CHAPTER I. FAREWELL TO OLD ENGLAND.
Masts, spires, and strand receding on the right,
The glorious main expanding on the bow.
At noon on July 1st, 1876, we said good-bye to the friends who had come to Chatham to see us off, and began the first stage of our voyage by steaming down to Sheerness, saluting our old friend the 'Duncan,' Admiral Chads's flagship, and passing through a perfect fleet of craft of all kinds. There was a fresh contrary wind, and the Channel was as disagreeable as usual under the circumstances. Next afternoon we were off Hastings, where we had intended to stop and dine and meet some friends; but, unfortunately the weather was not sufficiently favourable for us to land; so we made a long tack out to sea, and, in the evening, found ourselves once more near the land, off Beachy Head. While becalmed off Brighton, we all - children included - availed ourselves of the opportunity to go overboard and have our first swim, which we thoroughly enjoyed. We had steam up before ten, and again proceeded on our course. It was very hot, and sitting under the awning turned out to be the pleasantest occupation. The contrast between the weather of the two following days was very great, and afforded a forcible illustration of the uncertainties, perhaps the fascinations, of yachting. We steamed quietly on, past the 'Owers' lightship, and the crowds of yachts at Ryde, and dropped anchor off Cowes at six o'clock.
On the morning of the 6th a light breeze sprang up, and enabled us to go through the Needles with sails up and funnel down, a performance of which all on board felt very proud, as many yachtsmen had pronounced it to be an impossibility for our vessel to beat out in so light a breeze.
We were forty-three on board, all told, as will be seen by reference to the list I have given. We had with us, besides, two dogs, three birds, and a charming Persian kitten belonging to the baby. The kitten soon disappeared, and it was feared she must have gone overboard down the hawse pipe. There was a faint hope, however, that she might have been packed away with the new sails, which had been stowed in a great hurry the day before. Unhappily she was never found again, and the children were inconsolable until they discovered, at Torquay, an effective substitute for 'Lily.'
The Channel was tolerably smooth outside the Isle of Wight, and during the afternoon we were able to hold on our course direct for Ushant. After midnight, however, the wind worked gradually round to the W.S.W., and blew directly in our teeth. A terribly heavy sea got up; and, as we were making little or no progress, it was decided to put in to Torquay or Dartmouth, and there await a change. We anchored in Torbay, about half a mile from the pier, at 8.30 a.m., and soon afterwards went ashore to bathe. We found, however, that the high rocks which surround the snug little bathing cove made the water as cold as ice.
Nothing more having been heard of our poor little kitten, we can only conclude that she has gone overboard. Just as we were leaving the railway-station, however, we saw a small white kitten with a blue ribbon round its neck; and all the children at once exclaimed, 'There's our Lily!' We made inquiries, and found that it belonged to the young woman at the refreshment room, who, after some demur, allowed us to take it away with us, in compliance with Muriel's anxious wish, expressed on her face.
About ten o'clock we got under way, but lay-to for breakfast. We then had a regular beat of it down Channel - everybody being ill. We formed a melancholy-looking little row down the lee side of the ship, though I must say that we were quite as cheery as might have been expected under the circumstances. It was bright and sunny overhead, which made things more bearable.
Sunday, July 9th. - A calm at 2 a.m. Orders were given to get up steam; but the new coals from Chatham were slow to light, though good to keep up steam when once fairly kindled. For four long hours, therefore, we lolloped about in the trough of a heavy sea, the sails flapping as the vessel rolled. By the time the steam was up so was the breeze - a contrary one, of course. We accordingly steamed and sailed all day, taking more water on board, though not really in any great quantity, than I had ever seen the good ship do before. She carries a larger supply of coal and other stores than usual, and no doubt the square yards on the foremast make her pitch more heavily. We were all very sorry for ourselves, and 'church,' postponed from eleven until four o'clock, brought together but a small congregation.
On the 8th we were fairly away from Old England, and on the next day off Ushant, which we rounded at about 4.30 p.m., at the distance of a mile and a half; the sea was tremendous, the waves breaking in columns of spray against the sharp needle-like rocks that form the point of the island. The only excitement during the day was afforded by the visit of a pilot-boat (without any fish on board), whose owner was very anxious to take us into Brest, 'safe from the coming storm,' which he predicted. In addition to our other discomforts, it now rained hard; and by half-past six I think nearly all our party had made up their minds that bed would be the most comfortable place.
Two days later we sailed into lovely, bright, warm, sunny weather, with a strong north-easterly breeze, a following sea, and an occasional long roll from the westward. But as the sun rose, the wind increased, and we got rather knocked about by the sea. A good deal of water came on board, and it was impossible to sit anywhere in comfort, unless lashed or firmly wedged in. We were, however, going ten knots through the water, on our course, under our new square head canvas; and this fact made up for a good deal of discomfort.