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Title: The Voyage Alone in the Yawl "Rob Roy"

Author: John MacGregor

Release date: November 12, 2008 [eBook #27235]
Most recently updated: March 20, 2021

Language: English

Credits: David Price


Book cover

in the

SOUTH COAST, &c., &c.


captain ofthe royal canoe club,’
author ofa thousand miles in the rob roy canoe,’
the rob roy on the baltic,’
the rob roy on the jordan,’ &c.


St. Dunstan’s House,
Fetter Lane, Fleet Street, E.C.

(All rights reserved.)

printed by william clowes and sons, limited
stamford street and charing cross.

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.

Blackheath, Kent,
May, 1880.

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.

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 Ɔ 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.

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 plât 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 minutiæ 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 manœuvres 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 versâ.

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 règle, 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.

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.

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 Château 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 “Fête 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 ‘crême’ 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 Hève—The breeze—Havre de Grâce—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.

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 “ridèns,” 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 Hardières, 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 Hardières, on and on to Fécamp, where the Rob Roy meant to stop for the night. But, willing though I was to rest there, the appearance of Fécamp 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 Fécamp 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 débris 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 Hève, 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.

Slowly the two lights above on the cliff seemed to wheel round as we doubled the Cape. Slowly two little dots in the distance swelled up into big vessels in full sail, and others rose from the far-off waters, all converging to the same port with myself; their very presence being companionship, and their community of purpose begetting a mutual interest. For these craft deep in the water the navigation here is rather intricate, though the excellent and uniform system of buoys employed in France does all that is possible to make the course clear; but my little boat, drawing less than three feet of water, could run safely even over the shallows, though, as a rule, I navigated her by the regular channels, as this gave me much additional interest in the bearings about every port.

When the lights at Havre hove in sight the welcome flashing was a happy reward to a long day’s toil, and as the yawl sped forward cheerily through the intervening gloom, the kettle hummed over the lamp, and a bumper of hot grog was served out to the crew. Soon we rounded into the harbour, quiet and calm, with everybody asleep at that late hour; and it was some time more before the Rob Roy could settle into a comfortable berth, and her sails were all made up, and bed unrolled, and the weary sailor was snoring in his blanket.

Next day the people on the quays were much amused by the curious manœuvres of my little dingey; its minute size, its novel form (generally pronounced to be like a half walnut-shell), its bright colour, and the extraordinary gyrations and whirlings which it could perform, for practice taught some new feat in it almost every day.

At night there was a strange sound, shrill and loud, which lasted for hours, and marred the calm eve and the quiet twinkling of the stars. This came from a hundred children collected by a crackbrained stranger (said to be English). These he gave cakes and toys to by day lavishly, and assembled them at night on the quay to sing chorus to his incoherent verses—a proceeding quite wonderful to be permitted by the police so strict in France.


The Seine—A wetting—Pump—Locks—Long reach—Rouen—Steering—A mistake—Horny hands—Henpecked—British flag—The captain’s wife.

Havre was a good resting-place to receive and send letters, read up the newspapers, get a long walk, and a hot bath, and fresh water and provisions. Bacon I found, after many trials to cook it, was a delusion, so I gave mine to a steamboat in exchange for bread. Hung beef too was discovered to be a snare—it took far too long to cook, and was tough after all; so I presented a magnificent lump to a bargee, whose time was less precious and his teeth more sharp. Then one mast had to come down in preparation for the bridges on the Seine; and therefore with these things to do, and working with tools and pen, all the hours were busily employed until, at noon on June 26, I hooked on to a steamer, ‘Porteur,’ with its stern paddles very common in France, to be towed up the river; a long and troublesome voyage of about 300 miles, so winding is the course to Paris by the Seine.

This mode of progress was then new to me, and I had made but imperfect preparations, so that when we rounded the pier to the west, and met the short, snappish sea in the bay, every wave clashed over me, and in ten minutes I was wet to the skin, while a great deal of water entered the fore-compartment of the yawl through the hole for the chain-cable at that time left open. [85] The surprising suddenness of this drenching was so absurd that one could only laugh at it, nor was there time to don my waterproof suit—the sou’wester from Norway ten years ago, the oilskin coat (better than macintosh) from Denmark last year, and the canvas trowsers.

A good wetting can be calmly borne if it is dashed in by a heavy sea in honest sailing, or is poured down upon you from a black cloud above; but here it was in a mere river-mouth, and on a sunny day, and there was no opportunity to change for several hours, until we stopped at a village to discharge cargo. The river at that place was narrow, and all the swell I thought was past; so, after a complete change of clothes, it was too bad to find in a mile or two the same story over again, and another wetting was the result. The evening rest was far from comfortable with my bedding all moist, and both suits of clothes wet through. One has therefore to beware of the accompaniments of being towed. The boat has no time to go over the waves, and, long rope or short, middle or side, steering ever so well, the water shipped when a heavy boat is swiftly towed must be as well prepared for as if it were in a regular gale on open sea.

The Rob Roy had now in the hold a great deal of water, and for the first time I had to apply the pump, which, having been carefully fitted, acted well. An india-rubber tube leading down to the keel was in such a position that I could immediately screw on a copper barrel and work the piston with one hand, so as to clear the stern compartment. By turning a screw valve I could let the water come from the centre compartment, if any was there, and then I went to the fore-compartment, about seven feet long, which held the spare stores, and a curiosity in the shape of a regulation chimney-pot hat to be worn on state occasions, but which was brought out once a week merely to brush off the green mould.

At noon the steamer set off again, dragging the yawl astern, and soon entered the first lock on the Seine, where the buildings around us, the neat stone barriers, and the dress and the very looks of the men forcibly recalled to my mind the numerous river locks passed in my canoe trips, but in so different a manner, by running the boat round every one of them on the gravel or over the grass.

The waste of time now in passing through each lock was prodigious. While nearing it the steamer sounded her shrill whistle to give warning, but still the lock was sure to be full of barges and boats. Then our cavalcade had to draw aside until the sluggish barges in front had all come out, and we went into the great basin with bumps, and knocks, and jars, and shouting. It required active use of the boathook for me to get the Rob Roy into the proper place in the lock, and then to keep her there. The men were not clumsy nor careless, but still the polished mahogany yawl had no chance with the heavy floats and barges in a squeezing and scratching match, and it was always sure to go to the wall.

Time seemed no object to these people, they were no doubt paid by the day. The sun shone upon them and it was pleasant simply to exist and to loiter in life, so why make haste? Finally we ascended as the lock filled, and then a second and a third joint cut off from our too long tail of barges had to be passed in also. After all, the captain and sometimes the whole crew deliberately adjourned to the lock-keeper’s house for a “glass” and a chat; and when that was entirely done, and every topic of the day discussed, they all came back and had another supplemental parliament on the steamer’s deck, like ladies saying “good bye” at a morning visit; so that, perhaps, in an hour from beginning it, the work of ten minutes was accomplished, and the engine turned again once more—a tedious progress. Thus it was that four nights and part of five days were passed in mounting the Seine.

The scenery on the banks is in many places interesting, in a few it is pretty, and it is never positively dull. The traffic on the river is considerable above Rouen; but as there are two railways besides, few passengers go by water. The architecture and engineering on this fine river are indeed splendid. The noble bridges, the vast locks, barrages, quays, barriers, and embankments are far superior to ours on the Thames, though that river floats more wealth in a day than the Seine does in a month.

The sailors and dockmen were eager for my cargo of books; and among the various odd ways by which these had to be given to men on large vessels, there is one shown in the sketch alongside, where the cabin-boy of a steamer looking through the round deadlight with an imploring request in his face, stretched out an eager hand to catch the book lifted up on the end of one of my sculls.

Cabin-boy reaching for book

Then the neatness and apparent cleanliness of the villages, and the well-clothed, well-mannered people—all so “respectable.” France is progressing by great leaps and bounds, at least in what arrests the eye. Its progress in government, liberty, and politics, is perhaps rather like that in a waltz.

Life in a towed yacht, alone on the Seine, is a somewhat hard life. You have to be alert, and to steer for sometimes twenty hours a day, and to cook and eat while steering. At about three o’clock in the morning the steamer’s crew seemed suddenly to rise from the deck by magic, and stumble over coal-sacks, and thus abruptly to begin the day. We stopped about nine o’clock at night, and the crew flopped down on deck again, asleep in a moment, but not I for an hour or two.

As the grey dawn uncovered a new and cloudless sky, the fierce bubblings in the boiler became strong enough to turn the engine, and our rope was slipped from the bank. Savoury odours from the steamer soon after announced to me their breakfast cooking, and the Rob Roy’s lamp too was speedily in full blast. Eggs or butter or milk were instantly purveyed, if within reach at a lock; sometimes delicious strawberries and other fruits or dainties, the only difficulty was to cook at all properly while steering and being towed.

It is easy to cook and to steer at sea without looking up for many minutes. The compass tells you by a glance, and if not, the tiller has a nudge which speaks to the man who knows the meaning of its various pressures, through any part of his body it may happen to touch. But if you forget to steer constantly and minutely in a heavy boat towed on a river, she swerves in an instant, and shoots out right and left, and dives into banks or trees, or into the steamer’s side-swell, and the man at the wheel turns round with a courteous French scowl, for he feels by his tiller in a moment, and you cannot escape his rebuke.

There was no romance in this manner of progress up the river. The poetry of wandering where you will, and all alone, cannot be thrown around a boat pulled by the nose while you are sitting in her all day. The Rob Roy, with mast down, and tied by a tow-rope, was like an eagle limping with clipped pinion and a chained foot. Still, for the man not churlish, there is scarcely any time or place or person wholly devoid of interest, if he is determined to find it there.

The steamboat captain and crew were chatty enough; and when we towed a string of barges, the yawl was lashed alongside of one of these (and not at the end of the line), so that I visited my fellow-travellers, and soon became friends, and then interchanged presents. All this “Social Science” of the sailor was far better done by the French bargee than in England.

In both countries they frequently mistook me at first for a common sailor in charge of a yacht, for my dress told no more. As intercourse proceeded it was curious to watch the gradual recognition of the fact that this “sailor” talked and thought not just the same as others. Then they regarded me as an agent come to sell the pretty boat; but it was in England only that any of them could be made to believe that the owner of the Rob Roy “would not part with his boat, did not want a cook or cabin-boy, and was not at all anxious to see the end of his voyage.” Sometimes the conversation, begun as between equals, would gradually get the word “Sir” sprinkled over it; and once or twice—and this not in France—it came down at last to that “glass of beer,” sheepishly enough asked for, which of course instantly drowns the converse that has been free on one side and independent on the other.

“Workmen,” “working men,” “artizans,” or whatever they are, or whatever you may call them—I mean the class now being spoiled by petting in England—let them be told (perhaps it may be said plainest by their best friends) that there are just as many proud exclusives among them as in any other stratum of society, and that they have at least a full share too of conceit, foppery, and affectation.

It may be heresy to say so, but the “horny hand” has no necessary connection whatever with the “honest heart,” as is the fashion to assert on one side, and almost to believe on the other; and the friend who really does shake that hand with a brotherly feeling is the most likely and the best entitled to refuse to talk popular nonsense of this sort about the “people.”

For the night we stopped usually in towns, but once or twice we rested in a great bend of the river where the steamer was run straight into the trees and made fast ashore exactly as if it were on the Mississippi and not on the Seine.

That thousands of solitary fishermen should sit lonesome on the river was the same puzzle to me as it had been before in canoeing on other French streams. Their silence and patience, during hours of this self-inflicted isolation, were incredible for Frenchmen, fond as we at first think all of them to be of “billard,” café, or dancing puppies, of anything, in fact, provided it assumes to be lively.

One thing I am at last decided about, that it is not to catch fish these men sit there; and the only reasonable explanation I can find of the phenomenon is that all these meek and lone fishermen are husbands unhappy at home!

There are numerous sailing-boats and rowing-boats on the Seine; but I did not see one that there was any difficulty in not coveting—their standard of marine beauty is not ours. All rigs and all sizes were there, even to a great centre board cutter, twenty-five feet broad, and any number of yards long, in which the happy yachtsman could sail up and down between two bridges which bounded him on either side to a two miles’ reach!

The French national flag is perhaps the prettiest on the world’s waters; but as it is repeated to the eye by every boat and building, the sight of it becomes tiresome, and suggests that absence of private influence and enterprise so striking to an Englishman in every French work. Then again their sailors (not to say their landsmen) in very many instances do not even know our English flag when they see it, our union-jack or ensign flying free on every shore.

At first I used to carry the French flag as well as our British jack out of compliment to their country, but as I found out that even in some of their newspapers the Rob Roy was mentioned as a “beautiful little French yacht,” I determined that that mistake at any rate should not be fostered by me, so down came the tricolour, and my Cambridge Boat-club flag took its place.

In one reach of the river we came upon a very unusual sight for a week day, a French yacht sailing. Her flag was half-mast high, and she was drifting down the stream, a helpless wreck. A distracted sort of man was on board, and a lady, or womankind at least, with dishevelled locks (carefully disordered though), the picture of wan weary wretchedness, and both of these hapless ones entreated our captain to tow their little yacht home. But, after a knowing glance, he quickly passed them in silence, and another steamer behind us also rounded off so as to give the unhappy pair the widest possible berth. Perhaps both captains preferred English sovereigns to French francs.

I was charged about 3l. for being towed to Paris; but the various steamers (six in all) I employed on the river were every one well managed, and with civil people on board. Indeed, I became a favourite with one captain’s wife, a sturdy-looking body, always cutting up leaves of lettuce. She gave me a basin of warm soup, and I presented her with some good Yorkshire bacon. Next day she cooked some of this for me with beans, and I returned the present by a packet of London tea, a book, a picture of Napoleon, and another of “the Rob Roy on the Seine,” in the highest style of art attainable by a man steering all the time he is at the easel.

From all this it will be readily understood by any one who has travelled much in various ways that to be towed up the Seine is quite different from all other modes of progress, and that it brings you among a large, new, and sharply-defined class of people, who could scarcely be known, and certainly could not be studied so well in any other way.

Nor is the traveller less interesting to these people than they are to him. Often it was necessary to restrain the inquisitive French gamins, who would teaze a boat to pieces if not looked after; but it is always against the grain with me to be strict with boys, especially about boats, for I hold that it is a good sign of them when they relish nautical curiosities.


Dull reading—Chain boat—Kedging—St. Cloud—Training-Dogs—Wrong colours—My policeman—Yankee notion.—Red, White, and Blue.

The effect of living on board a little boat for a month at a time without more than three or four nights of usual repose, was to bring the mind and body into a curious condition of subdued life, a sort of contemplative oriental placid state in which both cares and pleasures ceased to be acute, and the flight of time seemed gliding and even, and not marked by the distinct epochs which define our civilised life. Although this passive enjoyment was really agreeable—and, in fine weather and good health, perhaps a mollusc could affirm as much of its existence,—certainly an experience of the condition I have described enables one to understand what is evidently the normal state of many thousands of hard-worked, ill-fed, and irregularly-sleeped labourers; the men who, sitting down thus weary at night, we expect to read some prosy book full of desperately good advice, of which one half the words are not needed for the sense and the other half are not understood by the reader. [98]

The last tug-boat we had to use was of a peculiar kind, and I am not aware that it is employed upon any of our rivers in Britain. A chain is laid along the bottom of the Seine for (I think) two hundred miles. At certain hours of the day a long solidly-built vessel with a powerful engine on board comes over this, and the chain is seized and put round a wheel on board. By turning this wheel one way or the other it is evident that the chain will be wound up and let down behind, while it cannot slip along the river’s bottom—the enormous friction is enough to prevent that, and therefore the boat is wound up and goes through the water. The power of this chain-boat is so great that it will pull along, and that too against the rapid stream, a whole string of barges, several of them of 300 tons’ burthen. The long fleet advances steadily though slowly, and the irresistible engine works with smokeless funnels, but there are groanings within, telling of tight-strained iron, and earnest undertoned breathings of confined steam.

Although the chain-boat is not often steered for the purpose of avoiding other vessels (these must take care of their own safety), yet it has to be carefully managed by the rudders (one at each end), so that it may drop the chain in a proper part of the river for the next steamer of the Company which is to use it. When two such boats meet from opposite directions, and both are pulling at the same chain, there is much time lost in effecting a passage, and again when the chain-boat and all its string of heavy craft arrives at a lock, you may make up your mind for a long delay. It is evident that we do not require this particular sort of tug-boat on the Thames below Teddington, for the strong tide up and down twice every day carries along thousands of tons of merchandize at a rapid pace, and one or two men will be enough to attend upon each barge. In fact we have the sun and moon for our tugs. These draw the water up, and the tide is the rope which hauls our ships along.

To manœuvre properly with the Rob Roy in such a case as this with the chain-boat required every vigilance, and strong exercise of muscular force, as well as caution and prompt decision, for I had sometimes to cling to the middle barge, then to drop back to the last, and always to keep off from the river-banks, the shoals, and the trees. On one occasion we had to shift her position by “kedging” for nearly half a mile, and this in a crowded part of the Seine too, where the current also was swift. On another occasion the sharp iron of a screw steamer’s frame ran right against my bow, and at once cut a clean hole quite through the mahogany. Instantly I seized a lump of soft putty, and leaning over the side I squeezed it into the hole, and then “clinched” it (so to speak) on the inside; and this stop-gap actually served for three weeks, until a proper repair could be made.

The lovely precincts of St. Cloud came in sight at dawn on the last day of June, prettier than Richmond, I must confess, or almost any river-town we can boast of in England; and here I was to rest while my little yawl was thoroughly cleaned, brightly varnished, and its inside gaily painted with Cambridge blue, so as to appear at the French Exhibition in its very best suit, and then at the British Regatta on the Seine.

Some days were occupied in this general overhaul, during which the excellent landlady of the hotel where I slept must have been more amazed even than she declared, to see her guest return each day clad in blue flannel, and spattered all over with varnish and paint, for the captain was painter as well as cook. Of course all this was exchanged for proper attire after working hours.

In the cool of the morning, three fine young fellows are running towards us over the bridge; with lithe and easy step, speed but not haste, and in white flannel and white shoes. They have come to contend at the regatta here, the first of an invasion of British oarsmen, who soon fill the lodgings, cover the river, and waken up the footpath early with their rattling run. Some of these are brown-faced watermen from Thames and Humber and Tyne, others are ruddy-cheeked Etonians or University men, or hard-trained Londoners, and others have come over the Atlantic; John Bull’s younger brothers from New Brunswick, not his cousins from New York. You might pick out among these the finest specimens of our species, so far as pluck and muscle make the man.

Few of the French oarsmen could be classed with any of the divisions given above. Rowing has not attained the position in France which it holds in England. For much of our excellence in athletics and field sports we have to thank our well-abused English climate, which always encourages and generally necessitates some sort of exercise when we are out of doors.

But it is a new and healthy sight on the Seine, these fine fellows running in the mornings, and it gives zest to our walk by the beautiful river.

Here also as we stroll about, two dogs gave us much amusement: one was a Newfoundland, who dashed into the water grandly to fetch the stick thrown in by his master. The other was a bulldog, who went in about a yard or so at the same time, and then as the swimmer brought the stick to shore the intruder fastened on it, and always managed somehow to wrest the prize from the real winner, and then carried it to his master with the cool impudence which may be seen not seldom when the honour and reward gained by one person are claimed and even secured by another. [102]

From the truck to the keel the Rob Roy had been thoroughly refreshed and beautified. The perfection of a yacht’s beauty is that nothing should be there for only beauty’s sake. In the strict observance of this rule the English certainly do excel every other nation; and whether you take a huge steam-engine, a yacht, or a four-in-hand drag, it is certainly acknowledged by the best connoisseurs of each, that ornament will not make a bad article good, while it is likely to make a good one look bad.

Even the flags of a yacht have each a meaning, and are not mere patches of pretty colours. Therefore they ought to be made, at all events, perfectly correct first, and then as pretty and neat as you please. I examined the flags of all the boats and yachts and steamers at the Exhibition; and there was wonderfully little taste in their display; nearly every one—English and foreign—was cut wrong, or coloured wrong, or too large for the boat that carried them. Even our Admiralty Barge, where specimens of boats from England were exhibited, had a flag flying, with the stripes in the ‘jack’ quite wrong. She was the only craft on that side of the Pont de Jena; but as it was the English side I anchored there, right opposite the sloping sward of the Exhibition, and I did this without asking any questions, for it is best now and then to do right things at once, and not to delay until time is wasted in proving them to be right.

Here I slept on board my little craft in perfect comfort, and could spend all the rest of the day on shore. Each morning about 7 o’clock you might notice a smart-looking French policeman standing on the grass bank of the Exhibition, and staring hard at the Rob Roy. He had come to see her captain at his somewhat airy toilette, and he was particularly interested, and even amazed, to witness the evolutions of a toothbrush, which were not only interesting but instructive as involving an idea perfectly new—hard also to comprehend from so distant an inspection. Surely he thought this strange implement must be a novelty imported from England for exhibition here.

As he gazed in wonder at the rapid exercise, I sometimes gave the curious instrument an extra flourish above or below, and the intelligent and courteous gendarme never rightly decided whether or not the toothbrush was an essential though inscrutable part of the yacht’s sailing gear. Our acquaintance, however, improved, and he kindly took charge of the boat in my absence; not without a mysterious air as he recounted its travels (and a good deal more), to the numerous visitors,—many of whom, after his explanations, left the Rob Roy quite delighted that they had seen “the little ship which had sailed from America!”

The boat “Red, White, and Blue” he thus confounded with mine—was at that time not far off, in a house by itself, amid the other wonders which crowded the gardens of the Exhibition.

The French policeman

The two venturesome Americans who came to Europe in this ship had but scant pleasure either in their voyage itself or in their visit to France and England. Storm, wet, and hunger on the wide Atlantic were patiently borne in hopes of meeting a warm welcome in Old England; but, instead, they had the cold chill of doubt. Many of their sufferings in both these ways were directly due to their own and their friends’ mismanagement, the stupid construction of their cabin, the foolish three-masted rig of their boat, the boastful wager of the boat’s builder, and their imprudence in painting up the boat on her arrival, and tarring the ropes; and, lastly, in allowing a mutilated paper to be issued as their “original log.”

Disappointed here, they turned to Paris, expecting better days. Fair promises were made. Steamers were to tow the boat up the Seine in triumph; but it was towed against a bridge and smashed its masts. Agents were to secure goodly numbers to visit her; but for three months scarcely any one paid for a ticket, until at length the vessel was admitted into the grounds of the Exhibition. Finally, the ruined Captain ran away to England, but cleverly contrived to carry his ship with him. Whatever may be thought as to the wisdom or advantage of making such a voyage and in such a boat, it is a very great pity that when it has been effected there should be a failure in appreciating its marvellous accomplishment.

The possibility of taking a boat across the Atlantic, with west wind prevailing and with no rocks or shoals to fear, is altogether beyond doubt. The ill-fate of two other boats that have tried the feat shews how dangerous it is to try. The success of another more recent trip of ‘man and wife’ in one boat is reassuring. But after examining, probably more than any body else, the evidence in their case—the men, the log, the documents, and affidavits, and the boat, and its contents, also the numerous doubts and criticisms from all quarters, both in London and Paris, and in Dover and Margate, I have good reason to believe that the “Red, White, and Blue” had no extraneous help in her voyage across that wide ocean. The unexplained wonder is that men able and willing to perform such a deed as this should be incapable of building and rigging their boat so as to do it comfortably.


Presents—The Emperor—Anecdote—The Abbé in London—A vert—Singing girl—English bird—Model—Old friend—The Turks—Guzzling—The friture.

As they walked past the building where this travelled ship was shewn, many of the visitors seemed each to be reading a paper in his hands, while some have a gilt-edged book, and others a broadsheet with a large woodcut on it.

These people have come past that other building, which seems to be all windows; and let us stop there a few minutes to see why the groups crowd round, and reach out their hands, and go away reading.

If you heard that it is “only some tracts” being given away, and then turned away yourself, you have lost a wonderful sight: one that, well pondered upon, has wide suggestions to the mind that thinks; and a sight that, of its kind, was quite unexampled at any time and anywhere. Inside this building, and another near it, were hundreds of thousands of Bibles, Testaments, periodicals, papers, picture books and tracts, beautifully printed in the languages of visitors from distant lands, and mostly given free to those who will receive them.

Even in England, at none of our Exhibitions or any other place, had such a proceeding been permitted, doubtless from prudential reasons,—the fear of “giving offence” or exciting disturbance; so that it had been left to France, at a time when pleasure seemed the chief and only object of all, to brave these supposed dangers, and, despite all scruples, to give utmost freedom to the distribution of God’s Word and of man’s comments upon it. The example was not without fruit; at each subsequent Grand Exhibition, and even under the Republic in 1878, the Book of Law and Gospel has been freely given in the frivolous capital of France.

The fact is, if you mean to get at all the people, you cannot find them in the same place or reach them by the same road, or treat them in the same way; and all the people must be got at somehow.

As fast as they could give these books and papers out of the windows, several persons were delivering them into the open hands of the people, and when a window became vacant, and there was need of some one to help, the post was filled by the crew of the yawl.

We intended to stay only a short time, but six hours often passed before the interesting work could be left; I can never forget those hours, and the subsequent occasions of the same sort.

Every variety of person came quickly before us, of nationality, of manner, of dress, of language, and of bearing, as each drew near, took a paper, read a few lines, thanked the donor, and then went off reading as they walked, or with reflecting gaze, or simply astonished.

Hundreds of soldiers came to the window, sometimes a dozen of them at once, and these all asked for their ‘Empereur.’ This meant the special copy of the well-known periodical ‘British Workman,’ which was translated into French, and had a very large and well-done woodcut of Napoleon III. on its broad first page. The generosity of some good men supplied funds to give one of these Emperor papers to every soldier, policeman, and public employé; and much additional interest was attached to the paper because it was actually printed before their eyes at a press in the centre of the building, and because the press itself had borne off a gold medal for excellence of workmanship. [110]

Priests came often, and even returned to get tracts for their villages in distant parts of France. Germans asked for papers in “Allemand,” and numerous Italians and Spaniards asked for them in their languages. Two Russians came, but we had then no books in Russ; and at length four grave Mussulmen stood before me in turbans and flowing robes, with a suppliant but dignified air, while their interpreter said they wanted to buy a “dictionary to learn English from.” Now they will easily get these dictionaries in the “Beaconsfield Library” of Cyprus.

Although in frequent tours in foreign lands we had been accustomed to see minglings of the people from many nations, the sight at this window was more varied in the components of the constant flowing stream of human beings for hours and hours than we ever saw before.

Some years ago, travelling in Algeria with an Arab guide, I put up for the night at an old semaphore station, where was a French soldier in charge. It was far from any houses, and on a high hill, and he had a visit only every fortnight from his friends, who brought him provisions on mules’ backs. He willingly let me in, and spread a mattress for me on the floor alongside his own. The Arab he kept outside, and the poor fellow had to sleep coiled up on the doorstep.

The Frenchman was courteous and intelligent; but he had only one thing to read for many weeks, a vapid French novel. He said he would willingly read something better if he had it. At the next French town I searched for some better book, and this caused me to find the agent of the Bible Society, and so a parcel of books, religious and secular, were sent off to the telegraph station; but my attention once drawn to the French soldiers and their reading, it was impossible not to follow a subject so interesting and important. The regiment quartered in the town had but a few Testaments. [112] By a little exertion about a hundred copies were obtained and distributed. I saw the men reading these in the streets for hours under the trees, and I sailed in a man-of-war carrying the regiment to Mexico. Not one in five of these men survived that fearful campaign.

Priestly opposition to this giving of Testaments resulted in an appeal to the General in command. He asked the priests if the book was a “bad one,” and when it was not possible to say “yes,” he gave the book free course. Inquiry was excited by this opposition, and 1500 Testaments were received.

There was a remarkable contrast between the absence of public efforts by French Romanists to disseminate their opinions at the Exhibition and the unusual freedom for others, sanctioned by the late Archbishop of Paris. Various causes were at work to produce this very unexpected state of things, and they will not be alluded to here. But the points thus noticed remind one forcibly of what actually occurred in 1851, when the then Archbishop of Paris specially appointed the Abbé Miel, a learned and able man, to go to London and to do his best to further Romanism here during the Exhibition.

One of his first acts was to issue two small tracts on the supremacy of the Pope and of St. Peter; and some hundred thousand of these, beautifully printed, were distributed in London. A copy came to the hands of a clever layman, well skilled in the Romish controversy; and he saw immediately that this little tract, if not well answered, might do much harm.

After careful study of the subject, he wrote to the Abbé, calling attention to several important misquotations in the tract, which were evident when it was compared with original documents in the British Museum. The Abbé replied, that he was not responsible for the accuracy of the extracts, but that they had been given to him by the late Cardinal Wiseman.

The Protestant layman then wrote a series of letters in a well-known English newspaper, Bell’s Weekly Messenger, upon the subject treated in the tract, and for the time the matter dropped. Years afterwards he received a letter from the Abbé, stating that these newspaper articles had convinced him of the need of inquiry into the subject, and he went to Rome to consult his former instructors. Finally, this Abbé, selected as the champion of Rome by the Archbishop of Paris, and convinced by the arguments adduced by a layman in London, renounced the Romish church, and though offered promotion for his past services, he came to London and went straight to the house of the layman, whom he had not yet seen.

Often have I walked with that clever Abbé, riveted by his deeply interesting conversation, his new and fresh views of English life, his forcible exposures of those false estimates of Protestant truth which had for so many years blinded him, and his explanations of the machinery then in action at the Oratory, near the Strand.

But his former allies could not brook the desertion of so formidable a champion, and he was driven by their continual annoyance to seek another home. So he went to Ireland, and soon became the best teacher of the French language in Dublin, from whence he removed to America. Let us hope that there, at least, he is free to profess the truth he had found, and to be one of the instances—very rare indeed they are—of a consistent and steady Protestant, who had for years before been thoroughly imbued with those doctrines which gnaw at the very vitals of mental perception, and obliterate the sense of fairness, and which very seldom leave enough alive in the mind to hold even real truth firmly.

It will not be breaking the promise that our visit to the exhibition is not to involve us in a description of all its wonders, if we walk up-stairs and look into the Tunisian Café, attracted by the well-known drumming and the moaning dirge which Easterns call music. Tunis is best seen out of Tunis, for the broidered gold and bright-coloured slippers can then be enjoyed without those horrible scenes of filth—dead camels, open sewers, and maimed beggars which encase the shabby mud walls I have seen so near the marble ruins of old Carthage.

The café was full of visitors. English and Americans were admiring a pretty singing girl about fifteen years of age, who was beautifully dressed, and sitting with four very demure and ugly Orientals in the little orchestra.

Soon she rose and sang a song. Black eyes, blackest of hair, pale cheeks, languid grace. She is a fair daughter from the rising sun. “Yes, there is certainly something in their Eastern beauty which is quite beyond what Britons or Yankees see at home!”

