The Voyage Alone in the Yawl "Rob Roy"
by John MacGregor
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Transcribed from the 1893 Sampson Low, Marston and Company edition by David Price, email

[Picture: Book cover]







(All rights reserved.)


[Picture: Frontispiece: A tight squeeze. See page 159]


In the earlier part of this voyage, and where it was most wished for, along the dangerous coast of France, fine weather came.

Next there was an amphibious interlude to the Paris Exhibition, while the Rob Roy sailed inland.

Thence her course over the sea brought the yawl across the broad Channel (100 miles) to Cowes and its Regattas, and to rough water in dark nights of thunder, until once more in the Thames and up the Medway she was under bright skies again.

Cooking and sleeping on board, the writer performed the whole journey without any companion; and perhaps this log of the voyage will show that it was not only delightful to the lone sailor, but useful to others.


The Author's profits from the preceding Editions were devoted to Prizes for Boys in the following Training Ships:—

The 'CHICHESTER' in the Thames. The 'ARETHUSA' in the Thames. The 'CUMBERLAND,' in the Clyde. The 'INDEFATIGABLE,' in the Mersey. The 'HAVANNAH,' in the Severn.

The profits will again be devoted to similar Prizes as explained in the Appendix.


Project—On the stocks—Profile—Afloat alone—Smart lads—Swinging—Anchors—Happy boys—Sea reach—Good looks—Peep below—Important trifles—In the well—Chart—Watch on deck—Eating an egg—Storm sail.

It was a strange and pleasant life for me all the summer, sailing entirely alone by sea and river fifteen hundred miles, and with its toils, perils, and adventures heartily enjoyed.

The two preceding summers I had paddled alone in an oak canoe, first through central Europe, and next over Norway and Sweden; but though both of these voyages were delightful, they had still the drawback, that progress was mainly dependent on muscular effort, that food must be had from shore, and that I could not sleep on the water.

In devising plans to make the pleasure of a voyage complete then, many cogitations were had in the winter, and these resulted in a beautiful little sailing-boat; and once afloat in this, the water was my road, my home, my very world, for a long and splendid summer.

The perfect success of these three voyages has been due mainly to the careful preparation for them in the minute details which are too often neglected. To take pains about these is a pleasure to a man with a boating mind, but it is also a positive necessity if he would ensure success; nor can we wonder at the fate of some who get swamped, smashed, stove-in, or turned over, when we see them go adrift in a craft which had been huddled into being by some builder ignorant of what is wanted for the sailor traveller, and is launched on unknown waters without due preparation for what may come.

I resolved to have a thoroughly good sailing-boat—the largest that could be well managed in rough weather by one strong man, and with every bolt, cleat, sheave, and rope well-considered in relation to the questions: How will this work in a squall?—on a rock?—in the dark?—or in a rushing tide?—a crowded lock; not to say in a storm?

The internal arrangements of my boat having been fully settled with the advantage of the canoe experiences, the yacht itself was designed by Mr. John White, of Cowes—and who could do it better? She was to be first safe, next comfortable, and then fast. If, indeed, you have two men aboard, one to pick up the other when he falls over, then you may put the last of the above three qualities first, but not prudently when there is only one man to do the whole.

The Rob Roy was built by Messrs. Forrestt, of Limehouse, the builders for the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, and so she is a lifeboat to begin with. Knowing how much I might have to depend on oars now and then, my inclination was to limit her length to about 18 ft., but Mr. White said that 21 ft. would "take care of herself in a squall." Therefore that length was agreed upon, and the decision was never regretted; still I should by no means advise any increase of these dimensions.

One great advantage of the larger size, was that it enabled me to carry in the cabin of my yawl, another boat, a little dingey {3} or punt, to go ashore by, to take exercise in, and to use for refuge in last resource if shipwrecked, for this dingey also I determined should be a lifeboat, and yet only eight feet long. The childhood of this little boat was somewhat unhappy, and as she grew into shape she was quizzed unmercifully, and the people shook their heads very wisely, as they did at the first Rob Roy canoe. Now that we can reckon about three thousand of such canoes, and now that this little dingey has proved a complete success and an unspeakable convenience, the laugh may be forgotten. However, ridicule of new things often does good if it begets caution in changes, and stimulates improvement. Good things get even benefit from ridicule, which may shake off the plaster and paint, though it will not shiver the stone.

Thoroughly to enjoy a cruise with only two such dumb companions as have been described, it is of importance that the man who is to be with them should also be adapted for his place. He must have good health and good spirits, and a passion for the sea. He must learn to rise, eat, drink, and sleep, as the water or winds decree, and not his watch. He must have wits to regard at once the tide, breeze, waves, chart, buoys, and lights; also the sails, pilot-book, and compass; and more than all, to scan the passing vessels, and to cook, and eat, and drink in the midst of all. With such pressing and varied occupations, he has no time to feel "lonely," and indeed, he passes fewer hours in the week alone than many a busy man in chambers. Of all the people I have met with who have travelled on land or sea alone, not one has told me it was "lonely," though some who have never tried the plan as a change upon life in a crowd, may fear its unknown pleasures. As for myself, on this voyage I could scarcely "get a moment to myself," and there was always an accumulation of things to be done, or read, or thought over, when a vacant half-hour could be had. The man who will feel true loneliness, is he who has one sailor with him, or a "pleasant companion" soon pumped dry; for he has isolation without freedom all day (and night too), and a tight cramp on the mind. With a dozen kindred spirits in a yacht, indeed, it is another matter; then you have freedom and company, and (if you are not the owner) you are not slaves of the skipper, but still you are sailed and carried, as passive travellers, and perhaps after all you had better be in a big steamer at once—the Cunard's or the P. and O., with a hundred passengers—real life and endless variety. However, each man to his taste; it is not easy to judge for others, but let us hope, that after listening to this log of a voyage alone, you will not call it "lonely."

The Rob Roy is a yawl-rig, so as to place the sailor between the sails for "handiness." She is double-skinned to make her staunch and dry below, and she is full-decked to keep out the sea above. She has an iron keel and kelson to resist a bump on rocks, and with four water-tight compartments to limit its effects if once stove in. Her cabin is comfortable to sleep in, but only as arranged when anchored for the purpose:—sleep at sea is forbidden to her crew. Her internal arrangements for cooking, reading, writing, provisions, stores, and cargo, are quite different from those of any other yacht; all of them are specially devised, and all well done; and now on the 7th of June, at 3 P.M., she is hastily launched, her ton and a half of pig-iron is put on board for ballast, the luggage and luxuries for a three months' voyage are loaded in, her masts are stepped, the sails are bent, the flags unfold to the breeze, the line to shore is slipped, and we are sailing from Woolwich, never to have any person aboard in her progress but the captain, until she returns to the builders' yard.

[Picture: Drawing of the Rob Roy]

Often as a boy I had thought of the pleasure of being one's own master in one's own boat; but the reality far exceeded the imagination of it, and it was not a transient pleasure. Next day it was stronger, and so to the end, until at last, only duty forced me reluctantly from my floating freehold to another home founded on London clay, sternly immovable, and with the quarter's rent to pay.

At Erith then the Royal Canoe Club held its first sailing match, when five little paddling craft set up their bamboo masts and pure white sails, and scudded along in a rattling breeze, and twice crossed the Thames. They were so closely matched that the winner was only by a few seconds first. Then a Club dinner toasted the prizemen, and "farewell," "bon voyage" to the captain, who retired on board for the first sleep in his yawl.

The Sunday service on board the Training-ship 'Worcester,' at Erith, is a sight to see and to remember. The bell rings and boats arrive, some of them with ladies. Here in the 'tween decks, with airy ports open, and glancing water seen through them, are 100 fresh-cheeked manly boys, the future captains of Taepings and Ariels, and as fine specimens of the gentleman sailor-lad as any Englishman would wish to see. Such neatness and order without nonsense or prim awe. Health and brightness of boyhood, with seamen's smartness and silence: I hope they do not get too much trigonometry. However, for the past week they have been skurrying up aloft "to learn the ropes," skylarking among the rigging for play, and rowing and cricketing to expand muscle and limb; and now on the day of rest they sing beautifully to the well-played harmonium, then quietly listen to the clergyman of the "Thames Mission," who has been rowed down here from his floating church, anchored then in another bay of his liquid parish, but now removed entirely.

The Royal National Lifeboat Institution had most kindly presented to the Rob Roy one of its best lifeboat compasses. The card of this compass floats in a mixture of spirits, so as to steady its oscillations in a boat, and a deft-like lamp alongside will light it up for use by night. Only a sailor knows the peculiar feeling of regard and mystery with which the compass of his craft becomes invested, the companion in past or unknown future perils, his trusty guide over the wide waste of waters and through the night's long blackness.

Having so much iron on board, and so near this wondrous delicate needle, I determined to have the boat "swung" at Greenhithe, where the slack tide allows the largest vessels conveniently to adjust their compasses. This operation consumed a whole day, and a day sufficed for the Russian steamer alongside; but then the time was well bestowed,—it was as important to me to steer the Rob Roy straight as it could be to any Muscovite that he should sail rightly in his ship of unpronounceable name. {10}

While the compass was thus made perfect for use at one end of the boat, her anchors occupied my attention at the other.

