there
was another little craft at anchor, and in five minutes after we
stopped the owner of it sent his card, with the customary invitations,
to come on board. He was a sailor solicitor who lives on the water in
summer (being wise), but does not venture out of the Thames (being
prudent), and he has a boy 'Jim' who hands out cooked things from an
inscrutable forecastle, where he sleeps at night in a sort of
coal-scuttle. Nevertheless the two together seemed perfectly happy.
By way of variety, the Rob Roy on leaving Margate the next
time set off in the dark night to sail away under the stars, and by
some curious good luck we managed to pass as close to the buoy at
Reculver as ever one could do in the light. Next time we came to
Margate the place was gay with its Regatta, on a fine breezy day. It
was one of the best managed regattas one could see, with always
something going on, and always the requisite confusion that prevents
anybody from knowing exactly what is going on. However, the Rob Roy had
a charming sail among the yachts as she towed at her stern the dingey
and a canoe, for the members of our Club are ubiquitous, so two of them
are at Margate.
Margate has often been abused, laughed at, and snubbed,
but it has never yet been properly described. How shall I describe
Margate? It is too difficult to do well, and it has been too often done
badly to do it again.
The men's bathing here from boats with steps, like those
at Malta, is sensible enough. Fine bold swimmers struck out well beside
me, as I had my morning dip from the yawl. As for the epicene bathing
-- masculine women and womanish males who partake of "sea-bathing by
machinery in separate machines, but that is all -- let us ignore them.
Come rather back to France, and let us look at Her
Imperial Majesty the Empress Eugénie in the water, as we have
seen her years ago.
It was at Biarritz, and one day a commotion in the town
was evident, but "What is about to happen ?" we asked, being ready for
any response, as a traveller ought to be.
"Her Majesty is going to bathe."
British modesty urged a quiet retreat but French system
being different, we spectators to the number of some hundreds were
ranged along the sands in two long lines, with a narrow lane clear
between, and grave gendarmes keeping the ranks.
The usual proceedings one sees at French bathing towns
were all in action round about us. Ladies dressed to the highest pitch,
mingled with others in bathing costume. Gentlemen walking quite
composed and dripping wet with ladies just come out of the sea and just
going in again. Young girls in canoes boldly paddling, and gaily
upsetting the little craft while they swam alongside. Rafts with men
and women, half-floating as they held by the sides, and chattered and
basked in the sun. All this difficult interlude on dry-land manners was
conducted with perfect decorum, a telling lesson to Britons who bathe.
Perhaps, however, we should not like to see our Royal
Family follow the example of the next scene. First there came out of
the Imperial Villa, a number of tall liveried footmen, each with a tray
or basket piled up high with feminine finery, and this procession wound
its way to two pretty little tents hard by the sea.
Next there appeared the Empress and four maids of honour,
who came also to the tents, the Empress going alone into one with a
tasteful blue and silver drapery round it. See, now the ladies emerge
from their disrobing rooms, and walk slowly down to the water between
the double line of inquisitive but respectful visitors. Each lady has a
coat vest, and trousers of black silk, with the neatest of little
boots, and the most winning of large brimmed black straw hats -- that
of the Empress being trimmed with a narrow band of red.
When they reached the water five big fellows approached,
all dressed in red flannel. These bathing men each proceeded to tie an
empty gourd, like a water bottle, a sort of life preserver, round the
waist of a lady, and then, first politely bowing, he lifted the lady in
his arms, as a nurse catches up a little child, and so with his fair
burden he marched into the waves.
When they were at about four feet deep the man allowed the
lady to float on her back, and with his arms under her arms he
supported her as each wave rose and fell.
The Empress in the Sea 
All the time of these strange doings there was a large
boat close to the merry party, and with several men in it, who kept
beating the water with long poles -- What is that for? To keep away the
sharks.* Such is Majesty afloat. Yes, they do these things better in
* We need not be surprised that
sharks should get entangled in the Bay of Biscay. Even at Margate one
was caught a short time after I had swam in the water there, and three
more sharks were captured this summer on the English south coast.
And now, near the end of our voyage alone, came the
pleasantest part of all, because the most useful to others. We had
anchored often beside these three ships for boys, and always with more
delight :- the 'Worcester,' for gentlemen cadets; the 'Chichester,' for
homeless boys; and the 'Cornwall,' for lads sent to her as a
Many now on board the first or the second of these might
have been qualified for the third vessel, but for the conventions and
machinery that keeps "wild boys" from being classed as criminals.
Both you and I might have easily strayed into the police
dock or the gaol cell but for a guiding hand, a mother's care, a
sister's love, a father's rod, a home, a competence, a somebody caring
for us, if not a friend. So don't be hard on the boys in the
'Cornwall,' they are our natural shipmates, and if by God's grace we
are not yet with them, thank Him, help them, and be humble.