But the words and music of the song seemed known to me. Surely she is now singing English while she shakes the golden sequins in her long jet hair and rattles her tambourine? We asked a waiter, and he said she could sing Turkish, Spanish, French, and English. At last being persuaded that her pronunciation of English was too distinct for a foreigner, we took the very bold measure of going up to the orchestra, and saying to the young lady, “You are English, are you not?” She stared, and held down her face, which still was pale, even if she blushed and answered “Yes, sir.” “Are you here alone?—no relation, no woman friend with you?” “Yes.” “And do they treat you well?” “Yes.” “From what part of England?” “From ---shire.”

I said she seemed to mean the words of the song she had sung,

‘I wish I were a bird, and I would flee away.’

and I asked if she could read, and would like a nice book. “Oh yes, I should, and very much.” Now there was a stall set up in the Exhibition by “The Pure Literature Society,” from 11, Buckingham Street, Adelphi, London, which selects about three thousand books from various publishers, but publishes none itself; gets no profits on its sales except thanks and satisfaction; so that its catalogue is likely to contain what it may wish should be read. [117] Here we selected a very interesting volume with many illustrations, suitable for the girl’s reading; and soon at the café again, I bowed to the senior fiddler, who nodded assent, and then the poor pale lonely girl had the pleasant book as a remembrance of home placed in her hands, and a promise given her that a good Christian lady would call that evening.

So perhaps our catalogue of nationalities at the Exhibition ought to be somewhat abridged, and not wholly founded upon the variety it presents to the eye; especially as in London, too, we may remember Punch’s crossing-sweeper, who, being dressed in Hindoo garb, begged from a passer-by with, “Take pity on the poor Irishman—Injun, I mane.”

On the Sunday the little dingey had its usual cargo, and the bargemen on the Seine, in the heart of Paris, were just as glad as others elsewhere to get something to read.

Among the curiosities exhibited in the English Naval Architecture building here was a very beautiful model of the Rob Roy canoe, presented to its owner by the builders, Messrs. Searle, who have already built some hundreds of such canoes on the principles first applied in that above mentioned; and to me it was even more gratifying to find in the Admiralty Barge, the Rob Roy canoe itself, with sails set and the flag of the Royal Canoe Club flying, and with maps of the paddling voyages through Europe.

Very speedily I launched my old travelling companion, and had a paddle up the river by moonlight, and it was surprising to find that scarcely any water leaked in, though the other boats which were hung up in the barge were found to be a good deal injured by the strong draught of wind rushing through the arch of the bridge, and then under the open sides of the shed, covered only by a roof. But then those other boats were new, and perhaps some were not built of such well-seasoned wood [119] as Messrs. Searle employ beyond all other boat-builders I know; whereas the weatherbeaten Rob Roy had been too long inured to wet and dry, sun and wind, heat and cold, to be affected with the rheumatism and ague which shook even the man-of-war’s boats on the barge.

The sketch (see next page), represents a man watering a horse, and who swum it out to my boat to get a paper, and then carefully placed the gift in a dry place ashore until he should be able to use it when he was dressed again.

My life at the Exhibition soon settled into a somewhat regular one. Seeing, seeing, seeing all day, and then returning to my quiet bed on the river at night, with a ‘Times’ newspaper to study, and books and letters. It was a variety to launch the dingey, and scull along the quays and visit the other yachts, all of them most hospitable to the Rob Roy. I ventured even to go alongside the Turkish vessel, the Dahabeeh, from the Nile, full of specimen “fellahs,” all hidden by a curtain of grey calico, except to those who had paid their franc for general entrance. We never observed any visitor actually on board this vessel; indeed, it required a bold inquirer to face those solemn Africans’ gaze, as they sat cross-legged on deck, and ate their soup from a universal bowl, or calmly inspired from their chibouques, and blew out a formal and composed puff of the bluest tobacco-smoke. It did, indeed, soon forcibly recall the feelings of Egyptian travel to see these men;—the red fiery sunsets, the palm-trees, and crocodiles, and obelisks, and Indian corn, and, over all, the thrumming, not unmusical sound of the tarabookrah—earthen drum—with the wailing melodies in a minor key of the “Chaldæans whose cry is in the ships.” [121]

Sunday ride

So I ventured near in my dingey, and the imperturbable Egyptians were fairly taken by surprise. They soon rallied to a word or two in their language and an Englishman’s smile, and rapidly we became friends, and talked of Damascus and Constantinople, and finally decided that “Englishman bono!” The shape and minute dimensions of my dingey much astonished them; but they probably believed, that in that very craft I had come all the way from London.

The luxury of Paris must have at least some effect in making gourmands of the young generation, even if their fathers did not set the example. The operation, or rather the solemn function, of breakfast or dinner, is with many Frenchmen the only serious act in life. When people can afford to order a dinner in exact accordance with the lofty standard of excellence meant by its being “good,” the diner approaches the great proceeding with a staid and watchful air, and we may well leave him now he is involved in such important service. But with the octroi duty for even a single pheasant at two shillings and sixpence, there are many good feeders who cannot afford to “dine well,” and the fuss they make about their eatables is something preposterous. It is a vice—this systematic gluttony—that seems to be steadily increasing in France for the last twenty years, at least in its public manifestation, and moreover it is an evil somewhat contagious.

One evening, while some of us had dinner at the Terrasse in St. Cloud, a family entered the room, and were partly disrobing themselves of bonnets and hats for a regular downright dinner, when the waiter came, and in reply to the order of a “friture” he calmly said they had none.

At this awful news the whole party were struck dumb and pale, and they leant back on their chairs as if in a swoon. The poor waiter prudently retreated for reinforcements, and the landlady herself came in to face the infuriate guests.

“No friture!” said the father. “No friture, and we come to St. Cloud?” he muttered deeply in rage. His wife proceeded to make horribly wry faces, whereat Rob Roy irreverently laughed, but he was not observed, for they noticed nothing of the external trifling world. The daughters heaved deep sighs, and then burst into voluble and loud denunciations. Then the son (who wanted dinner at any rate, and the objurgations might do afterwards) proposed at once to leave the desolate, famine-stricken spot.

But though this was debated warmly, it was not carried. They had already anchored, as it were, and they resolved to dine “starving,” and to grumble all the time of dinner when no one subject was talked about except the friture. It was a miserable spectacle to witness, but confirming the proposition, not at all new, that the French care more about eating than even John Bull.


Paris Regatta—Absentees—Novelties—New Brunswickers—Steam yachts—Canoe race—Canoe chase—Entangled—M. Forcat—Challenge.

While the voyage in the Rob Roy’s dingey on Sunday was such as we have described, it was a busy time a little further down the river at St. Cloud, being the first day of the Paris Regatta, which continued also on the Monday, and then our British Regatta occupied the next four days. These two were under separate committees. The British Regatta was managed by experienced oarsmen, and His Royal Highness the Commodore of the Canoe Club was patron—not a merely nominal patron but presiding frequently at the committee meetings held at Marlborough House, and generously contributing to the funds. The Emperor of the French also gave us his name, and prizes to the amount of 1000l. were offered in a series of contests open to all the world. In these better days now the rowing world of France could lately count upon the patronage of their distinguished Foreign Minister, M. Waddington, who rowed in the same boat with me at Cambridge—‘ages ago.’

But this experiment of holding an international regatta in a foreign country was quite novel, and there were difficulties around it which it is not convenient to detail.

Notwithstanding the hasty predictions of people who could not approve of what was originated and carried out without requiring their advice, the regatta brought together a splendid body of the best oarsmen and canoeists in the world from England, France, and America. Three Champions of England for the first time contended at the same place. The most renowned watermen came from Thames and Tyne and Humber, and eight-oared boats raced for the first time on the Seine. The weather was magnificent, the course was in perfect order, and better than almost any other of equal length near any capital; the arrangements made were the very best that might be contrived under the peculiarly difficult circumstances which could not be controlled, even by a committee comprising the very best men for the purpose, and zealous in their work; and lastly the racing itself, for spirit and for speed, and for that exciting interest which is caused by equal excellence sustained during well-contested struggles, was never surpassed.

But this grand exhibition of water athletics was not seen by more than a few hundreds of persons, so that “Tribunes,” richly draped, and with streamers flying above, and seats below for 1000 visitors, often had not three people there at a time.

The French oarsmen must have been absent at some “better” place, and of the French public you might see more of them assembled on the roadside round a dancing dog. The Emperor could not come—perhaps Bismarck would not let him, and as the Prince of Wales had to be in his proper place as the representative of England, receiving the Sultan in London, this important duty prevented His Royal Highness from enjoying the pleasure he might well have counted upon after the trouble he had taken in connection with the British Regatta in Paris.

But after stating this disappointment bluntly, it will be remembered by all who were at St. Cloud, that there was a great deal of real amusement, as well as of hard work, and the whole had a strange novelty both in its charms and its troubles.

For crews in “hard training” to sit down to bifteck, and Medoc, omelette, and haricots verts, with strawberries and cream, and bad French jabbered round, was certainly a novelty. To see a group of London watermen, addressed in unknown tongues, but perfectly self-possessed, visiting the Exhibition in the morning and rowing a race in the afternoon, was new; and to observe the complete bewilderment of soldiers and police at the whole proceedings, which came upon them of course with surprise in a country where no one reads the papers for an advertisement, except about a new play, or an infallible pill—all this was very amusing to those who could listen and look on.

The English rowing-men soon made themselves as comfortable as they could in their new quarters, and suffered patiently the disagreeables of French lodgings. They repaired their boats, often broken by the transit from London, and behaved with good humour in proportion to their good sense. Even the grumblers were satisfied, because they were provided with a new set of grievances; and so things passed off better than was expected by those who knew the real circumstances of the venture. It was the first regatta of the kind, and doubtless it will be the last.

No particular description of the various races for eight-oars, four-oars, pair-oars, and sculling, by watermen and amateurs, would be interesting to general readers; but a few notable lessons were there to be learned, which will probably not be disregarded.

An interesting feature was added to the occasion by the arrival of four men, who came from New Brunswick, to row at this regatta. They had no coxswain to steer them, as every other boat had, but the rudder was worked by strings leading to one of the rowers’ feet.

They contended first in a race where it was not allowed to use “outrigged” boats (so called because they are so narrow that the oars cannot work on the gunwale, but are rigged out on iron frames). Moreover, they rowed in a broad, heavy, clumsy-looking craft, with common oars like those used at sea, and they pulled a short jerky stroke, and had to go round a winding French course—indeed with apparently every disadvantage; yet they came in first, beating English and French, and winning 40l.

The same crew went in next for another race, and in another boat, an outrigger they had brought with them from the Dominion of Canada, and again they were first, and won 40l. more. [128] At once “Les Canadiens” became the favourites and heroes of the day. Englishmen cheered them because they were the winners, and some Frenchmen cheered them because they supposed the men were French, whereat the hardy Canadians smiled with French politeness, but muttering the while round protestations, intelligible only to English ears.

The river Seine was made unusually lively during the summer by the movement upon it of a whole fleet of steamers of all shapes and sizes, and with flags often exceedingly ‘coquet.’ Little screw yachts or steam launches flitted up and down, sometimes so small as to admit only three or four people on board, with a bit of awning to deflect the sun; others were crowded with passengers. This style of locomotion is peculiarly adapted to Parisians. It has all the heat, bustle, and noise that can be desirable in nautical pleasures, and yet it almost avoids those highly inconvenient undulations which open water has too often the bad taste to assume. The completion of the Thames Embankment and of the purification of our river has already made water travelling more fashionable in London. Soon, perhaps, the Representative of some powerful Trades-union or incorrupt Borough, will see by the Westminster Clock that it is time to go down to the “House,” and will order his double-screw steamer round to the water steps near his terrace door; and no coachman in those days need apply for a place unless he can steer.

Even now, the number of miniature steamers, tug-boats, and private yachts on the Thames is large and increasing; while a few years ago not one was to be seen. Most of these are pretty little things, and the best of all craft to be handled safely in the crowded waterway. The multitude of them one sees at Stockholm shews what may be seen some day in Middlesex.

Several English screw yachts had come to Paris. Mr. Manners Sutton kindly lent his to the Regatta Committee, and the steam launch of the Admiralty Barge was also used, so that the umpire was able to follow each race in a proper position for seeing fair play, while the Rob Roy was anchored at the winning-post, to guard the palm of victory. Here, too, various bomb-shells were fired high into the air at the end of each race, and were supposed to correspond in number with the place of the winning boat on the programme; but somehow they so exploded as effectually to confuse the audience they were meant to enlighten as to “who had won:” which uncertainty, we all know, is one of the principal excitements of a regatta, and it can be sometimes prolonged even until the day afterwards.

The other features of these rowing matches on the Seine may be left to the reader’s imagination if he has seen a regatta before; and if he has not seen one, he could not well apprehend the thing by reading. The canoe races, however, being more novel, have another claim on attention.

One of these races was for fast canoes, and to be decided only by speed. The other was a “canoe chase,” in which dexterity and pluck were required for success.

For the canoe race three Englishmen had brought from the Thames three long boats with long paddles, and they were the three fastest canoes in England, so far as could be proved by previous trials. Against these, three French canoes were entered, all of them short, and with short paddles. One of these, propelled by an Englishman (resident in Paris), came in easily first, and the second prize was won by a Frenchman. Here, surely, was a good sound lesson to English canoe-men who wished to paddle fast on still water, in a boat useless for any other purpose, and slower at last than a skiff with two sculls. Accordingly, we accepted the beating with thanks.

The ‘Canoe Chase,’ first instituted at our Club races on the Thames, was found to be an agreeable variety in nautical sport, and very amusing. Therefore, two prizes were offered at the Paris Regatta for a canoe chase, open to all the “peoples.” Five French canoes entered, but there was only one English canoeist ready in his Rob Roy to meet all comers (the Hon. A. F. Kinnaird).

The canoes were drawn up on land alongside each other, and with their steins touching the lower step of the “Tribune” or Grand Stand. It was curious to observe the various positions taken up by the different men, as each adopted what he thought was the best manner of starting. One was at his boat’s stern; another, at the side, half carried his canoe, ready to be “off;” another grasped the bow; while the most knowing paddler held the end of his “painter” (or little rope) extended from the bow as far as it would reach.

All dashed off together on being started, and ran with their boats to the water. The Frenchmen soon got entangled together by trying to get into their boats dry; but the Englishman had made up his mind for a wetting, and it might as well come now, at once, as in a few minutes after, so he rushed straight into the river up to his waist, and therefore being free from the crowding of others, he got into his boat all dripping wet, but foremost of all, and then paddled swiftly away. The rest soon followed; and all of them were making to the flag-boat anchored a little way off, round which the canoes must first make a turn. Here the Englishman, misled by the various voices on shore telling him the (wrong) side he was to take, lost all the advantage of his start so that all the six boats arrived at the flag-boat together, each struggling to get round it, but locked with some other-opponent in a general scramble. Next, their course was back to the shore, where they jumped out and ran along, each one dragging his boat round another flag on dry land, amid the cheers and laughter of the dense group of spectators, who had evidently not anticipated a contest so new in its kind, and so completely visible from beginning to end. Again, dashing into the water the little struggling fleet paddled away to another flag-boat, but not now in such close array. Some stuck in the willows or rushes, or were overturned and had to swim; and the chance of who might win was still open to the man of strength and spirit, with reasonably good luck. Once more the competing canoes came swiftly back to shore, and were dragged round the flag, and another time paddled round the flag-boat; and now he was to be winner who could first reach the shore again and bring his canoe to the Tribune: a well-earned victory, won by the Hon. A. F. Kinnaird, far ahead of the rest.

The struggle

The whole affair lasted not much longer than might be required to write its history; but the strain was severe upon pluck and muscle, and called forth several qualities very useful in life at sea, but which mere rowing in a straight race does not require and cannot therefore exhibit. Instantly after this exciting contest, a Frenchman challenged the winner to another chase over the same course. But as the challenger had not thought fit to enter the lists and test his powers in the chase, which was open to him like the rest, it would, of course, have been quite unfair to allow him, quite fresh, to have a special race with the hard-worked winner, though the Englishman was at once ready to accept the gage.

Among the visitors to the regatta was M. Forcat, whose peculiar system of propelling boats I have mentioned in the account of a former voyage; and he brought up for exhibition, and for the practical trial by the winner of the canoe chase, a very narrow and crank boat, rowed by oars jointed to a short mast in front of the sitter, and thus obtaining one of the advantages possessed by canoeists, that their faces are turned to the bow, and so they see where they are going.

It is no doubt an enormous disadvantage that in ordinary rowing your back is turned upon the course, with all its dangers and beauties; and this inconvenience is only put up with because you can go faster as you row with your back foremost, and the scenery is of no account if a river serves only to float the skiff but not to please the eye. As for travelling on new and lovely waters in this style, with face to the stern, it is just as if you were to walk backwards along a road, and to think you could appreciate the picturesque either by a stare at the retreating beauties you are leaving, or by a glance now and then over your shoulder at what is coming. But though M. Forcat’s boat had the rower’s face to the bow, the form and size of the nondescript novelty were not to be understood in a moment, and we tried to dissuade our young canoeist from entering hastily a new sort of boat, very easily capsized. He had his own will, however, and his own way, because he was a Scot, and only “English” in the sense we use that word for “British,”—too frequently thereby giving dire offence to the blue lion of the North, whose armorial tail is so punctiliously correct as to the precise curl and make up of its “back hair.”

“He’s upset,” they cried in a minute or so. But we might well let so good a swimmer take his chance; he merely pushed the boat ashore, and then took a pleasant swim, until he was finally captured and put into the Rob Roy’s cabin, to change his wet clothes as well as a modest man might do behind a plaid screen and before the curious world.

Therefore in boats, as well as in business and politics, we may learn lessons from one another, both on the water and on the land: from Canada, as to the steering and the stroke; from France, as to the fast, quick turning canoe in still water; and from England, as to the man.

It was to see this regatta and to help in it that the Rob Roy had pushed her way to Paris; and for this six hundred miles of river navigation in a sea-going boat were justifiable, yet often did I feel much the sea-trim lifeboat yawl was out of place upon a calm inland water like the Seine.

Before the arrival of my little yacht, a challenge had been sent to her to sail on the Seine against a French yacht there. To this I replied that it would be scarcely a fair match for the Rob Roy, a sea craft, to race on a river known only to one of the competitors; but that the yawl would gladly sail a match with any French yacht having only one man on board,—the course to be at sea either one hundred miles for speed, or one week for distance, and communication not allowed with any other boat or shore. No answer came.


Dawn music—Cleared for action—Statistics—Blue Peter—Passing bridges—A gale—A shave—Provisions—Toilette—An upset—Last bridge—A peep below—Cooking inside—Preserved provisions—Soups.

The Rob Roy was very pleasant lodgings when moved down to the lovely bend at St. Cloud. Sometimes she was made fast to a tree, and the birds sung in my rigging, and gossamers spun webs on the masts, and leaves fell on the deck. At other times we struck the anchor into soft green grass, and left the boat for the day, until at night, returning from where the merry rowers dined so well in training, and after a pleasant and cool walk “home” by the river side, there was the little yawl all safe on a glassy pool, and her deck shining spangled with dewdrops under the moon, and the cabin snug within,—airy but no draughts, cool without chill, and brightly lighted up in a moment, yet all so undisturbed, without dust or din, and without any bill to pay.

Awake with the earliest sun, there was always the same sound alongside as we lay at anchor. The sweet murmurings of the water running by, cleft by my sharp bow, and gliding in wavelets along the smooth sides only a few inches from my ear, and sounding with articulate distinctness through the tight mahogany skin; and then there was the muttering chatter of the amateur fisherman, who was sure to be at his post, however early.

This respectable personage, not young but still hearty, is in his own boat,—a boat perfectly respectable too, and well found in all particulars, flat, brown, broad, utterly useless for anything but this its duty every morning.

Quietly his anchor is dropped, and he then fixes a pole into the bottom of the river, and lashes the boat to that, and to that it will be fixed until nine o’clock; at present it is five. He puts on a grey coat, and brown hat, and blue spectacles, all the colours of man and boat being philosophically arranged, and as part of a complicated and secret plot upon the liberties of that unseen, mysterious, and much-considered goujon which is poetically imagined to be below. It has baffled all designs for this last week, for it is a wily monster, but this morning it is most certainly to be snared.

Rod, line, float, hook, bait, are all prepared for the conflict, and the fisherman now seats himself steadily in a sort of arm-chair, and with stealth and gravity drops the deceitful line into hidden deeps. At that float he will stare till he cannot see. He looks contented; at any rate, no muscle moves in his face, though envy may be corroding his soul. After an hour he may just yield so much as to mutter some few sounds, or a suppressed moaning over his hard lot, ‘and that is what I hear in my cabin.’ Then at last he rises with a determined briskness in his mien, and the resentment against fate from an ill-used man, and he casts exactly three handfuls of corn or bread-crumbs into the water, these to beguile the reluctant obstinate gudgeon, who, perhaps, poor thing, is not so much to blame for inattention after all, being at the time just one hundred and fifty yards away, beside those bulrushes.

Indeed that very idea seems to have struck the fisherman too, and he marks the likely spot, and will go there to-morrow, not to-day—no, he will always stick one day at one place. How he moves to or from it I do not know, for the man and boat had always come before I saw them, and I never stopped long enough to see them depart. Four men fished four mornings thus, and only two fish were caught by them in my presence.

The regatta is over, and Nadar’s balloon is in the sky, but seeming no bigger than other balloons, so soon does the mind fail to appreciate positive size when the object you look at is seen alone. It is the old story of the moon, which “looks as large as a soup-plate,” and yet Nadar’s Géant was the largest balloon ever seen, and it carries a house below it instead of a car—a veritable house, with two storeys, and doors and windows. The freedom of its motion sailing away reminds me that the Rob Roy ought to be moving too,—that she was not built to dabble about on rivers, but to charge the crested wave; and, indeed, there was always a sensation of being pent up when she was merely floating near the inland cornfields, and so far from the salt green sea; and this, too, even though pleasant parties of ladies were on board, and boys got jaunts and cruises from me, which I am certain pleased them much; still the reef-points on her sails rattled impatiently for real breezes and the curl of the surf, while the storm mizen was growing musty, so long stowed away unused.

Next day, therefore, the Blue Peter was flying at the fore, and the Rob Roy’s cellar had its sea stock laid in from “Spiers and Pond,” of ale, and brandy, and wine. Before a fine fresh wind, with rain pelting cheerfully on my back, we scudded down the Seine. To sail thus along a rapid stream with many barges to meet, and trees overhanging, and shoals at various depths below, is a very capital exercise, especially if you feel your honour at stake about getting aground, however harmless that would be. But the Seine has greater difficulties here, because the numerous bridges each will present an obstacle which must be dealt with at once, and yet each particular bridge will have its special features and difficulties, not perhaps recognized when first you meet them so suddenly. [142] The bridges on the Seine were often not high enough to allow the yawl to pass under, except in the centre, or within a few feet on one side or other of the keystone, and as the wind is deflected by the bridge, just at the critical moment when you reach such places, and the current of water below rushes about in eddies from the piers, there is quite enough of excitement to keep a captain pretty well awake in beating to windward through these bridges; for the wind must be dead ahead a great part of the time, because the river bends about and about with more and sharper turns than almost any other of the kind.

Though sun and wind had varnished my face to the proper regulation hue, in perfect keeping with a mahogany boat, yet the fortnight of fresh water had softened that hardiness of system acquired in real sea. My hands had gradually discarded, one after another, the islands of sticking-plaister, and a whole geography of bumps and bruises, which once had looked as if no gloves ever could get on again—or rather as if the hands must always be encased in gloves to be anywhere admissible in a white-skinned country.

But now once again outward bound, though still so many miles from the iodine scent of the open sea, and the gracious odour of real ship’s tar, one’s nerves are strung tight in a moment. The change was hailed with joy, though sudden enough, from the glassy pond-like water at St. Cloud, lulled only by gentle catspaws, half asleep and dreaming, to the rattling of spars and blocks, and hissing of the water, in the merry whistling gale by which we now were rapt away.

At Argenteuil there are numerous French pleasure-boats, and the Rob Roy ran into a good berth. Next day there was a downright gale, so I actually had to reef before starting, because in a narrow river the work of beating against the wind is very severe on legs and arms, and especially on one’s hands, unless they are hardened, and kept hard, too, by constant handling of the strong ropes.

At length we put into a quiet bay, where the river Oise joined the Seine, and we moored snugly under the lee of a green meadow, while trees were above waving and rustling in the breeze. It was far from houses, for I wished to have a good rest, as the tossing of the former night had almost banished sleep.

But soon the inquisitive natives found the yawl in her hiding-place, and they sat on the grass gazing by the hour. The surroundings were so much like a canoe voyage, that I felt more strongly than ever the confinement to a river, while the sea would have been so open and grand under such a breeze. Therefore I gave up all idea of sailing down the Seine any more, and decided to get towed to Havre, and to launch out fairly on our proper element once more.

Yet it was fine fun to row about in the dingey, and to discover a quaint old inn, and to haul ashore my tiny cockleshell and dine. Here they were certainly an uncouth set, they did not even put a cloth on the table, nor any substitute for it,—a state of things seen very seldom indeed in the very outermost corners of my various trips.

Faithful promise was made by a man that he would rouse me from slumber in my cabin under the haybank at the passing of the next steamer, be it light or dark at the time. The shriek of the whistle came in the first hours of morning, and the man ran to tell it, with one side of his face shaven, and the other frothed over with lather.

Being towed down is so like being towed up the river, that we need merely allude to a few features in the voyage westward.

At one pretty town we stopped to unload cargo for some hours, and I climbed the hills, scaled the old castle walls, and dived into curious tumbledown streets. The keeper of the newspaper-shop confessed to me his own peculiar grievance, namely, that he often sent money to England in reply to quack advertisements, but never had any reply. He seemed to be too “poli” to credit my assertion that there are “many rogues in perfidious Albion,” and on the whole he was scarcely shaken in the determination to persevere in filling their pockets, though he might empty his own.

An old man at a lock was delighted by a New Testament given to him. “I know what this is; it is Protestant prayers. Oh, they are good.” Then he brought his wife and his grandchildren, and every one of them shook hands.

It was not very easy to get one’s sea-stores replenished in the continuous run down the Seine. Sometimes I saw a milkman trundling his wheelbarrow over a bridge, and, jumping on shore, I waylaid him for the precious luxury, or sent off a boy for bread, and butter, and eggs; but, of course, the times of eating had nothing to do with any hours, or recurring seasons for a meal: you must cook when you can, and snatch a morsel here or there, in a lock or a long reach of the stream. At night the full moon sailed on high, and the crew lay down with their faces over the steamer’s side, chattering with their English comrade till it was far past bed-time, for we shall be off at three to-morrow morning.

The steam in the boiler first warns of the coming bustle as its great bubbles burst inside, and rattle the iron plates. Then, being more frequent and tighter bound, they give out a low moaning, hidden rumble; and if the boat touches the side of the steamer, there is a strong vibration through all her sonorous planks, until some tap is turned in the engine, and the rush of steam leaps into the cylinder as if indignant at its long restraint. You had better get up now (there is no dressing, for the simple reason that there has been no undressing), and in two minutes you are fresh and hearty, though it is only a few hours since you dropped to rest.

Rouen looks as if it would be all that is pleasant for a sailing-boat to rest in. Never was a greater deception. It is difficult to find an anchorage, and impossible to get a quiet berth by the quay. The bustle all day, and the noise all night, keep you ever on the tenterhooks; though, as these discomforts are caused by the active commerce of the port, one ought to bear them patiently.

In one of the numerous mêlées of barges, boats, and steamers whirling round and round, amid entangled hawsers, and a swift stream, we had at last to invoke aid from shore, and a number of willing loungers gladly hauled on my rope. Some of these men, when I thanked them, said they had more to thank me for,—the books I had given them in my voyage up. Still, with all this aid, the Rob Roy was inextricably entangled with other heavier craft, and, in shoving her off I tumbled overboard, and had to put up with a thorough wetting; so, after a warm bath ashore, more à la mode, I returned to my little cabin for a profound sleep.

Rain, almost ceaseless for a whole day and night, had searched the smallest chink, and trickled ungraciously into my very bed-room. But I suspended an iron tea-cup in the dark just over my body, so that one little stream was intercepted. This was the first really hard pressure of wet on the Rob Roy, and all the defects it brought to light were entirely remedied afterwards at Cowes.

On each of the four preceding nights I had been aroused for the next day’s work at three, or two, or even one o’clock, in the dark, and yet for one night more there was to be no regular repose.

My mast had been made fast to the quay wall, but in forgetfulness that on a tidal river this fastening must be such as to allow for several feet of fall as the water ebbs. Therefore, about the inevitable hour of one o’clock, in the dark, there was a loud and ominous crack and jerk from the rope, and I knew too well the cause. In the rainy night it was a troublesome business to arrange matters, and next day was a drowsy one with me, spent in the strange old streets of the town.

The policeman had orders to call me at any hour when a steamer went by, and, being hooked at last to the powerful twin-screw Du Tremblay, with a pleasant captain, I rejoiced to near the very last bridge on the river, with the feeling at heart, “After this we are done with fresh-water sailing.”

It was a suspension-bridge, and the worthy captain forgot all about the Rob Roy and her mast, when he steered for a low part, where his own funnel could pass because it was lowered, but where I saw in a moment my mast must strike.

There was no time to call out, nor would it have availed even to chop the towing-line with my axe, for the boat had too much “way” on her to stop. Therefore I could only duck down into the well, to avoid the falling spars and the splinters.

The bridge struck the mast about two feet from the top, and, instead of its breaking off with a short snap, the mast bent back and back at least four feet just as if it were a fishing rod, to my great amazement. The strong vibration of its truck (pomme the French call it), throbbed every nerve of boat and man, as it scraped over each plank above, and then the mast sprang up free from the bridge with such a switch, that it burst the lashings of both the iron shrouds merely by this rebound.

Now was felt the congratulation that we had carefully secured a first-rate mast for the Rob Roy, one of the pieces of Vancouver wood, proved, by the competitions lately held, to be the strongest of all timber.

The moments of expected disaster and of happy relief were vivid as they passed, but I made the steamer stop, and on climbing the mast, I found not even the slightest crack or injury there. Henceforth we shall trust the goodly spar in any gale, with the confidence only to be had by a crucial test like this.

As we shall soon be at sea again, but the river is calm enough here, perhaps this will be a fit opportunity for the reader to peep into Rob Roy’s cave as it was usually made up for the night.

The floor of the cabin is made of thin mahogany boards, resting on cross-beams. The boards are loose, so that even in bed I can pull one up, and thus get at my cellar or at the iron pigs of ballast. The bed is of cork, about seven feet long and three feet wide. On this (for it was rather hardish) I put a plaid, [150] and then a railway rug, which being coloured, had been substituted for a blanket, as the white wool of the latter insisted on coming off, and gave an untidy look to my thick blue boating-jacket.

One fold of the rug was enough for an ample covering, and I never once was cold in the cabin.

A large pillow was encased by day in blue (the uniform colour of all my decorations), and it was stripped at night to be soft and smooth for the cheek of the sleeper.

