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though we could see nothing of the wreck, we
judged her to lie between the lightship and Fife
Ness. A squall narrowed the northern horizon
and shut out the vessels from our sight. For a
time we heard the guns, and then, listen as we
might, there was no sound from the nor'ard but
the shriek of the gale and cries of the seabirds.

Dawn broke and showed us a waste of tumbling,
grey seas and a sickly light in a still threatening
sky. The lee of the island was white with a fleecy
pall, and on our 'decks in places sheltered from the
flying spray lay snow. A change indeed for us,
so lately steaming through Indian seas. Now and
again with a dull booming the seas would break
heavily on the weather side of the island, and at
times the spray and spindrift even reached the
decks of the vessels lying behind it. With daylight
to help them, some of the ships bore away 'up
Firth' to reach their ports, and only the fishers,
whose business lay to seaward, held to the shelter.
With us, who were waiting for water on the Tay
bar, there was no need of haste. We were as well
'behind the May' as elsewhere.

About noon we saw a steam trawler bearing in
'from the nor'ard. She had the rags of an ensign
streaming from her masthead, and we were glacf


when we recognised the 'Union' up. Evidently
her cause was another's, and we watched her ap-
proach with interest. Driving into the seas, hull
in the hollow, or rising to show a dripping keel,
she held on her way, and reached the shelter she
was seeking. Her decks were lumbered with ill-
lashed trawl gear. A dinghy boat, stove almost
out of recognition, lay on her hatch cover, and
near it crouched a crowd of seamen, braced to
meet the sickening lurches of the vessel. She rode
light on the water and even we, 'deep-seamen' as
we were, could tell she was not long out of port.
She came close to us, and her skipper hailed the
'bridge' in the homely tongue of the North. He
asked if we were for Dundee, and our answer
assured him. He had taken six of the crew off a
schooner, he said, a wreck on the North Carr (the
vessel whose guns we had heard), and he wished
our captain to take them off his hands, as he was
bound out to the 'lang forties' when the weather
cleared. This our captain agreed to do, and the
skipper gave us further particulars. A crew of
nine, he thought, and three gone under. He could
only get six men off the wreck. ". . . A wheen
furrin' loons. Johnny Creepaws or Dutchmen,

While thus engaged his keen "eyes caught a speck
of sail to the nor'ard, and he brought a battered
pair of binoculars to bear on it. We watched the
speck till it grew to a blue-painted boat scudding


under a close-reefed fore-lug; a 'National' lifeboat
making for the May. "They'll be th' Aerbroath
lauds," said the trawler's skipper. "Ah doot th'
Bawrhull boat couldna' win oot in a flood an' a sea
like thon!" He hauled down the flag from his
masthead, and gave a blast on his syren. The
lifeboat paid off and steered towards him. "Ye'r
ower late, lauds, ower late! Ah've gotten sax
haun's oot o' her afore she broke upon Balcolmie
Brigs." The coxswain of the lifeboat waved a
hand in answer. He rounded the trawler's stern,
lowered his sail and mast, and his boat lay a gal-
lant picture on the heaving sea between our vessels.
"Ah wis on th' Ae-bertay Saun's when they got
word frae th' May," he said, ... "a 'geordie'
ketch on th' 'Elbow! Gi'e us word o' yer
schooner, an' a'll awa' in, an' telegraph frae th'
May!" He got the particulars, and blades flashed
as his boat forced her away through the water to
a possible landing at the Altar Stanes.

By skilful manoeuvring the trawler was brought
close alongside, and the distressed seamen, as op-
portunity offered, clambered on to our deck; but
not before they had expressed, in pantomime if
words failed, their gratitude to their rescuers.
The Aberdeen Samaritan accepted their thanks in
a shamefaced and embarrassed way; " 'at's a'
richt, lauds, 'at's a' richt. Ah wis jist gaun bye,
like, an' ah thocht mebbe yis be better oot o' her!"
Although within the three-mile limit, our captain


thought fit to arrange a little matter of spirits an'd
tobacco with the trawler. These were being passed
aboard to a burly fisherman when a sea took his
vessel on the bow, causing her to lurch violently
towards us. The man, encumbered by the 'lar-
gesse,' jumped to put a fender between the vessels'
sides. The skipper, the man whose nerves were
steady when he handled his boat in the wash of the
North Carr, was appalled at his recklessness. A
cry, almost a scream, came from his dry lips
"Jock, ye bluidy loonie, mind thae boattles !"

