How did the helmsman know what he was sailing towards with a big mast in his face?

I apoligize if this is a weird or of-topic question, I am just curious and I couldnt seem to find anything

This might be a bit of a weird question: I am looking to design a cyberpunk ship with a 'fan'-sail instead of the traditional sails, but I came across the issue of the helmsman being blinded by the mast and fabric.

But older ships had masts through the center as well, which I assume would be in the way of the helmsman's vision, blocking maybe 15 degrees of your vision straight ahead, hiding things from him like rocks or even other boats if he is unlucky.

I cast my mind back to childrens shows where a 'spotter' is sitting in a basket on top of the highest mast, whom I then pressume is the eyes for the helmsman.

Is there something obvious that I am missing, like could the helmsman just lean a bit to the right and see what blinded him, did all ships, from pirate to royal navy, use one or more spotters to serve as the helmsmans eyes, or did the blind-spot not matter anyway?

The person at the wheel or tiller did not decide how to steer the ship. The person holding the steering device was usually of low rank and would steer the way the officer in charge at the moment told him to. That meant that he would usually hold the control so the ship was going straight at a specific compass heading, until instructed to change course.

If there was someone watching in the crow's nest on the mast or at the bow they could yell to inform the officer of anything important. Other crewmen who noticed something could also inform the officer if it was important. The officer wasn't stuck to the wheel and could move from right to left, front to back, or even climb partway up a mast, to get a better view if he wanted.

Before steering wheels were invented about 1700 and gradually came into use, a whipstaff was used on European ships to turn the tiller and the rudder. And the whipstaff was in a room in the stern castle. The view of the sea ahead was blocked not only by the masts and sails but by the forecastle at the front of the ship and the front wall of the room with the whipstaff.

The steering man was steering blind as far as a view of the sea ahead was concerned. The job of the steering man was to hold the ship on a steady course in relation to the compass needle. Winds and waves and currents were constantly changing and thus turning the ship and he had to fight against them to keep the ship on a steady course. There were also windows high in the wall of the whipstaff room to view the sails and how changes in the wind were affecting them.

When sailors were up on the masts working on the sails the steering man had to be careful not to do something that might shake them off to fall to their deaths.

Where's the Ship's Wheel?

The Manila-Acapulco Galleons : the Treasure Ships of the Pacific

Whipstaff for new galleon

Added 11-09-2020.

I found a scene in a movie which implies that the person at the tiller can't see what is going on or make decisions. Thus some movie makers avoided the anachronism of showing steering wheels on deck before they were invented.

It is a clip of a scene from The Spanish Main (1945), which is set roughly about 1680-1720, as far as this pirate fantasy can be fitted into any date in real history. The captain of a Spanish galleon on the poop deck orders "larboard helm" and an officer beside him takes a speaking trumpet and yells "Larboard helm!" to the lower decks off screen.

And of course the ship is too modern to be called a galleon, but it is impressive enough for popular culture that a steering wheel is not shown on deck.

End of 11-09-2020 addition.

When steering wheels were invented around AD 1700 and came into use the steering person was now up on the deck of the stern castle and had a better view, though partially blocked by the masts and the sails. But the difference in the view didn't matter, because the helmsman at the wheel still steered as directed by the officer in charge, who could move to get a better view and get warnings from other crew members if needed.

On November 20, 1820 First Mate Owen Chase (1797-1869) was the senior officer aboard the whaling ship Essex at the moment when a whale swam toward the ship.

His appearance and attitude gave us at first no alarm; but when I stood watching his movements, and observing him but a ship's length off, coming down for us with great celerity, I involuntarily ordered the boy at the helm to put it hard up, intending to sheer off and avoid him.

The whale moved off after striking the ship the first time, and then made a second charge:

I bawled out to the helmsman "Hard up!", but she had not fallen off more than a point before we took the second shock.

Stove by a Whale

Fifteen-year-old cabin boy Thomas Nickerson (1805-1883) was at the wheel at the time.

In modern ships the bridge is now high up with a good view of the sea ahead, but that doesn't make that much difference to a steering person's duties.

For example, the bridge of R.M.S. Titanic had a good view of the sea ahead. But Quartermaster Robert Hichens (1882-1940), at the wheel on the night of April 14 to 15, 1912, didn't see the iceberg ahead and immediately turn the wheel to try to avoid the iceberg.

Lookouts Frederick Fleet (1887-1965) and Reginald Lee (1870-1913) up in the crow's nest spotted the iceberg ahead.

Nine minutes later, at 23:39, Fleet spotted an iceberg in Titanic's path. He rang the lookout bell three times and telephoned the bridge to inform Sixth Officer James Moody. Fleet asked "Is there anyone there?" Moody replied, "Yes, what do you see?" Fleet replied: "Iceberg, right ahead!"[34] After thanking Fleet, Moody relayed the message to Murdoch, who ordered Quartermaster Robert Hichens to change the ship's course.[35] Murdoch is generally believed to have given the order "Hard astarboard" which would result in the ship's tiller being moved all the way to starboard (the right side of the ship) in an attempt to turn the ship to port (left).[30] He also rang "Full Astern" on the ship's telegraphs.[21]

Sinking of the RMS Titanic

Thus Hichens turned the wheel the way he was instructed by Murdoch.

I once saw a US Navy recruiting ad on TV with a teenage sailor at the steering wheel of an atomic submarine. Atomic submarines can stay underwater for months at a time and often do, and don't have any windows. So neither the helmsman nor anyone else can see anything ahead. The navigational officer instructs the helmsman to steer at the proper heading, and the sonar operators warn if there are obstacles ahead that need to be avoided.

Thus in most European designed ships during the last 500 years or so there has not be much need for the person steering to have a good view of the sea ahead of the ship.

See also this question and its answers: /questions/50853/why-did-titanic-need-two-steering-wheels/50864#50864[2]

When "on the open sea" the only approaching danger is the weather, which approaches from the direction of the wind. However though modern racing dinghies (and larger vessels) can sail to within about 45 degrees of the wind, earlier vessels were more likely limited to about 55 or even 60 degrees of the wind at close-hauled. When broad-reaching or running the weather is approaching from the vessels rear. The helmsman has a clear view of approaching weather at all of these points of sail.

For seeing out to a further horizon, a crewman posted to the crowsnest on the main mast was standard procedure except in the most vile weather conditions.

When in close quarters, such as maneuvering in a restricted channel, a crewman would have been posted to the bow to perform depth sounding at a very low speed. Frequently also a local pilot would have been brought on board to assist with safe navigation, when such was available.

Finally, note that:

  1. The helmsman is located well back of the mast itself, so it obscures little of his vision.

  2. The big sail is in the helmsman's face only when the vessel is running downwind. at all other points of sail the sail themselves are well to leeward of the vessel's centre-line.


It's a misapprehension that the helmsman is responsible for avoiding obstacles. Other crew have the responsibility for that, whether a seaman in the crows-nest, a sounder at the bow in shallow water, or a spotter on the gunwale in confined quarters. The helmsman's responsibility is to play the tiller in harmony with the wind and the waves so as to keep the sails full - while averaging the course as set by the vessel's Captain or Master, and accepting direction from the other assigned crew. This requires great skill and practice, to read the wind and waves so as to not let any sail of the two dozen or more that might be deployed, for example when running downwind. Despite sailing dinghies competitively for many years, and becoming an accomplished dinghy crew, I could never master the tiller-feel required of a helmsman.

The helmsman didn't have to know where the ship was going. He was a sailor who followed the orders of the officer of the deck.

Of course that raises the question how that officer would see, since he was usually also near the stern. For that, see Pieter's answer.

could the helmsman just lean a bit to the right and see what blinded him

The large steering wheel with handles allows the helmsman to stand off to the side and still have a comfortable grip on the wheel:

From here, if they are standing on the windward side, they should have an unobstructed view straight forward on most small or moderate-sized ships.

SS Californian

SS Californian was a British Leyland Line steamship that is best known for its inaction during the sinking of the RMS Titanic despite being the closest ship in the area. Judging by available evidence, the Californian was likely the only ship to see the Titanic, or at least its rockets, during the sinking. [2] [3] The United States Senate inquiry and British Wreck Commissioner's inquiry into the sinking both concluded that the Californian could have saved many or all of the lives that were lost, had a prompt response been mounted to the Titanic 's distress rockets. [4] The U.S. Senate inquiry was particularly critical of the vessel's Captain, Stanley Lord, calling his inaction during the disaster "reprehensible". [5]

Despite this criticism, no formal charges were ever brought against Lord and his crew for their inaction. Lord disputed the findings and would spend the rest of his life trying to clear his name. In 1992, the UK Government's Marine Accident Investigation Branch re-examined the case and while condemning the inaction of the Californian and Captain Lord, also concluded that due to the limited time available, "the effect of Californian taking proper action would have been no more than to place on her the task actually carried out by Carpathia, that is the rescue of those who escaped … [no] reasonably probable action by Captain Lord could have led to a different outcome of the tragedy." [6] [7]

Californian was later sunk on 9 November 1915, by the German submarines SM U-34 and U-35, in the Eastern Mediterranean during World War I.

Charles Spencer on the White Ship disaster, “the most disastrous moment in British maritime history”

Charles Spencer: On the night of 25 November 1120, something cataclysmic happened to the English royal family. On the White Ship were 300 people, among them some of the most important figures in Anglo-Norman society. And the most important by a very long way was the sole legitimate male heir to King Henry I.

Henry is the backbone of this story. It’s a true-life Greek tragedy where a king has, over 20 years, seized the throne, built up a system of government that works, and quelled all sorts of problems. He’s already started to hand over power to his heir, William the Ætheling, who’s the designated king and Duke of Normandy for the next generation.

William got on board the ship, partied like crazy with his friends for several hours, and got everyone drunk on board, including, unfortunately, the helmsman. And so about one nautical mile outside Barfleur, the White Ship, one of the finest ships of its age, hit a rock. And there was one survivor, so we know what happened in the water as people struggled to survive.

What sort of king was Henry I?

Henry is one of the most interesting historical figures I’ve ever come across because his is such a human story. As the fourth son of William the Conqueror, he was an obscure figure who was destined to be a well-bred non-entity. Yet he became a titan of European history in the first 35 years of the 12th century.

He was a very effective medieval king in that he kept the peace: for the last 29 years of his reign in England, nobody kept a castle against him or rose in rebellion. People said that a young girl laden with treasure could walk from one end of the kingdom to the other without being held up. And that was an incredible thing for a king to give to his people, that level of peace. Henry also had a very clear idea about finance, and formed the Exchequer, the name of which survives to this day.

So Henry was an effective ruler, which is what people craved. And he knew the importance of having an established, acknowledged heir, because that was the one person who could bring about order. If you didn’t have that, then you opened the gates of hell.

So this brings us on to William the Ætheling, Henry’s only legitimate son. Henry had more than 20 children but only two of them were legitimate: one boy and one girl, William and Matilda. Tell us about William the Ætheling – this strange word, what does it mean, and what was Henry’s plan for him?

‘Ætheling’ is an odd Anglo-Saxon term that means that you are eligible to be king. For William, it was the equivalent of the heir apparent, because there was no one else – he was the only legitimate male son.

Henry was a loving father who invested all his hopes in this boy, and we know from the chroniclers that he took great care with him. For four years before the White Ship sank, Henry had been fighting Louis VI to get the French king to acknowledge his son as Duke of Normandy. And Henry took his son to diplomatic events where he was arguing for his right to be the duke. He was grooming him to be his heir in a very thoughtful way, engaging him in things as a young man.

And what do we know about William? What’s difficult is that all the sources are ecclesiastical writers, and of course they see the hand of God in everything. When William died in the White Ship, people were looking for God’s reason for doing this. For somebody to be deprived of a magnificent future must mean that God didn’t like him. I found a lot of chroniclers were saying how spoilt and obnoxious he was. There was a story that he viewed the Anglo-Saxons as a sort of Untermensch – a species not quite as good as the Normans – and that he’d promised, when he was king, to put them to the yoke. But it’s hard to tell how true this is.

We know that William was the centre of a hard-living aristocratic group, which is sort of inevitable if you’re a teenage king-to-be. He loved fine clothes, and apparently, he was a handsome boy, although again, for the chroniclers, if you were royal, you tended to be either beautiful or handsome.

William must have been flattered by the attention of the crew of the White Ship, who were absolutely thrilled to have him as their passenger. And in return for their adulation, he bought the crew three barrels of wine for them to enjoy with his friends.

So let’s get into the detail of the sinking. Why were William and Henry in Barfleur? And what was this White Ship? Why was William sailing on it?

Henry was in Barfleur because it was the favourite port at which to embark from Normandy to England – for anyone of note, really. In good weather, it was a 10 to 12-hour journey and it was very easy. Henry had spent four years campaigning against Louis VI and he’d finally won the war, he’d had his son acknowledged by his great enemy. So he arrived in Barfleur in triumph.

Henry already had the ship that always took him back home. But then the captain of the White Ship came forward and tried to give Henry a tribute in return for him changing his mind and going on his ship. The man also pointed out that it would be his honour to take the king back because it had been his father’s great privilege to captain the Mora, which was William the Conqueror’s flagship on the invasion of England in 1066. But Henry was fixed in his ways and said: “No, I’m actually fine but it’d be enormous fun for my son and his friends [and a couple of Henry’s illegitimate children]” to go on the White Ship.

The White Ship was obviously a very special ship to look at. There was still a huge crossover from Viking to Norman culture at this time and the ships hadn’t evolved much from those in the Bayeux Tapestry. They were Clinker built, meaning one plank was put across the next, and they were then hammered together. And they were very fast.

So it was a large Viking ship and it had a particularly large crew of oarsmen. We know from a speech of the captain that she must have been white, and I think she would have been lime-washed, rather than painted white.

From the list of passengers, it’s clear that it was a gang, a clique, who got together on there. The most powerful earl in England, Richard, Earl of Chester, got on board with his entourage and it seems the main body of aristocrats on the ship were connected to him. There were also two of Henry’s greatest knights on board and 18 women who had the rank of countess or princess.

So it was chock-full of the most important people in Anglo-Norman society, as well as 50 members of the crew. They had a rip-roaring party ashore: the crew got drunk, the passengers got drunk and then right at the last minute, one or two of the passengers got off because they were worried about the state of the crew.

And then some monks come to the ship…

In one chapter I write about Anglo-Norman attitudes towards the sea. And of course, people didn’t know anything much about it except it was sometimes very beautiful and often very dangerous. They didn’t know what was under the waves. If you look at the poetry or maps from the time, the sea is full of terrifying species: sea goats, sea elephants – think of any animal and it has a devilish counterpoint under the waves.

Drowning was considered the most painful way to die. One way of countering this was getting God’s blessing before you sailed and it was common, with an important ship like this, for monks or priests to come and bless it. Unfortunately, on this occasion, the passengers were so drunk that when the monks turned up, they were chased away. Later, the chroniclers saw this as inviting the doom that came along. The ship probably set sail just before midnight. A large crowd watched them go: some were relatives of people who were sailing, but others just wanted to have a good look at this glamorous bunch of people on one ship. And then they pushed out to sea.

The helmsman was from Barfleur and knew the area very well, but he was drunk, and the sail was dropped too soon. They were going at a hell of a speed: the rowers bending their backs to try to catch up with the king who had set off a few hours before.

There’s a big rock, which you really would expect to avoid, called the Quillebeuf. And they hit it at full speed. I think they had gone so fast in that one mile from the harbour, that the helmsman hadn’t realised quite how far out they were.

They hit it extremely hard and the sailors used hooks to try to push the boat clear, but all they did is make it worse. And these sailors were the first casualties – they got washed away. The planks started to open up and once one opens, there’s no plan B: you’re open to the sea then.

And they were only a mile from land?

Interestingly, the people of Barfleur heard a big cry, but they just assumed that the party had gone up a notch on the ship and they went home, thinking nothing of it. So it was the middle of the night and nobody knew what had happened, even though the ship was only a mile away.

I try to bring in a little bit of modern science to work out what happened. First of all, I don’t think anyone could swim – very, very few people could swim at this time – but the real killer that night was the cold and there is a scientific thing called cold-water shock. If you are immersed in very cold water suddenly, you will gulp in water and your muscles become uncontrollable. Most of the people on board will have died very quickly, especially as they were wearing heavy clothes to counter the cold of a November night.

Were there lifeboats?

There was one lifeboat. There were bodyguards on board, and they bundled William the Ætheling into the one rowing boat and started to get him away. But there’s this moment that has always haunted anyone who knows the story, where William’s sister, Margaret of Perche (one of Henry’s illegitimate daughters), sees William escaping and starts screaming for him to come back. She insulted his manhood for leaving his sister to die. And William ordered his crew to turn the boat around to go and get her. But there were so many people thrashing around for their life in the water, and when they saw this rowing boat, they tried to clamber on board and the boat went down.

There were just a handful of survivors at this stage. One of them is a fantastic figure, Berold the butcher, from Rouen, who was the humblest man on board, apart from the crew. He had scrambled onto a bit of broken mast with a man called de l’Aigle who came from an aristocratic fighting family. The captain of the ship swam to them and said: “Where’s the king’s son?” They told him the news, and the captain knew that Henry was not one to be trifled with, so he allowed himself to die because he didn’t want to be the one to explain what had happened to Henry’s three children who had died. He just let himself drift under and was never seen again.

So the ship went down, William the Ætheling went down, and Berold the butcher survived to tell the story, which is how we know the dramatic details. When did Henry find out that he’d lost his legitimate son, two of his illegitimate children, and, beyond that, his whole plan for the Anglo-Norman realm?

People quickly knew something had gone wrong with the White Ship because it was a clear night and there was no possible explanation except that it had sunk. Then the confirmation came when Berold was discovered the next morning by a fisherman. The news reached southern England within a day, but nobody wanted to tell Henry because, even on a good day, he was terrifying, and he loved his children.

All the courtiers had relatives or friends who they knew had drowned, but they tried to hide their sorrow from the king, so he didn’t ask them about it. Eventually, the courtiers persuaded a young boy to tell Henry what had happened. The boy went in, fell on the ground and spewed out this terrible news. And Henry bellowed and fell down on the ground in shock and despair.

He was completely devastated, went into denial and ordered the coast to be checked in case the White Ship was somewhere else. And when he realised that it was true and he’d lost all these people who were the cornerstone of his ambitions, he took to bed and didn’t eat for a very long time. This went on until one of his closest confidants told him that all this crying wasn’t going to bring William back and was just going to make his enemies stronger. Crying, he said, is for women, not for kings, and you’ve got to get on with it. And Henry did get up, and actually lived another 15 years.

Fifteen years seems ample opportunity for Henry to marry again – as he does, to Adeliza of Louvain – and produce another legitimate heir. But he doesn’t do that, so that leaves him with one legitimate child: Matilda. Can you tell us about her?

Matilda had a conventional life, up until this point. She was married off to the Holy Roman Emperor Henry V in Germany and it was a huge moment for Henry I to have his daughter acknowledged as effectively the empress of central Europe. She was brought up in a different way of royal governance: when her husband was off fighting wars, she was left with real power. She was not just an adjunct to the king – she was a proper regent.

And then the emperor died of cancer, and Matilda went back to her father. She was now an incredibly eligible heiress and Henry used her for his dynastic purposes: he persuaded her to marry a much younger man, Geoffrey, who was the son of the Count of Anjou.

It was difficult for Matilda to swallow this. First of all, she was marrying a boy, while she was a woman. And secondly, she was being downgraded to a countess. But she did it for her father. Henry needed to disable the House of Anjou, because they’d been allied with France against him.

So instead of producing another heir, Henry decided to load the future of his realm onto his daughter. He forced the barons to swear homage to her. This is extraordinary, isn’t it? In a patriarchal age, what was a political wizard like Henry thinking in loading all this on to Matilda?

Henry was, in our parlance, as sexist as anyone and he did make a distinction. After about six years of not producing a child with his second wife, he announced to his lords that the White Ship had been a national catastrophe and had deprived him of his heir. But he would like them all to acknowledge Matilda as his successor. Being a successor was very different to being an heir. What Henry was asking was for people to be loyal to her, to recognise her as queen, but really, she was a stepping stone, dynastically. By the time Henry died, she had some sons – the eldest one called Henry – and the king was really trying to use her as somebody to pass on the baton to his grandson. But he couldn’t do that without having her made queen.

