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OPEN BOATS



BY

ALFRED NOYES

Author of "The Lord of Misrule,"
"Sherwood" "Drake" etc.




NEW YORK

FREDERICK A. STOKES COMPANY
PUBLISHERS



Copyright, 1916, by
ALFRED NOYES



Copyright, ipi?> by
FREDERICK A. STOKES COMPANY



All Rights Reserved



PROLOGUE

WIRELESS

Now to those who search the deep
Gleam of Hope and Kindly Light,

Once, before you turn to sleep,

Breathe a message through the night

Never doubt that they'll receive it.
Send it, once, and you'll believe it.

Think you these aerial wires
Whisper more than spirits may?

Think you that our strong desires
Touch no distance when we pray?

Think you that no wings are flying
'Twixt the living and the dying?

Inland, here, upon your knees,
You shall breathe from urgent lips

Round the ships that guard your seas
Fleet on fleet of angel ships;
iii



382111



iv PROLOGUE

Yea, the guarded may so bless them
That no terrors can distress them.

You shall guide the darkling prow,
Kneeling thus and far inland;

You shall touch the storm-beat brow,
Gently as a spirit-hand.

Even a blindfold prayer may speed them,
And a little child may lead them.



OPEN BOATS

CHAPTER I
OPEN BOATS

THE ebb and flow of this war
necessarily pass beyond the range
of any man's vision. From inci-
dents that we are able to visualize
completely the solitary spar
tossed up by the wave we obtain
clues to the moving epic beyond
our ken. One mutilated face tells
us more than all the swarming
casualty columns; and a little
wreckage touches the whole At-
lantic with tragedy.

For intense drama, doubly sig-
nificant because its horror is un-
seen, drowned in the deep reticence



i! OPEN BOATS

of the sea, it would be difficult to
match the following passage from
the log-book of a British merchant
ship :

"At this time and position we
passed through a quantity of wreck-
age, apparently from a small vessel,
and consisting of smalllining boards,
painted white, a small companion
hatch-cover, a small ladder, several
seamen's chests, and a small empty
boat. There were many tins amongst
the wreckage, apparently petrol tins,
floating deep, some painted red and
some green. They had not been long
in the water."

Then, in a single grim sentence,
giving the key as if with deliberate
art, the log-book closes:

"At 11:30 a.m. the master ob-
served the top of a periscope."

Many hundreds of times during



OPEN BOATS 3

the last two years those tragic little
patches have marked the face of
the waters; and the sun shines as
indifferently over them as over
the tiny gray tufts of feathers on
Dartmoor, where the hawk has
pounced upon his prey. My
present concern is chiefly with the
small "open boats" to which the
"U" boats, on some occasions,
consign passengers and crews (men,
women and children) after sinking
their ships at sea. Certainly no
tale in the long annals of our sea-
adventure is fraught with more
pity and terror.

The provision made by inter-
national law for the safety of pas-
sengers and crews of merchant
ships, belligerent or neutral, has
proved to be as ready an instru-
ment of frightfulness as the pro-



4 OPEN BOATS

vision devised to protect sleeping
children, in open cities, from mid-
night murder. Circumstances are
always found to justify whatever
the law-breaker may desire to do.
If he desires to put men, women,
and children into open boats, a
hundred miles from land, in a
comparatively calm sea, it is ob-
viously not his fault that six
hours later a storm should rise
and trample them under. He has
left them at all distances from
land, some only a few miles and
others many score, in the Mediter-
ranean and in the Atlantic. He
attacked the Umeta without warn-
ing; and one of her crowded open
boats was left adrift in the depth
of winter, from December I to 5.
One man died of thirst and ex-
posure. How many people realize



OPEN BOATS 5

the full meaning of that simple
fact?

The tale of the Cottingham is a
typical one. She was owned in
Glasgow, rigged as a fore and aft
schooner, built of steel at Goole,
and bound from Rouen to Swansea.
On Sunday, December 26, at 4
o'clock in the afternoon, with a
south-west wind blowing and a
choppy sea, she was about 16 miles
south-west of Lundy Island South
Light, and sailing at about eight
and a half knots. Without any
warning, a shell passed directly
over the vessel, and the report of
a gun was heard. Looking astern,
the master saw the periscope and
conning-tower of a submarine, dead
in the wake of the ship, about a
mile distant. The Cottingham
kept on her course. A second



6 OPEN BOATS

shell went over her, and the sub-
marine began to overhaul the ship
very rapidly, coming up on the
starboard quarter. A signal was
now seen flying on the submarine,
"Abandon ship," and a third shell
struck the Cottingham on the star-
board bow.

