Heave The Lead!

Heave The Lead!
Heave The Lead!

In the year 1664, Captain Thomas Rogers, commander of a ship called the Society, was bound on a voyage from London to Virginia. The vessel being sent light to Virginia, for a loading of tobacco, carried little freight in her outward hold. “One day when they made an observation, the mates and officers brought their books and cast up their reckonings with the captain, to see how near they were to the coast of America. They all agreed that they were a hundred leagues from the capes of Virginia. Upon these customary reckonings, heaving the lead, and finding no ground at a hundred fathoms, they set the watch, and the captain turned in.


“The weather was fine; a moderate gale of wind blew from the coast; so that the ship might have run about twelve or thirteen leagues in the night after the captain was in his cabin. “He fell asleep and slept very soundly for about three hours when he woke again and lay still till he heard his second mate turn out and relieve the watch. He then called his first mate, as he was going off watch, and asked him how all things fared. The mate answered that all was well, though the gale had freshened, and they were running at a great rate; but it was a fair wind, and a fair, clear night. “The captain then went to sleep again.


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“About an hour after, he dreamed that someone had pulled him, and bade him turn out and look abroad. He, however, lay still and went to sleep again; but was suddenly reawakened. This occurred several times; and, though he knew not what was the reason, he found it impossible to go to sleep anymore. Still, he heard the vision say: ‘Turn out and look abroad.’ “The captain lay in this state of uneasiness nearly two hours until finally he felt compelled to don his greatcoat and go on deck. All was well; it was a fine, clear night. “The men saluted him; and the captain called out: ‘How’s she heading?’ “‘Southwest by south, sir,’ answered the mate; ‘fair for the coast, and the wind east by north.’ “‘Very good,’ said the captain, and as he was about to return to his cabin, something stood by him, and said: ‘Heave the lead.’ “Upon hearing this the captain said to the second mate: ‘When did you heave the lead? What water had you?’ “‘About an hour ago, sir,’ replied the mate; ‘sixty fathom.’ “‘Heave again,’ the captain commanded. “When the lead was cast they had ground at eleven fathoms. This surprised them all; but much more when, at the next cast, it came up seven fathoms. “Upon this, the captain, in a fright, bid them put the helm alee, and about the ship, all hands ordered to back the sails, as is usual in such cases.


“The proper orders being observed, the ship ‘stayed’ and came about; but before the sails filled, she had but four-fathoms-and-a-half water under her stern. As soon as she filled and stood off, they had seven fathoms again, and at the next cast eleven fathoms, and so on to twenty fathoms. They then stood off to seaward all the rest of the watch, to get into deep water, till daybreak, when, being a clear morning, the capes of Virginia were in fair view under their stern, and but a few leagues distant. Had they stood on but one cable-length further, as they were going, they would have been ashore and certainly lost their ship, if not their lives—all through the erroneous reckonings of the previous day. Who or what was it that woke the captain and bade him save the ship? That he has never been able to tell!”

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