Henry was completely transfixed by the problem of his succession and it dominated his last 15 years. But when he died, he must have thought: “Well, I’ve dealt with that,” because the leading bishops, abbots and aristocracy, in England and Normandy, had sworn to recognise his wish and Matilda was going to become queen.

But it’s a staggering thing – and it says so much about the role of women in society at the time – that as soon as Henry died, few people bothered to even think about that. And Henry’s nephew, Stephen of Blois (who was one of those who had got off the White Ship in Barfleur), raced for the crown. He was a popular chap, a good warrior, and, crucially, male, and he snapped up the crown with all sorts of promises that he didn’t observe.

Stephen was okay for the first years of his reign, but then Matilda arrived in 1139 with an army and a proper civil war began. [That civil war, now known as the Anarchy, saw Stephen and Matilda vying for the English throne for 19 years. The conflict was effectively brought to an end by the Treaty of Wallingford (1153), which decreed that Stephen could retain the throne until his death on condition that the crown then passed to Matilda’s son, Henry.]

The upshot is that, against all odds, the long dead Henry I got his way, didn’t he?

Henry’s grandson became Henry II and so it all came good – but after utter chaos. The Anarchy was aptly named. It was a complete bloodbath. It was about as tumultuous a time as Britain’s ever suffered and it all stemmed from the sinking of one ship.

That’s why I maintain that this was the most disastrous moment in British maritime history. Yes, the Titanic is remarkable in its scale and the glamour of the people on board, but this was an entire royal family destroyed. It’s an extraordinary thing for one ship to bring such calamity to a nation.


Charles Spencer is an author and former journalist who has written bestselling history books, including Killers of the King: The Men Who Dared to Execute Charles I (Bloomsbury, 2014). His latest book is The White Ship (William Collins, 2020)

Dan Jones is a historian and broadcaster who has written numerous bestselling books of medieval history, most recently Crusaders: An Epic History of the Wars for the Holy Lands (Head of Zeus, 2019)

Listen to the full conversation below, or on Spotify or Apple Podcasts:


Horatio Nelson was born on 29 September 1758 in a rectory in Burnham Thorpe, Norfolk, England, the sixth of eleven children of the Reverend Edmund Nelson and his wife Catherine Suckling. [1] He was named "Horatio" after his godfather Horatio Walpole, 1st Earl of Orford (1723–1809), [2] the first cousin of his maternal grandmother Anne Turner (1691–1768). Horatio Walpole was a younger grandson of Robert Walpole, 1st Earl of Orford, the de facto first Prime Minister of Great Britain. [3]

Catherine Suckling lived in the village of Barsham, Suffolk, and married the Reverend Edmund Nelson at Beccles church, Suffolk, in 1749. Nelson's aunt, Alice Nelson was the wife of Reverend Robert Rolfe, Rector of Hilborough, Norfolk and grandmother of Sir Robert Monsey Rolfe. [4] Rolfe twice served as Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain.

Nelson attended Paston Grammar School, North Walsham, until he was 12 years old, and also attended King Edward VI's Grammar School in Norwich. His naval career began on 1 January 1771, when he reported to the third-rate HMS Raisonnable as an ordinary seaman and coxswain under his maternal uncle, Captain Maurice Suckling, who commanded the vessel. Shortly after reporting aboard, Nelson was appointed a midshipman and began officer training. Early in his service, Nelson discovered that he suffered from seasickness, a chronic complaint that dogged him for the rest of his life. [5]

HMS Raisonnable had been commissioned during a period of tension with Spain, but when this passed, Suckling was transferred to the Nore guardship HMS Triumph and Nelson was dispatched to serve aboard the West Indiamen Mary Ann of the merchant shipping firm of Hibbert, Purrier and Horton, in order to gain experience at sea. [6] He sailed from Medway, Kent, on 25 July 1771 sailing to Jamaica and Tobago, returning to Plymouth on 7 July 1772. [7] He twice crossed the Atlantic, before returning to serve under his uncle as the commander of Suckling's longboat, which carried men and dispatches to and from the shore. Nelson then learned of a planned expedition under the command of Constantine Phipps, intended to survey a passage in the Arctic by which it was hoped that India could be reached: the fabled North-East Passage. [8]

At his nephew's request, Suckling arranged for Nelson to join the expedition as coxswain [8] to Commander Lutwidge aboard the converted bomb vessel HMS Carcass. The expedition reached within ten degrees of the North Pole, but, unable to find a way through the dense ice floes, was forced to turn back. By 1800 Lutwidge began to circulate a story that while the ship had been trapped in the ice, Nelson had seen and pursued a polar bear, before being ordered to return to the ship. Lutwidge's later version, in 1809, reported that Nelson and a companion had given chase to the bear, but on being questioned why, replied that "I wished, Sir, to get the skin for my father." [9]

Nelson briefly returned to Triumph after the expedition's return to Britain in September 1773. Suckling then arranged for his transfer to HMS Seahorse, one of two ships about to sail for the East Indies. [10]

Nelson sailed for the East Indies on 19 November 1773 and arrived at the British outpost at Madras on 25 May 1774. [12] Nelson and Seahorse spent the rest of the year cruising off the coast and escorting merchantmen. With the outbreak of the First Anglo-Maratha War, the British fleet operated in support of the East India Company and in early 1775 Seahorse was dispatched to carry a cargo of the company's money to Bombay. On 19 February, two of Hyder Ali's ketches attacked Seahorse, which drove them off after a brief exchange of fire. This was Nelson's first experience of battle. [13]

The rest of the year he spent escorting convoys, during which he continued to develop his navigation and ship handling skills. In early 1776 Nelson contracted malaria and became seriously ill. He was discharged from Seahorse on 14 March and returned to England aboard HMS Dolphin. [14] Nelson spent the six-month voyage recuperating and had almost recovered by the time he arrived in Britain in September 1776. His patron, Suckling, had risen to the post of Comptroller of the Navy in 1775, and used his influence to help Nelson gain further promotion. [3] [15] Nelson was appointed acting lieutenant aboard HMS Worcester, which was about to sail to Gibraltar. [16]

Worcester, under the command of Captain Mark Robinson, sailed as a convoy escort on 3 December and returned with another convoy in April 1777. [17] Nelson then travelled to London to take his lieutenant's examination on 9 April his examining board consisted of Captains John Campbell, Abraham North, and his uncle, Maurice Suckling. Nelson passed, and the next day received his commission and an appointment to HMS Lowestoffe, which was preparing to sail to Jamaica under Captain William Locker. [18] She sailed on 16 May, arrived on 19 July, and after reprovisioning, carried out several cruises in Caribbean waters. After the outbreak of the American War of Independence Lowestoffe took several prizes, one of which was taken into Navy service as the tender Little Lucy. Nelson asked for and was given command of her, and took her on two cruises of his own. [19]

As well as giving him his first taste of command, it gave Nelson the opportunity to explore his fledgling interest in science. During his first cruise, Nelson led an expeditionary party to the Caicos Islands, [20] where he made detailed notes of the wildlife and in particular a bird – now believed to be the white-necked jacobin. [21] Locker, impressed by Nelson's abilities, recommended him to the new commander-in-chief at Jamaica, Sir Peter Parker. Parker duly took Nelson onto his flagship, HMS Bristol. [22] The entry of the French into the war, in support of the Americans, meant further targets for Parker's fleet and it took many prizes towards the end of 1778, which brought Nelson an estimated £400 in prize money. Parker appointed him as Master and Commander of the brig HMS Badger on 8 December. [23]

Nelson and Badger spent most of 1779 cruising off the Central American coast, ranging as far as the British settlements at British Honduras (now Belize), and Nicaragua, but without much success at interception of enemy prizes. [24] On his return to Port Royal he learned that Parker had promoted him to post-captain on 11 June, and intended to give him another command. Nelson handed over the Badger to Cuthbert Collingwood while he awaited the arrival of his new ship, the 28-gun frigate HMS Hinchinbrook, [a] newly captured from the French. [25] While Nelson waited, news reached Parker that a French fleet under the command of Charles Hector, comte d'Estaing, was approaching Jamaica. Parker hastily organized his defences and placed Nelson in command of Fort Charles, which covered the approaches to Kingston. [26] D'Estaing instead headed north, and the anticipated invasion never materialised. Nelson duly took command of the Hinchinbrook on 1 September. [27]

Hinchinbrook sailed from Port Royal on 5 October 1779 and, in company with other British ships, proceeded to capture a number of American prizes. [28] On his return to Jamaica in December, Nelson began to be troubled by a recurrent attack of malaria. Nelson remained in the West Indies in order to take part in Major-General John Dalling's attempt to capture the Spanish colonies in Central America, including an assault on the Fortress of the Immaculate Conception, also called Castillo Viejo, on the San Juan River in Nicaragua. [29]

Hinchinbrook sailed from Jamaica in February 1780, as an escort for Dalling's invasion force. After sailing up the mouth of the San Juan River, Nelson, with some one thousand men and four small four-pounder cannon, obtained the surrender of Castillo Viejo and its 160 Spanish defenders after a two-week siege. [30] The British blew up the fort when they evacuated six months later after suffering many deaths due to disease and Nelson was praised for his efforts. [31]

Parker recalled Nelson and gave him command of the 44-gun frigate HMS Janus. [32] Nelson had fallen seriously ill in the jungles of Costa Rica, probably from a recurrence of malaria, and was unable to take command. During his time of convalescence he was nursed by a black "doctoress" named Cubah Cornwallis, the mistress of a fellow captain, William Cornwallis. [33] He was discharged in August and returned to Britain aboard HMS Lion, [34] arriving in late November. Nelson gradually recovered over several months, and soon began agitating for a command. He was appointed to the frigate HMS Albemarle on 15 August 1781. [35]

Captain of Albemarle Edit

Nelson received orders on 23 October 1781 to take the newly refitted Albemarle to sea. He was instructed to collect an inbound convoy of the Russia Company at Elsinore, and escort them back to Britain. For this operation, the Admiralty placed the frigates HMS Argo and HMS Enterprise under his command. [36] Nelson successfully organised the convoy and escorted it into British waters. He then left the convoy to return to port, but severe storms hampered him. [37] Gales almost wrecked Albemarle as she was a poorly designed ship and an earlier accident had left her damaged, but Nelson eventually brought her into Portsmouth in February 1782. [38] There the Admiralty ordered him to fit Albemarle for sea and join the escort for a convoy collecting at Cork in Ireland to sail for Quebec in Canada. [39] Nelson arrived off Newfoundland with the convoy in late May, then detached on a cruise to hunt American privateers. Nelson was generally unsuccessful he succeeded only in retaking several captured British merchant ships and capturing a number of small fishing boats and assorted craft. [40]

In August 1782, Nelson had a narrow escape from a far superior French force under Louis-Philippe de Vaudreuil, only evading them after a prolonged chase. [41] Nelson arrived at Quebec on 18 September. [42] He sailed again as part of the escort for a convoy to New York. He arrived in mid-November and reported to Admiral Samuel Hood, commander of the New York station. [43] At Nelson's request, Hood transferred him to his fleet and Albemarle sailed in company with Hood, bound for the West Indies. [44] On their arrival, the British fleet took up position off Jamaica to await the arrival of de Vaudreuil's force. Nelson and the Albemarle were ordered to scout the numerous passages for signs of the enemy, but it became clear by early 1783 that the French had eluded Hood. [45]

During his scouting operations, Nelson had developed a plan to attack the French garrison of the Turks Islands. Commanding a small flotilla of frigates and smaller vessels, he landed a force of 167 seamen and marines early on the morning of 8 March under a supporting bombardment. [46] The French were found to be heavily entrenched and after several hours Nelson called off the assault. Several of the officers involved criticised Nelson, but Hood does not appear to have reprimanded him. [47] Nelson spent the rest of the war cruising in the West Indies, where he captured a number of French and Spanish prizes. [48] After news of the peace reached Hood, Nelson returned to Britain in late June 1783. [49]

Island of Nevis and marriage Edit

Nelson visited France in late 1783, stayed with acquaintances at Saint-Omer, and briefly attempted to learn French. He returned to England in January 1784, and attended court as part of Lord Hood's entourage. [50] Influenced by the factional politics of the time, he contemplated standing for Parliament as a supporter of William Pitt, but was unable to find a seat. [51]

In 1784, Nelson received command of the frigate HMS Boreas with the assignment to enforce the Navigation Acts in the vicinity of Antigua. [52] The Acts were unpopular with both the Americans and the colonies. [53] Nelson served on the station under Admiral Sir Richard Hughes, and often came into conflict with his superior officer over their differing interpretation of the Acts. [54] The captains of the American vessels Nelson had seized sued him for illegal seizure. Because the merchants of the nearby island of Nevis supported the American claim, Nelson was in peril of imprisonment he remained sequestered on Boreas for eight months, until the courts ruled in his favour. [55]

In the interim, Nelson met Frances "Fanny" Nisbet, a young widow from a Nevis plantation family. [56] Nelson developed an affection for her and her uncle, John Herbert, offered him a massive dowry and both uncle and niece hid the fact that the famed riches were a fiction, and that Fanny was no longer fertile due to a womb infection. Once engaged, Herbert offered nowhere near the money he had promised. Breaking an engagement was dishonourable, [57] so Nelson and Nisbet were married at Montpelier Estate on the island of Nevis on 11 March 1787, shortly before the end of his tour of duty in the Caribbean. [58] The marriage was registered at Fig Tree Church in St John's Parish on Nevis. Nelson returned to England in July, with Fanny following later. [59]

While Nelson was in the Caribbean he developed friendships with various plantation owners and grew to believe that the islands' economies relied heavily on the Atlantic slave trade. He is said by Grindal (2016) to have attempted to use his influence to thwart the abolitionist movement in Britain. [60] One of these friends was Simon Taylor, the wealthy owner of a sugar plantation in Jamaica employing slaves, at whose request to intervene in the public debate Nelson replied in 1805 that "while he had a tongue", he would "launch my voice against the damnable and cursed (sic) [61] doctrine of Wilberforce and his hypocritical allies". [62]

The letter was published in 1807 by the anti-abolitionist faction, some eighteen months after Nelson's death and therefore completely out of context, in an apparent attempt to bolster their cause prior to the parliamentary vote on the Abolition Bill. The wording of the letter as published in 1807 (not in Nelson's handwriting, and with a poor facsimile of his signature) appears quite out of character for Nelson whose many other surviving letters never express racist or pro-slavery sentiments. Comparison with the "pressed copy" of the original letter (now part of the Bridport papers held in the British Library) shows that the published copy had 25 alterations [63] distorting it to give a more anti-Abolitionist slant. Many of Nelson's actions indicate his position on the matter of slavery, most notably:

  • Any West Indian slave escaping to a navy ship (including Nelson's) were signed on, paid, and treated the same as other crew members. At the end of their service they were discharged as free men. In fact, the bronze relief at the base of Nelson's column clearly shows the black George Ryan aged 23, with musket shooting the French alongside the dying Admiral. [64]
  • In 1799 Nelson intervened to secure the release of 24 slaves being held in Portuguese galleys off Palermo. [65][66]
  • In 1802 when it was proposed that West Indian plantation slaves should be replaced by free, paid industrious Chinese workers Nelson supported the idea. [67]
  • In 1805 Nelson rescued the black Haitian General Joseph Chretien and his servant from the French. They asked if they could serve with Nelson, and Nelson recommended to the Admiralty that they be paid until they could be discharged and granted passage to Jamaica. The General's mission was to end slavery, a fact of which Nelson was well aware. The general and his servant were well treated and paid. [68]
  • The Nelson family used to have a free black servant called Price. Nelson said of him he was ‘as good a man as ever lived’ and he suggested to Emma that she invite the elderly Price to live with them. In the event Price declined. [69]

During the peace Edit

Nelson remained with Boreas until she was paid off in November that year. [70] He and Fanny then divided their time between Bath and London, occasionally visiting Nelson's relations in Norfolk. In 1788, they settled at Nelson's childhood home at Burnham Thorpe. [71] Now in reserve on half pay, he attempted to persuade the Admiralty and other senior figures he was acquainted with, such as Hood, to provide him with a command. He was unsuccessful as there were too few ships in the peacetime navy and Hood did not intercede on his behalf. [72]

Nelson spent his time trying to find employment for former crew members, attending to family affairs, and cajoling contacts in the navy for a posting. In 1792 the French revolutionary government annexed the Austrian Netherlands (modern Belgium), which were traditionally preserved as a buffer state. The Admiralty recalled Nelson to service and gave him command of the 64-gun HMS Agamemnon in January 1793. On 1 February France declared war. [73]

Mediterranean service Edit

In May 1793, Nelson sailed as part of a division under the command of Vice Admiral William Hotham, joined later in the month by the rest of Lord Hood's fleet. [74] The force initially sailed to Gibraltar and, with the intention of establishing naval superiority in the Mediterranean, made their way to Toulon, anchoring off the port in July. [75] Toulon was largely under the control of moderate republicans and royalists, but was threatened by the forces of the National Convention, which were marching on the city. Short of supplies and doubting their ability to defend themselves, the city authorities requested that Hood take it under his protection. Hood readily acquiesced and sent Nelson to carry dispatches to Sardinia and Naples requesting reinforcements. [76]

After delivering the dispatches to Sardinia, Agamemnon arrived at Naples in early September. There Nelson met King Ferdinand IV of Naples, [77] followed by the British ambassador to the kingdom, William Hamilton. [78] At some point during the negotiations for reinforcements, Nelson was introduced to Hamilton's new wife, Emma Hamilton, the former mistress of Hamilton's nephew Charles Greville. [79]

The negotiations were successful, and 2,000 men and several ships were mustered by mid-September. Nelson put to sea in pursuit of a French frigate, but on failing to catch her, sailed for Leghorn, and then to Corsica. [80] He arrived at Toulon on 5 October, where he found that a large French army had occupied the hills surrounding the city and was bombarding it. Hood still hoped the city could be held if more reinforcements arrived, and sent Nelson to join a squadron operating off Cagliari. [81]

Corsica Edit

Early on the morning of 22 October 1793, Agamemnon sighted five sails. Nelson closed with them, and discovered they were a French squadron. He promptly gave chase, firing on the 40-gun Melpomene. [82] During the action of 22 October 1793, he inflicted considerable damage but the remaining French ships turned to join the battle and, realising he was outnumbered, Nelson withdrew and continued to Cagliari, arriving on 24 October. [82] After making repairs, Nelson and Agamemnon sailed again on 26 October, bound for Tunis with a squadron under Commodore Robert Linzee. [83]

On his arrival, Nelson was given command of a small squadron consisting of Agamemnon, three frigates and a sloop, and ordered to blockade the French garrison on Corsica. [83] The fall of Toulon at the end of December 1793 severely damaged British fortunes in the Mediterranean. Hood had failed to make adequate provision for a withdrawal and 18 French ships-of-the-line fell into republican hands. [84] Nelson's mission to Corsica took on added significance, as it could provide the British a naval base close to the French coast. [84] Hood therefore reinforced Nelson with extra ships during January 1794. [85]

A British assault force landed on the island on 7 February, after which Nelson moved to intensify the blockade off Bastia. For the rest of the month he carried out raids along the coast and intercepted enemy shipping. By late February St Fiorenzo had fallen and British troops under Lieutenant-General David Dundas entered the outskirts of Bastia. [86] However, Dundas merely assessed the enemy positions and then withdrew, arguing that the French were too well entrenched to risk an assault. Nelson convinced Hood otherwise, but a protracted debate between the army and naval commanders meant that Nelson did not receive permission to proceed until late March. Nelson began to land guns from his ships and emplace them in the hills surrounding the town. On 11 April the British squadron entered the harbour and opened fire, whilst Nelson took command of the land forces and commenced bombardment. [87] After 45 days, the town surrendered. [88] Nelson prepared for an assault on Calvi, working in company with Lieutenant-General Charles Stuart. [89]

British forces landed at Calvi on 19 June, and immediately began moving guns ashore to occupy the heights surrounding the town. While Nelson directed a continuous bombardment of the enemy positions, Stuart's men began to advance. On 12 July Nelson was at one of the forward batteries early in the morning when a shot struck one of the sandbags protecting the position, spraying stones and sand. Nelson was struck by debris in his right eye and was forced to retire from the position, although his wound was soon bandaged and he returned to action. [90] By 18 July most of the enemy positions had been disabled, and that night Stuart, supported by Nelson, stormed the main defensive position and captured it. Repositioning their guns, the British brought Calvi under constant bombardment, and the town surrendered on 10 August. [91] However, Nelson's right eye had not been irreparably damaged and he eventually regained sight in it.