The engines were stopped, and
all hands were called to the boats,
which were promptly lowered.
There were six men in the master's
boat, and seven men in that of the
chief officer. This was about 4:30
p.m. The boats pulled away clear,
while the shelling continued.
There were 10 or 12 shells fired.
Darkness was coming on, and the
ship was not seen to sink.

The master's boat went away
before the wind and sea, steering
north-east. Signals by red lights



OPEN BOATS 7

were made to the other boat, which
replied to two signals, but did not
answer the third. The boats lost
touch with each other about 6
o'clock. The master assumed,
however, that the other boat was
following the same course, and
steered for Lundy Island. Lights
were seen a few hours later, and
signals were again made by red
flares. The patrol-boat Soar
loomed up out of the dark, and
the crew of the master's boat were
taken aboard at 10.30 p.m.

The Soar then cruised round,
searching the pitchy seas far and
wide, but nothing was seen of the
other boat, with the seven missing
men.

The end of this brief summary
of a thousand cases is told best,
perhaps, in a telegram from St.



8 OPEN BOATS

David's, and even the telegram
suggests a second tragedy:

Begins: "Lifeboat named Cot-
tingham, of Glasgow, washed
ashore at Portliskey, bottom up,
broke to pieces on rocks, also life-
buoy marked S.S. Ministre
Anvers" ends.

The case of the Diomed would
be pretty good evidence for the
prosecution in that remote court
of international law at which most
of us agree to scoff, and thereby
lend immeasurable support to the
tenets of Germany. The Diomed
was a schooner of some 3,000 tons,
built of steel at Greenock, and
bound from Liverpool to Shanghai
with a general cargo. On August
22, the weather being fine and
clear, with a slight sea, she was
sailing at full speed about 30 miles



OPEN BOATS 9

west of the Scilly Islands. At
9.45 a.m. a submarine was sighted
about six miles distant on the port
beam. The helm was ported at
once, to bring the submarine
astern.

At about 11.45 a.m. the sub-
marine opened fire. She was then
three miles away. The shots fell
short till 1.45, when they began
to fall ahead of the ship, and
at last to strike her. They
struck her very systematically.
First, they smashed up the stern,
then the forepart of the ship, and
then lest any "place of safety"
should remain they began to
break up the bridge. The sub-
marine flew no signals. The third
steward was dropped, in a red
lump, on the forepart of the ship.
The master and quarter-master



10 OPEN BOATS

were killed outright on the bridge,
and the chief officer seriously
wounded. The bridge now looked
like a cross-section of a slaughter
house, greased with blood.

The second mate then ordered
the ship to be stopped and aban-
doned; for she was obviously sink-
ing. She carried four boats, of
which the two on the portside had
been smashed by shell-fire, a mat-
ter into which submarines do not
inquire too closely when they are
committing the bodies of the living
to the deep.

A steady pounding of this kind,
however, with all its hideous ac-
companiment of wounds and death
and bloody wreckage, induces
haste in the hardiest of merchant
crews. One of the two boats on
the starboard side was "holed":



OPEN BOATS II

but they did not notice it till after
she was lowered, when, promptly
filling up with good green sea
water and 20 floundering, wild-
eyed men, she capsized.

The crew swam round her, or
clung to her sides, while the other
starboard boat fought with its own
difficulties. Just after it had
reached the water there was a
violent explosion in the engine-
room of the Diomed, which threw
up a great wave and half filled this
boat also. The crew baled her as
hastily as possible, in order to
come to the rescue of the men in
the sea. The maddening night-
mare-like confusion of these
moments can only be imagined.

At last they were able to pick
up the men who were swimming.
Those who were clinging to the



12 OPEN BOATS

damaged boat were left, as they
were "safe" for the time being.
There were about 34 men in the
undamaged boat.

AH this time, it must be re-
membered, the Diomed was sink-
ing. The men had hardly been
taken from the water when she
went down with a rush. The waves
closed over her, and these wrecked
men were left alone with their
enemies on the naked sea.

The submarine rendered them
no help of any kind. The com-
mander looked at the men in the
water and shook his fist at them,
saying something in German.
Then he closed the hatch, and the
submarine submerged, leaving
them to their own devices.

The second mate headed the
undamaged boat for the Irish



OPEN BOATS 13

coast; and at about 6 o'clock in
the evening he hailed a destroyer,
which foamed through the dusk to
the scene of the wreck. There,
long after dark, they picked up
the survivors on the capsized boat.
But seven men had dropped off in
sheer exhaustion and had been
drowned; and five of these were
neutrals.

