Uncle Robinson

Chapter III

First moments—The storm—Flip’s encouragements—They head toward the reefs—Aspect of the coast—Driven by the waves—Among the breakers—Flip uneasy—Landfall.

Worthy Flip reached the boat a few fathoms away 1. Then skilfully and with perfect equilibrium he raised himself into the boat without tipping it. His clothes stuck to his body but that hardly bothered him. His first words were:

“Don’t be afraid, my young lads, it is I!”

Then, speaking to Mrs. Clifton:

“We’ll pull out of this together. We must be steadfast.”

Then, speaking to Marc and Robert:

“Come and help me, my charming lads!”

Assigning a task to each, he hoisted the sail with the help of the two boys. He tightened the halyard 2, held the sail aft, took to the helm, and moved the boat close-hauled so as to approach the coast in spite of the contrary wind, but profiting from the rising tide.

Worthy Flip encouraged everyone in his small world, speaking with a confidence which came naturally to him, reassuring the mother, smiling at the children and watching over every motion of the boat. Nevertheless, he knit his brow, his lips contracted and an involuntary terror seized him when he saw the fragile boat, the coast still eight or ten miles in the distance, the unfavorable wind, and the threatening clouds above the horizon. He rightly said to himself that if they did not make landfall with this tide, they would perish!

After having asked again about her absent father, the young girl fell asleep again in her mother’s arms, her brother also in slumber. The two older boys were active with the frequent tacking maneuvers. The unfortunate Mrs. Clifton thought of her husband separated from her and at the mercy of the mutineers. Her eyes filled with tears which fell on her children. She thought of the miserable fate that awaited them on this unknown coast, deserted perhaps, and perhaps inhabited by a cruel race! And yet they must land there or perish. In spite of her moral courage, she was left overwhelmed, unable to control her distress or give an example of courage or resignation. At each moment in the midst of her sobbing, the name Harry escaped from her lips.

But Flip was there. Mrs. Clifton pressed the hand of this brave man more than once. She said to herself that heaven would not abandon them since this devoted companion, this humble friend, was by her side.

During the trip on board the Vancouver, Flip had always exhibited great sympathy to her children, often taking pleasure in playing with them. Yes! the unfortunate woman said all that to herself but after looking again at the immense extent of the sea, more tears escaped from her eyes and sobs from her chest. Her head inclined on her hands and she remained inert, unconscious and overwhelmed.

At three o’clock in the afternoon, land showed itself distinctly, but it was at least five miles windward of the boat. Clouds were rising rapidly. The sun was setting in the west making the clouds appear still darker. The sea sparkled in places contrasting with the somber aspect of the sky. All these symptoms were frightening.

“Certainly,” murmured Flip, “certainly, all this is bad. If I had a choice, I would choose better. Between a warm house with a good chimney and this boat, I would not hesitate, but I do not have a choice!”

At this moment a strong wave struck the boat crosswise covering it with water. Marc, standing in front, was struck by this wave and shook his head like a drenched dog.

“Good, Master Marc, very good Master Marc! It is only a bit of water, the good water of the sea, well salted! It cannot harm you!”

The skilful sailor moved his boat a bit to keep clear of the stronger waves. Resuming his monologue, he spoke to himself as usual, with these serious conjectures.

“If we were on land,” he said to himself, “on this deserted land, instead of battling the waves in this nutshell, if we had a nice grotto to shelter us, that would be better, without doubt. But we are not there yet. We are on this sea that only wants to show us its rough character and we must endure it if we don’t know how to avoid it.”

The wind then blew with renewed violence. From afar they could see the breeze making a white foam on the ocean’s surface, a liquid flowing above the large undulations. The boat then inclined to an alarming degree, which made the brave sailor knit his brow.

“Still,” he resumed his thought, “since we have neither a house nor a grotto, still if we found ourselves on board a really solid vessel, well decked and able to resist the waves, we would have nothing to complain about. But no! Nothing but some fragile planks! However, as long as they don’t break up, there’s nothing to say. But, since this wind is so strong, this is not the time to control the sail with a rope!”

In fact, it became urgent to reduce sail immediately. The boat leaned over and threatened to fill with water. Flip put it standing into the wind, he unfurled the halyard, and with the help of the two boys, he put his sail on low reef. The boat, now less burdened, behaved better.

“Very well, my lads,” shouted Flip. “Aren’t these sails well designed? See how we fly across the waves! What could be better, I ask you?”

However, they were approaching the coast. Land birds were frolicking in the wind. Swallows and sea gulls swirled around the boat uttering sharp cries. Then, rising on an updraft, they flew away.

The coast did not seem inviting. The land seemed arid and savage. There was not a tree and no vegetation brightened the background. It seemed made of high granite cliffs with the surf breaking against its base. The jagged rocks certainly made the shore inaccessible. Flip wondered how a boat could make landfall on this tightly enclosed tightly enclosed shore. There was not the smallest break in this curtain of granite. A high promontory, a mile to the south, hid the land behind it. They could not say whether this was a continent or an island. A mountain loomed up in the distance capped with a sharp peak of snow. From the distorted black rocks and the brown lava flows streaking across the mountain, a geologist would have assigned a volcanic origin to this land; he would have recognized it as a product of plutonian action 3. But this was not on Flip’s mind as he searched this gigantic wall for a cove, an opening, any gap whatever to run his boat aground.