It was necessary to carry an anchor heavy enough to hold well in strong tides, in bad weather, and through the long nights, so that I could sleep then without anxiety. On the other hand, the anchor must be also light enough to be weighed and stowed by one man, and this too in that precious twenty seconds of time, when in weighing anchor, the boat, already loosed from the ground but not yet got hold of by the sails, is swept bodily away by the tide, and faces look cross from yachts around, being sure you will collide, as a lubber is bound to do.

After considering the matter of anchors a long time, and poising too the various opinions of numerous advisers, the Rob Roy was fitted with a 50-lb. galvanized Trotman anchor and 30 fathoms of chain, and also with a 20-lb. Trotman and a hemp cable.

The operation of anchoring in a new place and that of weighing anchor are certainly among the most testing and risky in a voyage like this, where the circumstances are quite new on each occasion, and where all has to be done by one man.

You sail into a port where in less than a minute you must apprehend by one panoramic glance the positions of twenty vessels, the run of the tide, and set of the wind, and depth of the water; and this not only as these are then existing, but in imagination, how they will be six hours hence, when the wind has veered, the tide has changed, and the vessels have swung round, or will need room to move away, or new ones will have arrived.

These being the data, you have instantly to fix on a spot where there will be water enough to float your craft all night, and yet not so deep as to give extra work next morning; a berth, too, which you can reach as at present sailing, and from which you can start again to-morrow; one where there are no moorings of absent vessels to foul your anchor, and where the wind will not blow right into your sleeping cabin when the moonlight chills, and where the dust will not blind you from this lime barge, or the blacks begrime you from that coal brig as you spread the yellow butter on your morning tartine.

The interest felt in doing this feat well is increased by seeing how watchfully those who are already berthed will eye the stranger, often speaking by their looks, and always feeling "hope he won't come too near me;" while the penalty on failure in the proceeding is heavy and sharp, a smash of your spars, a hole in your side, or a sleepless night, or an hour of cable-clearing to-morrow, or all of them; and certainly in addition, the objurgations of every yachtsman within the threatened circle.

Undoubtedly the most unpleasant result of bad management is to have damaged any other man's boat; and I cannot but mention with the greatest satisfaction, that after so often working my anchors—at least two hundred times—and so many days of sailing in crowded ports and rivers, on no one occasion did the Rob Roy even brush the paint off any other vessel.

Not far from my yawl there was moored a fine old frigate, useless now for war, but invaluable for peace—the "'Chichester' Training-ship for homeless boys of London." It is for a class of lads utterly different from those on the 'Worcester,' but they are English boys still, and every Englishman ought to do something for English boys, if he cares for the present or the future of England.

Pale and squalid, thin, heartless, and homeless, they were; but now, ruddy in the river breeze, neat and clean, alert with energy, happy in their wooden home, with a kind captain and smart officers to teach them, life and stir around, fair prospects ahead, and a British seaman's honest livelihood to be earned instead of the miserable puling beggardom of the streets, or the horrid company of the prison cell; which, that they should lie in the path of any child of our land, adrift on the rough tide of time at ten years old, is a glaring shame to the millions of sovereigns in bankers' books, and we shall have to answer heavily if we let it be thus still longer. {14}

The burgee flag of the Canoe Club flew always (white with our paddle across C C in cipher) and another white flag on the mizen-mast had the yawl's name inscribed. Six other gay colours were used as occasion required. These all being hoisted on a fine bright day, and my voyage really begun, the 'Chichester' lads 'boyed' the rigging, and gave three ringing cheers as they shouted, "Take these to France, sir!" and the frigate dipped her ensign in salute, my flag lieutenant smartly responding to the compliment as we bade "good-bye."

The Thames to seaward looks different to me every time I float on its noble flood. I have seen it from on board steamers large and small, from an Indiaman's deck, the gunwale of a cutter, and the poop of an ironclad, as well as from rowboat and canoe, and have penetrated almost every nook and cranny on the water, some of them a dozen times, yet always it is new to see.

Thames river life is a separate world from the land life in houses. The day begins on the water full an hour before sunrise. Cheery voices and hearty faces greet you, and there seems to be no maimed, or sick, or poor. From the simple fact that you are on the river, there is a brotherhood with every sailor. The mode is supple as the water, not like the stiff fashion of the land. Ships and shipmen soon become the "people." The other folks on shore are, to be sure, pretty numerous, but then they are ashore. Undoubtedly they are useful to provide for us who are afloat the butter, eggs, and bread they do certainly produce; and we gaze pleasantly on their grassy lawns and bushy trees, and can hear the lark singing on high, and peacocks screaming, and all are very pretty, and we are bound to try to sympathize with people thus pinned to the soil, while we are free in the fine fresh breeze, and glide on the bounding wave. N.B.—These very people are all the while regarding us with humane pity, as the "poor fellows in that little ship there, cabined, cribbed, confined." Perhaps it is well for all of us that the stand-point of each, be it ever so bleak, becomes to him the centre of creation.

As the country lane has charms for the botanist which will sadly delay one in a summer stroll with such a companion, so to the nautical mind every reach on a full river has a constant flow of incidents quite unnoticed by the landsmen. In the crowd of ships around us, no two are quite the same even to look at, nor are they doing the same thing, and there are hundreds passing. What a feast for the eye that hath an appetite! The clink of an anchor-chain, the "Yo-ho!" of a well-timed crew, the flapping of huge sails—I love all these sounds, yes, even the shrill squeal of a pulley thrills my ear with pleasure, and grateful to my nostrils is the odour of tar.

Meanwhile we are sailing on to Sheerness; and no wonder that the Rob Roy fixes many a sailor's eye, for the bright sun shines on her new white sails, and her brilliant-coloured flags flutter gladly in the wind as the waves glance and play about her polished mahogany sides, the last and least addition to the yacht fleet of England.

Rounding Garrison Point, at the mouth of the Medway, our anchor is dropped alongside the yacht 'Whisper,' where the kind hospitality to the Rob Roy from English, French, and Belgian, at once began, and it ceased only at the end of my voyage.

After our tea and strawberries, and ladies' chat (pleasant ashore and ten times more afloat), the blue-jackets' band on board the Guard-ship gives music, and the moon gives light, and around are the huge old war-hulks, beautiful, though bygone, and all at rest, with a newer, uglier frigate, that has no poetry in her look, but could speak forth loudly, no doubt, with a very heavy broadside, for her thundering salute made all the windows shudder as she steamed in gallantly.

The tide of visitors to my yawl began at Sheerness. Among them I caught a boy and made him grease the mast. His friends were so pleased with their visit, that when the Rob Roy came there again months afterwards, they brought me a present of fresh mussels, highly to be esteemed by those who like to eat them—everybody does not; but then was it not grateful to give them thus? and is not gratitude a precious and rare gift to receive?

The internal arrangements of the Rob Roy yawl are certainly peculiar, for they were designed for a unique purpose, and as there is no description (at least that I can find) of a yacht specially made for one-man voyages, and proved to be efficient during so long a sail, it may be useful here to describe the inside of the Rob Roy. Safety was the first point to be attained, as we have already mentioned, and this was provided for by her breadth of beam (seven feet), her strongly bolted iron kelson, her water-tight compartments, and her double skin, the outer one being of polished Honduras mahogany, and the inner of yellow pine, with canvas between them; also by her strong, firm deck, her undersized masts and sails, and her lifeboat dingey.

Next we had to consider the capacity for comfort; not for the sake of any luxurious ease which could be expected, but so as to take proper means to preserve health, maintain good spirits, and to economize the energy which would undoubtedly be largely taxed in downright physical muscular work, and which now would be liable any day to yield if overwrought by long-continued anxiety, wakefulness, and exertion.

For this purpose the actual labour bestowed upon maintaining the outward forms of a (partially) civilized life must be a minimum, and the action required in times of risk or danger must be as little encumbered as possible; and as every arrangement came frequently under review, and improvements were well considered in meditative hours, and many were put in practice during a stay at Cowes, where the very best workmen were at command, it may not unreasonably be asserted that for a solitary sailor's yacht the cabin of the Rob Roy is at least a very good specimen of the most recent model, and perhaps the best that has been devised as a basis for the next advance.

Although at present I have no radical improvements to suggest upon the general plan, it is, of course, open to the refining experience of others; and I do not apologize for speaking of the fittings of a little boat as if they were mere trifles because it held only one man, when they may in any degree be useful to yachts of larger size, and thus to that noble fleet of roaming craft which renew the nerve and energy of so many Englishmen by a manly and healthful enterprise, opening a whole new element of nature, and nursing a host of loyal seamen to defend our shores.

From the sketch given at p. 23, and one partly in section at p. 41, it will be understood that the Rob Roy is fully decked all over except an open well near the stern which is three feet square, and about the same in depth; a strong combing surrounds both the well and the main hatchway as a protection in the sea. {20} This well or after compartment is separated from the next compartment by a strong bulkhead, sloping forward (p. 7) to give all the room possible for stretching one's limbs and a change of posture, and also so as to form a comfortable sloping back inside in the cabin, while it supports a large soft pillow, the whole being used as a sofa to recline on while reading or writing, or finally being converted into a bolster by lowering it when the crew is piped to bed for the night, or at least such hours of it as the tide and wind may allow for sleep.

