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Adventures of the Dream Ship

A famous author, his sister and a friend sailed a 47-ft. yacht from a port in Devon to an island in the Pacific and thus accomplished an outstanding feat of navigation



GREAT VOYAGES IN LITTLE SHIPS - 4


The Ogre the ship in which Ralph Stock with his sister and a friend sailed to the PacificRALPH STOCK is the pioneer of modem ocean-roving in a yacht large enough to provide comfort and company, but not so large that the owner has to depend upon a paid crew. Stock’s Ogre - often called the Dream Ship - was one of the first to have gone through the Panama Canal from Europe to the South Seas. He showed that long voyages can be made without undue privation, without heroics, and even without the loss of a sense of humour.


Miss Mabel M. Stock, his sister, sailed with him and showed that ocean cruising can be enjoyed and not merely endured by a woman. Brother and sister were accompanied by a friend for the entire voyage from Brixham, Devon, to the Tonga Islands. In addition, Stock had an experienced, elderly yachtsman as passenger from the Canary Islands to Tahiti, and at times there was a fifth person on board.





DESIGNED BY A FAMOUS NAVAL ARCHITECT. The Ogre, the ship in which Ralph Stock, with his sister and a friend, sailed to the Pacific, was laid out by the late Colin Archer, who drew up the plans of the Fram for Nansen, the Polar explorer. The Ogre had originally been built to serve as a lifeboat for the North Sea fishing fleet, and was sold to a man who fitted her out as a yacht.




A voyage across two oceans in a 47-ft. Yacht is fraught with constant perils and unexpected hazards. Yet, so light-heartedly does Stock describe the adventure, and so humorously does he relate the overcoming of various dangers and difficulties, that one is inclined to overlook Stock’s efficiency as a seaman and his powers of organization, to say nothing of his determination in making a dream cruise come true.


For years Ralph Stock had dreamed of cruising through the South Sea Islands in his own ship, and when at last he had overcome preliminary difficulties, and had bought and equipped his yacht, he naturally thought of her as his dream ship.


Stock’s seamanlike and successful cruise was the first of its kind, and was delightfully free from any effort to set up records or to be heroically uncomfortable. Stock wanted to enjoy himself as master of his own ship, and he did. He was short of money but he kept his financial troubles to himself. No water-front ever “donated” him anything, and the only thing he had given to him was much “advice” from armchair yachtsmen.


Thousands of people who have read Stock’s account of his trip have thought of following in his wake, and a few have tried to sail in the track of the dream ship, only to fail. It is true that many people equipped with far greater resources have tried to follow his example, but they have not had Stock’s gifts of seamanship and common sense. Sailing a small yacht to the Pacific without a paid crew is not a matter of hard cash and blind, raging sea-fever. Therefore, in considering Stock’s feat as a seaman we must not be led astray by his refusal to be a hero to himself.


Few people wish to sail single-handed. Heredity and environment have given them a certain social need, and they have no desire to sentence themselves to pH solitary confinement in a small yacht. To be alone with Nature at odd moments is undoubtedly good for the soul; but to be alone in a small yacht with an occasional non-communicative bird or in the company of a fish which regards the lone mariner as a prospective meal, and to continue under such conditions for weeks at a time, is not a prospect that attracts the average human being. But another set of problems arises when the blue-water yachtsman takes a companion.


In estimating Stock’s feat as a seaman we must bear in mind his qualities as a diplomat. Not only did he make his voyage without undue fuss or bother, preserving his vessel from stranding or being wrecked, or damaged through carelessness, but he also preserved harmony among his two shipmates. In addition, Stock carried a passenger to Tahiti in the Ogre, although this passenger was unfortunate enough to suffer from Canary fever while on board.


THE OGRE AS A FISHING SMACK



THE OGRE AS A FISHING SMACK. After Ralph Stock had bought the Ogre he had little money left to fit her out for his cruise. To provide funds for the extensive fitting out, Stock went trawling, although the war of 1914-18 was still in progress.





Many accounts of ocean cruising in yachts that have needed crews to handle them contain painful references to the crew problem, and many cruises have come to an abrupt end because of it. Nothing is more embarrassing for an outsider than to go aboard a little vessel that has just reached port after an ocean passage of several thousand miles, only to find that the members of the ship's company are at loggerheads and are about to part company.


