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THE DEE LIGHTSHIP.

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THE DEE LIGHTSHIP. Few travellers journeying up or down the North Wales coast perhaps bestow more than a passing glance and thought on the lightship moored at the very month of the Dee midway between the Point of Air and Hilbre Island lighthouses. To them the lightship is simply a big-looking hulk that rides at anchor in the tideway, and sheds its warning rays at night on passing mariners. They do not stop to inquire how the daily and nightly routine of life on that grim sentinel is arranged, nor how the men who are doomed to an existence of solitude there manage to pass the tedious hours away. A representative of this journal, being of an enquiring turn of mind, and desirous of seeing what was to be seen on board the lightship itself, made an attempt the other day to pay a visit of inspection to the isolated little colony. A cruise in the estuary of the Dee in fine weather is always a treat to those who inherit the nautical traditions of the sons of Britannia, and if we should fail in our endeavour to reach the far-off lightship, we could not be denied the pleasures of a sail along and across that noble waterway which divides Flintshire from Cheshire, and which to be seen at its best must be viewed when it is filled from coast to coast with a swelling 20ft. tide. It was our good luck to seize this opportune moment. The tide had only just begun to ebb when we arrived at Heswall from Chester, and stepped <m board the sailing boat that was to carry us an the day's trip. We say stepped on board' in a purely figurative sense, for, to be strictly accurate, we were all carried on board. The Heswall shore, where the cutter lay at her moorings, is rather muddy and fiat, and most landsmen are glad to entrust their bodies to the back of a sturdy tar, who carries them through the shallow water to a punt, thence to be sculled to the larger craft waiting outside. It was an ideal morning for sailing, a day that seemed to have dropped out of its proper place in the September calendar simply te oblige us. The tfte was now running out as only a Dee tide knows how the north-easterly breeze was bulging out mainsail and jibs, and the gallant little craft was skimming along at a lively pace and almost on an even keel. Had we been a party Of poets or artists, we should have immediately fallen into a deep, calm reverie, gazing on the breezy heights of Wirral on the one hand and the bolder outline of the Flintshire hills on the Other, while, being imaginative, we should hare eworn the wavelets laving the Dawpool beach were shimmering, silver-crested on an azure ground. As a matter of fact, however, our party comprised neither painter nor poet, and, looking at things through ordinary eyes, we were obliged to confess that the waves which play over the mussel beds in that slimy region are anything but blue and silver, and do not possess the charming transparency of Douglas Bay. You have to steer out into the middle channel before entering .on the real sea-green water. It was doubtless the inexorable cravings of a healthy digestion that prevented us all from falling into the dreamy reverie to which the lovely surroundings seemed so naturally adapted. Ours is a fallen state, and not the sublimest landscape or seascape will appeal to the eye so long as the stomach remains empty. Given a good solid (also liquid) lunch in the cabin, and the veriest stoic will unbend himself under the influence of a post-prandial pipe while lounging on deck and gazing on the ever-changing scene presented to the voyager who scuds across the expansive estuary of the Dee. Hilbre Island was left far to the northward, and the whiLe walls of the Point of Air Light- house were becoming clearer every minute, when we hove to alongside the big lightship, with River Dee writ large on her.high sides. Unofficial visitors are not an everyday occur- rence to lightship men there is no at home' day marked in the diary of Captain Martin; still we were relieved to hear his cheery answer to our hail, coupled with an invitation to step aboard and see the ship. Although from a distant view there is nothing smart or attrac- tive in a nautical sense in the big hulk of a lightship, with her scanty rigging and absence of all decorative art; still once on board, the visitor finds everything in proper ship-shape order, and the interior as trim and neat as a chemist's shop. We were fortunately in time to see the lamp hoisted to the masthead for the night. As mariners are aware, the Dee Lightship shews a flash light every ten seconds. This regularly revolving motion is produced by an interesting clockwork contrivance, which requires winding up every 50 minutes all the night through. The beacon itself is a series of 10 lamps, arranged in a double circular row, while the flash is produced by revolving reflectors. Some idea of the intense brilliance of the light may be formed from the fact that it is well-nigh impossible to stare straight into the face of the reflectors from a short distance even in broad daylight. The flash that is sent out in all directions, and illuminates the sea for a con- siderable space immediately around tke ship, is visible from a distance of