ID: DJG_SH2 / Harry Redhouse

TitleAtlantic Crossing in the SUNSHINE

The yacht "Sunshine" sailed from Tollesbury Pier on the River Blackwater Tollesbury, Essex, on 11th April 1911 with a navigator aboard as Capt Pettican had no "ticket". There was a crew of five with Sidney Mills, the fo'cle cook and myself as steward.

We had a good run to Falmouth where we stayed long enough to take on water and fresh bread and left there with a nice breeze. Later however it blew hard and the seas running very high, the Capt decided to turn back to the Scilly Isles for shelter, but he could not bring the boat round, there being no wind in the sails when the ship was in the trough of the waves. The best he could do was to heave to. About midnight, coming up from a trough, the boat caught the full weight of a blast which severely damaged the tackle by which the trysail was attached to the mast. In the mountainous seas this was of course a desperate position requiring desperate measures, needing in fact, someone to go to the masthead to effect repairs. It was perhaps not surprising that no one volunteered for this job and the Captain said that he would try it himself. The bosun's chair was lashed to the mast and with the captain it was hoisted up to the top. The movement and rolling on the deck itself, in such heavy seas, was alarming enough and it does not require much imagination to realise what it must have been up aloft, with the mast one moment upright and then swinging right over until the Captain was poised above the seas. At times the waves were as high as he was. For a full hour, under these conditions, he worked on the lashings, slowly down the mast, until the job was accomplished. It was a very brave act which undoubtedly saved our lives.

But the storm continued, day after day and night after night. In spite of the anxiety and danger, life had its amusing moments, one night a terrific sea struck us with the sound of a gun and we all rushed up the companionway but got jammed together and none could get on deck. Next day, one of the crew said that never had he been so near to swearing, but fearing his last moment had come, struggled to keep the offending words back. One day much to our relief the wind eased a little and the Capt had a larger jib set but in the late afternoon the wind freshened again, and before we could we could take in the jib it was blowing as hard as ever. One big roller coming towards us made the Capt call out "Leave everything and just hold on." I managed to get to the foremast and up on the staysail boom, reaching up as high as I could into the halyards. It was some minutes before the boat cleared herself of water which could not get through the scuppers quickly enough.

At last after about a fortnight the storm abated. During this time of course we had been hove to and with so much sea aboard, with the thick cloud and chaos due to the storm, the navigator had been unable to take normal readings and confessed that he did not know where we were. He decided however to steer South thinking that we had been blown well to the North.

We could ill afford the lost time and to add to our anxieties we discovered that two barrels of salt beef had been ruined by sea water during the storm. But it was a relief to be able to have a fire again, which of course helped Sidney with the cooking. During the gale he had only been able to use a primus stove.

Later however there was to be very little cooking. Still lost, the position was becoming serious and supplies were getting low while the men were becoming anxious. Food was rationed at this stage and later on we were reduced to three biscuits a day with a pint and a half of weter which had to serve for all purposes. Cigarettes too were scarce. One of the crew had brought with him a large quantity with a view to selling them at a profit to the crew. But he sold too many and long before we reached port, he had none left for himself. Another member of the crew finding a cigarette in a pocket of his suit lit up and the others gathered round, each to have...

At last, dissatisfied with the course being taken, and noting that the weather was, becoming wanner, the Captain after a conference with the crew, told the navigator that as he was still doubtful about the position he, (the Capt) would take over. This he did and that afternoon we started on a westerly course.

On the first fine Sunday morning we all stood aft and I read the service that is used at sea and sang the hymn, "Holy Father, in thy Mercy, Hear our anxious prayer, for our loved ones, now far absent, 'neath thy care". When the service was over I looked round and thought what a wonderful universe we were living in - millions of people in it and yet we had seen no one for weeks. But I seemed all the more aware of the reality of God.

The fine weather continued and we all got excited when something was seen in the distance, but alas, it was only a large buoy which had broken loose from its moorings in South America. There was something sad about the sight of that buoy. It spoke of harbours end jettys and above all of people and other boats. Months later we read that it had been washed ashore on the west coast of Ireland. A few days later we were sailing amongst a lot of weed which looked so pretty that we collected some, thinking that if kept in water and air-tight it would remain attractive. But we soon had seen more than enough of it. We were, in fact in the Gulf Stream and then the wind failed us and we were becalmed. Already over due end on short rations we seemed to be quite motionless.

One evening I was relaxing on deck when a huge turtle showed its head for a moment. Startled, I called to the Capt who seised a boat hook and tried to get the creature aboard. But he couldn't get it on its back and so vanished our hopes of some turtle soup.

Eventually after quite a few days the wind returned and we made such progress that one night the watch saw a light. He called the Capt who decided to heave to. When daylight come, and it was a long time coming as we wondered if at last we were coming to the end of our voyage, we saw one of the most welcome sights we had ever seen, a large American schooner not too for off. We lost no time in lowering a boat and pulling across to it. We told its captain of our predicament and he said that the light was from Cape Hatteras lighthouse and that it was a long way inshore so it was fortunate that we had not sailed closer while it was dark or we should have had a sad ending to our journey. Cape Hatteras is about 500 miles south of New York and has been called the graveyard of the Atlantic, as in the days of sail, lots of wooden ships were wrecked there. The captain gave us a chart of that coast (we had been so far south all the time that we had no charts for that part of the Atlantic) two days supply of bacon and bread, a great treat for us after being on such meagre rations. It was fortunate that before we sailed the "Sunshine" had had two extra tanks for water storage fitted.

It was very pleasant to sail the last leg of our journey and comforting after being so long alone to see other craft. Soon we came to New York and sailed into the harbour ourselves. The Capt asked me to go ashore and telephone to Mr. Carlton. His clerk who answered me said, "Well, we all thought you were lost," and I replied "You were quite right, we have been." I was soon connected to Mr. Carlton who said, "This is wonderful news : we have been very anxious for you." He went on to say that only that morning he had told Mrs. Carlton of a dream he had had, seeing the "Sunshine" sail safely into harbour. He gave me messages for the Captain and crew and said that he would send one of the Western Union cable ships to tow us to New London. When it arrived our crew were taken aboard for a good meal while the Capt's and mine were sent over to the "Sunshine". I remember that among other good things there was corn on the cob, but there was no corn left on the cob when I had finished with it. By evening we were at anchor in New London and how welcome was a good night's rest in safety, with no fear of disturbance. And so ended our voyage across the Atlantic from Tollesbury, a small village in Essex to the great city of New York.

There is another acccount of this voyage at DJG_SH1

AuthorHarry Redhouse
SourceMersea Museum / Cedric Gurton