Mrs. Clifton lifted her head. She saw this barren land. She could not mistake its savage appearance and her eyes questioned the worthy sailor.

“A delightful shore! A delightful shore!” Flip murmured: “Beautiful rocks! Nature makes grottos with rocks like these, Madam! How comfortable we’ll be once settled in some cavern with a good fire of dry wood and some soft moss to lie on!”

“But can we reach this coast?” Mrs. Clifton asked, casting a desperate look on the furious sea which raged around her.

“How is that! If we will reach it!” Flip responded, while skilfully dodging a large wave. “But look how fast we’re moving! We have a good wind behind us and nothing in front of us, and we’ll run aground in front of these high cliffs. I guarantee that once there we’ll find a small natural port where our boat can take cover! Ah! What an excellent boat! She rose with the waves like a sea gull!”

Flip had barely finished speaking when a formidable wave washed across the entire boat and filled it three quarters with water. Mrs. Clifton screamed. Her two youngest children, suddenly awakened, pressed close to her. The two older boys, clinging to their seats held on when the wave struck them. Flip, with a quick movement of the helm, held the boat steady while shouting:

“Come, Marc, Robert, empty the water, empty the water! The boat! Empty the boat!”

And he tossed the boys his rawhide leather cap which could used in place of a baler. Marc and Robert went to work and quickly emptied the boat.

He threw over his rawhide hat which could take the place of a baler. Marc an Robert went to work and quickly emptied the boat with the help of the hat.

Flip encouraged them with gestures and with his talk: “Good, my lads! Very good! Hey! What an invention these hats are! Real cooking pots. We could boil our soup in them!”

The boat, now relieved, leaped anew over the waves. But the wind was now blowing from the west and it was so violent that Flip had to draw in his sail and tack 4 the boat almost entirely to the end of the yard. The boat presented a small triangle of sail to the wind but that was sufficient.

Also, the coast was rapidly approaching and all its details were becoming distinct.

“A fine wind! a fine wind!” shouted Flip, all the while keeping an eye on the waves at the rear. “How it shifts to our advantage! It could be a little stronger, perhaps! But it will do as it pleases!”

At half past four the shore was barely a mile away. The boat seemed ready to dash against it. At every moment they thought they could touch it, an impression invariably produced when high lands appear submerged.

Soon Marc, who was at the stern, signaled black topped breakers which emerged in the surf. The sea was a foaming white. It was a moment of extreme danger; the boat had only to scrape these rocks and it would be dashed to pieces.

Flip stood up, steering with the helm between his legs. He searched for a passage among the foaming waves and, if he feared that the boat would break up at any moment, he did not let it show. On the contrary!

“These rocks are well designed!” he said. “I would say that these lifebouys mark out a channel! We will pass through, we will pass through!”

The boat flew past the reefs at a frightful speed, the wind driving it headlong against an unbroken coast. Flip skimmed past the foaming rocks but he did not collide with them; he passed over the black patches which marked the shallows without touching them. His sailor’s instinct guided him through these dangers, a marvellous instinct which is superior even to nautical science.

Flip then signaled the two lads to draw in the sail completely. They pressed it around the yard. The boat, driven by the wind, still moved at an excessive speed.

The question of a landing place still remained. Flip saw no opening among these high cliffs, closed tight like a fortified wall. To land at their base with a high sea was impractical. But barely two hundred fathoms separated the boat from the shore. He would have to move further along the coast if he could not land here.

Flip became anxious. While knitting his brows, he looked at this inaccessible land and mumbled some unintelligible words between his teeth. Already, with a tilt of the helm, he had slightly modified the movement of the boat and it changed direction rather than run to shore. But, in this situation, the boat went abeam, shipping water which Marc and Robert emptied with the leather hat.

Flip stood up on his seat. He tried to discover any opening whatsoever, a break in these cliffs, or at least a bit of shore on which to run aground. The tide being high, he could hope to drop the boat on dry sand. But still nothing. Always this high wall rising to a phenomenal height.

Mrs. Clifton also surveyed the shore. She understood the dangers of going aground. She plainly saw that this land, their only refuge, was inaccessible. But she did not dare to speak. She did not dare to question Flip.

Suddenly the sailor became animated and his confidence returned in a flash.

“A harbor!” he simply said.

In fact, a break appeared among the cliffs which seemed to have been separated by some powerful geological effort. The sea thrust into a small cove between the cliffs forming a rather sharp corner. Flip also saw that it was the mouth of a river into which the rising tide flowed.

Flip directed the boat towards the cove’s entrance and, traversing it for a few hundred meters, he gently ran aground on a sandy beach.

  1. A fathom equals 1.60 meters
  2. Rope used to lift a sail
  3. Volcanic, coming from Pluto, god of the underworld.
  4. Place the sail in its lowest position against the strongest wind direction

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Translation Copyright © 2000 Sidney Kravitz
Copyright © Zvi Har’El
$Date: 2007/12/23 17:44:42 $