Fronting the seat the binnacle hangs with its tender thrilling compass inside, well protected by thick plate glass, and the lamp, which is always ready to be lighted up should darkness need it; for experience has showed me only too plainly that it will not do to postpone any preparation for night, or wind, or hunger, or shoal water, but that you should be always quite prepared for them all.

Above the binnacle is the chart; that is to say, a rectangular piece cut out from the larger sheet, and containing all that will be sailed in a day. The other parts, too, of the chart ought to be kept where they are accessible for ready reference.

Rain or the dashing of a wave or two soon softens the paper of the chart, and on one occasion it was so nearly melted away in this manner in a rough sea that I had to learn its lines and figures quickly off by heart, and trust to memory for the rest of the day.

To prevent another time such an awkward state of things, I made a frame with a glass front and movable back, and this allowed each portion of the chart to be placed inside, and to be well protected, an excellent arrangement when your hands are as wet as all other things around, and the ordinary chart would be soaked in five minutes.

The chart frame is also detachable from its place, as it is sometimes necessary to hold it near a lamp at night so as to read the soundings. To aid still further to decipher the chart at night and in dull afternoons, there is a small mounted lens in a leather loop alongside, which has often to be used. The compass {22} itself is so placed that you can see it well while either sitting or standing up, or when lying at full length on the deck, with the back against a pillow propped by the mizen mast, the blight sun or moon overhead, and a turn or two of the mainsheet cast about your body to keep the sleepy steersman from rolling over into the water, as shown next page.

[Picture: Watch on Deck]

This somewhat effeminate but decidedly comfortable attitude in which to keep one's watch on deck, was not invented until farther on in the cruise; and it seems odd that I should so long have continued to sit upright for hours together (wriggling only a little at the constraint) for many a fine day before adopting for a change so obvious a posture, and thus effectually postponing any sense of weariness even in sailing for a whole day and night. Still it is only for light airs, gentle waves, or in deep rivers, or with long runs on the same tack, that the captain may do his duty while he lies on a sofa. In fresh breezes and rolling seas, or in beating to windward with frequent boards, such indulgence is soon cut short; and indeed the muscles and energies of the sailor are so braced up by the lively motion and refreshing blasts when there is plenty of wind, that no ennui can come; and there is quite enough play of limb and change of position caused by the working of the ship, while he soon learns by practice to steer by the action of any part of his body from head to feet being in contact with the tiller, that delicate and true sensorium of a boat to which all feeling is conveyed.

Sometimes I would sit low and out of sight, but with a glance now and then at the compass, while the tiller pressed against my neck. At others I would lie prone on the hatchway with my head upon both hands, and my elbows on the deck, and my foot on the tiller; while, again, every day it was necessary to cook and eat, all the time steering; the most difficult operation of all being to eat a boiled egg comfortably under these conditions, because there is the egg and the spoon, each in a hand, and the salt and the bread, each liable to be capsized with a direful result.

Uncovered and handy for instant use there lies a sharp axe at the bottom of the well, by which any rope may be cut, and a blow may be given to the forelock of an anchor or other refractory point needing instant correction, and near this again is the sounding lead, with its line wound on a stick like that of a boy's kite. I soon found that much the best way to tell the fathoms, especially at night, was to measure the line as it was hauled in by opening my arms to the full stretch of one fathom between my hands.

In two large leather pockets fixed in the well, were sundry articles, such as a long knife, cords of various kinds, a foot measure of ivory (best to read off at night), and a good binocular glass by Steward in the Strand. {25}

Turning now to the left of the seat in the well, we open a door about a foot square, hinged so as to fall downwards and thus form a cook's "dresser;" and now the full extent is visible of our kitchen range, at p. 41, or in nautical tongue here is the caboose of the Rob Roy.

It is a zinc box with a frame holding a flat copper kettle, a pan in which to heat the tin of preserved meat for our dinner to-day, and the copper frying-pan in which three eggs will be cooked sur le plat for our breakfast to-morrow.

The invaluable Rob Roy lamp {26} is below this frame, and a spare lamp alongside—a fierce blast it has, and it will be needed if there is bad weather, for then sometimes as a heavy sea is coming the kitchen is hastily closed lest the waves should invade it, but the lamp may still be heard roaring away inside all the same. An iron enamelled plate and a duster complete the furniture of our little scullery, all the rest of the things we started with having been improved out of existence, for simplicity is the heart of invention as brevity is the soul of wit.

If we desire to get at the tubular wooden flag box that some gay colours may deck our mast in entering a new harbour, this will be found inside the space aft of the caboose; and again, by reaching the arm still further into the hollow behind our seat, it will grasp the storm mizen, a strongly made triangular sail, to be used only in untoward hours, and for which we must prepare by lowering the lug mizen, and shifting the halyard, tack, and sheet. Then the Rob Roy, with her mainsail and jib reefed, will be under snug canvas, as seen at page 57.

But now it is bed-time, and the lecture on the furniture of the yawl may be finished some other day.


Sheerness—Governor—Trim—Earthquake—Upset—Wooden legs—On the Goodwin—Cuts and soars—Crossing the Straits—The ground at Boulogne—Night music—Sailors' maps—Ship's papers—Weather—Toilette—Section.

Sheerness is on the whole a tolerable port to land at, that is, as long as you refrain from going ashore. The harbour is interesting and more lively than it appears at first sight, but the streets and shops are just the reverse.

The Rob Roy ran into this harbour seven or eight times during her cruise, and there was always "something going on." The anchorage on the south of the pier is in mud of deep black colour, but not such good holding ground as it would seem to be, and then what comes up on the anchor runs like black paint upon your deck, and needs a good scrubbing to get rid of it from each palm of the anchor. Even after all seems to be cleared away thoroughly, there may be a piece only the size of a nut, but perverse enough to fasten upon the white creamy folds of your jib newly washed out, and then the inky stain will be an eyesore for days, until, for peace of mind, the sail must be scrubbed again. Trifles these are to the yachtsman who can leave all that to his crew, who sees only results, but when the captain alone is the crew, the realities of sea life must be endured as well as enjoyed, and yet surely he is the one to enjoy most keenly the luxury of a white spotless sail whose own hands have made it so.

If any sailor henceforth has me for his captain, and he has to "tidy up" my yacht, he may be sure of having a very considerate if not indulgent master—"Governor," of course, I mean, for there are no "masters" any longer now, they are all promoted to the rank of "Governor."

And the reason I should be considerate is that until you do it all yourself you cannot have any idea of the innumerable minutiae to be attended to in the proper care of a yacht. Mine, indeed, was in miniature; but the number of little things was still great, though each little thing was more little. On the whole we should say that a yacht's crew, even in port, have full employment for all their working hours if the hull, spars, sails, ropes, and boats, besides the cabin and stores, are always kept in that condition of order, neatness, cleanliness, readiness, and repair which ought to be little short of perfection when regarded with a critical eye.

In like manner as you drive out in a carriage and return, and the carriage and horses disappear into the stables for hours of careful work by the men who are there, so may the day's sail in a yacht involve a whole series of operations on board afterwards. Inattention to these in the extreme can be observed in the boats of fishermen, and attention in the extreme in the perfect vessels of the Royal Squadron; but even a very reasonable amount of smartness requires a large expenditure of labour which will not be effectual if it be hurried, and which is, of course, worse than useless if it is done by inferior hands.

In perfect trim and "ship shape" now, we loosed from Sheerness, to continue the sail eastwards, and with a leading breeze and a lovely morning. This part of the Thames is about the best conjunction of river and sea one could find, with land easily sighted on both sides, yet fine salt waves, porpoises, and other attributes of the sea, and buoys, and beacons, and light-ships to be attended to, and a definite line of course determined on and followed by compass. A gale here is not to be trifled with, though in fine weather you may pass it safely in a mere cockle-shell, and the last time I had sailed here alone it was in an open boat, just ten feet long inside. Still the whole day may be summed up now, as it was in the log of the Rob Roy, "Fine run to Margate;" the pleasures of it were just the same as so often afterwards were met, enjoyed, and thanked for, but which might be tedious to relate even once.

The harbour here dries bare at low tide, and as seventeen years had elapsed since we had sailed into it, this bad habit of the harbour was forgotten, but more years than that may pass before it will be forgotten again, for as evening came, and the water ebbed, and I reclined unharnessed in the cabin, reading intently, there suddenly came a rude bumping shove upwards as from below, and then another—the Rob Roy had grounded. Soon there was a swaying this way and that, as if yet undecided, and at length a positive heel over to that; the whole of my little world within being canted to half a right angle, and a ridiculous distortion of every single thing in my bedroom was the result. The humiliating sensation of being aground on hard unromantic mud is tempered by the ludicrous crooked appearance of the contents of your cabin and by the absurd sensation of sleeping in a corner with everything askance except the lamp flame, which, because it burns upright, looks most awry of all, and incongruously flares on the spout of the teapot in your pantry.

And why this bouleversement of all things? Because I had omitted to bring a pair of "legs" with me, for a boat cannot stand upright on shore without legs any more than an animal.

