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Dangers of Sailing

By Kenneth Campbell - Added 16/04/2014

Audio: Kenneth Campbell, Coinneach Alasdair Choinnich, from Scadabay narrated this story in 1983 for the Harris Historical Society, as it was told to him by his father.  It illustrates the hardship and dangers experienced by the long distance cargo-boats of the 19th Century. Dur: 4.32 

It concerns the cargo-boat, Euphemia, and a particular trip that took longer than they expected. 

The crew had landed in Copenhagen with their cargo of herring and took a load of pit-props aboard which they were taking to Portobello.  They were heading towards that destination when Big Duncan, who was at the wheel, started having a problem with it; it wouldn't move for him.  One of the other men looked over the side and noticed a large beast attached to the rudder. He took an oar and dislodged the animal with it.  The problem was sorted and they kept on their way.  However, when the captain, John Campbell, came on deck and heard what had happened he told them that they should have thrown a line out as it may have been a mermaid resting against the rudder and she could have used the line instead.  A mermaid was thought by mariners to be harbingers of bad weather and it may have been especially true if it had been treated unkindly.  As it happened, the ship was in sight of the Scottish coastline when a storm blew up.  They lowered their sails and hoisted a storm-sail.  They then let the ship drift with the storm, which it did for over a fortnight, eventually taking them back to the Scandinavian coast.  They dropped anchor as soon as they got some shelter, fearing that they may end up grounded in shallow water.  Fortunately some lobster fishermen spotted them, found someone who could speak English, and then guided them to safer waters.  They were anchored there for six weeks before they were able to return home.  They recounted their experience as the "The time we spent drifting."