Le Petit Parisien 10 février 1924


On the third day of fog, I was very close to being sunk by a steamer. I could hear its siren and the sound of its machines coming straight towards me; but the Firecrest had no wind in her sails, and I could not get out of her way.
What could I do but ring the bell. the ship's bell and hope that the steamer hears me? For several minutes it seemed very likely that I would share the supposed fate of Captain Slocum, the famous solitary navigator believed to have been sunk by a steamboat in a storm, but finally they heard me and signaled with their siren that They were turning to starboard.
That day, an observation showed me that the Firecrest had traveled twenty miles in the last twenty-four hours, while I had not had the slightest wind. Certainly there was a current and I had to get closer to land.
There were many marks of the approach to land the following day, Sunday September 2. The color of the water was different, there were many porpoises and I even saw a few dead butterflies floating on the water. I now knew my navigation was correct. I saw a schooner, which passed far from me.
Around three o'clock in the afternoon of September 3, I saw an innumerable number of seagulls and soon discovered the cause: on the horizon, 3 miles away, a fishing schooner was passing followed by a veritable army of seagulls.
The breeze was very light, and for two hours I sailed towards the schooner, which was straight on my course to the west. At four o'clock his boats returned on board and the ship headed for the Firecrest. I then hoisted the French colors. The schooner passed and I could read its name, Henrietta, and its home port, Boston.
Visit to the schooner "Henrietta"

One of their canoes, a dory, as they are called in Newfoundland, is heading towards my ship, and a French fisherman from Saint-Pierre jumps on board. I am not describing his astonishment to learn that the Firecrest and I are arriving from France. He asks me to come on board and share their dinner; so, leaving my boat to steer itself, I go to visit these brave people,
I jumped aboard the Henrietta and fell waist deep into the fish. As I looked at the bridge and the fishermen working to gut and clean the fish, I remembered the descriptions I had read in Kipling's famous book, Captain Brave.
They greeted me with a smile, and I was happy to be among them and to hear the distinctive Boston accent; I felt much more at home with these fishermen than with the Greeks. They were real sailors.
I went down to the crew station and, for the first time in ninety days, was able to taste fresh bread and fresh meat; they have good cooks on these American fishing boats. They wanted to offer me all the provisions on board, but I refused almost everything and only accepted bread and some fruit.
After having lunch, I went back on deck and spoke for a while with Captain Albert Hinss, who was at the helm, following the Firecrest. It was a strange sensation to look at my ship from so far away and see it stand alone on its course; I was beginning to fear that the schooner's engine would stop. At close range, in a light breeze, I don't think she could catch my ship.
The captain was a real sea dog. It was a pleasure to meet a man like him, who knew the sea and his boat inside out. He gave me a map of Georges Bank, the great fishing ground east of Nantucket Island, and a roll of sail line.
I learned that my position obtained by my own observations was absolutely correct.
At this time, the fog was getting denser and denser and, at times, the Firecrest disappeared from view. I was starting to get worried and had two fishermen bring me on board. I gave them the bottles of cognac that the officers of the steamer had offered me. The fishermen returned to the schooner and as we exchanged our farewell signals on the foghorn, the very thick fog hid us from each other.
My visit to the Henrietta was a pleasant interlude in my voyage. I was as much interested in the fishermen as they were in the long voyage of the Firecrest.
The calm is too flat

With the slightest wind it would not have taken me more than a few days to enter Long Island Sound, which is only 200 miles from Georges Bank, but the days that followed were generally calm with a few breaths of breeze which pushed the cutter for an hour or two and then left it motionless on a sea of oil.
The tide, very strong on the bank, at times pulled the Firecrest back while I repaired my sails. Most of the time I was in sight of a few fishing boats.
The scared whales
Using the shoal map the captain had given me and constant sounding, I passed through the Nantucket sandbars. One day I saw a pair of small whales barely larger than the Firecrest; I shot one with my Winchester, but there is very little vulnerable place in a whale. They were so frightened that they fled at a speed of at least 20 knots.
It was on the morning of September 10 that I discovered America and the island of Nantucket; the first land sighted from the African coast, ninety-two days previously. Contrary to what anyone might believe, I felt a little sad. I understood that this heralded the end of my cruise, that all the happy days I had lived on the ocean would soon be over and that I would be obliged to stay on land for a few months. I was no longer going to be the sole master of my little ship on the Ocean Sea, but, among humans, a prisoner of civilization.
The next day I passed through a fleet of countless small motorized fishing boats. On Wednesday September 12, I had the pleasure of meeting part of the United States fleet carrying out major maneuvers off Newport. It was a wonderful sight and I greatly admired the fast destroyers moving in line at a speed of over thirty knots.
I had decided to approach New York through Long Island Sound, because I did not want to pass through the East River.
The arrival

For the first time in three weeks I found a strong breeze near the Block Islands on September 12, and in the evening I entered the strait, leaving the ocean with regret.
There were many steamers now. Passenger boats with their very high decks sparkling with lights passed all night. For a solitary traveler, these vapors possess great fascination. It was impossible for me now to leave the bar as if it were offshore; I was too close to land and I had to be careful at all times not to leave the channel between the buoys.
For two days I sailed along Long Island, admiring the magnificent country houses and their brilliant green lawns.
The strait narrows:

I was now at the mouth of the river. At two o'clock on the morning of September 15, I anchored off Fort Totten; I hadn't left the bar or slept for seventy-two hours. The Firecrest's cruise was over: 101 days earlier I had left the port of Gibraltar. Almost upon my arrival, a French woman, the wife of an American captain, came on board and offered me the most kind hospitality at her home. It was at Fort Todd, with Captain and Mrs. Snidow, that I finished this story. But, despite the unforgettable welcome given to me in America, I do not feel at home on earth. I can't wait to leave and I think of the happy days of next spring when, the Firecrest having received the new mast and the new sails that she deserves, we will set off together towards the Pacific Ocean and its Peauté Islands. Fort Todd, New York, October 25, 1923.
ALAIN GERBAULT.

End. Copyright by Alain Gerbault 1924. Translation and reproduction prohibited in all countries.

Alain Gerbault crossing the Atlantic