Genoa and the fight of the Ça Ira Edit

After the occupation of Corsica, Hood ordered Nelson to open diplomatic relations with the city-state of Genoa, a strategically important potential ally. [92] Soon afterwards, Hood returned to England and was succeeded by Admiral William Hotham as commander-in-chief in the Mediterranean. Nelson put into Leghorn, and while Agamemnon underwent repairs, met with other naval officers at the port and entertained a brief affair with a local woman, Adelaide Correglia. [93] Hotham arrived with the rest of the fleet in December Nelson and Agamemnon sailed on a number of cruises with them in late 1794 and early 1795. [94]

On 8 March, news reached Hotham that the French fleet was at sea and heading for Corsica. He immediately set out to intercept them, and Nelson eagerly anticipated his first fleet action. The French were reluctant to engage and the two fleets shadowed each other throughout 12 March. The following day two of the French ships collided, allowing Nelson to engage the much larger 84-gun Ça Ira for two and a half hours until the arrival of two French ships forced Nelson to veer away, having inflicted heavy casualties and considerable damage. [95]

The fleets continued to shadow each other before making contact again, on 14 March, in the Battle of Genoa. Nelson joined the other British ships in attacking the battered Ça Ira, now under tow from Censeur. Heavily damaged, the two French ships were forced to surrender and Nelson took possession of Censeur. Defeated at sea, the French abandoned their plan to invade Corsica and returned to port. [96]

Skirmishes and the retreat from Italy Edit

Nelson and the fleet remained in the Mediterranean throughout the summer of 1795. On 4 July Agamemnon sailed from St Fiorenzo with a small force of frigates and sloops, bound for Genoa. On 6 July Nelson ran into the French fleet and found himself pursued by several much larger ships-of-the-line. He retreated to St Fiorenzo, arriving just ahead of the pursuing French, who broke off as Nelson's signal guns alerted the British fleet in the harbour. [97] Hotham pursued the French to the Hyères Islands, but failed to bring them to a decisive action. A number of small engagements were fought but to Nelson's dismay, he saw little action. [97]

Nelson returned to operate out of Genoa, intercepting and inspecting merchantmen and cutting-out suspicious vessels in both enemy and neutral harbours. [98] Nelson formulated ambitious plans for amphibious landings and naval assaults to frustrate the progress of the French Army of Italy that was now advancing on Genoa, but could excite little interest in Hotham. [99] In November Hotham was replaced by Sir Hyde Parker but the situation in Italy was rapidly deteriorating: the French were raiding around Genoa and strong Jacobin sentiment was rife within the city itself. [100]

A large French assault at the end of November broke the allied lines, forcing a general retreat towards Genoa. Nelson's forces were able to cover the withdrawing army and prevent them from being surrounded, but he had too few ships and men to materially alter the strategic situation, and the British were forced to withdraw from the Italian ports. Nelson returned to Corsica on 30 November, angry and depressed at the British failure and questioning his future in the navy. [101]

Jervis and the evacuation of the Mediterranean Edit

In January 1796 the position of commander-in-chief of the fleet in the Mediterranean passed to Sir John Jervis, who appointed Nelson to exercise independent command over the ships blockading the French coast as a commodore. [102] Nelson spent the first half of the year conducting operations to frustrate French advances and bolster Britain's Italian allies. Despite some minor successes in intercepting small French warships (e.g., in the action of 31 May 1796, when Nelson's squadron captured a convoy of seven small vessels), Nelson began to feel the British presence on the Italian peninsula was rapidly becoming useless. [103] In June the Agamemnon was sent back to Britain for repairs, and Nelson was appointed to the 74-gun HMS Captain. [103]

In the same month, the French thrust towards Leghorn and were certain to capture the city. Nelson hurried there to oversee the evacuation of British nationals and transported them to Corsica, after which Jervis ordered him to blockade the newly captured French port. [104] In July he oversaw the occupation of Elba, but by September the Genoese had broken their neutrality to declare in favour of the French. [105] By October, the Genoese position and the continued French advances led the British to decide that the Mediterranean fleet could no longer be supplied they ordered it to be evacuated to Gibraltar. Nelson helped oversee the withdrawal from Corsica, and by December 1796 was aboard the frigate HMS Minerve, covering the evacuation of the garrison at Elba. He then sailed for Gibraltar. [106]

During the passage, Nelson captured the Spanish frigate Santa Sabina and placed Lieutenants Jonathan Culverhouse and Thomas Hardy in charge of the captured vessel, taking the Spanish captain on board Minerve. Santa Sabina was part of a larger Spanish force, and the following morning two Spanish ships-of-the-line and a frigate were sighted closing fast. Unable to outrun them, Nelson initially determined to fight but Culverhouse and Hardy raised the British colours and sailed northeast, drawing the Spanish ships after them until being captured, giving Nelson the opportunity to escape. [107] Nelson went on to rendezvous with the British fleet at Elba, where he spent Christmas. [108] He sailed for Gibraltar in late January, and after learning that the Spanish fleet had sailed from Cartagena, stopped just long enough to collect Hardy, Culverhouse, and the rest of the prize crew captured with Santa Sabina, before pressing on through the straits to join Sir John Jervis off Cadiz. [109]

Battle of Cape St Vincent Edit

Nelson joined Jervis's fleet off Cape St Vincent, and reported the Spanish movements. [110] Jervis decided to give battle and the two fleets met on 14 February 1797. Nelson found himself towards the rear of the British line and realised that it would be a long time before he could bring Captain into action. [110] Instead of continuing to follow the line, Nelson disobeyed orders and wore ship, breaking from the line and heading to engage the Spanish van, which consisted of the 112-gun San Josef, the 80-gun San Nicolas and the 130-gun Santísima Trinidad. Captain engaged all three, assisted by HMS Culloden which had come to Nelson's aid. [111]

After an hour of exchanging broadsides which left both Captain and Culloden badly damaged, Nelson found himself alongside San Nicolas. He led a boarding party across, crying "Westminster Abbey or glorious victory!" and forced her to surrender. [111] San Josef attempted to come to the San Nicolas's aid, but became entangled with her compatriot and was left immobile. Nelson led his party from the deck of San Nicolas onto San Josef and captured her as well. [110] As night fell, the Spanish fleet broke off and sailed for Cadiz. Four ships had surrendered to the British and two of them were Nelson's. [112]

Nelson was victorious, but had disobeyed direct orders. Jervis liked Nelson and so did not officially reprimand him, [112] but did not mention Nelson's actions in his official report of the battle. [113] He did write a private letter to George Spencer in which he said that Nelson "contributed very much to the fortune of the day". [112] Nelson also wrote several letters about his victory, reporting that his action was being referred to amongst the fleet as "Nelson's Patent Bridge for boarding first rates". [111]

Nelson's account was later challenged by Rear Admiral William Parker, who had been aboard HMS Prince George. Parker claimed that Nelson had been supported by several more ships than he acknowledged, and that San Josef had already struck her colours by the time Nelson boarded her. [114] Nelson's account of his role prevailed, and the victory was well received in Britain: Jervis was made Earl St Vincent and Nelson, on 17 May, [115] was made a Knight of the Bath. [116] [117] On 20 February, in a standard promotion according to his seniority and unrelated to the battle, he was promoted to Rear Admiral of the Blue. [118]

Action off Cadiz Edit

Nelson was given HMS Theseus as his flagship, and on 27 May 1797 was ordered to lie off Cadiz, monitoring the Spanish fleet and awaiting the arrival of Spanish treasure ships from the American colonies. [119] He carried out a bombardment and personally led an amphibious assault on 3 July. During the action Nelson's barge collided with that of the Spanish commander, and a hand-to-hand struggle ensued between the two crews. Twice Nelson was nearly cut down and both times his life was saved by a seaman named John Sykes who took the blows and was badly wounded. The British raiding force captured the Spanish boat and towed her back to Theseus. [119] [120] During this period Nelson developed a scheme to capture Santa Cruz de Tenerife, aiming to seize a large quantity of specie from the treasure ship Principe de Asturias, which was reported to have recently arrived. [121]

Battle of Santa Cruz de Tenerife Edit

The battle plan called for a combination of naval bombardments and an amphibious landing. The initial attempt was called off after adverse currents hampered the assault and the element of surprise was lost. [122] Nelson immediately ordered another assault but this was beaten back. He prepared for a third attempt, to take place during the night. Although he personally led one of the battalions, the operation ended in failure: the Spanish were better prepared than had been expected and had secured strong defensive positions. [123]

Several of the boats failed to land at the correct positions in the confusion, while those that did were swept by gunfire and grapeshot. Nelson's boat reached its intended landing point but as he stepped ashore he was hit in the right arm by a musketball, which fractured his humerus bone in multiple places. [123] He was rowed back to Theseus to be attended to by the surgeon, Thomas Eshelby. [124] On arriving at his ship he refused to be helped aboard, declaring "Let me alone! I have got my legs left and one arm." [123]

He was taken to surgeon Eshelby, instructing him to prepare his instruments and "the sooner it was off the better". [123] Most of the right arm was amputated and within half an hour Nelson had returned to issuing orders to his captains. [125] Years later he would excuse himself to Commodore John Thomas Duckworth for not writing longer letters due to not being naturally left-handed. [126] He developed the sensation of phantom limb in his lost arm later on and declared that he had "found the direct evidence of the existence of soul". [127]

Meanwhile, a force under Sir Thomas Troubridge had fought their way to the main square but could go no further. Unable to return to the fleet because their boats had been sunk, Troubridge was forced to enter into negotiations with the Spanish commander, and the British were allowed to withdraw. [128] The expedition had failed to achieve any of its objectives and had left a quarter of the landing force dead or wounded. [128] [129]

The squadron remained off Tenerife for a further three days and by 16 August had rejoined Jervis's fleet off Cadiz. Despondently Nelson wrote to Jervis: "A left-handed Admiral will never again be considered as useful, therefore the sooner I get to a very humble cottage the better, and make room for a better man to serve the state". [130]

He returned to England aboard HMS Seahorse, arriving at Spithead on 1 September. He was met with a hero's welcome: the British public had lionised Nelson after Cape St Vincent and his wound earned him sympathy. [131] They refused to attribute the defeat at Tenerife to him, preferring instead to blame poor planning on the part of St Vincent, the Secretary at War or even William Pitt. [131]

Return to England Edit

Nelson returned to Bath with Fanny, before moving to London in October to seek expert medical attention concerning his amputated arm. Whilst in London news reached him that Admiral Duncan had defeated the Dutch fleet at the Battle of Camperdown. [132] Nelson exclaimed that he would have given his other arm to have been present. [132] He spent the last months of 1797 recuperating in London, during which he was awarded the Freedom of the City of London and a pension of £1,000 a year. He used the money to buy Round Wood Farm near Ipswich, and intended to retire there with Fanny. [133] Despite his plans, Nelson was never to live there. [133]

Although surgeons had been unable to remove the central ligature in his amputated arm, which had caused considerable inflammation and poisoning, in early December it came out of its own accord and Nelson rapidly began to recover. Eager to return to sea, he began agitating for a command and was promised the 80-gun HMS Foudroyant. As she was not yet ready for sea, Nelson was instead given command of the 74-gun HMS Vanguard, to which he appointed Edward Berry as his flag captain. [134]

French activities in the Mediterranean theatre were raising concern among the Admiralty: Napoleon was gathering forces in Southern France but the destination of his army was unknown. Nelson and the Vanguard were to be dispatched to Cadiz to reinforce the fleet. On 28 March 1798, Nelson hoisted his flag and sailed to join Earl St Vincent. St Vincent sent him on to Toulon with a small force to reconnoitre French activities. [135]

Hunting the French Edit

Nelson passed through the Straits of Gibraltar and took up position off Toulon by 17 May, but his squadron was dispersed and blown southwards by a strong gale that struck the area on 20 May. [136] While the British were battling the storm, Napoleon had sailed with his invasion fleet under the command of Vice Admiral François-Paul Brueys d'Aigalliers. Nelson, having been reinforced with a number of ships from St Vincent, went in pursuit. [137]

Nelson began searching the Italian coast for Napoleon's fleet, but was hampered by a lack of frigates that could operate as fast scouts. Napoleon had already arrived at Malta and, after a show of force, secured the island's surrender. [138] Nelson followed him there, but the French had already left. After a conference with his captains, he decided Egypt was Napoleon's most likely destination and headed for Alexandria. On his arrival on 28 June, though, he found no sign of the French dismayed, he withdrew and began searching to the east of the port. While he was absent, Napoleon's fleet arrived on 1 July and landed their forces unopposed. [139]

Brueys then anchored his fleet in Aboukir Bay, ready to support Napoleon if required. [140] Nelson meanwhile had crossed the Mediterranean again in a fruitless attempt to locate the French and had returned to Naples to re-provision. [141] He sailed again, intending to search the seas off Cyprus, but decided to pass Alexandria again for a final check. In doing so his force captured a French merchant ship, which provided the first news of the French fleet: they had passed south-east of Crete a month before, heading to Alexandria. [142] Nelson hurried to the port but again found it empty of the French. Searching along the coast, he finally discovered the French fleet in Aboukir Bay on 1 August 1798. [143]

The Battle of the Nile Edit

Nelson immediately prepared for battle, repeating a sentiment he had expressed at the battle of Cape St Vincent that "Before this time tomorrow, I shall have gained a peerage or Westminster Abbey." [144] It was late by the time the British arrived and the French, anchored in a strong position with a combined firepower greater than that of Nelson's fleet, did not expect them to attack. [145] Nelson however immediately ordered his ships to advance. The French line was anchored close to a line of shoals, in the belief that this would secure their port side from attack Brueys had assumed the British would follow convention and attack his centre from the starboard side. However, Captain Thomas Foley aboard HMS Goliath discovered a gap between the shoals and the French ships, and took Goliath into the channel. The unprepared French found themselves attacked on both sides, the British fleet splitting, with some following Foley and others passing down the starboard side of the French line. [146]

The British fleet was soon heavily engaged, passing down the French line and engaging their ships one by one. Nelson on Vanguard personally engaged Spartiate, also coming under fire from Aquilon. At about eight o'clock, he was with Berry on the quarter-deck when a piece of French shot struck him in his forehead. He fell to the deck, a flap of torn skin obscuring his good eye. Blinded and half stunned, he felt sure he would die and cried out "I am killed. Remember me to my wife." He was taken below to be seen by the surgeon. [147] After examining Nelson, the surgeon pronounced the wound non-threatening and applied a temporary bandage. [148]

The French van, pounded by British fire from both sides, had begun to surrender, and the victorious British ships continued to move down the line, bringing Brueys's 118-gun flagship Orient under constant heavy fire. Orient caught fire under this bombardment, and later exploded. Nelson briefly came on deck to direct the battle, but returned to the surgeon after watching the destruction of Orient. [149]

The Battle of the Nile was a major blow to Napoleon's ambitions in the east. The fleet had been destroyed: Orient, another ship and two frigates had been burnt, seven 74-gun ships and two 80-gun ships had been captured, and only two ships-of-the-line and two frigates escaped, [150] while the forces Napoleon had brought to Egypt were stranded. [146] Napoleon attacked north along the Mediterranean coast, but Turkish defenders supported by Captain Sir Sidney Smith defeated his army at the Siege of Acre. Napoleon then left his army and sailed back to France, evading detection by British ships. Given its strategic importance, some historians regard Nelson's achievement at the Nile as the most significant of his career, even greater than that at Trafalgar seven years later. [151]

Rewards Edit

Nelson wrote dispatches to the Admiralty and oversaw temporary repairs to the Vanguard, before sailing to Naples where he was met with enthusiastic celebrations. [152] The King of Naples, in company with the Hamiltons, greeted him in person when he arrived at the port and William Hamilton invited Nelson to stay at their house. [153] Celebrations were held in honour of Nelson's birthday that September, and he attended a banquet at the Hamiltons', where other officers had begun to notice his attention to Emma. Jervis himself had begun to grow concerned about reports of Nelson's behaviour, but in early October word of Nelson's victory had reached London. The First Lord of the Admiralty, Earl Spencer, fainted on hearing the news. [154]

Scenes of celebration erupted across the country, balls and victory feasts were held and church bells were rung. The City of London awarded Nelson and his captains swords, whilst the King ordered them to be presented with special medals. The Tsar of Russia sent him a gift, and Selim III, the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, awarded Nelson the Order of the Turkish Crescent for his role in restoring Ottoman rule in Egypt. Lord Hood, after a conversation with the Prime Minister, told Fanny that Nelson would likely be given a Viscountcy, similar to Jervis's earldom after Cape St Vincent and Duncan's viscountcy after Camperdown. [155] Earl Spencer however demurred, arguing that as Nelson had only been detached in command of a squadron, rather than being the commander in chief of the fleet, such an award would create an unwelcome precedent. Instead, Nelson received the title Baron Nelson of the Nile. [156] [157]

Neapolitan campaign Edit

Nelson was dismayed by Spencer's decision, and declared that he would rather have received no title than that of a mere barony. [157] He was however cheered by the attention showered on him by the citizens of Naples, the prestige accorded him by the kingdom's elite, and the comforts he received at the Hamiltons' residence. He made frequent visits to attend functions in his honour, or to tour nearby attractions with Emma, with whom he had by now fallen deeply in love, almost constantly at his side. [158]

Orders arrived from the Admiralty to blockade the French forces in Alexandria and Malta, a task Nelson delegated to his captains, Samuel Hood and Alexander Ball. Despite enjoying his lifestyle in Naples, Nelson began to think of returning to England, [158] but King Ferdinand of Naples, after a long period of pressure from his wife Maria Carolina of Austria and Sir William Hamilton, finally agreed to declare war on France. [159]

The Neapolitan army, led by the Austrian General Mack and supported by Nelson's fleet, retook Rome from the French in late November. The French regrouped outside Rome and after being reinforced, routed the Neapolitans. In disarray, the Neapolitan army fled back to Naples, with the pursuing French close behind. [159] Nelson hastily organised the evacuation of the Royal Family, several nobles and the British nationals, including the Hamiltons. The evacuation got under way on 23 December and sailed through heavy gales before reaching the safety of Palermo on 26 December. [160]

With the departure of the Royal Family, Naples descended into anarchy and news reached Palermo in January that the French had entered the city under General Championnet and proclaimed the Parthenopaean Republic. [161] Nelson was promoted to Rear Admiral of the Red on 14 February 1799, [162] and was occupied for several months in blockading Naples, while a popular counter-revolutionary force under Cardinal Ruffo known as the Sanfedisti marched to retake the city. In late June Ruffo's army entered Naples, forcing the French and their supporters to withdraw to the city's fortifications as rioting and looting broke out amongst the ill-disciplined Neapolitan troops. [163]

Dismayed by the bloodshed, Ruffo agreed to a capitulation with the Jacobin forces that allowed them safe conduct to France. Nelson arrived off Naples on 24 June to find the treaty put into effect. His subsequent role is still controversial. [164] Nelson, aboard Foudroyant, was outraged, and backed by King Ferdinand he insisted that the rebels must surrender unconditionally. [165] They refused, Nelson appears to have relented and they marched out to the waiting transports. Nelson then had the transports seized. [164]

He took those who had surrendered under the treaty under armed guard, as well as the former Admiral Francesco Caracciolo, who had commanded the Neapolitan navy under King Ferdinand but had changed sides during the brief Jacobin rule. [166] Nelson ordered his trial by court-martial and refused Caracciolo's request that it be held by British officers, nor was Caracciolo allowed to summon witnesses in his defence. Caracciolo was tried by royalist Neapolitan officers and sentenced to death. He asked to be shot rather than hanged, but Nelson, following the wishes of Queen Maria Carolina (a close friend of his mistress, Lady Hamilton) also refused this request and even ignored the court's request to allow 24 hours for Caracciolo to prepare himself. Caracciolo was hanged aboard the Neapolitan frigate Minerva at 5 o'clock the same afternoon. [167]