Putting under this my coats and a regulation woven Jersey, with the yacht’s name worked in red across its breast in regular sailor’s fashion, the pillow became a most comfortable cushion, and the woodcut shows me reclining in the best position for reading or writing, as if on a good sofa. On my right hand behind is a candle-lamp, with a very heavy stand. It rests upon a shelf, which can be put in any convenient place by a simple arrangement.

The Cabin

In the sketch already given at p. 41, there is a tarpaulin spread over the well, and this was used on one occasion when we had to cook in rain while at anchor. [151]

On the same side, and below the boxes, “Tools” and “Eating,” already mentioned, are two large iron cases, labelled “Prog,”—a brief announcement which vastly troubled the brains of several French visitors, whose English etymology did not extend to such curt terms.

In these heavy boxes are cases of preserved meats, soups, and vegetables, and these I found perfectly satisfactory in every respect, when procured at a proper place (Morel’s in Piccadilly). Here you can get little tin cases, holding half a pint each and sealed up hermetically. [152]

To cook one of these tins full—which, with bread and wine is an ample dinner—you cut the top circle with the lever-knife, but allowing it to be still attached by a small part to the tin, and fold this lid part back for a handle.

Then put the tin into a can of such a shape and size that it has about half an inch of water all round the tin, but not reaching too high up, else it may bubble over when boiling, and as you can use salt water or muddy water for this water-jacket, it will not do to sprinkle any of that inside the tin.

The can is then hung over the Rob Roy lamp, and in six minutes the contents of the tin are quite hot. Soup takes less time, and steak perhaps a little more, depending on the facility of circulation of the materials in the tin and the amount of wind moderating the heat. The preserved meat or soup has been thoroughly cooked before it is sold, and it has sauce, gravy, and vegetables, and the oxtail has joints, all properly mixed. Therefore, in this speedy manner your dinner is prepared, and indeed it will be smoking hot and ready before you can get the table laid, and the “things” set out from the pantry.

Concentrated soup I took also, but it has a tame flavour, so it was put by for a famine time, which never came. As for “Liebig’s Extract of Meat,” you need not starve while there is any left, but that is the most we can say in its favour.


High tide—Seine pilot—To bed—Terrible scene—A tumble in—In the swell—Novel steeling—The Empress—Puzzled—Night thoughts—The Start—A draft on the deck—Balloon jib—On the deep.

On the Seine there is a tide phenomenon, called the barre, as in English rivers the bore, which, when not provided for, is very dangerous, especially at spring tides. The water then rushes up the narrowing funnel-shaped estuary, in a broad and swelling wave, sometimes four feet high, and this will sweep off even large vessels from their anchors, and it causes many wrecks.

On a former occasion when I happened to be in this neighbourhood, a high tide had been truly predicted by astronomers, which would culminate at the little town of Caudebec on the Seine, but would also rise higher than ever known before on all the adjacent coasts.

The news of this coming wonder spread over France, and there being then a lull in Europe as to revolutions, &c. (except, of course, the perennial revolution in Spain), the quidnuncs of the provinces had to run to the coast for an excitement. Excursion trains, and heavily-laden steamers poured volumes of people into Caudebec, and many of them had never seen salt sea before. At the fashionable bathing-town of Trouville the sight was a strange one when thousands of expectant observers paraded the soft white sand as the full moon shone on a waveless sea, and the brilliant dresses of the ladies coloured the beautiful tableau.

The tide flowed and flowed; it bubbled over the usual bounds of the shore; it trickled into the bathing sheds; it swelled still higher upon the trim-kept promenade, until it lapped the highest point and then went gently down again. Eclipses and tides are patent proofs to the people that physical science can appeal to. The “music of the spheres” hath also a true rhythm, “There is neither speech nor language but their voices are heard.”

To escape this barre on the Seine, our steamer anchored by the quaint old town of Quillebœuf with other vessels; and, though the wind howled and the rain poured, the hill beside us sheltered all from its blasts, which were too wild and powerful in the sea outside to allow us to proceed next day. [156]

However, our Seine pilot pointed to an English steamer “which dared not go out;” so any remonstrance on the subject was silenced, and then he boldly asked if I would like a pilot on board the Rob Roy (towed by the steamer all the time), and I had sufficient command of countenance to decline with due gravity. Better, perhaps, it would have been for me not to carry then so much of the John Bull into these strange waters, as will be seen from what occurred that night.

The tide rushed up with extraordinary strength, until it was quite full. Then it paused for five minutes, and again it set off in the opposite direction with the same fury, increased, too, by the stream and the wind being also down the river.

At each of these changes every vessel, of course, swung round to its anchor, and so must have loosened its hold, while all the water picture changed from right to left like a scene shifted on the stage. During this short interval of quiet you could row ashore, but to get back again was almost impossible when the full torrent of water ran in straight.

As night came on I noticed that our steamer’s anchor was dragging, and that other steam vessels, more on the alert, were easing the strain on their cables by working their engines at half power all the time.

“Captain, we are dragging anchor.” “No, sir,” he said, “you are mistaken.” “I am sure we are dragging: I have watched for ten minutes.” “No, sir, I am certain we do not drag.” He said this with such firmness, that I confidingly believed it, and turned into bed.

But it was not to sleep, except in fitful snatches. The sound of the water hurrying by my side, like a mill race, and within a few inches of my ear, had a strange and unwonted effect, not now to soothe, but to drive sleep away. Bits of wood and other débris often struck my mahogany sounding-board with a loud thump, until I became accustomed even to this, and was in a dreamy dozing about one o’clock.

Then there came a new noise,—a low, steady rap, tap, tap, tap, on the boat, and from underneath. For a moment or two there was a sensation without apprehension,—a sort of mesmeric, irresistible spell; but a sudden thought burst through the trance, and with a powerful impression of what was doing—one no less horrid than true—I dashed off covering, roof, hatchway, and all, and stood upon deck to meet a terrible scene.

Our steamer had drifted in the dark until we closed upon another steamboat astern. My yawl, tied to the stern of one, was between that and the bows of the other, the anchor chain of which had already got underneath the waist of the Rob Roy, and had been ringing the rap, tap, tap of a warning that undoubtedly saved her life. Light flashed from the riding lamp at the steamer’s bow full on my boat’s deck, which was now heeled over deeply until the dark water rushed through her gunwale; it seemed that only a few seconds more and the poor little yawl would sink in the flood, or be ground into splinters by the two great iron monsters nearing each instant in the dark.

All this was noticed in the same rapid glance which in such dangers grasps a whole scene in a moment and stamps it in the mind for years.

My boat hung on the cold iron chain, yet it wavered with equal poise to go this way or that. If she could be swerved to the stern she might possibly escape destruction, but if to the other side, then the strong rope at her bow would entirely prevent her escape. With a loud shout to arouse the crews I put every atom of bodily force into one strenuous shove, straining nerve and muscle in the desperate effort until I could not see. She trembled and surged—it was successful, and I fell into the water, but my yawl was saved. [159a]

Crash came the two steamers together. I heeded nothing of their din and smashing, and the uproar of the men, but I scrambled all wet into my cabin, nervously shaking with excitement and a chattering of teeth. Then I sat down to sum up my bruises,—a barked shin, sprained thigh, and bleeding cheek-bone; and a hapless object I must have seemed, bathing, by turns, my leg, and shin, and face, from a brandy bottle, and then a gulp inside. In a survey of the yawl made next day, there was to be seen (as still there is) the marks of the iron chain-links deeply impressed in the mahogany planks of her waist. The piece of wood that bears these mementoes of that night’s deed might well be cut out and kept as a curious memorial. The bowsprit also was found to have been nipped at the end (though it had been drawn in close to the stem), and the squeeze had quite flattened the strong iron ring upon it, and jammed up the wood into a pulp as if it were cork. [159b]

The weather did not moderate next day, but we started nevertheless, and when the waves of the wider sea were tumbling in I expected to have a wetting as in passing here before; but the sea was in fine long swells, and so the yawl rode over them buoyantly. Also the large twin-screw tugboat is far more pleasant to follow than the smaller steamer with its two paddle-wheels, one at each side of the stern. [160]

In another way also I managed better than before while undergoing the process of being towed. I set the hatch of the well in front of me, and then allowed the reflection of the funnel of the steamer upon the wet deck of my boat to be seen through a chink, while my head and body were entirely concealed and completely sheltered from spray.

Now, having marked where this reflection rested, when I was exactly in a proper line abaft the steamer, I was enabled to steer altogether by the shadowy image, although I could not see the object itself to which I was directing the bow of my boat. The captain and crew of the steamer were very much astonished with this proceeding. [161]

Arriving at Havre on July 21, there was need for a good rest, and the port was suited for it. There is quiet water in a sequestered nook of the harbour and plenty of amusement on shore. Havre, too, was in a state of much excitement, for the Empress was about to embark thence for England, and the Imperial yacht was in the basin, with a splendid crew on board. In the evening the Emperor also came to the town, to escort his wife when she embarked, and as his carriage drove past the crowd ran after it hallooing.

The last time I had seen the Empress Eugenie was under somewhat peculiar circumstances; she was floating in the sea, and we shall tell more of her Majesty afloat in a future page, when fair bathers at Margate appear.

The beautiful English yacht ‘Vindex’ was on the gridiron with the Rob Roy; that is to say, on a sunk stage of wood, on which you can place a vessel, if it is desired to examine or repair its hull and keel when the tide leaves it there dry.

‘Vindex’ had come to the Havre Regatta, and as she had won the prize there in the previous year a great deal of interest was shown about her now. But the regatta on this occasion was by no means interesting, for the wind fell into calm, and it was merely a drifting match.

My usual visits in the dingey had disposed of nearly all my store of French books and periodicals, and the remainder we took to a civil bookseller, from whom we bought French charts and a Pilot book of the English south coast soundings.

Meantime, after a rest and refreshment to my crew, a thorough scraping to my boat, and a good stock laid in of comfort for my voyage to England, the question had to be distinctly put, “How am I to get over the broad Channel to the Isle of Wight?” It was, of course, impossible to think of coming back as we had gone,—that is, along the French coast. This would never do. Again, it was also found that the steamers were not allowed to tow any boat to sea behind the passenger vessels unless in cases of distress, so that put an end to another solution of the problem, which was to get half way by towing and then to cast off and sail.

Well, shall I get an additional hand on board? But where is he to sit if it blows hard? And if it does not blow hard, what is the use of him? In fact I was steadily driven, as if by severe logic, to the conclusion already at the bottom of my mind, to sail right across alone.

Then I asked one or two experienced sailors if they thought the Rob Roy could do it, and they said, “Yes, she can; but can you? You may be three or four days out, and can you stand the fatigue? At any rate, do not start in a southwest wind: it raises a sea and the up and down of the waves will tire you soon in a long day’s work, and then there is the night besides.”

Having retired to my calm little creek, where the yawl was tied by a line to a large fishing-smack, I tried to read, but very soon found I was thinking of anything but the words on the printed page; then to sleep; but still I was musing on the prospect now opened of a hazardous and delightful sail.

About one o’clock I gazed out moodily on the quiet night scene of the harbour, sleeping around. Tall masts whitened by the moon, black hulls darkened in the shade, busy quays silent, long-necked iron cranes peering into the deep water that reflected quaint leaning houses, all distorted, and big buoys magnified by the haze.

“Why continue this anxiety about how to get over? See the clouds drift over the clear moon with an east wind. Will it ever be easier than now? I cannot sleep—why not start this moment?”

Once the decision was made, all was alert on the Rob Roy; and in half an hour I had breakfasted, and then very noiselessly loosed the thin line that bound us to the quay, and bid “adieu to France.”

Every single thing we could think of was perfectly prepared. The sails were all ready to set, but we had to row the yawl slowly into the main harbour, and there we met a low round swell coming in from the sea. We tugged hard to force her against the adverse tide, but progress was tediously slow. Presently some fishing luggers were getting under way, and soon the usual clatter and din of the French sailors, at full tide, rang forth as if by a magic call at two in the morning.

After shouting some time for a boat to tow me to the pier-head, at last one came.

“What will you charge?”

“Ten francs.”

“I’ll give you eight;” and after parley the two men in their little boat agreed to take the Rob Roy in tow.

Almost immediately I noticed that the moon was hid, and the wind had chopped round to the southwest, the very wind I was told not to start with, but now—well it was too late to withdraw, and so we laboured on, while the great clumsy luggers crossed and recrossed our course, and frequently dashed upon the piles of the pier in the stupidest manner, with much loud roaring of voices, and creaking of spars, and fluttering of sails.

Presently the men called out that, as the sea was getting higher, I had better pay them the money. “Certainly,” I said; but, alas! I could find only five francs of change, the rest being napoleons.

They shouted, “Give us gold—we will send the change to England;” but I bellowed out a better plan, to give them an order on the yacht agents at Havre for five francs, and the silver besides.

Finally this was accepted, so I got out paper and envelope, and on the wet deck, by moonlight, wrote the banker’s draft.

When they came near the harbour’s mouth, they sung out “Get ready your mizen.”

“Ay, ay!”

“Hoist;” and so up went the trim little sail, glad to flap once more in salt air. Then they bid me “Get ready your jib—we have cast you off; hoist!” Yes, and I did hoist.

Perhaps the reader may recollect that the end of my bowsprit had been squeezed by a collision, and was in fact as weak as a charred stick. But I had entirely forgotten this by some unaccountable fatality, during the three days at Havre, when it might have been easily repaired.

The moment therefore I had hoisted the jib, the bowsprit end broke sharp off into a ragged stump, and the jib instantly flew away into the air just like an umbrella blown inside out.

This was of course a most critical time for such a mishap, with a strong breeze dead ahead, driving me in upon piles, and a tumbling sea, and numerous large luggers sailing about me in the dark. Therefore I felt that this unlucky accident and the southwest wind meant, “I must not go out to-night. It will not do to begin a voyage of a hundred miles with a broken bowsprit.”

For a hundred miles

All this prudent reasoning was at once cut short by the Frenchmen calling out, “Voulez-vous sortir encore, monsieur?” and the Rob Roy thus hailed could make but one reply, “Oui, oui, certainement;” so I bid them lay hold again while I captured the truant jib, hauled down and reefed it, and made it fast to the stem, and then again “Lachez tous,” we are free on the rolling waves.

At the worst, methought, we can return in four or five hours, when the tide falls, if we find it unadvisable to go on; but meanwhile our yawl shot away westward to get a good offing from the Cape de la Hève, and then I cooked breakfast (the former one counted of course in the former day, according to the excellent rule already explained), and about half-past four I laid on my straight course to old England, with a capital breeze on my quarter, and a hundred times glad that I had not gone back.


Nodding—Prancing—First Thoughts—England—Mid-channel thoughts—Battle—Religion—Science—Church—Guide.

Up rose the sun, and all was cheerful. Then I laid her to, and got out my axe, and chopped the bowsprit into shape, so that it would run out further, and then set the whole jib firmly on it.

All the feelings restrained so long by the river work, and regatta amenities, and Exhibition in Paris, now came forth powerfully in a flow of enthusiasm.

Boys seem to like the stories of the canoe voyages, and perhaps they will read this one of the yawl. If they have a sailor turn, they will imagine the new pleasure to be felt when you glide away from a fast-retreating land, and nothing is in front but sea, sea, sea. Then the little boat you are in, and know in every plank, and love too, becomes more than ever cherished as a friend. It is your only visible trust, and, if it is a good boat, you trust it well, for indeed it seems to try its very best, like a horse on the desert plain, that knows it must go on if it is ever to get to the other side. Then as the cliffs, that looked high behind you, dwindle into a line of deep blue, the compass by your knees becomes a magic thing, with no tongue indeed to speak, but surely a brain it must have to know the way so well.

For hours we went on thus in silent pleasure, gazing at the gentle needle as it moved without noise; and, with nothing around but plash of waves, bright sun, and a feeling of hot silence, the spell of sleep was overpowering. Homer sometimes nodded, it is said, and he would have certainly had a good nap had he steered long thus. The sinking off into these delicious slumbers was imperceptible, and perfectly beyond the will’s control. In a moment of trance I would be far away in dreamland, and with a thousand incidents, all enacted in orderly succession, with fights, wrecks, or pageantry, or the confused picture of bright-coloured nothings which fancy paints on the half-alive brain.

From these sweet dreams there was a rude awakening; a slap from the sea on my face, as the yawl, untended, suddenly rounded to, or a rattling taptoo on the deck when the jib-sheets found they were free.

Then for a time I would resolutely insist upon attention—every moment of slumber being a positive wandering from the course; but no, the outer self that demands a nap will not be denied by the inner nobler self that commands alertness.

Only one single sea-gull did I see in thirty hours. One vessel also far off was the sole break upon the painfully straight horizon, and as the wind gradually died away into nothing, the prospect did not improve.

Then came the up and down riding over seas without gaining a yard, the “prancing” of the vessel which had galloped forth in the morning like a horse in its first bounds on grass when, leaving a hard road, its hoof paws gladly the springy turf.

Some feelings that came up then from deep recesses in the mind were new, but too new and unnamed to put in words. Alone on the waters, when you cannot see land, is a strange condition. However, if only fog or darkness hides the land you still feel that land is there. Quite another thing is it to be afloat alone, where, because it is fifty miles away, land cannot be seen. Doubtless it may seem foolish, but I am not able to tell the feelings of that time.

Becalmed midway between France and England, it was natural for the mind to think of both countries, and every time I have left France it has been with more admiration of that lively land; [171] but Frenchmen, during this visit, looked at by us for the twentieth time, had evident signs of wounded vanity: they were conscious of playing second fiddle in a grand German opera.

Thinking of England, on the other hand, religion and not politics became the theme; for is not religion at least more considered amongst us than ever before? It may be opposed or misapprehended or derided, but it is not ignored as it used to be.

Look at the three leading newspapers, the morning, the evening, and the weekly registers of the direction, warmth, and pressure of public thought, as noted by keen observers, who are shrewd and weatherwise as to the signs of the times, and are seldom wrong when they hoist a storm signal. More and more each of these secular papers occupies its best columns with religious questions, and not with the mere facts or gossip on the subject, or with records of philanthropy, important as these are, but with deep essential doctrines, and prolonged arguments about the very kernel of truth.

Religion is allowed to have a place now in every stratum of society, even if a wrong place and a very uncomfortable place for a slender religion, though sometimes, indeed, a politician laments that “Parliament has its time occupied by the subject,” as if it were possible for the House to settle the Church and the School and the homes of men, without also considering their religion.

And if almost each family gives some place or other to it, so perhaps no one man in England would allow any other man to say of him that he has “nothing to do with religion.”

Religion is more present among us; but this is a wide term—‘religion.’ If there is a God, then that there is a revealed religion is acknowledged, and that the Christian religion has the best, if not the only claims to be this. Who is to decide for me as to whether there is a God?

If ignorance unfits me to judge this rightly, does not class prejudice unfit others to be the arbiters?

Are not the official exponents of theology liable to be prejudiced in its favour as something that establishes or enhances the position of their order among men?

Are not the votaries of natural science subject to a prejudice against Theism as something that dethrones them from supremacy?

Is there not among these last a writhing invisible agony to escape from the avowal that God governs? And why is this? Perhaps because man proudly relishes freedom, and hates to say that his life is inspected and controlled by another Being who will also judge him hereafter; and because the student of physical science knows that if there is a God, then moral science must be a far nobler pursuit than his own pursuit, even if it is less palpable and popular; also because the scientific man is tempted to do all he can to ignore that anything is outside the ken of science—that there is a Being on quite another plane, far above him and his researches.

But science has no exclusive or even predominant right in the decision of this matter; nor has it any solid success in the long battle, though one or other in its ranks may triumph in a skirmish. When one philosopher demolishes the Bible, an ordinary man cannot convince him he is wrong. But when a dozen savants tilt in the fray, even an ordinary man can see that their weapons demolish each other, and the old Book stands.

This geologist has scratched the varnish on the globe, and forthwith frames his new theory of creation. In ten years he is proved utterly wrong by that microscopist who has detected animal remains in an igneous rock. The simple bystander cannot understand either side, and far less tell which side is true. But when the combatants slay each other, the wayfaring man can understand this neutralization. The philosopher strikes me with awe so long as he keeps aloft beyond my knowledge or comprehension. When he comes down I can love him, but the reverence of his mystery is gone, and he is soon found out to be a brother mite. My friend can walk faster and farther on earth than I can; but when he wades into the water, I find I can swim just as well as he—while if we try to fly in the air, neither of us can soar a yard.

Thus the mind that is great in observing, collating, and even generalizing facts, gets immediately out of its depth a few feet from land in the ocean of hypothesis, and it can be drowned there like my own.

Reaching up higher, in search of First Cause, the clever brain grasps the liquid æther above, and yearns; but it holds nothing, not one atom more than an ordinary mind; nor has all the striving of all the world lifted one man a foot above the plain towards heaven.

If these sentiments are pretentious, they show that one can learn at least forwardness from philosophers, if not wisdom.

But it is not the Atheist that puzzles one so much as those who find it convenient to admit the one point to start from—“There is a God,” be He styled in redundant reverence, “Nature,” “Providence,” or “Heaven.” The vacuity behind that is too dark and abysmal to be a home for their soul, and therefore they will accompany you thus far.

This short creed is long enough to cover many different meanings, and elastic enough to be worn, at least outside, for common decency, and to fit almost any form of life and character.

Some men have never had more than this meagre garment. Others have been swathed in more ample folds from the nursery, but have stripped off the mental clothing of their childhood, feeling it tight, or encumbered with braid and tassels, and some have torn it all to tatters; but at last, as their inner being chills in the air of naked freedom, they take upon them this creed as the one general raiment of prudence.

There may be quiet in this creed, for a time, if not comfort; but the garment fails to warm the heart if indeed it even covers the head; and the mind soon wonders whether God can be, and yet not do, and it yearns to know what God has said and done. Instinct tells it that to know the very truth upon this will make the man’s creed a vascular body for action, not a mere decent clothing. The mind begins its search for this truth on a battle-field. It is a fight for peace as well as a search for treasure. Facts have to be settled, in hot conflict, which are felt to touch every point of life, and not mere fancies high in the air, or thoughts too deep for common people. Each man fights hand-to-hand here. Strategy and leaders avail not. Mere numbers on one side or the other do not count for individual conviction; we are not saved in bundles.

No man can keep out of reach of the turmoil, though many would be content to remain as bystanders, secure from remark or disturbance, in a hazy cloud where the only thing distinct is their denial that there is anything definite. Their creed is not strengthened by its being vague and curtailed. “Moral sense,” “intuitive truth,” “general utility”—their ultimate appeal—is just as far out of reach of algebraic logic as any of the propositions are which they reject because these cannot be proved thus. Try this scrimp creed by their own standard of proof, and it shrivels away, until no God,—no soul,—no being remains as absolutely demonstrated, and there is only a thing faintly conscious of its own existence. In this watery element of dim, soft fog, or hard cold ice, there is no rest for the soul.

There are others, again, who, frightened by the hurly-burly, after a short wild wandering alone, join any group, as a refuge, if it be only visible, and seek a Church as an asylum for the timid rather than a fortress for the brave.

But what Church shall give rest, or which of them is even quieter than the outer din? There is one, indeed, that, long nursed and dozing in the lap of the State, is now roughly shaken, but is she yet awake? She has grown in bulk at least, while sleeping. Is she not like an overgrown child too big to be carried, and too rickety to walk alone?

She is called National but is only Diocesan, with different doctrine and worship in different dioceses. The bishops meet, and thinking different, but trying to say the same, they say what is unanimous only when it means nothing. The clergy meet, but while some of them are true Ministers, others would be as Presbyters towards their bishops and Popes to their people. Each parish can wear the ribbons that are badges of its doctrine. We are crystallizing into congregations, and soon these will split into families, and so perhaps we shall get back at last to the simple old shape, when the message was for Nymphas and “the church which is in his house.”

Meantime, my life-borne bark must not founder for lack of a guide. True, there is a chart, and precepts for the right way are clear, but my craving is for a living Spirit within which shall point me to the peaceful shore by an attraction powerful and unerring, though unseen, and, like that of the needle, incomprehensible.

And was it not the divinest act ever done by God to come down Himself among men, saying, “I am the Way,” “and I will give you rest?”

Now we can safely steer, and will surely reach port.


Half-seas over—Thick night—Risky—Reckless—Tied in—Lying-to—Land ahead—Scottish replies—Sleep.

See the sails are impatiently flapping. Each wave jerks the mast and canvas with a smart loud crack like that of a whip. The sound is unspeakably irritating, it seems so useless and wanton, and so perfectly de trop while the wind is absolutely calm. At other times, in such a case, you can stop this provoking clatter by hauling up the boom and lowering the jib; but here, in mid ocean, we must not hamper the sails but be ready for the first faint breath of wind, and moreover—best to confess it—I had in this case a serious disturbance within, yet not mental. Strawberries and cream imprisoned with mushrooms did not agree.

They called them mushrooms in Havre yesterday, and we know “there are 371 edible fungi;” but I assert that the rebellious species embarked with me were toadstools, and so giddiness followed upon sleep . . .

Gentle and cool is the first fresh murmur of a new breeze as it comes from afar, tripping along. Gratefully we watch its footsteps on the sea. Its garments rustle in the south, and the glassy rounded waves are now crested by its touch. Then the coolness of it fans the cheek, the flag flutters while the sails fill full, the mast bows gently under the soft pressure, and the Rob Roy runs eagerly again upon her proper course.

Dinner was instantly served up to celebrate the event. It is an Englishman’s way. Still we were fifty miles from England, but wave after wave rose, dashed, and was left behind, till the sun got weary in his march, and hung, in the west, a great red globe. My course had been taken for the Nab light, which is in the entrance towards Portsmouth, but the Channel tide, crossing my path twice, could carry the yawl fast, yet secretly, first right, then left, and both ways once again.

Yet when the evening shade fell we expected to see at least some light in the horizon, for the English lights are clear, and they shine out twenty miles to sea. How I peered into the inscrutable darkness, and standing by the mast to get higher, but in vain; yet still the wind urged on, and the sea tumbled forward all in the right way. Hours passed, and ship-lights now could be descried; they were crossing my path, for they were in the great fair-way of nations bound east or west through the Channel. This at least was company, but it was also danger. We have left the lonely plain, and are walking now in the street of waters; but how am I to sleep here, and yet I must sleep this night. I tried to “speak” a goodly vessel sailing past like a shadow—I ventured even to near it—hailing, “How far to the Nab?” but the voice melted in the breeze. Low vapoury clouds began to rise from the sea; they looked like dark trees around; but the stars were clear up above. It was impossible not to feel as if land was there, yet, when my lead was cast, the deep only laughed at its little reach downward.

In such thick weather it will never do to ferret out the channel to Cowes, even if we are near it. The night must be passed at sea, and better begin to do that now than go in too near the cliffs in darkness; and so we prepared to lie-to. Lowering the main-sail I tried the yawl first under mizen and jib; but the rolling in every trough of the waves was most uncomfortable, and besides she drifted north, which might end by going ashore.

Then I took in the jib and set the storm-mizen, and hung out the anchor with twenty fathoms of chain—not, of course, to reach the bottom, but to keep the boat’s head easier in the sea, and this did perfectly well. The motion was a long, regular rise and fall, and the drift was to the east; quite out of our proper course, indeed, but I couldn’t help that.

The motion of a vessel lying-to is far more easy than what would be supposed possible. When you are rocked in a boat making progress by sails or steam, the pressure of each wave is more or less of a blow, for the ship is going forward, and it resists the mass of water often with violence. At anchor, too, though in a modified degree, the action is the same, and in a swell without wind the oscillations are jerky and short, for they are not softened by the sails then merely hanging. But if a boat is staunch and strong, and the deck is tight, and she has plenty of keel, so as not to swerve round right and left, but to preserve a general average direction towards the wind, then she may lie-to in a very stiff gale and high sea with a wonderfully gentle motion. Her head then is slightly off the sea, and there is but little rolling. The sails are so set that they ease every lateral heave. She forges forward just a little between the wave tops, and when the crest of one lifts her up she courteously yields for the time, but will soon again recover lost ground by this well-managed “compromise.”

When we saw how admirably the Rob Roy behaved in lying-to, and that scarcely a wave broke over her deck, we felt that if it came to the worst we might thus pass a whole week in her safely.

Now I must make my bed. Undoubtedly this was a risky deed about to be done; but pray what else could we do?

“You ought not to have come there at all,” may be replied.

Say that to the huntsman who has got into a field with the only way out of it over a chasm to leap. Tell it to the mountain climber scrambling down, who pauses before a crevasse; and do not forget to say the same to the poor old fisherman overtaken in the midnight winter’s gale with his life in one hand and in the other a tangled net that has caught the fried sole for your comfortable dinner.

It would not do of course to go into my cabin. In the first place, the dingey was there, and then if I were to be enclosed inside when anything like a “run down” had to be dealt with, the cabin might be my coffin.

First I tried to crouch down in the well, but the constraint on limbs and joints was unbearable. My head slept while my knees ached with the pressure. No! there must be a positive lying down to sleep, if the sleep is to give true refreshment when you are rocked about on the waters; and this you have no doubt been convinced of any time at sea.

The strange twists of body I tried to fit into comfortably where the space (in the well) was only three feet each way, reached at last to the grotesque—the absurd contortions of a man miserable on a pleasure jaunt—and I laughed aloud, but somehow it sounded hollow and uncanny.

As to the exact spot where the Rob Roy was at this particular time we had of course no possible idea, but judging from after circumstances, the position must have been about ten miles south of St. Catherine’s Head, and she drifted twenty miles east while I dreamed.

Bed of the Sea

One effect of extreme exhaustion is to make the mind almost reckless of risk, and we can well understand how in some shipwrecks, after days and nights without sleep, men are in a placid, callous composure of sheer weariness, and that the last agony of drowning then is nothing, just as Dr. Livingstone told me, the shake given by a lion to his victim paralyses the whole system before it is killed. Therefore, as danger was only likely, and sleep was imperative, I must have sleep at all hazards, and so we loosed out the folds of the main-sail on the wet deck. How white and creamy they looked while all was dark around, for no moon had risen. Then I put on my life-belt, and fastened the ship’s light where it would not swing, but rested quite close to the deck. I rolled the thick, dry, and ample main-sail round me, stretching my limbs in charming freedom, and I tied myself to the boom, so as not to be easily jerked overboard by the waves. Of course it was my firm intention to sleep only by winks of one eye at a time; but the struggle with Morpheus was, we suspect, very faint; at any rate no record remained but a few dim visions that may have flickered in the soft vanishing of consciousness.

Can any person be expected to describe his first feelings as he awakes in such a bed and finds it broad day? Bright and glorious sun, high up, how I stared at you! and then a glance to the side, and behold, there is land—England. Deliberately I rose and gave three hearty cheers—nobody there to hear, indeed, but myself—no matter, it did good to me to cheer, and to hear too. Breakfast was soon agoing. Ten hours’ sleep had thoroughly refreshed me, mind and body; but I could not make out what part of the coast we had hit upon.

