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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesCaptain Mugford: Our Salt And Fresh Water Tutors - Chapter 12. Good Sport--An Exciting Sail--Cast Away
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Captain Mugford: Our Salt And Fresh Water Tutors - Chapter 12. Good Sport--An Exciting Sail--Cast Away Post by :healthyways2101 Category :Long Stories Author :William H. G. Kingston Date :May 2012 Read :3478

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Captain Mugford: Our Salt And Fresh Water Tutors - Chapter 12. Good Sport--An Exciting Sail--Cast Away


The absence of Mr Clare was the only drawback to our pleasure that morning. He had told us the evening before that he should probably return from his visit the same day, getting home about the time we expected to be back--about sundown, which at that date in September was at twenty minutes after six. He said, however, that possibly he might remain in Q---town until after Sunday morning service.

When Captain Mugford had completed his smoke, by which time we had a fine steady breeze from the south-east, he rose from his luxurious position and took Walter's place at the helm, saying--

"Not a permanent removal, Walter, but only until I can put the cutter just where I want her for fish. Fifteen minutes more will do that; so you had better go forward to Drake and get the anchor all ready to let go. You other boys can stand by the sails."

The Captain noted carefully the changing colour of the water as we drew over some bank, and he took bearings, too, from points on the land we had left nearly ten miles astern. In a few minutes he luffed a bit and sang out--

"Down with your foresail! Get in the jib."

The bowsprit pointed right in the wind's eye, and the boom hung fore and aft, the sail empty, as the cutter lost her headway.

"Is that anchor ready?"

"Aye, aye, sir!" replied Walter and Drake.

"Let go! About five fathoms, is it?" called the Captain.

"About that!" the boys answered.

"That's just what we want. Make fast! Now stow the mainsail, so that it won't be in the way of your lines, and fish. There, that will do! Now, all to the lines! Who'll have the first fish?"

In a minute Drake hauled that up--a cod--and the fun commenced. Cod and bass, and now and then a halibut, as fast as we could bait and pull! There was soon a lively flopping in our craft, and now and then a dog-fish would take hold, much to our annoyance, for generally he broke the hook or line, or else, if we got him in, made such a furious lashing about our legs that we had to finish him with a hatchet.

We lay at anchor there until we had had fishing enough. About two o'clock we stopped, having caught, as near as the Captain could estimate, between one and two hundred pounds of cod, a dog-fish, and eleven sea-bass--not the striped bass, such as we took off the rocks with a troll line in rough water: that was the _Labrax lineatus_; but the sea-bass, the _Centropristes nigricans_, superior in title, but inferior in every other way to the striped bass.

It was a job to pitch the fish together and out of the way, and then clean the blood, slime, and wet from our deck and get ready for making sail; but after some work it was done, and our lines stowed away.

"Now, boys," said the Captain, "we will have dinner, and get under way again. As the wind has hauled around to the east, we will take our course for the north. I want to show you that shore, it is so bold and wild. With such a stiff wind I reckon we can run up ten miles nearly, and then turn about and get home _easily before dark. I say, boys, won't Mr Clare wish he had had a hand in catching that haul?"

Having finished the cold dinner with such an appetite as pleasure, exercise, and sea air give, we made sail and stood to the northward. The breeze was so fresh before long that the Captain told us to take a reef in our mainsail. Walter held the helm, and in little more than an hour we were sailing near the grand rugged shore that Captain Mugford had wished us to see. Here and there, in little coves defended by rocky sides, were the cottages of fishermen, and then great headlands of cavernous stone dashed by the waves. Again the shore fell to a lower level, and pines and other trees clustered together to defy the storms, and give pleasure to the eye. Farther on, the roughness of the coast vanished for a few hundred yards to make place for a yellow sandy beach where was stretched a long seine. Opposite that piece of strand, and close by our cutter's course stood a small stony island, bearing a single invalid old pine, from whose topmost branch a great bald eagle rose and hovered over our craft. Then the shore grew again like an impregnable fortification, and made out to a sharp cape, on the point of which stood a lonely, snow-white lighthouse.

