It was well that I was, for to be pitched out of your bunk on to wet oil-cloth is a disheartening beginning to a day. This happened about eight o’clock. The yacht was pitching violently, and I crawled on all fours into the cabin, where Davies was setting out breakfast on the floor.
‘I let you sleep on,’ he said; ‘we can’t do anything till the water falls. We should never get the anchor up in this sea. Come and have a look round. It’s clearing now,’ he went on, when we were crouching low on deck, gripping cleats for safety. ‘Wind’s veered to nor’-west. It’s been blowing a full gale, and the sea is at its worst now–near high water. You’ll never see worse than this.’
I was prepared for what I saw–the stormy sea for leagues around, and a chaos of breakers where our dream-island had stood–and took it quietly, even with a sort of elation. The Dulcibella faced the storm as doggedly as ever, plunging her bowsprit into the sea and flinging green water over her bows. A wave of confidence and affection for her welled through me. I had been used to resent the weight and bulk of her unwieldy anchor and cable, but I saw their use now; varnish, paint, spotless decks, and snowy sails were foppish absurdities of a hateful past.
‘What can we do to-day?’ I asked.
‘We must keep well inside the banks and be precious careful wherever there’s a swell. It’s rampant in here, you see, in spite of the barrier of sand. But there’s plenty we can do farther back.’
We breakfasted in horrible discomfort; then smoked and talked till the roar of the breakers dwindled. At the first sign of bare sand we got under way, under mizzen and head-sails only, and I learned how to sail a reluctant anchor out of the ground. Pivoting round, we scudded east before the wind, over the ground we had traversed the evening before, while an archipelago of new banks slowly shouldered up above the fast weakening waves. We trod delicately among and around them, sounding and observing; heaving to where space permitted, and sometimes using the dinghy. I began to see where the risks lay in this sort of navigation. Wherever the ocean swell penetrated, or the wind blew straight down a long deep channel, we had to be very cautious and leave good margins. ‘That’s the sort of place you mustn’t ground on,’ Davies used to say.
In the end we traversed the Steil Sand again, but by a different swatchway, and anchored, after an arduous day, in a notch on its eastern limit, just clear of the swell that rolled in from the turbulent estuary of the Elbe. The night was fair, and when the tide receded we lay perfectly still, the fresh wind only sending a lip-lip of ripples against our sides.