It was still about twelve miles distant, and as there were no cliffs in sight, it could not be the Isle of Wight. My chart told nothing; my French Pilot-book had woodcut pictures of all the coast, but nothing came of the search in these; and whether we had drifted east or west of the Isle of Wight we finally gave up as a question—we must go to the coast itself and see.

Therefore we steered due north, rapidly nearing the unknown land, and with a joyous morning, barometer high, wind south, and a coming fine day. Presently there loomed on the horizon one, and then another, and another, splendid ships of war. They steamed in line, and I tried to intercept them to put the query, “Where am I?” Baffled in this, the puzzle was, “Are they going to Portsmouth or Plymouth?” There were equally good reasons for either.

At length three towns could be seen, and the pictures of the French Pilot-book were closely examined, but several plates had each three towns which would fit the case before me, one as well as the other. Fortunately we chose the middle one of the three, because it had a little lighthouse. That on the left we found afterwards was Bognor, which has a reef of dangerous rocks upon its shore.

A fisherman was in his boat, and I hailed him, “Boat ahoy! What is the name of that town?”

“Town, sir?”

“Yes; that village right ahead; what do you call it?”

“The village there, sir?”

“Yes; what is its name? It has a name, hasn’t it?”

“Oh, yes, certainly, sir, it’s got a name.”

“Well, what is the name? I don’t know where I am.”

“Where have you come from, sir? from the Wight?”

And after these Scottish answers to the questions of a Scotsman, at last I found my way into Littlehampton; and if ever you go to the Beach Hotel in want of a soft bed, after sleeping out of a bed for nearly a month, you will find it there.

This little place, between Bognor and Brighton, is a quiet bathing town just in the delicate stage of existence, when it has been found out and admired, but not yet spoilt. One row of houses fronts the sea with a fine grassy plain between, and a clean white strand.

The Inn was of olden times, and apart near the water, with a landlady of the good old English type; and her son, the waiter, rampant about canoes, kept an aviary under the porch and a capital swimming dog in the stable.

Lie on a sofa in the coffee-room detached, and read the ‘Times,’—go into the drawing-room and play the piano, or sit under the garden trees and gaze on the fair blue sea, and hope fervently that, with a strong Tory government to protect our institutions, this hotel may be long kept hid from that merciless monster the “Company (Limited).” But already a railway runs here, and threatens its quiet. Even a steamer now and then from France screws its way into the very narrow channel, where the river Arun has wound down thus far from Arundel. [188]


Heavy sea—Isle of Wight—The Commodore—A glance at gear—Bow—Running rigging—Sisterhooks—Horse—Tiller.

The boy and his dog formed a small crowd on the little pier to see the Rob Roy start again with a fine breeze off shore, but freshening every minute until near Selsea Bill it blew half a gale. The navigation round this point is difficult at low water, as may be seen from the markings in the chart copied at page 245, merely as a specimen of what a chart is for the sailor’s eye.

At last it was necessary to reef main-sail and jib, the wind blew so hard and in gusts, and the adverse tide met me as it rushed out of Spithead with a heavy swell. Rain poured down slanting with the wind, and the rocks, uncovered at low water, looked very uninviting to leeward.

The little dingey was towed astern, as we had not expected so much sea with a north wind, but for the first time we found how perfectly this diminutive boat was adapted for towing, and after this trial she was never again stowed in the cabin. The bluff bow above, and the keelless, round, smooth bottom below, enabled the dingey to top the sharpest wave, and I often forgot my steering while turning round to watch the little creature as she nimbly leaped over the tumbling billows. The weather got worse, therefore we changed for a storm-mizen, and so many seas broke heavily over the Rob Roy, that the water in the well washed about my ankles, and finally we were compelled to give in and lie-to for an hour or more, after manning the pump.

This wind, rain, and sea together were the worst we had met with, but the yawl seemed in high spirits, like her owner; though the waves in the tide-way were sometimes so short and sharp that it was impossible to rise and fall fast enough, and she often buried deeply. It was here that my chart was so wet that it melted before my eyes, even with all endeavours to preserve it, and therefore I bore up for Brading Harbour, in the Isle of Wight, and somehow managed to get round Bembridge reef all safe into the quiet lake beyond.

Here, and on British soil again, was an end to all expected anxieties of the summer’s voyage. The rest to come were to be met, but not anticipated. There had been first the goal of Paris to be reached at a certain time for the Regatta there, and then there was the unknown voyage over the Channel, homeward bound; but henceforth no more dates or wide seas had to be thought of, and the rest of the vacation was free.

The shores and seas about the Isle of Wight looked more cheerful and lovely than ever, with a fair day next morning. Here we soon pass one of the new sea-batteries, a huge granite castle, reminding one of Bomarsund, but unfinished, and with scaffolds round that are worked or stopped, as Ministries go out or in, and as guns or iron plates are proved strongest in turn at Shoeburyness.

Portsmouth is in front, always with moving life on the waves. A squadron of ironclads presses heavy on the water at Spithead, and among them conspicuous is the five-masted Minotaur. White-winged yachts glide through the blue space between these and Ryde. Osborne basks in the sunshine with the “sailor Prince’s” pleasure-boat by the shore. If there be a gap or two in the horizon it is soon filled up by some rich laden merchantman, with sails swelling full in the light, and gay signal flags flowing out bright colours; and all the scene is woven together, as it were, by swift steamers flitting to and fro like shuttles strung with a thread of foam across a warp of blue.

But it is to that wooded point at Cowes we are steering, and the tall yellow masts clustered there shew already what an assemblage the yawl will meet at the Royal Yacht Squadron Regatta.

There was a certain amount of sailor’s pride as our yawl steadily advanced, steering in among these, the smallest of them all, but ready to be matched against any of its size and crew. She quietly approached the crowded quay, and I put my portmanteau ashore at the Gloucester Hotel; then the jib was filled again to sail up straight to Medina dock, where Mr. John White would see the craft he had modelled, and after a careful survey, the verdict upon her was entirely favourable. [192]

On her safe arrival at Littlehampton, after crossing the Channel, a short account of the voyage had been sent to the ‘Times,’ and this had reached the numerous yachtsmen at Cowes an hour before the boat herself appeared in front of the Club house. Therefore, the little craft required no more introduction. My flag was my card, and I was speedily made a member of the Club for the time being. Many old friends here greeted me, and many new visitors came on board to congratulate, while His Royal Highness the Commodore of the Royal Canoe Club, whose burgee flew at my mast-head, graciously shook hands.

While the ship carpenters at Medina Dock are making my new bowsprit, and a hundred other things, and Mr. Ratsey is putting the last finish to my sails, we may examine a little the upper gear of the yawl, for that has not yet been specially noticed; but as ladies and landsmen often come on board, who do not require a minute description of all the ropes and spars in the Rob Roy, they can skip the rest of this chapter.

* * * * *

From the sketches of the yawl given in our pages, it will be seen at once that she was under-masted and under-sailed. She could bear a spread of canvas double of that she carried; but for safety, for handiness, and for comfort, we must be content to sacrifice some speed.

Therefore, it was only in a very powerful breeze that the beautiful build and lines of the hull had anything like fair play for shewing her pace through the water. Then, indeed, and when other craft were reeling about and shipping seas, even under reefed canvas, the Rob Roy at once asserted her position.

We have spoken of the excellent mast already. The shrouds were of iron rope. This is affected by heat and wet, but not so much, as cordage is. The screw links to tighten the shrouds seldom had to be employed; a copper rope from the truck to a shroud acted as a lightning conductor.

The bowsprit is on the starboard side, for this allows you to use the light hand with the chain cable in the bitts. The jib has a foot of nine feet in stride. Its tack is on a rope round an open hook at the bowsprit end, so that in reefing you can get it in without danger of falling overboard while reaching out to detach it; then it is hooked on the stem. An iron bobstay we discarded, and an iron forestay, as difficult to keep taut; but, after trials with no bobstay at all, we found it advisable to replace this, although it is a troublesome rope in dealing with the anchor.

The gunwale has an opening of half an inch, all round, and this was enough for scuppers.

The forehatch is thirteen inches square, so that I can readily squeeze down into the fore-cabin.

I painted about a foot of the chain-cable of a bright red colour, at ten and at twenty fathoms, which was useful in telling how much ran out with the anchor. Fenders I got in Paris, very neatly made of line net-work, over canvas bags of cork.

The iron sheave on the stem for the anchor-chain was large, with a high cheek, and the comfort of this was well appreciated in weighing anchor at night or in a swell. The jib-sheets led aft, and the position of the cleats for these was most carefully chosen, as they are more worked than any part of the rigging; yet this position was twice altered, and the best place seems to be on the deck, two feet forward from your breast and two feet to the side.

The strain on these sheets in rough weather was greater than had been anticipated, and at last I had to put a tackle on the port jib-sheet, as that is the one less conveniently placed for belaying.

The peak halyard was fast to the gaff, then through a single block on the mast and one on the gaff, and again one aloft. The throat halyard was fast to the mast, and through a block on the throat, and then aloft. Both these halyards came down on the starboard side, and to separate cleats, but I found it generally more ready to haul on the two at once and belay them together.

The jib-halyard had a block on the sail, and then, with the topping lift, came down on the port side. A jib purchase I soon cut away—one learns to be economical of action when alone. Each of these four ropes then passed through a sheave on deck, two on each side, in an iron frame, properly inclined to give a clear lead. [195a]

Sisterhooks are troublesome things. Some much better plan as a substitute has to be invented, but I used for their “mousings” india-rubber rings, which answered perfectly well, and were easily replaced at six for a penny.

Stocking and re-stocking the anchor were the only operations when I felt the want of another hand, either to do the work at the bow or to give that one touch to the tiller at the critical moment, which an infant could do when near it, but which is hard for a man at a distance. The anchors were on deck, one at each side of the bitts, and fitting securely within the gunwale.

Two things, above all, I must try to devise for next voyage,—a cleat that will need no bends, [195b] but hold anywhere instantly, and an anchor-stock, self-acting in dark, rain, and wind, and without a forelock to slip out or get jammed.

Dashing spray

The hatch of the well was in two parts, and one of them, a foot in breadth, had chocks on each side, so that in rain and dashing spray it was fixed up at an angle before me, and thus only my eyes were above it exposed, and by moving my head down about one inch below the position shewn in the sketch, I could see the compass and the chart. A tarpaulin of one-faced india-rubber over the sloping board and under the horse, had its loose folds round one of my shoulders to the weather side, so that even in very rough water not much could get into the open well.

The main-boom had a ring working between cheeks and carrying a double block with a single block below. To reduce the long fall of the sheet I altered the upper block to a single one; but in the first heavy weather afterwards it was found to be too small a purchase. The force of the wind is underrated if you reason about it in fair weather.

The sheet block was fast to a strong, plain, copper ring, as a traveller, and after much trouble and expense about a horse for this, trying first an iron one, then a copper rope, and then hemp, I found that a rounded inch bar of red iron-wood straight across and about two inches above the bulkhead of the well, answered to perfection. [197]

The oars were stowed one on each side of the hatch combing with blades aft, and looms chock up to the gunwale at the bows, so as to be seldom moved by a rush of sea along the deck, and yet one or other or both could be instantly put into the iron crutches always kept ready shipped, and so placed that I could row comfortably while in the well and facing the bow. The boat-hook had its handle-end always near my right hand, and this saved me many a run forward in awkward times.

The tiller of iron-wood was well wedged into the rudder-head. Of course any joggling or slackness here is like a broken front tooth, or a loose steel pen. No plan that I heard of, or saw, or could devise yet, is entirely satisfactory for enabling the tiller to be set fast in a moment, at any angle, and yet to be perfectly free in ordinary times. I used a large piece of rough cork as a wedge to set the tiller, and a cord loop at each side of the gunwale, to keep it “hard down” when going about. At night, to stop the vibration of the rudder, I knocked in a brass wedge between its head and the iron bushing of the rudder hole.

Every bit of iron above water was galvanized; but this operation weakens small pieces of iron unless it is carefully done. However, the only part which carried away was my small anchor-stock, and this took place at the first cast of it into the Thames.

Such is the Rob Roy yawl, of 4 tons register, and the map (about 70 pages farther on) shews the general course of her first sea voyage by a dotted line, but many a long mile of zigzag had to be sailed besides.


Ducklings—Victoria Park—Yachtsmen—Cowes—Floating family—The ‘Zara’—Lifeboats—Wrecked—Mop—An odd story—The law of anchors—Experiments—The Royal yacht.

Medina Dock is the place to see all sorts of ships and boats for steam, sailing, or rowing, lifeboats, rafts, and models. The basin is full of broken-backed men-of-war whose old black bones are being disjointed and dragged asunder here to make strong knees again, just because they are black and well seasoned. Alongside the quay we had seen the three American yachts, which came across the Atlantic amid many English cheers for the vessels of two hundred tons crossing from New York, while we scarcely record the voyages of our own hundred-ton vessels that have often sailed to Australia.

In Mr. White’s garden there are Chinese junks and catamarans afloat in a pond, and even the walls around are not allowed to be quite of dry land, being painted with sea soundings and charts of the neighbouring coasts. This may indeed be called the Admiralty of the yacht fleet, and Cowes is its Portsmouth.

“Nauta nascitur non fit,” which is in English, “British boys are ducklings born to the water.”

Now many of these have affectionate parents not web-footed, and the filial duty of a little duck to the motherly hen is a very difficult question of conscience when a pond is near; but then there is no positive need to boat, while there is a positive command to obey. This ought to solve the question with all brave loving boys, who are manly enough to obey the woman dearest on earth to them.

A little vessel two feet long may be called a toy ship, but it is a toy that can teach much to an Admiral, and I should not like to have as my comrade on a voyage the man of forty who can pass the Serpentine without a glance at the little ragged urchin there, who is half in the water himself while he reaches with a twig his tiny lugger after its long voyage across the lake among ducks, and row-boats, and billows two inches high.

Victoria Park, again, has a feast of nauticalities now and then for boys who love boats, when the Model Yacht Club sails its liliputian squadron for a half-crown cup.

The competing yachts first lie on the green grass for inspection. They are made in “off hours” by working men, who sail as well as build them. Wife or a school-girl daughter has sewed the sails, and the paint on the hull is gorgeous. Crowds of all classes and ages are at the starting-post, and when the pistol fires the cheers begin. Each favourite in the fleet has its admirers, who run alongside, and the Secretary alone has a grave face, as of a man on important duty. Who can say what sailors’ seedlings may be watered in that pond, and to grow up in manhood afterwards as hearts of oak?

And if a boy is too young, or lazy, or clumsy-fingered to make a boat for himself, let him go along Fleet Street till he comes to the spot where he can turn his back upon St. Dunstan’s church. Depend upon it he will cross over to the Model Dockyard there, and after buttoning his jacket over his watch-chain, and a good shove down to his pocket-handkerchief, if he has one, let him wriggle in by elbow and knees till he gets a good place among the crowd at the window.

Even when it is time to go home he will not have seen half the naval stores here, or the little sailors—from Cork—all waiting to be engaged; but if he buys the Illustrated Handibook inside from the civil shopman, to con at home, perhaps at his next visit he may be admitted up-stairs to a delicious treat, where he can gloat over the more hidden fleet of the future.

Some, perhaps many, people keep yachts who do not enjoy sailing. We have sometimes seen a yacht-owner who could not steer his own dingey. There are others whose chief anxiety when once on board is for their speedy arrival at the next port. To have the best yacht of the year is no sign of its owner being a good sailor. The horse that wins the Derby would most likely not be first if he carried his owner, and a man may have a good carriage who cannot himself “handle the ribbons.”

It is no discredit to anybody that he is not able to ride a race, or steer a schooner, or drive a drag; but it is well to remember more than we do whose is the skill that wins in each of these exercises.

At Cowes one perceives very soon that a good deal of yachtomania is fed upon the good meat and drink afloat, and balls and promenades ashore, and the pomp and bustle of getting from one to the other, not to forget the brass buttons which fasten more vulgar minds to some Clubs.

Leaving aside all these in peace, provided they play with the thing as they have a right to do, and as openly as now, so that none can mistake them, we have still to admire a splendid set of fellows, yes, and of women too, who really love the sea. We know a hardy canoeist who said he would not marry anybody unless she could “pull bow oar,” and it certainly is an addition to the family hearth when the tender help-meet can “mind her luff.”

In the regatta week the tide of a congregation coming out of the pretty church at Cowes is thoroughly aquatic. Fine stalwart men with handsome faces, girls with chignons as big as a topsail bunt, yacht skippers of bronze hue and anxious eye, well fed sailors with cerulean Jerseys, children with hat ribbons and neckties labelled with yacht names. There were 150 yachts on the water here, and the Rob Roy anchored close to the Hotel, from which the sight was magnificent at night, when each mast-light was hung, and the whole made a brilliant crescent reflected in calm sea, while excellent music played softly on shore, and at each half-hour the bell of every vessel tolled the time, the Rob Roy adding her note to the jingle by so many thumps on an iron pot.

Near the yawl was a strange little cutter of five tons, as remarkable for the number of people on board it as mine was for having so few. There was the grey-haired hearty papa, and when we had noticed him taking observations with a sextant, we knew he was “a character.” Then there was his active son, and a younger brother, and a sister in bright red, and a sailor boy. They looked even more numerous, because they kept for ever moving out of sight, and then appearing in new costume, under and above the awning, which like a large umbrella, was spread on their boom.

It was a treat to lunch with this kind hale yachtsman, and to see the one minute cabin full of mirrors, pictures, statuettes, crockery, and furniture. To make room for the visitor two of the inhabitants ate their share of a huge pie in the punt alongside.

Then, to rise at once to the largest yacht of them all, there was the beautiful ‘Zara,’ a schooner of 315 tons, fitted out for a Mediterranean cruise, but making her first voyage from Cowes to Southampton, convoyed by the Rob Roy, and as her reefing topsails and her Flemish horse got entangled aloft by new stiff ropes, she drifted against another fine schooner; but with cool heads and smart hands on board of each of them, the pretty craft were softly eased away from a too rough embrace, and no damage was done.

About twenty of the yachts were steamers, and at least as many besides had steam-launches, a new adjunct rapidly becoming popular, and which soon will be almost a necessary for every yacht of 200 tons. All of these that I saw were lifeboats, built on “Lamb and White’s” principle, that is, with air chambers along the sides, so that they decline to upset, and if they are filled by the sea, they are not only still floating but steady also.

The Royal National Lifeboat Institution build boats with ballast below and with air-chambers so disposed at the ends and in the bottom as to cause the boat to right itself when it has been overturned, while Mr. S. White’s boats are constructed so as rather to prevent a capsize than to right the boat afterwards.

During an experimental trial in a heavy sea, one of these side-chamber boats was intentionally overturned, and it then kept steadily floating bottom upwards, so that the crew clambered up safely on the keel, where the handles provided for the purpose enabled them to hold on. Of the fourteen men, however, only thirteen could be counted, and so it was found that “Jem” was missing; but when he was called, Jem answered from the inside of the boat, “All right!” “What! Are you inside?” “Yes, I’m looking for my cap.” He was safe enough in the vacant space between the water and the floor, upturned over him, and there was room for several more of the crew inside.

The two rival systems then seem to represent (1) a boat which will speedily right, of which the men, if upset, may float outside until she rights, or may keep inside, and cling to the thwarts and trust to be soon righted; and (2) a boat which will upset only under strongest pressure, but the men can either stop inside, or if cast out can cling to the keel.

To decide between the merits of these lifeboats would require actual experiment outside and inside of each by the judge, who ought to look at all sides of the question; but my opinion is, at present, in favour of the side-chamber plan, for ships’ boats, and of course for steam-launches; while the evidence in favour of the other plan for pure lifeboat service in rough water is convincing.

Whatever may be finally settled as to the best position of the air-cases in lifeboats—and the best men in the world for these matters are engaged in earnest upon the subject [206]—it certainly is prudent for all who care not to be drowned, that the boat they sail in should be so built as not to go down bodily when a mere hole is knocked in her, and this may be insured by dividing her into water-tight compartments.

Some years ago I had a sharp lesson on this point. It was in Dublin Bay, where I was sailing entirely alone in an iron cutter-yacht, very small, yet far too large to be managed by me, then a boy. The throat parrell suddenly broke, and the mainsail jammed at once, so that she would not stay. Then I tried to wear ship, but the running sea poured in over the counter at each plunge, and baling was impossible, for it ran fore and aft. As the water got deeper inside she settled down, for she had no compartments, and, being of iron, of course she must speedily sink. A yacht had humanely come out, seeing my distress, and she rounded to and dropped a boy on board me with a strong rope; but when the boy set foot on my bows they plunged deep under water, and with a loud cry he hauled himself back on board the other yacht.

The captain instantly tacked and came again, and cast the rope to me, which I fastened securely to my mast, and then got safely aboard the preserver’s vessel, while mine sunk down, but suspended still by the rope, until we towed it into shallow water.

This sort of thing was fully provided against in the Rob Roy by the water-tight compartments, three in number, besides the air-chambers, so that if she was filled in any one, she could yet sail on, and if all three compartments had been entirely full of water, she would still float with her air-chambers, and with five hundredweight to spare. [208]

The buoyancy of the yawl was very remarkable. She easily carried twenty men, and in the same space one could accommodate five ladies of reasonable circumference.

A boat’s mop is, of course, well known to be always fair spoil to him who can take it, and whatever other article the yachtsman leaves loose on an unguarded deck, he never omits to hide or lock up the mop, for a mop is winged like an umbrella, it strays, but seldom returns. The usual protection of mops is their extreme badness, and it is on this account, no doubt, that you never can find a good mop to buy. The Rob Roy’s mop was the only bad article on board, and I left it out loose in perfect confidence. Often and often it had evidently been turned over, but on examination it was found supremely bad, worse than the thief’s own mop, and not worth stealing. At last, however, and in Cowes, too, the focus of yachting, if not of honesty, my mop was stolen. The man who took it is to be pitied, for, clearly, before he coveted a bad mop, he must have been long enduring a worse one.

Nor is the property in boats’ anchors quite free from the legal subtleties which allow but a dim sort of ownership in things that are attached to the soil.

When, indeed, your boat is at one end of the cable, you will scarcely fear that the anchor should be stolen from the other end. But when necessity or convenience causes you to slip anchor and sail away, you must recollect that though the anchor is the emblem of hope, it does not warrant any expectation that on returning you will find the anchor acknowledged to be yours. It has now passed into the category of “found anchors,” and it is not yet decided how the rights to these are best determined. However, I may here mention one mode of settling the matter.

A gentleman we shall call N., sailing from a port on the Thames, had to slip his anchor, and he said to the lad ashore—“You see I am leaving my anchor here, and be good enough to tell your father to get it when the tide falls, and to carry it to where my yacht is, and when I return here to-morrow I will give him half-a-crown.”

After his sailing was over, N. came back and said to the father, “Well, have you got my anchor?” “I have found an anchor,” he answered. “Yes, that is mine, and I told your son I would give you half-a-crown if you brought it here.” “I have found an anchor, and I’ll not give it up under five shillings,” said the man; and their argument and remonstrance gradually enveloped the subject in a hazy abstruseness, while the usual knot of idlers listened all round. At length N. said, “Come, now, we really must settle this matter. I’ll fight you as to whether I am to pay five shillings or nothing for the anchor,” and he took off his coat and waistcoat, so it was plain he was in earnest. The other man stripped too, a ring was formed, and after N., worsted at first, had well thrashed his opponent, the latter gave up the anchor. Here, perhaps, we might think the case had ended, but N. had still a point to be settled, saying to the man, “Your bargain was not only to give up the anchor, but to bring it here;” and as the fellow refused to do this, the valiant N. cut the second discussion short by saying, “Well, then, I’ll fight you again as to who shall carry it up,” and it need scarcely be said that the anchor was not carried up by N.

Is there any other country but England where two men can pummel each other in hard earnest, and yet with less passion at the time, and less grudge afterwards than often exists for years between two combatants who battle with their tongues, or even fight with their pens and post-stamps?

As anchors are important parts of one’s equipment, I had begun early to experiment at once with mine, and the small one had been tried once as a kedge. With the first heave it broke off short; the stock had snapped in the place which ought to be the strongest, but which is really made the weakest, by the present faulty construction of anchor-stocks. The memo in my log-book was, “Invent a proper anchor;” and even at Cowes I could not find any plan that met this need. [211]

Before the end of my voyage, a score of minutiæ as well as things of some importance were marked as lines for great improvement, when a nautico-mechanical brain shall be brought to bear upon them. The mental consideration of such points afforded varied subjects for many weeks’ thought. Indeed all the fittings of a sailing-boat seem open to much improvement. Meanwhile we have laid down the large Trotman as moorings in the Medina, while we range about the bays of the island with the smaller anchor duly repaired.

Of course the dingey had its Sunday voyage at Cowes, and was everywhere received with kindness. It went to the Royal Yacht here, as it had done to the Emperor’s yacht at St. Cloud, and the sailors were grateful for books to read, for they have plenty of time on Sundays. When I went afterwards with my canoe to the Nile, my next neighbour at the hotel dinner in Port Said was the owner of an English yacht, who gratefully expressed his thanks for books given to his crew at Cowes.

It did not appear to be the fashion at Cowes to work the crews for pleasure sailing seven days a week; indeed, we saw only one yacht sail in on Sunday, and she was arriving after a night’s voyage.


The life-raft—A travelled hen—Prussian adventure—American—Going up-stairs—Portsmouth—Fair visitor—Cruises—A review—Questions.

The ‘Nonpareil’ American life-raft was in Cowes after her Atlantic voyage of forty-three days at sea. Two of her three adventurous crew were Germans, who could speak English only imperfectly, and the third was a Yankee. This uncomfortable voyage was undertaken partly to promote the sale in England of these rafts, and partly to pay the three men by fees from visitors, while they could see Europe themselves at a cheap rate. One of Mr. White’s steamers towed the raft in front of the Castle, where the members of the Royal Yacht Squadron Club have their spacious house, with a sea wall over the waves.

From the accompanying sketch it will be seen that she is schooner-rigged, and very coarsely rigged too. Gigantic flags and streamers overwhelm her masts, but fourteen of us on her deck seemed to sink the buoyant life-raft only an inch more in the water.

The raft

She is made of three long tubes of india-rubber blown up by bellows; and, when the air is out, these can be packed away snugly, weighing in all about a ton, and intended to be inflated and launched from a ship’s deck in case of disaster. A small raft in the capacity of a dingey, but formed like the other, was towed beside her, and as a special favour I was piloted to go away in this, which was easily worked by oars or sculls upon outriggers.

The men had for shelter during their long voyage only a small waterproof tent on the deck, with a gutter round its edge to catch the rainwater, and so to replenish their supply, kept in bags on each side, and now handed about in glasses as “travelled liquor,” to wash down biscuits, still surplus from the “sea store.” Their cooking apparatus was at first worked by petroleum, but this speedily burned the metal out, and they were driven to manufacture a very ramshackle sort of oil-lamp, fed by the oil for their ship-light and their compass, and by some supplied from passing vessels.

Two centre-boards, like long narrow doors, placed diagonally between the web joinings of the tubes, dipped into the water, and served as a keel, so that when we cast her off from the steamer, the raft managed to sail a little over to windward. The whole raft being collapsible when the air is driven out, can be readily carried aboard ship, and for this it is valuable, but many other and better rafts compete with this for favour.

The actual substratum, or raft proper, seemed to be strong and substantial, but the sails and gear were miserably contrived, and worse executed, in preparation for a long dreary voyage of six weeks, drifting in wet and weariness, which I could not but contrast with the pleasant six weeks just passed in the Rob Roy.

The most interesting thing on the raft was a passenger, who had come on board her when about a thousand miles away in the sea. This was an old hen, given to the crew by a passing vessel. It was a common brown, dowdy, grandmother-looking hen, and in this prosaic state it was very odd and incongruous, tethered to the deck by a bit of tarred lanyard, and pecking away till you looked hard at it, then it cocked up one eye with an air that said, “Why are you staring at me?”

Among the visitors to the raft was a wealthy gentleman, who surveyed the whole with interest, and at last fixed his eye upon the barn-door fowl, and asked if it was to be sold. “Yes, sir, for a hundred guineas,” was the answer; but he deferred any immediate purchase by saying, “If I thought that eating that hen’s eggs would make me as plucky as you are, I might buy it.” As for being “plucky” in the matter, what will not men risk for money? The risks run by many sailors in the rotten coffins that bring our scuttles of coals round Yarmouth Sands are quite as great as the hazard on this raft, and their forecastles are about as comfortable as the tent upon it. If it were not on such a serious subject as risk to human life, one might well be amused to hear the wrong estimates of the dangers in various sorts of voyages which are so hastily expressed by benevolent people who are ignorant of the whole matter.

I advised the raft-men to take her to Berlin, for exhibition as “the German raft from America,” for such she is; but they persisted in their scheme for showing her in London, where folks are already tired of “flotsam and jetsam” from the West. Their enterprise failed; and the poor Germans had to depart from England deep in debt instead of laden with money, and their raft was left for sale.

Since the ‘Nonpareil,’ there has come to England from America another floating monstrosity, a boat called the ‘John T. Ford,’ worse “found” in every sense than the others, and which had three men drowned on the passage, and one nearly starved—a sad finale to the failures of the ‘Henrietta,’ ‘Red, White, and Blue,’ and ‘Nonpariel,’ as speculations. Another craft came in with man and wife as crew. Finally in July, the two Andrews came in the ‘Nautilus.’

Every day at Cowes the yawl Rob Roy was under way for a sail, and sometimes in good breezes she would thread in and out among thickly clustered yachts, so as to show her handiness. Certainly, without previous practice, it would be highly improper to attempt this sort of cruising; for the yachts, with bowsprits run out, and jiggers and mizen-booms projecting, are at anchor here on the implied understanding that no one will wantonly endanger a collision by sailing about in the crowd, merely for fun. After practice, however, for weeks in the same craft, the operation of guiding her safely through a maze of boats, and on a strong cross-tide, becomes like the unnoticed and nearly involuntary muscular efforts of the body which carry us safely through a crowd on shore. I recollect once seeing some very dignified Arab Chiefs, who for the first time in their lives had to go up-stairs, and their awkward stumbling, even in the ascent of a few steps, showed how much our nerves and limbs have to learn before we can do so ordinary a thing without even a thought.

One day the Rob Roy sailed to Portsmouth, and into all the creeks and crannies, and through all the channels and guts she could find in that complicated waterway, and then anchored near the ‘Duke of Wellington,’ with the old ‘Victory’ close beside. There also was the ‘Serapis,’ one of the magnificent troop-ships, of a size and build found to be the best success of our last naval efforts. By the quay was the ‘Warrior,’ the first sea-going iron-clad, and of beauty indisputable, and the celebrated ‘Wyvern,’ with its tripod masts. Others later made, and always more and more stumpy and square, need a strong pressure of utilitarian conviction to restrain us from pronouncing that they are downright ugly. But we shall soon become reconciled, and then enamoured, of forms that are associated with proved utility, and the grand three-decker of our youth will look as clumsy then as the ships of Queen Elizabeth do now, which seem to have carried, each of them, a lot of toy guns, and a country mansion on its deck.

