Harper's Round Table, August 25, 1896
|AT THE TURN OF THE TIDE.|
|AMERICAN CAGE BIRDS.|
|ODD INDIAN SPORTS.|
|THE VOYAGE OF THE "RATTLETRAP."|
|A VIRGINIA CAVALIER.|
|THE POLO PONY.|
|ODD VESSELS DESIGNED FOR SPEED.|
|OUR ROMAN TWINS.|
|THE CAMERA CLUB.|
Copyright, 1896, by Harper & Brothers. All Rights Reserved.
|published weekly.||NEW YORK, TUESDAY, AUGUST 25, 1896.||five cents a copy.|
|vol. xvii.—no. 878.||two dollars a year.|
AT THE TURN OF THE TIDE.
BY W. G. VAN TASSEL SUTPHEN.
Jack Howard looked with some perplexity at the letter which he had justreceived from his chum Fred March. The latter had been spending a monthof the long vacation at his uncle's, on the northern sea-coast, and thatgood-natured relative had been kind enough to suggest that the house wasquite large enough to entertain Jack also. Hence the letter embodyingthe invitation, together with an earnest request that Jack should comeby the earliest train on Monday morning. That was plain enough, besidesbeing entirely satisfactory; but there was something else, a postscript,and this was the puzzle over which Jack was knitting his brows:
"I'm not to bring my bicycle, since the country roads are too sandy forgood riding; but I must send on at once the three bicycle wheels storedin the loft of the machine-shop, together with half a dozen heavy coilsprings, as per the enclosed specifications of the foreman of the shop.Well, what on earth—for it can't be a flying-machine—is Fred up tonow?"
But the letter vouchsafed no further information upon the mystery, andJack's duty was clearly to obey and ask no questions. Evidently Fred hadsome new idea, and that meant fun ahead—possibly an adventure. And sothe commission was executed upon the spot, and Jack saw[Pg 1038] that the boxwas shipped early on Friday morning by the fast freight. It should bedelivered to Fred at Agawam Beach by Monday, and Jack would be therehimself that evening.
"It's a rattling good place for sailing and blue-fishing, and all thatsort of thing," said Fred, on that Monday night, as the two boys leftthe house for a stroll down to the beach. "Uncle Win has let me knockabout the bay in his little sloop—there she is at the pier, the whiteone, with the red at her water-line—and he says that I've picked it upas though I had been christened with salt-water. Sailing is nailing goodfun. But look there!"
The ten-mile stretch of Agawam Beach lay before their eyes, just aroundthe point that jutted out to form Half-Moon Bay. It was dead low tide,and the beach sloped so gradually that the receding water had left awide floor of hard glistening sand, smooth and firm as a macadam road.
"I should think you could wheel along that easily enough," said Jack.
"So you can, and people often drive up to Cape Fear, ten miles off; theyeven have trotting matches when the county fair is on. I don't believethere's another beach like it in the world. But my idea will beatbicycling and sulky driving out of sight if it works, and I think itwill. We'll go on now and take a look at the 'Jolly Sandboy'."
"The what?" began Jack; but Fred only laughed, and led the way to theboat-house.
It was a mysterious-looking creation that occupied the centre of thefloor. The body of the machine was a skeleton frame-work of hard-woodstrongly braced and bolted together, with a shallow-floored box at theacute angle. The centre timber bisected this acute angle and the base,and projected a few feet beyond. The bicycle wheels were attached to andsupported the frame-work at the three corners, the one at the apex beingpivoted so that it could be turned by a tiller in any direction. Justforward of the base-line, or what corresponds to the runner-plank in anice-yacht, was a chock that was evidently intended for the reception ofa mast, the end of the centre timber serving as a bowsprit, steadied bywire guys that ran to either extremity of the runner-plank. It wascertainly original in design and appearance, and Jack Howard examined itwith respectful curiosity.
"And what do you call it?" he inquired again.
"A 'beach-comber,'" said Fred. "The principle of an ice-yacht, you know,but with wheels instead of runners, for use on the hard sand at lowtide. There was just one thing that bothered me in the way of practicaldetail, and that was how to provide for the heeling over in a strongbreeze or a sudden flaw. You know that when the sails fill, as anordinary boat, she lies over, and it is her keel or centreboard thatkeeps her from drifting to leeward. In an ice-yacht the sharp runnerskeep her up, but there must be some sideways yielding to the force ofthe wind, and so an ice-boat rears—that is, one runner lifts free ofthe ice, and thereby takes off the strain. Otherwise you must eitherluff or be capsized. But with beach-sailing this rearing would probablythrow too much weight on the leeward wheel, causing it to sink into thesand, and perhaps stop her way altogether. The sand is fairly hard whenwet, but it can't be so unyielding as ice. I was just about to give itup, when I happened to recollect a wrinkle that the Dutchmen use intheir ice-yachts on the Zuyder Zee. In their boats the mast is pivotedin the chocks, and consequently the sail and all lie over under thestrain. When a squall strikes a fleet of Dutch ice-yachts it looksexactly as though you had winged a whole covey of partridges. It must besafer than our American plan, but of course you lose in speed. Thedifficulty in my mind was to understand how the mast would come up againto its proper position; but that's always the way with the people whowrite books—they never tell you clearly the one little thing that isabsolutely necessary for a fellow to know to understand what they aredescribing. So I had to work it out for myself."