The refugees were Frenchmen. One was a very
old man, too old for sea-going, and he seemed
weary and disinclined to talk. From Rembault,
Jean Rembault, M'sieu's, Maitre, we learnt, of
their hazard. Their vessel was the Lis de Bre-
tagne, an old vessel of small quickness; but a stout,
mind you! From Iceland, and she was returning
to winter quarters. Au nord t she started a butt;
the water gained, and they were running to the
Forth for shelter when she struck. A terrible af-
faire, M'sieu's. Three men were drowned, here
Rembault crossed himself, with a muttered "Le.
Bon Dieu regard!" One was son of the old man,
le vieux, Josef, who was also, we learned, owner
of the boat, but, being illiterate, acted as mate.
This was their tale, and we did our best for them,
but le vieux, Josef, paying no attention to our sym-
pathies, sat still on the hatch-coaming, with his
head in his hands. For him, the world held noth-


ing more. His ship was gone, and his tall son was
the sport of the waters that surged over the grim
North Carr.

As the day wore on the wind shifted to the south
and the seas came tumbling into the anchorage
rough, confused seas, revelling in the spot from
which they had been so long withheld. The Isle
of May no longer offered a bulwark to the breeze,
so we weighed anchor and put to sea.


CAILOR folks have no time for other than the
*^ 'tit-bits' in reading matter. Such leisure as
they have at sea is ruled off into so many little
tabloids of time, each definite of purpose, and he
would be a rash man who would encroach on the
precious sleeping hours of the 'watch below,' how-
ever interesting a book might be. Novels have no
standing in a fo'c'sle where nine men out of ten
can spin a better and more readily appreciated
yarn, and works of sober interest are put aside as
matters beyond the understanding. About the
docks, there are few bookshops. Nautical works
and text-books are sold at the opticians', the daily
papers and sixpenny editions may be had at a near
tobacconist's and sweet-shop. For other literature
there is no great demand, certainly not enough to
keep a bookseller in a reasonable state of trade.

There are, however, numberless odd shops
where second-hand goods of every description are
on sale. Be it Bute Road or The Marsh, Paradise
Street or the Broomielaw, the shops are the same,
identical in arrangement and effect. Outwith the
'door the bundles of oilskin clothing and army



boots, travelling trunks, and tiers of sailors' bed-
ding stand ready to the hand, and the shop win-
dows are carefully arranged in hopeless disorder,
a sure attraction for a seaman's roving eye.
Wedged among such items as 'knuckle-dusters,'
melodeons, meerschaum pipes, and solid alberts
are generally to be found a few derelict volumes,
the flotsam of the book market, that, appropriately
enough, finds its way to the water's edge. Tables
of tides long since ebbed into the womb of time,
signal books of discarded codes, sailing directions
for far waters, old charts, stained by sea and serv-
ice, books of cunning seamanship, of the high art
of Navigation (with tables of distance in sea

From such a collection of odd publications I
once purchased (for a shilling and twopence) a
Findlay's South Pacific. It was an old and obso-
lete edition, the one in which mariners are strongly
advised to give Banuloa a wide berth on account
of the treacherous and cannibalistic practices of its
inhabitants. (Banuloa, where now the natives
wear Paris hats and London fashions, and say
"pip-pip" or "it's up ter yew," in the approved
American way!)

The book was in fairly good condition, save that
the cockroaches had eaten most of the binding, and
the covers had been used to stand medicine bottles
on. Only the chapters devoted to Cape Horn, the
.West Coast, and the passage to Californian ports


showed signs of having been frequently consulted;
its whilom owner must have been in the 'Frisco
trade. Just where Findlay tells of the fury of
Cape Horn gales, was the mark of the coffee cup
some hurried sup in the lulling of a gale and
further on, where he gives directions for working
through the Straits of Lemaire, were marks of
sea-water the drippings of the old man's sou'-
wester when he came below anxious-eyed, for an-
other look at the description of Cape Success and
the Ship Rocks to make doubly sure.

Between the leaves I found a scrap of paper, an
untidy half-sheet with a few jottings of laborious
caligraphy and misspelt words an account of
'slops' supplied. The 'slops' were clothes and
sea outfits that the captains of sailing vessels took
to sea and held for sale to such members of the
crew as had 'come to sea same's they wos a-goin'
t' church,' and had found their wardrobe inade-
quate for facing the weather. Often the 'slops'
were of indifferent quality, and being sold to the
crew at famous 'sea prices,' they represented a
considerable source of revenue to the old-time ship-
master. For one thing, he had no bad debts to
consider, his customers being under his immediate
eye: he had no competition to fear it is some
little distance from sixty, South, to the East India
Dock Road. The 'slop chest' was a needed insti-
tution in the long-voyage sailing ship, where so
many of the crew were shipped in a state of drink


ancl 'destitution. It met their wants at 'sea
price' ! 'Sea price' was written large over this
untidy scrap of paper that I found irt the old book.

