The Journeying Moon: Sailing into History

The Journeying Moon: Sailing into History

by Ernle Bradford

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A memoir of life as an adventurer and sailor in the Mediterranean, by the noted naval historian.
Ernle Bradford spent his twenty-first birthday in Egypt, serving in the Royal Navy during World War II. It was there that he came across the profoundly affecting words of Anton Chekhov: “Life does not come again; if you have not lived during the days that were given to you, once only, then write it down as lost.”
After the war, Bradford married and settled in London, but the mandate of those words inspired him and his wife to quit their jobs, sell their home, and sail to France in their small ship Mother GooseThe Journeying Moon chronicles their adventures as they travel through Europe and the Mediterranean. From the people of Malta who believed Bradford was a spy from MI5, to his interactions with the Sicilian Mafia, Bradford tells the charming and vivid tale of his days as a true adventurer.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781497617339
Publisher: Open Road Media
Publication date: 04/01/2014
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 254
Sales rank: 1,036,320
File size: 716 KB

About the Author

Ernle Bradford was born in 1922 and died in 1986. He was a noted British historian specializing in the Mediterranean world and naval topics. Bradford was an enthusiastic sailor himself and spent almost thirty years sailing the Mediterranean, where many of his books are set. He served in the Royal Navy during World War II, finishing as the first lieutenant of a destroyer. Bradford lived in Malta for a number of years. He did occasional broadcast work for the BBC, was a magazine editor, and wrote many books, including HannibalPaul the TravellerJulius Caesar: The Pursuit of PowerChristopher Columbus, and The Mighty Hood.

Ernle Bradford was born in 1922 and died in 1986. He was a noted British historian specializing in the Mediterranean world and naval topics. Bradford was an enthusiastic sailor himself and spent almost thirty years sailing the Mediterranean, where many of his books are set. He served in the Royal Navy during World War II, finishing as the first lieutenant of a destroyer. Bradford lived in Malta for a number of years. He did occasional broadcast work for the BBC, was a magazine editor, and wrote many books, including Hannibal, Paul the Traveller, Julius Caesar: The Pursuit of Power, Christopher Columbus, and The Mighty Hood.

Read an Excerpt

The Journeying Moon

Sailing Into History

By Ernle Bradford


Copyright © 1958 Ernle Bradford
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4976-1733-9


In the few seconds before you drop off to sleep you are conscious of the many sounds that make up the silence of the sea. There is a clatter from the galley, where they are washing-up after supper, and a small squeak and sigh somewhere just overhead—one of the jib sheet blocks could do with some oil. A gentle stirring noise, like a bird's wing lifting, is followed by an almost inaudible flop as a coat on a hook lifts and subsides with the yacht's movement. There are odd rustles and mouselike squeaks; a steady background of minute unrelated sounds.

Nothing else? Yes, all the time, an inch or so away from your ear, there is the purring lisp of water. Sometimes it runs past softly and dreamily like summer streams; at others it mounts to a high-pitched hiss, as though a giant soda-syphon were being sprayed against the wooden hull. You know then that the yacht has heeled to a hard puff of wind, or that she is sliding fast down the long green back of an Atlantic roller. These sounds are part of your silence. Any interruption, or change in them, will bring you scrambling from your bunk, even though a few seconds before you may have been as deep down, and as far away, as the Seven Sleepers.

Tonight she is going easily and well. The galley noises recede. The innumerable small voices fade. Only the endless hush-hushing of the water past the ship's side remains. Sleep.

'Hey there! Wakey wakey!' Drops of water are falling on to my face.

'Come on, you lucky sailor! It's ten to four on a wet and windy morning!'

Slowly I swim up out of the dark fathoms of sleep. I have been a long way down tonight. Arne switches on the light above my head and leans back against the opposite bunk. He takes out a pack of cigarettes, lights one, and then offers the pack to me.

'What's it like out?'

'You can see....' He shakes the water off his cap. His face looks raw and cold.

'You'll need plenty of clothes. The wind's pretty steady, about three to four. North-west. We've got all plain sail on her. Logging a nice five and a half. There's quite a bit of cloud coming over.'

On my way through to the galley I pass Bob, my watchmate, stumbling about in stockinged feet. He is swearing to himself.

'Some basket's pinched my sea-boots. I put them under the table just before I turned in.'