Next time the Rob Roy came to Margate we made one powerful leg for her by lashing the two oars to the iron shroud, and took infinite pains to incline the boat over to that side so as to be turned away from the wind and screened from the tide, and I therefore weighted her down by placing the dingey and heavy anchor on the lee gunwale, and then with misplaced contentment proceeded to cook my dinner. At a solemn pause in the repast, the yawl, without other warning than a loud splash, perversely turned over to the wrong side, with deck to sea and wind, and every single thing exactly the contrary of what was proper. I had just time to plunge my hissing spirit-lamp into the sea, and thus to prevent the cry of "Ship on fire!" but had not time to put out my cabin-lamp, and this instantly bore its flame provokingly upright against the thick glass of the aneroid barometer, which duly told its fate by three sonorous "crinks," and at once three starred cracks shot through its crystal front.

The former experience of the night as spent when one is thus arbitrarily "inclined to sleep" made me wish to get ashore; but this idea was stifled partly by pride and partly by the fact that there was not water enough to enable me to go ashore in a boat, and yet there was too much water besides soft mud to make it at all pleasant to set off and wade to bed. The recovery from this unwholesome state of things, with all the world askew, was equally notable, for when the tide rose again, in the late midnight hours, the sea-dreams of disturbed slumber were arrested by a gentle nudge, and then by a more decided heaving up of one's bed in the dark, until at last it came level again as the boat floated, and all the things that were right when she was wrong turned over now at wrong angles, because the boat had righted. {32}

An excellent cure for all such little mishaps is to "imagine it is to-morrow morning," for in the morning one is sure to forget all the night's troubles; and so with the fiery rising sun on the sails we are floating out to sea.

In such a sunny day the North Foreland is a very comfortable-looking cliff, with pleasant country-houses on the top, and corn-fields growing round the lighthouse. Next there is Ramsgate, and then Dover pier. But now, and in weather like this, will be a proper occasion to practise manoeuvres which will certainly have to be performed in bad times, so we stretched away out to the Goodwin Sands, where one is nearly always sure to find a sea running, and for several hours we worked assiduously at reefing the sails, and getting the little dingey out of the cabin and into the water, and vice versa.

At least a short trial of my yacht in the Thames would have been advisable before starting on a long voyage, but as this was not possible now, it was of invaluable benefit to spend an afternoon at drill on the Goodwin; rightly assured that success in this journey could not be expected haphazard, but might be hoped for after the practice in daylight and fine weather of what had to be done afterwards in rough water and darkness. By this time, just a week in the Rob Roy, the little craft seemed quite an old friend. Her many virtues and her few faults were being found out. The happy life aboard had almost enchained me, but still I left the yawl at Dover, and ran up to London for the annual inspection of the London Scottish Volunteers; and having led his fine company of kilted Riflemen through Hyde Park, the Captain sheathed his claymore to handle the tiller again, eager for the voyage.

The new rough hairy ropes had chafed my hands abundantly, and they were red and black, and blistered, and swollen, and variously adorned by cuts, and bruises, and scars. When shall I ever get gloves on again, or be fit to appear at a dinner-table? These wounds, however, had taught me this lesson, "Do every act deliberately. Hasty smartness is slowest. When each single thing from morning to night has to be done by your own fingers, save them from bruises and chafes. Nothing is worse spent than needless muscular action. You will want every atom you have some day or other this week. Husband vital force."

The Sappho schooner was at Dover, and her owner, Mr. Lawton, one of the Canoe Club, took leave of the Rob Roy, and sailed away to Iceland, while I started for Boulogne in the dawn, when all the scene around looked like a woodcut, pale and colourless, as I cooked hot breakfast at five o'clock. Nothing particular happened in this voyage across the Channel. It was simply a very pleasant sail, in a very fine day, and in a good little boat. The sight of both shores at once, when you are in the widest part of a passage, deprives it immediately of the romance and interest of being entirely out of sight of land and ships, and all else but water, and so there is absent that deeper stir of feeling which powerfully seized me in the wider traverse afterwards from Havre to Cowes.

Indeed, when you know the under-water geography of the channel near Dover, it is impossible not to feel that you are sailing over shallow waves; for though they seem to be deep and grand enough from Dover Castle or the Boulogne heights, the whole way might almost be spanned by piers and arches, and if you wished to walk over dry shod at the low spring-tide, you need only lay from shore to shore a twenty miles' slice of undulated ground cut from the environs of London. The cellars of the houses would be at the bottom of the sea, but the chimney-pots would still be above it for stepping-stones.

The wind fell as we neared France, and a fog came on, and the tide carried us off in a wrong direction north to Cape Grisnez, where I anchored with twenty fathoms, to wait for the reflux six or seven hours. Often as we had to do the same thing in after days, there was always constant employment for every hour of a long stoppage like this, with a well-furnished tool-box, and a busy mind ever making additions, experiments, improvements, and with books to read. Not one single moment of the voyage ever hung heavy on the Rob Roy.

Trying to get into Boulogne at low water was an unprepared attempt, and met its due reward; for the thing had to be done without the benefit of my "Pilot-book," which had been put away with such exceeding care, that now it could not anywhere be found—not after several rigorous searches all over the boat. Finally, concluding that I must have taken the book to London by mistake, we had to trust to nature's light and go ahead. This does well enough for a canoe, but not for the sailing-boat, which, if once aground, and with a sea running, it would be utterly out of the power of one man to save. {36}

In encountering the first roller off the pier at Boulogne, she thumped the ground heavily. At the second, again, the masts quivered, and all the bottles rattled in my cellar. Instant decision turned her round from the third roller, and so after bumping the ground twice again in the retreat, we put out to sea, anchored, and got out the dingey, half-ashamed to be discomfited thus at the very first French port. After an hour or two spent in the dark, carefully sounding to discover the proper channel, and to get it well into my head, the anchor was weighed, and we entered in a poor sort of triumph upon midnight, slowly ascending the long harbour, but looking in vain for a proper berth. All was quiet, every one seemed to be in bed, until I came to the sluices at the end, which just then opened, and the rush of foaming water from these bore me back again in the most helpless plight, until I anchored near the well-known "Etablissement," furled sails, rigged up hatch, and soon dropped fast asleep.

Now there is a peculiarity of the French ports which we may mention here for once for all, but it applies to every one of them, and has to be seriously considered in all your calculations as a sailing-master.

They are quiet enough up to a certain time of night, but as the tide serves, the whole port awakes, all the fishing vessels get ready to start. The quays become vocal with shouts, yells, calls, whistles, and the most stupid din and hubbub confounds the night, utterly destructive of sleep. This chorus was in full cry about two o'clock A.M. Soon great luggers came splashing along with shrieks from the crews, and sails flapping, chains rattling, spars knocking about, as if a tempest were in rage. Several of these lubberly craft smashed against the pier, and the men screamed more wildly, and at length one larger and more inebriated than all the rest, dashed in among the small boats where the Rob Roy slept, and swooping down on the poor little yawl, then wrapt in calm repose, she heeled us over on our beam-ends, and after fastening her clumsy, rusty anchor in my mizen shrouds (which were of iron, and declined to snap), she bore me and my boat away far off, ignominiously, stern foremost.

Certainly this was by no means a pleasant foretaste of what might be expected in the numerous other ports we were to enter, and, at any rate, that night's sleep was gone. But in a voyage of this sort a night's sleep must be resigned readily, and the loss is easily borne by trying to forget it, which indeed you soon do when the sun rises, and a good cup of tea has been quaffed, or, if that will not suffice, then another.

Vigorous health is at the bottom of the enthusiastic enjoyment of yachting; but in a common sailor's life sleep is not a regular thing as we have it on shore, and perhaps that staid glazy and sedate-looking eye, which a hard-worked seaman usually has, is really caused by broken slumber. He is never completely awake, but he is never entirely asleep.

Boulogne is a much more agreeable place to reside at than one might suppose from merely passing through it. Once I spent a month there, and found plenty to see and to do. Good walks, hotels, churches, and swimming-baths; the river to row in, the reading-room to sit in, the cliffs to climb, and the sands to see.

At Dover the dock-people had generously charged me "nil" for dues. I had letters for France from the highest authorities to pass the Rob Roy as an article entered for the Paris "Exhibition;" and when the douane and police functionaries came in proper state at Boulogne to appraise her value, and to fill up the numerous forms, certificates, schedules, and other columned documents, I had hours of walking to perform, and most courteous and tedious attention to endure, and then paid for sanitary dues, "two sous per ton," that was threepence. Finally, there was this insurmountable difficulty, that though all my ship's papers were en regle, they must be signed "by two persons on board," so I offered to sign first as captain and then as cook. They never troubled me again in any other port, probably thinking the boat too small to have come from a foreign harbour. In France the law of their paternal Government prevents any Frenchman from sailing thus alone.

The sun warmed a fine fresh breeze from the N.E. as we coasted from Boulogne, and to sail with it was a luxury all day. The first pleasure was the morning ablution, either by a wholesale dip under the waves, or a more particular toilette if the Rob Roy was then in full sail.