The church service on board old ‘Victory’ was most interesting to take part in when Sunday came round, and next day her captain came to visit us in his well-manned gig, which, indeed, was longer than our boat, and he said that the Rob Roy “fulfilled a dream of his youth.” This from a “swell of the ocean” was a high compliment to our little yawl.

A boat full of boys, from the Portsmouth Ragged School, sang hymns on the water in the lovely evening.

Among the other remarkable visitors to the yawl was a pleasant young lady, who sat in a very pretty boat, rowed by a trusty man. She had hovered round and round the Rob Roy with a cautious propriety, which, however, could not conceal a certain wistful gaze as the narrowing spiral of her course brought her nearer at each turn. My little dingey was the attraction, and the lady confessed boldly that she “would so like to have a boat like that to row in.” Next she consented to see dinner cooked on the Rob Roy, and—just because she was a lady—she complied with the request not to fly away when I began to eat. Finally, as curiosity increases by gratifying it, the good-humoured girl (with the full consent of the trusty guardian) accepted one mouthful of the newly cooked rations, stewed steak, on Rob Roy’s fork, and then suddenly it had become “very late, and time to join papa.”

The variety of life during a fortnight here, yet all afloat, was abounding. One day sailing in company with other small boats up the winding Medina, or tacking about, close-reefed, in rough water; the next day cruising in some splendid schooner away and away towards the Needles. Every one was kind and hospitable, and often dipping their ensigns to the yawl. Surely we have named her cruise wrongly as “the voyage alone;” and, indeed, I could scarcely get time in my cabin for a glance at a paper, to see the news and doings of the land folk, bricked up ashore: their wars and congresses and the general rasping they get for it all by a hard squeeze in the press at the end of every week, to keep them from forgetting their own discomforts or their neighbours’ ills, for Parliament being dispersed in vacation, there is the fourth estate to legislate by public acclaim.

Most remarkable it is, and commendable, and a feature only a few years old, that the principal morning and evening papers should take up one after another of philanthropic institutions, and even of individual cases, and advocate them vigorously, while they spare no wrong from censure, and freely discuss remedies, which are much harder to talk of than any wrongs. Philanthropy is made popular by the press, and many a good worker is cheered by this powerful help. Blessings on their type!

But on the other hand, lest we should subside into doing good, hoping better, and making the best of things in a practical way, the whole has to be reviewed at the end of each week by a hard hebdomadal board, on which a dozen clear thinkers sit aside and criticise all the rest of us. Perhaps it is a part of the irreverence of our times that one should gradually lose awe in the presence of this weekly printed wisdom. Or is it that experience finds types are just as fallible as tongues for telling truth, and that years give us hardiness even in the presence of that most mighty, wise, and impudent of all earthworms,—man, that judges the very God of Heaven.

However, the brilliancy of these critics flares out and attracts, and it ought to attract, though it need not dazzle, even if it be the brilliancy of the electric light, warming as little, and darkening one side as much. Their thoughts reach thousands, and without the answers: thus to thousands they are judgments, not arguments. It is a tremendous responsibility to wield such powers, and perhaps it is not felt by a corporate body as each one of them would acknowledge for himself.

It is a good sign of them, or of the age, that they should yield to man’s innate love of continuous detraction?

Is not their own shibboleth the hardest of all, the most shifting, the most inaudibly pronounced by themselves, if it be not a universal “No,” and yet the most rigorously insisted upon? Is there not a “cant” of the vague and complacent denial, quite as bad as that of the too positive and assumed belief? Will it cure the weakness of the milk-and-water they complain of to pour in mustard and vinegar? and would not any one man, with all these bristling points of sarcasm, dispraise, and bitterness, be about as pleasant in social life as a porcupine? Surely this powerful literary lever could be plied to raise heavier stones, and to settle them in goodly order. Let others grub in the rubbish; but the leading organ of the week could sound with a grander harmony, more pleasant, and not less piquant if it gave rhythm to the mind of England in a forward march against misery.

Perhaps to write thus is too daring; for while Saturn masticates his own offspring it is a bold child that complains to his face; but it is better to be called rash than to be proved timid.

Meantime we are nearing Cowes in our sail from Portsmouth, and must mind the rocks and beacons rather than soliloquies, for this one question may be put after all:—Is it right to moralize at all in a log-book? and will not the reader say, that when there is not a storm in the yawl, or a swamp, there is sure to come a sermon?


Continental sailors—Mal de mer—Steam-launches—Punt chase—The ladies—Fireworks—Catastrophe—Impudence—Drifting yachts—Tool chest—Spectre ship—Where am I?—Canoe v. yawl—Selfish—Risk and toil—Ridicule.

The regatta days opened with wind and rain; but even at the best of times, the sight of a sailing match from on shore is like that of a stag hunt from on foot,—very pretty at the start, and then very little more to see. It is different if you sail about among the competing yachts. Then you feel the same tide and wind, and see the same marks and buoys, and dread the same shoals and rocks as they do, and at every turn of every vessel you have something to learn.

No one can satisfactorily distribute the verdict “victor” or “vanquished” in a sailing-match between the designer, the builder, the rigger, and the course, the weather, the rules, the sailor of each craft, and chance; though each of these will conduce in part to the success or failure in every match. Still there is this advantage, that the loser can always blame, and the winner can always praise, which of these elements he finds most convenient. But if a sailing-match has little in it quite intelligible, even when you see it, the account of a past regatta is well worth keeping out of print—so be it then with this one, the best held at Cowes for many years.

The large crowds that attended, and their obstinate standing in heavy rain, were in marked contrast to the phlegmatic and meagre interest of the few French who came to the regatta at St. Cloud. But it is such occasions that remind us of England being a land of seamen, while continental sailors are at best of the land, except in northern nations.

Once it was my lot to sail in a small screw-steamer along the coast of Calabria. Of the four passengers one was a Neapolitan officer, who embarked in full uniform; and with light tight boots and spurs, and clanging sword, he stalked the quarter-deck, that is, he took three steps, and was at the end, and three steps back.

In going out of Messina I saw we should have a tough bit of sea outside, and was soon prepared accordingly. He did not so, and the first bursting wave wet him through in a moment, and down he went below. Some hours afterwards I descended too, and a melancholy sight was there, with very lugubrious sounds.

In the cabin was a huge tub full of water, and the officer (spurs, boots, and all) was sitting in it with his legs out of one end and his head groaning and bellowing from the other. This was his specific for sea-sickness, and for three days he behaved about as well as a fractious child who sadly wants a good whipping. It is no discredit to a man to be sea-sick. Nelson, we are told, was so far human. But it is somewhat unmanly for an officer to whine and blubber like a baby, and yet we have several times seen this phenomenon abroad. When we came into Naples this lachrymose hero was again in full feather, boots, spurs, and sword, stalking the quarter-deck as if no tub and tears had intervened.

Some excellent rowing-matches, after the Regatta in Cowes, were varied by a “punt chase,”—an amusement thoroughly English; when one man in a punt is chased by four in a low-boat, who have to catch both him and his boat within ten minutes.

Of course his path is devious and tortuous on the water, his resort being quick turns, while the chasers gain in speed. After numerous close escapes he leaps into the water. Then if the pursuers catch and hold his boat it clogs them in following him, and if they follow him while his boat is left free, he manages to escape round some tangled mass of shipping, and so regains his boat for a new start.

This is the sort of thing that tries both swimming and pluck in the water, as well as mere muscle or wind in rowing. It is to racing proper what a hunt is to a flat race. Rowing is only one small part of boating, and it is apt to monopolise our favour chiefly because many can row for one that can boat.

In one of these punt chases at Cowes the punter had several times plunged into the sea, and amid shouts and cheers he was always closely followed by one of his chasers who swam almost equally well.

At length the brave punter swam over to the ‘Alberta,’ one of the Queen’s steam-yachts, which had several of the royal Princesses and others on board, who kindly thus patronized the races, and their presence was thoroughly appreciated by us all. The hardy sailor scaled the yacht, and actually ran among the ladies,—who doubtless were much amused, and indeed they tittered vastly. Then he mounted the lofty paddle-box, closely followed by his resolute pursuer, who would not be shaken off. With one moment of hesitation the punter took a splendid “header” into the sea, and as he was thus descending from the paddle-box the gun fired, showing that the ten minutes had expired. The pursuer could then, of course, have given up the chase as done. He had lost and could not win now. But there was still in him that fine free boldness which superadds brave deed to stern duty, and, amid a burst of cheers, he too leaped down into the sea.

The Punt Chase

The first diver, however, had heard the wished-for gun as he fell and so he claimed his prize when he came up, all red and watery, and both had well gained the applause of the spectators.

It is not for one who has rowed fifty races with pleasure to underrate, far less to disparage, mere rowing; but still we maintain that for the encouragement of pure manliness, and the varied capacities useful in a sailor’s life, one punt chase is far better than ten of the others.

The rapid introduction of steam-launches into use for our large English yachts adds quite a new feature to every grand regatta. Here again, however, the French navy led the way, and England follows somewhat tardily. The French fleet at the Cherbourg review, some years ago had a swarm of these fussy little creatures buzzing about the great anchored iron-clads. English steam-launches were built to carry each a gun, and so they are bluff and slow. Our Admiralty declined to allow a race between these and the French launches in Paris, else, no doubt, the superior speed of the French boats would have astonished John Bull. All this has lately changed, so that launches and torpedo boats in England can steam twenty miles an hour.

The “voyage alone” had culminated at Cowes when the splendid exhibition of fireworks closed the grand show of British yachting. It was a beautiful sight those whizzing rockets speeding from wave to sky, and scattering bright gems above to fall softly from the black heaven; those glares of red or green that painted all the wide crescent of beauteous hulls, and dim, tall masts with a glow of ardent colour, and the “bouquets” of fantastic form and hue, with noise that rattled aloft, while thousands of paled faces cheered loud below. To this day the deck of the Rob Roy (which is now in Australia) bears marks of the fire-shower falling quietly, gently down, but still with a red scar burned in black at the last.

Luggage is all on board again, and our tiny “Blue Peter” flies at the fore, for the Rob Roy will weigh anchor now for her homeward voyage. The Ryde Regatta was well worth seeing, and she stopped there in an uneasy night, but we need not copy the log of another set of sailing matches.

Thus in a fine evening, when the sun sank ruddy and the breeze blew soft, we turned again to Brading harbour, and, just perhaps because we had come safely once before, there was listless incaution now, as if Bembridge reef could not be cruel on such a fine evening as this.

Various and doubtless most true directions had been given to me as to entering this narrow channel:—“Keep the tree in a line with the monument; that’s your mark.” But when you come there and see the monument, there are twenty trees; and which then is the tree to guide by? Here, therefore, and in mundane things on land too it is alike, the misapprehension of a rule was worse than the chance mistake of undirected mother-wit. A horrid crash brought us suddenly to rest; the Rob Roy had struck on a rock. Though I was lax at the time, and lolling and lazy, yet presence of mind remained. Down came the sails, out leaped the anchor, and shoving, and hauling, and rowing did their best; but no, she was firmly berthed on one of the north-west rocks. Presently a malicious wave lifted her stern round and the rudder soon bumped on another sharp ledge, until by sounding and patience I at last got her free, and rowed out through a channel unconscionably narrow, and then ran the sails up, and the yawl was safe again, sailing smoothly, with a deep sigh of deliverance.

A sailing-boat had put off from the shore to help, seeing the catastrophe, but I signalled to her, “Thanks—all right now,” and she went back.

Soon another boat that had rowed out came near, and the man in her determined to be a salvor whether or no, and leaped on board the yawl. I made him get off to his boat; I had not invited him, nor had he asked permission to board me. He could see it was the other man’s job, and he ought to have obeyed the signal, as the other did. Grumbling heavily, he at length asked me to tow him in. “Well,” I said, “why, yes, I will give you a tow, though you have been very impudent.” But the moment he came near he jumped on board again, resolved “to save me,” though I might protest ever so hard. Once more, then, I bundled him into his boat, and this time rather by deeds than words. He kept up a volley of abuse all the way to the shore, and there I gave my yawl in charge of the first man, who had acted right both in coming out and in going back when signalled. A hospitable Captain R.N. offered me his moorings (as a good bed for my yawl), and asked me to breakfast next day, which was accepted, “subject to the wind,” especially as the entertainer was of the clan “Mac,” like his guest.

Calm night falls on the Rob Roy, in a little inland lake, profoundly still, more quiet indeed, in respect of current, tide, or wind, or human being than any night of the voyage. It was very difficult to turn in below with such a moon above, and water quite unruffled. So there was a long lean-to on propped elbows, and reverie reeled off by the yard.

Daybreak grey, with a westerly breeze, at once dissolved the breakfast engagement, and carried the Rob Roy to sea, with her own kettle briskly boiling; and now we are fairly started on our voyage to the Thames again. But the glowing sun also took its morning meal, and greedily ate up the wind; and so the yachts from Ryde could be seen far off, looking farther off in a misty curtain, all only drifting with the tide, while they raced their hardest for a cup. Yet there is science and skill in drifting well. If the skipper has no wind to show his prowess in with sails, he must win by his knowledge of current, tide, and channel, while he seems perhaps to be carried along helplessly. One after another the pretty racers slowly rounded the Warner light-ship, and then each sunk back, as it were, into the gauzy distance, until they seemed like white pearls dotted on grey satin, and the Rob Roy was alone again, while the fog thickened more. Land was shut out, then sky, then every single thing, and the glazed sea seemed to stiffen as if it had set flat and smooth for ever.

To know that this state of thing was to last for hours would make it intolerable, but the expectancy of every moment buoys up the mind in hope, and every past moment is buried as you reach thus forward to the next coming.

Then the inexorable tide turned dead against me, and down went my anchor; for, at any rate, we must not be floated backwards. Tool-chest opened, and hammer and saw are instantly at work, for there are still “things to be done” on board, and when all improvements shall have been completed then vacant hours like these will be tedious enough; but never fear, there is no finality in a sailing-boat, if the brain keeps inventing and the fingers respond.

Out of the thick creamy fog a huge object slowly loomed, with a grand air of majesty, and a low but strenuous sound as it came nearer and clearer to eye and ear. It was an enormous Atlantic Steamer, and it went circling round and round in ample bends, but never too far to be unexpected again. Sometimes her great paddles moved with a measured plash, but slow, until she dissolved before my eyes into a faded vision. Again, when hidden, there would still come a deep moaning from her hoarse fog-whistle out of the impenetrable whiteness, and she again towered up suddenly behind, ever wheeling, gliding on, vapour and water so commingled that you could not say she floated, but was somehow faintly present like the dim picture on a canvas screen from a magic lantern half in focus. She was searching in the fog for the ‘Nab’ light-ship, thence to take new bearings and cleave the mist in a straight course at half-speed for Southampton. When she found the ‘Nab’ she vanished finally, and I was glad and sorry she was gone.

After long waiting, the faintest zephyr now at last dallied with my light flag for a minute, and the anchor was instantly raised. A schooner, also outward bound, soon gently burst its way through the cloudy barrier, and I tried to follow her, but she too melted into dimness, and left me in a noiseless, sightless vacancy, except when the distant gong of the light-ship told that they also had a fog there.

How did the ancients by any possibility manage to sail in a fog without a compass? In those days, too, they had no charts; yes, and there was no “Wreck chart,” to tell at the year’s end all the havoc strewn at the bottom of the sea.

Well, we sailed on and on, always seeming to sail on into pure cotton-wool, which blushed a little with an evening tint as the sun tired down, and so here was a long day told off and ending; but where exactly am I now as darkness falls?

You will say, “Why, the chart tells that, of course;” and so it does, if you have anything like sure reckoning to indicate what part of the mazy groups of figures on it to look for as your probable place; otherwise a dozen different places in it will all suit your soundings, and eleven of them are wrong.

Consider the data, for our calculation. The Rob Roy had been carried by two tides; one this way, the other that. She had sailed on three different tacks, that is, in various angular directions, and with different speeds, and these complicating forces had acted for times very uncertain. Where is she now? an all-important question for settling the start point in a night cruise, and on a dangerous coast.

The last time I was sailing in fog was on the Baltic, in my canoe, where, just at the nick of time, a look-out man was descried on a high ladder far overlooking the low rocky islands of the Swedish coast, and he speedily showed me that my bow was then pointed exactly wrong for the desired haven.

This may be the time, perhaps, to compare the canoe voyages with the yawl cruise, even if we cannot settle the question so often put to me, “Which was the most agreeable?”

A canoe voyage can be enjoyed by several men, each in a separate boat, and yet all in a combined party; that is, with distinct responsibility but united companionship. The yawl cruise devolves both toil and care on one alone, but he also has all the pleasure, and so it might be pronounced at once to be more selfish than the other voyage. But after a score of tours, in large and small parties, I see that selfishness is quite independent of the number concerned. A man who is pleasing his wife or his children in a tour I do not count at all; for everything that delights or benefits them is of course a pleasure to him. Or again, he may journey with ten companions, and his travelling circle will indeed be larger, but the centre of it may be after all the same.

Of the thousand tourists who rush out over the Continent each summer there is little check on selfishness by meeting people in trains, steamers, and hotels for a temporary acquaintance which is speedily dissolved as soon as the interests or the likings of the companions are not coincident.

Unselfishness appears to consist in doing good when it is not exactly pleasant to do it, and to people who are not in our own groove, or in “our set,” but like the people invited in the feast prescribed by Christ, and for whom we work as a duty, whether it is immediately agreeable or not. It is giving up our own will to God’s command and obeying this ungrudgingly: and yet our own pleasure may be most in giving others pleasure, and we can be lavish of labour for others while we are selfish at the core. Thus it seems to be very difficult ever to be unselfish in the sense that it is often absurdly insisted upon; namely, that others are everything and yourself nothing. Nevertheless, after all casuistry, we know what is meant by “selfish,” as an undue regard. But the result of an action is to be looked at, and it does not become selfish because we alone do one part of it. A man who steps out from a crowd to pluck flowers alone on the edge of the cliff may bring back a bouquet that will give fragrant pleasure to them all, while another who stays in the group of gatherers may gather none at all or may be very selfish about his handful. Our lonely labour may, in fact, be useful for other people in the end.

The anxieties of the canoe trip are more varied and less heavy than in a sailing cruise.

In the yawl I was always sure of food and lodging, but then in the canoe one does not fear wind, wave, calm, and fog; for, at any rate, one can at the worst take the canoe ashore. The risk of a total loss of the canoe is only fifteen pounds gone, but the other shipwreck risks ten times as much, and whereas each canoe danger can usually be avoided, those met in sailing at sea are often to be encountered without any escape.

The physical endurance required in a canoe is more under control of a previous arrangement. The muscular exertion with the paddle is generally voluntary, while that in the yawl was often hardest when one wanted most to rest. You need scarcely be forced, in canoeing, to go on two days and two nights without sleep, as will presently be seen was my fate in the yawl.

The scenery in traversing land and water in a canoe is of course more varied than in sailing always at sea, but the perils of the deep have a grandeur and wideness that seem to rouse far more the inner soul and with more profound emotions. The thoughts during a night storm at sea are of a higher strain than those in passing the rapids in a river.

Finally, there is at first a sense of incongruity in the appearance of a canoe when in a cart, on a train, or in a house, and you have often to meet an inexplicable but evident smile at the whole affair, which perhaps comes from pity, certainly from ignorance, and it may be from contempt; whereas a sailing-boat crossing the deep is doing what people in ports and ships know very well about, and if your boat keeps on doing it successfully they cannot despise the deed because the boat that does it is small. A man who comes to the “meet” on a little pony will not be laughed at if he is always well in at the death.

Perhaps the voyage alone in a yawl will not be so often repeated by other people as that in a canoe, but this last manner of touring became popular at once.

One of the members of the Royal Canoe Club (The late Hon. J. Gordon), a distinguished University oar and Wimbledon Prizeman, sailed [240] at night across the Channel from Dover to Boulogne, paddled through France and sailed to Marseilles, and thence from Nice to Genoa, through the Italian lakes, the Swiss lakes, and by the Reuss to the Rhine home again. A second coasted along England, and paddled across the Channel from the French side in a ‘Rob Roy’ made with his own hands. A third crossed from Scotland to Ireland in his ‘Rob Roy.’ A critic complacently denied, a few months before these voyages, that a canoe could cross a bay eight miles wide. The canoes of our Members have paddled over thousands of miles in Europe, Asia, Africa, and America, including China and Japan, besides cruises in Australia, New Zealand, and many groups of islands far away.


Bedtime—A trance—Thunderings—Chart—Light dims—Night flies—First running—Newhaven—On the gridiron—Mr. Smith—Tumbledown walls—Derelict.

“Where is the yawl now?” was the question we had asked in the fog, and the natural answer was—that the chart would tell, of course. So let us look at the small slice of chart copied on page 245, which is crammed, you see, with figures of soundings, and names of banks, buoys, and beacons; but the only thing to be seen on the actual horizon around us, is the Owers light behind, and about N.W. in its bearing. The tide will soon turn against our progress towards the east, therefore we tack towards shore, so as to be within anchorage soundings should it become needful to stop, for the wind has just changed rather suspiciously, and we can even hear the sound of the drums at Portsmouth as they beat the taptoo. A few bright meteors shoot athwart the heavens above, reminding us that this is one of their usual epochs—the 14th of August.

Now we are in ten fathoms by the lead, and we must anchor here, for the tide has fully turned and the wind has lulled, and perhaps it will do to sleep for six hours now before going on again.

The beautiful phosphorescence of the sea on this occasion was an attractive sight, and I could follow the line of my hemp cable by the gleam of silver light which enfolded it with a gradually softened radiance from the surface of the sea, down—down to an unseen depth, where, in sooth, it was dark enough. [242]

The gentle motion of riding with a chain-cable is quite in contrast to that when anchored by a rope; for this latter will jerk and pull, while the heavier chain, laid in a drooping curve, acts as a constant spring that eases and cushions every rude blow.

I intended to start again with any freshening breeze, and to get into Littlehampton for the night; therefore the small anchor and the hemp cable were used so as to be more ready for instant departure, and well it was thus.

Time sped slowly between looking at my watch to know the tide change, and dozing as I lay in the cabin—the dingey being of course astern; until in the middle of the night, lapsing through many dreams, I had glided into that delicious state when you dream that you are dreaming. On a sudden, and without any seeming cause, I felt perfectly awake, and yet in a sort of trance, and lying still a time, seeking what could possibly have awakened me thus. Then there came through the dark a peal of thunder, long, and loud, and glorious.

How changed the scene to look upon! No light to be seen from the Owers now, but a flash from above and then darkness, and soon a grand rolling of the same majestic, deep-toned roar.

Now I must prepare for wind. On with the life-belt, close the hatches, loose the mainsail, and double reef it, and reef the jib. Off with the mizen and set the storm-sail, and now haul up the anchor while yet there is time; and there was scarcely time before a rattling breeze got up, and waves rose too, and rain came down as we sailed off south to the open sea for room. Sea room is the sailor’s want: the land is what he fears more than the water.

We were soon fast spinning along, and the breeze brushed all the haze away, but the night was very dark, and the rain made it hard to see. Now and then the thunder swallowed all other sounds, as the wild cries in the desert are silenced by the lion’s roar.

Sometimes there was an arch shining above as the flashes leaped across the upper clouds, and then a sharp upright prong of forked lightning darted straight down between, while rain was driven along by the wind, and salt foam dashed up from the waves. It seemed like an earthly version of that heavenly vision which was beheld in Patmos by the beloved John:—“And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings.” [244]

How well our English word “thunder” suits the meaning in its sound, far better than tonnerre or tonitru!

In the dark, a cutter dashed by me, crossing the yawl’s bows, just as the lightning played on us both. It had no ship-light up, shameful to say. I shouted out, “Going south?” and they answered, “Yes; come along off that shore.”

The Owers chart

From the bit of chart here copied (covering only a few miles) it will be understood what kind of shore we had to avoid. There was quite water enough for our shallow craft, but it was the twisting of currents and tides that made the danger here.

The breeze now turned west, then south, and every other way, and it was exceedingly perplexing to know at once what to do in each case, especially as the waves became short and snappish under this pressure from different sides, and yet my compass quietly pointed right, with a soft radiance shining from it, and my mast-light in a brighter glow gleamed from behind me [246] on the white crest of the waves.

At one time a heavy squall roughened the dark water, and taxed all my powers to work the little yawl; but whenever a lull came, or a chance of getting on my proper course again, I bent round to “East by North,” determined to make way in that direction.

In the middle of the night my compass lamp began to glimmer faint, and it was soon evident that the flame must go out. Here was a discomfort: the wind veered so much that its direction would be utterly fallacious as a guide to steer by, and this uncertainty might continue until the lightning ceased. Therefore, at all hazards, we must light up the compass again. So I took down the ship-light from the mizen shroud, and held it between my knees that it might shine on the needle, and it was curious how much warmth came from this lantern. Then I managed to get a candle, and cut a piece off, and rigged it up with paper inside the binnacle. This answered for about ten minutes, but finding it was again flickering, I opened the tin door, and found all the candle had melted into bright liquid oil; so this makeshift was a failure. However, another candle was cut, and the door being left open to keep it cool, with this lame light I worked on bravely, but very determined for the rest of my sailing days to have the oil bottle always accessible. Finally the wind blew out the candle, though it was very much sheltered, and the ship-light almost at the same time also went out suddenly. Then we lay to, backed the jib, opened the cabin hatch, got out the oil, thoroughly cleaned the lamp, put in a new wick, and lighted it afresh, and a new candle in the ship’s light; again we started all right once more, with that self-gratulation at doing all this successfully,—under such circumstances of wind, sea, and rain,—which perhaps was not more than due.

What with these things, and reefing several times, and cooking at intervals, there was so much to do and so much to think about during the night that the hours passed quickly, and at last some stray streaks of dawn (escaped before their time perhaps) lighted up a cloud or two above, and then a few wave-tops below, and soon gave a general grey tint to all around, until by imperceptible but sure advance of clearness, the vague horizon seemed to split into land and water, and happily then it was seen plainly that the Rob Roy had not lost way in the dark.

As soon as there was light enough to read we began to study Shoreham in the Pilot book, and neared it the while in the water; but though now opposite the Brighton coast, it was yet too faraway to make out any town, for we had stood well out to sea in the thunderstorm. All tiredness passed off with the fresh morning air, and the breeze was now so strong that progress was steady and swift.

It may be remarked how a coast often appears quite different when you are fifteen or twenty miles out to sea, from what it does when you stand on the beach, or look from a row-boat close to the land. So now we were puzzled to find out Brighton, one’s own familiar Brighton, with its dull half-sided street, neither town nor bathing-town, its beach unwalkable, and all its sights and glories done in a day. We might well be ashamed not to recognise at once the contour of the hills, which we had so often trudged over in column or in skirmish in the Volunteer Reviews.

The chain-pier was, of course, hardly discernible at a great distance. But the “Grand Hotel” at last asserted itself as a black cubical speck in the binocular field, and then we made straight for that; Shoreham being gradually voted a bore, to be passed by, and Newhaven adopted as the new goal for the day.

We had shaken out all reefs, and now tore along at full speed, with the spray-drift sparkling in the sun, and a frolicsome jubilant sea. The delights of going fast when the water is deep and the wind is strong—ah! these never can be rightly described, nor the exulting bound with which your vessel springs through a buoyant wave, and the thrill of nerve that tells in the sailor’s heart, “Well, after all, sailing is a pleasure supreme.”

Numerous fishing-vessels now came out, with their black tanned sails and strong bluff bows and hardy-looking crews, who all hailed me cheerily when they were near enough, and often came near to see. Fast the yawl sped along the white chalk cliffs, and my chart in its glazed frame did excellent service now, for the wind and sea rose more again; and at length, when we came near the last headland for Newhaven, we lowered the mainsail and steadily ran under mizen and jib. Newhaven came in sight, deeply embayed under the magnificent cliff, which, at other times I could have gazed on for an hour, admiring the grand dashing of the waves, but we had to hoist mainsail again, so as to get in before the tide would set out strongly, and so increase every minute the sea at the harbour’s mouth.

It was more than exciting to enter here with such waves running. Rain, too, came on, just as the Rob Roy dashed into the first three rollers, and they were big and green, and washed her well from stem right on to stern, but none entered farther. The bright yellow hue of the waves on one side of the pier made me half afraid that it was shallow there, and, hesitating to pass, I signalled to some men near the pier-head as to which way to go, but they were only visitors. The tide ran strongly out, dead in my teeth, yet the wind took me powerfully through it all, and then instantly, even before we had rounded into quiet water, the inquisitive uncommunicative spectators roared out, “Where are you from?” “What’s your name?” and all such stupid things to say to a man whose whole mind in a time like this has to be on sail and sea and tiller. [250]

During this passage from the Isle of Wight I had noticed now and then, when the waves tossed more than usual, that a dull, heavy, thumping sound was heard aboard the yawl, and gradually I concluded that her iron keel had been broken by the rock at Bembridge, and that it was swinging free below my boat. This idea increased my anxiety to get in safely; and to make sure of the matter we took the Rob Roy at once to the “gridiron,” and laid her alongside a screw-steamer which had been out during the night, and had run on a rock in the dark thunderstorm. The “baulks” or beams of the gridiron under water were very far apart, and we had much difficulty in placing the yawl so as to settle down on two of them, but the crew of the steamer helped me well, and all the more readily, as I had given them books at Dieppe, a gift they did not now forget.

Just as the ebbing tide had lowered the yawl fairly on the baulks, another steamer came in from France, crowded with passengers, and the waves of her swell lifted my poor little boat off her position, and rudely fixed her upon only one baulk, from which it was not possible to move her; therefore, when the tide descended she was hung up askew in a ludicrous position of extreme discomfort to her weary bones; but when I went outside to examine below, there was nothing whatever amiss, and gladness for this outweighed all other troubles, and left me quite ready for a good sleep at night.

For this purpose we rowed the yawl into a quiet little river, and lashed her alongside a neat schooner, whose captain and wife and children and their little dog ‘Lady’ were soon great friends, for they were courteous people, as might be expected in a respectable vessel; it is generally so.

Now the Rob Roy settled into soft mud for a good rest of three days, and I went to the Inn where “Mr. Smith” landed from France in 1848, after he had given up being King Louis Philippe.

The Inn traded upon this fact, and it had other peculiarities—very bad chops, worse tea, no public room, and a very deaf waitress! the whole sufficiently uncomfortable to justify my complaint, and it must be a very bad inn indeed that is not comfortable enough for me.

Here I was soon accosted by a reader of canoe books, and next day we inspected the oyster-beds, and a curious corn-mill driven by tide-water confined in a basin—one of the few mills worked by the power of the moon. Also we wandered over the new sea fortifications, which are built and hewed by our Government one week, and the week afterwards if there comes a shower of rain they tumble down again. This is the case, at any rate, with the Newhaven fortress, and we must only hope that an invading army will not attack the place during the wrong week.