'I did. I shifted them into the oilskin locker. They'd slid out into the passageway. I was afraid of someone breaking their neck over them.'

Arne laughs. 'You'd have to climb over them first—then fall off.'

Bob takes fourteen in shoes. The size of his feet provides a constant target for the wit of our small world.

The galley is warm and reassuring. The light gleams on the stainless steel stove, on the coffee-pot steaming gently, and on a large plate piled with sandwiches.

'That's a good idea.' I help myself.

'Mine,' says Arne. 'Thought we might as well get rid of that German cheese. It's still all right, but I wanted to be quite sure that it was the cheese and not Bob's socks that's been making the after-locker unendurable.'

A splatter of rain drives against the galley window as I stand there with my hands cupped round a mug of coffee. Arne grins.

'It's a bit wet on deck. But you can't help it. She's going along well, but every now and then you get a big one and she digs her nose into it. The drizzle's letting up though.'

I follow him through the galley to the chart table. The clock says three minutes to four, and the barometer is standing at 1016 millibars. I look in the log-book and see that it has been steady for the past four hours. While I am reading through the middle watch entries, the hatch behind me opens and Ronnie's face appears.

'Log reading "Thirty-one and a half".'

I enter it in the book. One thousand two hundred and thirty-one and a half miles. From Falmouth towards New York. Aboard the yawl Kay. The First of May, 1956. Our twelfth day at sea. Bob pushes past me and opens the hatch, letting in a thin spray of salt water.

'I'll take her first, if you like,' he says over his shoulder.

'I'll be up in a minute.'

I finish my coffee and am just lighting another cigarette, when Ronnie comes into the galley. His eyelids are red and puckered, his face is misted with a straggling, half-grown beard, and his hands are crinkled like an old washerwoman's. He holds them out over the stove.

'Why the hell don't you wear gloves, Ronnie?'

'I can't get the feel of the wheel if I do. She's steering pretty easily, though. We're waltzing along. If it wasn't for the cold it'd be perfect.'

Ronnie comes from South Africa. He is more sensitive to the cold than the rest of us, who are either English or Swedish. As he stands there in the brightly lit galley he looks like an advertisement for Michelin tyres, his oilskin suit bulging as though it were inflated with compressed air, and a wet towel sealing the suit around his neck. Under his sou'wester he is wearing a woollen cap pulled down over his ears.

I put out my cigarette. Td better go up top. 'Night, Ronnie. 'Night, Arne.'

But Arne, having stopped only to pull off his sea-boots and oilskins, is already fast asleep in his bunk. Frank and Stig, the other members of the crew, are also asleep. Frank lies sprawled on his back, one large hand hanging just over the edge of the bunkboard. It drifts gently to and fro as the yacht sways and rises over the sea. Stig, who sleeps in one of the quarter berths, has pulled the curtains across so that the light from the chart table cannot disturb him. I hear his deep breathing as I make my way up to the hatch. He lies, I know, snugly hidden away in a frowst of warm, damp clothes; sea-boot stockings; woollen blankets; and whatever dreams haunt the deep sleep of Swedish fishermen.

When you come outside from the glow of the chart-table light at first you can see nothing. But you feel the cold. It bites into the skin of your face, and you take a few deep, shocked breaths as though you had plunged into icy water. You pull on your gloves quickly and sit down in the nearest corner of the cockpit, waiting for your eyes to adjust to the dark.

'The moon's just gone down behind that bank of clouds. We're going along well.'

I can see Bob's face, lit from beneath by the soft glow of the compass. He is sitting just to one side of the wheel, a little tensed, and watching the card carefully. Bob is not quite sure of himself as a helmsman. He will probably never make a good one, for he does not seem to have the necessary 'hands': that sure, relaxed touch of the man who feels like part of the boat, and who can tell—even without looking at the card—whether she is on course, and if the sails are drawing well.

I look at the Kenyon speedometer. It is flickering between six and seven knots. The wind is fairly broad on the beam, and the yacht is driving along at an easy angle of heel. Just occasionally an errant wave jumps over the bows and flies aft in a flicker of spray.

'Got the torch?'

