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David Grant

Lost at Sea in a Fog

The Stroma Man’s Yarn

The inhabitants of the island of Stroma bring all their
peats, or turf-fuel, from the mainland, and chiefly in the
summer months, when darkness is scarcely perceptible,
but dense night fogs are of frequent occurrence in those
high latitudes.

The morn had arisen in the cloudless light,
And the noon been warm and dry;
But heavy dews began to fall
As the set of day drew nigh.
Thick fogs crept over the western main
And down on the Orkney hills,
Warning my brother John and I
To start from the haven of Gills.
A Stroma man would have said we chose
To cross at an awkward time,
For the flood was only three hours run,
And the moon was in her prime.
But we feared the fog and trusted the wind-
A breeze from the south-south-east-
To carry us over and into the tail
Of the eastern eddy at least;
And thus, about nine o’clock at night,
On the twelfth of last July,
From the haven of Gills for Stroma Isle
Stood my brother John and I.
Our boat was down to the water’s edge
With a heavy load of peats;
Fore and aft, from timbers to thwarts,
Till we scarce could reeve the sheets.
But west away to the Men of Mey,
Our course was clear and quick;
And there we met with a raging flood
And a fog exceeding thick.
The wind dropt down from a steady breeze
To infrequent, fitful blasts;
Down till the lately bellying sails
Flapped idly round the masts.
And then we rowed with might and main,
But numbered only two;
The wind was dead, and the fog was dense,
And east with the flood we flew.
We missed the Isle and the eddy too,
And still went drifting east,
Till the boat began to heave and pitch,
And the sea to foam like yeast.
“If you love your life,” cried my brother John,
As he hastily shipped his oar;
“If you love your life, pitch out the peats,
Or we’ll swamp in the Western Bore!”
And the boat was cleared as she ne’er had been,
Nor ever again may be;
But we rose and fell on the heavy swell,
And never shipped a sea.
And soon we were drifting smoothly on,
But as swiftly as before;
Yet we sat in silent thankfulness
To have passed the Western Bore.
Nor did we now attempt to row,
Though we sat with our oars in hand;
We were just as like to pull out to sea
As we were to pull in to land;
For the wind had dropt, the flood run down,
And the fog obscured the light;
No compass had we, and thus you may see
How we lost our bearings quite.
So we drifted away, or lazily lay,
With a dull and drowsy motion,
And we rose and fell with the ceaseless swell
Of the never-slumbering ocean.
And still as the lingering hours dragged past,
And we drifted lazily on,
Not of doubt or fear, but of hope and cheer,
Spoke I and my brother John.
Each had his doubts, you may well conceive,
But his doubts were unexprest;
Each had his fears, you may well believe,
But he lock’d them in his breast.
I own that I started once in fright,
In the midst of a dozing dream,
And cried to my brother John to row,
For we were in the Swelchie-stream.
And we rowed, perchance for half-an-hour,
Till smoother seas were found;
And we lay again in the open main,
With our misty curtains round.
And once my brother roused me up,
And bade me ply my oar,
For he knew the land was close at hand
By the breakers constant roar.
But we sat for the most in dull suspense,
And waited for the dawn of the day,
When haply the glorious sun might shine
And the fogs might fly away.
It was cold indeed, but scarcely dark,
Through the whole of the tedious night,
For the only sign that day had broke
Was a change in the line of light.
And at last the sun displayed his face,
Yet high in the east was he,
Ere ever the misty curtain rose,
Revealing the tranquil sea.
And we found ourselves in the western main,
A league to the west of Hoy;
But the flood was bringing us steadily east,
And we hailed our home with joy.
I do not say that we suffered much
From either fatigue or fright,
Nor yet that we ran a deadly risk
In a tranquil summer night.
I have known of men who have dared as much
For a double share of grog;
But still it’s far from a pleasant thing
To be lost at sea in a fog.

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