family. Instead, Christmas Day saw all hope of making
home abandoned, as we were heading straight for whatever land we might
make on the other side of the Atlantic.
"I was confined to the forecastle
along with the rest of the crew, as it was impossible to remain aft
owing to the tremendous seas which were continually being shipped. What
with the confined air of the small space of the forecastle and the anxiety,
I was completely prostrate."
This was perhaps understatement.
For many days the wheel was lashed, and the captain, crew and passengers
remained below, for to go on deck during the days when the storms were
at their height would have been foolhardy and, perhaps, attended with
Considering the battering the Neptune
2 was receiving and was still to take, the schooner sustained remarkably
little damage except to her super structure, to the wheelhouse and bulwarks
and to one of her spars which was brought down by the wind, went over
the side, and had to be cut free lest its pounding damaged the ship's
side. The pumps were never required during the whole period of her drifting.
Coal for heating was now becoming
very short although extra supplies were in one of the compartments in
the cargo-space and could not be obtained because of the weather. Christmas
came and went. The celebrations consisted of their managing to boil
a kettle of their meager supplies of sweet water, and the main festive
meal was of some onions and bologna-sausage broached from the cargo.
This was their second full repast in almost one month.
All deeply religious, the ship's
company prayed regularly, ending always with: "Better tomorrow,
please God." Afterwards, they freely confessed that their faith
as to ultimate survival was sternly tested though never broken. Mrs.
Humphries, expected by some of them to die, appeared instead to rally
as the New Year came in.
As the weather sometimes moderated,
Capt. Barbour kept all except the invalids busy on a multitude of small
tasks, one of them being the repair of the severe damage to their canvas
over which, when frozen previously, Job Barbour recalls pouring precious
paraffin in an attempt to render them free of ice. He was then in his
late twenties, and has outlasted his schooner which, having been sold
a few years afterwards, foundered on her first voyage for her new owners
who had despatched her, deeply laden, with a cargo of fish.
After confessing: "I was quite
ignorant as to our position, for our usual route was seldom out of sight
of land," he described the last few days of the epic voyage.
"When nearing the coast,"
(exactly which coast he was extremely doubtful) "the weather, for
January, became much warmer, and we supposed we were coming to Africa
. . ." This calculation of Capt. Barbour's was hundreds of miles
The days dragged on. On January 9,
one man thought he saw land. This proved but a dark cloud but everybody
aboard now began to realise with uncomfortable certainty that, if they
were not sighted soon by another vessel or if they did not make a landfall,
they would perish from thirst and the effects of their long ordeal.
The remainder of the oranges had long since gone rotten.
On January 13, it was fine and clear,
and, with some sail set and the wind abaft the beam, the little schooner
was sailing comfortably, albeit slowly. Sea- birds began to fly around
Night fell, and then the lookout's
shout: "A light!" acted on all like a tonic. The light, surely,
was from one of the Scillies? Capt. Job was uneasy. If this was the
English Channel, should they not be surrounded by other ships?
From a chart which they had found
on board after they had been at sea for a month they had learned the
lights which they expected to see by heart: the
first would be the Scillies~ne flash every 20 seconds; then Wolf Rock,
Plymouth or Eddystone, a double flash every half-minute. Yes, they would
know exactly how to shape their course when they saw these ocean signposts.
But this light, the first indication of human habitation for weeks,
this was none of these.
Daylight revealed no land, nor were
there any ships. It came on to blow again and the ship barely had steerage-way.
With a blessed return of fine weather, Job decided to take a sounding.
The lead ran out to many fathoms before it slackened.
"Bottom!" Job yelled excitedly.
There were shouts and cheers and the good news was relayed to Mrs. Humphries
who declared, weakly, "We'll be in harbour before the day's out."
But Capt. Barbour was cautious. "We
can't have any guarantee of that. If we're lucky and see land, it doesn't
follow that we'll be spotted by another vessel which can pilot us in.
And perhaps there'll be no people ashore to see us, anyway."
The ship's company will always remember
the elation they felt when land was at last espied. All filthy dirty,
sore from their buffetings, hungry, tired and above all thirsty, they
momentarily forgot all these as in the half-light of what was going
to be a fine day they could see islands close to them, the hills covered
by snow, and the beam of a lighthouse. They counted, and waited. Yes,
that was the Scilly light. But was it? And there were others which were
faint but still identifiable by their frequencies. No, something was
wrong some where. These were not the Scillies, Wolf Rock or Eddystone.
Where were they sailing? The latest light was up on a high cliff. When
the Neptune 2 was about a mile or so from the land, they hove-to until
Later, they picked their way among
the many islands which now appeared both to port and starboard and ahead.
One of the crew saw another object. "Steamer coming!" he roared
to Job Barbour. "We must be in the English Channel after all!"
There was not one ship, but at least half a dozen. But the nearest indicated
that she had no interest in the battered schooner with her rags of sails.
There was an old muzzle-loading musket on board, made a century before,
but still capable of being fired. With the powder, this sounded like
a cannon to the schooner's complement. As a crew-member bent a flag
to the halyards and jerked it up and down, the steamer sailed toward
them. They were to be saved! Job shouted. "Which land are we off?"
From the other ship's bridge came
an answering hail but nobody understood what was said. Nearly frantic,
Job called: "We want water!" and made a pantomime of drinking.
Again they were not understood.
"Our boats are smashed. We don't
know where the harbour is..." But the steamer's crew just gazed;
she started to draw away despite the despairing shouts from all in the
Neptune 2. It was incredible that nobody on board the steamer wanted
to more thoroughly investigate their plight. They tried to read her
name but this was indecipherable. She disappeared.
Stifling the cruel disappointment
he felt, Capt. Barbour headed his vessel for two large islands some
miles ahead, and all that same day, the schooner crawled toward them.
At least, they appeared to offer safe anchorage. The lead was kept going
constantly; Job did not intend to ground his vessel now; and, just in
case it should be required, the mate and a passenger worked desperately
to try to repair one of the smashed dories.
Late that afternoon, houses and people
were easily seen on one island, and so were three slender masts of a
wireless-station. Barbour was confident that, ere night fell, their
relatives in Newfoundland would learn of their safety. There was a wharf,
and small sailing craft edging up the coast.
Out came their old gun again and
they fired it joyfully. The boat turned, and its crew of three guided
her toward the Neptune 2. Then fate intervened once more. A sudden squall
blotted out the sight of everything, and under spanker and mainsail
the wind and tide swept the small ship some i~ miles away from what
they considered would have provided a haven and journey's end.
That night was brilliantly moonlit
until before-dawn clouds plunged them into darkness. As the day came,
so did the wind and it took the efforts of two at the wheel to steer
through the tide-rips. But they were never far from their "Number
One" island which had seemed to offer them salvation, and when
near a sandy cove they made the big decision. They anchored, for the
first time in 48 days. But where were they?
They saw one of the lighthouse keepers
waving, but others on shore ignored them. The receding tide uncovered
a huge rock which they had scarcely missed on the way in. Its presence
also warned that, if the wind veered, they would be wrecked, so, amid
all the semaphoring from ashore, they persevered with the repairs to
the dory, meanwhile banging away with the old musket.
By evening, it was impossible for
them to move from their anchorage with out running ashore, for the tide
was running at a rate of knots. Their danger was as great as it had
ever been. Night was almost upon them when the