Few of us at home realize the
intensity of this ocean-drama in
which our merchant seamen, night
and day, are risking their lives to
keep our sea-roads open. A few
lines of cold print can tell us very
little by way of epitaph; and their
hair-breadth escapes are in the
nature of things hardly noted at
all. Only by exploring incidental
matters, that are not included in
the published reports, does one



14 OPEN BOATS

begin to realize that there are
sea-romances in the world around
us surpassing anything that Hak-
luyt or Richard Eden ever knew.
The tale of the unarmed Anglo-
Californian, for instance, was
illuminated for me by the explo-
ration of a record of her wireless
messages. These, in themselves,
tell a tale which, in the days be*
fore the war, we should have dis-
missed as beyond the wildest
dreams of melodrama.

The Anglo-Californian was
homeward bound from Montreal
to Avonmouth, with a cargo of
927 horses. She was chased and
shelled by a submarine. She sent
out wireless calls, and was
answered by a man-of-war, beyond
the horizon.

The firing grew so hot that, when



OPEN BOATS 15

the submarine signaled "abandon
ship," the captain decided to obey.
He stopped the engines, and two
boats were lowered. One was fired
on, and both capsized.

A wireless message was then
received telling the captain to hold
on as long as possible, and he
decided to go on again. He had
some difficulty in persuading the
firemen to go down below; but he
was probably helped by the way
in which the submarine had treated
their "places of safety." As soon
as the ship went on the submarine
opened fire on the bridge and boats.
The captain and eight hands were
killed; seven hands were badly
wounded, and 20 horses were killed.

I shall not attempt to paint that
picture the smoke, the confusion,
the changes of command, the con-



1 6 OPEN BOATS

cussions, the neighings of the
horses, the pounding of the
engines. But, with all that as a
background, and the single state-
ment that the wireless operator
was in an exposed position just
abaft the bridge and remained at
his post throughout, let the reader
study for himself the amazing
melodrama of this wireless con-
versation between the Anglo-Cali-
fornian and the invisible men-of-
war rushing up beyond the sky-
line.

"S.O.S., S.O.S., being chased by
submarine. S.O.S. Position Lati-
tude so-and-so N. Longitude so-
and-so W., steering so-and-so."

"Go ahead. He is being led a
dance, and it is O.K. to work for a
few minutes. Now altering course
to south."



OPEN BOATS 17

"Are you the Cryptic? He is
rapidly overtaking us."

" Yes. Steer so-and-so and keep
me informed."

"That is impossible. We are
being fired on."

"Where is submarine?"

"Now astern."

"Endeavor to carry out instruc-
tions. Important "

"Can't. He is now on top of
us, and I can hear his shots hitting



us."



"On your port?"

"Submarine on top of us and
hitting us. Captain says steering
so-and-so. If he alters course will
endanger ship."

"Did you get message from
Cryptic?" This was an invisible
destroyer speaking from a new point
of the compass, 40 miles away.



1 8 OPEN BOATS

" Don't know who he is. Believe
it is Sphinx."

"No. Cryptic said something
about approaching you."

" I can't hear him."

"Steer as much east as possible."
This was Cryptic resuming her
long-distance instructions and
cross-examination with the calm
of a doctor addressing a nervous
patient.

"If we steer east, we shall have
submarine abeam. We can't do it."

"Please give Cryptic your
speed."

"Twelve knots."

"Can see your smoke. Hold
on. Funnel red and blue bands
with yellow star. We are making
your smoke."

"According to your position I
am nine miles off you."



OPEN BOATS 19

"We are the Anglo-Californian."

"Have you many passengers?"

"No. But we are 150 men on
board. Crew/'

"Please fire rocket to verify posi-
tion. What is position of sub-
marine?"

"Right astern, firing at wire-
less."

"Let me have your position
frequently."

"Now firing our rockets." Sub-
marine signals. "Abandon vessel
as soon as possible."

"As a last resource, can you
ram? She will then give in. Can
you see my smoke north-east of

you?"

"No. No. She is too close.
We are stopped, and blowing off."

It was at this point that the
captain apparently wavered be-



20 OPEN BOATS

tween abandoning his ship and
going on. The reader will note
the subtle distinctions in the fol-
lowing dialogue: The Anglo-Cal-
ifornian, as an unarmed ship, being
chiefly anxious to escape, while
the man-of-war is anxious also to
bag the submarine, if possible.
The sea was still naked of help,
though beyond the horizon the
great ships were foaming up at full
speed. It was the encouragement
of the wireless rather than a faint
wisp of smoke on the sky-line that
persuaded the captain to continue
the struggle.

"Can see you distinctly," called
the Cryptic. "Am about south-
west from you. Hold on."

"Yes. Yes. He is running
away."

