Lost in shoal wa­ters

Yachting Monthly - - A BOOK AT BUNKTIME -

In the early sum­mer of 1925,

Ad­lard Coles saw Arthur Ran­some’s Ra­cun­dra ad­ver­tised for sale in Yacht­ing Monthly. He bought her, col­lected her from Riga and spent Au­gust and much of Septem­ber sail­ing her home to Eng­land with his young wife, Mamie. It had been a con­di­tion of pur­chase that Ra­cun­dra’s name be changed so here she is dis­guised as An­nette II. It was 30 years be­fore any­one made the con­nec­tion. Se­jrö, as shown by the chart, is but a few miles long and very nar­row, but in­hab­ited, as is the case of ev­ery lit­tle islet in Den­mark. There is a har­bour on the west side but it is of such small im­por­tance that few ships visit it and it is prob­a­ble that be­fore our ar­rival, it had never been the ob­ject of a visit by a Bri­tish yacht. Viewed from An­nette’s deck, the is­land ap­peared most ro­man­tic.

It seemed hard to have to do any work on such a hot, jolly day but we were al­ready far be­hind time, so at 1500, the ‘smelly mon­ster’ was in­duced to raise its roar and break the si­lence. There was no wind, but a port lay only 16 miles east.

Hour af­ter hour slipped by as the ship slowly made her way across the sea be­tween the two is­lands. The weather seemed to be chang­ing and a grey mass of cloud blocked out the sky in the west. Presently, a light southerly wind helped

An­nette on her course and the ‘smelly mon­ster’ was packed away. In the evening, the light of Hat­ter Barn came abeam, mark­ing a shoal to the north, and a low line of hills that in­di­cated the is­land of Samsö lay but 8 miles ahead.

The helm was lashed and the ship left to sail her­self whilst we, her crew, re­paired be­low for din­ner. We did not hurry, as an oc­ca­sional glance at the com­pass showed

An­nette was hold­ing her course, and we re­lied on be­ing able to pick out the vil­lage of Ballen through the glasses be­fore dark.

To­ward the end of the meal, the ketch heeled to a fresher breeze and a pat­ter of rain fell on the deck. I has­tened out but quickly re­turned for my oil­skins as there was a thick rain squall. An­nette dashed for­ward un­der its weight but ev­ery mark, ev­ery sign of land, was com­pletely oblit­er­ated and in all di­rec­tions, lit­tle hillocks of for­lorn grey wa­ter heaved and tum­bled.

The is­land of Samsö, how­ever, was not far off and I cal­cu­lated that within an hour, we should have the light of Ballen in sight. Off Se­jrö, a strong cur­rent was run­ning south. I al­lowed for this and laid a course more to the north. Night came on and with it, heav­ier rain. Min­utes slipped by and the time when land should be close came nearer, un­til it ar­rived.

Skip­per and crew strained their eyes into the murk but ahead, no light showed a guid­ing beam. Away on our port quar­ter, the pow­er­ful flash of Reef Ness marked the end of the main is­land and the Hat­ter Barn flashed astern, and Se­jrö in the dis­tance. An­nette forged steadily for­ward and I be­gan to take sound­ings. It was in­tensely dark. Presently, the crew shouted she saw some­thing and sure enough, a fixed light ap­peared ahead. Then some oth­ers, and the oc­ca­sional flash in the sky of a very dis­tant and pow­er­ful light. The lead showed two fath­oms but there was no sight of Ballen; the fixed lights were houses cer­tainly, but they might have be­longed to any lit­tle home­stead on the coast.

We hove-to on the star­board tack, which would have kept us in deep wa­ter but shortly af­ter mid­night, the wind shifted to the west and for a time, we sailed south­west. Then we came to the con­clu­sion that we must have un­der­es­ti­mated the southerly cur­rent as we came about and sailed north-west. It was pitch black in ev­ery di­rec­tion with not a hint of light to dif­fer­en­ti­ate be­tween sky and land and sea. We knew the coast must be close, so we kept the lead go­ing con­stantly. Af­ter some time with­out any­thing com­ing in sight, we again came about on the other tack, work­ing in un­der the land. Very soon, we heard a sound of break­ers and the lead recorded only four fath­oms.

We fell off once more to the north and were soon in deeper wa­ter. On we sailed, but no har­bour lights came into view and sud­denly we be­came aware that most of the lights had van­ished, although a flash, that pre­sum­ably was Hat­ter Barn, seemed quite near. I took a sound­ing. It read one and a half fath­oms.

Not a hint of light could dif­fer­en­ti­ate sky from sea

Kaines Ad­lard Coles (19011985) was a writer, pub­lisher and out­stand­ing sailor. He won the first Royal Cruis­ing Club Medal for Ser­vices to Cruis­ing in 1969 and his pi­lot guides won him a gold medal from the Royal In­sti­tute of Nav­i­ga­tion. He was named Yachts­man of the Year af­ter win­ning the 1957 Fast­net race.

We at once bore to the east but the sea got no deeper. We did not know on which side dan­ger lay; we did not know where to sail for safety, but 9ft of wa­ter lay be­low us. Down went the fore­sail and in two min­utes, An­nette lay to her an­chor by 10 fath­oms of rope.

We were lost, ut­terly lost, and ev­ery at­tempt at plot­ting the po­si­tion on the chart proved the in­ac­cu­racy of our cal­cu­la­tions. Even al­low­ing for an er­ror of con­sid­er­able amount, there seemed to be no patch of shal­low wa­ter near the Hat­ter Barn, or be­tween it and the main­land. We gave up the prob­lem and rested whilst An­nette, be­tween the forces of a strong cur­rent and the wind, rolled and pitched in the dark­ness. The wind was by this time off the is­land of Samsö, but the waves were large enough to prove no land could be within a cou­ple of miles to wind­ward, so we were an­chored on some sea-bound sandy shoal.

The night passed slowly but sleep was im­pos­si­ble ow­ing to the mo­tion of the ship. At last, the in­def­i­nite light of dawn in dirty weather tinged the waves grey and patches of land grad­u­ally took shape.

With day came won­der. In­stead of the scene we’d imag­ined, there arose an ut­terly dif­fer­ent pic­ture of sea and land. Quite close to the south-west, the gaunt pile of some small rocky is­land rose sheer from the sea. Nearer lay some low ground, which ap­peared to be con­nected with the main­land that swept round in a curve from the west to the north, leav­ing the bay in which An­nette had rolled so mis­er­ably all the pre­vi­ous night.

It was a most un­real awak­en­ing, and a look at the chart in no way less­ened the prob­lem. The sail of some fish­ing or trad­ing boat presently came into sight, so I quickly raised an­chor and An­nette fol­lowed the strange craft. I kept the lead go­ing and the sea presently deep­ened, and as the sky grew lighter and the con­fig­u­ra­tion of coast clearer, an idea crossed my mind. I looked once more at the chart, but at a po­si­tion some 15 miles north of our cal­cu­la­tion. The coast­line agreed with that in front of us. To make mat­ters cer­tain, the ves­sel ahead al­tered course and we saw two bea­cons which we found marked on the chart.

It may be dif­fi­cult for the lands­man to ap­pre­ci­ate the won­der of our po­si­tion. The yacht dur­ing the night had steered her­self through a nar­row chan­nel be­tween two is­lands; she had cho­sen the one right path through a maze of shal­lows, rocks and is­lands. Hav­ing as­cer­tained our po­si­tion, it was no great dif­fi­culty to sail back to Ballen.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.