Brave lads, there is still a chance for you here. England
is to blame as well as you that you have been sucked by the eddies of
life into criminal streams. England also rescues you. It is but
dragging out, indeed, but you are out of the mire. Take heart, you may
carry the British gag proudly yet; the career of the sailor is open to
you also, and who shall say that some gallant three-master may not yet
be commanded by a sailor bred in the 'Cornwall' Reformatory school ship
As for the 'Worcester,' the lads there are already well up
on the ladder of life. Sometime, if things go on thus well, we shall
have Christian gentlemen as our sea-captains, for already in many
things the waves are better than the shore.
When the Rob Roy returned from France, we had put on board
of her some fireworks to amuse the 'Worcesters' at Erith, and in a
quiet night the rockets sped aloft and the 'Roman candles' ejaculated
fireballs, and the Chinese floats spat flame as they blazed on the
flowing tide, and the red light made our sails blush deeply, and the
'jack in the box' caracoled over the deck scorching us all inordinately.
When everything pyrotechnic was burned out on the yawl,
the show was yet to begin.
'Worcester' was not to be beaten by Rob Roy. Up sprang the
blue lights from her tops and yards. Ports blazed with lamps, and
skyrockets whizzed into the ether. Then came best of all from young and
gladsome hearts those ringing cheers, and the lively band roused up the
quiet night waves with "Rob Roy Macgregor O!"
If I have a lad he shall go to sea, and to go there best
taught and by companions as well as by officers, he shall go aboard the
The 'Chichester' at Greenhithe is for poor lads without
home, without friends, nay without hope from man unless you and I will
help them! Can we refuse so strong a plea from England's little sons?
Patriotism, Religion, Duty, and the most unthinking Love all say, No!
Our country just at this time, wants more seamen and
better seamen. The Royal Navy needs young England for her sons, and the
Commercial navy will have him, bad or good, ignorant or well taught Our
Government finding this to be so had thought of placing Training ships
at various ports for the very purpose of supplying the demand for
sailor boys. Doubtless they would have (lone this well, but it is
better still if by private effort we can fill the ships, and at the
same time empty the prisons, the dens of penury, and the kerb-stones,
where the young and prime material, spoiling by ignorance, and neglect,
wastes the vigour of our land, pesters this generation with beggars,
poor-rates, and gaols, and infects and ruins the generation to come
Sweden does better by its sons. She teaches them every
one, and, as a Swede told me, "Sweden is not rich enough to keep
ignorant children until they are criminal men." Therefore she gives
every one the priceless boon of education as a national gift, so that
every Swede owes at least one debt to his country, and there are no
In England no one is allowed to appear in public without
some clothes. The time will come when we shall not dare to let a man
loose on the thoroughfares in native ignorance -- decency forbids.
We have opened our ship-decks to foreign sailors -- more
proud in our boast of being an asylum for the distressed than in
preventing distress among our own people.
By all means give foreigners fair play, but after
England's boys are cared for. Charity begins at home, our home is
England. English boys are far better sailors than any foreigners, who
no (doubt excel us in cookery and silks, and manners and despotism, but
not in the hard duty bravely done, when storms lash clouds and ocean
into one general foam.
To supply English sailor boys philanthropy stepped in just
in time, and in the last few years it has provided more and more ships.
The very boys who are worst off, and most tried by dire want and
misfortune, are those who may be boldest to run aloft when well taught,
and if these British hearts are won young, and tutored right, and
trained loyal, and warmly clothed in true blue jackets, we shall not
have so many shipwrecks where cheap foreigners skulk as the tempest
One day we had a grand treat for the 'Chichester' boys,
who marched to a sunny mead at Greenhithe, and romped for hours and
hours in hearty sailors' play. How they ran races, jumped in sacks,
swarmed up the polished pole, and eyed the leg of mutton at the top,
far out of reach, until sheer exhaustion with boyish laughter made them
slide down. Then gathered round cake and tea, and duly stuffed
therewith to concert pitch, they sing our grand old Psalms, our free
and joyous loyal ship-songs, the orchestra of young throats being
directed with all gravity by an urchin -- one of themselves -- a
miniature "Costa" full of pound-cake, and with his Jersey pockets
bulged out too, but tuneful enough after his tea. The man's heart that
is not softened, gladdened, and stirring to effort for these little
fellows by scenes like this I do not covet.
And while we speak more of the three ships already named,
because they are nearest, and so are most seen by us Londoners,
* As this was being urged upon
friends, a telegram came from the Admiralty for "Twenty-five boys from
are other stout Britons at Hull, sturdy Englishmen in the
Mersey, sea-urchins at Yarmouth, and good sailor-hearts in Welshmen's
breasts, and there are training ships for boys in all these places,* so
that all may join who wish to help in England's future, which will much
depend on the next generation of British seamen.