Trouble of this kind, which has wrecked so many ventures, is more to be feared than the violence of the sea. It is a tribute to Stock, to his shipmates and to his passenger that the Ogre got so far without friction.


Another point overlooked by those who think it is easy to emulate or surpass the voyage made by Stock is that he and his sister were “old hands” before starting. In 1914, with a friend and a paid skipper, they sailed an ancient six-tons yawl, the Wanderlust, from Sydney, intending to cruise in the Pacific Islands. The Wanderlust was wrecked when a native pilot was taking her through a pass in a reef at Norfolk Island. The adventurers obtained their fares to Sydney by selling articles from the wreck to the islanders. Thus Stock’s successful voyage was not the venturing forth of a greenhorn, but was the result of far more sea-experience than the average yachtsman has.


During his service in France in the war of 1914-18, Stock never lost sight of his purpose to cruise in the South Seas, and in moments of relaxation he was studying designs and plans of yachts. Stock and the friend whom he calls Steve were partly disabled in the war, and part of the voyage must have been a strain on them. All three were widely-travelled and experienced. Miss Stock was an exceptional asset with her ability to remember apparently unimportant details. Ocean cruising is far more than a matter of brute force and luck, and there are many occasions when the quick intelligence and common-sense possessed by women is of greater value than sheer weight on a rope. Moreover, women pay particular attention to such matters as the stowing of stores and provisions, which some men treat far too carelessly.


From the beginning Stock showed his wisdom. He knew the type of boat he wanted for the cruise and saw that he acquired her. The Ogre was one of the best ocean cruisers that ever put to sea, irrespective of size, and she was in the hands of a first-class amateur seaman. Her acquisition was not sheer luck on the part of her owner, but was due to the successful search of a man with an eye for a boat. Stock’s previous experience in the Wanderlust had not been wasted; he had known the pangs of parting with hard-earned money to patch up an old crock.


The Ogre’s pedigree was of the bluest blood, her designer having been the late Colin Archer, who had designed the Fram for Nansen, the Polar explorer. Archer was one of the most gifted naval architects, his North Sea pilot cutters being a delight to the eye and a joy to the seaman. The Ogre had been designed to serve as a lifeboat for the North Sea fishing fleet, and she was sold to a man who fitted her out as a yacht. Built in 1908, she was 47 feet over all, 15 feet beam and 8 feet draught. Stock bought her in Devonshire for about £300; but she was not then fitted out for the long voyage. The war of 1914-18 had not ended, and possibly this accounts for the moderate price at which she changed hands.


Voyage of the dream ship Ogre


















THE COURSE OF THE DREAM SHIP is indicated on these maps. The Ogre was built in 1908 ; she was 47 feet overall, had a 15-ft. beam and an 8-ft. draught. She was rigged as a cutter and had a 13 horse-power engine. Ralph Stock bought her in Devonshire for £300. Ocean navigation was studied under the guidance of a Danish ex-captain, who sailed in the Ogre as far as Vigo. From Las Palmas to Tahiti the Ogre carried, in addition to Ralph Stock, his sister and their friend, an experienced yachtsman as a passenger.



Voyage of the dream ship Ogre


















Nothing reveals Stock’s determination more than the fact that he spent practically every penny he had in buying the ship at a time when the prospects of an ocean cruise seemed so far off. He thoroughly deserved a bargain. To provide funds for the extensive fitting out Stock went trawling. The war was not yet over, and fish were fetching high prices. To catch the fish, Stock had to risk his life and his ship, as he had to trawl over the U-boats’ hunting ground, but he brought his fish to market every time. The war ended, Stock, his sister and his friend Steve were ready for the venture.


The Ogre was rigged as a cutter and had a 13 horse-power auxiliary engine. Stock made himself responsible for the engine and its temperament, and had many struggles with it, being sometimes victor and sometimes victim. The water tanks held 300 gallons, the allowance being three-quarters of a gallon a head per day, with a quarter of a gallon for cooking purposes. Navigation was studied under the guidance of an ex-captain, a Dane who had “swallowed the anchor” (settled down ashore) twenty -six years before, and he agreed to accompany the trio as far as Vigo (Spain).