He hands it to me and I climb out of the cockpit and walk forward on the weather side, holding on to the guard-rail with one hand. By the mainmast I pause and shine the torch aloft. The varnished mast, the spreaders, and the white wing of the mainsail spring out of the darkness. Seventy foot above me the top of the mast describes its gentle arc against the sky. A few seconds later the moon breaks out from behind the clouds and transforms the night scene. Its light induces a certain confidence, subduing the lonely dark, and the indifferent sea.

We are in a fifty-two-foot yacht, over a thousand miles out from Land's End, headed west for America in the early spring of the year. Our destination is New York, and our only aim to deliver the yacht safe and sound, ready for the Bermuda race in two months' time. We are not doing it in a barrel, nor backwards in a bathtub, with an eye to lucrative publicity and heroic tales in the popular Press. Why then? The question is worth asking, but I suppose the answer would be different for each one of us. Stig alone is doing it for bread-and-butter. He is the only professional seaman in our crew of six.

I go forward into the pulpit, turn my back to the advancing waves, and gaze up along the luff of the jib. The sail curves away in a smooth arc, as beautiful and nearly as efficient as a gull's wing. Maybe, though, the jib is sheeted in a little too


I hear his answering shout.

'Can you check away the jib a little? Only a little.'

A few seconds later the sheet-blocks tap on the deck. They strain upwards and creak. There is a faint, rasping sigh as the wet jib sheets ease themselves through the blocks' swollen wooden mouths, and the sail seems to give a slight shrug. A flutter runs from its foot, up over the belly, and dies away at the head. The sail resumes its shape, only now it is a fraction fuller, and the yacht seems to move more easily. There is more of a 'cushioned' feel about her as she rises over the northwesterly swell, or shoulders her way down the backs of the waves.

'That's enough!'

I make my way slowly aft, checking the lashings on the dinghy, and coiling up a wandering rope's end as I pass. Bob is struggling with a cigarette, and I sit down beside him.

'Here, I'll take her for a bit. Why not go below and fix us some tea? Or see if there's any of that coffee left. I'll have a tot of rum in mine.'

'The hard-drinking mate! Okay.'

He gets to his feet and opens the doghouse doors. The light streams up, catching his wet, unshaved cheeks, but only for a second, and then the doors are closed and I am alone. Except for the glimmer of light from the galley windows there is nothing to show that I am not the only man alive in the world. Something to do with the peace, the solitude, and the feeling of self-reliance—is that why one does it? Partly.

The spokes of the wheel drift through my hands and the compass light glows soft and steady, a friendly glow. The moon has gone again and there is another dark bank of cirrus cloud moving over us from the north. Mindlessly—it requires no conscious control any more—my body shifts and sways, easing itself to the scend and movement of the sea.

We are steering 250°, just a little south of west. Yesterday our noon position was 450 15'N., 25° 34'W.—some four hundred miles north of the Azores, almost in the centre of the Western Ocean. And it is spring, the ripe breeding season for North Atlantic gales, the cold, dour season when the thermometer stands at thirteen degrees Centigrade, and the flung spray bites on your skin like a vicious mouth with small, salt teeth. But there is little love in it.

'Here's yours. There's as much rum in it as coffee.' Bob settles back in his corner, lights two cigarettes in the screen of his jacket and hands one to me.

'The barometer's falling. It's back to 1015.' A millibar in the last hour. Still, it may not mean anything. The wind seems steady and there is no sign of any increase in the swell. Bob begins to sing softly to himself. He has a wide range of old songs, Victorian drawing-room pieces, and bawdy ballads.

'Once I was a serving girl,
Down in Drury Lane,
My master was kind to me
My Mistress was the same....'

Curious how many of us either hum or sing on watch, men who when ashore would rarely sing, even in the bathtub. Perhaps peasants and fishermen, and most simple people, sing because the quietness and simplicity of their lives need a thread of sound running through them.

You know how the dawn comes over the Atlantic at that time of year? There is a faint lightening of the sea's surface and the air seems different. It is rather as if during the night watches one has lost one's sense of taste and smell. They are only restored by the new day. For the first time you can savour the air on your tongue, salty and yet with a wonderful quality about it as though all those thousands of miles of ocean have rinsed it clean. Then you begin to notice the smell of the boat, the teak of the decks, wet cordage and sailcloth, the tang of damp metal fittings, and the curious chemical smell of oilskins. Your hands become visible.

