The Rudder Grangers Abroad and Other Stories HTML version
Derelict: A Tale Of The Wayward Sea
On the 25th of May, 1887, I sat alone upon the deck of the _Sparhawk_, a three-masted
schooner, built, according to a description in the cabin, at Sackport, Me. I was not only
alone on the deck, but I was alone on the ship. The _Sparhawk_ was a "derelict"; that is,
if a vessel with a man on board of her can be said to be totally abandoned.
I had now been on board the schooner for eight days. How long before that she had been
drifting about at the mercy of the winds and currents I did not then know, but I
discovered afterward that during a cyclone early in April she had been abandoned by her
entire crew, and had since been reported five times to the hydrographic office of the Navy
Department in Washington, and her positions and probable courses duly marked on the
She had now become one of that little fleet abandoned at sea for one cause or another,
and floating about this way and that, as the wild winds blew or the ocean currents ran.
Voyaging without purpose, as if manned by the spirits of ignorant landsmen, sometimes
backward and forward over comparatively small ocean spaces, and sometimes drifting for
many months and over thousands of miles, these derelicts form, at night and in fog, one
of the dangers most to be feared by those who sail upon the sea.
As I said before, I came on board the abandoned _Sparhawk_ on the 17th of May, and
very glad indeed was I to get my feet again on solid planking. Three days previously the
small steamer _Thespia_, from Havana to New York, on which I had been a passenger,
had been burned at sea, and all on board had left her in the boats.
What became of the other boats I do not know, but the one in which I found myself in
company with five other men, all Cuban cigarmakers, was nearly upset by a heavy wave
during the second night we were out, and we were all thrown into the sea. As none of the
Cubans could swim, they were all lost, but I succeeded in reaching the boat, which had
righted itself, though half full of water.
There was nothing in the boat but two oars which had not slipped out of their rowlocks, a
leather scoop which had been tied to a thwart, and the aforementioned water.
Before morning I had nearly baled out the boat, and fortunate it was for me that up to the
time of the upset we had had enough to eat and drink, for otherwise I should not have had
strength for that work and for what followed.
Not long after daybreak I sighted the _Sparhawk_, and immediately began to make such
signals as I could. The vessel appeared to be but a few miles distant, and I could not
determine whether she was approaching me or going away from me. I could see no sign
that my signals had been noticed, and began frantically to row toward her. After a quarter