'To 'J. Jons 'A.B., one suit olskins, i.' I could
fancy J. Jones standing, cap in hand and ill at
ease, in the cabin doorway, and the steward sorting
out the gleaming yellow oilskins, while the old
man, fingering and nodding approval, remarks
them the best lot he had ever carried. And when
J. Jones, with an awkward tug at his forelock, had
retired with his purchase, how the old man would
enter it up, chuckling at the thought of the nine
shillings and sevenpence he had made over the

' To Abram Willis, one belt and sheth knife, '4$'
Four shillings! And the best Green River knife
and belt in 'sailortown' to be had at two and
three! 'J. Christiansen, A.B., one pund tobacco,
35.' That would be a purser's pound fourteen
ounces ! Those were a few of the items noted
down and thus left amiss, but assuredly they
would not be overlooked in the reckoning. Writ-
ten in the same large hand they would figure as
'to slops supplied' in some bygone account of

Their writer will be retired from the sea now,
if he is still alive. In some quiet parish within hail
of the sea he will have his dwelling, with perhaps
a seamanlike flagstaff in the garden and a pair of
brass carronades flanking the doorway. Bored


with a longshore life, he will be rather a trial to
his womenfolk. Perhaps, when he meets with
other old sea captains, he will brighten up, and
will talk in a prideful voice of the gales he weath-
ered, passages he made, and freights he earned,
maybe, with a half laugh, of the profits of 'slop
chest.' No doubt the memory of J. Jones, Abram
Willis, and Christiansen, A.B., and the amount of
their purchases will have faded from his memory,
but of this I am sure, that when the wind rises and
howls a whole gale into the village street, when,
afar, he hears the crash of running seas on the
water front, when the land about is shrouded in a
pall of driving sleet, he will think of the long
stormy days of beating west round the Horn. Per-
haps, by some quaint turn of memory, a trifling
incident may occur to him a recollection of the
time when the water, running from his rain-sodden
sou'wester, went drip, drip, drip on to the fifty-
eighth page of Findlay's South Pacific.


'ITT'HEN fog hangs thick over the Mersey and
the keenest eyes are powerless to pierce the
clammy veil, only by sound and a ready knowledge
of its import can the pilot navigate the busy water-
way. Sight, the seaman's master-sense, denied
him, ear must do the work of eye, and the river
sounds, distinctive and deliberate, are there to
guide as he feels a cautious way to safe anchorage.
A quick, alarmed clatter of a ship's bell marks a
vessel anchored; followed by the room, room of a
brazen gong, it notes a lengthy craft. The weak,
futile rasp of a hand-horn tells of a sailing-boat
under weigh, or of a bargeman, adrift on the river,
tootling for his steam escort to take his lines.
Then the bell-buoys, tolling a doleful note of shoal
and sandbank, and the quick decisive strokes that
mark the ferry piers. Over to the west, on the
Rock Lighthouse, there sounds a clang of bells at
timely intervals sonorous notes, tenor and bass,
that carry far enough; but, loud over all the river
voices, a deep, raucous bellow from the east marks
the lair of the 'Bootle Bull' officially the North



Wall Fog Syren. Hoarse, clamorous, insistent
never could Bull of Bashan have tongued a note
like that! Fading to an unearthly wail, it rasps
out a message of warning, and manners take heed
when the 'Bull' speaks and steer a proper course
to keep the fairway.

Far down channel, beyond the Crosby Light-
ship, we hear the roar of the 'Bull,' and though
the weather with us is no more than misty, we
know of thick fog in the river, and our hopes of
'docking on the tide are rudely shaken. At first in
wandering patches, later a solid bank, the fog
comes down on us, shutting out the lightship lights,
the channel buoys, the shore beacons; it is time to
go slow, drifting up with the tide and the leadsman
telling the depths in the doleful wail of a practised
hand. Now and on, a hail from the look-out
brings the pilot's ready hand to the telegraph
handle, ears strained to catch the cry, faint and
dulled as it is by the inconstant fog wraith.

"Bell soundin' right ahead, sir! Close to!"

A sharp movement of the hand, the pointer
turns to 'full astern,' and, with screw reversed, we
shave narrowly past a boat-shaped buoy, whose
bells clang harshly at will of the tide-stream.
Then on again, turning water easily, the bows
scarce visible from the bridge. A dank south-
easter this, with all the smoke wrack of busy Lan-
cashire to thicken the driving fog.

