Heave To!

A dramatic story of the elemental conflict between man and the sea

ARTHUR MASON July 1 1935

Heave To!

A dramatic story of the elemental conflict between man and the sea

ARTHUR MASON July 1 1935

Heave To!

A dramatic story of the elemental conflict between man and the sea


FLAKES OF CLOUD flew across the sky as if shot out of a cannon’s mouth. The ocean looked like whirling snow drifting into huge banks. A South Sea hurricane was loose and on the run. Like a lunatic with a naked knife, it slashed at anything that stood in its way.

The schooner Falcon, bound for the Fijis with a load of lumber, w-as in the path of the hurricane. Naked, she raced before it. Her bare poles, as she rolled, raked the sky from horizon to horizon. Two men w'ere lashed at the wheel to steer. The crew stood holding on to the fore rigging, and the wind pried their eyes open till thewhitesof them showed like the pulp of the sea.

The captain, a young man in his middle twenties, had a turn of the spanker sheet tied around his waist to hold him from being swept off the poop. Jenkins, the mate, stood holding on to the mizzen rigging. He liad a longish beard, and the tail of it kept slapping into his eyes. With one hand he stowed the beard inside his shirt, while he clung to the rigging with the other. He stared at the crew forward, and they stared back at him. They w'ere waiting to see what he was going to do; and it w'as to the mate, not the young captain, that they looked to save them from the fury of the hurricane. They had no faith in Captain Gordon, for he w'as so young he couldn’t even raise a beard yet. The mate had told them that. And now' they w'atched every movement of the mate anxiously. The Falcon carried a tw'elve-foot deck load of lumber. She might broach to, any moment. No one knew w'hat she might do. She had never been tested, for this was her maiden voyage, and the crew distrusted the schooner as much as they did her captain.

When the hurricane first struck the schooner the mate had said: “Stand by, men, to take orders from me. If it blows the w'ay I think it’s going to blow, we’ll cut the deck lashings and dump the deck load and heave her to. Then we can ride the hurricane out with little danger.”

So it w'as understood among them that when the time came to do something, they w'ould take their orders not from the captain but from the mate. What did the captain know about hurricanes? He was still damp behind the ears. But the mate had reason to know what he was talking about.

Suddenly something hapjxmed that brought fear to their hearts. The Falcon shipped a sea over the stem. Like a green mountain side it tumbled on to the poop. The two helmsmen were knocked down and the captain fell as if he had been mowed off his feet. Then the stern was flung high in the air. The Falcon’s nose dived almost down to the foremast, and for the moment the rudder was out of the w'ater. Then her head came staggering up out of the foam of the ocean. She started to broach to. The hurricane caught her on the quarter. Waves like snow-capped mountains struck the deck load. TheFalcon reeled. The crew' screamed like gulls in a beach storm: “She’s broaching to. men ! We’re goners!” They flung a despairing kx>k aft and saw the young captain at the wheel pushing it hard over. With the rudder now across the stern, the Falcon groaned under the strain. Reluctantly she gave way to the pow'er of the helm. And now' she w'as off before it again. On she raced, as if she were running the rapids of a tilted ocean.

Jenkins, the mate, crawled forward now to the crew. He raised his voice, and its shrillness struck a new note in the hurricane, for it was out of tune with the symphony in the rigging.

“Come on, men ! Get yourselves together ! You see what’s happening. Something must be done. Are you wñth me?” “Aye! Aye!” They were with him.

“Come on, then. Follow me. We’re going aft to tell the captain what’s what. He can’t drow'n us like a lot of rats without giving us a chance.”

A big whale of a fellow' let his voice out:

“What do you want to see the captain about? Ain’t you taking command? You said you w'ould, when the time came. What are you waiting for—the schooner to turn over? Let’s cut the deck lashings so the deck load can go overboard. We’re ready to do it—hey, men?”

“Ave-e-e !”

The crewr reached for their sheath knives.

“Cut, men!” roared the big sailor.

“Holdon! Not yet !” the mate yelled. “We’ll give the captain his chance to order the deck load dumped. If he don’t do as he ought to, then it’s up to me to take command. Come on !”

AFT TO THE jxxip they craw'led. growling n into the mouth of the hurricane. The young captain and one of the helmsmen w'ere steering.