No ocean voyage began more in-auspiciously. When the dinghy was hauled aboard she was dropped on the old captain’s big toe. Then Steve crushed his hand in one of the skylights, and in getting away the Ogre fouled a buoy and then a smack. The Ogre, with half her crew crippled, lurched clear of the harbour into the Channel after having bounced off various fishing smacks. Probably the exit would have been gentler had not Stock been struggling to start the engine, which did not operate until the Ogre was clear of the breakwater. In the Bay of Biscay the boom snapped because of the terrific rolling, so Stock set the squaresail. The yard was 25 feet long, and this sail proved of great value.


At Vigo - the first port of call - the broken boom was repaired, and several things which had come adrift in the Bay were secured by placing iron bands round them and screwing these bands to floor or bulkhead. The old captain said farewell and the trio sailed for the Canary Islands. Stock was more concerned about his navigation than anything else, and was overjoyed when he found Madeira just when and where he expected.


This new-born confidence was shaken when the Ogre passed one night close to the unlighted Salvages - barren rocks belonging to Madeira - whereas her course should have been miles away. Stock had allowed for a certain set of the current, which did not appear to have occurred on this occasion. Then he encountered fog and failed to locate the island of Grand Canary. He and Steve were worried until Miss Stock saw the peak of Tenerife raising its head above the mist in the distance; then the relieved mariners found the harbour of Las Palmas and anchored.


ON THE LOOK-OUT on the dream ship Ogre



ON THE LOOK-OUT. A photograph taken during assisted in the work of the yacht, by taking a watch, the Ogre’s voyage of the passenger, who splicing ropes, doing carpentry and various other tasks.





The three adventurers had to wait several weeks at Las Palmas for the arrival by steamer of the passenger, and they caught “Canary fever” while they were waiting. They found prices high at that time in the island and lived on salt beef and ship’s biscuits, saving the better food for the passenger. The passenger arrived and they sailed for the West Indies. Unfortunately for everybody they found that the passenger had no teeth, not even artificial ones; this complicated the cooking. He took a watch, however, and did carpentry, spliced ropes and helped in many ways.


The passage to Barbados occupied thirty-two days and the chief trouble during that time was due to calms, which strained the gear and caused considerable chafe. One night the squaresail and its yard came down with a terrible crash, the wire rope having been chafed through. Steve, whose watch it was, thought that a cup had fallen in the cabin. He had been deafened during his war service, and the noise conveyed practically nothing to him. Then some of the salt beef went bad and had to be thrown overboard.

Stock had a birthday during the passage, and his sister, with true feminine regard for the occasion, determined that he should receive a pleasant surprise. She made up a mysterious parcel of a tin of cigarettes, steamed stamps off old envelopes and stuck these on a wrapper which she addressed to her brother. To Stock’s amazement, the parcel appeared on the cabin table as though delivered by a postman.


Because of a faulty chronometer, Stock did not find Barbados where he calculated it to be, and was standing away for Trinidad when the passenger sighted Barbados. The mainspring of the chronometer broke soon after the Ogre reached the island. The next stage of the voyage was to Colon, on the Atlantic side of the Panama Canal, off which Stock had doubts as to his position. It appears that a current had carried him many miles from Colon; so he sighted a lighthouse and then joined the procession of ships making for the Canal.


The Panama Canal - described in an earlier chapter - is a problem for every cruising yachtsman. It is such a marvel of efficiency that he dreads getting into difficulties in the middle of it, making an exhibition of himself and incurring heavy charges for towing. The Canal must lose money on every small yacht that passes through, because the charges are based on tonnage and every vessel must have a pilot. Thus the dues on a small vessel are small, and special care has to be taken at the locks to avoid damage to a fragile yacht. Stock’s main worry was the temperament of his engine. The first series of locks is at Gatun; these are always the worst for a yacht, as the three lock chambers lift the vessel 85 feet above the Atlantic to the fresh water Gatun Lake. There are altogether three series of locks, Gatun, Pedro Miguel and Miraflores. A great ocean liner or a battleship gives far less trouble than a small yacht, because a large ship occupies most of the chamber and the wonderful machinery is able to handle her. A small yacht may be compared to a matchbox in a bath of water with ants on the matchbox trying to control it as it is tossed about by water pouring in from the bottom of the bath.