Nelson kept the bulk of the Jacobins on the transports and now began to hand hundreds over for trial and execution, refusing to intervene despite pleas for clemency from the Hamiltons and the Queen of Naples. [168] When transports were finally allowed to carry the Jacobins to France, less than a third were still alive. [169] On 13 August 1799, a reward for his support of the monarchy, [170] King Ferdinand gave Nelson the newly created title Duke of Bronté in the Peerage of the Kingdom of Sicily, as perpetual property, together with the estate of the former Benedictine Abbey of Santa Maria di Maniace, situated between the communes of Bronte and Maniace, known later as the "Duchy of Nelson", which he transformed into the Castello di Nelson. [171]

In 1799, Nelson opposed the mistreatment of slaves held in Portuguese galleys off Palermo and intervened to secure their release. Nelson petitioned the Portuguese commander Marquiz de Niza, 'as a friend, as an English admiral – as a favour to me, as a favour to my country – that you will give me the Slaves'. The marquis acquiesced to the unusual request, allowing twenty-four slaves to be pulled across to Bonne Citoyenne, their blessings to their English saviour then ringing out across the harbour as their names were added to the sloop's already crowded muster book. [65] [66]

Nelson returned to Palermo in August and in September became the senior officer in the Mediterranean after Jervis' successor Lord Keith left to chase the French and Spanish fleets into the Atlantic. [172] Nelson spent the rest of 1799 at the Neapolitan court but put to sea again in February 1800 after Lord Keith's return. On 18 February Généreux, a survivor of the Nile, was sighted and Nelson gave chase, capturing her after a short battle and winning Keith's approval. [173] Nelson had a difficult relationship with his superior officer: he was gaining a reputation for insubordination, having initially refused to send ships when Keith requested them and on occasion returning to Palermo without orders, pleading poor health. [174] Keith's reports, and rumours of Nelson's close relationship with Emma Hamilton, were also circulating in London, and Earl Spencer wrote a pointed letter suggesting that he return home:

You will be more likely to recover your health and strength in England than in any inactive situation at a foreign Court, however pleasing the respect and gratitude shown to you for your services may be. [175]


Cutty Sark was ordered by shipping magnate John Willis, who operated a shipping company founded by his father. The company had a fleet of clippers and regularly took part in the tea trade from China to Britain. Speed was a clear advantage to a merchant ship, but it also created prestige for the owners: the 'tea race' was widely reported in contemporary newspapers and had become something of a national sporting event, with money being gambled against a winning ship. In earlier years, Willis had commanded his father's ships at a time when American designed ships were the fastest in the tea trade, and then had owned British designed ships, which were amongst the best available in the world but had never won the tea race. In 1868 the brand new Aberdeen built clipper Thermopylae set a record time of 61 days port to port on her maiden voyage from London to Melbourne and it was this design that Willis set out to better. [8] [9]

It is uncertain how the hull shape for Cutty Sark was chosen. Willis chose Hercules Linton to design and build the ship but Willis already possessed another ship, The Tweed, which he considered to have exceptional performance. The Tweed (originally Punjaub) was a frigate designed by Oliver Lang based on the lines of an old French frigate, built in Bombay for the East India Company as a combination sail/paddle steamer. She and a sister ship were purchased by Willis, who promptly sold the second ship plus engines from The Tweed for more than he paid for both. The Tweed was then lengthened and operated as a fast sailing vessel, but was considered too big for the tea runs. Willis also commissioned two all-iron clippers with designs based upon The Tweed, Hallowe'en and Blackadder. Linton was taken to view The Tweed in dry dock.

Willis considered that The Tweed ' s bow shape was responsible for its notable performance, and this form seems to have been adopted for Cutty Sark. Linton, however, felt that the stern was too barrel shaped and so gave Cutty Sark a squarer stern with less tumblehome. The broader stern increased the buoyancy of the ship's stern, making it lift more in heavy seas so it was less likely that waves would break over the stern, and over the helmsman at the wheel. The square bilge was carried forward through the centre of the ship. [8] [10] Cutty Sark was given masts that followed the design of The Tweed, with similar good rake and the foremast on both placed further aft than usual. [11]

A contract for Cutty Sark's construction was signed on 1 February 1869 with the firm of Scott & Linton, which had only been formed in May 1868. Their shipyard was at Dumbarton on the River Leven on a site previously occupied by shipbuilders William Denny & Brothers. The contract required the ship to be completed within six months at a contracted price of £17 per ton and maximum weight of 950 tons. This was a highly competitive price for an experimental, state-of-the-art vessel, and for a customer requiring the highest standards. Payment would be made in seven instalments as the ship progressed, but with a penalty of £5 for every day the ship was late. The ship was to be built to Lloyd's A1 standard and her construction was supervised on behalf of Willis by Captain George Moodie, who would command her when completed. Construction delays occurred when the Lloyd's inspectors required additional strengthening in the ship. [12]

Work on the ship was suspended when Scott and Linton ran out of money to continue. Rather than simply liquidate the company, an arrangement was made for Denny's to take over the contract and complete the ship, which was finally launched on 22 November 1869 by Captain Moodie's wife. The ship was moved to Denny's yard to have her masts fitted, and then on 20 December towed downriver to Greenock to have her running rigging installed. In the event, completing the ship meant the company's creditors were owed even more money than when work had first been halted. [13]

Cutty Sark's length was 212 feet 5 inches (64.74 m), with a draft of 21 feet (6.40 m) and a deadweight of 921 tons. [14] Broadly, the parts of the ship visible above the waterline were constructed from East India teak, while American rock elm was used for the ship's bottom. The stem, 15 in × 15 in (38 cm × 38 cm), and sternpost, 16.5 in × 15 in (42 cm × 38 cm), were of teak while the rudder was of English oak. The keel was replaced in the 1920s with one constructed from 15 in (38 cm) pitch pine. [15] The deck was made of 3.5 in (8.9 cm) thick teak while the 'tween deck was 3 in (7.6 cm) yellow pine. The keel, 16.5 in × 15 in (42 cm × 38 cm), had on either side a garboard strake, 11 in × 12 in (28 cm × 30 cm), and then 6 in (15 cm) planking decreasing to 4.75 in (12.1 cm) at 1/5 the depth of the hold. Teak planking began at approximately the level of the bilge stringer. The hull was covered by Muntz metal sheeting up to the 18 ft (5.5 m) depth mark, and all the external timbers were secured by Muntz metal bolts to the internal iron frame. [15] The wrought-iron [16] frame was an innovation in shipbuilding. It consisted of frames (vertical), beams (horizontal) and cross bracing (diagonal members). [17]

The diagonally-braced iron frame made for a strong, rigid ship [17] diagonal members prevent racking (shearing, where frame rectangles become parallelograms). [18] Less working and leaking of the hull meant less crew time spent pumping, allowing more time to be spent on changes of sail. [ citation needed ] The wrought-iron-framed hull also took up less cargo space than an all-wood hull would have done. [17] The Muntz metal sheeting reduced fouling of Cutty Sark's hull [16] with a cleaner hull, she could sail faster. [19]


In the mid-1960s, a shipping magnate named Jakob Isbrandtsen told the illustrious yacht designers, Sparkman & Stephens, to design a sailboat that could compete with the best. Something special emerged from the blueprints in 1969. Built by Huisman, the Dutch firm, it had a sleek aluminum hull, a sparse interior by contemporary standards and a flush, utilitarian deck. Isbrandtsen called it Running Tide. Since his commercial ships were all painted green, the same color went onto his new racing sloop. Tide won the 1971 Southern Ocean Racing Conference (SORC, pronounced Sore- see) in Florida, the equivalent of the American yacht-racing Olympics. It won its class in the Bermuda race the same year. Then Isbrandtsen put her up for hire. Ted Turner, ocean racer and cable television entrepreneur, leased and raced her for six months. One of his opponents that year in the Annapolis Yacht Club Fall Series (races held in the Chesapeake Bay) was a wealthy Alexandria developer named Al Van Metre, sailing a 50- foot aluminum sloop of his own. "Tide was fast as hell," Van Metre says. "We considered ourselves fast, and she cleaned our clock."

Van Metre decided to buy Tide so did Turner. "We had quite a fight," says Van Metre, an understated appraisal of a serious bidding match. He won, the beginning of a rivalry that enlivened racing for a decade. Turner bought a similar sloop, Tenacious, a converted Americas Cup 12-meter boat. He and Van Metre pitted their S&Ss in the Atlantic and the Caribbean, the irreverent, cigar- wielding cable television magnate battling the shy, nonsmoking builder of apartments and shopping malls, each in fashionable aluminum hulls equipped with the latest in sailing technology and nurtured by seemingly inexhaustible bank accounts--two prerequisites in serious ocean campaigning.

"Tide was a dog downwind," Van Metre said often, meaning that she performed poorly when the wind was behind her. He and his son, Al Jr.-- known as Beau--put on longer spinnaker poles, which helped. They had her rewinched. "We were always fooling around with the deck layout." They added nine feet to the mast, but that unbalanced the boat and they had to chop it off again. They added a new, three-spreader rig.

Tide became a top contender in that endless circuit of ocean races that can keep a skipper and crew occupied year round. In 1976 she took the Bermuda trophy after a stormy crossing of the Gulf Stream, and a heady shellacking of Tenacious. Three years later, in the Annapolis-Newport race, Running Tide and Tenacious dueled to the mouth of the Chesapeake, tacking side by side, the crews exchanging barbed pleasantries. Tenacious went out to sea, following the rhumb line in light air toward the tip of Long Island Tide ran up the coast, reaching for thermals that never developed. Turner arrived in Newport hours ahead of Tide. Van Metre, gracious in defeat, bought dinner for the entire Tenacious crew, but Turner didn't stay around long enough to eat it.

They still talk about those days aboard Tide. It was all so much fun, before Turner lost interest and sold his boat. Van Metre should have sold his, too, according to conventional wisdom. Boat design was changing fast, with leaner, lighter, faster hulls that made Tide's swept-back keel look a downright dowdy. Serious--and, of course, rich--ocean racers buy new boats every year, just to keep up Van Metre's yacht was already 10 years old.

But as his investment in Running Tide had grown, so had his affection. "He'll never sell her," says his wife, Joan. "When he dies, he'll want to be put on deck and Tide sent out to sea, like a Viking ship."

Last year, instead of racing in the SORC, Running Tide was delivered to Pilot's Point Marinain Westbrook, Conn., for extensive modifications, a decision that caused speculation in boating circles. Were the Van Metres wasting money on geriatric maintenance? Had Van Metre, a meticulous sailor and dispassionate businessman, succumbed to the old salt's sentimentality, holding onto a boat that could no longer serve him?

Tide's keel was made steeper in front for upwind efficiency--more like the squared-off tip of an airplane wing than the shark's fin it had been--and slimmer for downwind speed. The built-in bunks were torn out, replaced by more, lighter pipe berths --canvas-covered bunks strung on pulleys where crew sleep like stacked cordwood. A new 12-volt electrical system, navigational station and an $8,000 instrumentation system, including a Brookes and Gatehouse Hercules 190 computer, were installed. The Westerbeke diesel engine was overhauled. The cockpit was enlarged, and a bigger wheel installed, to let the helmsman sit further to weather and keep the sails in view. The exterior and interior were painted, and a new rudder attached. The cost: $153,000.

Tide's interior had become Spartan, but much roomier. And overall Tide had lost 4,000 pounds, a serious factor in the equation of balance and responsiveness. She was known to be faster off the mark, but "tender," heeling more easily, which could mean a poorer upwind performance.

"We won't know if the modifications work until we race her," Van Metre said this spring, a few days after Tide returned to Annapolis. The test would be the 1983 Annapolis-Newport race. In the dozen years that Tide had been berthed in Annapolis, she had become the preeminent local race boat, with an illustrious history of wins and near- wins, always well-kept, a credit to the port, a defender of its honors. But Tide had never been first across the line in Newport.

Her chief contender was a local 61-foot yacht named Cayenne, resplendently white, with a taunting red, orange and yellow stripe stem to stern. Cayenne was fast--faster than Tide, according to some--and six years younger. She belonged to Don Tate, an industrialist and able sailor who wore a beard trimmed to his jawline. He bought the boat from the Navy, which had received it as a donation from its first owner. Cayenne had also been called Gusto, and Guerriere, a seasoned campaigner and a wicked reacher in good air.

Several of Tide's crew had sailed first on Cayenne. Tate used the Swedish watch system--four hours on and four hours off during the day, and six- hour watches at night. He allowed beer-drinking during the race, and an occasional cocktail before dinner. Van Metre allowed no drinking whatever. His watches--three hours on and three off--ran around the clock.

The two owners maintained a friendly if casual association. But the two crews referred to one anothers' boats in disparaging, often scatological terms, all part of the adrenaline pump before any big race. The paid deckhands--three each on Tide and Cayenne--bet 18 cases of Heineken's beer on the outcome of the Annapolis-Newport contest. Cayenne had replaced Tenacious as the boat for Tide to beat.

Two days before the race, the decks of both boats were littered with tools, wires, sail bags, rope and caulking guns. The man responsible for Tide's readiness, John Patterson, 28, had first sailed on Tide when he was 15. He became part of what Van Metre called the "Kiddy Corps"-- eager young sailors willing to scrub the bilge or climb the mast just for a chance to go out. Patterson had grown up on the boat. Now he was captain. Van Metre believed in the concept of executive vice presidents, and Patterson was his executive vice president in charge of maintenance and seaworthiness.

Patterson's wife, Marcie, was pregnant and expected the birth of their second child sometime during the race. "If the baby's born while we're at sea," Van Metre said, "I'll relax my regular rule and we'll all have a glass of champagne." Meanwhile, Patterson was having shackles welded, and attending to the provisions required by the Race Committee. An inspection team with a clipboard could visit Tide at any time.

The committee had chosenboating circ Cayenne as the "scratch" boat, meaning she had the highest rating and the best chance of being first across the line in Newport. The race was due to start at noon on Saturday, and late Friday afternoon the skippers gathered in the auditorium of the Naval Academy for a briefing about rules and the weather. Van Metre, wearing his habitual yellow sweater, chinos and New Balance tennis shoes, sat and listened to the bad news: a high-pressure system was anchored over the eastern United States, which meant light and variable winds--and maybe no wind at all. Tide had traditionally performed best in a heavy seaway light air favored smaller, lighter, newer boats.

Van Metre skipped the cocktail party after the briefing, and returned to dockside. He wanted to see the new headsail from North Sails, expected for delivery at any moment. The crew was busy onloading food for the race.

He boarded his 71-foot motor yacht, Silver Seas, moored next to Tide. It has three staterooms and a captain's quarters, and is taken every winter to Fort Lauderdale, where thMetres use it as a second home. Van Metre poured some Gallo Mountain Chablis over ice, and sat down at a broadn the salon. He said the weather forcast disappointed him, and that he worried about the overall performance of the new Running Tide: "I'd feel a lot better if ould test that new sail."

He sipped the wine, gazing at the drawbridge through which the boat would pass in a few hours, on its way to NeIf we can't get Tide sorted out by the SORC," he said, "we'll grind her up and make beer cans." CAPTION: Pictures 1, Beau Van Metre, 36, is an instinctive sailor who isn't interested in high-tech sailing. Picture 2, The 61-foot, 5,200 pound aluminum sloop Running Tide tacks down the Chesapeake Bay at the start of the Annapolis-to-Newport race. The sail on the left is the new Mylar genoa, a stitched headsail that cost $8,000. Picture 3, The tailor and crew members work together to keep the sails tight against the wind. When the tailor calls, "trim," sails are cranked in, and speed is maintained.

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

It is an ancient mariner
And he stoppeth one of three.
--"By thy long grey beard and glittering eye,
Now wherefore stoppest thou me?

The bridegroom's doors are opened wide,
And I am next of kin
The guests are met, the feast is set:
Mayst hear the merry din."

He holds him with his skinny hand,
"There was a ship," quoth he.
"Hold off! unhand me, grey-beard loon!"
Eftsoons his hand dropped he.

He holds him with his glittering eye--
The wedding-guest stood still,
And listens like a three-years' child:
The mariner hath his will.

The wedding-guest sat on a stone:
He cannot choose but hear
And thus spake on that ancient man,
The bright-eyed mariner.

"The ship was cheered, the harbour cleared,
Merrily did we drop
Below the kirk, below the hill,
Below the lighthouse top.

The sun came up upon the left,
Out of the sea came he!
And he shone bright, and on the right
Went down into the sea.

Higher and higher every day,
Till over the mast at noon--"
The wedding-guest here beat his breast,
For he heard the loud bassoon.

The bride hath paced into the hall,
Red as a rose is she
Nodding their heads before her goes
The merry minstrelsy.

The wedding-guest he beat his breast,
Yet he cannot choose but hear
And thus spake on that ancient man,
The bright-eyed mariner.

"And now the storm-blast came, and he
Was tyrannous and strong
He struck with his o'ertaking wings,
And chased us south along.

With sloping masts and dipping prow,
As who pursued with yell and blow
Still treads the shadow of his foe,
And forward bends his head,
The ship drove fast, loud roared the blast,
And southward aye we fled.

Listen, stranger! Mist and snow,
And it grew wondrous cold:
And ice mast-high came floating by,
As green as emerald.

And through the drifts the snowy clifts
Did send a dismal sheen:
Nor shapes of men nor beasts we ken--
The ice was all between.

The ice was here, the ice was there,
The ice was all around:
It cracked and growled, and roared and howled,
Like noises in a swound!

At length did cross an albatross,
Thorough the fog it came
As if it had been a Christian soul,
We hailed it in God's name.

It ate the food it ne'er had eat,
And round and round it flew.
The ice did split with a thunder-fit
The helmsman steered us through!

And a good south wind sprung up behind
The albatross did follow,
And every day, for food or play,
Came to the mariners' hollo!

In mist or cloud, on mast or shroud,
It perched for vespers nine
Whiles all the night, through fog-smoke white,
Glimmered the white moon-shine."

"God save thee, ancient mariner!
From the fiends, that plague thee thus!--
Why lookst thou so?" "With my crossbow
I shot the albatross.

The sun now rose upon the right:
Out of the sea came he,
Still hid in mist, and on the left
Went down into the sea.

And the good south wind still blew behind,
But no sweet bird did follow,
Nor any day for food or play
Came to the mariners' hollo!

And I had done an hellish thing,
And it would work 'em woe:
For all averred, I had killed the bird
That made the breeze to blow.
Ah wretch! said they, the bird to slay,
That made the breeze to blow!

Nor dim nor red, like God's own head,
The glorious sun uprist:
Then all averred, I had killed the bird
That brought the fog and mist.
'Twas right, said they, such birds to slay,
That bring the fog and mist.

The fair breeze blew, the white foam flew,
The furrow followed free
We were the first that ever burst
Into that silent sea.

Down dropped the breeze, the sails dropped down,
'Twas sad as sad could be
And we did speak only to break
The silence of the sea!

All in a hot and copper sky,
The bloody sun, at noon,
Right up above the mast did stand,
No bigger than the moon.

Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.

Water, water, everywhere,
And all the boards did shrink
Water, water, everywhere,
Nor any drop to drink.

The very deeps did rot: O Christ!
That ever this should be!
Yea, slimy things did crawl with legs
Upon the slimy sea.

About, about, in reel and rout
The death-fires danced at night
The water, like a witch's oils,
Burnt green, and blue and white.

And some in dreams assured were
Of the spirit that plagued us so
Nine fathom deep he had followed us
From the land of mist and snow.

And every tongue, through utter drought,
Was withered at the root
We could not speak, no more than if
We had been choked with soot.

Ah! wel-a-day! what evil looks
Had I from old and young!
Instead of the cross, the albatross
About my neck was hung.

There passed a weary time. Each throat
Was parched, and glazed each eye.
A weary time! A weary time!
How glazed each weary eye,
When looking westward, I beheld
A something in the sky.