The other helmsman, knocked down by the wave that had smashed over the stem, lay on the deck, stunned and bruised. The same wave had carried away the boat that hung in the stern davits, and at the same time stripped the captain of surplus clothing. All that he wore now was a pair of duck trousers that clung to his wet skin. The muscles in his bare arm stood out as they bent to spin the wheel. His barrel-like chest w'as red from the whip of the waves. And, regardless of the smooth boyish face, the eyes of him had taken on that farseeing look that time bestows on the weatherworn shellback. Those eyes, with the changing shadows of the sea in them, took in the crew as they came crawling aft, led by Jenkins, the mate. He knew just how Jenkins and the crew felt about him. Ships have no secrets. He had heard w'hisperings of discontent under the eaves of the tropical nights, and, besides, the cook had w'arned him.

“The way the mate is talking to the crew', sir. is not right. He’s got a chip on his shoulder, that’s what. Thinks he ought to be in somebody else’s shoes—I’m not saying whose. Of course it’s none of my business, sir, but if I was you I’d not trust him too far.”

And now' Jenkins w'as leading the crew aft to

him. The mate raised his voice to a higher pitch.

“I told you, captain, when the hurricane first struck the schooner, I thought the deck load ought to go. I know' what I’m talking about. You’ve got to dump it and now. There’s no time to lose. If you don’t give orders to the crew' here, they’ll take their orders from me. None of us w'ant to be drowned like rats. Don’t you know' you can’t go on running before it like you’re doing? She’ll broach to any minute— then over we’ll go!”

And now the temper of the hurricane showed in the young captain’s eyes. His voice lashed out at the mate.

“Take the wheel, Jenkins! I’ll attend to the deck load— and the crew.”

“What! Me, steer?”

“Yes, curse you. steer!” roared the captain. “Can’t you see that one of these men is injured? I’ve got to attend to him first.”

The helmsman, a gash on his head, was huddled at the captain’s feet, moaning. The captain shouted to the crew.

“Here, some of you, help him up! Get him up on to the deck load !”

Jenkins stared at the young captain as if he thought him a fool. It was he, Jenkins, with years of experience behind him, w'ho alone sensed fully the danger they were in. with a gutted ocean and cannon wads of hurricane. 1 f the schooner broached to. she’d turn turtle, and that w'as likely to happen any minute now. But he would save the Falcon. Now was his chance to prove his worth to the owners. The captain dare not leave the wheel. The second mate was laid up in his bunk: had been there for the past week. The crew were with him. He turned to them.

“There’s no time to lose. men. Cut away the lashings, and take to the rigging, before the deck load starts to go.”

The crew for a moment flung their windy eyes on the young captain. They had him now' where they wanted him. He would be afraid to leave the wheel. Out came their sheath knives.

“Cut!” shouted Jenkins.

The young captain untied the rope that held him to the wheel.

“Can you steer her for a minute?” he called to the helmsman. There was fight in his voice.

“I don’t know, sir.”

“Well, do your best.”

Then with a pantherlike spring the captain was on the deck load. The haul of the hurricane couldn’t smother his words.

“Put your knives away, men. This deck load is going to Suva where it was intended, and not overboard.”

A jeer went up from the men.

“No, it isn’t,” said the big sailor. “Don’t you think our lives are worth more than a deck load of lumber?”

“Sure I do. But every man of you that’s a real seaman knows the risks of the sea.”

“Yeah? Well, we’re not taking any more chances than we have to.”

The crew were crowding round the young captain now, the ten of them.

"Don’t be afraid of anything,” shouted Jenkins.

A wild scream came from the helmsman:

“Someone help me steer! I can’t hold her in this sea.” The crew kept their eyes on the captain, while they fingered their knives nervously. Now was the time to put the scare into him and defy him. Who was he—one lone man, against ten? This thought surged them forward.

BUT THE MATE was thinking that if a fight started and the young captain was thrown overboard, his hands would have to be clean. So, calling to the crew, “Don’t stand there like a lot of jackasses. Cut the deck lashings. Pll keep her from broaching to,” he hurled himself against the hurricane and took the wheel.

“Come on, men!” cried the big sailor. “Overboard with the deck load. Then the mate’ll heave her to, and we’ll have a chance of riding out the hurricane. Come on. Down with the captain ! I.x>ok out. Put those knives away or you’ll be slashing one another.”