"In what direction?"



OPEN BOATS 21

"He is on the port side, we are
between you and him. Hurry,
hurry, hurry,' he is getting abeam
to torpedo us."

"I am coming."

"We are keeping him astern



now."



"O.K. Endeavor to keep his
attention. You will be quite safe

when "

" Your signals are weak."
"How are you steering?"
"I can't find out how we are
steering. It is zig-zag."

"Tell captain to steer straight."
(The zig-zag course was wrong, as
the submarine was astern.) "How
many masts have you?"

" For God's sake hurry up. Fir-
ing like blazes."

"How many masts?"

" Can't read you. Concussion."



22 OPEN BOATS

"How many masts have you?"

"Two two one funnel. I see
you on our port beam."

"O.K. Keep quiet as though
we were only coming to your
assistance, and nothing else."

"Keeping him astern. Hurry
up."

"We are firing. Can you inform
result?"

"Can hear you. Several being
wounded. Shrapnel, I believe."

"Keep men below, or those on
deck lie face down."

"AH taking shelter in front of
bridge-houses. He is firing shell."

"Have you two or four masts in
all?"

"Two masts and one funnel."

"What speed?"

"Twelve, twelve, and submarine
keeping pace. He is still very



OPEN BOATS 23

close within 200 yards. Captain
wants to know if you will fire to
scare him."

"Firing to scare him. Please
head towards me."

"We can't. You are astern and
so is submarine."

"Head for us in round about
south. If submarine is only 200
yards astern put ropes astern and
tow in order to foul his propellers.
Can you see my smoke?"

And again another ship anxious-
ly repeats the question: "Cryptic
wants to know if you can see his
smoke."

"Yes, yes, a long way off. Can
see your smoke astern."

"What bearing? What has
happened to you?"

"They can't tell what bearing.
Now sinking."



24 OPEN BOATS

"Are you torpedoed? "
"Not yet, but shots in plenty
hitting. Broken glass all round



me/ 5



"Stick it, old man."

"Yes, you bet. Say, the place
stinks of gunpowder. Am lying
on the floor."

" Nothing better, old man. Keep
your pecker up, old man."

"Sure thing. Is there anything
else coming to us, please?"

"Yes, I am Cryptic. Coming
full speed, 33 knots."

"I have had to leave phones.
Yes, I say I smell gunpowder here
strong, and am lying on the floor.
My gear beginning to fly around
with concussion. Smoke W.N.W.
of me, there is a man of fight on
our starboard side and the sub-
marine is on our port side. Sub-



OPEN BOATS 25

marine has dived. Submarine has
dived."

"Report her trail at intervals."

"I hope she stops down there.
It is getting hot here."

"We are coming. We are com-
ing. Have you launched all
boats?"

"Yes. Two ships coming. One
abeam, and one on port quarter.
Don't worry. He has gone. De-
stroyers now alongside."



CHAPTER II
SEA SAVAGERY

Two telegrams begin this
winter's tale. The first, to C. in
C. E. Indies: "Have you any news
of the S.S. Clan Macfarlane, passed
Malta on Dec. 27, bound for Port
Said?" The second, from C. in
C. E. Indies: "Clan Macfarlane
has not yet arrived in Egypt/'

The Clan Macfarlane, of the
Port of Glasgow, was a steamer of
some 4,000 tons, built of steel, at
Sunderland. She had a crew of
seventy-six hands, and a general
cargo and left Birkenhead on Dec.
16, 1915. On Dec. 30 at 3.45 p.m.,
26



SEA SAVAGERY 27

she was steaming at full speed,
making an average of ten knots.
There was a look-out in the crow's-
nest and two look-outs were on the
forecastle head. The weather was
fine and clear. The wind was in
the west, blowing moderately, with
a slight sea.

The chief officer, Frederick
James Hawley, had just been
called, as he was to go on duty
at four o'clock, when he felt and
heard a violent explosion. He ran
on deck and found the upper
hatches of No. 5 hold and the
tarpaulins blown out of position.
They had been battened down on
leaving Liverpool.

He gave orders at once to lower
the boats below the level of the
harbor deck, and this was done.
He then sounded No. 5 hold and



28 OPEN BOATS

found 1 8 inches of water. He also
saw the cargo breaking up and
floating out of the steamer's side.
She had been struck on the star-
board side, at No. 5 hatch, below
the water-line. Hawley then per-
sonally searched the forecastles to
make sure that nobody was in
them. He conferred with the
master, and they decided to aban-
don the ship, as she was beginning
to settle by the stern, and it was
growing dark.