At first it seemed a little speck,
And then it seemed a mist
It moved and moved, and took at last
A certain shape, I wist.

A speck, a mist, a shape, I wist!
And still it neared and neared:
As if it dodged a water sprite,
It plunged and tacked and veered.

With throats unslaked, with black lips baked,
We could nor laugh nor wail
Through utter drouth all dumb we stood!
I bit my arm, I sucked the blood,
And cried, A sail! a sail!

With throats unslaked, with black lips baked,
Agape they heard me call:
Gramercy! they for joy did grin,
And all at once their breath drew in,
As they were drinking all.

See! see! (I cried) she tacks no more!
Hither to work us weal
Without a breeze, without a tide,
She steadies with upright keel!

The western wave was all aflame.
The day was well nigh done!
Almost upon the western wave
Rested the broad bright sun
When that strange shape drove suddenly
Betwixt us and the sun.

And straight the sun was flecked with bars,
(Heaven's mother send us grace!)
As if through a dungeon grate he peered
With broad and burning face.

Alas! (thought I, and my heart beat loud)
How fast she nears and nears!
Are those her sails that glance in the sun,
Like restless gossameres?

Are those her ribs through which the sun
Did peer, as through a grate?
And is that woman all her crew?
Is that a Death? and are there two?
Is Death that woman's mate?

Her lips were red, her looks were free,
Her locks were yellow as gold:
Her skin was as white as leprosy,
The nightmare Life-in-Death was she,
Who thicks man's blood with cold.

The naked hulk alongside came,
And the twain were casting dice
'The game is done! I've won! I've won!'
Quoth she, and whistles thrice.

The sun's rim dips the stars rush out:
At one stride comes the dark
With far-heard whisper, o'er the sea,
Off shot the spectre bark.

We listened and looked sideways up!
Fear at my heart, as at a cup,
My lifeblood seemed to sip!
The stars were dim, and thick the night,
The steersman's face by his lamp gleamed white
From the sails the dews did drip--
Till clomb above the eastern bar
The horned moon, with one bright star
Within the nether tip.

One after one, by the star-dogged moon,
Too quick for groan or sigh,
Each turned his face with ghastly pang,
And cursed me with his eye.

Four times fifty living men,
(And I heard nor sigh nor groan)
With heavy thump, a lifeless lump,
They dropped down one by one.

Their souls did from their bodies fly--
They fled to bliss or woe!
And every soul, it passed me by,
Like the whizz of my crossbow!"

"I fear thee, ancient mariner!
I fear thy skinny hand!
And thou art long, and lank, and brown,
As is the ribbed sea-sand.

I fear thee and thy glittering eye,
And thy skinny hand, so brown."--
"Fear not, fear not, thou wedding-guest!
This body dropped not down.

Alone, alone, all, all alone,
Alone on a wide wide sea!
And never a saint took pity on
My soul in agony.

The many men, so beautiful!
And they all dead did lie:
And a thousand thousand slimy things
Lived on and so did I.

I looked upon the rotting sea,
And drew my eyes away
I looked upon the rotting deck,
And there the dead men lay.

I looked to heaven, and tried to pray
But or ever a prayer had gushed,
A wicked whisper came, and made
My heart as dry as dust.

I closed my lids, and kept them close,
Till the balls like pulses beat
For the sky and the sea, and the sea and the sky
Lay like a load on my weary eye,
And the dead were at my feet.

The cold sweat melted from their limbs,
Nor rot nor reek did they:
The look with which they looked on me
Had never passed away.

An orphan's curse would drag to hell
A spirit from on high
But oh! more horrible than that
Is the curse in a dead man's eye!
Seven days, seven nights, I saw that curse,
And yet I could not die.

The moving moon went up the sky,
And nowhere did abide:
Softly she was going up,
And a star or two beside--

Her beams bemocked the sultry main,
Like April hoar-frost spread
But where the ship's huge shadow lay,
The charmed water burnt alway
A still and awful red.

Beyond the shadow of the ship,
I watched the water snakes:
They moved in tracks of shining white,
And when they reared, the elfish light
Fell off in hoary flakes.

Within the shadow of the ship
I watched their rich attire:
Blue, glossy green, and velvet black,
They coiled and swam and every track
Was a flash of golden fire.

O happy living things! No tongue
Their beauty might declare:
A spring of love gushed from my heart,
And I blessed them unaware:
Sure my kind saint took pity on me,
And I blessed them unaware.

The selfsame moment I could pray
And from my neck so free
The albatross fell off, and sank
Like lead into the sea.

Oh sleep! it is a gentle thing,
Beloved from pole to pole!
To Mary-Queen the praise be given!
She sent the gentle sleep from heaven,
That slid into my soul.

The silly buckets on the deck,
That had so long remained,
I dreamt that they were filled with dew
And when I awoke, it rained.

My lips were wet, my throat was cold,
My garments all were dank
Sure I had drunken in my dreams,
And still my body drank.

I moved, and could not feel my limbs:
I was so light--almost
I thought that I had died in sleep,
And was a blessed ghost.

And soon I heard a roaring wind:
It did not come anear
But with its sound it shook the sails,
That were so thin and sere.

The upper air bursts into life!
And a hundred fire-flags sheen,
To and fro they were hurried about!
And to and fro, and in and out,
The wan stars danced between.

And the coming wind did roar more loud,
And the sails did sigh like sedge
And the rain poured down from one black cloud
The moon was at its edge.

The thick black cloud was cleft, and still
The moon was at its side:
Like waters shot from some high crag,
The lightning fell with never a jag,
A river steep and wide.

The loud wind never reached the ship,
Yet now the ship moved on!
Beneath the lightning and the moon
The dead men gave a groan.

They groaned, they stirred, they all uprose,
Nor spake, nor moved their eyes
It had been strange, even in a dream,
To have seen those dead men rise.

The helmsman steered, the ship moved on
Yet never a breeze up-blew
The mariners all 'gan work the ropes,
Where they were wont to do
They raised their limbs like lifeless tools--
We were a ghastly crew.

The body of my brother's son
Stood by me, knee to knee:
The body and I pulled at one rope,
But he said nought to me."

"I fear thee, ancient mariner!"
"Be calm, thou wedding-guest!
'Twas not those souls that fled in pain,
Which to their corses came again,
But a troop of spirits blessed.

For when it dawned--they dropped their arms,
And clustered round the mast
Sweet sounds rose slowly through their mouths,
And from their bodies passed.

Around, around, flew each sweet sound,
Then darted to the sun
Slowly the sounds came back again,
Now mixed, now one by one.

Sometimes a-dropping from the sky
I heard the skylark sing
Sometimes all little birds that are,
How they seemed to fill the sea and air
With their sweet jargoning!

And now 'twas like all instruments,
Now like a lonely flute
And now it is an angel's song,
That makes the heavens be mute.

It ceased yet still the sails made on
A pleasant noise till noon,
A noise like of a hidden brook
In the leafy month of June,
That to the sleeping woods all night
Singeth a quiet tune.

Till noon we silently sailed on,
Yet never a breeze did breathe:
Slowly and smoothly went the ship,
Moved onward from beneath.

Under the keel nine fathom deep,
From the land of mist and snow,
The spirit slid: and it was he
That made the ship to go.
The sails at noon left off their tune,
And the ship stood still also.

The sun, right up above the mast,
Had fixed her to the ocean:
But in a minute she 'gan stir,
With a short uneasy motion--
Backwards and forwards half her length
With a short uneasy motion.

Then like a pawing horse let go,
She made a sudden bound:
It flung the blood into my head,
And I fell down in a swound.

How long in that same fit I lay,
I have not to declare
But ere my living life returned,
I heard and in my soul discerned
Two voices in the air.

'Is it he?' quoth one, 'Is this the man?
By him who died on cross,
With his cruel bow he laid full low
The harmless albatross.

The spirit who bideth by himself
In the land of mist and snow,
He loved the bird that loved the man
Who shot him with his bow.'

The other was a softer voice,
As soft as honeydew:
Quoth he, 'The man hath penance done,
And penance more will do.'

'But tell me, tell me! speak again,
Thy soft response renewing--
What makes that ship drive on so fast?
What is the ocean doing?'

'Still as a slave before his lord,
The ocean hath no blast
His great bright eye most silently
Up to the moon is cast--

If he may know which way to go
For she guides him smooth or grim.
See, brother, see! how graciously
She looketh down on him.'

'But why drives on that ship so fast,
Without or wave or wind?'

'The air is cut away before,
And closes from behind.

Fly, brother, fly! more high, more high!
Or we shall be belated:
For slow and slow that ship will go,
When the mariner's trance is abated.'

I woke, and we were sailing on
As in a gentle weather:
'Twas night, calm night, the moon was high
The dead men stood together.

All stood together on the deck,
For a charnel-dungeon fitter:
All fixed on me their stony eyes,
That in the moon did glitter.

The pang, the curse, with which they died,
Had never passed away:
I could not draw my eyes from theirs,
Nor turn them up to pray.

And now this spell was snapped: once more
I viewed the ocean green,
And looked far forth, yet little saw
Of what had else been seen--

Like one, that on a lonesome road
Doth walk in fear and dread,
And having once turned round walks on,
And turns no more his head
Because he knows a frightful fiend
Doth close behind him tread.

But soon there breathed a wind on me,
Nor sound nor motion made:
Its path was not upon the sea,
In ripple or in shade.

It raised my hair, it fanned my cheek
Like a meadow-gale of spring--
It mingled strangely with my fears,
Yet it felt like a welcoming.

Swiftly, swiftly flew the ship,
Yet she sailed softly too:
Sweetly, sweetly blew the breeze--
On me alone it blew.

O dream of joy! is this indeed
The lighthouse top I see?
Is this the hill? is this the kirk?
Is this mine own country?

We drifted o'er the harbour bar,
And I with sobs did pray--
O let me be awake, my God!
Or let me sleep alway!

The harbour bay was clear as glass,
So smoothly it was strewn!
And on the bay the moonlight lay,
And the shadow of the moon.

The rock shone bright, the kirk no less,
That stands above the rock:
The moonlight steeped in silentness
The steady weathercock.

And the bay was white with silent light,
Till rising from the same,
Full many shapes, that shadows were,
In crimson colours came.

A little distance from the prow
Those crimson shadows were:
I turned my eyes upon the deck--
O Christ! what saw I there!

Each corse lay flat, lifeless and flat,
And, by the holy rood!
A man all light, a seraph man,
On every corse there stood.

This seraph band, each waved his hand:
It was a heavenly sight!
They stood as signals to the land,
Each one a lovely light

This seraph band, each waved his hand,
No voice did they impart--
No voice but oh! the silence sank
Like music on my heart.

But soon I heard the dash of oars,
I heard the pilot's cheer
My head was turned perforce away
And I saw a boat appear.

The pilot and the pilot's boy,
I heard them coming fast:
Dear Lord in heaven! it was a joy
The dead men could not blast.

I saw a third--I heard his voice:
It is the hermit good!
He singeth loud his godly hymns
That he makes in the wood.
He'll shrieve my soul, he'll wash away
The albatross's blood.

This hermit good lives in that wood
Which slopes down to the sea.
How loudly his sweet voice he rears!
He loves to talk with mariners
That come from a far country.

He kneels at morn, and noon, and eve--
He hath a cushion plump:
It is the moss that wholly hides
The rotted old oak stump.

The skiff boat neared: I heard them talk,
'Why, this is strange, I trow!
Where are those lights so many and fair,
That signal made but now?'

'Strange, by my faith!' the hermit said--
'And they answered not our cheer!
The planks look warped! and see those sails,
How thin they are and sere!
I never saw aught like to them,
Unless perchance it were

Brown skeletons of leaves that lag
My forest-brook along
When the ivy tod is heavy with snow,
And the owlet whoops to the wolf below,
That eats the she-wolf's young.'

'Dear Lord! it hath a fiendish look,'
The pilot made reply,
'I am a-feared'--'Push on, push on!'
Said the hermit cheerily.

The boat came closer to the ship,
But I nor spake nor stirred
The boat came close beneath the ship,
And straight a sound was heard.

Under the water it rumbled on,
Still louder and more dread:
It reached the ship, it split the bay
The ship went down like lead.

Stunned by that loud and dreadful sound,
Which sky and ocean smote
Like one that hath been seven days drowned
My body lay afloat
But swift as dreams, myself I found
Within the pilot's boat.

Upon the whirl, where sank the ship,
The boat spun round and round
And all was still, save that the hill
Was telling of the sound.

I moved my lips--the pilot shrieked
And fell down in a fit
The holy hermit raised his eyes,
And prayed where he did sit.

I took the oars: the pilot's boy,
Who now doth crazy go,
Laughed loud and long, and all the while
His eyes went to and fro.
'Ha! ha!' quoth he, 'full plain I see,
The devil knows how to row.'

And now, all in my own country,
I stood on the firm land!
The hermit stepped forth from the boat,
And scarcely he could stand.

'Oh shrieve me, shrieve me, holy man!'
The hermit crossed his brow.
'Say quick,' quoth he, 'I bid thee say--
What manner of man art thou?'

Forthwith this frame of mine was wrenched
With a woeful agony,
Which forced me to begin my tale
And then it left me free.

Since then, at an uncertain hour,
That agony returns:
And till my ghastly tale is told,
This heart within me burns.

I pass, like night, from land to land
I have strange power of speech
The moment that his face I see,
I know the man that must hear me:
To him my tale I teach.

What loud uproar bursts from that door!
The wedding-guests are there:
But in the garden-bower the bride
And bridemaids singing are:
And hark the little vesper bell,
Which biddeth me to prayer!

O wedding-guest! This soul hath been
Alone on a wide wide sea:
So lonely 'twas, that God himself
Scarce seemed there to be.

Oh sweeter than the marriage feast,
'Tis sweeter far to me,
To walk together to the kirk
With a goodly company!--

To walk together to the kirk,
And all together pray,
While each to his great Father bends,
Old men, and babes, and loving friends
And youths and maidens gay!

Farewell, farewell! but this I tell
To thee, thou wedding-guest!
He prayeth well, who loveth well
Both man and bird and beast.

He prayeth best, who loveth best
All things both great and small
For the dear God who loveth us,
He made and loveth all."

The mariner, whose eye is bright,
Whose beard with age is hoar,
Is gone: and now the wedding-guest
Turned from the bridegroom's door.

He went like one that hath been stunned,
And is of sense forlorn:
A sadder and a wiser man,
He rose the morrow morn.

This poem is in the public domain.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, a leader of the British Romantic movement, was born on October 21, 1772, in Devonshire, England.

A Big Splash By The Kiwis

Originally the scenario was simple: Gather together the financial, technological and spiritual resources of North America and Western Europe, dump them on little old Australia, then snatch the America&aposs Cup and take it back where it belongs, to the Northern Hemisphere, where summer is summer, not Christmas, and a Barbie is a doll, not a backyard grill.

Lately someone&aposs been mucking about with the script. At the end of the second series of races to determine which boat will challenge the Australians for possession of the America&aposs Cup, New Zealand, the poorest and most technologically backward of the six challenging countries, is at the top of the scoreboard, and the gruesome prospect of an all-antipodean America&aposs Cup is beginning to haunt the nightmares of entrepreneurs from California to the Costa Smeralda.

New Zealand&aposs fiberglass 12-meter, known informally as Kiwi Magic, emerged last week from the second round-robin with a perfect record, having beaten the two U.S. giants𠅊merica II from the New York Yacht Club and Stars & Stripes from the San Diego Yacht Club𠅊s well as nine other also-rans. At the end of the October series, New Zealand, America II and Stars & Stripes had been tied for first at 11-1. Under the graduated point system that governs the challenger trials—I point for a win in October, 5 in November and 12 in December—the Kiwis lead the challenger fleet with 66 points. America II, with nine wins and two losses in November, is now second with 56 points, while Stars & Stripes, a boat designed for the high winds and heavy seas typical of the waters off Fremantle during the summer months (December, January and February), lost four races and dropped to third place with 46 points.

In the wildly varied weather and sea conditions that prevailed during the first half of November in Western Australia, New Zealand was the only boat that performed equally well in drifters and gear-busters. She beat USA and America II in fluky four-to 10-knot airs, and Stars & Stripes in a 25-knot nor&aposwester that blew out two spinnakers, incapacitated a mainsail and washed a jib overboard.

"We designed our boat for what we felt to be the average wind here� or 17 knots true," said Tom Whidden, the tactician on Stars & Stripes and a veteran of three Cup campaigns. "If you&aposd told me that we would be sailing 5 races out of 11 in November with our number one [lightest air] jibs up, I would have said you were crazy."

To which Chris Dickson, the cocky 25-year-old skipper of Kiwi Magic, replied, "For those of us who have been here quite some time the weather is doing exactly what it should be doing. Those who haven&apost spent the time and effort sorting it out will be paying the price for it. This month was quite typical and next month, we believe, will be quite typical as well."

Neophyte 12-meter sailors, even boy wonders like Dickson, are not supposed to mouth off. They are supposed to be awed by veterans like Dennis Conner of Stars & Stripes and John Kolius of America II, and when they beat those veterans they are supposed to say things like "It could have gone either way," or "This is a learning experience for us."

Dickson, who has the face of a choirboy and the cold blue eyes of a gunslinger, is not easily awed. It is said he fired his father, Roy, from his job as tactician on Kiwi Magic early in the campaign. Not only has Dickson knocked off the heavyweights of the 12-meter game𠅌onner, Kolius, Tom Blackaller of USA, Harold Cudmore of White Crusader, and Rod Davis of Eagle—he and his syndicate have held their own in the first of the political battles ashore. Stars & Stripes had hardly hit town when Conner proposed that core samples be taken from the hull of Kiwi Magic to determine whether her fiberglass construction met the standards required of aluminum hulls by Lloyd&aposs Register of Shipping.

Conner&aposs contention was that fiberglass construction is a difficult process to control and that even under the supervision of a Lloyd&aposs surveyor, which the Kiwis had had, the weight of the glass might be unevenly distributed through the hull. If such an uneven distribution had occurred, Conner contended, and if that uneven distribution just happened to make the boat heavier in the middle than at the ends, Kiwi Magic would have an unfair advantage because the boat would tend to pitch less.

Conner claimed his concern was for the future of the 12-meter class, but since his concern was directed at fiberglass, and Kiwi Magic was the only fiberglass 12-meter around, the New Zealanders, not unnaturally, felt singled out. Michael Fay, the investment banker from Auckland who heads the syndicate, said, in essence, that Conner would have to take a core sample of him first.

A meeting of the challengers was called, and when the syndicate representatives voted down the Conner proposal, the issue subsided. Nonetheless, no one who remembers the Australia II keel controversy of 1983 thinks the matter is dead for all time. Conner, whom the Western Australian newspapers took to calling Big Bad Dennis, doesn&apost mind donning a black hat where winning sailboat races is concerned.

The Glassgate affair has had the same electrifying effect in New Zealand that Keelgate had in Australia in 1983. Conner has knocked a chip off the national shoulder, and the Kiwis, all 3.3 million of them, are calling for his head. The brewers of New Zealand&aposs best-selling beer, who had already promised the syndicate three cents for every can of Steinlager sold, added fuel to their campaign with a newspaper ad that read "For every can you buy, three cents gets right up Conner&aposs nose." Subtlety, it would appear, is not a Kiwi trait.

Stars & Stripes&apos November slide to third place began the first day of the series when she was beaten by USA, Blackaller&aposs revolutionary double-ruddered 12-meter from the St. Francis Yacht Club in San Francisco. USA had been giving Blackaller trouble during the first series𠅊 matter, he said, of learning her eccentricities. Having beaten his old California rival, Conner, Blackaller was, as the Aussies say, over the moon. "This is a very remarkable boat," he said. "It has a huge burst of speed and we&aposre just beginning to learn to harness it." The learning process continued through the series, however, and USA, 7-4, finished tied with Britain&aposs White Crusader for fifth at 43 points.

