National Geographic : 1908 Jun
THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE 390 cult harbor entrances or fighting against the treacherous tides of the Bahama Banks. The voyage across the Gulf Stream to Nassau and the first day's run south from that port was interesting but uneventful. On the second day, April I, 1907, con ditions changed, when a heavy head wind was encountered from the south, dis placing the customary easterly trade winds. For hours the yacht tacked back and forth in a futile contest with wind and waves, for going to windward was not the Physalia'sstrong point. At 4 p. m. the anchor was dropped on the north side of a narrow reef lying east and west, which promised fair shelter for the ap proaching night; but at this very moment the destructive hurricane of April I had just struck Nassau, fifty miles to the north, and was tearing its way against the southern gale, which we were con tentedly watching as it sent the spray high over the reef in front of us. The barometer, however, had begun to fall and, not liking the looks of the weather, with ominous thunder clouds gathering, another anchor was dropped overboard, only to find ourselves strug gling at the windlass half an hour later to pull them back again, as the hurricane came from the north while the tumul tuous waves threatened to pull the bow under, held as it was with double chains, or later drive us back upon the reef when anchor free. As the second anchor came aboard, the yacht responded quickly to the wind, and in passing out struck a sunken bar of sand or silt, hanging just long enough for a huge wave to sweep the decks and flood the engine-room, stopping the motor, upon which we were relying until a small sail could be reefed. The next wave carried us clear, and in a few minutes the engine was again running, and then began a struggle to clear some long, low islands ahead which could be dimly seen in the gathering darkness. This required us to run at right angles to the gale, in the trough of the sea, and then it was that the huge masts laid us over again and again, tearing the life-boats from the davits and upsetting things generally. Darkness now came on, accentuated by flashes of lightning, and after a run of half an hour it was hoped we had cleared the islands to the left; so, to the partial relief of all, the rapidly founder ing yacht was turned free with the wind, and then commenced an all-night's run through a network of coral reefs and shallow bars which for six hundred miles formed the easterly fringe of the Ba hama Banks. The night being impen etrable, no lookout was placed at the bow, but every minute or two the lead was thrown, and when occasionally the Swede mate called out "Vun faddom," we knew that but a single foot of water lay be tween the keel and some jagged reef. But here I shall omit the suspense of the next four hours. At midnight the gasoline tank broke and the little cabin was flooded with gal lons of volatile oil. With a rush all the lamps were extinguished, including the binnacle light, illuminating the deck com pass, and just in time to prevent sudden annihilation. The possession of a little electric pocket-lamp made it possible to see the wheelman's compass until, after an hour's effort, with a barricade of canned goods carried from the hold to the deck, we succeeded, in the howling gale, in lighting a marine lantern. At 4:30 a. m., in the first gleam of the coming light, the pilot made out a high and rocky island a quarter of a mile to the east, and in a few minutes he skill fully guided us into a narrow entrance of Upper Gold Ring Key, ninety-one miles away from the anchorage of the night before. Here, in a spirit of thankfulness, we remained for two days, until the gale passed away, repairing the broken life boats and pumping out the gasoline from the bilge, during which time we cooked our meals on the shore of the key, for the yacht was still filled with the sicken ing and dangerous fumes of gasoline. And how bright and lovely those scarred rocks and tangled thickets seemed! On board everything was thoroughly drenched except our precious plates, which fortunately had been put up in water-tight tin cans.