"This must be where the coil springs come in," said Jack, with suddenperception.
"Exactly. The mast is to be stayed by wire guys, each one ending in acoil spring attached to the extremities of the runner-plank. Of coursewe'll have to experiment to see just how many are needed on each side togive her the best results in the way of stiffness. We don't want herlying down at every little puff, or we would never go ahead at all.Neither must she stand up like a church, for something has got to giveway when a squall hits her. We'll set up the mast and give the 'JollySandboy' a trial trip the first thing to-morrow morning."
There is little to add to Fred's description, except to say that thewheels were rather different from the ordinary bicycle type. They hadbeen built by Mr. March while he was experimenting on the "HappyThought," and the two forward ones were twenty-four inches in diameter,while the rear wheel was but twenty inches. Moreover, the spokes were ofhickory, and the tires were enormous—four inches in diameter, and ofvery heavy material. Even in soft sand they would cut in but little, andthe spokes, being of hard-wood covered with water-proof varnish, wouldnot be subject to rust and corrosion from the salt air and water. Ofcourse the hubs were fitted with the usual ball-bearing. The sail planof the "beach-comber" was that of a sloop, as being the easiest tohandle, and the pivoted rear wheel acted as the rudder.
The boys, after a little experimenting with the coil springs of thestanding rigging, were delighted to find that the "Jolly Sandboy" wouldreally go. Of course there was no such thing as tacking; and, indeed,the "beach-comber's" best point of sailing was with the wind on the beamor on the quarter. As we all know from our physical geographies, theprevailing wind at the sea-shore is off the ocean during the daytime,and consequently favorable to the "Jolly Sandboy." Moreover, the gentledownward slope of the beach, as opposed to the direction of the wind,helped to keep her on an even keel. The speed was not very high, but itwas nevertheless great sport to race along the edge of the breakers, andan occasional ducking from an extra big comber only gave the true saltflavor. It was hardly practicable to sail except when the tide was goingout or on the half flood, and the best time was when it was dead low, asso much more of the level beach was then available. Fred generallyoccupied the cockpit and did the steering, while Jack stood on theweather runner-plank and held on to the shrouds, as is the custom inice-yachting.
The "Jolly Sandboy" had been in commission for a week, and the boys hadbecome fairly expert in her management. On this particular afternoonthey had made the ten-mile run up to Cape Fear, and the conditions wereso favorable for "beach-combing" that Jack proposed that they should goon past the cape for a mile or two before beginning the homewardjourney. Now between Cape Fear and Cape Thunder, a mile further on, wasa peculiar formation of the coast-line known as Shut-in Bay. It wassurrounded on all sides by precipitous cliffs, unscalable from below,and at high water it was entirely cut off from the rest of the beach bythe rocky projections of Capes Fear and Thunder. It was a dangerous trapin which to be caught by the tide, for at ordinary high water there wereonly two or three small ledges to which one might climb for safety, andeven then the thoughtless adventurer would have to remain a prisoneruntil the ebb. At the time of the spring tides, twice in the month, eventhese precarious places of refuge were under water, and the only chanceof a rescue was in being seen by a passing fishing-smack and taken offby boat. Fred was well acquainted with the dangerous character of theplace, and he looked a trifle dubious when Jack proposed going on.
"But it's only a mile across to Cape Thunder, and it's not low water yetfor an hour," insisted Jack. "I've got the table here in my pocket; Icut it out of last week's Guardian."
The table, compiled from the government observations, gave low water forfour o'clock at Agawam, which would make it half past four at CapeThunder. Fred looked at his watch and saw that it was just half pastthree. Certainly there was a plenty of time to run on for two or threemiles, and then get back beyond the danger-point[Pg 1039] before the tide wasfairly on the flood. Fred hauled in the sheet, and the "Jolly Sandboy"plunged forward.
Well, perhaps they had gone a little further than they intended, and thetide had certainly turned when they started homeward. But the wind wasfresh, and Fred kept the "Jolly Sandboy" close to the water's edge,where the sand was the firmest. Every now and then a big wave wouldbreak ahead of them, and shoot a wide tongue of white crackling foamathwart the bows of the "beach-comber." But there was no time to makedťtours, and it was glorious fun, these short, sharp dashes through anacre of shallow water, with the wash filling the cockpit, and the saltspray flying over the head of the mainsail. Finally Cape Thunder loomedup ahead, and ten minutes later the "Jolly Sandboy" had swept around thepoint, and was ploughing across the treacherous Tom Tiddler's ground ofShut-in Bay.
It must have been a piece of broken bottle, but whatever the cause, thetire of the lee bearing-wheel had suddenly gone flat. It was impossibleto proceed; but was there time to repair the damage and yet get aroundCape Fear? Fred glanced at his watch. The tide looked as though it werecoming in very fast; but the tide-table was authoritative, and the waterwould not be up to the cape until about half past five o'clock. It wasnow exactly five by Fred's watch, which would give a margin of at leasttwenty minutes. If