To effect this we push the hatch forward, and open the interior of the boat. If the water we float on is clean (whether it be salt or fresh) we dip the tin basin at once, but if we are in a muddy river or doubtful harbour we must draw from our zinc water tank, which holds water for one week. This tank is concealed by the figure of the cook kneeling in the opposite sketch, but it is next to my large portmanteau in the lower shelf.

A large hole in the top of the tank allows it to be filled at intervals through a tun-dish, while a long vulcanized tube through the cork to the bottom has an end hanging over. When I wish to draw water it is done by applying the mouth for a moment with suction, and the clear stream then flows by syphon action into a strong tin can of about eight inches cube, which holds fresh water for one day. By means of this tube, the end of which hangs within an inch or two of my face when in bed, I can drink a cool draught at night without trouble or chance of spilling a drop. On the tank top is soap, and also a clean towel, which to-morrow will be degraded into a duster, and "relegated," the newspapers would say, to the kitchen, and from whence it will again be promoted backwards over the bulkhead to the washing-bag. This, you see, is the red-tape order of dealing with towels on board the Rob Roy.

[Picture: Cooking in Rain]

On the left shelf of the cabin we find two boxes of japanned tin each about eighteen inches by six inches wide, as shown in the woodcut. Below the shelf is a portmanteau full of clothes. One of the boxes holds "Dressing," another "Reading and writing." The aneroid barometer, and my watch are seen suspended alongside. The boxes on the other side, shown in section at a future page, are marked "Tools" and "Eating," while the pantry is beside them, with teapot, cup (saucer discarded), and tumbler, and a tray holding knife and fork, spoons, salt in a snuff-box (far the best cellar after trials of many), pepper (coarse, or it is blown away), mustard, corkscrew, and lever-knife for preserved meat tins, etc., etc. {42}

The north coast of France from Boulogne to Havre is well lighted at night, but the navigation is dangerous on account of the numerous shoals and the tortuous currents and tides. For about the first half of the distance the shores are low, and the water, even far out, is shallow. Afterwards the land rises to huge red cliffs, rugged and steep sometimes for miles, without any opening.

The real matter of importance, however, in coasting here is the direction of the wind. Had it been unfavourable, that is S.W., and with the fogs and sea which that wind brings, it would have been a serious delay to me—perhaps, indeed, a stopper on my voyage—seeing that I must sometimes enter a port at night so as to sleep in peace, for that could scarcely be pleasantly done if anchored ten miles from land, and with no one awake to keep a look-out. Fortunately, we had good weather on the worst parts of the French coast, and my stormy days were yet to come.


Russian lamp—Breakfast—Store rooms—Mast-light—Run down—Rule of the road—Signal thoughts—Sinking sands—Pilot caution—French coast.

After a wash and morning prayers the crew are piped to breakfast, so we must now turn to the kitchen, which after constant use some hundred times I cannot but feel is the most successful "hit" in the whole equipment.

Much thought and many experiments were bestowed on this subject, because, first, it was well known that the hard and uneven strain of bone, muscle, and energy in a voyage of this sort needs to be maintained by generous diet, that cold feeding is a delusion after a few days of it, and that the whole affairs would fail, or at any rate, enjoyment of the trip would cease, unless the Rob Roy had a caboose, easy to work, speedy in result, and capable of being used in rain, wind, and rough weather, and by night as well as by day.

Of course, all stoves with coal or coke, or similar fuel were out of the question, being hard to light, dusty when lighted, and dirty to clean. Various spirit lamps, Etnas, Magic stoves, Soyers, and others, were examined and tried, and all were defective in grand points.

The wickless lamp used by the Alpine climber who occupies the responsible post of "Cook of the Canoe Club," and modified (after consulting Professor Tyndall), is less than three inches each way, and it acts after the manner of a blow-pipe. It was also adopted in the Abyssinian expedition. In two minutes after lighting it pours forth a vehement flame about a foot in height, which with a warming heat boils two large cups full in my flat copper kettle in five minutes, or a can of preserved meat in six minutes. {44}

While the kettle is boiling we bring forward the box marked "Eating," take the loaf of bread out of its macintosh swathing, prepare the egg pan with two eggs, the teapot, and put sugar into the tea-cup, and a spoonful of preserved milk (Amey's is most convenient, being in powder; but Borden's, in a kind of paste, is most agreeable); lastly, we overhaul the butter tin, a pot of marmalade or anchovies.

The healthful relish with which a plain hot breakfast of this sort is consumed with the fresh air all round, and the sun athwart the east, and the waves dancing while the boat sails merrily all the time, is enhanced by the pleasure of steering and buttering bread, and holding a hot egg and a tea-cup, all at once.

Then, again, there is the satisfaction of doing all this without giving needless trouble in cleaning up, for every whit of that work, too, is to be yours. A crumb must not fall in the boat, because you will have to stoop down afterwards and pick it up, seeing that whatever happens, one thing is insisted on—"the Rob Roy shall be always smart and clean."

All the breakfast things are cleared away and put by, each into its proper place, and a general "mop up," has effaced the scene from our deck, but we can still take a look below and notice what is to be seen.

Some of the articles chiefly important in the well of our boat have been already described, but only those on the left of the steersman sitting. Now, turning to the right we find a water-tight door, like that on the opposite side, to be opened by folding down, and it reveals to us, first the "Bread store," a fourpenny loaf wrapped in macintosh, which makes the best of table cloths, as it may be laid on a wet deck, and can be washed and dried again speedily; next there is a butter keg (as in the coolest place), and a box of biscuits, and a flask of rum—the "Storm supply"—only to be drawn upon when things of air and sea are in such a state that to open the main hatch would be questionable prudence.

Here are, also, ropes, blocks, and purchases, as well as a "fender," not to keep coals on the hearth, but to keep the mahogany sides of the Rob Roy safe from the rude jostlings of other craft coming alongside. Above these odds and ends is the "Spirit room," a strong reservoir made of zinc, with a tap and screw plug and internal division not to be rendered intelligible by mere description here, but of important use, as from hence there is served out, two or three times daily, the fuel which is to cook for the whole crew. One gallon of the methylated spirits, costing four shillings and sixpence, will suffice for this during six weeks.

Above the spirit room will be found a blue light to be used in case of distress, and a box of candles, so that we may be enabled to rig up the mast-light if darkness comes, when it will not do to open the cabin. This ship-light is therefore carried here. It is an article of some importance, having to be strong and substantial, easily suspended and taken down, and one that can be trusted to show a good steady light for at least eight hours, however roughly it may be tossed about when you are fast asleep below, in the full confidence that nobody who sees your mast-light will run his great iron bows over your little mahogany bed-room. Yet I fear it does not do to examine into the grounds for any such confidence. Many vessels sail about in the dark without any lights whatever to warn one of their approach, and not a few boats, even with proper lights in them, are "accidentally" run over and sunk in the river Thames; while out at sea, and in dark drizzly rain or fog, it is more than can be expected of human nature that a "look-out man" should peer into the thick blackness for an hour together, with the rain blinding him, and the spray splash smarting his eyes, and when already he has looked for fifty-nine minutes without anything whatever to see. It is in that last minute, perhaps, that the poor little hatch-boat has come near, with the old man and a boy, its scanty crew, both of them nodding asleep after long watches, and their boat-light swinging in the swell. There is a splash, a crash, and a spluttering, and the affair is over, and the dark is only the dark again. Nobody on the steamer knows that anything has occurred, and only the fishermen to-morrow on some neighbouring bank will see a broken hull floating sideways, near some tangled nets.

I fully believe that more care is taken for the lives of others by sailors at sea than in most cases on land where equal risks are run; but there are dangers on the waves, as well as on the hills, the roads, and even in the streets, which no foresight can anticipate, and no precaution can avert.

The principal danger of a coasting voyage, sailing alone, is that of being run down, especially on the thickly traversed English coast, and at night.

As for the important question concerning the "rule of the road" at sea, which is every now and then raised, discussed and then forgotten again after some collision on a crowded river in open day has frightened us into a proper desire to prevent such catastrophes, it appears to me that no rule whatever could possibly be laid down for even general obedience under such circumstances, without causing in its very observance more collisions than it would avert, unless the traffic in the river were to be virtually arrested.

On land the "rule of the road" is well enough on a road, where vehicles are moving in one of two directions, but how would it do if it were to be insisted upon at the place where two streets cross? Now the Thames and other populous rivers are at times as much blocked and crowded by the craft that sail and steam on the water as the crossing at Ludgate Hill is by vehicles at three o'clock, that is, considering fairly the relative sizes of the objects in motion, and the width of the path they must take, their means of stopping or steering, and, above all, the great additional forces on the water which cannot be arrested—wind and tide—moreover, at this London crossing the traffic has to be regulated by policemen, not by a rule for the drivers, but by an external arbitrary director.

The wonderful dexterity of the cabmen, carmen, and coachmen of London is less wonderful than that of the men who guide the barges, brigs, and steamers on the Thames, and it is perfectly amazing that huge masses weighing thousands of tons, and bristling with masts and spars, and rugged wheels projecting, should be every day led over miles of water in dense crowds, round crooked points, along narrow guts, and over hidden shoals while gusts from above, and whirling eddies below are all conspiring to confuse the clearest head, to baffle the strongest arm and to huddle up the whole mass into a general wreck.