Loud and sudden, we hear the three hoarse;


blasts of Crosby Lightship. At last they have set
their horn to work. Brrrr Brrr Brrrr.

'Tort a bit! Port th' helm now!" The pilot
peers into the murk ahead, to mark the misty glare
of the vessel's light. As we glide slowly past, a
voice hails us out of the fog.

"The steamer, ah-oy! Ease up ... ships to
an anchor . . . below . . . th' bell-buoy!"

"Aye! Aye! Easy it is!" answering; then,
to the steersman, "South b' east, half east, now
an' keen steering!"

Sounding a deep warning note of our syren, we
move slowly on all ears, listening for the next
fog signal that will guide us to safer waters. Sti-
fling all lesser notes, the 'Bootle Bull' roars out at
half-minute intervals, but we are not yet within his
range of guidance; the long stretch of Seaforth
Sands lies bare between us. "I doubt we'll not
dock on this tide, Captain !" says the pilot, button-
ing his oilskin more closely to the throat. "Thick
as a hedge, and wet too ! There'll be nothing
moving in th' river if it's like this! Hark t' th'
'Bull'! 'Gad! A note like that's enough to
frighten any man away t' sea !"

"Aye! I think ye'd better anchor, pilot! No
weather t' be going on in !"

"An' I will, Captain, as soon as "

"Ship to an anchor right ahead, sir!" a loud,
startling cry from the bows.

"Slow astern, Mister! . . . Can ye see her?"


"No! . . . hear the bell . . . more!" . . .
"Room, room, room, room." u 'Gad! A big
boat, too! . . . Let go th' anchor! Full speed

Ghostly, in fog and darkness, the towering hull
of a great liner looms up near at hand, tier on tier
of misty lights about her decks, and the glare of a
hastily fired bluelight striking painfully on the eye.
The anchor holds we back away, swinging clear,
and, picking up our iron, move slowly ahead, past
the 'ocean monarch.' Her anchor bell clatters
noisily, some one from the high bridge yells
abusive advice through a megaphone, and astern
the brazen voice rings out "Room, room, room,
room." We are right among them now. To
right, left, ahead, astern, the clang of anchor
strokes, beating of gongs, shouts out of the pall,
"Ahoy! Ye're too close . . . sheer off! ... t'
th' south'ard, . . ." and a welcome hint from a
brother pilot "No room this side . . . bell-
buoy. . . . Clear space t' th' south'ard, I think!"

Hot work! Steering orders, and the engine-
room bell clanging out a range of speeds that set
the men below to a chorus of anathema. Only a
Mersey pilot could keep a clear head in all the
din, and shortly, clear of the press, we are heark-
ening for the guiding strokes of the bell-buoy.

There, we have it. Three-pun' -ten! Three-
pun'-ten! Clear and distinct it rings out (as
sailor-nren say) the wages of the port. Now we


are in clearer waters. There is no sound of any-
thing moving in the river, and the Pilot, embold-
ened by the silence, keeps her moving creeping
cautiously from buoy to buoy, guided now by the
hoarse, raucous bellow of the 'Bull.' Nearer we
draw, till old 'Iron Throat' thunders his message
over our mastheads, and we swing round to the
tide, the anchor cast.

The flood has an hour to run, the weather an
hour to clear, if we are to get safely into dock,
and anxious eyes are cast about for sign of a lift
to the heavy dank curtain that envelops us.

Sure it comes! The luck that has brought us
up channel, unseeing and unseen, still holds ! The
fog lifts, driven to seaward, and we find ourselves
(cleverly, if chancily, placed in station for enter-
ing) off the Langton Pierheads.

"A-hoy! What boat's that?" Not Stentor
himself could have bettered the dockman's hail!
Weakly by comparison, we roar our name.

"Al' right! Coom alongside . . . ye' re f'r th'
East Hornby. Hurry oop, now, 'ere th' water
goes back!"

We swing between the pierhea'ds and enter 'dock
with only minutes to spare, and scarce are moored
before the fog comes down again, dense, impene-
trable, banked closer by the wandering draught of
wind that had set the veil momentarily aside. The
ship fast to her quay-berth, we go below, fog-tired
and sleepy. Near at hand the 'Bull' roars out his


timely signal, and from the river without comes
the deep, reverberating syren-blast of a large
vessel under weigh. That will be the liner from
whose lofty, gold-laced bridge we were told to
"take that canal barge out t' th' nar'rard!" She
will be groping for a second anchorage, too late
for the tide, and here we lie, snugly berthed behind
the 'Bootle Bull,' case-hardened to his bellow and
ready for sleep.

