I hailed one of them to ask for the position of the Sunk Sand Buoy, which I could not pick up owing to the lowness of CHERUB’s side and the height of the sea, which had grown very much during the last hour. A man popped his head above the smack’s bulwarks, and, instead of replying to my inquiry, asked me what the ‘Hades’ I was doing off there in a little thing like that; and when I told him I was bound for Blakeney he grew almost angry, and tried to persuade me to run for Lynn, whither he was bound after he had made his haul. “‘Tis no place for any man to go for in weather like this, isn’t Blakeney. You come along arter me!” But I wanted to be in Blakeney, not at Lynn, and after he had told me that the Sunk Buoy had broken adrift, but that I was alright for the ‘Bays,’ I waved him farewell and left him in a sort of angry sorrow at my pigheadedness.
Along through the ‘Bays,’ which is a channel inside the Woolpack Sand, we had much less sea, though the wind kept freshening in squalls. The boat reached along beautifully — easy and dry — and I took the chance to get some food, especially as I felt rather downhearted after the fisherman’s warning, and I always find that things look ‘rosier’ on a full stomach than on an empty one. We were now dead to leeward, and when off Brancaster I pulled down the third reef, because I knew what awaited us when we should have cleared the Woolpack and be at the mercy of the full fetch of the sea across the Well. I had lost my proper account of the tides, and had no desire to get to Blakeney too soon. But there was no holding the boat; the full ebb seemed to be still with me, and the miles sped away astern very quickly, and early in the afternoon I was off Blakeney, much too far inside the Bar Buoy, and with a young flood tearing up towards the channel bearing me fast to leeward. It was now blowing very hard, and the surf to leeward making the air misty, everything looked as if at least an hour’s wait outside was imperative if we were to get inside safely. But, with the staggering sea and the strong lee-going tide steadily sucking me ashore, the boat made nothing at all to windward, and would certainly bear no more sail in the broken sea that was there.
I tried her on both tacks, but lost ground each time, and things looked very black. So, with my heart in my mouth, I pulled up the centreplate and pointed for the place where, amidst all the breakers, there seemed to be most water. On she ran, past the first outer buoy, then the second, and then, as she sank in the hollow of a sea — bang! she touched, and a walloping sea burst over her stern. But in bursting some of it lifted her along, and, as well as I could, I crawled forward and managed to keep her from broaching to with a long, strong boathook, when she touched aft again. The same business was repeated, but I felt that only a few more doses would fill her, and our last cruise would have been finished. Still, the strong flood tide kept her square to the sea, as she only hung on her keel, and after one or two more hard knocks she went over the Bar into smoother and deeper water, and, intensely thankful to the kindly powers that had preserved us, I ran her into the Pit, let go the anchor, and looked below. The water was just up to the floorboards, but the bed, stowed under the foredeck, was untouched, and the stove in its locker was dry and ready for action.
I have always felt that I owed my escape to the fact that the boat’s greatest draught of water was right aft, and also to the strong (six knot) tide that had held her straight. With a level keel or more draught amidships she would certainly have broached to and been rolled over by the tide and sea, and, as Blakeney Bar is miles away from all living beings, there was but faint hope of rescue, though the lifebuoy I had ready might have floated me to the sands, from which I could hardly hope to escape unless someone had seen us coming in, which I afterwards heard was not the case.
So, after returning the water to its proper place outside, I rested, refreshed myself with hot drinks, and waited for the tide to rise sufficiently to enable me to get to the quay, which would not be before dusk.