It will be a happy sight and one by no means out of our
reach to witness, when the gentlemen taught on the 'Worcester,' and the
mates from the 'Chichester,' and the crew from the 'Cornwall,' shall
man the largest, fastest vessel on the sea.
The 'Chichester' boys make a very appreciative audience
when a visitor addresses them. Then they sing their hearty thanks with
steady voices, and in stanzas of original poetry spun aboard ship, and
sure to mean much if you can read between the lines; for London boys
are both in good things and in bad the smartest of all.
* A list of these vessels will
be found in the Appendix, and reference to three of them is made at
back of the preface in this volume.
After pondering on the matter during another sail, the
following letter appeared in the Times:
"The training ship 'Chichester,' lately moored at
Greenhithe for the reception of homeless boys, has already produced
some of the anticipated good results, and several young lads, rescued
from a life of sorrow and want, have been sent out as trained sailor
"But although these boys are approved by the ships'
captains, it is found that until the boys can be taught how to steer a
vessel, as well as the other duties of a seaman, they cannot be well
received by the rest of a ship's crew.
"Steering is not to be learnt by book or precept only,
or in a ship at moorings; and the suggestion is therefore made that a
small vessel, say a cutter of 20 tons, should be attached to the
'Chichester' as a 'tender.'
"The boys could then be taught to handle the tiller by
voyages to the Nore. They would learn also the use of buoys, beacons,
and lights. They would have a powerful incentive to progress in their
book-work, and the tender would be most useful in carrying officers and
boys and stores to and from London, and thus save considerable expense.
"This being a new proposal, it will be necessary to have
additional contributions for the purchase of the tender, and as the
funds which provided the 'Chichester' were received principally from
the readers of 'The Times,' perhaps we may venture to hope for the same
kind aid in launching the new suggestion. Contributions may be sent to
the Hon. Secretary, Mr. W. WILLIAMS, St. Giles' Refuge, Great Queen
Street, Lincoln's Inn Fields.
MARGATE ROADS, Sept. 8."
We expect much from the response of Englishmen when an
appeal is made to generous hearts, but it was certainly beyond our
hopes that in a few days afterwards the following letter could be
"In reply to the appeal through your columns, for
means to provide a tender for the 'Chichester' school ship, the Rev. C.
Harrington, Rector of Bromyard, has presented to the institution the
'Dolphin,' a strong, well-built, seagoing yacht of 20 tons, with all
her stores complete.
"The committee in accepting this gift, have abundant
reason to thank the kind donor, and the friends of Homeless Boys; owe
another debt of gratitude to 'The Times.'
TEMPLE, Sept. 23."
By the desire of the 'Chichester' Committee I joined the
'Dolphin' at Sheerness, and with a regular salt captain, and a seaman
from the Bendigo diggings, and a boy from the 'Chichester,' we weighed
the cutter's anchor to bring the prize to Greenhithe.
The pier-man smiled gladly on the gift yacht. The taut
Guard-ship bristling with big guns seemed to look down kindly on the
little vessel, and even the grim old hulks, otherwise sulky enough,
appeared to wish her well as she loosed her white sails to a gentle
breeze. Yes, and the sun smiled brightly, too, with a balmy day like
Barges flocked out, clustering on the water as in my
former visits here, but the 'Dolphin' mingled with them not as in a
mere play, but with a benign and holy purpose in her gait, for it was
the gracious breath of Christian benevolence that wafted the 'Dolphin'
on. She was a present to the homeless boys, and so a gift that shall be
1000 times repaid by the Friend of the friendless with measure "running
Yantlet was passed and the Blythe and Jenkin, when sunset
shrouded sleeping Father Thames. Then the ship-lights sparkled numerous
on the stream and red rays from the beacons glinted athwart our sail.
Swift steamers whisked by in the dark. Tall, gaunt sailing ships
rustled their dusky canvas, and struggling little tugboats rattled with
instant paddle as they passed.
The Gift to Boys 
Clouds withdrew from above as we neared the 'Chichester,'
and the full moon came out and looked upon the "gift for boys" with her
long pendant streaming in the mild and onward breeze.
Then, to me silently lying on the deck as if in a summer
eve, came many thoughts -- the Rob Roy's rovings by river and sea in
brightsome days and thundering nights, the good seed sown by the shore,
the thousand incidents of a charming voyage.
But best of them all was the sail in the 'Dolphin.'
We may begin in faith, and continue in hope, but greatest
of the three is charity in
© 2000 Craig O'Donnell
May not be reproduced without my permission.