Consider what would be the result in the Strand if no pedestrian could stop his progress within three yards, but by anchoring to a lamp-post, and even then swinging round with force. Why, there would be scarcely a coal-heaver who would not be whitened by collision with some baker's boy. Ladies in full sail would be run down, and dandies would be sunk by the dozen.

The fact is, that vessels on the wide sea are like travellers on a broad plain and not on a road at all, and the two cases do not admit of being dealt with by the same rule, and it is not wonderful that there should be many collisions in the open sea while there are so few in the Thames, the water street of the world. We may learn some lessons from land for safe traffic on water. The cabman who "pulls up" is sure to signal first with his whip to the omnibus astern of him, and the coachman who means to cross to the "wrong side" never does so without a warning to those he is bearing down upon. What is most wanted, then, on the open water, is some ready, sure, and costless signal, to say, "I am going that way" (right or left); for nearly all collisions at sea are caused by one ship not being able to know what the other is going to do. {50}

This is my thought on the matter after many thoughts and some experience: meantime while we have ate, and talked and thought, our yawl has slipped over six miles of sea, and we must rouse up from a reverie to scan the changing picture.

Glance at the barometer—note the time. Trim the sails, and bear away to that pretty fleet of fishing boats bobbing up and down as they trail their nets, or the men gather in the glittering fish, and munch their rude breakfasts, tediously heated by smoky stoves, while they gaze on the white-sailed stranger, and mumble among themselves as to what in the world he can be. The sun mounts and the breeze presses till we are at the bay of the Somme with its shifting sands, its incomprehensible currents, and its low and treacherous coast, buoyed and beaconed enough to puzzle you right into the shoals. The yacht, with my friend S—- in her, bound for Paris, has just been wrecked on that bank near Cayeux—unpleasant news now—and there is St. Valery, from whence King William the Conqueror sailed with his fleet for England, as may be seen on the curious tapestry at Bayeux worked by his Queen's hands, and still almost as fresh as then. I never saw a place appear so differently from sea and from land as this strange port, so I ran in just to reconnoitre, and spent some hours with chart, compass, lead-line, and Pilot-book, trying my best, to make out the currents, but all to no purpose except to conclude that a voyage along this coast in bad weather would be madness, unless with a man to help.

But nearly all this part of the French coast is awkward ground to be caught in, especially where there are shifting or sinking sands, for if the vessel touches these, the tide stream instantly sucks the sand from under one side, while it piles it up on the other, and thus the hull is gradually worked in with a ridge on such side, and cannot be slewed off, but is liable to be wrecked forthwith. It was interesting to read here the account of this coast given by my Pilot-book, which had at last been dug out of its hiding-place. The reader need not peruse this official statement, but to justify my remarks on the dangers it is given below in a note. {52}


Thunder—In the squall—The dervish—Sailing consort—Poor little boy!—Grateful presents—The dingey's mission—Remedy—Rise and work.

The aneroid barometer in my cabin pointed to "set fair" for many a day, and just, too, when we required it most to be fine, that is along the French coast. Had the Rob Roy encountered here the sort of weather she met with afterwards on the south coast of England, we feel quite assured she must have been wrecked ashore or driven out to sea for a miserable time.

So it was best to keep moving on while fine weather lasted, for there was no knowing when this might change, even with the wind as now in the good N.E. The Pilot-book says, upon this (and pray listen to so good an authority—my only one to consult with), "Gales from N. to N.E. are also violent, but they usually last only from 24 to 36 hours, and the wind does not shift as it does with those from the westward. They cause a heavy sea on the flood stream, and during their continuance the French coast is covered with a white fog, which has the appearance of smoke. This is also the case with all easterly winds, which are sometimes of long duration, and blow with great force."

In the evening, as a sort of practical comment on the text above, there was sudden fall of the wind, and then a loud peal of thunder. Alert in a moment, we noticed, far away in the offing, the fishing boats dip their sails and reef them, so we knew there would soon be a blow, and we resolved to reef, too, and just in time. My life-belt, {55} therefore, was at once strapped on, and two reefs put in the mainsail, and one in the jib, and the storm mizen was set, all in regular order, when up sprung a fine west breeze, just as we were opposite Treport, a pretty little bathing town under some cliffs, where my night-quarters were to be.

The book already referred to gave a rather serious account of the difficulties of entering Treport, its shingle bar, and the high seas on it, and the cross tide and exceedingly narrow entrance; but in an hour more the Rob Roy had come close to all these things, and rose and fell on the rollers chasing each other ashore.

The points to be kept in line for entering the harbour were all clearly set forth in the book, and the signals on the pier were all faultlessly given, while a crowd gradually collected to see the little boat run in, or be smashed, and it was rather exciting to feel that one bump on the bar with such a sea, and—in two minutes the yawl would be a helpless wreck.

[Picture: Reefed in a squall]

Among the spectators, the only one who did not hold his hat on against the wind, was an extraordinary personage who capered about shouting. Long curly hair waved over his face; his dress was hung round with corks and tassels; he swung a long life-line round his head, and screamed at me words which were of course utterly lost in the breeze. This dancing dervish was the "life saver," marine preserver, and general bore of the occasion, and he seemed unduly annoyed to see me profoundly deaf to his noise as I stood on the after-deck to get a wider view, holding on by the mizen-mast, steeling with my feet, and surveying the entrance with my glass. All the people ran alongside as the Rob Roy glided past the pier and smoothly berthed upon a great mud bank exactly as desired, and then I apologized to the quaint Frenchman, saying that I could not answer him before, for really I had enough to do to steer my boat, at which all the rest laughed heartily—but we made it up next day, and the dervish and Rob Roy were good friends again.

Here we found the 'Onyx,' an English-built yacht, but owned by M. Charles, one of the few Frenchmen to be found who really seems to like yachting; plenty of them affect it.

He was enthusiastic in his hospitality, and I rested there next day, meeting also an interesting youth, an eager sailor, but who took sea trips for his health, and drove from some Royal Chateau to embark and freshen the colour in his delicate face, so pale with languor. We could not but feel and express a deep sympathy with one who loved the sea, but whose pallid looks were in such contrast to the rough brown hue and redundant health enjoyed so long by myself.

All was ataunt again, and then the two yachts started in company for a run to Dieppe, which is only about thirteen miles distant. We came upon a nest of twelve English yachts, all in the basin of this port, so my French comrade spent the rest of his time gazing at their beauty, their strength, their cleanliness, and that unnamed quality which distinguishes English yachts and English houses, a certain fitness for their special purpose. These graceful creatures (is it possible that a fine yacht can be counted as an inanimate thing?) reclined on the muddy bosom of the basin, but I would not put the Rob Roy there, it seemed so pent up and torpid a life, and with the curious always gazing down from the lofty quay right into your cabin, especially as next day I wished to have a quiet Sunday.

Instead of a peaceful day of rest the Sunday at Dieppe was unusually bustling from morning to night, for it was the "Fete Dieu" there. The streets were dressed in gala, and strewed with green herbs, while along the shop fronts was a broad festooned stripe of white calico, set off by roses here and there; the shipping, too, was decked in flag array, and guns, bells, and trombones ushered a long procession of schools and soldiers and young people coming from their "first communion," who with their priests, and banners, and relics, halted round temporary altars in the open air, to recite and chant, while a vast crowd followed to gaze.

In a similar procession at St. Cloud, one division of the moving host was of the tiniest little children, down to the lowest age that could manage to toddle along with the hand of a mother or sister to help, and the leader of them all was a chubby little boy, with no head-gear in the hot sun but his curly hair, and with his arms and body all bare, except where a lamb-skin hung across. He carried a blue cross, too, and the pretty child looked bewildered enough. Some thought he was John the Baptist, many more pronounced it a 'sottise.'

In the canoe voyages {60} of the two preceding summers, I had found much pleasure and interest in carrying a supply of books, pictures, and periodicals, and illustrated stories in various languages, which were given as occasion admitted to all sorts of people, and everywhere accepted with thanks, so that we could only regret the limit imposed on the number to be carried in a canoe, where every ounce of weight added to the muscular toil.

Relieved now from this restriction, the Rob Roy yawl was able to load several boxes of this literary cargo, most of them kindly granted for the special purpose of her voyage.

These presents were given away from day to day, and especially on Sunday afternoons, among the sailors and water-population wherever the Rob Roy roved. Thousands of seamen can read, and have time, but no books. Bargees lolling about, or prone in the sun, eagerly began a 'Pilgrim's Progress' when thus presented, and sometimes went on reading for hours. Fishermen came off in boats to ask for them, policemen and soldiers, too, begged for a book, and then asked for another for 'a child at school.' Smart yachtsmen were most grateful of all, and some even offered to pay for them; the navvies, lock-keepers, ferrymen, watermen, porters, dockmen, and guard-men of lighthouses, piers, and hulks, as well as many a Royal Navy blue-jacket, gratefully accepted these little souvenirs with every appearance of gratitude.

The distribution of these was thus no labour, but a constant pleasure to me. Permanent and positive good may have been done by the reading of their contents; at any rate, they opened up conversation, gave scope to courteous intercourse, often leading to kinder interest. They opened to me many new scenes of life, and some with darker passages and sorrowful groups in the evident but untold background. They were, in fact, the speediest possible introductions by which to meet at once with large bodies of fellow-men too much unknown to us, therefore forgotten, and then despised. The strata of society are not to be all crushed into a pulpy mass, but a wholesome mingling betimes does good, both to the heavy dregs below and to the 'creme' on the very top.

