How the Captain Got His Steamer Out by Robert Barr
"On his own perticular well-wrought row, That he's straddled for ages-- Learnt its lay and its gages-- His style may seem queer, but permit him to know, The likeliest, sprightliest, manner to hoe."
"There is nothing more certain than that some day we mil have to record a terrible disaster directly traceable to ocean racing.
"The vivid account which one of our reporters gives in another column of how the captain of the Arrowic went blundering across the bar yesterday in one of the densest fogs of the season is very interesting reading. Of course the account does not pretend to be anything more than imaginary, for, until the Arrowic reaches Queenstown, if she ever does under her present captain, no one can tell how much of luck was mixed with the recklessness which took this steamer out into the Atlantic in the midst of the thickest fog we have had this year. All that can be known at present is, that, when the fog lifted, the splendid steamer Dartonia was lying at anchor in the bay, having missed the tide, while the Arrowic was nowhere to be seen. If the fog was too thick for the Dartonia to cross the bar, how, then, did the captain of the Arrowic get his boat out? The captain of the Arrowic should be taught to remember that there are other things to be thought of beside the defeating of a rival steamer. He should be made to understand that he has under his charge a steamer worth a million and a half of dollars, and a cargo probably nearly as valuable. Still, he might have lost his ship and cargo, and we would have had no word to say. That concerns the steamship company and the owners of the cargo; but he had also in his care nearly a thousand human lives, and these he should not be allowed to juggle with in order to beat all the rival steamers in the world."
The above editorial is taken from the columns of the New York Daily Mentor. The substance of it had been cabled across to London and it made pleasant reading for the captain of the Arrowic at Queenstown. The captain didn't say anything about it; he was not a talkative man. Probably he explained to his chief, if the captain of an ocean liner can possibly have a chief, how he got his vessel out of New York harbour in a fog; but, if he did, the explanation was never made public, and so here's an account of it published for the first time, and it may give a pointer to the captain of the rival liner Dartonia. I may say, however, that the purser was not as silent as the captain. He was very indignant at what he called the outrage of the New York paper, and said a great many unjustifiable things about newspaper men. He knew I was a newspaper man myself, and probably that is the reason he launched his maledictions against the fraternity at my head.
"Just listen to that wretched penny-a-liner," he said, rapping savagely on the paper with the back of his hand.
I intimated mildly that they paid more than a penny a line for newspaper work in New York, but he said that wasn't the point. In fact the purser was too angry to argue calmly. He was angry the whole way from Queenstown to Liverpool.
"Here," he said, "is some young fellow, who probably never saw the inside of a ship in his life, and yet he thinks he can tell the captain of a great ocean liner what should he done and what shouldn't. Just think of the cheek of it."
"I don't see any cheek in it," I said, as soothingly as possible. "You don't mean to pretend to argue, at this time of day that a newspaper man does not know how to conduct every other business as well as his own."
But the purser did make that very contention, although of course he must be excused, for, as I said, he was not in a good temper.
"Newspaper men," he continued, "act as if they did know everything. They pretend in their papers that every man thinks he knows how to run a newspaper or a hotel. But look at their own case. See the advice they give to statesmen. See how they would govern Germany, or England, or any other country under the sun. Does a big bank get into trouble, the newspaper man at once informs the financiers how they should have conducted their business. Is there a great railway smash-up, the newspaper man shows exactly how it could have been avoided if he had had the management of the railway. Is there a big strike, the newspaper man steps in. He tells both sides what they should do. If every man thinks he can run a hotel, or a newspaper--and I am sure most men could run a newspaper as well as the newspapers are conducted now--the conceit of the ordinary man is nothing to the conceit of the newspaper man. He not only thinks he can run a newspaper and a hotel, but every other business under the sun."
"And how do you know he can't," I asked.
But the purser would not listen to reason. He contended that a captain who had crossed the ocean hundreds of times and for years and years had worked his way up, had just as big a sense of responsibility for his passengers and his ship and his cargo as any newspaper man in New York could have, and this palpably absurd contention he maintained all the way to Liverpool.
When a great ocean racer is making ready to put out to sea, there can hardly be imagined a more bustling scene than that which presents itself on the deck and on the wharf. There is the rush of passengers, the banging about of luggage, the hurrying to and fro on the decks, the roar of escaping steam, the working of immense steam cranes hoisting and lowering great bales of merchandise and luggage from the wharf to the hold, and here and there in quiet corners, away from the rush, are tearful people bidding good-bye to one another.
