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Wrecked on a Reef

Chapter XX. — Completion and Launch of the Boat - a Separation

page 168

Chapter XX.
Completion and Launch of the Boat - a Separation

Towards the end of March, we had attached a new framework to the stern of our boat. A stout piece of wood (the stern-post), resting on the extremity of the false keel, terminated the keel, and raised it two feet above the original gunwale. It supported a short thick joist, against which the planks of the deck abutted. Four bolted strips of iron, two on either side of the keel, bound together this new framework and the old one, and gave to the boat, at this point, a solidity which enabled it to resist the violence of the waves. The bow was treated in the same manner. A plank of new wood, about two feet high, was added above the stem or shear-water. It was encircled by two long bands of iron; these, soldered together at the top, supported a ring of the same metal, through which the bowsprit was intended to pass: then they descended, parallel-wise, on each side of the bow to the false keel, along which they were continued for some distance.

Our next task was to raise the gunwale or bulwarks of the boat, which we accomplished by means of twenty-four new timbers, attached, twelve on each side, to the keel and original hull, rising above the latter fully two feet. Near the top they supported twelve joists, fastened to one another by small angular pieces of wood. On these was destined to rest the deck of our craft. We had now only to plank it.

For nearly a week, Musgrave, axe in hand, traversed the littoral forest, seeking, among the small mountain-pines which flourished there, those best adapted for conversion into planks. Straight trunks, at least six feet in length, and six inches in diameter, the dimensions we required, were rare. When he found one of this size, he felled it, and transported it to the shore, by the side of the building-slip, where I had established our saw-pit. Each trunk was first squared, and then, according to its dimensions, page 169
"Our Next Task was to Raise the Gunwale"

"Our Next Task was to Raise the Gunwale"

page 170sawn into three or four planks, about an inch thick, and five inches wide. With a saw like ours, cutting badly and wearing quickly, the work went on but slowly. Moreover, the days had become so short, that we could not work in the building-slip more than seven or eight hours out of the twenty-four.

On the other hand, the evenings were long; we spent them at the forge, making nails. This process demanded more care than the reader will be inclined to believe possible. They were not common nails, round, and terminating in a point. About three inches long, they were nearly square at the head; then they diminished progressively in thickness down to the point, which was very sharp: they resembled small, thin, elongated wedges. As we hammered them in athwart the fibres of the wood, we ran no risk of splintering it, while this arrangement gave the nails a remarkable degree of tenacity.

Our evening's work was half a hundred nails. We never retired to rest until we had completed this number; so, as a rule, the hammer never ceased to resound upon the anvil until eleven o'clock in the evening. Sometimes it was midnight when we extinguished the fire, and quitted the forge to retire to rest.

At length, early in May, judging that we had collected a sufficient supply of materials, we began the planking of our little craft. Yet one precaution seemed to us desirable — to subject the timber to the action of aqueous vapour, so as to render it supple, before nailing it to the sides of the boat. An iron pot filled with water was therefore placed on a furnace constructed with flat stones; and the whole was covered by a stove-in cask, provided with a piece of seal-skin in an iron ring instead of lid. All the planks in succession were shut up in the cask, and plunged in a bath of boiling water.

The bark was not completely planked and decked until towards the middle of the month of June.

The construction of the rudder gave me little trouble; it occupied only two days. But I expended much longer time in making and settling the three pairs of hinges which fixed it solidly to the stern-post, while leaving it movable at the slightest impulse.

We had also to caulk the seams of the planks. Furnished with a mallet and a very thin chisel, I filled them with tow, made the evening before by Harry and George out of old ropes. Having no tar, we coated them with a layer of mastic, composed of lime and seal-oil. This operation employed us until the end of June.

Nothing more was wanting to our bark but the masts and the rigging. A piece of Norwegian pine, which had served as the mainyard of the page 171schooner, furnished us with an excellent mast. To this we added a bowsprit. As for the rest, it was Musgrave's business, whom Alick, released from his functions as charcoal-burner, zealously seconded.

For my part, I was engaged in rigging up a pump, without which it would have been reckless for us to have ventured on a sea-voyage. Fortunately, I remembered that in the preceding winter, in one of our hunting excursions, I had noticed on the shore, among other waifs and strays scattered there by the waves, a something which might well be one of the old wooden pumps of the Grafton. I was not mistaken. I found the pump in the same place. It was much damaged, but as it was ten feet long, I cut off a portion about four feet in length, of which it was possible to make use. With my hatchet I chipped away the outer coat of wood, so as to render it more manageable; at its base I fixed a valve; I placed another at the extremity of a piston terminated by an iron tringle, to which I attached a cross-shaped wooden handle; and the result was a capital pump, which we fitted up in the boat, just behind the mast.