"There, boys, we must go about now," said the Captain, as we neared the cape. "But see how the wind has fallen. If it holds on in this way we shan't have enough to take us home before night. Let's see what o'clock it is. That lighthouse is seventeen miles from the point of our own cape."

The Captain fumbled away at his waist-band--encircling a rotundity like that described of Saint Nicholas--and pulled out his immense gold turnip.

"Columbus' compass! Twenty minutes to five! Come, Walter, haul in the mainsheet, and come up to the wind. Are you ready to go about? Well, down with the helm then. I'll tend the jib. Those boys are so busy examining the fish that we will not interrupt them."

"No, sir," I said, "we are ready for anything."

"Oh no, Bob," replied the Captain, "go on with your studies. There is nothing to do just now. Walter, you may steer by the shore. But I don't like this slackening of the breeze, and it is drawing more to the south-west; we shall have it right ahead soon. The sun looks ugly, too. That murky red face foretells a row of some kind."

"I hope that we shall get the _Youth safe at her moorings before night comes, or a storm either--shall we not?" asked Harry.

"We'll hope so," answered Captain Mugford, who pulled out his pipe and filled it hard, continuing, "Who'll hand me out a light from the cuddy?" I went in and struck one, and brought him a match, blazing famously. "Thank, you," he said. "Drake--just," (puff puff)--"just shake--oh! there goes that light!" I quickly brought him another--"just shake out--that--that--" (puff, puff). He had it all right now, the smoke coming in vast volumes; so he replaced his hat and removed the pipe from his teeth for a moment to complete the order--

"Drake, just shake that reef out of the mainsail."

"All right, sir!" said Drake. I helped him; but in half an hour the wind, as the Captain had foretold, was ahead, and not strong enough to fill the sails.

Fifteen or sixteen miles we were from home, with every indication that a heavy squall was to follow the calm settling down upon us. The dancing white caps of the morning had died away in a quiet, sullen sea, which only a land-swell moved. The sun had gone down to within a half-hour's distance of the horizon, shining on the distant western cliffs, whose variety, boldness, and ruggedness were magnified in outline and intensified in colouring by the heavy, yellowish-red glare which fell on them, and the sun's rays shot out in long forks, piercing the dark blue of the sea at all points in the western semicircle of our view. The atmosphere had grown warm--very warm for a September afternoon.

We boys felt something portentous in the scene. The Captain grew uncomfortable, too, no longer laughing heartily or joining in our talk. He kept his eyes on the sky, and smoked pipe after pipe.

Even Ugly ceased napping beside Walter, and, uttering a whining yawn, as if sleepy but uneasy, walked forward to the idle foresail, and stood there with extended nose to smell out, if he could, what was wrong.

So we lay for nearly an hour, our only movement being with the outgoing tide, the sails flapping with the slow swell of the sea. But when the sun had disappeared the wind commenced to come, first in little puffs, now from one quarter and then from another. The gale would be on us in a moment.

The Captain took the helm then, and ordered us to stand by and be ready to tend the sails.

"Look out, too, for the swinging of that boom," he said, "and make Ugly get out of the way and lie down somewhere."

Ugly, hearing that speech, did not wait for further commands, but stowed himself away at the foot of the mast.

Now the wind came in heavier puffs, and then in squalls from the east.

"I hope it will settle there," spoke out the Captain. "It is coming heavier, but I hope steady."

He kept his eyes on all parts of the now lowering sky, and presently added--

"Take two reefs in the mainsail and shift the jib! Get the storm-jib up. Now hook on. Run it out. Hoist away."

That was done, no easy matter for novices in a heavy sea, and we flew away before the increasing gale. Fortunately the night was not very dark, there being a quarter moon to throw its light through the rifts of clouds.