Turning the more cosily amid our blankets we
murmur, "Well! good luck to the gilt-edged
'hooker,' anyway. Hope they like it, out there in
the river, tooting the great horn, clanging bell, and
beating gong, till the day breaks and the tide comes


A T the south-east corner of the Queen's Dock,
* * where the line of sheds comes to an abrupt
end and idle railway trucks make up the view,
there is space enough for a short deep-water walk
say, twenty paces and a turn if one be but
careful to avoid the junction crossing stones. It
lies without the bounds, concerning which a notice-
board informs that 'Smoking in this roadway is
strictly prohibited' ; is out of the way of straining
Clydesdales, laden lorries, and swearing carters;
and the shed end forms a fine weather-screen
against the chill wind and rain that sweeps up the
river. From this point of vantage a good look-
out can be kept on harbour doings; no gaffer can
pass along to dock or ferry without being seen;
and thus it has been for years the 'stand' of the
longshore gangs odd men, who do sailor work
on the vessels in dock.

They come there in the early morning, ready
for a lucky day's work that begins at six, and till
late in the afternoon groups of weather-beaten
men may be seen pacing to and fro, generally in
twos, each with a battered oilskin slung over his



arm. Many of them are 'riggers' by trade, but of
late years that branch of sailoring has fallen away.
Having had the misfortune to engage in a business
that the engineer has since abolished, they are now
glad to take any waterside job, from washing
paintwork on a Clyde liner to earning a few shil-
lings 'a hauf tide' at shifting a vessel from her
quay-berth. Occasionally some of them go to
sea for a spell, but most are anchored to the beach,
and, year by year, the same faces surround a
bo'sun on the quest for 'hands.' It is a precarious
living they make; a day's work, perhaps, between
two of idleness. 'Coolie' crews and Chinamen
have further reduced their chances of a 'tide's
work' on the local vessels, and, since 'strictest
economy' is the word on the few sailing-ships that
come to the port, sailor work on square rigging is
not what it used to be.

Naturally, with time hanging heavy, the long-
shoremen are famous 'yarn spinners,' and many
curious incidents of Clyde shipping are talked of
'on the stand.' Discussions and arguments (that
sometimes call for the attentions of Angus Beaton,
the ferry 'polis') go on, and when there is no more
to be said of ship affairs, and, for the unnumbered
time, the quality of the liquor at the lona Vaults
has been condemned, the posters on a near board-
ing offer subject-matter for debate. Much idle
time may be passed in discussing the identity of
X. M'Y., a seaman, or Z. M'B., a plate-layer's


labourer, who, as set forth in a warning broad-
sheet, have received two and four months respec-
tively for deserting their wives and children.

A familiar figure among the longshore gang was
old Shaw, a genuine journeyman rigger. Summer
and winter, bad weather or fine, old 'Wully' took
the 'stand' among his mates, working off and on
now a day at bending sail on a Loch Line clipper,
or perhaps, if trade was brisk, a week or two in
the yards or rigging loft. With 'Wully' it was not
always thus. Among his 'min' fine's' were memo-
ries of a time when the Clyde quays were lined by
lofty ships, of whose stout rigging and spread of
canvas he would talk with pride. "Them wis th'
times i' th' riggin' tred," he would say; "the rig-
gers did a' the wark in port; no a deep-water man
wid lay haun' on rope tull th' 'bluepeter' wis up!
Fine times! Six days i' th' week at proper joabs;
mastin' an' riggin'. . . . An' as shune's we hud a
ship fitted oot, an' th' riggin' set up an' the yairds
an' sails aloft, up wid come a new hull frae th'
yairds!" Though a 'rigger,' conservative of his
'tred,' 'Wully' had made odd voyages from time
to time. 'Runs' they were called, and, being
profitable, were keenly sought after by the long-
shore gang.

When a sailing-ship had discharge'd her inward
cargo, she had often to be sent to another port to
load. It would not have been profitable for art
owner to engage a deep-water crew, and have them


hanging on Heserting perhaps while the vessel's
cargo was being loaded. It was cheaper to employ
'runners' to work from port to port, paying them
a lump sum for the passage. Most vessels were
towed on these short voyages, and beyond unmoor-
ing and mooring, washing decks, trimming yards,
and perhaps setting a topsail to help the tug-boat
when the wind was fair, the 'runners' had an easy

On two such voyages I was shipmates with a
'Glesca crood,' among them old 'Wully,' and al-

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Online LibraryDavid W. (David William) BoneBroken stowage → online text (page 9 of 16)