The second day of racing began in 25 knots of wind from the northwest that drove squall after squall across the course. The weather, which should have been a gift from heaven for Conner and his heavy-weather Stars & Stripes, was instead a 25th birthday present for New Zealand&aposs Dickson. Soon after the start the wind backed 100 degrees to the southwest, turning a beat into a spinnaker reach. At the erstwhile windward mark, Dickson led by eight seconds in spite of having blown out two spinnakers getting there. By the second weather mark his lead was up to 15 seconds. Conner gained a few seconds on the first reaching leg, but lost them at the mark when his spinnaker flew out of control, nearly causing the boat to broach. Then a wave, crashing across the foredeck, swept a jib overboard, and it dragged through the sea like an anchor for a time. Conner had one last shot at the Kiwis two-thirds of the way up the final beat when New Zealand&aposs mainsail tore away from the mast and slithered down into the cockpit. However, the young Kiwi crew, in a masterly show of seamanship, got the sail back up in record time while Dickson, equally unflappable, continued driving the boat toward the finish line. Not only did New Zealand not lose the race because of her gear failure, she actually gained 28 seconds on that final leg.

After further losses in light air to Cud-more, the wily Irishman who skippers the British entry, White Crusader, and to first-time Cup skipper Terry Neilson on Canada II in a moderate breeze that died, Conner reclaimed his reputation for invincibility, a reputation that persists despite his 1983 loss of the Cup to Australia II. On a day when a frontal system brought steady 24-knot winds and terrifically rough seas, Conner pulled off a convincing 1-minute, 31-second win over America II.

"We were having a little difficulty matching up jibs in front of our main," said Kolius. "We thought we were going pretty good up the first beat, but we tried a different combination up the second beat and if you look at the time difference [48 seconds behind at the first windward mark, 1:57 at the second] it doesn&apost take a Phi Beta Kappa to tell that we won&apost have the particular combination up again."

Decisions in the heat of a race are made at the back of the boat, in the cockpit, where the helmsman, the tactician and the navigator are in constant communication with each other and with the mainsail trimmer and sometimes the port and starboard tailers. The styles of communication in a crisis differ from cockpit to cockpit according to the personality of the helmsman. Cudmore, for instance, is known for the stream of obscenities with which he guides White Crusader through her prestart maneuvers. America II is, ordinarily, a quiet, controlled boat. "Seldom does the back of our boat get excited," said Kolius the day after his loss to Stars & Stripes. "For three or four minutes at the beginning of the third leg we did, and it wasn&apost a good idea."

Almost overlooked amid the excitement brought on by New Zealand&aposs astonishing success and Stars & Stripes&apos early losses was the generally steady performance of America II. Unlike Stars & Stripes, America II was designed to be readily modified for a variety of conditions. In the light airs of October America II was 11-1, losing only to New Zealand. In the mixed conditions of November she was 9-2, losing to Stars & Stripes and a second time to the Kiwis. In spite of the horrendous gap between winner and loser in the Kiwi race (12 minutes, 32 seconds) it really could have gone either way. The race was sailed on an afternoon during which a leftover land breeze fought a slow-building sea breeze to a standstill. Caught, literally, in the middle, Kolius and his crew rounded the first leeward mark, set sail for a southwesterly shift that never arrived and then sat and watched as New Zealand sailed away on the last gasp of the dying easterly. "Hold your noses, men," said Kolius, the wisecracking Texan. "We&aposre in deep——."

America II seems sure to reach the four-boat semifinals in late December, along with New Zealand and Stars & Stripes. The fourth spot is up for grabs. French Kiss, the straight-line speedster from the Sociètè des Règates Rochelaises now in fourth place, will have to hold off White Crusader, USA, Canada II, an improved Italia, and possibly even Eagle from the Newport Harbor (Calif.) Yacht Club to make it to the semis. Heart of America from Chicago, Azzurra, the Aga Khan&aposs poor little rich girl, and the hapless Challenge France from Marseilles, will be home for Christmas. The semis will be run on a best-of-seven basis, with the leader on points facing the No. 4 boat and No. 2 against No. 3 the best-of-seven final to produce the challenger is scheduled to begin Jan. 14, and the Cup defense itself will start Jan. 31.

For the next two weeks every challenger with even a straw to cling to will be working to optimize its boat for December&aposs 12-point round-robin. Changes will be made, some based on careful study, some born of desperation, but every change will be a gamble. As South Australia&aposs Sir James Hardy said early in the defender trials, "It&aposs a bit like stoking a steam engine—you never know which piece of coal will make the whistle blow."

Speaking of the defenders, their second series is almost over. The gold-hulled Kookaburras, II and III, continue to dominate their crosstown counterparts, Australia III and IV. Kookaburra II is giving Alan Bond&aposs No. 1 boat, Australia IV, a run for second place, while Kookaburra III, steered by the brilliant helmsman, designer and syndicate organizer Iain Murray, is leading them all. Unless Bond&aposs boys have something up their sleeves for December, the Kookaburras will be laughing in January.

"Every team will be stronger next month," said Dickson, trying humility on for size. "Sure, we&aposd love to repeat our performance, but the odds are against it." Coming from a sailor who has already beaten the odds up, down and sideways, they were comforting words.

While several other aspirants are barely hanging in there, New Zealand has hiked out to an early lead.

The saga of the cutter NIGHT RUNNER

Keep in mind that this is history as I remember it. That's the best I can do. If you see something that you feel should be corrected, contact me through my website and let me know what it is. I'll contemplate the change. I'd like to be accurate.

The NIGHT RUNNER story begins when I was 16 years old. I would drive down to Shilshole Bay Marina on Sundays for the winter racing series on Sundays. I'd get there early and treat myself to a breakfast at THE LITTLE PEBBLE restaurant. My favorite breakfast was called the Fisherman's Breakfast and took two plates to hold all the food and it was expensive, $3.50. But I would have been paid Saturday night for working at the meat market so I was flush and $3.50 was not going to break me. I was working on my breakfast one Sunday morning when I saw a low freeboard, white, very traditional cutter sail down the waterway. I watched the skipper dock the boat under sail with apparent ease. I was impressed.

I finished eating and walked down to the dock hoping to have a chat with the owner of the cutter. The boat was the AFRICAN STAR, a Bill Atkin design. I think the design is designated TALLY HO in the Atkin archives. This was a very salty boat with a very salty owner. His name was Frank Paine. He was gruff and taciturn. We sort of chatted. He said he was going to do a circumnavigation in the boat. I asked if I could come along. He said he didn't want any crew "That way the cook and crew will get along". I remember him saying exactly that. Then he said, "I'll take you as far as Hawaii." Wow! He suggested we do a "test cruise" together to see if we could get along. I was totally up for that. We arranged to meet on the following Friday night at the boat.

My Dad drove me to Shilshole that rainy Friday night. I had some clothes and a sleeping bag in a black plastic garbage bag. This was back in the day before the docks were locked so I walked down to AFRCAN STAR. No one was aboard and the boat was locked. I sat in the cockpit in the rain. A dodger would have been nice but I had my foul weather gear and boots on so I was a bit cold but ok. After two hours sitting in the rain the novelty of the whole idea was beginning to wear off and I was getting wet. Reluctantly, kind of, I went up to the phone booth and called my dad and asked him to please come and get me. It was a humiliating phone call. My parents were skeptical of everything I did and I was tiring of having my nose rubbed in my failures. But Dad loved me and he drove the hour round trip to get me home and out of the rain. Can't recall the conversation on the ride home.

I never saw Frank Paine again. I made an attempt to get a hold of him but I could not. AFRICAN STAR faded from my imagination. Years later, not sure exactly when, AFRICAN STAR showed up on the PNW racing scene. "I know that boat!" The owner was then Doug Fryer, a Seattle Maritime attorney of some renown. Doug raced AS in just about every race there was. The boat being so traditional, with big, full keel and outboard barn door rudder was slow but it had a generous rating and the word was that if you could see AS the finish, they had beaten you. Doug raced the boat hard and attracted a very loyal crew. Doug's ability to keep a crew together is a function of how much fun he is to sail with. He can be last or he can be first but he is always enjoying the race. Races are finished at the dock with "ritual rums" with 150 proof rum. Doug would explain, "150 proof rum is lighter." I wave wobbled my way down the dock several times after racing with Doug. AFRICAN STAR was a fixture in the PNW racing scene. Doug would later explain to me that Frank Paine had lost AFRICAN STAR in a divorce settlement. I felt bad for the guy. But Doug was happy.

I didn't really know Doug. Of course you tend to meet sailors in the club after the race so I wasn't a stranger to Doug. When the phone rang in the office Sally answered it and said, "It's Doug Fryer Bob". Great. Doug let me know he was considering a new boat, a custom build. More great. Then he went on to tell me just how much he loved Brice King's UNICORN ketch, Not so great. Actually it was a "shitski" moment. But Doug was concerned about the hull shape of UNICORN. UNICORN had a very pronounce bustle aft much like the Ericson 39. Doug has heard the Ericson 39 handled very poorly off the wind and he wondered if I would be interested in redesigning the stern of UNICORN to cure this handling issue. By this point in the conversation I am really depressed. " You want me to "fix" a Bruce King design? No, not interested." "Besides why would you custom build another guy's custom design? That's like using his toothbrush!" Doug's a bit laconic so I suppose there was some dead air on the phone at that point. Then Doug said, "What would you propose?" I suggested he give me a few days and I would do a preliminary design for him. Doug agreed and said he'd be by on Tuesday afternoon, as I recall. I had about 4 days to come up with an idea for a custom 40' boat for Doug Fryer. No problem.

I remember staring at the big sheet of vellum, most probably striking a confident pose to impress the rest of the office. Damn! What to draw? BINGO! Doug loves AFICAN STAR. He should, it's a great looking boat. I'll just draw a 41' version of AFRICAN STAR and put a modern underbody and keel on it. Piece of cake. I think I still have that very first drawing. It was just a sailplan, a "picture" of the boat. Doug showed up mid afternoon on Tuesday. Doug is kind of imposing. He's not tall but he's built like a running back. He has a shiny bald head and a deep baritone voice. He says serious things. He smiles when he talks about boats. He stood there, silently, looking at my sailplan. Finally he looked up, smiled and said, "I like it." I had given him a look that he was very familiar with. It was a smart design move on my part.

O f course, as mentioned, the overall look for NIGHT RUNNER came directly from AFRICAN STAR. But that's just the part you see above the water. I wanted the new NR to be a wolf in sheep's clothing. At the time, 1980, I was pretty full of myself, imagine that. My two tonner HEATHER had been dominant to the point that YACHING magazine credited or blamed HEATHER with 'destroying Class A racing in the PNW". UNION JACK my quarter tonner "mini HEATHER" was unbeatable above and below the border. I was pretty sure then as now that I know how to draw a fast hull. But NR would not be an IOR boat. The gloves were off for this one. For inspiration I looked to the old Uffa Fox International 14 One Design Class. I knew these boats well from my own early dinghy racing days on Lake Washington. I'm not sure why that particular hull came to mind but it did. I think if you squint a bit you may see some similarities.

The bow is on the full side. I needed a full line to the deck in plan view to get the character I wanted of an old cutter type. The half angle of entry is 22 degrees. That's two degree finer than a Valiant 40. A modern high performance boat might have a half angle of entry of almost half that. The forward sections ate U shaped but there is some deadrise forward. From this deadrise forward I faired into a midsection with no deadrise. I wanted a midsection that was tangent across the centerline, like an old I-14. My reason for this was I wanted to run the wood veneers unbroken across the centerline. Like the old I-14's. We will talk about this feature more later. Bottom line is that NR has a very dinghy like mid section. Once I got to around station 6 I re introduced the deadrise. I have ten degrees of deadrise at the "buttwater" ( opposite of cutwater?) I wanted deadrise aft even if it wasn't the fastest shape. I hate those "suppository" shape transoms and with some deadrise aft I could add a hint of reverse in the transom to give it a pleasant shape. NR's transom is very pretty. This hull was quite a change to the IOR shapes I had been drawing. Funny thing is that I noticed yesterday, looking at the old, original line plan, that I had laid out fwd and aft girth curves. So at some point I must have worked out an IOR rating for NR. Not sure what it was. NR never raced IOR so it doesn't matter. In 2006 NR had a PHRF rating of 76.

I received a note from my buddy Matt who has sailed many ocean and PNW miles on NIGHT RUNNER:

Bob, I found an IOR certificate for Night Runner. Back in the day the Vic-Maui required everyone to race under IOR. Doug raced locally under PHRF, she just wouldn't be competitive in IOR. When she raced to Maui she was giving time to boats much larger.

She's a great all around boat, pretty much the same performance as a J-35 upwind (speed and point). She's really good in light air, and trucks downwind, so light on the helm and stable. When we crossed line on the Vic-Maui in 2000, we were in flat water (no help from the waves), wind in the mid 20's and speed around 12. There was quite a trough . But we were pretty happy drinking our rituals from the dog bowls.

Matt just sent me this email (10-4-14)

I think the thing about Night Runner that makes her truly exceptional is she really doesn't have any vices. She stays balanced with a light easy helm in every condition I've experienced. When close hauled and the wind builds, first start out with a little more cunningham and then a flattening reef when you start feeling just a little too much tension in the wheel. Even when there's tension it's not overwhelming, but it's easy to dial out, fast, and feels so nice to have her perfectly balanced again. I mentioned she's about the same speed as a J-35 upwind in breeze, we've dragged raced those guys (back when they were a strong class) and we have essentially the same speed and point. That's not bad company for an old cruising boat.

Downwind she is a dream. We've had her out in blue water with full sized ounce and a half with winds in the low 30's and there's still no crankiness (note: this still doesn't eliminate anxiety in the helmsman). You can get some cross swell that would make other boats squirt off in different directions and Night Runner will just roll it off and continue straight. If you don't want to sail on the edge in these conditions or if it's a little reachy, the reaching chute is the ticket.

She's not the type of boat that's going to roll into the mid teens off a swell or squall. But she keeps a high average speed, not slowing down too much. You know as sailors we are always trying to compare ourselves to the other boats. For the Vic-Maui in 2000 I was talking to one of the other boats about the first nights conditions and they were bragging about how they got the boat up to 19 knots! Hmm, I thought to myself we never touched 13 but we still put 20 miles on you guys the first day (cue smug smile).

That nicely balanced, forgiving boat gives you the confidence to drive hard at night on these ocean races, when there are big gains to be made. She's really stiff too, what with 11000 pounds of lead 8 feet below the boat. I think her RM at one degree is pretty close to 2000 foot pounds.

She's really a blistering boat in light air. I know people aren't going to believe a big heavy boat can do it but she really creates her own wind. I think a lot of it has to do with the big foretriangle and the area that allows, tall rig, momentum to carry through the lulls, and a slippery hull. Our rivalry with Jim Marta was fun, he ended up nicknaming us Lazarus because every time he thought he had us put away we would come clawing back. "Here comes Lazarus" he'd grumble.

Case in point, we were doing my favorite race, Protection Island which is about 90 miles starting from Seattle, heading out past Port Townsend and around Protection Island and home, typically on one of the longest days of the year in June. We had decided to head out into the Straits as night fell to pick up a more consistent breeze. Right next to us was Bandito, a C&C 44. The boats are pretty similar sizewise, the rig heights within a few inches, waterline within a foot, the C&C having an advantage in weight by about 3000 pounds and Night Runner having a longer J dimension. So the breeze is fading fast on a nice sunny evening, we both have our half ounce chutes up reaching as close to the wind as we dare. Unfortunately for Bandito they let their spinnaker collapse and it was game over for them. Last we saw they had a baggy drifter, mast straight up. Doug told Frank Shriver (who was driving) to hold course and nobody trim the sails. We were just dialed in and left them at the whim of the current. We managed to cut Protection Island a little too fine and ran aground. After about 45 minutes of trying to use the spin pole to pry us off and failing at that, we got the boat spun around enough that we could hoist a chute to heel us over and get us off. We got around the island finally and headed home, about two hours later we saw the second place boat, I think it was a Santa Cruz 50, still heading out to the Island. That was a pretty epic race, I think we finished about three or fours ahead of everybody else despite the reef detour, and all on account of her light air performance.

Don't believe me about the light air performance? How about Swiftsure, Sunday morning in the light air coming home. We walked past a Cookson 12 meter by at least a knot that morning. Light air performance is pretty nice in the open ocean too, you'll never see jerry jugs lashed to the rail on Night Runner when she's out passage making. That's for candy asses as Doug would say.

I know Doug and Bob go back and forth about Night Runners forward sections, I think they had some pretty animated discussions during the design. Bob thinks they could have been fined up. It would sure help reduce the upwind resistance. But Doug points to the dry foredeck when we've got the full sized spinnaker in 30 knots and there's no worry about going down the mineshaft and thinks he's right. Where do I land on this? I think of Vic-Maui 2000, when I actually drove the boat hard enough that about a whole bucketful of water came over the stem. Once. In a 2300 mile race. And the crew commented on it like it was some incredulous thing. So I say yes a little finer. But not too much Bob, it's nice to have some margin when it's dark and windy and you're cold and beat and not on your best game.

So I've been waxing about Night Runners wonderful sailing characteristics but I would be remiss not to mention that the few times when something has gone wrong, any of the crew turned from atheists to believers in short order. We broached during a Smith Island race once (when the replacement skeg, which wasn't faired very well, stalled). It was a nasty broach, we were in the midst of starting to gybe and Doug called to release the sheets. Well since we had both sheets and guys loaded for the gybe, we had about a 50% chance of releasing the wrong one and we did. The sheets flew and wrapped around the shrouds at the first spreader so we were kind of stuck. I was holding onto the shrouds and standing on the mast, the spin pole came down the track at about 100 miles an hour and pieces of hardware went flying everywhere. The mast end of the pole started back up, spinnaker collapsing and refilling, pole slamming on the end stop again and again. Helm unresponsive and we're going deck first through the water at about three knots (that's hull speed when oriented that direction). Now that 2000 foot pounds at one degree of heel gets to a be a little more when you're at 90 degrees, the boat is totally loaded up. I got a little nervous when it occurred to me that if the shroud broke it could be bad for my survival, so I decided to drop down to the lee side (underneath the angry spinnaker pole) and haul the number 3 back onboard. I don't remember how long we spent that way until we came back up, but we were a little sheepish the rest of the way. I have a lot of respect for boats with lots of righting moment as a result.

I'll leave with one last vision of Night Runner sailing, the first couple days of Vic_Maui 2000. We have a moderate westerly, slight haze in the air, close reaching SSW on the rhumb line with a jibtop and genoa staysail underneath. Three to four foot swells nicely spaced, she's totally dialed in doing 7.5 to 8 knots, two finger helm pressure and just sliding over the seas for about a day and half. That was fourteen years ago and I relive it like it happened yesterday. Pretty much a perfect sail in a perfect boat.

Yes, I did give NR a skeg hung rudder. I was still big on skegs back then. I also think that considering Doug was coming off the mother of all full keelers, AFRICAN STAR, a spade rudder would have been a hard sell. I honestly don't remember discussing it. When, many years later cruising up the coast of Mexico the skeg feel off Doug called me and asked for some drawings so they could get it rebuilt. I asked him how the boat handled without the skeg. He said, "Better."

NIGHT RUNNER has gone through three keel mods. Originally the boat drew 7'. A couple years later we added a 12" deep timber shoe to increase the draft. A couple years after that the wooden keel shoe was replaced with the same volume of lead and that amount of lead was removed from the top of the keel and a timber spacer was put in place. The fin is a NACA A010-12 foil in the middle of the span tapering down with the same half breadths towards the root and tapering up with the same half breadths towards the tip. In other words at any waterline, at any chord location, say 40%, the thickness of the foil would be the same. This had worked well on HEATHER and UNION JACK. My thinking was that a fin stalls first at the tip so why not have a fatter foil there. And, with the hull providing an end plate of sorts at the root why not have a thinner foil there? I was very scientific.

The rig was designed to have that old cutter look with a big foretriangle for carrying genoa and staysail. The J of 22' is a bit excessive and I probably should have moved the mast forward or shortened the bowsprit but the resultant look might have been a bit odd. Short tacking NR with that huge 150%+ genoa was a bit of a chore. But the boat went to weather fine and loved a good power reach.