At about 5.15 all hands left the
steamer in six boats, and rowed
clear. About six o'clock a sub-
marine appeared from the south-
ward, and fired six shots into the
steamer on the port side forward.
At 6.15 all the boats were made
fast, astern of the master's boat,
to keep them together during the



SEA SAVAGERY 29

night. A few minutes later the
submarine came alongside, asked
for particulars of the steamer, and
then steered to the eastward.
After this masts were stepped, sails
broken out, and a course set for
Crete, which was thought to be
fifty-five or sixty miles away.
They sailed all night.

In the early hours of New Year's
morning it fell calm. The boats
were separated, and the men rowed
till 10 a.m., when a light northerly
wind sprang up. They set sail,
and continued till 5 p.m., when
the boats were all made fast again
astern of the master's boat. They
sailed all night.

On Jan. 2, at eight o'clock in
the morning, they made the north-
east end of Crete, but the wind and
sea increased, and the boats were



30 OPEN BOATS

blown to the south-west, along the
coast. It was only three or four
miles distant, but the heavy sea
made it impossible to land.

At ten o'clock that night the
third officer's boat parted the tow-
rope. The second gunner's boat
was attached to this one, and they
were both swallowed up in the
darkness. The master's boat cast
off, and went in search of them.
Hawley's boat lay to with the
others all night waiting.

It was a terrible night. There
were a good many natives of India
in the boats' crews, and they
suffered greatly from the exposure.
One by one, in the dim light of the
lanterns, pathetically as children,
they gave up the fight for life,
and slipped into the water that
swilled about their feet. The wild



SEA SAVAGERY 31

eyes, always aloof from our own,
widened and flashed like the eyes of
frightened forest creatures. Five
of them died in Hawley's boat,
and were lifted, dripping from the
water that had been shipped, and
slipped over the side into the dark
sea. A sixth died in the second
officer's boat.

At daybreak on Jan. 3 the
master's boat was sighted, a black
dot among the distant whitecaps;
and at about eight o'clock he
rejoined them. He told them that
he had been unable to find the
missing boats, and that three
natives in his own boat had also
died during the night.

At four o'clock on the afternoon
of this day they decided to aban-
don number one boat, transferring
the fourth engineer (who was in



32 OPEN BOATS

charge of it) with six natives to
Hawley's boat, and two natives to
the master's boat. The wind and
sea increased, and at 4.30 the
rudder on the master's boat was
carried away. He then made fast
astern of the second officer's boat.
At 5.30 the wind and sea had
increased so much that the master
was forced to let go. He set a
reefed jib; and at daylight on the
4th there was no sign of him. At
2 p.m. he was sighted again,
sailing to the westward. Hawley
set sail and tried to follow him, but
he had the second officer's boat
attached and could not get up to
him. The last they saw of the
master's boat was at sunset on the
fourth, making about west-south-
west, and finally vanishing into
the evening light. Sails were



SEA SAVAGERY 33

stowed and the boats lay to. The
sea anchor was used that night,
and at daybreak Hawley attached
a bucket to the sea anchor to
increase its weight.

At i a.m. on the 5th it was
decided to abandon number four
boat, and transfer the second
officer, fifth engineer, and seven
natives, with their food and water,
to Hawley's boat. This was a
perilous task in a wind and sea so
boisterous; and during the process
the rudder of Hawley's boat was
broken and unshipped. He then
used an oar, with a goosewinged
jib as a jigger, to keep head to sea.

During the forenoon the wind
rose to a gale, with a high in-
creasing sea. The boat labored
heavily and shipped water, and
heavy sprays burst continually



34 OPEN BOATS

over the men as they baled. Oil
was used, and the baling went on
without a break.

At noon on the 5th they sighted
the smoke of a steamer on the
south-east, but she drew no nearer,
and the smoke died away. All
this time, it must be remembered,
the men were soaked from head to
foot by the wintry seas. On Jan.
6 at six o'clock the second cook
died from exposure, and the blue
frozen body was dropped over-
board. Half an hour later the
officers' boy died, and at nine
o'clock on the same bleak morning
a fireman died. The burial of
these dead, the heave and brief
plunge of the bodies as they
lightened the boat, were the only
interruptions to the long monotony
of the baling.



SEA SAVAGERY 35

At ten o'clock the wind and sea
moderated a little. Hawley set a
reefed lug-sail; and, having de-
cided to make for Alexandria,
though it was about 250 miles
distant, he steered E.S.E. At 4.15
that afternoon another native died,
and was "buried."

They sailed all night. At 5
a.m. on Jan. 7 the wind shifted to
N.W., and freshened, and the sea
increased again. At six o'clock
the captain's boy died (having
fought hard for life all through the


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