The Wreck at Juan Fernandez, Part 4
My other nerve-racking experience occurred on the Adriatico, a three-masted schooner of 250 tons. She put into Juan Fernandez on her way from Corral to Valparaiso, in order to ship copper bolts, etc., resulting from the wreck of the Upper Hammoc, which Fonck had purchased. She had also to pick up three horses I was taking to the mainland. Timmie, her captain, was a Dane, and a real good sort. He let me have a nice big cabin all to myself. I couldn’t help noticing, however, that no Plimsoll mark was visible. I took him to task about this. “Oh, that’s all right,” he said, “look at the glass. The weather is beautiful, and will continue so, at any rate, until we reach Val.” I allowed myself to be persuaded against my better judgment; so, with the help of Larson and his men, I hoisted my horses on board. At the same time I shipped a cargo of 300 ferns. Timmie said Fonck wouldn’t charge any freightage for them, but the horses cost me £18.
We started on July 21, with a fair wind and a good sea. The Adriatico bowled along at a fine pace. Timmie was in high spirits. He expected to do the journey in five days, so he said. All went well for forty-eight hours, and then our troubles began. First we were becalmed for a matter of five days. After that the weather broke, and seemed to be blowing up for a storm. Two days later we were in the thick of it. Lashed into a fury, the waves rose mountains high all round our devoted barque. The wind blew a full gale, and every now and then rain fell in biting squalls.
Said I to the skipper, “Timmie, old man, your craft looks like coming a mucker.” “What makes you say that?” he inquired. “Because,” I continued, “she goes like a log, and don’t give and take to the motion of the waves.”
“Hang presentiments!” replied Timmie, “I don’t like them. All the same, there is something in what you say; the boat lies just like a log. Maybe she has sprung a leak.”
With that he left me, and went to take soundings. An hour passed before he returned, and said, “Let’s go into the saloon.” When we got there he produced some whisky and Apollinaris, and poured out two glasses of the mixture. Then he pointed to his chart. “Here we are,” he said, “260 miles from the mainland, and the boat is making water fast. All hands are at the pumps, including the cook, and I myself am relieving the man at the wheel. Now, will you busy yourself making Bovril, tea, cocoa, sandwiches and other things, and hand them round to the pumpers? That is our only chance. We must keep them going, or we are beat.” Needless to say, I willingly complied.
Three hours later he told me the water was gaining on the pumps, and he felt sure the boat could not keep afloat more than twenty hours at longest. In all probability, her fate and ours would be sealed in another twelve. We were only making six knots an hour. God alone can save us now,” he said. “No boat could live in this raging sea.” So we turned to the Almighty, and prayed to Him fervently several times that night. I have no doubt whatever that He answered our prayers; for, although the glass continued to go down, by about seven o’clock the next morning the storm abated, and the sea subsided. Within a few short hours the weather was as nice as one could wish. Timmie and I and the sailors thanked the Lord for all His mercies, and felt like new men.
Timmie steered for the nearest land, intending to beach the vessel on the sandy coast ere the wind got up again. When, however, we got abreast of the lighthouse, about forty miles from Valparaiso, they signalled us, and sent a tug to escort us in. One of the owners of the Adriatico came aboard. He was in a sad state of mind, and greatly agitated. He begged me not to report our vessel’s shortcomings to the Port Captain. If I did so his firm would be ruined. I took him severely to task, and told him they had evidently cared not a rap what became of Timmie and those who travelled with him. To send the vessel to sea in an unseaworthy state was a shameful act, and deserving of drastic punishment. This dressing down quite broke him up, and he became so abject in his pleading, that I really felt almost sorry to see a fellow-man so abased. I reflected, too, that we had been shown great mercy, hence it was up to me to be not over hard. So, after extracting his solemn promise that nothing of the sort should ever occur again, I said I would let the matter drop. When the affair had blown over a little while, Timmie visited me at my stables in Vina del Mar. He said he had been offered a much larger ship, but had made up his mind to retire, and take on a job as master of a tug. I told him I didn’t blame him. Subsequently he was appointed Government Surveyor of ships, and he and his wife often spent an afternoon with me at my stables, when I was training for Penny, Subercasieux and others. We neither of us forgot our thrilling experience, and never met without some reference to the extraordinary manner in which the storm had subsided, when everything, including the glass, seemed to indicate that it would increase in volume.
My loss on this trip was a big one. Three hundred pounds worth of ferns had to be chucked overboard, and two of my horses died within a couple of days of being landed. Strange to say, the surviving horse was the least robust of the three. When he had recovered from the effect of the voyage, I sold him to the Tramway Company for £20.