During that week she had made good 690 miles towards New York, and as a result at the end of the fourth week I was only 865 miles from New York, whereas Blondie was 1208 miles. My dreaded rival, the black-bearded Viking, because of his taking the longer route in the south, had still 2190 miles to go, and barring accidents to Blondie and me, he was out of the race. Lewis was about 600 miles astern now. Of course I did not know any of this at the time.
After leaving Cape Race, which is the southernmost tip of Newfoundland, my next concern was Sable Island. This is a 20-mile long sandbank, 90 miles offshore from Nova Scotia. I have a chart of this island drawn up by a lighthouse keeper there, which shows 200 ships wrecked on it since 1800. In every account I had read of wrecks on Sable Island, the captain had thought himself a long way off when his ship struck. I was puzzled about this, and apprehensive.
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I think I know now why many of these wrecks occurred. At first it looked as if I was going to pass south of the island. Then the wind changed, and I began heading north of it. I ought then to have been in the favourable Labrador current, a comparatively narrow stream wending its way south-westerly along the eastern seaboard of America. Flowing alongside it, in the opposite direction, is the Gulf Stream, with such a sharp division between the two that it is known as the Cold Wall. As I approached the rocky coast of Nova Scotia I reckoned that I was in the favourable Labrador current. I never saw anything of the 300-mile long coast, although I tacked close to it on three occasions. I was in fog most of the time, and so cold that I was still wearing my long woollen underpants as well as thick clothes, with the Aladdin heater going day and night. Yet I heard a radio station reporting temperatures in the eighties only 50 miles away. On 12 July I got a good fix by bearings from radio beacons on Sable Island, Sambro Light Vessel and the north-east point of Nova Scotia, which showed that my dead reckoning position was 22 % miles in error, too far west. Three days later my reckoning was again too far west, this time 28 miles. Here was a total error of 50 miles, which could easily have caused a wreck if I had not discovered it. I think my error could have been caused only by an eddy from the Gulf Stream invading the Labrador current, and reversing it. No wonder the sailing ships of 100 years ago were wrecked when they lacked my advantage of being able to take bearings of radio beacons on Sable Island and the mainland.
During this passage between Nova Scotia and Sable Island I had a narrow escape. I was sitting in the cabin with the last bottle of whisky aboard on the swinging table. Gipsy Moth suddenly performed one of her famous ski jumps. She would sidle up the side of a wave and roll sharply at the top before taking off the other side, and landing with a terrific crash in the trough. This was more than the swinging table could cope with, the bottle of whisky shot up into the air, turned a somersault, and was headed for the cabin floor neck first. I was faced with tragedy – my last bottle of whisky. My hand shot out and I fielded it by the neck on the way down. I could not have been more pleased if I had brought off a brilliant catch in a Test Match. I was not so lucky next day, however, with a jug of tea which was shot up into the air in the same way. I could not help laughing; it was incredible that so many tea-leaves could come from one spoonful; the table, the seat opposite, the whole floor, and the side of my settee were all plastered with tea-leaves. There were even some in the dustpan stowed away in the cubby-hole under the seat. 16 July was a key day for me. It was the thirty-seventh day of the race and the first completely fine day so far. Also, it was a perfect sailing day, with a soldier’s breeze from the north, not a cloud in the sky, big round sun, and a small crescent moon. I was bustling to and fro all day with clothes, bedding, mattresses, cushions, etc. My green velvet smoking jacket, which I had fondly hoped I should be changing into occasionally for a quiet dinner on board, was nearly solid with mildew, with parts worn through by chafing against the side of the ship. However, I put it to dry, and later, when I came to brush it, to my surprise the mildew came off, leaving that part spotlessly clean. Had I found a cheap rival to dry cleaning? By the end of that day there really were dry patches on the cabin floor. And at night the sky was clear with bright stars twinkling like diamonds, the first time I had seen them.
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