How the Captain Got His Steamer Out by
"On his own perticular well-wrought row,
That he's straddled for ages—
Learnt its lay and its gages—
His style may seem queer, but permit him to know,
The likeliest, sprightliest, manner to hoe."
"There is nothing more certain than that some day we may have to record
a terrible disaster directly traceable to ocean racing.
"The vivid account which one of our reporters gives in another column
of how the captain of the Arrowic went blundering across the bar
yesterday in one of the densest fogs of the season is very interesting
reading. Of course the account does not pretend to be anything more than
imaginary, for, until the Arrowic reaches Queenstown, if she ever does
under her present captain, no one can tell how much of luck was mixed
with the recklessness which took this steamer out into the Atlantic in
the midst of the thickest fog we have had this year. All that can be
known at present is, that, when the fog lifted, the splendid steamer
Dartonia was lying at anchor in the bay, having missed the tide, while
the Arrowic was nowhere to be seen. If the fog was too thick for the
Dartonia to cross the bar, how, then, did the captain of the Arrowic
get his boat out? The captain of the Arrowic should be taught to
remember that there are other things to be thought of beside the
defeating of a rival steamer. He should be made to understand that he
has under his charge a steamer worth a million and a half of dollars,
and a cargo probably nearly as valuable. Still, he might have lost his
ship and cargo, and we would have had no word to say. That concerns the
steamship company and the owners of the cargo; but he had also in his
care nearly a thousand human lives, and these he should not be allowed
to juggle with in order to beat all the rival steamers in the world."
The above editorial is taken from the columns of the New York Daily
Mentor. The substance of it had been cabled across to London and it
made pleasant reading for the captain of the Arrowic at Queenstown.
The captain didn't say anything about it; he was not a talkative man.
Probably he explained to his chief, if the captain of an ocean liner can
possibly have a chief, how he got his vessel out of New York harbour in
a fog; but, if he did, the explanation was never made public, and so
here's an account of it published for the first time, and it may give
a pointer to the captain of the rival liner Dartonia. I may say,
however, that the purser was not as silent as the captain. He was very
indignant at what he called the outrage of the New York paper, and said
a great many unjustifiable things about newspaper men. He knew I was a
newspaper man myself, and probably that is the reason he launched his
maledictions against the fraternity at my head.
"Just listen to that wretched penny-a-liner," he said, rapping savagely
on the paper with the back of his hand.
I intimated mildly that they paid more than a penny a line for newspaper
work in New York, but he said that wasn't the point. In fact the
purser was too angry to argue calmly. He was angry the whole way from
Queenstown to Liverpool.
"Here," he said, "is some young fellow, who probably never saw the
inside of a ship in his life, and yet he thinks he can tell the captain
of a great ocean liner what should be done and what shouldn't. Just
think of the cheek of it."
"I don't see any cheek in it," I said, as soothingly as possible. "You
don't mean to pretend to argue, at this time of day that a newspaper man
does not know how to conduct every other business as well as his own."
But the purser did make that very contention, although of course he must
be excused, for, as I said, he was not in a good temper.
"Newspaper men," he continued, "act as if they did know everything. They
pretend in their papers that every man thinks he knows how to run a
newspaper or a hotel. But look at their own case. See the advice they
give to statesmen. See how they would govern Germany, or England, or
any other country under the sun. Does a big bank get into trouble,
the newspaper man at once informs the financiers how they should have
conducted their business. Is there a great railway smash-up, the
newspaper man shows exactly how it could have been avoided if he had had
the management of the railway. Is there a big strike, the newspaper man
steps in. He tells both sides what they should do. If every man thinks
he can run a hotel, or a newspaper—and I am sure most men could run a
newspaper as well as the newspapers are conducted now—the conceit of
the ordinary man is nothing to the conceit of the newspaper man. He not
only thinks he can run a newspaper and a hotel, but every other business
under the sun."
"And how do you know he can't," I asked.
But the purser would not listen to reason. He contended that a captain
who had crossed the ocean hundreds of times and for years and years had
worked his way up, had just as big a sense of responsibility for his
passengers and his ship and his cargo as any newspaper man in New York
could have, and this palpably absurd contention he maintained all the
way to Liverpool.
When a great ocean racer is making ready to put out to sea, there can
hardly be imagined a more bustling scene than that which presents itself
on the deck and on the wharf. There is the rush of passengers, the
banging about of luggage, the hurrying to and fro on the decks, the roar
of escaping steam, the working of immense steam cranes hoisting and
lowering great bales of merchandise and luggage from the wharf to the
hold, and here and there in quiet corners, away from the rush, are
tearful people bidding good-bye to one another.