The interior layout was based on Doug's requirements and has port and starboard pilot berths and a nice galley. I used an indented, offset companionway to open up some room in the aft cabin where I tucked in a double berth for Doug. This worked very well but with that companionway moved forward of the aft end of the cabin trunk a dodger is impossible. At the 30 year anniversary party for NR I talked to Doug's wife and she complained about not having a dodger. I told her that I could fix that easily with a nice new 50' version of NR. She said she had suggested that to Doug but his response had been, " They will have to carry my dead and lifeless body off NR before I get rid of it," Damn! I always dreamed of a 50' ULDB version of NR.


Arriving in Marseille in 1874, the not quite 17-year-old Joseph Conrad was to have been looked after by a Pole who sailed in French ships, but the sailor was temporarily away and ship pilots became Conrad's first instructors in sailing. He grew to love the Mediterranean, "the cradle of sailing." [6] Conrad, who became a professional sailor, never learned to swim.(Najder 2007, p. [ page needed ] )

After two months at Marseilles, on 15 December 1874 Conrad, just turned seventeen, began his first sea voyage—as a passenger in a small barque, the Mont-Blanc, which reached Saint-Pierre, Martinique, in the Caribbean, on 6 February 1875. During the ship's return passage to Marseilles (31 March – 23 May) he may have been a crew member. His objectives for this maiden voyage were probably to promote his health and give him a closer look at sailors' work. A month later, on 25 June, he again left in the Mont-Blanc, now as an apprentice, arriving at Saint-Pierre on 31 July. After visiting several other Caribbean ports, the ship returned to France, arriving on 23 December at Le Havre. [7]

In 1875 Conrad spent seven months at sea. This did not seem to have stirred his enthusiasm for the seaman's profession. He gave himself six months' rest from the sea, socializing and spending in excess of the generous allowance that he received from his maternal uncle, Tadeusz Bobrowski. The uncle indulged his nephew's financial demands but sent him lengthy letters of reproof that included his usual criticisms of Conrad's improvident paternal line. [8] [note 4]

On 10 July 1876 Conrad sailed for the West Indies as a steward (at a salary of 35 francs, equivalent to one-fifth the allowance he received from his uncle) in the barque Saint-Antoine, making Saint-Pierre on 18 August. The first mate was a 42-year-old Corsican, Dominique Cervoni, who would become a prototype for the title character of Conrad's Nostromo: "In his eyes lurked a look of perfectly remorseless irony, as though he had been provided with an extremely experienced soul and the slightest distension of his nostrils would give to his bronzed face a look of extraordinary boldness. This was the only play of feature of which he seemed capable, being a Southerner of a concentrated, deliberate type." The Saint-Antoine, after visiting Martinique, St. Thomas and Haiti, returned on 15 February 1877 to Marseilles. [10]

In his novel The Arrow of Gold, Conrad alludes to smuggling "by sea of arms and ammunition to the Carlist detachments in the South [of Spain]." This apparently involved Dominique Cervoni. Conrad's first biographer, Georges Jean-Aubry (1882–1950), built on this allusion a tale about Cervoni and Conrad smuggling arms to a Central American republic. The pre-eminent Conrad chronicler and scholar Zdzisław Najder (born 1930) is skeptical about the story and surmises that Conrad "might have heard. stories [about gun-running] from the experienced Cervoni." [11]

In December 1877 it transpired that, as a foreigner and Russian subject, Conrad could not serve on French ships without permission from the Russian consul. And since Conrad was liable for military service in Russia, there was no chance of obtaining the consul's consent. [12] In consultation with his uncle, "it was decided that he should join the English Merchant Marine where there are no such formalities as in France". [13]

Conrad later described, in his essay collection The Mirror of the Sea (1906) and his novel The Arrow of Gold (1919), having, during his stay in Marseilles, smuggled arms to Spain for the Carlist supporters of Carlos de Borbón y de Austria-Este, pretender to the Spanish throne. Najder finds this, for a variety of reasons, virtually impossible. If Conrad did participate in running contraband to Spain, it likely would have involved something other than weapons. But in the two books written three and four decades later, he embellished his memories, probably borrowing from past adventures of Marseilles friends. To admit that his illicit activities had been conducted for profit would have conflicted with the position that he wished to occupy in literature. And attempts to track down the reality behind his accounts are complicated by Conrad's habit of using some external characteristics, and often the names, of actual people but of furnishing them with different life histories (as in the cases of Almayer, Lingard, Jim, and Kurtz). [14] Najder writes:

A careful reading of "The Tremolino" and The Arrow of Gold reveals that the whole Carlist plot is a sideline, an ornament that does not affect the course of action its only function seems to be to glamorize and idealize smuggling. Two elements overlap in these books: the author's own recollections, modified in many respects, of the years 1877 and 1878, and his knowledge of Carlist activities and supporters in 1874 through 1876 they may prove more authentic taken separately than taken together. [15]

Another Marseilles legend concerns Conrad's great love affair. The story is described only in The Arrow of Gold, a pseudo-autobiographical novel whose chronology is at odds with the documented dates in Conrad's life. [16]

On 10 June 1878 Konrad Korzeniowski set foot on English soil for the first time, at Lowestoft, having arrived on the small British steamer Mavis, which he had boarded on 24 April 1878 at Marseilles. He had probably joined the ship not as a crew member but as an unofficial apprentice. It is not clear whether he had been on board during the Russian leg of its itinerary, which would have been hazardous for the Tsar's Polish subject. He still planned to return to France and enlist in the French navy. A conflict with Captain Samuel William Pipe prompted Conrad to leave the ship. He departed for London, where he quickly went through half his ready cash. Appealing to his uncle, he received additional funds, along with a long letter exhorting him to "think for yourself and fend for yourself. don't idle learn, and don't pretend to be a rich young gentleman. If you have not secured yourself a position by the age of 24, do not count on the allowance. I have no money for drones and I have no intention of working so that someone else may enjoy himself at my expense. " [17]

Conrad returned to Lowestoft and on 11 July 1878 signed on to a coastal coal schooner, the Skimmer of the Sea. He won popularity with the crew by bearing the cost of entertainment and treats, not paid out of his shilling-a-month ordinary seaman's earnings (the lowest permissible) but out of his uncle's allowance, 160 times higher. "In that craft I began to learn English from East Coast chaps, each built as though to last for ever, and coloured like a Christmas card." Having made three voyages to Newcastle upon Tyne and back in the Skimmer, after only 73 days, on 23 September, Conrad left the schooner. [18]

On 15 October 1878, in his first genuine service at sea, Conrad sailed in the clipper ship Duke of Sutherland on his longest voyage till then, around the Cape of Good Hope to Australia, arriving on 31 January 1879 at Sydney Harbour. [20] He gained knowledge of local conditions and even of the slang, revealed later in his short story "To-morrow". It was then that he became acquainted with the works of Flaubert, through Salammbô, and read a one-volume edition of Shakespeare. In Sydney—Bobrowski wrote Buszczyński—Conrad met a captain famous for his knowledge of Maritime Southeast Asia. The unnamed captain may have become a partial prototype of Tom Lingard in Almayer's Folly, An Outcast of the Islands and The Rescue, whose namesake Conrad never met. The Duke of Sutherland left Sydney on 6 July 1879 on its homeward voyage, and Conrad arrived in London on 19 October. [21]

Having evidently for the moment lost desire for long-distance voyages, on 11 December 1879 Conrad enlisted as an able-bodied seaman in the iron steamer Europa. The next day the ship departed for Genoa, Naples, Patras and Palermo, returning to London on 29 January 1880. Soon after, Conrad met George Fountaine Weare Hope, an ex-merchant-service officer, then director of a London commercial firm. This was apparently Conrad's first close contact in England and it developed into a long-lasting friendship. [22]

Urged on by his uncle, Conrad applied to take the examination for second mate in the British Merchant Marine. Applicants were required to document at least four years' service at sea. In reality, he had served only seventeen months. But, armed with a document from Delestang that amplified his period in French service, and giving augmented figures for his British service, he signed a declaration of his statements and of the enclosed documents, risking indictment in the event that the fraud were discovered. He attended a cram course for the examination and passed it on 28 May 1880, aged 22. [23]

Second mate

On 21 August 1880 Conrad enlisted as third mate on an iron clipper ship, the Loch Etive. The next day the ship left London, arriving in Sydney on 24 November. The return voyage began on 11 January 1881. In The Mirror of the Sea (1906) Conrad would give a story, of uncertain basis, relating to this voyage—the rescue of the crew of a Danish sailing ship. The Loch Etive arrived in London on 25 April 1881. There Conrad's allowance from his uncle awaited him: 46 pounds for six months—over twice his earnings on the Loch Etive. [24]

While waiting to enlist for another voyage, Conrad again engaged in some kind of disastrous speculation, which cost him at least his entire half-yearly allowance. This probably gave rise to a fantastic story, with which he regaled his uncle in a letter of 10 August 1881, about an accident aboard the clipper Annie Frost (with which Conrad had no link), loss of luggage, and several days spent in hospital. [25]

Conrad had trouble finding a berth as second mate. Eventually he signed on to a small, rickety old barque, the Palestine, for a voyage to Bangkok at pay of 4 pounds a month. From 15 October 1881 uncle Bobrowski was to send him only half the previous allowance, rounded up to 50 pounds a year—slightly over his new, highest salary to date. The Palestine was manned by three officers and ten hands and commanded by 57-year-old Captain Elijah Beard. Conrad was not too pleased with his new appointment. The Palestine left London on 21 September 1881 and, after a stop at Gravesend, sailed north on 28 September. Due to gales, the passage to Newcastle upon Tyne took 22 days. [26]

Conrad later described his adventures on the Palestine, renamed Judea, in his short story "Youth" (1898), which he was to call "a feat of memory" and "a record of experience." Though he preserved the names of the captain and first officer, and though the general course of events and many details correspond with the facts, as usual a number of things are creations of Conrad's imagination. Thus, there is no documentary evidence of a collision with a steamship at Newcastle the story's hero is four years younger than Conrad there was only one attempt, not several, to leave Falmouth, Cornwall, as the ship was continuously under repair and there are other, more striking discrepancies. [27]

The Palestine, carrying a cargo of coal, left Newcastle for Bangkok on 29 November 1881. Crossing the English Channel, she met strong gales, lost a mast, and started to leak. On 24 December she returned to Falmouth, Cornwall, for repairs. Conrad nevertheless decided to keep his berth, probably in order to obtain the certificate of service as second officer. [28]

Finally after nine months, on 17 September 1882, after leaving London, the Palestine sailed from Falmouth for Bangkok, Siam (Thailand). Conrad was, for the first time, fully in charge of a four-man watch—an important step forward in an officer's advancement. The ambiguous status of a novice second mate on a small barque such as the Palestine required him to be tough and strong-minded, especially in front of the sailors. The passage was slow, uneventful, monotonous, until 11 March 1883, when, in the Bangka Strait between Sumatra and Bangka Island, a smell resembling paraffin oil was noted. Next day, smoke was discovered issuing from the coals water was thrown on them. On 13 March, four tons of coals were thrown overboard and more water poured down the hold. On 14 March, the hatches not being battened down, the decks blew up fore and aft. The vessel headed for the Sumatra shore, and the Somerset took it in tow. The fire increased rapidly, and the Somerset declined to tow the barque on shore. The vessel became a mass of fire, and the crew got off into three boats, which remained by the vessel until the morning of 15 March 1883. That evening the boats arrived at Muntok. [29]

In his story "Youth", Conrad dramatized the accident, stretching it out in time and space and giving a different reason for parting with the towing steamer. In the story, the parting seems very risky in reality, the disaster took place near shore. And the boats did not steer for Java, to the east of Sumatra, but toward the port of Muntok on Bangka Island, off the east coast of Sumatra. Indeed, Richard Curle's 1922 identification of Muntok as the port where the story's hero experienced his first fascinating encounter with the exotic East revealed the story's greatest exaggeration: the boats could reach shore in some dozen hours, with no need to "knock about in an open boat" for "nights and days". Conrad had also forgotten, after all those years, that he had three, not two, sailors with him in his boat. But the most interesting discrepancy between story and reality consisted in Conrad's extolling the crew as "Liverpool hard cases", whereas in fact there was not a single Liverpudlian in the crew, and half were non-Britons. [30]

The Palestine’s Irish first officer, H. Mahon, described him to Conrad's friend George Fountaine Weare Hope as "'a capital chap,' a good Officer, the best Second Mate he had ever shipped with." [31] Conrad officially signed off the Palestine on 3 April 1883. While he looked in vain for a job that would enable him to sail back to Europe, he explored Singapore's harbor district, which would be the scene for many of his pages. Eventually he returned to England as a passenger on a steamer, reaching London by the end of May. [32]

The 25-year-old Conrad and his uncle Bobrowski looked forward to a repeatedly postponed meeting, to take place in Kraków nevertheless, Bobrowski again emphasized in a letter that it was important for Conrad to obtain his British naturalization: "I should prefer to see your face a little later. as that of a free citizen of a free country, rather than earlier. as that of citizen of the world. It is really a matter of your looking after your own best interests." In any case, the plans had to be changed due to the uncle's stomach troubles and rheumatism. They finally met—for the first time in the five years since Conrad's 1878 suicide attempt in Marseilles—in July 1883 at Marienbad in Bohemia then on 12 August they left for Teplice, likewise in Bohemia, where Conrad stayed two more weeks. Their meeting appears to have been pleasant. Bobrowski's correspondence became more affectionate and friendly, with fewer admonitions the prevailing mood became one of intimate understanding. Conrad's own letters from the period, to his uncle and to Stefan Buszczyński, in Najder's words, "allow. one to dispense with an occasionally advanced hypothesis that when [Konrad] left [Poland] he wanted to break once and for all with his Polish past." [33]

On 10 September 1883 Conrad signed on as second mate on the mainly Scandinavian-crewed British clipper Riversdale. The ship sailed from London on 13 September 1883, arriving on 6 April 1884 at Madras, India. There Captain Lawrence Brown McDonald, a Scot who kept the ship's officers at a distance and treated them "as machines, to be worked by himself when and as he pleased," suffered some kind of "attack" which Conrad described to the physician whom he fetched, as alcoholic inebriation. After Captain McDonald learned, from the steamer captain who had accompanied Conrad, how Conrad had represented McDonald's condition, on 15 April 1884 McDonald dismissed Conrad, with a less than satisfactory certificate, issued on 17 April 1884. The episode seems to have subsequently inspired some of Conrad's scathing literary depictions of sea captains. [34] [note 5] A court of inquiry later judged McDonald responsible for the subsequent stranding of the Riversdale, which would eventually enable Conrad to take his examination for first mate (the Marine Board having initially delayed accepting his application, put off by McDonald's certificate). [36]

Leaving the Riversdale, Conrad took a train to Bombay, where on 28 April he signed on as second mate of the clipper Narcissus, immortalized 13 years later in the title of his first sea novel, The Nigger of the 'Narcissus' (1897). The ship sailed for London on 5 June 1884. Thought to have been the original of the title Negro was Joseph Barron, aged 35, who died three weeks before the ship reached Dunkirk. Considering that Captain Archibald Duncan had had trouble with his crew only during the southbound passage—the return voyage was uneventful—Conrad seems to have incorporated into his novel the story of crew trouble heard from Duncan. The Narcissus entered Dunkirk on 16 October 1884, and next day Conrad signed off. [37]

Having at last completed the required length of service, Conrad prepared for his first officer's examination. He failed it on 17 November 1884 (he would give no hint of this in A Personal Record, 1912) but, perhaps after coaching by a crammer, passed it on 3 December 1884—over four years after his examination for second mate. [38]

First mate

The years 1885–88 were marked by a fall in demand for new vessels, as the tonnage of individual ships grew berths for officers fell with the number of ships. The challenge for foreign officers was increased by Britons' resentment of the "invasion" of foreigners. "The fact that Conrad always presented his relationship with his English superiors and employers as free of national conflict is no proof," writes Najder, "since he often smoothed out and retouched his past to render it more consistently positive. " [39]

Conrad searched nearly five months before, on 24 April 1885, in Hull, England, finding a berth as second officer aboard the clipper Tilkhurst, the largest sailing ship in which he served. On 10 June the ship, with a cargo of coal, sailed from Penarth, reaching Singapore on 22 September. The crew once again was largely Scandinavian, and, exceptionally, only one crew member left the ship there. Of the captain, Edwin John Blake, a physician's son, Conrad had the most positive recollections of all his commanders—"a singularly well-informed mind, the least sailor-like in outward aspect, but certainly one of the best seamen. it has been my good luck to serve under." The unloading in Singapore ended on 19 October. The Tilkhurst sailed to Calcutta, arriving on 21 November. After taking on a load of jute, the ship began its homeward passage on 9 January 1886. [40]

During his stay in India, 28-year-old Conrad had sent five letters to Joseph Spiridion, [note 6] a Pole eight years his senior whom he had befriended at Cardiff in June 1885 just before the Tilkhurst sailed for Singapore. These letters are Conrad's first preserved texts in English. His English is generally correct but stiff to the point of artificiality many fragments suggest that his thoughts ran along the lines of Polish syntax and phraseology. More importantly, the letters show a marked change in views from those implied in his earlier correspondence of 1881–83. He had departed from "hope for the future" and from the conceit of "sailing [ever] toward Poland", and from his Panslavic ideas. He was left with a painful sense of the hopelessness of the Polish question and an acceptance of England as a possible refuge. While he often adjusted his statements to accord to some extent with the views of his addressees, the theme of hopelessness concerning the prospects for Polish independence often occurs authentically in his correspondence and works before 1914. [42]

Feeling "sick and tired of sailing about for little money and less consideration," Conrad sought Spiridion's advice about the feasibility of engaging in the whaling business—perhaps he hoped to obtain a loan for that purpose from Spiridion and his father. Spiridion later told Jean-Aubry that he dissuaded his young friend from the enterprise. [43]

The Tilkhurst arrived in Dundee on 16 June 1886. Conrad signed off the same day. Two letters from uncle Bobrowski awaited him in London. In one, the uncle wrote: "I deduce from your and [Conrad's business associate Adolf] Krieger's letters [that] you intend to devote yourself to trade and stay in London." He urged Conrad to first pass his ship master's examination and obtain British naturalization. [44]

On 28 July 1886 Conrad failed in his first attempt to pass the master mariner's examination he again never acknowledged this, to his uncle or to the reading public of his A Personal Record. On 10 November, on the second attempt, he passed the master mariner's examination. [45]


On 16 February 1887 he signed on as first mate of an iron barque, the Highland Forest, lying in port at Amsterdam. The ship had a crew of 18, including as many as 14 foreigners. The captain was a 34-year-old Irishman, John McWhir (Conrad gave the same name, with an additional r, to the much older master of the Nan-Shan in the 1902 novel Typhoon). The Highland Forest left Amsterdam on 18 February and ran into strong gales. By Conrad's account, some spars were carried away, and a piece of one struck and injured him. On 20 June the ship reached Semarang, Java, and Conrad signed off on 1 July. Next day he boarded the steamship Celestial, disembarking on 6 July at Singapore, where he went for treatment to the European Hospital Conrad would describe it in his 1900 novel Lord Jim, whose hero had likewise been injured by a falling spar. [46]

The first mate of the SS Celestial, which had brought Conrad to Singapore, was Frederick Havelock Brooksbank, son-in-law of the then well-known merchant and sailor William Lingard, prototype of Tom Lingard in Almayer's Folly (1895), An Outcast of the Islands (1896) and The Rescue (1920). Conrad never met William Lingard but heard much about him, mainly from Lingard's nephews, James and Joshua Lingard. It was probably through Brooksbank that Conrad met James Craig, master of the small steamer Vidar, which made voyages between Singapore and small ports on Borneo and Sulawesi. James (Jim) Lingard had been living for some years as a trading agent on Borneo, at Berau, on the Berau River. On 22 August 1887 Conrad sailed from Singapore in the Vidar as first mate he made four voyages in her: 22 August – 26 September 30 September – 31 October 4 November – 1 December 1887 and the last, ending 2 January 1888. [47]

Apart from the six days at Muntok in 1883, this was Conrad's first opportunity to see the East up close. The Vidar penetrated deep inland, steaming up the rivers. Of the six ports of call, four lay in the country's interior, two as much as 30 miles from the sea. [48]