Thus encouraged, we launch the little dingey on Sunday for three or four hours' rowing, and with a large leather bag well filled at starting but empty on its return; and instead of its contents we bring back in our memory a whole series of tales, characters, and incidents of water-craft life, some tragic, others comic, many 'hum-drum' enough, but still instructive, suggestive, branching out into hidden lives one would like to draw forth, and telling sorrows that are softened by being told. Of the French crews I began with here, not one of the first few could even read, while five or six English steamboats took books for all their men. On a preceding Sunday (at Erith), I did not meet one man, even a bargee who could not read, and all up the Seine only one in this predicament. Truly there is a sea-mission yet to be worked. Good news was told on the water long ago, and by the Great Preacher from a boat.

And while thus giving these books and papers to others, it may perhaps be allowed us also to add a few reflections suggested on returning from the scenes and people we have sailed amongst abroad. New scenes ought to be to the mind what fresh air is to the body, reviving it for work as well as gladdening it with play; and perhaps one can do more for human misery by withdrawing now and then from its close contact, than by constant action in its midst. Yet it must be admitted that the first impressions on one's return from such a long vacation as the Rob Roy had are painfully acute. To come back and read up in an hour the diary of the three months' work of our "Boys' Beadle" (the agent employed by the Reformatory Union to look after and attend to the uncared-for street children), is to resume one's post of contemplation of the dreadful picture of woe which crowds an endless canvas with suffering figures, and each case delineated in such a report means far more behind to the eye that can realize. Again, to walk past St. George's Hospital next day and observe the stream of visitors with anxious steps going up the stairs, and those coming down with kind and thoughtful looks, as they leave their dearest relatives, and confidingly, in strangers' hands, and to think what is up there. To find in letters awaiting one's return the gaps made by death in the circle of acquaintance. These are salutary and sudden shocks to self-enjoyment of health and whole limbs, and they are loud calls for more than a gush of sympathy or a song of thankfulness, but for downright help by practical work. Still greater was the change from bounding along in florid health on merry waves of the wholesome sea, to a walk through the east end of London,—that morass of vice, and sighs, and savagery,—what is forced on the senses in an hour being not a hundredth of what is sunk below.

Perhaps it is well we do not always realize the amount of evil around us, of bad, I mean, that can be made good by efforts, some of which we are bound to make. If we knew how big the mountain is we might despair of digging it down by spadefuls, though the faith that digs is the one that can say with best hopes for obedience, "Be thou removed and cast into the sea." Few children would have courage to begin the alphabet as a step to learning if they knew what a long and heavy road is to be trudged beyond.

And it may be remarked that in returning to one's post of duty after a time of "leave," there is at first a disposition rather to generalize about what ought to be done than to set to work and do it. It is natural, indeed, that before putting on the harness once more we should take a look at the collar and buckles, and at the load to be drawn, and it may be allowable to the soldier, while on his way to rejoin the ranks, to take just a glance at the line of march before he falls in.

Theorizing is soon cut short, however, by the clamour of work waiting to be done, and the absorbing interest felt in doing it, and perhaps too soon we forget all doubts as to whether the direction of our labours is after all the best, or whether time might not be saved by improving the instruments of our work, the object of using them being still the same.

Now there is a reflection suggested each time in frequent foreign travel which lasts longest on my mind after returning to England—"How is it that our lowest classes seem to be lower than the lowest abroad?"

Whether they are so or not is another question; but in all our great towns there is a mass of human beings whose want, misery, and filth are more patent to the eye, and blatant to the ear, and pungent to the nostrils, than in almost any other towns in the world. Their personal liberty is greater, too, than anywhere else. Are these two facts related to each other? Is the positive piggery of the lowest stratum of our fellows part of the price we pay for glorious freedom as guaranteed by our "British Constitution"? and do we not pay very dearly then? Must the masses be frowsy to be free?

The highest class of society can enjoy the benefits of our mode of government, with their rank and wealth secured, and prestige added. In return they surrender indeed the pleasure of downright tyranny and a small quota of their ample gold.

The middle class also can enjoy their freedom from oppression, and a nominal share in politics, and they pay by hard work for this.

But the wretched beings at the bottom of all, muddled, starved, and squalid, cannot enjoy freedom, and must not have "license." They seethe by thousands in ignorance and foulness, and, with our "British Constitution" standing by in all its glory, they rot and perish, a multitude dark and unclean.

That all the luxury and congestion of wealth in the head of the body corporate, while its lowest limbs are in rags and pallid mortification, should be permitted by the head, blinded by plethora, and peacefully endured by the limbs, dispirited by inanition, is an astounding marvel. But there are twinges of pain now and then. The very quiet is only that of syncope, and any day it may be broken by a wild and furious paroxysm. Unless the permission of this evil by the head ceases, then the endurance of it by the limbs will cease.

If the rich are not mingled with the wretched, they are at least entangled with them, and by knots that cannot be untied, and will not be cut. The thief indeed, and the burglar, and more lately the lazy vagabond, and now the assassin, have forced us to consider them; and we even attend to the drunkard, provided he pleads for notice by rolling in our path.

Perhaps at last the wretched also will arrest us.

Is not the time come yet to rouse up head, and heart, and hand, to do more than we have even attempted, and to raise at the least the appearance of our lowest classes to the respectability now attained in countries we are apt to despise?

What is the specific? I have no new one, and no new reason for the old one, but it is easy enough to find tools to work with in this field, if only we are persuaded that work has to be done and we are willing to take our share. Numbers do this, and nobly, but far too few, and much is done, but not half enough. Thousands are yet idle here, who will not listen to God or their conscience or even their instinct in the matter, who live comfortably apart from the evil places, and so hear only now and then a message from the dying wafted on the sable wings of cholera or typhus. Is it not shabby this, to shirk their share of the work and the trouble, and to leave it to be done by softer hearts and a national purse?

It is these, who are moved neither by religion, nor humanity, nor self-respect, that a downright scolding may perhaps stir up; and if we can show them that the state of our lowest classes is a national shame, that we are beaten as in a battle and distanced in a race, then they will soon find the means by which national honour is to be retrieved. Half-a-dozen Englishmen are in danger of death in Africa, and we spend millions of money because they are Britons, and to sustain the British name; but thousands of Britons are living in wretchedness or dying in misery just far enough from our doors not to be seen, and less heard of than if they were in Zululand—to leave them as they now are is a scandalous national disgrace which every true Englishman who knows the facts is ashamed of and which, even if he ignores them at home, he is forced to feel abroad by the taunts of strangers.

Already we wonder that we ever kept the Thames as a common sewer; our sons will wonder, some day, that their fathers had a great human sink in every great town reeking out crime, disease, and disloyalty on the whole nation. I have seen the serfs in Russia, the slaves in Africa, the Jews in Asia, and the negroes in America; but there are crowds of people in England in a far worse plight than these—their very nearness to light, and happiness, and comfort, makes their misery more disgraceful.

National honour may be a lower motive to work with than love to Christ or love to man; but it moves more minds than either of these, and on a scale large enough to relieve us from a national disgrace which will cling to the nation until the nation rises in shamed earnest to shake it off.


Cool—Fishwives—Iron-bound coast—Etretat—Ripples—Pilot-book—Hollow water—Undecided—Stomach law—Becalmed—Cape la Heve—The breeze—Havre de Grace—Crazy.

So much for Sunday thoughts; but after the day had ended, there happened to me an absurd misery, of the kind considered to be comical, and so beyond sympathy, but which must be told, and it happened thus:—

The little yawl being anchored in the harbour had also a long rope to the quay, and by this I could draw her near the foot of an upright ladder of iron bars fixed in the stones of the quay wall, an ordinary plan of access in such cases. The pier-man promised faithfully to watch my boat as the tide sunk (it was every moment more and more under his very nose), and so to haul her about that she should not "ground" before my return; yet, when I came back at night, her keel had sunk and sunk until it reached the bottom, so she could not be moved with all our pulling. Moreover the tide had gone out so far as to prevent any boat at all from coming to the dock wall round the harbour. I tried to amuse myself for an hour while the tide might rise; but at length, impatient and sleepy and ready for bed, to be off to-morrow at break of day, I determined to get on board at once somehow or other.

[Picture: Descending to the boat]

Descending then by the iron bars until I reached the last of them, I swung myself on the slack of the strong cable hanging from above (and attached at the other end to my yawl), and which the man received strict orders to "haul taut" at the critical moment. Alas! in his clumsy hands the effect intended was exactly reversed; the rope was gently loosened, and I subsided in the most undignified, inevitable, and provokingly cool manner quietly into the water at 10.30 P.M. However, there was no use in grumbling, so I spluttered and laughed, and then went to bed.

