When I came aft from the jib picnic, Pidge was missing. My heart dropped; I thought that he must have been washed overboard. In the end I found him back in his locker under the cockpit seat, very forlorn, wet and bedraggled. I gave him one of Stalker’s oat cakes; nothing but the best for him on such an occasion. He seemed to love it.
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In the twilight before nightfall I set about reefing Miranda. I believed this to be the toughest job I have had to do at sea. First I lowered the gaff to the boom, and as they swung weathercocking astern I slung a rope over them and managed to haul them round against the wind, to lash them to a backstay. Next, keeping my footing as best I could on the bucking, twisting counter, I worked away; mostly by feel, to find the reefing eyes in the folded sail, and pass a reefing cord through them. I had to use both hands on this job, working above shoulder height, and holding on by grabbing the head-high spars when necessary. I do not know how long it all took; I would estimate two and a half hours. I stopped in the middle and went below till I had some feeling again in numb fingers. I was being bull-minded, bloody-minded if you like, but I had made up my mind to reef that sail. I had ceased to consider whether, with the gale increasing, I should be able to use it when it was reefed. In the end I finished the job, and somehow felt in better spirits for having done it.
BACK TO NEW YORK
During the next nine hours Gipsy Moth only moved 10 miles to the north-west. Even so, I reckoned that I was working too far north, and would soon be north-east of the icebergs, so that they lay between me and New York. I dreaded those bergs, though the chance of hitting one of them was minute compared with the risk of steamers – but icebergs take no notice of the international regulations that a yacht has right of way! I decided to change tacks and head south. I had difficulty in getting the ship to tack without a headsail in the gale, with big turbulent seas. With dawn I set to work on untangling the forestays, but it took me more than two hours before I had the spitfire set; and after that the spitfire was not enough to keep the ship’s head up to the wind in the wild sea running.
Poor Pidge. The cockpit was half full of water, and I could see his skin as if his bedraggled feathers did not exist. He looked so miserable that I took him below and tried to settle him in a large biscuit tin. Unfortunately I had nothing really suitable. He would not stay in the tin, so I took him back to his cubbyhole. I supposed that a pigeon was used to roosting out in anything, but it was bitingly cold.