Friday, 4 April 2014

Lost in the Pacific (III)

This is just one of a series of around fifty old newspaper articles that I have been reading. I have been researching from old newspapers and magazines. Covering the last 200 years or so of life on the inland waterways. With particular interest in the major issues of the day that were effecting the canals. The most active periods for evaluation and change, has always been just prior, during and shortly after the two world wars. It should be remembered that between the wars the ownership of some of the canals changed hands as the railway companies bought up the waterways to get reduce competition. What is not clear is the effect this early form of asset stripping had on the viability of the inland waterways. Its good to take a look back at what people were saying and doing in the past. Most surprising of all are some of the problems that beset the canals back then - are still prevalent today. Reading old newspapers can throw up some rather interesting stories. Here is what we would call today a public interest story.

Caveat: Some of the articles are difficult to read and even using modern electronic  scanning and text conversion methods. The odd punctuation, word or character may have been transcribed in error. 



The following morning I breakfasted early. Most of the personnel of the camp came down to the water's edge to see me off and wish me good luck. Among them was a fellow named Morrison. I was actually in the act of pulling up my anchor when Morrison called to me. Where are your colours, he shouted out. Aren't you going to fly your country's flag? I hadn't even thought of it, I replied. I don't think this boat is much of a credit to the Stars and Stripes on a voyage such as I'm attempting. With that Morrison darted away to the camp, and presently returned with an American flag about eight feet long, rolled up on a stick. This he tossed into my boat from the shore with the exclamation. Here, hoist this on your pole it may bring you luck. Had I known then that Morrison's Bag was to be the means of literally snatching me from the jaws of death, I should probably have remained in, the Pearl Islands and taken the consequences. 

There was scarcely a breath of air stirring, and the sea was like a pane of glass as I pulled up my anchor, gave the motor a spin, and went "put-put-putting" out of the bay with the men on shore waving their hats and cheering. With no wind I had no use for the sail, so laying my coarse north-north-west by the compass. I gave the motor the full throttle and headed out to sea according to my chart, in the direction of Chepillo Island. Chepillo is a small islet inhabited by native Panamanian Indians, and lying about ten miles off the eastern mainland coast of Panama near the mouth of the Republic's biggest river the Rio Bayano. It was some sixty, miles from the Pearl Islands to Chepillo and I thought that I should have little difficulty in reaching it before the usual, morning breezes sprang up to roughen the sea. If I got to Chepillo safely I could then skirt the coast of Panama, keeping just far enough away from the shore to avoid the breakers, and should then have only about thirty miles more to do, before I rounded the breakwater into balboa Bay. I could certainly get to Chepillo before nightfall, and if the worst came to the worst, could land on the island that night and go on to Balboa the next day.

About two hours after leaving the camp the low lying shoreline of the island of Rey. The largest of the Las Perias group had slipped below the horizon There I were no waves on the sea just long low swells over which my boat, which I had nicknamed the King tut-tut, slipped along easily, scarcely dipping her bow in the slightest. By nine o'clock I had lost sight of the last outpost of land among the Pearl Islands, and Chepillo Island was somewhere over the horizon ahead. I kept my eye on the compass, and the little boat forced steadily ahead. about three o'clock that afternoon I'd sight Chepillo, I reckoned. Noon came, and I saw a big, four-masted schooner on the horizon off my starboard bow, I took a look at her with my glasses and made out that she was becalmed. 

My interest in the sailing vessel was finally overwhelmed by my desire for food, so I set the tiller handle with the compass and broke out my box of stores, withdrawing two hard-boiled eggs, a couple of sandwiches, some bananas, and a vacuum bottle full of hot coffee. After eating, I took a drink of water from one of the breakers, put on my amber spectacles to shield my eyes from the glare of the sun and the reflections of the tropical sea, and then I settled down at the tiller for the rest of the afternoon, never stopping, except once about every two hours to refuel and fill the grease-cups of the faithful little motor. 

True to my hopes and calculations, the palm-fringed shores of Chepillo Island began to protrude above the horizon about three o'clock in the afternoon. With the sight of land my spirits soared high. I felt that my venture was half won and I that the rest of the trip would he easy. But alas! "The best laid schemes o' Mice an' men, gang aft agley." I was within five miles of Chepillo Island, contemplating that within another hour I'd be ashore, when all of a sudden, without the slightest warning, the glassy surface of the vast ocean swells became a vast pool of fish scaled ripples from a violent gust of wind. 

(Continued in part IV) 

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