Long before sunrise the Rob Roy was creeping out of the harbour of Dieppe against the strong wind at that point dead ahead; but I took the tow-line thrown down from the quay by some sturdy fishwives, who will readily tug a boat to the pier head for a franc or two, and thus save a good half-hour of tedious rowing against wind and tide. This rope was of a deep black colour, very fine, thin, and yet strong. There was no time to find out what it was made of, but it seemed to be plaited of human hair. As I was aft in my boat and steering, the line suddenly slipped and disappeared, and the Rob Roy was in great danger of going adrift on the other pier head, but the excellent dames speedily regained their long black tress, and coiled it and threw it to me again with great dexterity; and soon all was put right, and the sails were up, and the line cast off, and we plunged along in buoyant spirits.

It was a fair wind now, and with a long day in front, and the freshness of Monday after a good rest. Still this was a rather more anxious day than the others, because in those though we had passed over the dangers on the coast of the Somme, they were hidden by water; and on a sunny morning who can realize shoals that are so fatal in bad weather, but are concealed by the smiling calm of a fine day? Not so with the great beetling cliffs of sharp red flint now glittering alongside my course for miles and miles far beyond what the eye could reach. These formed an impressive object ever in sight, and generally begetting, as it was seen, an earnest hope that the weather might be good "just to-day." This part of the coast, too, beside being iron-bound, has no port that is easy to enter, and the tides moreover are very powerful, so that, with either a gale or a calm, there would be a danger to meet.

It is obvious, of course, to the sailor who reads this that the difficulty of navigation along such a coast was much increased by my being alone. An ordinary vessel would put well out to sea, and go on night and day in deep water with a good offing, and its crew would take watch and watch until they neared the land again close to their destination.

But the course of the Rob Roy had to be within seven or eight miles of the shore, so as to keep within reach of a port at night, or at the worst near some shallower spot for anchorage; else, in the attempt to sleep, I might have been drifted twenty miles by the tide, perhaps out to sea, right away from our course, and perhaps ashore on the rocks. It had not yet become my plan to pass whole nights at sea as was necessary in the latter part of this voyage.

With these little drawbacks now and then, which threw rather a graver tone into the soliloquy of the lonely traveller, it was still a time of excessive enjoyment. The noble rocks towered up high on the left, and the endless water opened out wide on the right with only some dot of a sail, hull down, far far off on the horizon, a little lonely speck fixed in hard exile; but very probably the crew in that vessel too were happy in the breezy morn, and felt themselves and their craft to be the very "hub of the universe."

In a nook of the cliffs was Etretat, now the most fashionable bathing-place of Northern France. Long pointed pillars of rock stood in the sea along this shore, one especially notable, and called the "Needle of Etretat." Others were like gates and windows, with the light shining through. I thought of looking in here to escape the flood-tide which was against me, but I was deterred by the Pilot-book telling in plain words, "The Eastern part of the beach at Etretat is bordered by rocks which uncover at low water."

The Rob Roy's previous behaviour in a sea made me quite at ease about waves or deep water, but to strike on a rock would be a miserable delay, and somehow I became more cautious as to exposing my little craft to danger the more experience I acquired; certainly also she was valued more and more each day. This increase together of experience and of admiration, begetting boldness and caution by turns, went on until it settled down into a strange compromise,—extreme care in certain circumstances, and undue boldness at other times.

All over the British Channel there are patches of sand, shingle, or rock, which being deep down are not dangerous as regards any risk of striking upon them, but still even without any wind they cause the tide-stream to rush over them in great eddies, and confused babbling waves. The water below is in action, just like a waterfall tumbling over a hill, and the whirlings and seethings above look threatening enough until you become thoroughly aware of the exact state of the case, being precisely that which occurs above Schaffhausen, on the deeps of the Rhine, and which we have described in the account of a canoe voyage there.

These places are called by the French "ridens," or in England "ridges," and in some charts, "ripples" or "overfalls," and while there is sure to be a short choppy sea upon them, even in calm weather, the effect of a gale is to make them boil and foam ferociously.

A somewhat similar feature is the result when a low bank projects under water from a cape round which the tide is rushing; and as I determined not to risk going into Etretat, we had to face the tedious tossing about off one of these banks, described thus in the Pilot-book:—

"Abreast Etretat the shoal bottom, with less than eight fathoms on it, projects a mile to the N.N.W. from the shore, and when the flood-stream is at its greatest strength it occasions a great eddy, named by the mariners of the coast the Hardieres, which extends to the northward as far as the Vaudieu Rock, and makes the sea hollow and heavy when the wind is fresh from the eastward."

It was just because the wind was fresh from the eastward that I could hope to stem the tide and get through this place; but once in the middle of the hubbub, the wind went down almost to nothing, so that for three or four hours I could only hold my place at most, and the wearisome monotony here of "up and down" on every wave, with a jerk of all my bones each time, was one of the few dull and disagreeable things of the whole voyage.

A sea that is "hollow" is abominable. However high a wave is, it may still have a rounded and respectable shape, and it will then tilt you about smoothly; but a "hollow" sea splashes and smacks and twists and screws, and the tiring effects on the body, thus hit right and left with sudden blows, is quite beyond what would be anticipated from so trifling a cause.

At length, as the tide yielded, the wind carried me beyond the Hardieres, on and on to Fecamp, where the Rob Roy meant to stop for the night. But, willing though I was to rest there, the appearance of Fecamp from the offing was by no means satisfactory. It did not look easy to get into, and how was I to get out of it to-morrow? The Pilot-book took a similar view of this matter. {77}

Yet we must put in somewhere, and this was the nearest port to the Cape Antifer, the only remaining point to be anxious about, and which we might now expect to round next day. On the other hand, there was the argument, "If the wind chops round to the west, we may be detained in Fecamp for a week, whereas now it is favourable; and if we can possibly get round to-day—Well what a load of anxiety would be done with if we could do that!" The thought, quite new, seemed charming, and, yet undecided, I thought it best to cook dinner at once and put the question to the vote at dessert.

It is very puzzling what name to give to each successive meal in a day when the first one has been eaten at 2 A.M. If this is to be considered as breakfast, then the next, say at nine o'clock, ought to be luncheon, which seems absurd, though the Americans call any supplemental feeding a "lunch," even up to eleven o'clock at night, and you may see in New York signboards announcing "Lunch at 9 P.M. Clam Chowder." {78}

Now, as I had often to begin work by first frying at one or two o'clock in the moonlight, and as it would have a greedy sound if the next attack on eatables were to be called "second breakfast," the only true way of settling this point was to consider the first meal to be in fact a late supper of yesterday, or at any rate to regard it as belonging to the bygone, and therefore beyond inquiry, and so to ignore this first breakfast altogether in one's arrangements. The stomach quite approved of this decision, and was always ready for the usual breakfast at six or seven o'clock, whatever had been discussed a few hours before.

The matter as to Etretat was decided then. We two were to go on, and to hope the wind would do so to. Then away sped we merrily singing, with the new and unexpected prospect of possibly reaching Havre that very day. From thence a month was to be passed in going up and down the Seine and at Paris; and what was to come after that? How come back to England? Why that problem must now be "blinked," as a future if not an insoluble question, at any rate just as easy to solve a month hence as it is now.

For a long time the wind was favourable, and precisely as strong as was desirable, and the formidable looking Cape Antifer, which at mid-day seemed only a dark blue stripe on the distant horizon, gradually neared us till we could see the foam eddying round its weather-wasted base. Then came the steep high wall of flint cliff with shingle debris at its foot, but no one approach from top to bottom, if any bad thing happened,—no, not for miles.

This was a time of alternate hope and fear, as the wind gradually lulled away to nothing, and fog arose in the hot sun; the waves were tossing the Rob Roy up and down, and flapping the sails in an angry petulant way, very distressing if you are sleepy. For four hours this hapless state of things continued, yet we were already within five miles of Cape de la Heve, and, once round that, on the other side was Havre. How tantalizing to be so near, and yet still out of reach! If this calm ends in a west wind, we may be driven back anywhere by that and the tide. If it ends in a thunderstorm we shall have to put off to sea at once.

See there the lighthouses up aloft on the crag—two of them are lighted. Soon it will be dark around, and we shall at this rate have to enter Havre by night. All this time we were close to the cliffs, but the sounding-lead showed plenty of water, and when the anchor was thrown out the cable did not pull at all; we were not drifting but only rocked by the incessant tumble and dash of the sea, which, though of all things glorious when careering in the breeze, is of all most tiresome when rolling in a calm.

At this time I felt lonely, exceedingly lonely and helpless, also sleepy, feverish, discontented, and miserable. The lonely feeling came only twice more in the voyage; the other bad feelings never again.

Now, there are one or two sensations which after experience at sea seldom deceive you as to what they prognosticate, though it is impossible to give reasons for their hold upon the mind. One is the feeling, "I am drifting," another, "The water is shoaling," and the third, "Here comes a breeze." Each of these may be felt and recognised even with your eyes shut. It does not come in through one sense or another, but it seems to grasp the whole system; and it is a very great convenience to have this faculty alive in these three directions, and to know when to trust it as a true impression.

On the unmistakable sensation that a breeze was coming, the rebound from inaction and grumbling, lying full-length on deck, to alert excitement was instantaneous and most pleasing. The anchor was rattled up in a minute, and it was scarcely stowed away before the genial air arrived, with ripples curling under its soft breath, once more exactly favourable.

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