I took Pidge (somewhat reluctantly on his part) from his dovecote, and put him on the cockpit seat, as I thought that he ought to have some fresh air and movement. I then cleaned out his dovecote, and lined it with paper. When I stepped into the cockpit Pidge had moved on to the counter and made as if to fly off: he often flew off, and circled the ship once or twice before alighting again. Yes, go on,’ I said and waved him off. He took off astern, but stalled into the water a few feet away. At first he flapped the water to try to take off, then turned round and started flapping frantically to catch up the ship. It was heart-rending to see his panic as the stern moved steadily away. I sprang to the cockpit, grabbed the tiller and, over-riding Miranda, brought the yacht round.
I aimed to arrive at the spot nearly dead into wind, so that the yacht would be moving slowly. I could not reduce sail, nor do anything which would make me take my eye off the pigeon. I knew from the experience with my lost dinghy that I should never see him again if I once lost sight of him – and one tiny grey pigeon in the middle of the Atlantic was infinitely smaller than a dinghy. I had to come up to him, so that he would be within a foot of the side of the ship; otherwise I should not be able to reach him. It was not easy, because from where I stood in the cockpit the pigeon would be out of sight, hidden by the bows, for the last 50 feet of my approach.
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When I thought that it was the right moment I left the tiller, sprang forward to where the freeboard was lowest – the only place along the deck where it was low enough for me to reach the water with my hand – threw myself on the deck, and thrust my arm and shoulder under the bottom lifeline. Pidgy was right there, and I clutched at him with my hand. But when I pushed my arm down suddenly, as I had to do in a hurry, he must have thought I was going to strike him, for he flapped madly away from me as I touched him, and I missed my hold. I felt terrible, that he should take me for an enemy. I ran back to the tiller and slowly, as it seemed, came round again. I had to stay by the tiller till the last moment, and then make a rush and a grab. Once I slipped, but I had no time to clip on my safety-harness. The next three passes I made at him he eluded me. I could see that I would not get him that way, and tried to squeeze an idea out of my head. Could I throw him anything that he could climb on? I looked round. I could not get below. The only thing I could see was a piece of old sail I had used for Pidgy’s tent. I threw this out, but he thought I was throwing it at him and moved away. Then it sank. The big red gash bucket was at hand, and I hurriedly fastened it to the end of the boathook. I think I made fourteen circuits and passes at Pidge. I had him in the bucket about four times, but unfortunately as I lifted the bucket out of the water the overflow from it washed the pigeon out. The last time he was washed out he was swamped by the water and lay inert, with only a little of his back at the surface of the water. Next time I came round I picked him out easily with my hand as he lay inert.
I felt cut up as I held his soaking body; I felt responsible for him, and somehow his mean crabbed nature and his dreadful habits made me feel worse. I squeezed his lungs and the water dribbled out of his beak. Then I went on squeezing regularly, trying to revive him by artificial respiration. I think I was doing it the right way, because I could see air bubbling through his nostrils. At one time I thought he made a sound. I kept at it for, I think, about twenty minutes; then I wrapped him in hot clothes warmed from water in the Thermos. I filled a hot water bottle, and wrapped him with it in paper. But it was no good; Pidgy’s spirit had flown. It was pathetic to look at his poor, emaciated, sick-looking body, which seemed to have only a few feathers. He looked either very old or very sick. It was the breakdown in communication between a human being and an animal which was so distressing. If only he could have trusted me, could have understood that I was trying to help him, and not hurt him, he would have still been alive.
I gave him a sea burial in my best biscuit tin with holes punched in it so that it would sink. I watched it till I could see it no longer as Gipsy Moth sailed away.
I moped about that day. I had already been depressed, for the gale had cost me not only two and a half days but had set me back 20 miles. To say on 18 June that I had made good 560 miles during the past seven days was not bad; but to say three days later that I had made good only 560 miles during the past ten days was too bad. To achieve my ambition of a thirty-day crossing now entailed making good 1,400 miles in the next ten days, which was practically impossible.
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