We took another precaution, which may seem to the reader a luxury of prudence, but which, as experience proved, was indispensable. I may say, it saved our lives. The deck was constructed with three little hatchways, each about a foot square, situated between the pump and the helm; we nailed to their edges three pairs of sheaths or scabbards made out of sailcloth. Into these openings we could insert our legs, and completely shelter them, while, seated on the edges, we pulled the sail-cloth right up under our arms, leaving the latter free to work at any manoeuvre: they were kept in their places by two small bands of canvas passing over our shoulders like braces. By this arrangement we hoped to gain a double end: to prevent ourselves from being washed overboard by the waves, and to prevent the water from pouring into the hold of our little bark.

Moreover, as we should have to change places from time to time, to relieve the steersman, and as this evolution at night, when the sea was running heavily, would be dangerous, we planted round the deck eight stanchions, about a foot high, and pierced near the top with a hole, through which was passed a stout cord, to assist us in our movements.

We did not neglect to set up in the hold a tank of fresh water; namely, half a hogshead, fixed between four planks, which kept it in its place. We covered it with a lid close-fitted and firmly nailed, that the water might not be spilled by the motion of the boat. An opening made in the centre of this lid, and closed by a small hinged trap, enabled us to introduce a tin cup at need.

Finally, the Grafton's compass was placed on the deck, between two of page 172the hatchways, and near the rudder.

Our work being completed, it presented to the gaze — at all events, to that of its authors — a very imposing appearance. It was a decked boat, seventeen feet long, six feet wide, and three feet deep. Its capacity was two tons and a half. It was provided with a couple of jibs and a mainsail, in which we could take as many as three reefs.

All that remained was to launch it.

This operation is always a delicate one, and we did not undertake it without a lively sentiment of anxiety, for an accident might overthrow all our projects, and annihilate in a moment the fruit of seven months of exertion and incessant labour. Fortunately, it was accomplished to our entire satisfaction.

On the evening preceding the launch, at low-water, we erected on the shore, in front of the stocks, a kind of groove or gutter of planks; these were nailed upon small joists, which were kept in their places by pegs driven deep into the gravel. The boat's keel would glide down this groove, and so move forward without a shock or interruption until it reached water deep enough to float it.

It was the 12th of July, and high-water. The flood lapped and bathed the extremity of our "building-slip." The groove was entirely submerged. With strong wooden levers, we began to raise the bow of the boat, that we might withdraw the wedges on which it rested, as well as the props which supported its ribs. Then, holding these props all ready in our hands, Musgrave and Harry on one side, and George and Alick on the other, to preserve its equilibrium, we were prepared, at the least false movement, to steady it anew; while I, posted at the stern, from time to time gently quickened its movements with a lever.

And thus, slowly and tranquilly, step by step, as it were, it entered the liquid element, which soon uplifted it and bore it on its surface. But being both light and deep, it balanced there in a very undecided manner, threatening every moment to lose its equilibrium and fall on its beam. There was not a moment to lose; we must quickly place some ballast on board.

Anticipating this necessity, we had collected on the shore a quantity of old iron. Assisting myself with a pole which I had in my hand, not to weigh too heavily on the side of the boat, I sprang upon the deck, and through one of the hatchways lowered myself into the hold. Immediately my companions, wading into the water, and forming a chain, passed to me the ballast, which I dispersed along the keel from stem to stern.

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"Slowly and Tranquilly, It Entered the Liquid Element"

"Slowly and Tranquilly, It Entered the Liquid Element"

page 174

When the boat was sufficiently loaded — the quantity required was nearly a ton — we covered the ballast with planks, which we nailed to the new framework. More: between these planks and the girders of the deck we erected perpendicular beams, which effectually prevented the ballast from being displaced. We shall see by-and-by how useful was this precaution.

Thus ballasted, our bark sank about two feet and a half in the water. The old boat, being entirely submerged, was no longer visible, and all that could be seen above the line of flotation was the new gunwale, which rose some sixteen or eighteen inches.

That day we left the boat moored to the wreck of the schooner, on the land side, so that she was somewhat protected against the swell; but on the following day a strong easterly breeze arising, we seized the opportunity of testing her sailing qualities by crossing the bay. The experiment was completely satisfactory; our boat sailed well.

We then engaged in an active seal-hunt, so as to provide ourselves with a supply of food, and be ready to sail the moment the wind veered round to the south.

We had not long to wait for the change.

On the 19th of July, a south-west wind began to blow; the weather was clear, though cold (it was midwinter). The hour of departure had arrived: we were on the point of separating from two of our companions — from George and Harry — who for nineteen months had shared, day after day, our struggles and our sufferings, with whom we had lived as brothers. We were all of us profoundly agitated.

For the last time assembled together in our hut, we joined in prayer to God, imploring his assistance for those who, in a frail bark, were about to confront a stormy sea, and those who remained on the rocky isle, to wrestle alone against want and despondency.

A moment afterwards we were clasped in a parting embrace, and Musgrave, Alick, and I set sail.

page 175
"A Moment Afterwards We Were Clasped in a Parting Embrace"

"A Moment Afterwards We Were Clasped in a Parting Embrace"