The Arrowic and the Dartonia left on the same day and within the same hour, from wharfs that were almost adjoining each other. We on board the Arrowic could see the same bustle and stir on board the Dartonia that we ourselves were in the midst of.
The Dartonia was timed to leave about half an hour ahead of us, and we heard the frantic ringing of her last bell warning everybody to get on shore who were not going to cross the ocean. Then the great steamer backed slowly out from her wharf.
Of course all of us who were going on the Arrowic were warm champions of that ship as the crack ocean racer; but, as the Dartonia moved backwards with slow stately majesty, all her colours flying, and her decks black with passengers crowding to the rail and gazing towards us, we could not deny that she was a splendid vessel, and "even the ranks of Tuscany could scarce forbear a cheer." Once out in the stream her twin screws enabled her to turn around almost without the help of tugs, and just as our last bell was ringing she moved off down the bay. Then we backed slowly out in the same fashion, and, although we had not the advantage of seeing ourselves, we saw a great sight on the wharf, which was covered with people, ringing with cheers, and white with the flutter of handkerchiefs.
As we headed down stream the day began to get rather thick. It had been gloomy all morning, and by the time we reached the Statue of Liberty it was so foggy that one could hardly see three boats' length ahead or behind. All eyes were strained to catch a glimpse of the Dartonia, but nothing of her was visible. Shortly after, the fog came down in earnest and blotted out everything. There was a strong wind blowing, and the vapour, which was cold and piercing, swept the deck with dripping moisture. Then we came to a standstill. The ship's bell was rung continually forward and somebody was whanging on the gong towards the stern. Everybody knew that, if this sort of thing lasted long, we would not get over the bar that tide, and consequently everybody felt annoyed, for this delay would lengthen the trip, and people, as a general thing, do not take passage on an ocean racer with the idea of getting in a day late. Suddenly the fog lifted clear from shore to shore. Then we saw something that was not calculated to put our minds at ease. A big three-masted vessel, with full sail, dashed past us only a very few yards behind the stern of the mammoth steamer.
"Look at that blundering idiot," said the purser to me, "rushing full speed over crowded New York Bay in a fog as thick as pea-soup. A captain who would do a thing like that ought to be hanged."
Before the fog settled down again we saw the Dartonia with her anchor chain out a few hundred yards to our left, and, farther on, one of the big German steamers, also at anchor.
In the short time that the fog was lifted our own vessel made some progress towards the bar. Then the thickness came down again. A nautical passenger, who had crossed many times, came aft to where I was standing, and said--
"Do you notice what the captain is trying to do?"
"Well," I answered, "I don't see how anybody can do anything in weather like this."
"There is a strong wind blowing," continued the nautical passenger, "and the fog is liable to lift for a few minutes at a time. If it lifts often enough our captain is going to get us over the bar. It will be rather a sharp bit of work if he succeeds. You notice that the Dartonia has thrown out her anchor. She is evidently going to wait where she is until the fog clears away entirely."
So with that we two went forward to see what was being done. The captain stood on the bridge and beside him the pilot, but the fog was now so thick we could hardly see them, although we stood close by, on the piece of deck in front of the wheelhouse. The almost incessant clanging of the bell was kept up, and in the pauses we heard answering bells from different points in the thick fog. Then, for a second time, and with equal suddenness, the fog lifted ahead of us. Behind we could not see either the Dartonia or the German steamer. Our own boat, however, went full speed ahead and kept up the pace till the fog shut down again. The captain now, in pacing the bridge, had his chronometer in his hand, and those of us who were at the front frequently looked at our watches, for of course the nautical passenger knew just how late it was possible for us to cross the bar.
"I am afraid," said the passenger, "he is not going to succeed." But, as he said this, the fog lifted for the third time, and again the mammoth steamer forged ahead.
"If this clearance will only last for ten minutes," said the nautical passenger, "we are all right." But the fog, as if it had heard him, closed down on us again damper and thicker than ever.
"We are just at the bar," said the nautical passenger, "and if this doesn't clear up pretty soon the vessel will have to go back."
The captain kept his eyes fixed on the chronometer in his hand. The pilot tried to peer ahead, but everything was a thick white blank.
"Ten minutes more and it is too late," said the nautical passenger.
There was a sudden rift in the fog that gave a moment's hope, but it closed down again. A minute afterwards, with a suddenness that was strange, the whole blue ocean lay before us. Then full steam ahead. The fog still was thick behind us in New York Bay. We saw it far ahead coming in from the ocean. All at once the captain closed his chronometer with a snap. We were over the bar and into the Atlantic, and that is how the captain got the Arrowic out of New York Bay.