But the crew seemed reluctant actually to tackle the young captain. He stood with straddled legs, jaws set, fists tight and eyes that blazed. He said nothing, and that’s what bothered them. It seemed like waiting for a stick of dynamite to go off.

The big sailor rallied them again. “Come on, men. Get to work. What are you afraid of?” He stooped over to cut a deck lashing, and as he did the young captain sprang for him and swung for his jaw. He knocked the knife out of his hand as he did so, but in a second the big sailor was on his feet. The lungs of him squeezed a rift of air between his teeth. It came like the hiss of the hurricane in the rigging. Then he spat a jot of blood on the clean boards of the deck load. Then he opened his mouth and a roar,ing cry came out of him.

At thaï, every man of the crew leaped for the young captain. While he swung left and right they kept crowding him. Twenty fists fanned the hurricane. There was a grim smile on Jenkins’s face as he spun the wheel. The crew was on top of the captain now, and he was fighting for his life. Groans came from the writhing mass. The captain was finding the loose wrinkles in their bellies.

“Heave him overboard ! No, not that. Clout the senses out of him. 'Fie him up !”

And now the big sailor kicked the captain on the head.

“That’ll do for you,” he spluttered. “If he rolls overboard, well and good.”

“We’ll take no chances.” argued another sailor. “Now that he’s quiet, we’ll tie him to the mizzen mast.”

The young captain lay like a loose rope-end. The kick in the head had knocked him out.

“Tie nothing. Let the sea have him. Leave him where he is, and cut the deck lashings. Then take to the rigging. Hurry ! Don’t you hear the mate’s orders?”

Yes, they heard something through the howl of the hurricane. They got to their feet, and like ducks they spread their legs. The sound they heard seemed the cry of a madman. The cook, the whites of his eyes showing and with a sharp meat cleaver in his hand, was swinging toward them.

Now if there is anything on board ship that will strike terror in the hearts of a crew, it is the sight of an angry cook brandishing a meat cleaver.

“Look out!” shouted a sailor. “The cook has gone nutty.”

The cook waved the shining cleaver in front of him as if he were mowing swaths out of the hurricane.

“I’ll carve youse into slices like I would a hunk of salt horse,” he was shouting.

In a wink, every man of the crew was in the rigging, high above the deck load.

Then the cook made his way aft to where the young captain lay. He shook him.

“Are you all right, sir?”

The captain groaned and rolled over on his side. Then he sat up and looked around him. bewildered.

“Oh, it’s you,” he said to the cook.

“Aye. It’s just me, captain. The crew are in the rigging, sir.”

A faint smile crept into the face of the captain as he looked at the naked meat cleaver in the cook’s hand.

“I’m all right now. I was dazed for a minute.”

HE STAGGERED to his feet and held on to the mizzen mast. Then he walked down the lumber steps to the main deck entrance to his cabin. In he went and got his revolver from under his pillow. Up he came to the deck load again, revolver in hand. He looked up at the crew in the rigging, and they stared down at him.

And now, as if to divert the captain’s attention, a yell came from a man in the rigging.

“A ship on the port bow. Her masts are gone.”

Quick as a flash, the young captain turned his gaze seaward. Sure enough, the black hull of a dismantled ship was there on the port bow. She looked as if she were sinking. And what souls there were on board, were perishing. The young captain stuck his revolver into his hip pocket while he glanced up again at his crew. On raced the Falcon. Soon she would pass the hull of the sinking ship.

Like a shot the young captain was making for his cabin

to get his binoculars, while jx>ssibilities for a rescue darted through his mind. If he tried to heave the Falcon to. to get to windward of the dismantled ship, he might be of some assistance, but to heave her to with the deck load on, was out of the question. She’d turn bottom up, without much doubt. He levelled the glasses to his eyes and gazed at the sinking ship. A sharp cry escaped him. Then he groaned. The deck load would have to go. It had been a matter of pride to deliver this cargo intact in Suva. His owners counted on him when they entrusted the Falcon on her maiden voyage to him. That’s why he had fought to do all that was expected of him. For this was his first command.

But still, he hesitated for no more than a second. He looked around. The cook was standing beside him, cleaver in hand. The young captain grabbed it out of his hand and made for the rope lashings. Then swinging the cleaver, he cut them fore and aft of the deck load. That done, he ran to the poop. He tied himself securely to a mooring bit while he called to Jenkins:

“Put the helm down.”