How fast the sea got up! The wind grew heavier every moment. The mast of our little cutter creaked with each plunge, and the plunges were hard and quick. The scene was truly alarming, and we felt the danger of our situation. To be sure, we were comparatively safe if the gale should grow no worse; but it was increasing every moment in a manner that threatened in another hour to be too much for us. There was danger, too, that something might be carried away, or that, in the frothy sea and uncertain light, we might strike some of the sunken rocks that now and then stood off from shore like sentries. But the _Youth leapt furiously onward from one mad wave to another, our good Captain steering with a strong hand.

The black, broken clouds rolled close to the sea, which seemed striving madly to swallow them; but on they flew with the screams of the wind. The thin moonlight, streaming unsteadily through the troops of clouds across the riven waves, had a ghastly effect--sometimes obscuring, sometimes exaggerating the terrors surrounding us. The shore, a mile to leeward, was to our sight only a bristling, indefinite terror; for there, where loomed the land we longed for, was the greatest peril--the line of fierce breakers that shouted their threats in terrible chorus.

I suppose we boys were all much terrified. I _quailed with dread, for it was my first experience of a storm on the water, and its time and appearance were so imposing.

One would never have suspected from Captain Mugford's manner that we were in any danger. His face was as calm and his hand as steady as if we were having the pleasantest sail imaginable; only the violence with which he smoked, ramming fingers full of tobacco into his pipe every few minutes, betokened any unusual excitement, but we knew how absorbed he was in his charge by his silence.

We were speechless, too, holding on fast to the backstays or gunwale to keep our places in the desperate leaps and lurches the gallant little craft was making. Ugly was soon thrown from his station, and, finding he could not keep legs or position anywhere unaided, went and ensconced himself between our skipper's legs.

Harder, heavier blew the wind, and wilder grew the sea, so that it seemed sometimes as if we must go over, and the bowsprit now buried itself in every billow. Then the Captain said to us in a calm, steady voice--

"Boys, you must get another reef in the mainsail and lower the foresail. Now, be careful and steady about it. There is no hurry. Bob, you come here; the others can manage that work. You sit aft out of the way."

I did as directed; and the orders were speedily carried out without accident.

Boatswain's Half-Acre Reef, a low rock that stood out at sea, about three and a half miles south-east-by-east from our cape, now came in sight ahead of us to the windward. In the spectral light, and beaten on by the waves, it looked like some sea monster moving in the water. As we were going we should probably pass close to its lee side in about ten minutes, but the wind blew a tempest, and the sea increased so in a few minutes that our peril was terrible. For two hours we had battled-- though evidently the storm was soon to be the conqueror.

Several seas came aboard in angry haste, and the punt, which had been in tow all day, broke loose and was carried away. Another sea, stronger than its fellows, suddenly struck us a tremendous blow. The cutter heeled over, so that the water boiled above the lee gunwale. The assaulting sea, too, broke up and over the weather-side, and drenched us all in its cataract. To increase our terror, a cry came from Alfred, who had been tossed from his hold and nearly cast overboard, but he caught the backstay as our yet unconquered boat rose from the blow like some brave but wounded animal. The water was several inches deep about our feet, and the good _Youth had lost half its buoyancy.

Then came the Captain's voice again, steady and strong, but full of feeling--

"We'll get through it yet, lads, God protecting us," he sung out. "But all hands must try and do their duty. You know Nelson's last general order--'England expects that every man this day will do his duty.' That same motto carried out has saved many a stout ship and rich cargo, and the neglect of it has lost many more. Now, there's work for all of you. Walter, do you rig the pump, and Bob, do you help him, and the rest of you set to and bale. Be smart, now. There are two skids and a bucket, or use your hats. Anyhow, the boat must be cleared."