Three steamers in a day, all crowded with Exhibition passengers, that was a large traffic for a small port like Newhaven; but it did not raise the price of anything except ham sandwiches, and I bought my supplies of eggs and butter and bread, and walked off with them all, as usual, to the extreme astonishment of an aristocratic shop-woman.

In crossing a viaduct my straw hat blew off into a deep hole among mud, and I asked a boy to fetch it. The little fellow was a true Briton. He put down his bundle, laboriously built a bridge of stones, and at imminent risk of a regular mud-bath, at length clasped the hat. His pluck was so admirable, that he had a shilling as a reward, which, be it observed, was half the price of the hat itself two months before, a “No. 2” hat, useful to shop in.

This incident put an end to quiet repose, for the boy-life of the town was soon stirred to its lowest depth, and all youngsters with any spirit of gain trooped down to the yawl, waiting off and on for the next day also, in hopes of another mishap as a chance of luck to them.

The dingey too had its usual meed of applause; but one rough mariner was so vociferous in deriding its minuteness, that at last I promised him a sovereign if he could catch me, and he might take any boat in the port. At first he was all for the match, and began to strip and prepare, but his ardour cooled, and his abuse also subsided.

Many Colchester boats were here, nearly all of them well “found,” and with civil crews, who were exceedingly grateful for books to read on the Sunday, and, resting among them, was a little yacht of five tons, which had been sent out with only one man to take her from Dover to Ryde. Poor fellow! he had lost his way at night and was unable to keep awake, until at last two fishermen fell in with the derelict and brought him in here, hungry and amazed; but I regarded him with a good deal of interest as rather in my line of life, and I quite understood his drowsy feelings when staring at the compass in the black, whistling rain.


Tide waiter—Beachy Head—Night Ghost—Man overboard—Ship ahoy!—Overfalls—Thoughts—Thunder—A question—Day—Good-bye, dingey!—Dungeness—A nap.

The barometer mounted steadily all Sunday, so we resolved to start next morning at break of day. But though the night was quiet the vessels near my berth were also getting ready, therefore at last I gave up all hopes of sleep, and for company’s sake got ready also after midnight, that we might have all the tide possible for going round Beachy Head, which, once passed, we could find easy ports all the way to London. So about two o’clock, in the dark, we are rowing out again on the ebbing tide, and the water at the pier-head looks placid now compared with the boiling and dashing it made there when the yawl passed in before.

Dawn broke an hour afterwards with a dank and silent mist skirting up far-away hills, and a gentle east wind faintly breathing as our tea-cup smoked fragrant on deck. The young breeze was only playful yet, so we anchored, waiting for it to rise in earnest or the tide to slacken, as both of them were now contrary; and meantime we rested some hours preparing for a long spell of unknown work; but I could not sleep in such a lovely daybreak, not having that most valuable capacity of being able to sleep when it is wanted for coming work, and not for labour past.

The east wind baffled the yawl and a whole fleet of vessels, all of us trying to do the same thing, namely, to arrive at Beachy Head before two o’clock in the day; for, if this could be managed, we should there find the tide ebbing eastwards, and so get twelve hours of current in our favour.

This feature—the division of the tides there—makes Beachy Head a well-marked point in the navigation of the Channel. The stream from the North Sea meets the other from the Atlantic here, and here also they begin to separate. After beating, in downright sailing, one after another of the schooners and brigs and barques in company, I saw at last with real regret that not one of us could reach the point in time, and yet the yawl got there only a few minutes too late; but it was dead calm, and I even rowed her on to gain the last little mile.

One after another the vessels gave it up, and each cast anchor. Coming to a pilot steamer, I hailed: “Shall I be able to do it?” “No, sir,” they said; “no,—very sorry for you, sir; you’ve worked hard, sir, but you’re ten minutes too late.” Within that time the tide had turned against us. We had not crossed the line of division, and so the yawl had to be turned towards shore to anchor there, and to wait the tide until nine o’clock at night, unless a breeze came sooner.

After three hours’ work she reached the desired six fathoms’ patch of sand, just under the noble white cliff that rears its head aloft about 600 feet, standing ever as a giant wall, sheer, upright, out of the sea.

Dinner done and everything set right (for this is best policy always), I slipped into my cabin and tried to sleep as the sun went down, but a little land-breeze soon began, and every now and then my head was raised to see how tide or wind progressed. Then I must have fallen once into a mild nap, and perhaps a dream, for sudden and strong a rough hand seemed to shake the boat, and, on my leaping up, there glanced forth a brilliant flash of lightning that soon put everybody on the qui vive.

Now was heard the clink of distant cables, as I raised mine also in the dark, with only the bright shine of the lighthouse like a keen and full-opened eye gazing down from the cliff overhead.

Compass lighted, ship-lantern fixed, a reef in each sail, and, with a moment’s thought of the very similar events that had passed only a few nights ago, we steered right south, away, away to the open sea.

It was black enough all around; but yet the strong wind expected after thunder had not come, and we edged away eastward, doubly watchful, however, of the dark, for the crowd of vessels here was the real danger, and not the sea.

Look at the ghost of Rob Roy flitting on the white sail as the lamp shines brightly. Down comes the rain, and with it flash after flash, peal upon peal of roaring thunder, and the grandeur of the scene is unspeakable. The wind changed every few minutes, and vessels and boats and steamers whirled past like visions, often much too near to be welcome.

Beachy Head Ghost

A white dazzling gleam of forked lightning cleaves the darkness, and behold! a huge vessel close at hand, but hitherto unseen, lofty and full-sailed, and for a moment black against the instant of light, and then utterly lost again. The plashing of rain hissed in the sea, and a voice would come out of the unseen—“Port, you lubber!” The ship, or whatever it is, has no lights at all, though on board it they can see mine. Ah, it’s no use peering forward to discover on which side is the new danger; for when your eye has gazed for a time at the lighted compass it is powerless for half a minute to see in the dark space forward; or, again, if you stare into the blackness to scan the faintest glimmer of a sail ahead, then for some time after you cannot see the compass when looking at it dazzled. This difficulty in sailing alone is the only one we felt to be quite insuperable.

Again a steam whistle shrieked amid the thunder, and two eyes glared out of the formless vapour and rain—the red and the green lights, the signals that showed where she was steaming to. There was shouting from her deck as she kept rounding and backing, no doubt for a man overboard. As we slewed to starboard to avoid her, another black form loomed close on the right; and what with wind, rain, thunder, and ships, there was everything to confuse just when there was every need of cool decision.

It would be difficult for me to exaggerate the impressive spectacle that passed along on the dark background of this night. To shew what others thought, we may quote the following paragraph from the ‘Pall Mall Gazette’ of next day, the 20th of August: [260]

“The storm which raged in London through the whole of last night was beyond question by far the most severe and protracted which has occurred for many years. It began at half-past eight o’clock, after a day of intense heat, which increased as the evening advanced, though it never reached the sultriness which was remarked before the storm of last week. The first peal of thunder was heard about nine, and from that time till after five this morning it never ceased for more than a few minutes, while the lightning may be said to have been absolutely continuous. Its vivid character was something quite unusual in the storms of recent summers, and the thunder by which it was often instantaneously followed can only be described as terrific. The storm reached its greatest violence between two and three o’clock, when a smart gale of wind sprang up, and for about ten minutes the tempest was really awful.”

We had noticed some rockets sent up from Eastbourne earlier in the evening; probably these were fireworks at a fête there, but the rain must have soon drowned the gala. Certainly it closed up my view of all other lights but the lightning, though sometimes a shining line appeared for a moment in the distance, perhaps from Hastings; and at one time the moon came out red and full, and exactly at the top of a vessel’s lofty sails. One steamer had puzzled me much by its keeping nearly still. This drifted close up at last, and they called out, “Ahoy, there!—are you a fishing boat?” They wanted to know their bearings, as the current and shifting wind made the position of Beachy Head quite uncertain in the dark. [261] I replied to their hail—“No, I’m the yacht Rob Roy, crew of one man; don’t you see my white sails?” and they answered—“See? why, who can see to-night?”

Sometimes a sudden and dead lull came with an ominous meaning, and then the loud hissing of rain could be heard advancing to us in the dark till it poured on the yawl in sheets of water, and the mere dripping from the peak of my sou’wester was enough to obscure vision.

And yet, after a few hours of the turmoil and excitement, this state of things became quite as it were natural, so soon does one get accustomed to any circumstances, however strange at first. I even cooked hot tea; it was something to do, as well as to drink, and singing and whistling also beguiled the dark hours of eager, strained matching. In a lighter moment, once a great lumbering sloop sailed near, and we hailed her loudly, “How’s the wind going to be?”—for the wind kept ever changing (but the thunder and lightning were going on still). A gruff voice answered, “Can’t say; who can say—night—this sort—think it’ll settle east.” This was bad news for me, but it did not come true. The sloop’s skipper wished for an east wind, and so he expected it.

A stranger sound than any before now forced attention as it rapidly neared us, and soon the sea was white around with boiling, babbling little waves—what could it be? Instantly I sounded with the lead, but there was no bottom—we were not driving on shore—it was one of the “overfalls” or “ripples” we have mentioned before where a turbid sea is raised in deep water by some far-down precipice under the waves.

The important question at once arose as to which of the “overfalls” on my chart this could be—the one marked as only a mile from Beachy Head, or the other ten miles further on. Have we been turning and wheeling about all this dreary night in only a few square miles of sea, or have we attained the eastern tide, and so are now running fast on our course?

The incessant and irksome pitching and rolling which the overfalls caused, might be patiently borne, if only we could be assured that the yawl progressed. But all was still left in doubt.

So sped the storm for eight long hours, with splendours for the eye, and dark long thrills of the sublime, that stirred deep the whole inner being with feelings vivid and strong, and loosed the most secret folds of consciousness with thoughts I had never felt before, and perhaps shall never know again. The mind conjured up the most telling scenes it had known of “alone” and of “thunder,” to compare with this where both were now combined.

To stand on the top of Mont Blanc, that round white icicle highest in Europe, and all alone to gaze on a hundred peaks around—that was indeed impressive.

More so was it to kneel alone at the edge of Etna, and to fill the mind from the smoking water with thoughts and fancies teeming out of the hot, black, and wide abyss.

Map of English Channel

Thunder and lightning, also, in the crater of Vesuvius we had wondered at before; and it had been grander still, when the flashes lighted up Niagara pouring out its foam that glistened for a moment dazzling white and then vanished, while the thundering heavens sounded louder than the heavy torrent tumbling into the dark. But here, in my yawl on the sea, was more splendid than these. Imagination painted its own free picture on a black and boundless background of mind strung tight by near danger; and from out this spoke the deep loud diapason, while the quick flashing at intervals gave point to all. Then that glorious anthem came to my memory, where these words of the 18th Psalm are nobly rendered:—

“He bowed the heavens and came down, and darkness was under His feet.

“He rode upon a cherub and did fly; yea, He did fly upon the wings of the wind.

“He made darkness His secret place; the pavilion round about Him was dark waters and thick clouds of the skies.

“The Lord also thundered in the heavens, and the Highest gave His voice: hailstones and coals of fire.

“Then the channels of waters were seen, and the foundations of the world were discovered: at Thy rebuke, O Lord, at the blast of the breath of Thy nostrils.

“He sent down from above, He took me, He drew me up out of many waters.”

The sensations were prolonged enough to be analyzed and reasoned upon, and it was a difficult question which cannot yet be answered—“Would I willingly have all this over again?” Lying on a sofa in a comfortable room, I would not go out to this scene; but in a boat, if all this began again, I certainly would not go ashore to avoid its discomforts and lose its grandeurs.

The profound uncertainty as to what was to come next moment being one of the most exciting features of the occasion; perhaps the whole scene would be tamed sadly by a mere repetition; but one sentiment was dominant over all at the time, that I had lived a long year in a night.

Soon after four o’clock, there suddenly stretched out what seemed to be a reef of breakers for miles under the sullen rain-clouds, and, with instant attention, the yawl was put about to avoid them.

This extraordinary optical illusion was the dawn opening on the coast, then actually ten miles away, and in a very few minutes, as the cloud lifted, the land seemed to rush off to its proper distance, until at last the curtain split in two, and I found to my intense delight that in the night we had crossed the bay!

Now came joyous sounds from our moist crew—“Hurrah for the day! Pipe all hands to breakfast—slack out the mainsheet, here’s the west wind;” and up rose the sun, well washed by the torrents of rain.

An elaborate friture of my last three eggs was soon cooked to perfection, and I held the frying-pan over the side, while it drained through a fork; when, alas! there came a heavy lurch of the boat, and all the well-deserved breakfast was pitched into the sea, with a mild but deep-meant “Oh, how provoking!” from the hapless, hungry, lonely sailor. Shame that, preserved through such dangers, we should murmur at an omelet the less! But this tyrant stomach exacts more, and thanks less, than all the body besides.

Hastings was soon passed, and we skirted the cliffs towards Rye. I had written to the harbourmaster [267] here to send out a boat if he saw my craft (enclosing him a sketch of it), as the entrance to that harbour seemed to be very difficult by the chart.

But the breeze was fresh and invigorating, and though sadly needing sleep after two nights without any, the idea of going to bed while such a fine breeze blew seemed preposterous, and Rye was soon left in the rear.

From this place a very low flat tongue of land stretches along in the strangest way, until at its end is the lighthouse of Dungeness. Martello towers are on the shore, but for miles outside of this, the nearest beach is all one can see; and therefore the tall lighthouse, viewed even through the glass, looked only like a small grey speck on the waves, without any land whatever between. About midday the yawl neared this very remarkable beacon, which is painted red and white; strong, lofty, and firm set on a cape of pure gravel, with here and there a house, not visible at all until you come close.

A heavy sea was here, and it was more and more as we came quite near the cape; until one fine bold wave, following our little craft, actually cast the dingey (then towing astern) right upon the deck of the yawl, and dealt me a severe stroke on the back, by which I was cast forward, and then an awkward thump on the head by which I was stunned. [268] Recovering again just in time, I saw another wave send the dingey once more on board with a crash, and splinters flew up, so we thought she was smashed, but it was the jigger-boom that was broken by the collision. The very next billow broke the dingey’s painter of strong canoe rope, but much worn. Away floated the tiny cockleshell, and it was very soon hid in the trough of the sea.

“Down with the helm!”—“Haul the sheet!”—“Slack the jib!” and we gave chase in great glee, and catching her soon with the boat-hook, we quickly pulled the dingey on board, and lashed her securely down to the deck, an arrangement that answered well.

One of the great delights of real sailing is the large variety of incident that comes. Mere sitting in a yacht, while others have all the work in a breeze, and all the responsibility, is no pleasure to me; nay, I confess frankly, it is a “bore.”

Once round Dungeness, we could see Folkestone and Dover cliffs; and after a few minutes of rest, to put all in readiness for a fast run before the wind, we steered straight for Dover pier.

The breeze freshened so much that the mizen had to be lowered, and as the wind was now favourable, the only thing to beware of was falling asleep; in which case the boom might jibe (swing-over from one side to the other) with great force, and if it hit me on the head, then I should certainly have either a very short nap or a very long one. [270]

Dover pier was, we must say, welcome to see. Often at other times we had intentionally lengthened the day’s journey, in arriving near a destination sooner than it was absolutely necessary to stop the pleasure of sailing, but now we ran into Dover as fast as the flying wind would speed us.

The friends who greeted the Rob Roy here knew her well from a long way off, as she danced lightly over the sea; for hence had we started months ago, and here was, in one sense, the end of my voyage, as Ulysses said when he came alone from his raft.

“And now two nights, and now two days were past,
Since wide I wandered on the wat’ry waste;
Heaved on the surge with intermitting breath,
And hourly panting in the arms of death.”

Pope’s ‘Odyssey,’ Book V.

“Then first my eyes, by watchful toils opprest,
Complied to take the balmy gifts of rest;
Then first my hands did from the rudder part,
So much the love of home possessed my heart.”

Ibid., Book X.

I went up to the Lord Warden hotel, meaning to write home, dine, and go to bed after fifty-three hours without sleep; but while waiting for the servant to bring hot water, and with my jacket off, I tumbled on the bed for a moment—then it was three o’clock, p.m.

Soon (as it seemed) awake again, I saw it was still light, and with bright sun shining; also my watch had run down, the water-jug was cold, and it was a puzzle to make out how I felt so wonderfully fresh.

Why, it was next day, and I had soundly slept on the top of the bed in my soaking wet clothes for seventeen hours!


Di Vernon—The Gull light—Naked warriors—Monkey—Medway—Eyes right!—Old things—Bargees—Street boys—Young skipper—Scene by night—Barge lingo—Holy Haven—Sailing solicitor—Margate.

Perhaps a sleep in wet clothes, such as we have awakened from, was more likely to do harm than any of the blasts and breezes at sea; but nothing followed, and indeed during the whole of my six voyages alone there was neither a headache nor any other ache, not even a cold, and the floating medicine-chest yawl was never opened.

Dover had been the port of departure and again of arrival, for my first canoe voyage, and the memory of that delightful tour was recalled now by seeing a canoe paddling in the harbour. On closer scrutiny it was perceived that a young lady was its crew. Now there are several fair Members [272] of our Royal Canoe Club, and we are quite prepared to ballot for some more, but the captain had not yet been fortunate enough to see one of these canoeistes on the water, so at once the dingey gave chase.

Paddle and Parasol

This was the lady’s very first essay in a canoe, nevertheless she succeeded admirably in her effort, for it is far easier to learn a little of paddling than a little of rowing, as every neophyte can tell you.

Henceforth I shall always know that a Rob Roy can well be matched by a Di Vernon, and how much the most gentle movement afloat can be refined by feminine grace. A few hints from the older paddler in the dingey were rapidly taken up by the apt scholar in the canoe, while her friends rowed beside us in a boat, and at length with that English pluck which so many English girls possess, she boldly steered into a steamer’s swell, and then to the open sea, where, before a soft zephyr murmuring its undertone whispers, we hoisted her parasol for a sail, and the visitors on Dover pier had a novel treat in the duet between dingey and canoe.

Fairly rested next day, the yawl sailed by Ramsgate Cliffs until calm and tide made us anchor in a hot baking sun.

The ‘Gull Lightship’ was not far off, so we sculled to her in the dingey. This was the very first time I had myself actually seen the Rob Roy on the water with all sails set, nor dare I conceal the pride that was felt in looking at her graceful contour, her smart and sensible rig, and her snowy sails so beautifully set, as the sunbeams lit them up; viewed from a little distance, the yawl was only like a toy boat resting on a sheet of glass.

The men of the ‘Gull’ with its red sides and red lantern masts, received me with surprise, but with most grateful thanks for books to read, and then they pressed their visitor to stop for dinner!

But he could not well feast in comfort while the Rob Roy was left alone and all sails up, and especially as one of the numerous vessels then drifting past (we had counted more than forty in sight at one time) seemed to be borne dangerously near to the little craft.

On this lightship there are seven men, and four more on land to relieve them regularly. [275] In the course of a lively conversation with their visitor, they said, “How lonely you must be!” Surely when the men exiled to a lightship pronounce the Rob Roy “lonely” there must be something in the charge; but my obtuse perception has not yet enabled me to find it out.

Meantime the tide had turned strongly, and my row back from the lightship in the hot sun was one of the hardest pulls I ever had, so that the lesson will not be forgotten “stick by your ship in a tideway.”

In passing along the fine gravel beach near Walmer, a curious sound was heard through the quiet haze; it was distant and continuous, but like the gabble of 10,000 ducks, and, though staring hard through the binocular glass, one could only make out a confused jumble of lightish-coloured forms all in a row afar off. Soon, however, a bugle sounded the “Retire,” and then it was plain that a whole regiment of soldiers was in the water bathing; their merry shouts and play had resounded along the level sea, and at the bugle order they all marched ashore in naked array, forming altogether one of the oddest of martial sights.

The vessels now constantly crossing my course were of all sizes, and in the quiet air we could hear their various sounds that seemed to tell in each of a self-contained world, where every item of life was summarized on board. Men chatting, women laughing, dogs barking, cocks crowing, and pigs squealing, a floating farmyard, such is life on the sea. For the Rob Roy I had tried to get a monkey as a funny friend, if not as a tractable midshipman, but an end was put to the idea by the solemn warning of an experienced comrade, who stated, that after the first two days, a monkey pursues steadily one line of conduct afloat—he throws everything into the sea.

Rounding the Foreland in a lovely afternoon, we observed how the corn-fields had become ripe and yellow, that were only growing and green when our yawl passed the cape before. Here is the “Long Nose” buoy again, and all the familiar landmarks, and once more Margate, where the people very warmly welcomed the little Rob Roy, which they had sped on its way outward bound with a parting cheer.

The next dawn from its grey curtain rising, saw her sailing from Margate up the Thames, but so light was the baffling wind, that we could not reach Sheerness that night, and so had to anchor in five fathoms not far from Cheney Rock, with dense fog closing round, and the Nore gong ringing, while my bright little cabin glowed with comfort, and the newspapers were studied in peace. Thence sailing into Sheerness and up to Queenborough, we anchored close by the Coastguard hulk, in safe and quiet waters. Sunday was a delicious rest, and the dingey took me aboard the hulk, where a number of sailors and their large families with them, gave a very remarkable appearance to the vessel ’tween decks. The children were delighted to receive books and pictures, and until late in the dark the infantile menagerie squalled with all its might.

An expedition of river discovery up the Medway seemed to be worth trying now, for no bonds of time or engagements fettered that glorious freedom of action which is one of the prize features of sailing thus. The yawl went bowling along on this new errand amid huge old hulks, tall-masted frigates, black warrior-like ironclads, gay yachts, odoriferous fishing-smacks, and a fleet of steady, brown-sailed, business-like barges. This is a pleasant and a cheerful river for some days’ excursion, with a mild excitement in sailing over banks and shoals, and yet not striking once, although we had no chart.

The tide helps much, until the high ground near Chatham adds rock and sylvan scenes to the flat banks of the winding estuary.

Now we come on a busy industry of peculiar type, thousands of convicts working on the new seawall, closely guarded by armed keepers. These poor criminals are paid or privileged according to their good behaviour, and it has been found that their labour thus stimulated is very productive.

Once fairly up among the war-ships at Chatham, the Rob Roy anchors by the Powder Magazine, and while a waterman rows away for the usual supplies—“Two eggs, pat of butter, and the ‘Times’”—we inspect the Royal Engineers as they are engaged alongside at pontooning, and are frequently pulled up by the command of a smart sergeant—“Eyes—right,” for they will take furtive glances at my dingey gyrating so as they had never seen boat spin round before. This comment on the dingey’s shape was ventured, too, “It’s for hall the world like ’alf a hegg.”

Pushing on again, still up the river, the Rob Roy had to beat against an east wind all through the densely packed brigs and barges in the narrow bend at Rochester, where the difficulty of working her added zest to the journey, and now and then a resounding crash from some great barge drifting down against other vessels, told me that not every one of the craft was as fortunate in navigation as the yawl. Before us is the Cathedral, but it is far too stiff in its sharp outline to arrest the eye for a moment. On the other side, the fine old weatherworn and time-eaten Castle rears its great tower, and challenges a long and satisfying look, especially as this was the only ancient ruin we had seen in the tour, and so there had long been a yearning in the mind for such, just as there is when you travel in Norway or America, until at last the hunger for old things becomes ravenous and intolerable.

The yawl’s mast will be able to pass under the bridge, for the tide is low, and beyond it now we are in sunny green fields, and sailing on smoothly amid quiet villages, rich pastures, and the exuberant hop-grounds of thoroughly English Kent.

Three boys bathing from a boat came near, and for a treat we took them on board, while their hair dripped wet and their teeth chattered fast after too long a swim, but they had read the name on my white flag, and they had also read two canoe books, and so for miles they devoured all that was said and shewn on the yawl; then thanking much because they were “awfully glad,” and they rowed home. How pleasant it is to give pleasure to boys!

The Rob Roy got aground only once in this trip above the bridge, and that only for five minutes, which, except the bump on a rock at Bembridge, was her sole mishap of this sort, an immunity quite extraordinary from the seaman’s dreaded foe, the shore. The barges that were now floating up the crowded Medway interested me exceedingly, and acquaintance was readily made with their inhabitants almost every day for the next three weeks, until it became evident that “Barge Life” is a stratum of society quite as full of character and incident as any other, and wide open for examination by those who would study a genus of mankind very little known. Large and important duties are entrusted to these men; rich cargoes are committed to their honesty and skill; families live on barges by thousands, [280] and the coasting journey of a barge is by no means an easy thing or a dull one.

We must not judge of them by those great black boxes full of coals, that float on the water above London Bridge, with one man and a long oar, and yet even a coal barge is worth watching. In the dank mist of a dull November evening it will drift unseen past the Temple Gardens. Wonderful sounds launch into the fog from an invisible shouter on board, whose “Tom” or “Bill” on a wharf ashore instantly knows the call, and answers. Then there is a colloquy loud, and public in the extreme, yet utterly private in its meaning to any one besides the two who are talking. It is only paralleled by the shrill interjections of London street boys calling to each other across the Strand, of which the grown-up public cannot make out one syllable, but which the stratum below them, of three feet high, is perfectly contented with, discerning every word.

The barges that trade to the Medway are fine, strong sea-boats; their sailing qualities are excellent, and they are improved every year by a regatta specially for them, where forty gay-dressed, bluff and burly craft compete for prizes. In this match the utmost of skill, sharpened by years of river sailing, is shewn in the wind and tide, and knowledge of intricate channels, and among such competitors “fouling is fair.”

As the yawl glides on the water among hayricks and whetting scythes, one of these gallant barges floated beside us with the name on its stern—S.E.C.P.T.E.R.—dubious in import, we allow, whether it means that the stout matter-of-fact lighter has been christened as a shadowy ghost, or a royal symbol. The veriest urchin steers her, with a little fat hand on the heavy tiller twelve feet long, and a hunch of good rye-bread in his other fist. Now and then he sings out in a thin soprano, “Fayther, boat’s a’ead,” and his father, (hidden below), answers deep-toned, from the cabin, “Keep ’er away, lad.” From him I asked, “How old is your boy?” and the parent’s head popped up to see, but it was the child that smartly answered, “Eight years old.” He looked five. Round the next reach the barge bears down, and shakes her sails in the wind to arrest progress a little. They have come near home, but not to stop. It is only their country house, and up steps the bargee mother from out her small boudoir in the cabin below, and jumping heavily into a boat, she pulls ashore to where a little girl is meekly waiting ready for orders—“Get the fish directly, Hagnes,” and the daughter runs off fleetly and back soon, and the mother is speedily aboard again—all this marketing being done while the barge has been drifting slowly past, and then her sails are filled to continue the voyage.

Night fell, and the yawl anchored by a soft green field, with the bowsprit among the rushes. Bright furnaces for lime and plaster works show here and there around, and they roared and blazed up fitfully with waving jets of flame, like the iron works in Shropshire, while the reflections glittered on the river, and reddened long reaches in a glow. The barges kept streaming by in the dark laden with rich commerce, and merry, singing crews—a very curious scene. To them the Rob Roy, of course, looked quite as strange, and one hailed us gruffly—“Who’re you?” answer, “I’m the Rob Roy!”—“What in the world did you come here for?” “To look at the beautiful lights on your river.” In a murmuring grumble, he said to that, “Too many on ’em there is—we can’t see where we’re goin’ with them;” and this is indeed perfectly true, for the light of these furnaces dazzles by its brightness, which is not diffused, whereas if no lights were there at all, the men could see well enough, for it is marvellous how the eye will perceive at least the bounds between land and water, when practice sharpens keen vision and no false light is shining. It is, however, quite true also, that the language of the barge-world is not to be found complete in Johnson’s dictionary. It is far more powerful than elegant. Words that are unused ashore except in anger or the coarsest abuse seem to be the gentle appellations of endearment between father and son afloat. But we must not forget that it is the meaning attached to a word by speaker and hearer, and not that given to it by a world outside of both, which the word will represent. [284]

From the highest point we could reach towards Maidstone, we soon ran down again to Rochester, and various were the conflicting verdicts of bargees as to whether or not my mast would now go under the bridge, for the tide was very high, and I sailed back and forward, getting opinions, and surveying the bridge on all sides. At length I determined it could be done, and my heart beat nervously as the yawl neared the centre arch—not as to danger, but the dishonour of breaking a goodly spar at the end of a cruise, and in so trumpery a feat. It passed clear, however, by inches.

The evening was too fine at Sheerness to think of anchoring, so with a sudden resolve we set off again to Southend. Here the advice of a yacht lying near was followed foolishly (get facts from experts and decide on deeds yourself), for I anchored without sounding, and too late found it was in shallow water, only eight feet by the lead, and the tide running out. To bed but not to sleep, for the water sunk to five feet, and, angry with myself, I roused at one o’clock, gave out all the rope, sheered off shore by the rudder, and then, again at rest, gained only six inches of depth; but once more sounding, there was only six inches to spare under the keel and with a strong breeze on shore. Therefore, now again on the move, we fastened the inner end of the cable to the larger anchor and heaved this out, and then payed out all the chain, and sheered with the rudder, but still she was in shoal water. Finally, as the wind increased, I had to haul in both anchors and shove out into the deep, and thus, by omitting to do right at once what was easy at the time, the whole night had been consumed by intervals of wet and needless trouble.

Life in the yawl had now become such a pleasant life, that to leave it was a duty deferred as long as possible. We ranged several times up and down the Thames, visiting many an old nook, well known in former days; Holy Haven for instance; it is now thirty-three years since we first harboured there in a little sailing-boat and spent a night with a collier captain, and learned more of coals and colliers than one could read in a week. This was done by keeping him resolutely on the point the man knew all about until he was quite pumped dry. This nice little refuge-harbour is the one I like best in all the river, with only one house—no bother from shore folks, deep channel, and clean sand to anchor in. If it were not for this narrow and safe retreat, there would often be hard times in stormy days between Gravesend and Sheerness.

The first time the Rob Roy went into Holy Haven, we found a yacht there with a lady and gentleman on board, who of course (invariable and excellent custom) were hospitable when they read my flag. Tiny ripples were the only sounds of the evening, and on looking out on a new day, the round smooth sand was bare beside me, with a lonely gull preening its soft white wing, and its calm eye unfrightened, for no one could have the heart to harm the pretty creature there. The next time of a visit to this peaceful haven, there was another little craft at anchor, and in five minutes after we stopped the owner of it sent his card, with the customary invitation, to come on board. He was a sailor solicitor who lives on the water in summer (being wise), but does not venture out of the Thames (being prudent), and he has a boy “Jim” who hands out cooked things from an inscrutable forecastle, where he sleeps at night in a sort of coal-scuttle. Nevertheless the two together seemed perfectly happy.