“No, no! It’s too late. Don’t swing her head around into the mouth of the hurricane,” came back the answer.

“Put the helm down. Jenkins! There’s a ship foundering ahead of us.”

The long legs of Jenkins wobbled, and down went the wheel.

And now the unleashed elements of the world caught the Falcon broadside. Over she was flung on her beam ends. The masts buckled. The bolts in the chain-plates bent. The hemp lanyards in the dead-eyes that held the rigging wept the Stockholm tar out of them. All that showed o( the Falcon was her tilted spars. As the rafts of lumber were swept away, the mad ocean looked as if it were coughing up lumber from a thousand fathoms deep.

The crew in the fore rigging lay flattened against the ratlines. As the callused hands of them held with a death grip on to the shrouds, they flung their eyes around the compass of the world. Below, they were unable to see either captain or helmsman. Drowned, or smashed on the poop.

Then their eyes sought comfort in the green valleys of the ocean. Oh, God! Lift her head out of the sea! But the Falcon couldn’t raise her head. Her hull lay buried in billows; she was part of the hurricane, part of the roaring waterfalls that tumbled over her. She was being crushed on her maiden voyage. And now a ninth wave mounted her. It raked her with the teeth of a huge circular saw. It cleared her decks. It swept away the lifeboat.

Relieved at last of over 200,000 feet of lumber, the Falcon showed her head. Then she shook herself and showed her bulwark rail. And now she was challenging the hurricane. She staggered around to the mouth of it, to take the brunt of it on her bows.

The young captain, with fresh bruises from the beating the sea had given him, was still in command. He coughed the salt brine up out of himself and found his voice.

“Go for’ard, Jenkins,” he called, “and set the three-reef

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[ foresa’l ! She won’t lay to without some sail to steady her.”

And now the captain trained his binoculars on the sinking ship. She lay wallowing j helplessly to loo’ard of him. The Falcon was drifting toward her. When the hull of the ship reared high in the air he saw that some of her crew were tied to the rail on the poop. His eyes sought the form that had made him cry out when first he spied it, a short while ago. Yes—there she was—a woman, holding a child in her arms, too. Then the hull of the ship disappeared in the valley of the sea.

With the binoculars in his hand, the captain ran forward. The crew were hoisting the foresail. That sail, along with the main and spanker, had been close reefed long before the hurricane came. And now, waist deep in water, the crew eyed the captain. What was he going to do? Try to rescue the crew of the sinking ship, eh? Not a chance. He was whipped now. There wasn’t a boat left on the Falcon. And even if there were, no boat could live in that sea.

“Pull, men !” cried the mate. “Pull with a will.”

“Ya-hev-hey. Ya-hey-hey !”

“Belay! Make fast! Now, haul the sheet on the wind !”

The eyes of the captain searched the deck for some means of rescuing what was left of the crew of the sinking ship. They lighted on two spare booms that were lashed to the ring-bolts in the bulwark rail. He called to the crew:

“Men, we’ll let bygones be bygones. But we’ve got to try to save those lives aboard the ship that’s sinking to loo’ard.”

A howl of rage answered him. Little they cared now for a future day of reckoning.

“It can’t be done. We’ve had enough.”

“You yellow-livered cowards! You’re alive, aren’t you?”

“Aye. And no thanks to you. It it hadn’t been for the Falcon herself, we wouldn’t be here now. As it is, there’s not a boat left on her. What do you want us to do—drown ourselves?”

j rT'HE CAPTAIN now let his voice out in a roar.

“There’s a woman and child on that ship.

I Do you want to stand by and see them ! perish before your eyes? Is that the kind you ¡ are?”

“What! A woman and child!” They stared at one another, and the look of sullen j anger in their eyes gave way to one of I anxious fear. Then they turned toward the sinking ship. They were disregardful now of I the waves that came tumbling over the j Falcon.

The big sailor spoke for the crew.

“What can we do, captain?”

“Lash those spare booms together. Rig life lines on to them. Some of you get empty barrels up from the fore peak. We’ll float the booms to the sinking ship.”

It was the best they could do by way ot rigging out a life raft, and over to loo’ard it was launched.

The young captain ran aloft. The Falcon was now drifting dangerously close to the hull of the doomed ship. If he ordered the

helm up to prevent the possibility of a collision, he would be unable to save their : lives yonder. And if he did keep her away j from the sinking ship, a worse danger than a collision met his eye. What he saw w'as an island on the lee bow. A great white shaft reared up out of the foam. He knew it. It was Wailagilala Lighthouse.