The sea begins to glow softly like old, unpolished pewter, and the cloud base—as it races overhead—becomes, for the first time in hours, varied in texture. You see now that not all of it is dark and ominous, as you had imagined, but that here and there it is dappled with white puffs, and combed with threads of grey, like trailers of smoke. Only in a few places does it sag in dark, pregnant folds, or bulk itself like threatening shoulders against the horizon. The light spreads and the sea seems to glow from within. You know now that the sun will be up in less than half an hour. You light a cigarette, and it seems as if the others you have smoked during the night have had no taste. With a fresh cigarette and a cup of coffee, you face the new day with a sparkle in your blood.

The sea is no longer a dark, moving mass, but resolves itself into individual waves; some humped; some crested; some sliding in long green, sibilant rushes; others marching with a curious and imposing silence.

'Look!' Bob points on our starboard bow. 'Look, there they are!'

One after another, leaping, diving and playing, the dolphins glide past and around us. Sometimes one of them jumps so close alongside that we can hear him snort as he takes another breath. Strange beauty! They seem so remote from us, and yet they, too, are mammals; and their play seems often to have a conscious, almost human quality about it.

'"When the sea-hog jumps, stand by your pumps",' Bob quotes. 'What about that?'

'Oh, only sometimes, I guess, Bob. I've seen them for days on end in the Mediterranean—and never a breath of wind.'

'I'm not so sure about it out here, though. And those damn chickens are back again.'

I had not noticed them before, but now, as I follow the direction of his gaze, I see two or three Arctic terns, 'Mother Carey's Chickens', scuttering their webbed feet along the water as they search for plankton.

The sun comes up over our quarter, pale yellow like old straw, and the horizon has a hard, sharp look about it. But the barometer, as we go off watch at eight o'clock, is steady. Stig has the wheel. Frank takes over the watch from me. His bald head shines in the early light and, although he has only just woken, he is cheerful as ever.

'I'll call you at nine with a lovely breakfast. One of my specials. Egg, bacon, and tinned tomatoes.'

By ten o'clock, when we have all breakfasted, washed up in hot salt water, and tidied the boat, the wind has backed round to the west. Frank comes below with a worried look.

'I've had to fall off to two hundred and twenty degrees, Arne. I don't like the way it's backing. The horizon's nice and clear though.'

'Too clear. What's the glass doing?'


It begins to fall at noon. Not much at first, just a half millibar drop. But the fall is continuous, another half millibar in the next hour, and all the time the wind is backing into the south-west. At two o'clock, just as those of us who are off watch are getting snugged down for an afternoon's sleep, there comes the call I have been expecting—'All hands!' Even down below it has been noticeable during the past hour how much more the yacht is increasing her heel. She has started to stumble and to hesitate in her long rushes down the flanks of the waves. Earlier on we have fallen off to a north-westerly course, and the motion of the boat is awkward for we are now plunging into the swell left over by the wind of the past two days.

Arne has the helm.

'Reefing stations, Ernle. But first of all, we'll shift to the number three jib.'

Ronnie and Bob stay aft in the cockpit to cope with the sheets, while Stig, Frank, and I make our way forward. The spray is coming over in cold-driven sheets. Our language keeps us warm as we wait with frozen hands (gloves are useless for this work) to take down the large, fair-weather jib. Stig stands by the halyard, while Frank and I hang on, ready in the bows.

Here she comes! The sheets start, the halyard is eased, and the sail—with a long-drawn sigh—begins to crumple. Frank and I leap on it, shouting and swearing as if it were an enemy. As fast as we can, we tear it down the windswept forestay, beating it to the deck with our fists and fingers. Then the sodden sail is parcelled and secured along the deck, while its successor, a smaller jib cut high along the foot so that it clears the spray and the sea, is hanked on to the forestay.


Excerpted from The Journeying Moon by Ernle Bradford. Copyright © 1958 Ernle Bradford. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

  • Dedication
  • Epigraph
  • Chapter 1
  • Chapter 2
  • Chapter 3
  • Chapter 4
  • Chapter 5
  • Chapter 6
  • Chapter 7
  • Chapter 8
  • Chapter 9
  • Chapter 10
  • Chapter 11
  • Chapter 12
  • Chapter 13
  • Chapter 14
  • Chapter 15
  • Chapter 16
  • Chapter 17
  • Chapter 18
  • Chapter 19
  • Chapter 20

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