By way of variety, the Rob Roy on leaving Margate the next time set off in the dark night, to sail away under the stars, and by some curious good luck we managed to pass as close to the buoy at Reculver as ever one could do in the light. Next time we came to Margate the place was gay with its Regatta, on a fine breezy day. It was one of the best managed regattas one could see, with always something going on, and always the requisite confusion that prevents anybody from knowing exactly what is going on. However, the Rob Roy had a charming sail among the yachts as she towed at her stern the dingey and a canoe, for the members of our Club are ubiquitous, [287] so two of them are at Margate.


Worcester—Swedish lesson—English boys—A prophecy—Letter—Request—Reply—The ‘Dolphin.’

Margate has often been abused, laughed at, and snubbed, but it has never yet been properly described. How shall I describe Margate? It is too difficult to do well, and it has been too often done badly to do it again.

The men’s bathing here from boats with steps, like those at Malta, is sensible enough. Fine bold swimmers struck out well beside me in the water while I had my morning dip from the yawl. As for the epicene bathing—masculine women and womanish males who partake of “sea-bathing by machinery”—separate machines, but that is all—let us ignore them.

Come rather back to France, and let us look at Her Imperial Majesty the Empress Eugenie in the water, as we have seen her years ago.

It was at Biarritz, and one day a commotion in the town was evident, but “What is about to happen?” we asked, being ready for any response as a traveller ought to be.

“Her Majesty is going to bathe.”

British modesty urged a quiet retreat, but French system being different, we spectators to the number of some hundreds were ranged along the sands in two long lines, with a narrow lane clear between, and grave Gendarmes keeping the ranks in order.

The usual proceedings one sees at French bathing towns were all in action round about us. Ladies dressed to the highest pitch, mingled with others in bathing costume. Gentlemen walking quite composed and dripping wet with ladies just come out of the sea and just going in again. Young girls in canoes boldly paddling, and gaily upsetting the little craft, while they swam alongside. Rafts with men and women, half-floating as they held by the sides, and chattered and basked in the sun. All this difficult interlude on dry-land manners was conducted with perfect decorum, a telling lesson to Britons who bathe.

Perhaps, however, we should not like to see our Royal Family follow the example of what came next. First there marched out of the Imperial Villa a number of tall, liveried footmen, each with a tray or basket piled up high with feminine finery, and this procession wended its way to two pretty little tents hard by the sea.

Next there appeared the Empress and four maids of honour, who came also to the tents, the Empress going alone into one with a tasteful blue and silver drapery round it. See, now the ladies emerge from their disrobing rooms, and walk slowly down to the water between the double line of inquisitive but respectful visitors. Each lady has a coat, vest, and trousers of black silk, with the neatest of little boots, and the most winning of large-brimmed black straw hats—that of the Empress being trimmed with a narrow band of red.

When they reached the water five big fellows approached, all dressed in red flannel. These bathing men each proceeded to tie an empty gourd, like a water-bottle, a sort of life-preserver, round the waist of a lady, and then, first politely bowing, he lifted the lady in his arms, as a nurse catches up a little child, and so with his fair burden he marched into the waves.

When they were at about four feet deep the man allowed the lady to float on her back, and with his arms under her arms he supported her as each wave rose and fell.

All the time of these strange doings there was a large boat close to the merry party, and with several men in it, who kept beating the water with long poles—What is that for? To keep away the sharks. [291] Such is Majesty afloat. Yes, they do these things better in France!

The Empress in the Sea

And now, near the end of our voyage alone, came the pleasantest part of it all, because the most useful to others. We had anchored often beside these three ships for boys, and always with more delight:—the ‘Worcester,’ for gentlemen cadets; the ‘Chichester,’ for homeless boys; and the ‘Cornwall,’ for lads sent to her as a Reformatory ship.

Many of the youngsters now on board the first or the second of these might have been qualified for the third vessel, but for the conventions of life and the machinery of education that tries to keep all “wild boys” from being classed as criminals.

Both you and I might have easily strayed into the police dock or the gaol cell but for a guiding hand, a mother’s care, a sister’s love, a father’s rod, a home, a competence, a somebody caring for us, if not a friend. So don’t be hard on the boys in the ‘Cornwall’; they are our natural shipmates, and if by God’s grace we are not yet with them, thank Him, help them, and be humble.

Brave lads, there is still a chance for you here. England is to blame as well as you that you have been sucked by the eddies of life into criminal streams. England also rescues you. It is but dragging out indeed, but you are out of the mire. Take heart, you may carry the British flag proudly yet; the career of the sailor is open to you also, and who shall say that some gallant three-master may not yet be commanded by a sailor bred in the ‘Cornwall’ Reformatory school-ship at Purfleet?

As for the ‘Worcester,’ the lads there are already well up on the ladder of life. Sometime, if things go on thus well, we shall have Christian gentlemen as our sea-captains, for already in many things the waves are better than the shore.

When the Rob Roy returned from France, we had put on board of her some fireworks to amuse the ‘Worcesters’ at Erith, and in a quiet night the rockets sped aloft, and the Roman candles ejaculated fireballs, and the Chinese floats spat flame as they blazed on the flowing tide, and the red light made our sails blush deeply, and the “jack in the box” fizzed and caracoled over the deck scorching us all inordinately.

When everything pyrotechnic was burned out on the yawl, the show was yet to begin.

‘Worcester’ was not to be beaten by Rob Roy. Up sprang the blue-lights from her tops and yards. Ports blazed with lamps, and skyrockets whizzed into the ether. Then came best of all from young and gladsome hearts those ringing cheers, and the lively band roused up the quiet night waves with “Rob Roy MacGregor O!”

If I know a lad for the Merchant Navy, he shall go to it best taught by companions as well as by officers, in the school for sea life aboard the ‘Worcester.’

At Greenhithe the ‘Chichester’ and her sister ship the ‘Arethusa’ (presented by the Baroness Burdett Coutts) are for poor lads without home, without friends, nay, without hope from man unless you and I will help them. Can we refuse so strong a plea from England’s little sons? Patriotism, Religion, Duty, and the most unthinking Love say, No!

Our country just at this time wants more seamen and better seamen. The Royal Navy needs young England, and the Commercial Navy will have him, bad or good, ignorant or well taught. Our Government finding this to be so had thought of placing Training ships at various ports for the very purpose of supplying the demand for sailor boys. Doubtless they would have done this well, but it is better still if by private effort we can fill the ships. At any rate let us empty the prisons, the dens of penury, and the kerb-stones, where the young and prime material, spoiling by ignorance and neglect, wastes the vigour of our land, pesters this generation with beggars, poor-rates, and gaols, and infects and ruins the generation to come after.

Sweden does better by her sons. She teaches them every one, and, as a Swede told me, “Sweden is not rich enough to keep ignorant children until they are criminal men.” Therefore she gives every one the priceless boon of education as a national gift, so that every Swede owes at least one debt to his country, and there are no Fenians there.

In England no one is allowed to appear in public without some clothes. The time will come when we shall not dare to let a man loose on the thoroughfares in native ignorance—decency forbids.

We have opened our ship-decks to foreign sailors—more proud in our boast of being an asylum for the distressed than in preventing distress among our own people. By all means give foreigners fair play, but after England’s boys are cared for. Charity begins at home, our home is England. English boys are far better sailors than any foreigners, who no doubt excel us in cookery and silks, and manners and despotism, but not in the hard duty bravely done, when storms lash clouds and ocean into one general foam.

To train up English sailor boys philanthropy stepped in just in time, and in the last few years it has provided more and more ships. The very boys who are worst off, and most tried by dire want and misfortune, are those who may be boldest to run aloft when well taught; and if these British hearts are won young, and tutored right, and trained loyal, and warmly clothed in true blue jackets, we shall not have so many shipwrecks where cheap foreigners skulk as the tempest roars. [296]

One day we had a grand treat for the ‘Chichester’ boys, who marched to a sunny mead at Greenhithe, and romped for hours and hours in hearty sailors’ play. How they ran races, jumped in sacks, swarmed up the polished pole, and eyed the leg of mutton at the top, far out of reach, until sheer exhaustion with boyish laughter made them slide down! Then, gathered round cake and tea, and duly stuffed therewith to concert pitch, they sing our grand old Psalms, our free and joyous loyal ship-songs, the orchestra of young throats being directed with all gravity by an urchin—one of themselves—a miniature “Costa” full of pound-cake, and with his Jersey pockets bulged out too, but tuneful enough after his tea. The man’s heart that is not softened, gladdened, and strung to effort for these little fellows by scenes like this I do not covet.

The captain of the ‘Chichester’ says:—

“I receive very pleasing letters from boys who have left. I send you a copy of the last, just arrived, which I think is as powerful an appeal in our behalf as any that could be penned.”

“Ship ‘---,’ off the Isle of Wight.

Please Sir,—I take the pleasure of writing these few lines to you, hoping to find you in good health, as we are. We are getting on very well, we are now off the Isle of Wight. Sir, we like our ship very well, and I hope we shall have a good character when we come home. I hope all the Instructors are well.

“Give my respects to Lady Alston, and tell her where we are. We are having very good weather, and I haven’t forgot my Bible. C. D. sends his respects to you. Please sir, will you give my love to Frances. Sir, you must excuse me for not writing more. I haven’t had time. Sir, if I don’t see you any more in this world, I hope I shall Above. Give my respects to Mr. and Mrs. Macarthy.

“No more at present from your obedient servants,

“A. B. and C. D.

“God be merciful to us as sinners.”

And while we speak more of the three ships already named, because they are nearest, and so are most seen by us Londoners, remember there are other stout Britons at Hull, sturdy boys in the Mersey, sea-urchins in the Clyde, and good sailor-hearts in Ireland and in Welshmen’s breasts, and there are training ships for boys in all these and other places, [297] so that all may join who wish to help in England’s future, which will much depend on the next generation of British seamen.

It will be a happy sight, and one by no means out of our reach to witness, when the gentlemen taught on the ‘Worcester,’ and the mates from the ‘Chichester,’ and the crew from the ‘Cornwall,’ shall man the largest, fastest vessel on the sea.

The ‘Chichester’ boys make a very appreciative audience when a visitor addresses them. Then they sing their hearty thanks with steady voices, and in stanzas of original poetry spun aboard ship, and sure to mean much if you can read between the lines; for London boys are both in good things and in bad the smartest of all.

After pondering on the matter during another sail, the following letter appeared in the ‘Times’:—

“The training ship ‘Chichester,’ lately moored at Greenhithe for the reception of homeless boys, has already produced some of the anticipated good results, and several young lads, rescued from a life of sorrow and want, have been sent out as trained sailor boys.

“But although these boys are approved by the ships’ captains, it is found that until the boys can be taught how to steer a vessel, as well as the other duties of a seaman, they cannot be well received by the rest of a ship’s crew.

“Steering is not to be learnt by book or precept only, or in a ship at moorings; and the suggestion is therefore made that a small vessel, say a cutter of 20 tons, should be attached to the ‘Chichester,’ as a ‘tender.’

“The boys could then be taught to handle the tiller by voyages to the Nore. They would also learn the use of buoys, beacons, and lights. They would have a powerful incentive to progress in their book-work, and the ‘tender’ would be most useful in carrying officers and boys and stores to and from London, and thus save considerable expense.

“This being a new proposal, it will be necessary to have additional contributions for the purchase of the tender, and as the funds which provided the ‘Chichester’ were received principally from the readers of ‘The Times,’ perhaps we may venture to hope for the same kind aid in launching the new suggestion. Contributions may be sent to the Hon. Secretary, Mr. W. Williams, St. Giles’ Refuge, Great Queen Street, Lincoln’s Inn Fields.

“J. M.

Margate Roads.”

We expect much from Englishmen when an appeal is made to their generous hearts, but it was certainly beyond our hopes that in a few days afterwards the following letter could be published:—

“In reply to the appeal through your columns, for means to provide a tender for the ‘Chichester’ school ship, the Rev. C. Harrington, Rector of Bromsgrove, has presented to the institution the ‘Dolphin,’ a strong, well-built, sea-going yacht of 20 tons, with all her stores complete.

“The committee in accepting this gift, have abundant reason to thank the kind donor, and the friends of ‘Homeless Boys’ owe another debt of gratitude to ‘The Times.’

“J. M.


By the desire of the ‘Chichester’ Committee I joined the ‘Dolphin’ at Sheerness, and with a regular salt captain, and a seaman from the Bendigo diggings, and a boy from the ‘Chichester,’ we weighed the cutter’s anchor to bring the prize to Greenhithe.

The pier-man smiled gladly on the gift yacht. The taut Guard-ship bristling with big guns seemed to look down kindly on the little vessel, and even the grim old hulks, otherwise sulky enough, appeared to wish her well as she loosed her white sails to a gentle breeze. Yes, and the sun smiled brightly, too, with a balmy day like summer again.

Barges flocked out, clustering on the water as in my former visits here, yet the ‘Dolphin’ mingled with them not as in a mere play, but with a benign and holy purpose in her gait, for it was the gracious breath of Christian benevolence that wafted the ‘Dolphin’ on. She was a present to the homeless boys, and so a gift that shall be one time repaid by the Friend of the friendless with measure “running over.”

Yantlet was passed and the Blythe and Jenkin, when sunset shrouded sleeping Father Thames. Then the ship-lights sparkled numerous on the stream, and red rays from the beacons glinted athwart our sail. Swift steamers whisked by in the dark. Tall, gaunt, sailing ships rustled their dusky canvas, and struggling little tug-boats rattled with instant paddle as they passed.

The Gift to Boys

Clouds withdrew from above as we neared the ‘Chichester,’ and the full moon came out and looked upon the “gift for boys” with her long pendant streaming in the mild and onward breeze.

Then, to me silent, lying on the deck as if in a summer eve, came many-coloured thoughts—the Rob Roy’s rovings by river and sea in brightsome days and thundering nights, the good seed sown by the shore, the thousand incidents of a charming voyage.

But best of them all was the sail in the ‘Dolphin.’

We may begin in faith, and continue in hope, but greatest of the three is charity in



There are 18,000 seamen in our Royal Navy, and nearly a quarter of a million persons of various kinds are employed on board of British registered vessels. On the subject of training boys for sea, full and interesting information is given in ‘British Seamen,’ by Mr. T. Brassey, M.P. In former editions of ‘The Voyage Alone,’ some of the Boys’ Training Ships were briefly described, and the author’s profits from the book have been distributed yearly in prizes and medals among some hundreds of lads in these ships, approved for excellence in Seamanship, Smartness, Scripture-knowledge, Swimming, and “Sums.” In connection with the continuance of this pleasant work, a brief description is given here of all the Training Ships for boys, with the best wishes of the author for their prosperous sail over the sea of life, and their safe arrival on the happy shore above.


There are Five regular Boys’ Training Ships for the Royal Navy, accommodating 3400 boys.

The ‘Impregnable,’ and ‘Implacable’ (with ‘Lion’), at Devonport (for 700 boys); ‘Ganges,’ at Falmouth (500 boys); ‘St. Vincent,’ at Portsmouth (700 boys); and ‘Boscawen,’ at Portland (500 boys). To each is attached a brig for cruising during the summer months. The boys go through a regular course of instruction at school, in seamanship and in gunnery, till they are “rated,” after a year or a little more, as 1st Class boys, when they have a cruise in the brig. With respect to the school instruction, the principle is to give the more backward boys more schooling than the more advanced, and to this end the boys are divided into Upper School and Lower School: the Upper School boys have one forenoon and one afternoon a week in school, and the Lower School boys twice that amount. The educational attainments of the Upper School correspond to Standards VI., V., IV. of the New Code, and those of the Lower School to Standards III. and II. Of course there is the division into watches, as the routine of the ships is modelled on that of a man-of-war.

With the exception of the band boys entered from industrial schools, no boys are received who have been before a magistrate. It is gratifying to find that as many good and respectable lads as are wanted can be had for this glorious patriotic service. “The expense incurred in training seamen amounts on an average to not less than £300 to £400 for every seaman in the navy:” ‘British Seamen,’ by T. Brassey, M.P. Longmans, 1877, page 158.

For training young officers there is the ‘Britannia’ (with the ‘Hindostan’) at Dartmouth, and two sons of the Commodore of the Royal Canoe Club are among the pupils.


Established 1856.

The vessel is managed by “The Liverpool Juvenile Reformatory Association,” which has also a girls’ reformatory and a farm school. The report for December 31, 1877, shews that during the year 79 boys were admitted between 11 and 17 years of age (all of them under sentence of a magistrate), and 59 were discharged (of whom 43 went to sea), leaving 198 in the ship and about 100 besides “under detention,” or on license elsewhere. The total number admitted since 1856 was 1393, of whom 731 went to sea, 130 went to friends, 73 were transferred, and 59 died.

In January, 1878, the ship parted from her moorings in a gale, and this and repairs caused an expense of about £500. The ordinary expenditure of the year is about £3800; the average number on board is 190, and of these 134 could swim.

‘ARETHUSA.’—(Greenhithe, Thames.)

Opened August, 1874.

This vessel is the new sister ship of the ‘Chichester,’ and is described below with the other vessel.

‘CHICHESTER.’—(Greenhithe, Thames.)

Established 1866.

This vessel, together with the ‘Arethusa’ (already mentioned above), is managed by a committee in connection with the “National Refuges,” an institution which comprises a Refuge for homeless boys, a Refuge for homeless girls, a “Farm school and Shaftesbury school,” at Bisley, Surrey, a “Working Boys’ Home,” and “Girls’ Home” at Ealing and Sudbury. In these six homes and two ships are more than 1000 inmates, and the expense is defrayed by voluntary contributions. The Earl of Shaftesbury, K. G., is President of the Institution, and Mr. W. Williams (9, Southampton Street, Bloomsbury Square), is the Secretary.

The ‘Chichester’ was fitted up in 1866, and opened in January, 1867, for training homeless boys between 13 and 16 years of age for sea life. By the munificent gift of the Baroness Burdett Coutts, the ‘Arethusa’ was presented to the committee fully fitted up as an additional Training Ship, in 1874, and the two vessels are moored close together near the pleasant hills of Greenhithe, in Kent. The woodcut on the preceding page, representing some boys on the topsail-yard of the ‘Chichester,’ appeared in the Leisure Hour as one of the illustrations of an article on ‘Ragamuffins’ by the present writer.

Away aloft

The number of boys sent to sea from the ‘Chichester’ in the year 1877 was 117, and the number on board 176. The total number of boys received on the ‘Chichester,’ up to the 31st of December, 1877, was 2165. Number discharged, 2092; sent to sea, 1797.

Besides the number sent on a first voyage, the following numbers were re-shipped, not counting those who after their first voyage got ships without coming to the ‘Chichester’ ship-master. Shipped for second voyage, 686; for third, 451; fourth, 291; fifth, 180; sixth, 108; seventh, 72; eighth voyage, 55.

The total number of boys received on board the ‘Arethusa’ from 1874 to end of 1877, was 659; discharged, 450; sent to sea, 386, of whom 102 were so sent in 1877. In July, 1878, there were 400 boys on the two ships when the annual presentation of prizes took place. The total expenses for the two ships for the year 1877 amounted to £10,494 10s. 8d.

I had again the privilege of presenting the sailor boys ‘Rob Roy’ prizes in the Guildhall, in the presence of the veteran philanthropist the Earl of Shaftesbury, in 1880.


Established 1863.

This is a Reformatory School Ship for Roman Catholic boys. The average number on board this vessel is 200, and the cost £20 per head per annum, paid chiefly by the Treasury. In the year 1877, 80 boys had been admitted, of whom 54 were from Liverpool, and the rest from 15 other towns; 47 of them had not been previously convicted, 58 were sent to sea “on license.” In the preceding three years 192 had been discharged, of whom 150 were “doing well” at the beginning of 1878, while 5 were “doubtful,” 8 reconvicted, 10 dead, and 19 “unknown.”

‘CLIO.’—(Menai Straits.)

Certified February, 1878.

This vessel is for 200 boys (from 11 to 15 years of age), sent under the Industrial Schools Act, or partly paid for otherwise, and the ship is managed by “The North Wales, City of Chester, and Border Counties Industrial School Training Ship Society.” The first boy was admitted in September, 1877, and on the 13th of July, 1878, there were 197 boys on board; of these, 8 are “voluntary.” About 80 were from London, 50 from Manchester, 26 from Liverpool, and the rest from ten other places.


Established 1859.

A new vessel (late the ‘Nile’) was substituted in 1877 for the old ‘Conway,’ but it was rechristened with the old name, and the cost of alterations was £6000.

It is managed by “The Mercantile Marine Association,” and is intended chiefly to supply officers for the merchant navy. Boys are received from 12 to 16 years of ago. The average number of boys on board was 138, of whom 54 joined the merchant service. The number of boys received since the commencement up to 1877, was 1290, of whom 40 entered the Royal Navy, and almost all the others went into the Merchant Service.

The report gives no balance-sheet, but says that the school fees (40 guineas per annum for each boy) “covered the expenses” (presumably the ordinary expenses), and left a balance of £283.

‘CORNWALL.’—(Purfleet, Thames.)

Established 1859.

This is a Reformatory Ship, managed by “The School Ship Society.” The boys enter between 13 and 15 years of age, sentenced to 3 years’ detention under the Reformatory Schools Act. The average number of boys maintained on board in 1877 was 218. Comparative cost per head on ordinary maintenance and management £32. Industrial profits, £329. Of cases discharged in 1874, 1875, and 1876, there were doing well (December, 1877) 198, doubtful 5, convicted of crime 4, unknown 18, dead 12. In July, 1878, the Captain had heard of 114 boys at sea service, all doing well, and 26 boys visited in June, equally satisfactory, one of them in command of a large ship.

An epidemic in 1875–76 caused much trouble and expense.


Established June, 1869.

This is an Industrial School Ship. At the beginning of 1877 there were 385 boys on board, and during the year 133 were admitted, 105 were sent to sea, 11 to shore employment, 5 to their friends, 1 to a school, 6 absconded, and 1 died, leaving 389 on the roll for January 1, 1878. From the establishment up to that time, 1343 boys had been admitted, and 954 had left. Of 432 discharged in 1874, 1875, and 1876, 345 were known to be doing well, 10 indifferently, 3 convicted of crime, and 16 died of disease and casualties. The receipts for the year were £7280, including £500 on contingency account. The ship is managed by a committee, of which the President is Mr. John Burns, of Castle Wemyss, who is well known for his important position as chairman of The Cunard Company (Limited), and for his hearty liberal efforts on behalf of boys who need a friend.

‘ENDEAVOUR.’—(Feltham, Middlesex.)

Established 1866.

This is a “land ship,” with boats on the river, and the following description of it is from a paper by Captain Brookes, Royal Marines, the Superintendent of the “Middlesex Industrial Schools at Feltham,” where about 800 boys sent by magistrates are trained for the Army, the Navy, and various other modes of life:—

“The 150 boys composing the Nautical Section are dressed as sailors, and their everyday life is assimilated as much as possible to what it would be in a stationary Training Ship—they sleep in hammocks, live in messes, and are daily exercised in seamanship on board the full-sized model brig ‘Endeavour,’ built on play-ground. Boats are provided on the river at Staines for instruction in rowing, and the boys are taught to swim in a large swimming bath in the grounds.

“The brig was built in 1866, between which date and the end of last year 748 boys (about an average of 70 per annum) have been trained and sent to sea.

“There is a home at Poplar for the reception and care of boys about to be sent to sea under the charge of the shipping officer, who is duly licensed by the Board of Trade. This is a most valuable branch of the school, offering a home to lads returning from sea, who would otherwise fall into the hands of low lodging-house keepers.

“The school authorities constantly receive the most favourable accounts of the lads thus sent to sea, who are well reported on by captains of ships both as regards character and ability in seamanship.

“The result of this experiment, now extending over a period of ten years, proves beyond question that boys can be as speedily and efficiently trained on board a model training ship built on land, as on board a stationary one moored in a harbour or river.

“This opinion has been fully and publicly endorsed by Captain Burney, R.N., Superintendent of the Royal Hospital School at Greenwich, where a large model full-rigged ship (most complete and thorough in all its arrangements) has been built, and by means of which, he maintains, he can prepare boys for sea as efficiently as on board a floating training ship.

“In this, as in many other matters, there is a great deal of popular prejudice to overcome, and perhaps the most effective way to do so would be by inducing the governing bodies of such schools as Eton, Harrow, and Rugby to erect model training ships on their grounds for the use of their boys. It cannot be doubted that these ships would be as popular amongst them as their present School Volunteer Corps undoubtedly are.”

* * * * *

[After many visits to the floating training ships, and inspection of the ‘Endeavour,’ and of the Greenwich School, where 1000 boys are trained for sea without the expense and inconveniences of a ship, I fully concur in the opinions of Captain Brookes and Capt. Burney, C.B., and I consider that the best mode of training boys for the commercial navy is to have a light and roomy building on shore with one or more “tender” brigs for cruising, and plenty of boats, and a good gymnasium and swimming bath. A floating hulk is more costly to maintain. It is inconvenient for education from want of light below, and for exercise all the winter from wet decks above, and moreover, the need of a “tender” for each hulk is already acknowledged, so that her sheet anchor is only sentiment.]

J. Macgregor.

‘ENDEAVOUR.’—(Land Ship.)

About thirty-five years ago, this land-ship, with masts and sails and guns, was set up at the Norwood Poor Law Establishment, by the exertions of the late Sir J. K. Shuttleworth, Bart., and one somewhat similar and useful (to a certain extent) was established in a Union School at Stepney. Of the boys instructed by this means, 95 out of 100 voluntarily entered the Army or Navy, but doubtless the supply for sea life is now better obtained from establishments more distinctly nautical. In the report of the North Surrey District Schools “the mast and shrouds” of the Land Ship there are said to be useful in inducing boys to go to sea. (Times, September 3, 1878.)

‘EXMOUTH.’—(Grays, Thames.)

This vessel accommodates 600 boys, and was substituted for ‘The Goliath,’ which was burned two years ago (as was also the old ‘Warspite’ at Charlton). The latest report (which is more full and clear than that of several other ships) deals with the ten months ending the 31st of December, 1877, when 545 boys were under training. These were sent from the Poor Law Unions of Poplar, St. Pancras, Stepney, Marylebone, Woolwich, and others, under the special Act, which very properly requires Metropolitan Parishes to contribute towards the maintenance of the ship, whether they use it or not. A brigantine, the ‘Steadfast,’ is attached as a “training tender,” and accommodates thirty boys, who cruise in the Mouth of the Thames for a week at a time, when ten of them are changed. A causeway from the shore improves the approach to the ‘Exmouth,’ and a small house and office near the London Docks enables eight boys to be taken daily for engagement in ships.

From March, 1876, to December, 1877, 689 boys were admitted, seventy-nine were discharged to sea service, twenty-one to the Army as musicians, forty-three to their respective Unions, and one absconded.

“Every boy in the ship soaps and washes himself all over every morning with carbolic soap, and then goes through a plunge bath under inspection, having a clean towel every time he washes.” The lads are remarkably healthy—there was not one death in the year. The charge for maintenance and clothing has been at the rate of 1s. per head per day. The swimming bath is sixty feet long by thirty feet broad, and the boys are classed by the number of “bath-lengths” they can swim at a stretch. At the beginning of the swimming season, 340 could not swim at all, but there were only 56 in this predicament at the end of the season. Music is taught carefully, and a band of about 60 boys plays twice a week for the other boys to dance. Of 242 boys absent from one to seven days to see their friends, only one broke his leave, and he absconded altogether.

‘FAME.’—(Greenwich Royal Hospital School.)

Established 1872.

This land ship is part of the splendid establishment at Greenwich for training sons of seamen and marines of the Royal Navy. Candidates must be between 10½; and 13 years of age, physically fit, able to read an easy sentence, and with some knowledge of arithmetic.

The origin of the school was in 1692, when, after the victory of “La Hogue,” an asylum was established for seamen’s widows and orphans at the suggestion of Queen Mary, who died before it was accomplished.

In 1712 ten boys were instructed (in the buildings of the present Naval College, part of which had been erected in 1618), and in 1783 there were 60 boys. In 1805, there were 200 boys, and the institution was no longer a charity, but admitted officers’ sons.

Another school, “The British Endeavour,” started in 1798 as a private venture in London, was transferred to public management in Greenwich.

The “Royal Naval Asylum,” for 680 boys and 200 girls, aided by Parliamentary grant, was amalgamated in 1821 with the other (the Royal Hospital School), forming a “Lower School” and “Upper School” for 1000 boys, in the quadrangle now occupied opposite the Royal Naval College. In 1841 the girls’ school ceased. In 1860 the distinction between “Upper” and “Lower” School was given up.

In 1870 industrial work was introduced in addition to the other instruction, and the splendid land ship ‘Fame’ was erected in 1872, which, with boats on the river, large sized moveable models in lofty halls, and a fine swimming bath, gymnasium, class-rooms, and workshops, are the means for instructing 1000 boys most admirably under the supervision of Captain Burney, C.B., and an energetic staff. From the report of July, 1878, it appears that there were 39 pupil teachers, and 958 boys between 10 and 15 years of age. Total 997 in the school. The number of boys admitted during the year was 334, number discharged 333, of whom 99 went into Her Majesty’s Service, and 4 died; 329 boys between 13 and 15 years of age now in the School, have signed continuous service engagements to serve in the Royal Navy for 10 years from the age of 18. The boys’ industrial work in about 30 departments of useful labour is of great value to the school, so that the annual cost (exclusive of new buildings, but including all repairs) is under £18 per head.

The punishments are under 1 per cent., and 45 per cent. of the boys can swim.

‘FORMIDABLE.’—(Portishead, Bristol Channel.)

Established 1869.

This is an “Industrial School Ship” for boys between the ages of 11 and 14 years. During the eighteen months ending December 31, 1877, 84 boys had been admitted (including 41 from the London School Board), 18 from Bristol, and the rest from ten other towns, with 2 “volunteer” boys.

Of these there had been discharged during the eighteen months, 81 to the Merchant Service, 2 to the Royal Navy, 26 to friends, 5 to the Army, 13 elsewhere, and 2 died. The number of boys on board December 31, 1877, was 324. From the commencement of the ship, 800 boys had been admitted, including 50 “volunteers,” and of these 366 had gone to the Merchant Service, and 27 to the Royal Navy, while 11 died. The receipts for the year, including £1500 from the Treasury, and £600 from annual subscriptions, amounted to £8213.


Established 1872.

This Industrial School Ship for Protestant boys is called “The Ulster Training Ship for Homeless and Destitute Boys.” The number on board the 31st of December, 1877, was 289, of whom about half could read, write, and cipher well; 64 had been admitted during the year, nearly all of them from Antrim, and of these, 33 could not read or write at all, while only 7 could read, write, and cipher well; 32 of these had lost their fathers, and 18 were orphans.


Established 1855.

This is an old “man-of-war,” banked round, so as to be a “land ship,” with a causeway to the shore, and it accommodates about 70 boys, many of whom have industrial employment in gardening and as porters, &c. Of the 66 boys discharged in the three years, 1874, 1875, 1876, 58 were known to be earning honest livelihoods, 2 were convicted, 2 unknown, and 4 have died. According to the report of August, 1878, 68 boys were in the ship, of whom 61 were sent under the Industrial Schools Act. There were 2 on license, and 7 appeared to be voluntary cases. The expenditure in 1876 was about £1500, but £200 was earned by the Industrial Department. In that year 3 boys went to sea, and in 1878 6 boys.