He called to the crew below him:

“Pay out the line, men. Pay out the line.” Wind and waves now had the barrelled booms. On they were swept; on toward the sinking hull. The spare booms were nearing her now. He raised the binoculars to his eyes. When the hull showed again, lifted by the waves, he counted fifteen heads on her poop. They were waving to him. He imagined he could hear them calling, “Come on! Come on! Hurry! She’s going down!” And now he saw the spare booms drift alongside of her.

“Hold the line, men,” he shouted. “Hold all you’ve got.”

“Aye! We’re holding, captain.”

Again he squeezed the binoculars to his eyes. His lips quivered. I íe saw the woman and child plainly now. The crew of the sinking ship were around her, as if pleading with her to jump for the life raft. All was foam around the sinking hull. Waves swept over it. Then down it would go into the deep trough of the sea and disappear. Then like a wounded whale, the hull would bob up again. The young captain knew that it was only a matter of time for the hull to disappear altogether from the sight of men. What were they waiting for? Why didn’t they jump for the spare booms? Now he saw the hull again emerge out of the sea. The woman was flinging off a pea jacket, and her white blouse showed like a flag of truce above the raging waves. And the child—a boy, he saw—was tied on the back of one of the men.

And now the cries of his own crew reached up to the young captain in the rigging.

“For God’s sake, hurry, captain! We’re drifting on to the coral reefs. We can see the surf breaking on them.”

The captain made no answer, for at that moment he saw the man with the boy tied to his back jump for the life raft. Others followed him. And now his own eyes seemed to plunge into the water. He saw the woman jump. He thought he heard a cry come from her. All had now jumped for the spare ¡ booms, and they were spearing death with j their hands and feet.

“Where is she?”

“There—grabber! Grab her! Hold your head, high, miss.”

“Here’s the raft.”

“Hold me! I’m strangling.”

“Hold fast to the raft.”

The young captain slid down to the deck. ! “Pull, men!” he yelled. “Every pounds that’s in you. Pull! Pull! Pull!”

Aft he ran to the wheel.

“Keep her off!” he shouted to Jenkins. “Keep her off, or we’ll strike the hull of the wreck.”

“She’s gone, sir!” cried the man who was helping Jenkins steer. “She flung up her bows just now and showed her figurehead. She’s gone.”

I "DORWARD AGAIN ran the captain. The crew were pulling with a will on the life j raft, regardless of the green waves that tumbled on the decks. The raft would appear for a moment on the crest of a wave, then down it would fall into the sea’s canyon again. How many of the fifteen were still clinging to it? Could the woman hold on? Would the child strangle? “Pull, men, pull !” Silence your thoughts, for to loo’ard ot you lies death on the coral reefs of I Wailagilala.

At last the life raft was hauled alongside the Falcon. Strangled coughs Game from it. Eyes that had stared into the jaws of death now looked hopefully up at the rescuers. The captain’s eyes rested for a moment on the face of the woman who was clinging to the raft. She was hardly more than a girl, too young to be the mother of the boy on the sailor’s back. Her long red hair floated around her like seaweed, and her large grey eyes looked up at him beseechingly.

When the schooner rolled to loo’ard and the life raft came even with the rail, the captain reached for the girl and lifted her on board. He placed her in the arms of the I cook. “Take her to the cabin,” he said.

Then came the boy—a little fellow of five years. He, too, was rushed to the cabin.

One by one the crew of the sunken ship were lifted from the raft. There was no captain among them. It was slow and dangerous work. One moment the raft would be even with the rail. Then the next moment it would plunge down thirty feet or more.

There was no time for any questions. The coral reefs lay to loo’ard.

“Hurry, men. Loose the spanker and mainsa’l. And the main jib and inner jib.”

The Falcon with sail on, now iought to windward of the coral island. She didn’t mount the waves; she dived through them like a salmon coming home to spawn. And now came rain, as if the sky itself were falling. Suddenly the hurricane ceased, as if to gather a long breath. Then it was on them again, but with less intensity, tor it had jumped about four {joints, and now blew them away from the island.

The voice of the young captain rang out again. There was a note of cheer in it now that went to the hearts of all.

“Ease off the sheets, men. We’re clear of

everything. All’s well !”