Against the primeval natural background of lush, insatiable, and putrefying vegetation [writes Najder] the trading posts must have appeared either as foolish challenges to the invincible forces of the tropics, or as pathetic proof of the vanity of human endeavor. [P]articularly grotesque must have been the impression made by white men, who, cut off from their own civilizations, often became alcoholics or hopeless cranks. [F]our such men lived at Tanjung Redeb [on the Berau River, including the Englishman] James Lingard. and a Eurasian Dutchman, Charles William Olmeijer (or Ohlmeijer), who had lived there for seventeen years. [48]

Olmeijer, his name transcribed phonetically as "Almayer", became the protagonist of Conrad's first novel, Almayer's Folly (1895) and a hero of the second, An Outcast of the Islands (1896) he also appears in the autobiographical volume, A Personal Record (1912), where Conrad writes: "If I had not got to know Almayer pretty well it is almost certain there would never have been a line of mine in print." But as Jocelyn Baines observes, "This was paying Almayer too big a compliment because when someone is ready to write there will always be an Almayer to hand." In reality, Conrad did not get to know Olmeijer well at all. As he was to write in March 1917, "[W]e had no social shore connections. [I]t isn't very practicable for a seaman." A few days earlier, he had written his publisher: ". I knew very little of and about shore-people. I was chief mate of the S.S. Vidar and very busy whenever in harbour." Neither the pathetic Almayer of A Personal Record nor the tragic Almayer of Almayer's Folly have much in common with the real Olmeijer. Conrad used the names of people he met, and occasionally their external appearances, in his writings only as aids in creating a fictional world from his reminiscences, books that he had read, and his own imagination. [49]

On 4 January 1888, "J. Korzeniowski," just turned 30, signed off the Vidar at Singapore. For two weeks, while waiting for a ship to Europe, he stayed at the Sailors' Home (for officers only), where he quarrelled with the steward, Phillips, an evangelist and temperance worker and an inspector of brothels—"in short," writes Najder, "a professional do-gooder." Three decades later, Conrad described his stay in The Shadow Line (1917), a novel he termed "not a story really but exact autobiography"—a misleading description, writes Najder, as usual with Conrad's "autobiographical" pieces. [50]

On 19 January 1888, he was appointed captain of the barque Otago and left by steamer for Bangkok, Siam (Thailand), where on 24 January he took up his first command. The Otago, the smallest vessel he had sailed in except for the coaster Vidar, left Bangkok on 9 February. After a three-day stop at Singapore, on 3 March it headed for Sydney, Australia, arriving on 7 May. On 22 May, it left for Melbourne arriving 6 June after a difficult and stormy passage, it stayed at anchor in the Melbourne roadstead till 8 June. After taking on a load of 2,270 bags of wheat, it left for Sydney on 7 July. Arriving five days later, it stayed until 7 August. [51]

The Otago's next voyage, with a cargo of fertilizer, soap and tallow, was to Mauritius, then a British possession east of Madagascar in the southwest Indian Ocean. The ship reached Port Louis on 30 September 1888, setting sail again for Melbourne on 21 November 1888 with a cargo of sugar, arriving on 5 January 1889. [52] The Otago stayed close to the Australian coast. After being towed to Port Phillip Bay and visiting Port Minlacowie in Spencer Gulf, the Otago sailed around the Yorke Peninsula, arriving at Port Adelaide on 26 March 1889. Soon after, Captain Korzeniowski gave up his command. He was, Najder explains, "not a typical seaman. [H]e did not regard his work at sea as permanent. [A]bove all. he had exceptionally wide-ranging interests and cultural needs. Once the first charm of commanding a ship faded, the future writer must have felt the dreariness of sailing in the Antipodes. He must have been oppressed by a sense of being cut off from Europe, deprived of newspapers, books and current news. Even the chances of improving his English were slight: one of his officers in the Otago was a German and the other a Finn. [T]he command of a small barque with a crew of nine could satisfy neither [Conrad's] ambitions nor his needs." [53]

Korzeniowski left Port Adelaide on 3 April as a passenger on the German steamer Nürnberg (listed as "Captain Conrad") and, passing through the Suez Canal, disembarked on 14 May at Southampton, England. [54]

Conrad's success in the British Merchant Navy so far had been modest. He had not been captain or first mate in a large vessel, nor had he worked for a firm of importance. "His foreign origin and looks," writes Najder, "were no help to him." Nor had he reached the highest rank in seamanship at the time (which would be discontinued a century later, in the 1990s), that of Extra Master, which required an additional examination. For the time being, he lived on his savings and a modest income from his share in the firm of Baar, Moering & Company. [55]

In the autumn of 1889 Conrad began writing his first novel, Almayer's Folly. [55]

[T]he son of a writer, praised by his [maternal] uncle [Tadeusz Bobrowski] for the beautiful style of his letters, the man who from the very first page showed a serious, professional approach to his work, presented his start on Almayer's Folly as a casual and non-binding incident. [Y]et he must have felt a pronounced need to write. Every page right from th[e] first one testifies that writing was not something he took up for amusement or to pass time. Just the contrary: it was a serious undertaking, supported by careful, diligent reading of the masters and aimed at shaping his own attitude to art and to reality. [W]e do not know the sources of his artistic impulses and creative gifts. [56]

Conrad's later letters to literary friends show the attention that he devoted to analysis of style, to individual words and expressions, to the emotional tone of phrases, to the atmosphere created by language. In this, Conrad in his own way followed the example of Gustave Flaubert, notorious for searching days on end for le mot juste—for the right word to render the "essence of the matter." Najder opines: "[W]riting in a foreign language admits a greater temerity in tackling personally sensitive problems, for it leaves uncommitted the most spontaneous, deeper reaches of the psyche, and allows a greater distance in treating matters we would hardly dare approach in the language of our childhood. As a rule it is easier both to swear and to analyze dispassionately in an acquired language." Years later Conrad, when asked why he did not write in French, which he spoke fluently, would reply (puckishly?): "Ah. to write French you have to know it. English is so plastic—if you haven't got the word you can make it." [57]

African interlude

With the chances of finding a new job in England seeming slender, Conrad made inquiries on the European Continent. In the first half of November 1889 he traveled to Brussels, Belgium, to meet Albert Thys, the powerful deputy director of the Société Anonyme Belge pour le Commerce du Haut-Congo. Apparently the idea of working in Africa had occurred to Conrad for lack of something else but it probably rekindled his old interest, recently revived by Henry Morton Stanley's expedition to rescue Emin Pasha. Additionally, the work paid better than a command at sea. [58]

After Johannes Freiesleben, Danish master of the steamship Florida, was murdered by Congo tribesmen on 29 January 1890, Conrad was appointed by Thys' company to take his place. On 10 May 1890, at Bordeaux, he boarded the SS Ville de Maceio to begin what Najder calls "the most traumatic journey of his life." [59]

After his November 1889 meeting with Thys, and before departing for the Congo, Conrad had again gone to Brussels, on 5 February 1890, where he made the acquaintance of a distant relative, Aleksander Poradowski, who had emigrated from Poland after the 1863 Uprising, and who died two days after Conrad's arrival. Conrad's meeting with Poradowski's widow Marguerite, née Gachet, would prove an important event in his life. His 42-year-old "aunt", daughter of a French historian who had settled in Belgium, was a writer whose translations from Polish, and her own fiction, mostly based on Polish and Ukrainian motifs, had been published since 1880 in the renowned Revue des Deux Mondes. For probably the first time since childhood, Conrad had come in direct contact with someone actively engaged in literature. [60]

A few days later Conrad had left for Warsaw, arriving on 9 or 10 February and staying until 12 February. Then he made a two-day visit to Lublin to see his relatives Aniela and Karol Zagórski. On 16 February he was driven in a sleigh from Kalinówka railway station to Kazimierówka, visiting his uncle Bobrowski there till 18 April. At social gatherings, Conrad put off some of the participants. One of them recalled: "He answered all questions with a strained politeness, he spoke with concentration and listened carefully but one could not fail to notice his extreme boredom. He spoke with a hint of a foreign accent and occasional bursts of our characteristic borderland intonation." [61] Najder interprets Conrad's demeanor:

An inhabitant of London, the capital of the world's richest and most powerful country, comes to a village in the backwoods of. Ukraine. He is a traveler who has seen a great deal and is. under contract with a huge company, which is supposed not only to profit from trade but also to civilize black Africa. The traveler is a Pole, but without hope that his partitioned motherland will ever become free and unified he is conscious. that in the modern prosperous and open world no one is interested in Polish affairs and very few even know where the country is, and he is aware that to be continually harping on wrongs, suffering, and oppression evokes, at best, pity mixed with repugnance. [62]

En route to the Congo, near Grand-Popo, Benin, Conrad saw a French man-of-war, Le Seignelay, shelling a native camp hidden in the jungle. The incident would acquire symbolic import in Heart of Darkness (1899). [63]

On 12 June 1890 the Ville de Maceio reached Boma, 50 miles up from the Congo River estuary. Next day Conrad boarded a small steamer for Matadi, 30 miles farther up, and five miles below the last navigable point on the lower Congo River before rapids make it impassable for a long stretch upriver—the chief Congo seaport, founded as late as 1879 by Henry Morton Stanley. At Matadi Conrad was held up for 15 days and met Roger Casement, who had already been working several years in the Congo. The diary that Conrad kept uniquely for his first 67 days in the Congo [note 7] shows that he thought very highly of Casement, the future author of a 1904 report on atrocities perpetrated against the native Congolese population, for his own personal profit, by Belgium's King Leopold II. [64] [note 8] [note 9]

It was only on 28 June that Conrad could begin the tedious 230-mile overland trek to the port of Kinshasa, which he completed on 2 August 1890. The steamer Florida, which he was to have commanded, had been seriously damaged and was unfit for sailing. In any case, he could not have taken command immediately on an unfamiliar river next day he boarded the river steamer Roi des Belges (King of the Belgians), commanded by a young Dane, Ludvig Rasmus Koch. [66]

The small, clumsy, noisy river steamer left Kinshasa on 3 August 1890, bound up the Congo River. On the way, over a distance of more than 500 miles, Conrad spotted no more than six villages later, says Najder, Heart of Darkness would "convincingly depict. the threatening atmosphere of isolation." The country, formerly rich, had been entirely ruined by the effects of Belgian colonization. One of the four company officials aboard the steamer was Alphonse Keyaerts, whose name Conrad would appropriate for the character Kayerts in his other African tale, "An Outpost of Progress" (1897). [67]

On 1 September 1890 the steamer reached Stanley Falls (now Kisangani), then an important Congo Free State government center. On 6 September, Conrad was appointed "to take over the command of the SS Roi des Belges. until the recovery of Captain Koch." This, writes Najder, "constitutes the only basis for Conrad's later claim of having commanded a 'steamer.'" The ship probably left Stanley Falls back for Kinshasa on 7 or 8 September. On board was Georges-Antoine Klein, a young Frenchman who had recently been appointed the company's commercial agent at Stanley Falls. On 21 September, Klein, who had been ill with dysentery, died. His name (later changed to "Kurtz") appears in the manuscript of Heart of Darkness otherwise the Frenchman seems not to have had much in common with the novel's character. [68]

It is unknown whether or how long Conrad was in command of the Roi des Belges on the way to Kinshasa. When the ship arrived at Bangala on 15 September 1890, Captain Koch was already back in charge. [69]

Arriving back at Kinshasa on 24 September 1890, Conrad found a letter from Maria Bobrowska, in Poland—the daughter of his uncle Tadeusz Bobrowski's brother, Kazimierz Bobrowski and three letters from Marguerite Poradowska. Conrad wrote Poradowska:

I find everything repugnant here. Men and things, but especially men. The director is a common ivory-dealer with sordid instincts who imagines himself a merchant while in fact he is only a kind of African shopkeeper. His name is [Camille] Delcommune. He hates the English, and I am of course regarded as one. While he is here I can hope for neither promotion nor a raise in salary. I have no vessel to command. [M]ost of all I regret having tied myself down for three years. True, it is hardly likely that I shall last them out. Either they will pick some groundless quarrel with me to send me home. or another attack of dysentery will send me back to Europe, if not into the other world, which would at last finally solve all my troubles! [70]

Najder traces Conrad's conflicts with Delcommune and the other Société Anonyme Belge employees to the "sordid instincts" that motivated Delcommune and the company. "'Unreliable' persons [such as] Korzeniowski. are not admitted to business." Agents were paid high premiums for reducing the costs of obtaining rubber and ivory. Massive deliveries were made compulsory and punitive expeditions, by members of hostile tribes and cannibals, were sent against non-complying natives. For the natives, the enforced deliveries often meant starvation, since they were left with no time to grow and harvest their crops. [71]

On 26 September 1890 Conrad left Kinshasa by canoe for Bamou, 30 miles down-river, to get wood cut for the construction of the local station. There he fell ill with dysentery and fever. On 19 October he wrote his uncle Bobrowski from Kinshasa that he was unwell and intended to return to Europe. By 4 December he was back at Matadi. It is not known when and on what ship he returned to Europe. In late January 1891 he appeared in Brussels on 1 February he was in London. His letters do not mention his recent experiences he apparently wanted only to forget. As would be suggested in Heart of Darkness (1899), Conrad was aware how close he had been to himself becoming one of the European despoilers of Africa. His experiences there reinforced his mistrust of human nature. [72]

Conrad's African experience made him one of the fiercest critics of the "white man's mission." It was also, writes Najder, his most daring and last "attempt to become. a cog in the mechanism of society. By accepting the job in the trading company, he joined, for once in his life, an organized, large-scale group activity on land. Until his death he remained a recluse. and never became involved with any institution or clearly defined group of people." [73]

Return to the British marine

Conrad spent some months at loose ends and apparently depressed. On 14 November 1891, he decided to step down in rank and accept a berth as first mate in the passenger clipper ship Torrens. Seven days later the ship left London for Australia, on the way picking up passengers at Plymouth. [74]

It was possibly the finest ship ever launched (1875) from a Sunderland yard. For fifteen years (1875–90), no ship approached her speed for the outward passage to Australia. On her record-breaking run to Adelaide, she covered 16,000 miles (26,000 km) in 64 days. Conrad writes of her: [75] [76] [77]

A ship of brilliant qualities – the way the ship had of letting big seas slip under her did one's heart good to watch. It resembled so much an exhibition of intelligent grace and unerring skill that it could fascinate even the least seamanlike of our passengers.

It was the first time Conrad had served on a passenger boat, and it provided opportunities for social contacts with members of the educated class Conrad made his first acquaintances with Englishmen who were not seamen. During four long voyages in the Torrens Conrad enjoyed a much more cultivated atmosphere than on any ship he had previously served on. [78]

After a calm passage of a hundred days, on 28 February 1892 the Torrens arrived in Adelaide. Conrad spent over a month in Australia. While he was there, a letter from his Uncle Bobrowski informed him that Conrad's cousin Stanisław Bobrowski had been accused, in essence, of social propaganda with "a tint of [Polish] nationalism" and had been jailed in the same Warsaw Citadel where Conrad's father had once been held. [79]

On 10 April 1892 Conrad left Adelaide in the Torrens and, after 145 days, with stops at Cape Town, South Africa, and Saint Helena, on 2 September arrived in London. He stayed there almost two months, undecided about his future. He would have liked to have had a ship's command, but that did not seem possible. [80]

On 25 October 1892 he left London again aboard the Torrens. Sea voyages were then considered a health cure, especially for tuberculosis two convalescing passengers died on the way. Another, William Henry Jacques, a consumptive Cambridge graduate who died less than a year later (19 September 1893), was, according to Conrad's A Personal Record, the first reader of the still-unfinished manuscript of Almayer's Folly, and Jacques encouraged Conrad to continue writing the novel. After a passage of 97 days, on 30 January 1893, the Torrens arrived at Port Adelaide. Writing to Poradowska, Conrad complained of "the uniform grey of my existence" and expressed nostalgia for cultivated life and the broad intellectual interests of his correspondent's milieu. [81]

When the Torrens left Adelaide on 13 March 1893, the passengers included two young Englishmen returning from Australia and New Zealand: 25-year-old lawyer and future novelist John Galsworthy and Edward Lancelot Sanderson, who was going to help his father run a boys' preparatory school at Elstree. They were probably the first Englishmen and non-sailors with whom Conrad struck up a friendship. The protagonist of one of Galsworthy's first literary attempts, "The Doldrums" (1895–96), the first mate Armand, is obviously modeled on Conrad. At Cape Town, where the Torrens remained from 17 to 19 May, Galsworthy left the ship to look at the local mines. Sanderson continued his voyage and seems to have been the first to develop closer ties with Conrad. On 26 July 1893 the Torrens docked at London, and "J. Conrad Korzemowin" (per the certificate of discharge) had, without knowing it, completed his last long-distance voyage as a seaman. [82]

In London, letters awaited him from his Uncle Tadeusz Bobrowski, who was in poor health. They discussed Conrad's prospective visit to the uncle and informed Conrad of the trial of his cousin Stanisław Bobrowski—sentenced to 18 months' imprisonment, not counting over a year spent under arrest, and sent to a St. Petersburg prison. [83]

Conrad resigned from the Torrens, probably because he had lost hope of succeeding his friend W.H. Cope as its captain, and possibly because he was tired of the sailor's profession. He left for Ukraine most likely in early August 1893 and remained with his mentor-uncle at Kazimierówka for over a month. He wrote Poradowska that he had spent five days ill in bed, "nursed [by Uncle Tadeusz] as if I were a little child." She, in a letter, made something of a jealous scene over Maria Ołdakowska, a niece of her late husband Aleksander Poradowski who was getting married. [84]

Najder writes that a graph of Conrad's sailing career would be "a broken line, but one that climbs between 1874 and 1889. The expedition to Africa stops this upward climb and marks the beginning of a steady. decline. After three years the captain is back to being only second mate, and in a ship going nowhere." That ship was the 2,097-ton steamer Adowa (named for a historic town in Ethiopia), which was to carry emigrants from France to Quebec. Conrad signed on in London on 29 November 1893. On 4 December the Adowa put in at Rouen. She was expected to leave 9 December for La Rochelle and from there for Quebec City, but passengers failed to materialize—the French showed no eagerness to join in the late-19th-century waves of emigration to the New World—and the steamer remained idle in France. Writing Poradowska, Conrad considered the possibility of a job as a pilot on the Suez Canal. Bored at Rouen, he there began work on chapter 10 (of the 12 chapters) of Almayer's Folly. He wrote Poradowska jokingly how he was taken at the post office for a bomb-carrying anarchist France was then the scene of many acts of violence, including bombings. [85]

On 10 January 1894 the Adowa left Rouen for London. On 17 January 36-year-old "J. Conrad" disembarked and unknowingly ended his service at sea. [86]

Six months later, as one of 176 witnesses, he testified before the Board of Trade's Departmental Committee on the Manning of Merchant Ships. He stated that the Adowa was not sufficiently manned, but considered the manning of the Skimmer of the Seas, the Otago and the Torrens satisfactory. Conrad departed from the truth in reporting the length of his service and posts held. He maintained that he had spent 18 months on the Congo River "in command of a steamer," when in fact he had spent only six weeks on the Congo he also added three months to his command of the Otago, and claimed that he had made two voyages to Mauritius and two passages through Torres Strait he lengthened his service in the Torrens by three months and he alleged that he had made a transatlantic voyage in the Adowa. He was silent about his service in French ships, and about all his Continental European connections generally. [87]

In fact, during the 19 years from the time that Conrad had left Kraków in October 1874 until he signed off the Adowa in January 1894, he had worked in ships, including long periods in ports, for 10 years and almost 8 months. He had spent just over 8 years at sea—9 months of this as a passenger. [88]

He had served as a crew member (steward, apprentice, able-bodied seaman) for over two and a half years (21 months of that at sea) as third mate, 8 months as second mate (his longest service), almost 4 years (only two and a half years of that at sea) as first mate, two years and three months (two years of that at sea) as captain, one year and two months (half of that at sea). Of his nearly 11 years at sea, 9 months were in steamers. [88]

A bequest from Conrad's uncle and mentor, Tadeusz Bobrowski (who had died on 1 January 1894)—which bequest Conrad, typically, would soon manage to lose—for the moment made it easier for him to retire from the sea and devote himself to a literary career. [89]

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