Ralph Stock's friend on board the dream ship Ogre



FINDING THE SHIP’S POSITION. The illustration shows Steve, Ralph Stock's friend, on board the Ogre using the sextant.





At Gatun, also, the pilot is new to the yacht and is apt to apply steamship practice to a tiny vessel that has an auxiliary engine with a propeller on the quarter. The lift at Gatun being 85 feet, the level of water in Gatun Lake is the highest in the canal. At the second lock, Pedro Miguel, vessels descend 30 feet, and at Miraflores 55 feet to the level of the Pacific. Small yachts are not “locked through” separately, but have to wait for steamers and go through with them.


When the Ogre was in the lock chamber at Gatun and the water was let in, there were several minor mishaps. The passenger, who was at the helm, was crushed between the tiller and the side of the steering wheel by the force of the water that sluiced against the rudder. As the yacht rose, her covering-board was damaged against the side of the chamber. The yacht rose with the speed of a lift, snapping warps and bursting fenders. When the yacht reached Gatun Lake, Stock had to face engine trouble. He could not start the motor, and the yacht sailed towards Pedro Miguel Lock. Then a tug took her in tow to this lock, but, to Stock’s horror, he found that the cost of the tow would absorb practically all his money. The yacht was moored for the night after she had passed through the lock. Next day she was towed through Miraflores Lock to Balboa, on the Pacific side of the Canal. Here the whole venture would have ended, because of shortage of money, but for the fact that Stock received payment for the film rights of a short story he had sold in America. He was able to buy paint and gear and a stock of provisions.


Stock and his friend are checking the position of their ship the Ogre



FINDING THE SHIP’S POSITION. Stock and his friend are checking the position of their ship on a chart.





The passage from Balboa to Chatham Island, one of the Galapagos group, across one of the strangest stretches of water in the world, provided one of the most amazing incidents of the cruise. These islands are not only a puzzle to the scientist because of their formation and their strange animal life, but also they baffle the mariner because of the currents. Poor visibility generally hampers the navigator in getting observations to establish his position. The Spaniards had good reason to call them the Enchanted Isles (Las Islas Encantadas).


As with many other people, Stock did not see the Galapagos until he was right among them. When he did see them, it took him some time to distinguish one from another. The engine was out of action, but a breeze came along. This faded and down came a fog. The current carried the yacht towards an islet which they could not see in the fog and darkness, and then they realized that they were alongside a precipice that shot sheer up from the sea. They fended the yacht off by hand and manoeuvred her until a faint breeze caught the idle sails and blew her clear. One roller would have cracked the yacht against the wall as if she were an egg, but the water was as smooth as a duck pond. When day dawned they were still in doubt as to their position, but Miss Stock suddenly recognized one point on the chart, and then the whole position became clear. Thus the Ogre anchored safely in the ominously -named Wreck Bay at Chatham Island.


The islands belong to Ecuador, and an Ecuadorian official who had good reasons for not visiting the mainland successfully pleaded with Stock to let him embark as cook, so that the Ogre sailed with this young man and a baby tortoise added to the ship’s company. “Bill”, however, as they called the Ecuadorian, proved more ornamental than useful.


Thanks to a good south-east trade wind the Ogre reached Nukuhiva, one of the Marquesas group, in less than a month, anchoring in the Bay of Tai o Hae. Their stay in the group was enlivened by the prospect of diving for pearl shell. They shipped two natives and sailed to a place where they saw some oysters on the sea-bed. But as the natives refused to dive for fear of sharks the idea of pearling was given up.


The yacht did not stop in the Tua-motu Islands, but sailed on to Tahiti, where the passenger went ashore and the Ecuadorian found employment in a store. The cook’s place was taken by a young New Zealander called “Ray”, who proved an asset. At Tahiti Stock had another bout with the engine and discovered why it had refused to function - an air-vent of one of the carburettors was clogged; the trouble was cured by the application of a hatpin.


One of the crew of the dream ship Ogre descending from the rigging



A DESCENT FROM THE RIGGING of the Ogre. One of the crew of the dream ship coming down after having had a look-out aloft to search the horizon for ships or land.





