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Extract (Tradition)

"Only 150 Miles Off"

in The Poverty Bay Herald (Poverty Bay, New Zealand) No. 14617 (May 29, 1918): (Page imagery not yet available)

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Mr. Joseph Conrad thus describes in the Daily Mail a great act of bravery and devotion on the part of men of our magnificent mercantile marine :-

It is the story of a certain steamship travelling from Lerwick to Iceland and torpedoed on the way.

'. . . . The ship went down in less than four minutes. The captain was the last man on board, going down with her, and was sucked under. On coming up he was caught under an upturned boat to which five hands were clinging. "One lifeboat," says the chief | engineer, "which was floating empty in the distance was cleverly manoeuvred to our assistance by the steward, who swam off to her pluckily.


'"Our next endeavor was to release the captain, who was entangled under the boat. As it was impossible to right her, we set to to split her side open with the boat hook, because by awful bad luck the head of the axe we had flew off at the first blow and was lost. The work took thirty minutes, and the extricated captain was in a pitiable condition, being badly bruised and having swallowed a lot of salt water. He was unconscious. While at the work the submarine came to the surface quite close and made a complete circle around us, the seven men which we counted on the conning tower laughing at our efforts.

'There were eighteen of us saved. I deeply regret the loss of the chief officer., a, fine fellow and a kind shipmate, showing splendid promise. The other men lost -- one A.8., one greaser, and two firemen -- were quiet, conscientious good fellows.

'With no restoratives m the boat, I they endeavored to bring the captain round by means of massage. Meantime the oars were got out in order to reach the Faroes, which were about 30 miles dead to windward, but after about nine hours' hard work they had to desist, and, putting out the sea-anchor, they took shelter under the canvas boat coyer from the cold wind and torrential rain. Says the narrator: 'We were all I very wet and miserable, and decided I to have two biscuits all round. Theeffects of this and being under the shelter of the canvas warmed us up, and made us feel pretty well contented. At about sunrise the captain showed signs of recovery, and by the time the sun was up he was looking a lot better, much to our relief.'

'After being informed of what had been done the revived captain "dropped a bombshell in our midst" by proposing to make for the Shetlands, which were only 150 miles off. "The wind is in our favor," he said. "It will take you there. Are you all willing?" This -- comments the chief engineer -- "from a, man who but a few hours had been hauled back from the grave!" The captain's confident manner inspired them, and they all agreed.

"Under the best possible conditions a boat run of 150 miles in the North Atlantic and in winter weather would have been a feat of no mean merit, but in the circumstances it required a man of uncommon nerve and skill to make such a proposal. With an oar for a mast and the boat-cover cut down for a sail they started on their dangerous journey, with the boat compass and the stars for their guide. The captain's undaunted serenity buoyed them all up against despondency. He told them what point he was making for. It was Ronas Hill -- and we struck it straight as a die.

The chief engineer commends also the ship steward for the manner in which he made the little food they had last, the cheery spirit he manifested, and the great help he was to the captain by keeping the men in good humor, that trusty man had his hands cruelly chafed with the rowing "but it never damped his spirits."

STRAIGHT AS A DIE. 'They made Ronas Hill (as straight os a die), and- the chief engineer cannot express the feeling of gratitude and relief they all experienced when they set their feet on the shore. He praises the unbounded kindness of the people in Hillswick. 'It seemed to us all like "Paradise Regained,"' he said, concluding his letter with the words: --

"'And there was our captain, just his usual self, as if nothing had happened, as if bringing the boat that hazardous journey and being the means of saving 18 souls was to him an everyday occurrence.'

"Such is the chief engineer's testimony to the continuity of the old tradition of the sea, which made by the work of men, has in its turn created for them their simple ideal of conduct.'"

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