Shortly before this I sailed out of the Gulf Stream and back into the Labrador current again. I was now in fog, and the sea was greenish. A few hours earlier I had been on the foredeck in swimming shorts an hour before midnight; now I lit the Aladdin stove. Soon I was becalmed in thin fog on George’s Shoal. Trawlers hooting in the fog were passing unseen to and fro all around. Trawlers presumably indicated fish, so I rousted out my line and streamed it overboard. When below again, I heard an uncanny quiet plunk! ending in a sigh. ‘Aha,’ I thought, stepping into the cockpit, ‘I know that sound.’ I was in the middle of a large school of whales, and three of them were headed straight for the stern of the boat. Sensitive animals like whales, I thought, must know that the boat is there, but, as they came on unswerving, my confidence vanished.
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I believe that many small boat disappearances have been due to whales. Those charging Gipsy Moth were only small ones; 15 to 25 feet long, but they were big enough, and I picked up my horn and blew the hardest blast I could. Twenty feet off they dived under the stern and came up 50 feet away on the other side. There were a lot – I thought about 100 – milling round at speed. Suddenly they all dashed off towards the west at full speed, leaving a seething white wake. Then I noticed an equally big school coming at full speed from the west. They met head on, and there seemed to be about an acre of seething boiling white water where they milled round madly. Then, as one, they all dived, the surface became smooth again, and I saw them no more. Were they meeting for love or for war? I wondered. Had those three rushing headlong at Gipsy Moth thought she was one of the other school? I hauled in my fishing line, taking it as a hint that my efforts were not approved of. I was grateful when a breeze crept in, and Gipsy Moth was able to steal away from the fog-bound shoal.
That evening I had a fright. I had been charging the batteries and when I switched off to listen for trawlers I heard water running. I snatched up the trapdoor in the cabin floor, and found the bilge full of water. It was a blood-freezing sight. Where was the hole? Could I find it, and stop the inrush before the ship sank? These questions flashed on my brain as I started to search.
It was only the pipe bringing in seawater to the cooling jacket of the motor which had parted. The bilge was not full of water, it was only half full. Now I could laugh at the joke, but it called for a celebration that it was nothing worse. After due thought I set to work and made a do-it-yourself repair of the joint. I wondered what else could turn up to interfere with the battery charging.
On 2 July at 2.20 p.m. I saw my first mark since the Eddystone Light – a whistle buoy abeam – and a few hours later the Texas Tower that I had hoped to see from the shoals in 1960. If I had only known it, Sheila was looking down at me. She was flying across, and Jim Percy, knowing my position from London, had diverted the plane a few miles to pass overhead. Sheila recognised Gipsy Moth 5 miles below her.
My repair to the water pipe seemed successful, but it was not long after I started charging again before an exhaust flame showed through my exhaust pipe repairs. Once more I donned the old black raincoat I kept for dirty work on the motor, and worked away in acute discomfort to botch up another repair.
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