He spoke deliberately, not to alarm us, but at the same time we all saw that there was no time to be lost. Walter and I now got the pump to work, while the rest set to and baled away with might and main. I also joined them, using my hat as the Captain advised, for Walter could easily work the pump by himself. Still, in spite of the excellent steering of the old skipper, the seas came tumbling in over the bows and sides also so rapidly that it was hard work for us to keep the boat clear. Besides this, (notwithstanding her name, being an old boat), she strained so much that the seams opened and made her leak fearfully. It soon, indeed, became a question--and a very serious one--whether the boat could be kept afloat till we should reach our own harbour. We were now laying well up for the cape, though we were making what sailors call "very bad weather of it;" but, should the wind shift a little, and come more ahead, we might have a dead beat of several hours before us. We saw the skipper looking out anxiously at the reef I have described. A considerable portion, even at the highest tides, was several feet above water, and easily accessible. As the rock also afforded a shelter to numerous seafowl, which built their nests in its crevices, it would afford some security to a few human beings. Still, during a gale such as was now blowing, the sea washed tumultuously round the rock, and rendered the landing--even on the lee side--not only difficult but dangerous. I, for one, did not at all like the condition of the boat; still, as the skipper had hitherto said nothing, I did not like to propose that we should try to land on the reef. The old man was silent for some time; he again scanned the reef, and then he turned his eyes to the distant shore.

"Boys," he said at last, "I wish you not to be alarmed. The boat may very possibly keep above water till we reach the cape, if you can bale out the seas as fast as they wash in; but I am bound to tell you that there is a risk of our being swamped if we were to meet such a sea as I have seen, under like circumstances, come rolling in. There lies Boatswain's Reef--in five minutes we may be safe upon it--but much depends on your coolness and courage. The most difficult and dangerous movement will be the leaping on shore. Do you, Walter, make a rope fast round the bits; unreeve the fore halliards, they will suit best, and are new and strong. That will do; secure them well, and coil the rope carefully, so that it may run out free of everything. Now stand with the rope in your hand, and as I bring the boat up to the rock, do you leap out, and spring up to the upper part, where you will find a jagged point or more to which to make it fast. The rest of you, when the boat touches the rock, be ready to spring on shore; but remember, don't spring till I tell you. I'll call each of you by name, and the first on shore must stand by to help the others. There, I can't say more, except one word--be steady, and cool, and trust in God."

Walter did as directed, and we all stood watching the skipper's eye, that we might obey him directly he gave the word. It is a most important thing to have confidence in a commander. It is the great secret of England's success in most instances. Although there may be many shortcomings, both her soldiers and sailors know that, in nine cases out of ten, they will be well and bravely led, and the officers know also that they will be thoroughly supported by the men. If they go ahead, there will never be a want of men to follow them, even to the cannon's mouth.

On we dashed, amid the boiling, foaming seas. We had to continue pumping and baling as energetically as before. Had we ceased, but for half a minute, it seemed as if the boat would to a certainty go down, even before we could reach the rock. Captain Mugford did not address us again, but kept his eyes watching, now the heavy seas which came rolling up on the weather bow, and now the black rock towards which we were standing. All the time we kept carefully edging away, till we were under the lee of the reef--of that part, however, over which the sea broke with great force. Still, the water was smoother than it had been for some time. We stood on, continuing to bale.

Suddenly the Captain cried out, "Now, lads, to your feet, and be ready to spring on shore when I give the word." We all jumped up. Walter stepped forward and took the rope in his hand, as he had been directed. The Captain luffed up, and ran the boat alongside the rock; but there was still great way on her, and a tremendous crashing sound showed us that she had struck the rock below water. Walter sprang on shore, Drake and Harry followed, and as he leapt to the top of the rock, followed to help him make fast the rope round one of its roughest projections. Ugly sprang at the same time, and the rest of us went next--not a moment too soon. I was the last of the boys. The Captain came close behind me. He was securing another rope round the mast, and, with the end of it in his hand, he leapt on to the rock. As he left the deck, the boat seemed to glide from under him. "Haul, boys! haul! all together," he shouted. Our united efforts, aided by the surging water, got the fast sinking boat on to a rock. There the boat lay, little better than a wreck; but we were safe. We now saw how anxious our good skipper had been, for, taking off his hat, and looking up to heaven, he exclaimed, with a fervour I did not expect, "Thank God for His great mercy--they are all safe."

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