This vessel was established in 1864 to train orphan and destitute boys for sea—boys from the port of Liverpool having a preference. The report issued in March, 1878, shewed the average number on board to be 250, of whom 80 had lost both parents. About 50 boys go out to life each year. The funds are from voluntary contributions, and about £5000 a year is expended.


Established 1869.

This is an “Industrial School Ship,” under the Act of Parliament, and it has a “tender,” “which makes men of the youngsters; she has just brought 100 tons of coals to us from Shields (July 5, 1878).” The accommodation is for 350 boys. In 1877, 122 boys were admitted and 95 discharged, leaving 350 on the register, while “there is great pressure for admission.” Of the 95 boys, 6 entered the Royal Navy, 55 the Merchant Service as first class boys, 27 went to shore trades (but seven of these returned and went to sea), and 7 died. One-third of the boys admitted were unable to read at all; of 309 discharged during 3 years, 248 were “doing well.”

The expenses in 1877 were about £6800.

Donations and subscriptions about £1700.

‘MOUNT EDGCUMBE.’—(Saltash, Cornwall.)

Established June, 1877.

An Industrial School Ship for boys from Devonshire and Cornwall. The boys admitted up to July, 1878, were 201; 1 had been discharged, 6 transferred, and 2 died. The number of “voluntary cases” (from 12 to 14 years old) was 3, and the number of all on board 195. Half of these could read “fairly.”

‘SHAFTESBURY.’—(Grays, Thames.)

Established 1878.

The School Board for London has found it necessary to have a training ship of its own. More than 500 boys sent at the instance of the Board were in training on board the ‘Formidable,’ ‘Wellesley,’ ‘Southampton,’ &c., at distant ports, where visitation and supervision could not be readily exercised. After more than six years of experience in regard to training boys for sea, the Board decided to establish their own ship in the Thames. The Admiralty was unable or at least declined to lend one of the few old hulks at their disposal, so the School Board purchased for £7000 the P. and O. iron steamship ‘Nubia,’ and at an additional expense of more than £30,000, she was fitted up and moored in a berth prepared for her in July, 1878, close to the Poor Law ship ‘Exmouth,’ so as to accommodate 450 boys to be sent under the Industrial Schools Act at the instance of the Board. She is ‘certified’ for 350 boys, of whom 70 may be Roman Catholics. The first 6 boys were sent on board her on August 15, 1878. The vessel was rechristened with the name of ‘Shaftesbury,’ in honour of one who is everywhere known as the friend of the hapless and the patron of everything good. The vessel is longer and narrower than those of the old “man-of-war” type, and her four decks are lofty, giving plenty of light and air for educational and sanitary purposes, although the wider space for drill above all is necessarily curtailed. The cost of the vessel (including purchase) is repayable in 50 years by annual instalments, with interest at 3½ per cent.

The Shaftesbury has now her full number of 500 boys (May 1880.)

‘SOUTHAMPTON.’—(The Humber.)

Established 1868.

The management is amalgamated with that of “The Hull Ragged and Industrial Schools.” At the beginning of 1877, 234 boys were on board (all of them under the Industrial Schools Act), and 62 were admitted during the year (30 from 10 to 12, and 32 from 12 to 14 years of age), while 56 were discharged, of whom 27 went to sea, and 23 were returned to friends. Up to the end of that year 426 boys had been finally discharged from the ship. Half of these on entry could not read, write, or cipher, but all learned to do so. Many of the boys were sent at the instance of the School Board for London and eight other School Boards. The expenditure for the year was £6000.

‘WARSPITE.’—(Charlton, Thames.)

The Marine Society established its first ship the ‘Beatty,’ with a crew of 40 boys, 120 years ago, and it has since sent to sea about 60,000 boys trained for sailors’ life. The new ship, a fine two decker (late ‘Conqueror’), in substitution for the old ‘Warspite’ (which was burned), and rechristened with that name, had 156 boys on board in January, 1877. 304 were afterwards admitted, 43 were sent to the Royal Navy, and 137 to the Merchant Service, leaving 269 on board at the beginning of the year 1878. Most of these are orphans or boys deserted by their parents. Out of 123 boys who returned in that year from first voyages, 117 had “very good” on their certificates. The age for admission is from 13 to 16, height from 4 feet 8 inches; 93 boys learned to swim last summer. The expenditure during the year was £11,000, including £3000 for fitting up the new ship.

‘WELLESLEY.’—(South Shields.)

Established 1868.

This vessel is for homeless and destitute boys unconvicted of crime, but who are sent under the Industrial Schools Act, at the instance of one of the ten or more School Boards which have agreements with “The ‘Wellesley’ Training Ship Institution,” or who come individually. From the report in June, 1877, it appears that in the twelve months preceding, 91 boys had been received, and 59 were discharged, of whom 45 went to sea. This left 307 boys on board. Of the boys discharged during 3 years, 83 per cent. were “doing well.” Since the commencement of the Institution 702 boys had been received. About £1000 had been contributed by the School Boards during the year, and £90 for “voluntary boys,” each of whom is received for £20 per annum. The maintenance account for the year was about £5000.


This vessel was moored at Greenhithe in 1862; a larger vessel, a 72-gun frigate of 5000 tons, and rechristened ‘Worcester,’ was substituted in 1877. The ‘Worcester’ provides properly qualified officers for merchant vessels, and accommodates 200 boys. The terms are, for boys from 13 to 16 years old, 50 guineas, and for boys from 11 to 13 years old, 45 guineas per annum.

The Board of Trade allows two years passed on the ‘Worcester’ to count as one year’s sea service, and Her Majesty gives annually a gold medal to the boy most noted for good conduct. About 30 boys passed through the ship last year.




Royal Naval (besides those for young Officers, see page 306)



Voluntary, including two for Officers and one land ship



Poor-law ship



Industrial School ships, including one “School Board” ship and two “land ships”



Reformatory ships






[In this estimate the ‘Fame’ is reckoned for 250 boys.]


This has been designed after numerous experiments with the various portable cooking-machines which I could procure for trial, and, as it succeeds better than any of them, and has been approved by trial in five of my own voyages, and in another to Iceland, besides shorter trips, and in the Abyssinian campaign, &c., &c., it may be of some use to describe the contrivance here.

The object proposed was to provide a light but strong apparatus which could speedily boil water and heat or fry other materials even in wet and windy weather, and with fuel enough carried in itself for several days’ use.

Fig. 1 is a section of the Rob Roy cuisine as it is made up for carrying. There is first a strong waterproof bag about one foot high, and closed at the top by a running cord. At the bottom is the cuisine itself, a, which occupies a space of only six inches by three inches (when of smaller size), and has the various parts packed inside, except the drinking cup b.

Provisions, such as bread and cold meat or eggs, may bestowed in the bag above the cuisine, and if the string of it be then attached to a nail fixed in the boat, the whole will be kept steady.

For use, when it is desired to boil water, the cuisine being opened, the lower part is a copper pan, c, fig. 2, with a handle, e, which can be fixed either into a socket in the side of the pan, or another socket in the side of the lid, as represented in figs. 2 and 6.

Three iron legs also fix into sockets and support the pan over the spirit-lamp, f, by which the pan, two-thirds full of liquid, will be boiled in five minutes.

The lamp is the main feature of the apparatus, and it is represented in section in fig. 3. It consists of two cylinders, one within the other. The space between these (shaded dark) is closed at top and bottom, and a tube b, fixed through the bottom, rises with one open end inside, and another (a small nozzle) curved upwards in the open internal cylinder. Another tube, h, opens into the annular chamber between the cylinders, and it has a funnel-shaped mouth at the outer end, through which the chamber may be filled, while a screw in the inside allows a handle, fig. 4 (in section), to have its end, i, screwed in. A small hole in the upper surface is closed by a little cork, which will be expelled if the pressure within is so high as to require escape by this safety-valve. The hole may be in any part of the annular cover (but is not shown in the sketch), and in such case the hole shown in the handle is omitted.

The outer cylinder of the lamp, being larger than the inner one, has a bottom, k, fig. 3, which forms a circular tray of about two inches wide and half an inch deep.

Lamp and Pan

The original form of the lamp which was first brought to notice [325] by the Cook of the Royal Canoe Club, had a detached tray for the bottom, but now, instead of this plan for the admission of air into the lamp, two saw cuts are made, each about an inch long. One of them is shown below f, fig. 2, and thus the lamp and tray are united in one compact piece while still there is access for air.

To put the lamp in operation, unscrew its handle from the position in fig. 2, so that it will be as in figs. 3 and 4. Then from a tin flask (which has been packed with the rest of the things in the pan) pour spirits of wine—or, if the odour is not objected to, methylated spirit, into the measure m, fig. 5, and from that into the interior of the lamp through the opening at h. Next screw in the handle, and place the lamp level under the pan, and pour nearly another measure full into the interior tray. Set fire to this, and shelter it for a few seconds if there be much wind. I used this always with complete success on the Jordan, Nile, Danube, and many other rivers.

In a short time the flame heats the spirits in the closed chamber, and the spirituous steam is forced by pressure down the tube, and inflames at the nozzle, from which it issues with much force and some noise in a lighted column, which is about one foot in height when unimpeded.

This powerful flame operates on the whole of the bottom and lower edge of the pan, and it cannot be blown out by wind nor by a blast from the mouth, but may be instantly extinguished by sharply placing the flat bottom of the measure upon it.

The cover may be put on so as to rest with the flat bottom downwards, and with or without the handle. If tea is to be made with the water when it boils, the requisite quantity is to be placed in the tea vessel n, fig. 5, which has perforated sides, and, its lid being closed, this is placed in the water, where it will rest on the curved side, and can be agitated now and then for a minute, after which insert the handle in the socket of the pan and remove the lamp, allowing the tea to infuse for four minutes, when the tea vessel may be removed and the made tea may be poured out into the cup. The dry tea can be conveniently carried in a paper inside the tea vessel. Salt is carried in the box o, and the matches are in the box p. Coffee may be best carried in the state of essence in a bottle. An egg-spoon and a soup-spoon are supplied. A flat clasp knife and fork may be had extra.

If bacon is to be fried, or eggs to be poached or cooked sur le plat, they may be put into the lid and held by hand over the lamp-flame, so as to warm all parts equally, or the slower heat of a simple flame may be employed by lighting the measure full of spirits and then placing it on the bottom of the upturned pan as shown at fig. 6, where it will be observed that the three legs are placed in their sockets with the convex curve of each turned outward, so that the lid, as a frying-pan, can rest upon their three points.

The spirit-flask contains enough for six separate charges of the lamp, and the cost of using methylated spirits at 4s. 6d. a gallon is not one penny a meal. The lamp-flame lasts from ten to fifteen minutes, and the weight of the cuisine, exclusive of the bag and cup, is about two pounds.

These cuisines, improved by the suggestions obtained in their use, are made at 93, Chancery Lane, London, of the best materials and workmanship, and at the price of two and a half guineas; or if with tin boiler instead of copper, and brass lamp, £1 12s. 6d. Many of much larger size (to cook for twenty men) have been used in Australia.

The lamp above described was used daily in my yawl, but the other fittings were on a more enlarged scale, as extreme lightness was not then required.

The Norwegian Cooking Apparatus of another kind entirely will be a valuable adjunct to the yachtsman’s stores. By means of this, meat or pudding after being heated for only five minutes, and then enclosed in a box which retains the heat, will be found to be perfectly cooked after three hours, though no more heat has been applied to it.


Mr. Dent, of the Strand, has made the Life Boat Liquid Compass with several improvements suggested from the Rob Roy yawl, and after experiments permitted by the Life Boat Institution. These relate to the diagram on the card, the lamp with oil or candle, the reflectors, the ventilation, and the interior colouring of the binnacle, as well as other minor matters. In a second cruise of the yawl with my new binnacle, the great advantages desired were found to be attained. A fac-simile of the new Rob Roy card is given in “The Rob Roy on the Jordan,” 6th edition.


After six long voyages alone, a few remarks may be made on water toggery.

Flannel all over to begin with. One grey flannel suit of “Norfolk jacket” and trousers lasted for three trips, but at sea the blue colour answers. Straw hat in sun, red woollen cap in wind, sou’wester in rain, thick boating jacket, and the life-belt over it, and above that an oilskin coat with overall trousers of the same, will defy wind and water. Woven waistcoat expanding limitless. Shoes and not boots for work, white canvas boots with spring sides for show in port. No braces. Blue seamless yacht jersey a bore, though smart. Collar only with a calico shirt, and on Sundays, when that cylinder of discomfort, a black hat, is exhumed. Watch hanging in cabin, never on the person afloat. Purse with keys in the shelf. Knife and etceteras in leather pockets of the boat. So clad ye shall be ready to sail or to swim.


The following appeared in the Times, July 3rd, 1878:—

Hundreds of girls in London are learning to swim, but many hundreds more would gladly learn if teachers could be had. A healthful, cleanly, life-saving exercise like this ought not to be stinted of teachers.

The boys have twenty public baths to learn in and the open water in Victoria Park, besides the dangerous, dirty canals. More than 1500 boys are learning to swim as paying members of the London Schools Swimming Club, which is open to all public elementary schools.

Last year a class for thirty girls was begun late in the season, yet twenty-five of these were taught to swim in six lessons, and six of them won prizes.

Only five of the public baths are available for girls and female school teachers. At some of these the charge is threepence for a bathe, and at one it is a penny for members of the club. Twelve girls can be well taught in a class. For a lesson of two hours, one teacher charges fifteen shillings and another receives ten shillings, while others are paid two shillings for each girl who is taught to swim twenty-five yards, and the rest are rewarded by watches and other prizes for those who teach the most girls to swim.

Mothers and sisters who can swim will not let their boys be unwashed on the land and drowned in the water.

J. M.

The “London Schools Swimming Club” was formed in 1875, and it has already (a.d. 1880) given instruction in swimming to 12,000 boys and girls, and male and female teachers.


[3] Shown by dotted lines in the sketch at p. 7. The Rob Roy is of about four tons’ burthen, but “tons,” we know well, mean one does not know what.

[10] “Swinging for the compass” is thus performed. The vessel is moored in the bight at Greenhithe, and by means of warps to certain Government buoys she is placed with her head towards the various points of the compass. The bearing by the compass on board (influenced by the attraction of the iron she carries) is taken accurately by one observer in the vessel, and the true bearing is signalled to him by another observer on shore, who has a compass out of reach of the “local attraction” of the vessel. The error in each position due to the local attraction is thus ascertained, and the corrections for these errors are written on a card in a tabulated form, thus:—




N. ¼ E.

N. by E.


And so on. A half point looks a small matter on the compass card, but in avoiding a shoal, or in finding a harbour, it makes all the difference.

[14] The Reformatory ship ‘Cornwall’ is at Purfleet. The three vessels are within sight of each other. We shall sail back to each of them in a future page, and have a more leisurely look on board.

[20] The after part of the well is rounded at each side, and it is all boarded up. In the middle is a seat on which a large cork cushion can rest, or this may be thrown over as a life-preserver or for a buoy, while the life-belt to be worn round the waist is stowed away under the seat, and an iron basin with a handle is placed alongside it just over the flooring, below which is seen, at p. 41, a wedge of lead-ballast, and in front of this the water-well, where water collecting from leakage or dashing spray is conveniently reached by the tube of vulcanised india-rubber represented as just in front. This pump hose has a brass union joint on the top, to which we can screw the nozzle of a pump with a copper cylinder (shown at the bottom), or a piston worked by hand (but without any lever), and when in use the cylinder rests obliquely, so that the water will flow out over the combing, and on the deck, and so into the sea.

[22] Several important suggestions for the implement of the lifeboat liquid compass were obtained during my use of it in this voyage, and these have been duly appreciated by the Lifeboat Institution.

[25] However good the glass, it is very difficult to make use of it for faint or distant objects on the horizon, and on the whole I found it easier to discern the first dim line of land far off by the unaided eye. A slight mark, that would not be observed while only a short piece of it is seen in the field of view, becomes decidedly manifest if a large scope is seen at once. The binocular glass was very valuable, however, when the words on a buoy, or the colour on the chequers of a beacon had to be deciphered.

[26] See page 44 and Appendix.

[32] In yet another, the fourth visit to this stupid shallow harbour (one of the most unpleasant to lie in anywhere), I fixed an oar out at each side as a leg, and could scarcely get rest from the fear that one or other of my beautiful oars would be snapped as they bent and groaned with remonstrances against supporting several tons of weight in the capacity of a wooden leg.

[36] I had lessened her ton and a half of iron ballast by leaving two hundredweight on Dover quay; good advice agreeing with my own opinion that the Rob Roy was needlessly stiff.

[42] The relative positions of all these articles had been maturely considered and carefully arranged, and they were much approved by the most experienced and critical of the many hundred visitors who inspected the Rob Roy.

[44] In the sketch at page 41, the cook of the Rob Roy is represented as he works when rain compels him to shelter himself in the cabin under a tarpaulin, and the hatch inclined upwards. But usually—indeed, always but on two occasions—he sat in the well while he tended the caboose.

[50] I have read numerous books, pamphlets, and discussions on this subject, some of which are wonderfully clear in explaining what is perfectly easy to understand, while they are exceedingly ingenious in overlooking the only difficulty, which is, how a man on one vessel is to know whither another vessel is steering to. (March 1880.)

[52]Caution.—During strong winds, between W.S.W., round westerly, and N.N.W., the coast to the eastward of Ailly Point is dangerous to be on, and shipwrecks are of frequent occurrence; vessels therefore of every description at that period should keep a good offing, and when obliged to approach it, must do so with great caution; for although the general mass of the above banks appear to be stationary, yet great attention must be paid to the lead, and in observing the confused state of the sea in the various eddies, so as to guard against suddenly meeting with dangers which may be of recent formation. The lights for the purpose of pointing out the position of the headlands and dangers between Capes Antifer and Gris-Nez at night, are so disposed that in clear weather two can always be seen at a time, and the greater number of the harbours have one or more tide lights shown during the time the harbour can be entered.

“It is important to notice that along the coast, between Cape de la Hève and the town of Ault (a space of 67 miles), the wind, when it blows in a direction perpendicular, or nearly so, to the direction of the coast, is reflected by the high cliffs, neutralizing in great measure its original action to a certain extent in the offing, depending upon the strength of the wind. It follows from this, that a zone is formed off the coast and parallel to it (except in front of the wide valleys, where the direct wind meets with no obstacle), where the wind is light, the sea much agitated, and the waves run towards the shore. On the contrary, when the wind forms an acute angle with the coast, the reflected wind contributes to increase the direct wind near the shore.”

[55] As a precaution, I always put on the life-belt when I had to reef, as one is liable then to be jerked overboard; also in strong winds when we ran before them, because in case of getting over board then, it would be difficult to catch the yawl by swimming; also at night when sailing, or when, sleeping on deck, as one might then be suddenly run down. But with all this prudence it happened that on each of the three occasions when I did fall into the water, I had not the life-belt on. The Life-Boat Institution had presented to me one of their life-jackets—an invaluable companion if a long immersion in the water is to be undergone. But for convenience in working the ropes and sails I was content to use the less bulky life-belt. It is conveniently arranged, and you soon forget it as an encumbrance. Indeed on one occasion I walked up to a house without recollecting that my life-belt was upon me when ashore!

[60] The account of these paddlings has been published in ‘A Thousand Miles in the Rob Roy Canoe,’ 10th edition, and in ‘The Rob Roy in the Baltic,’ 6th edition, both works being profusely illustrated (Low, Marston and Co., Crown Buildings, Fleet Street).

[77] “Fécamp Harbour is difficult to enter at all times, and dangerous to attempt when it blows hard from the westward on account of the heavy sea at the entrance; for should a vessel at that time miss the harbour and ground upon the rocks off Fagnet Point, she would be totally lost.”

[78] A mysterious shell-fish delicacy.

[85] Thick paper round my parcels of books within happily kept them dry.

[98] Very few authors can write books suitable for men with weary bodies and sleepy minds. It is remarkable to see how much attention these men will pay to the words of the Bible and the ‘Pilgrim’s Progress.’ No doubt such readers often read but the surface-sense of both these books; but then even that sense is good, and the deeper meaning is better, while the language of both is superb.

[102] If men’s vices are matched by dogs’ failings, several of our best virtues are at least equalled by those in canine characters; especially courage, fidelity, patience, and forgiveness. It is hard to believe (even if indeed we are at all warranted in believing) that these noble animals are done with existence when they die. It is harder still to see a man cruel to a dog, without feeling pretty sure that the man is not the better of the two. The dog life to be seen at the “Home for lost dogs” is a study for any thoughtful man.

Six empty collars hang in my own room. Each of them belonged to successive dogs called ‘Rob,’ who cruised with me until they were lost or killed.

[110] The soldiers liked these so much that it was the fashion to place the “Emperor’s” picture over each man’s bed. On one occasion His Majesty happened to notice this when visiting a guard-room, and he had the whole story explained to him. The late Prince Imperial also came for a ‘British Workman,’ and probably it was pinned behind His Royal Highness’ four-poster. He was a member of the Royal Canoe Club, and one of his canoes was saved from the fire at the palace of St. Cloud.

[112] A friend of mine stated that a French, gentleman of good education called upon him one day, and happened to look at a French Testament which lay open on the chimney-piece. “Tiens!” he said, “Paternoster in the Bible?” when he saw the Lord’s Prayer in the printed page.

[117] A similar Society has begun operations in France by publishing translations of English papers on Sanitary and Domestic Management.

[119] In this one particular the canoeist has to trust to the boat-builder. In others, and in those relating to the rigging and sails especially, I regret to say that I do not find any builder fulfils those requirements of strength, lightness, neatness, and simplicity combined in due proportions, upon which so much of the safety of a canoe depends, as well as comfort and pleasure in using it during the many days’ constant work of a long voyage. The proper rigging of a canoe, so as to be neither fragile like a toy nor clumsy in its small details, is well attended to at the Model Dockyard in Fleet Street.

[121] This hankering after Egypt once more ripened into the cruise of the “Rob Roy on the Jordan,” of which the sixth edition appears in April, 1880.

[128] These four gentlemen, admitted to the amateur contests declined to row against four English watermen.

[142] I recollect that old Westminster Bridge was a very dangerous one for a boat to sail through, because the joints between the voussoirs, or lines of stones under the arch, were not horizontal as in most other bridges, but in an oblique direction, and several times when my mast has touched one of these it was borne downwards with all the power of a screw.

[150] I found that a common Scotch plaid, if it was in an inclined position, resisted wet longer than any other material permeable to air, and it could be readily dried by hanging it from the mast in the wind.

[151] There was another method of cooking under shelter, and we employed it on the only other occasion when this had to be done, namely, to shut up the cabin and to cook inside it, using the portable “canoe cuisine,” which is described in the Appendix. But as this is meant to be employed only on shore, it does not answer well on board, except in a calm; and, moreover, the heat generated by the lamp was too much in a small cabin. Even a single candle heats a small apartment, and it is well known that a man can get a very good vapour-bath by sitting over a rushlight, with blankets fastened all round.

[152] The best, according to my taste, were those of “Irish stew,” “Stewed steak,” “Mulligatawny,” “Oxtail,” and “Vegetable soup,” all in the order named. “Preserved peas” were not quite so good; but the other viands were all far better than can be had at any culinary hotel, and were entirely without that metallic or other “preserved” flavour so soon discovered in such eatables, and even by a palate not fastidious. This experience was fully confirmed afterwards in my Canoe Cruises in Holland, in the Orkneys and Shetland, and in the Red Sea, Jordan, Nile, Abana, Pharpar, and Lake of Galilee.

[156] Frenchmen have a trick of anchoring thus to escape a breeze. We have seen them anchor on the African coast merely to avoid a hard-looking cloud, whereas the real danger was in anchoring there at all.

[159a] See Frontispiece.

[159b] We shall hear of this pinch again further on.

[160] This latter construction is found to be very convenient, because the cargo is at one end of the vessel and the machinery, and paddle-wheels, and steering apparatus are all at the other end, so that orders can be readily given to both by the captain. The “Express” Company on the Seine has sixty of these steamers.

[161] It was, however, only an adaptation of the same principle I had used in Swedish lakes, when my course was towards a bright sun so dazzling in the water that I invented the plan of covering my eyes with my straw hat, and steering the canoe by the bright reflection of the sun on its cedar deck, which was of course by no means so unpleasant as the beams of light glancing from the water itself. Surely it would not be impossible to make the needle of a mariner’s compass itself steer the ship at least within half a point. The motion of the needle could connect one or the other of two electro currents, and so set in instant action a powerful purchase to act on the tiller.

[171] First thoughts of people and of countries are more striking, they are only by chance at all true. I recollect asking an American, after his visit to the English House of Lords, what struck his attention most; and he said, “Their lordships don’t seem to brush their hair.” Another clever traveller, from the same land of our cousins, was asked what he noticed of our manners in London, and he replied, “I observe it is the fashion here, when a gentleman sees his friend on the other side of Pall Mall, he shakes his umbrella at him and calls out, ‘D’ye do, old fellow?’”

[188] The Rob Roy came there again next summer, up the Thames, and by the canal, and the river Wey and the Arun, and so to Southsea, with fifteen canoes, five dogs and a cockatoo—such fun.

[192] After so much experience of the yawl, tried in all points in all kinds of wind and weather, it may well be supposed that numerous improvements had been noted in my book as desirable. These, however, we need not here particularise, as the various descriptions given at intervals through this book shew what the Rob Roy is in her latest and best arrangements.

[195a] The fall of each halyard was coiled and put under the taut part. A small coil looks neatest, but the fall of it is sure to kink if coiled close, being wet and dry ten times in a day. Before nearing harbour, or in preparation to lower sail “handsomely,” I found it well to cast the coil loose on the hatch, else a kink would catch in the leading sheave.

[195b] This was forthwith invented and used and shewn to hundreds of people. After some time the very identical thing was patented, and it is now used by thousands. Most of our canoes have these “tumbling cleats,” and they are used for the cords of blinds, &c., in many houses, including my own.

[197] This is shewn in the sketch on the preceding page; the bar presented a very smooth surface for the bottom of the dingey to run over when it was shipped under the hatch, or hauled out in a hurry. Moreover, the wood was convenient to stride across in getting from the well to the cabin, and it was far more pleasant and warmer than metal to hold on by during violent lurches of the sea.

[206] A foreign sailor, examined as to a shipwreck case in Court, was asked, “How did you know it was the coast of England?” He said, “Because a lifeboat came out to us.” Rule Britannia!

[208] Three hundredweight of ballast was thrown off at Cowes, besides what we took out at Dover, and still the yawl was stiff.

[211] Other inventors, knowing the experimental turn of my crew, had sent me several instruments and things of various sorts to try in practice, and to report on. One of these was a beautiful little anchor made of bronze, and in form very peculiar and apparently an improvement, indeed an admirable novelty to look at. This, too, I heaved overboard for trial, but it simply dragged through the soft mud, and proved quite useless.

[240] He had wisely fitted a centre-board in his 14-feet canoe at my suggestion. This sliding keel answered well for sailing, and all our large canoes are now thus fitted. Mr. Berthons’ portable canoe can be carried flat under one arm. Canoe sails are dangerous unless they can be lowered in an instant. So are the sails of a frigate in a sudden squall. The ‘Eurydice,’ which I saw in Portsmouth harbour, is a warning for ever.

[242] To anchor for the night, riding by tide or stream, is not pleasant; for then the wind may cross your hatch, and blow the rain in sideways, whereas if you ride at anchor to the wind alone, the draught comes always from the front, and so it can be better provided for, and the boat does not roll much even if she pitches.

[244] Revelation xix. 7.

[246] It was hung on the port mizen shroud. To hang it in front of you is simply to cut off two of your three chances of possibly seeing ahead.

[250] I think that in a port like Newhaven the look-out man in charge ought to come to the pier-head when he sees a yacht entering in rough weather, and certainly there is more attention to such matters in France than with us.

[260] The singular volcanic eruptions in Iceland occurred also on that day.

[261] The numerous vessels met now were some of those we had been with in the morning, and they looked even more in number, for we crossed and recrossed each other frequently, and this part of the Channel is a highway for nations.

[267] In the winter this old sailor was drowned, the last of six brothers, all of whom were drowned.

[268] This event is depicted on the cover of our book, being a copy of the illustration in the excellent penny periodical, ‘The Boy’s Own Paper’ (October, 1879), one of a score of serials and a thousand books at the ‘Pure Literature Society,’ 11, Buckingham Street, Strand.

[270] One of the pranks to be prepared for in a boat is this jibing of the boom, and until by practice you know the exact range of safety for your head in relation to that swinging spar, caution should be the rule. Long ago I had learned the exact length of the Rob Roy’s boom in relation to my nose; for even in the Thames, soon after starting, it had once caught the back of my head, and knocked my face down on the deck, where a bloody nose (but no worse result) speedily settled the question as to which must yield when the boom and the captain are at loggerheads. I learned more lessons of this sort when, in 1871, I had a lonely voyage in a “yawl canoe” through Holland and the Zuyder Zee, and Friesland and the Texel. An account of it was published in the ‘Graphic’ for November of that year.

[272] At a southern watering place lately there were forty ladies each in a canoe on one afternoon.

[275] Bravely they worked to save life on the Goodwin in the fearful gale that came soon afterwards.

[280] The recent legislation for the proper care of the women and the education of the children on barges was much needed, and it was successfully accomplished by our late excellent Home Secretary, who was himself one of the best “oars” at Cambridge, when the late Foreign Secretary of France was another.

[284] The use of the word “bloody” is now general among the lowest classes all over England. The meaning intended by this is not what scholars would agree to. Hundreds of times the word is employed only for “very,” and it is strange how soon one’s first shudders at the sound become faint, and even die.

[287] The Royal Canoe Club has elected about 600 Members, including several ladies. Some of the Members are in Australia, India, Japan, China, Canada, and North and South America. H.R.H. the Prince of Wales is our Commodore, and he has several canoes. There are also several branches of the Club besides other Canoe Clubs on the Mersey, the Clyde, the Forth, the Trent, the Humber, and four Clubs in America. The Office of the R.C. Club is at 11, Buckingham Street, Adelphi, London, where also is “The Pure Literature Society,” with 3600 books and 42 periodicals all good to read and to choose from.

[291] We need not he surprised that sharks should get entangled in the Bay of Biscay. Even at Margate one was caught a short time after I had swam in the water there, and six more sharks were captured in the summer on the English south coast.

[296] As this was being urged upon friends, a telegram came from the Admiralty for “Twenty-five boys from the ‘Chichester.’”

[297] A description of these vessels will be found in the Appendix.

[325] The late Professor J. D. Forbes, who used this lamp, says it was introduced into this country from Russia by Dr. Samuel Brown, and that “the jet of burning spirit has such force as to resist the blast of a hurricane.”

london: printed by william clowes and sons, limited,
stamford street and charing cross.