After she had visited Moorea, opposite Tahiti, the Ogre sailed to Palmerston Island, where the trade goods brought from England were sold to the inhabitants. The Ogre went on to Niue, christened Savage Island by Captain Cook, and then to the Tonga Islands, where, on an impulse which he afterwards regretted, Stock sold the yacht at a good figure. The adventurers then went their various ways and the cruise was over. On the last stage of the voyage the yacht had two narrow escapes. While hove-to at night during a gale in reef-strewn waters the Ogre drifted into a horseshoe of reefs, but Stock started the engine and managed to find his way out without touching the reefs.


When he entered the difficult channel leading to his last port of all Stock asked for a pilot; unfortunately the local pilot mistook his signal for a burgee, and for a long time the engine fought a strong current until the pilot woke up to the fact that he was wanted, and dashed out to bring the yacht in through the narrow channel.


When he sold the Ogre Stock intended to continue in a bigger vessel, but failed to find one that approached the Ogre. She was a well-found little ship. The squaresail rendered great service in the trade winds, and all sails were tanned to prevent mildew. Although he carried three anchors, Stock found it necessary to use only one, and the yacht never dragged. Stock’s joy at Tahiti in solving the mystery of the continual engine trouble can be appreciated by all who have experience of small motors in yachts. During a long voyage, such as that of the Ogre, the motor is useless, for no small craft can carry sufficient fuel for thousands of miles. Apart from its initial expense, an engine and its fuel take up valuable space needed for food and water.


Dangers of Engine Failure


On the other hand, an engine that can be started easily and can be relied upon in an emergency is always worth while, because it may save the yacht from being wrecked. Some blue-water yachtsmen have omitted engines because of a desire to make a cruise entirely under sail. Yet such men regard a tow into or out of harbour as legitimate and not detracting from the feat of having traversed a considerable part of the world under sail alone. They are the “hard cases” of the ocean-cruising fraternity who glory in their independence of the auxiliary engine, which they regard as a sign of “softness”. But they appreciate a “friendly tow” by a tug or motor boat.


All that yachtsmen such as Stock expect from an engine is that it should enable the yacht to enter and leave port when there is no wind or when the wind is contrary, entailing a good deal of tacking before the yacht can work up to her anchorage.


During a voyage which includes the passage of the Panama Canal an engine is necessary, unless the yachtsman can afford to pay the high charges for a tow, or will wait until a small-powered craft or yacht will pull him through. Stock’s engine failed in the Canal and caused him worry and the expense of a tow. His experience of engine trouble at the very time when he needed the engine most has been that of many another yachtsman. Stock did not admit defeat, and he conquered the engine finally at Tahiti. Had he not done so he would have been wrecked when the yacht, approaching her last port, was caught by a current and swept shorewards.


It is the danger of being caught in such a way that is the nightmare of the yachtsman. Several small yachts after journeys of thousands of miles have been wrecked in that way. The early navigators in sailing ships had only one chance, to lower boats and pull the ship clear by towing.


A most important principle of blue-water yachting ventures is to avoid running any risks through negligence. It is more seamanlike to take precautions and avoid damage than to get into a muddle which can only be rectified by superhuman efforts. In spite of every forethought the element of unexpected danger always remains. Stock and Steve for instance, nearly lost their lives at a moment when they felt secure. One day the yacht was becalmed in the Atlantic. The two friends threw a lifebelt into the sea and amused themselves by diving overboard. They were both in the water when a breeze came up and the yacht began to move faster than they could swim. There was no one on deck. They shouted and, fortunately, Miss Stock heard them. She put the yacht into the wind and was able to pick them up; but it was a narrow escape, and such possible dangers should never have been ignored.


SThe dream ship Ogre in the Panama Canaltock’s feat of sailing so far without loss or damage is one of the finest in the epic of the “little ships” that to-day carry on the traditions of sail when the full-sized oceangoing sailing ship has nearly disappeared.







IN THE PANAMA CANAL. Several minor mishaps occurred to the Ogre while she was passing from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean through the famous Canal. The most serious of these mishaps was the breakdown of the auxiliary engine. The cost of having the Ogre towed through was so great that the rest of the voyage was in danger of having to be cancelled. About this time, however, Ralph Stock received payment for the film rights of a story he had sold. This payment enabled him to continue the voyage.








[From part 13, published 5 May 1936]



You can read more on “Great Voyages in Little Ships”, “Supreme Feats of Navigation” and “Standing and Running Rigging” on this website.