The Arrowic and the Dartonia left on the same day and within the
same hour, from wharfs that were almost adjoining each other. We on
board the Arrowic could see the same bustle and stir on board the
Dartonia that we ourselves were in the midst of.
The Dartonia was timed to leave about half an hour ahead of us, and we
heard the frantic ringing of her last bell warning everybody to get on
shore who were not going to cross the ocean. Then the great steamer
backed slowly out from her wharf.
Of course all of us who were going on the Arrowic were warm champions
of that ship as the crack ocean racer; but, as the Dartonia moved
backwards with slow stately majesty, all her colours flying, and her
decks black with passengers crowding to the rail and gazing towards us,
we could not deny that she was a splendid vessel, and "even the ranks of
Tuscany could scarce forbear a cheer." Once out in the stream her twin
screws enabled her to turn around almost without the help of tugs, and
just as our last bell was ringing she moved off down the bay. Then we
backed slowly out in the same fashion, and, although we had not the
advantage of seeing ourselves, we saw a great sight on the wharf, which
was covered with people, ringing with cheers, and white with the flutter
As we headed down stream the day began to get rather thick. It had been
gloomy all morning, and by the time we reached the Statue of Liberty
it was so foggy that one could hardly see three boats' length ahead or
behind. All eyes were strained to catch a glimpse of the Dartonia, but
nothing of her was visible. Shortly after, the fog came down in earnest
and blotted out everything. There was a strong wind blowing, and the
vapour, which was cold and piercing, swept the deck with dripping
moisture. Then we came to a standstill. The ship's bell was rung
continually forward and somebody was whanging on the gong towards the
stern. Everybody knew that, if this sort of thing lasted long, we would
not get over the bar that tide, and consequently everybody felt annoyed,
for this delay would lengthen the trip, and people, as a general thing,
do not take passage on an ocean racer with the idea of getting in a day
late. Suddenly the fog lifted clear from shore to shore. Then we saw
something that was not calculated to put our minds at ease. A big
three-masted vessel, with full sail, dashed past us only a very few
yards behind the stern of the mammoth steamer.
"Look at that blundering idiot," said the purser to me, "rushing full
speed over crowded New York Bay in a fog as thick as pea-soup. A captain
who would do a thing like that ought to be hanged."
Before the fog settled down again we saw the Dartonia with her anchor
chain out a few hundred yards to our left, and, farther on, one of the
big German steamers, also at anchor.
In the short time that the fog was lifted our own vessel made some
progress towards the bar. Then the thickness came down again. A nautical
passenger, who had crossed many times, came aft to where I was standing,
"Do you notice what the captain is trying to do?"
"Well," I answered, "I don't see how anybody can do anything in weather
"There is a strong wind blowing," continued the nautical passenger, "and
the fog is liable to lift for a few minutes at a time. If it lifts often
enough our captain is going to get us over the bar. It will be rather a
sharp bit of work if he succeeds. You notice that the Dartonia has
thrown out her anchor. She is evidently going to wait where she is until
the fog clears away entirely."
So with that we two went forward to see what was being done. The captain
stood on the bridge and beside him the pilot, but the fog was now so
thick we could hardly see them, although we stood close by, on the piece
of deck in front of the wheelhouse. The almost incessant clanging of
the bell was kept up, and in the pauses we heard answering bells from
different points in the thick fog. Then, for a second time, and with
equal suddenness, the fog lifted ahead of us. Behind we could not see
either the Dartonia or the German steamer. Our own boat, however, went
full speed ahead and kept up the pace till the fog shut down again. The
captain now, in pacing the bridge, had his chronometer in his hand, and
those of us who were at the front frequently looked at our watches, for
of course the nautical passenger knew just how late it was possible for
us to cross the bar.
"I am afraid," said the passenger, "he is not going to succeed." But, as
he said this, the fog lifted for the third time, and again the mammoth
steamer forged ahead.
"If this clearance will only last for ten minutes," said the nautical
passenger, "we are all right." But the fog, as if it had heard him,
closed down on us again damper and thicker than ever.
"We are just at the bar," said the nautical passenger, "and if this
doesn't clear up pretty soon the vessel will have to go back."
The captain kept his eyes fixed on the chronometer in his hand. The
pilot tried to peer ahead, but everything was a thick white blank.
"Ten minutes more and it is too late," said the nautical passenger.
There was a sudden rift in the fog that gave a moment's hope, but it
closed down again. A minute afterwards, with a suddenness that was
strange, the whole blue ocean lay before us. Then full steam ahead.
The fog still was thick behind us in New York Bay. We saw it far ahead
coming in from the ocean. All at once the captain closed his chronometer
with a snap. We were over the bar and into the Atlantic, and that is how
the captain got the Arrowic out of New York Bay.