five miles. The effect, especially on a dark night, i3 weird in the extreme to those who are unaccustomed to the mysteries of the deep—a momentary glare all around, disclosing the hull and spars of the anchored ligntsliip, and the next instant all shrouded in impenetrable gloom. The vessel shews in addition an anchor light, to indicate how she is riding, as she swings round with each turn of the swiftly-running tide. On going below to have a look round, the visitor is shewn fathoais of ponderous cable which is held in reserve for the great storms that beat in on that exposed coast and make the lightship tug and strain at her moorings till ahe would break adrift, unless an extra length I were paid out. In fact, about a year ago despite all the seamanship of the captain and his crew of four men—and landsmen must understand that there is a good deal of seaman. ship required to handle a large vessel even riding at anchor in a strong tideway—the Dee lightship did actually part company from her moorings, and was in imminent danger of running ashore on the dreaded West Hoyle Bank, but by the help of the sails kept on board for an emergency of the kind, and by good management and good luck. the captain was able to bring the wanderer back to her appointed station without damage. The light- ship men have many a tale to tell of the tragedies of the West Hoyle Bank, the Goodwin Sands of the north, that vast expanse of innocent- looking beach at low water but which with the rising tide seethes and boils like a witch's cauldron, and has engulfed many a brave ship, and been the grave of many a hapless sailor It would have been the irony of fate indeed had the gallant lightship, which has warned hundreds of craft off that treacherous shore, itself fallen a victim to the hungry sands of the Hoy Ie Bank. It is, of course, a part of the lightship- men's duty to keep a sharp look-out for casual- ties, and signal to the adjacent lifeboat stations at Point of Air and Hilbre Island, both of which boats have done yeoman service in the rescue of storm-tossed crews drifting to their doom. These are the stirring moments of life on board the lightship. But what sort of existence the poor fellows, imprisoned there for two months at a spell, drag out may be more readily imagined than described. The men are confined to the ship for two calendar months without a break, and then they have a month ashore on some lighthouse station. During their turn of duty on the lightship they endure all the inconveniences of sea. life on a long-voyage vessel without a single one of the counter- balancing excitements, adventures, and changes of life and scene enjoyed by the average sailor. They have nothing to do beyond their daily and nightly routine of watching and cleaning. The only consolation to them is that they live in a well-found vessel with plenty of good, roomy accommodation, in fact theirliving room is almost big enough to receive a billiard table, only it is to be feared the game would occasionally be spoilt by the vagaries of the habitation in dirty weather, causing an unexpected stampede of the balls to one corner. The men fill in much of their spare time in making mats, an occupation in which they display all the skill and ingenuity of old salts.' The tedium of the two months' confinement is relieved occasionally by a wel- come visit from the Trinity yacht from Holyhead with stores, but beyond this there is,.no regular communication with the shore, and the monotony of existence is made tolerable only by the literature which comes in the men's way. The student of natural history would find the lightship a congenial abode for a week or two, were he immersed in the life history of sea fowl. These feathered visitors are always in attendance on or near the ship, circling round the lamp at night, and oftimes dashing them- selves with painful violence against the brilliant glass. But the lightship attendants have no chance of capturing the birds in the usual way, for the use of a gun is against the regulations, a shot being a signal, and there- fore not to be resorted to unless for purposes of communication. Time, however, was pressing, and our all-too short visit was brought to a close. The tide had now turned, and with a favouring breeze we soon sped up the wide estuary towards our objective, Mostyn harbour-if the narrow gutter that leads to the wharf there is deserv- ing of the name. Darkness overtook us long ere we reached the mouth of the gutter, and we had the agreeable experience of seeing what it is to navigate the shoals and narrow channels of the river Dee. The battered hulk of a wrecked steamer loomed through the darkness hard and fast on a bank near the entrance to Mostyn Gutter, and we went ashore quite half a dozen times in our efforts to make the channel. As the tide was flowing rapidly, the grounding meant no damage, only delay, our little craft always floating off a few minutes later, but it was nine o'clock at night when we touched the bottom last near the flagstaff at Mostyn, and then as the last train to Chester was almost due, we had to bundle incontinently into the punt and pull ashore, leaving the larger vessel to be got off as the tide gave her greater depth of water. If these are the difficulties to be encountered on a calm autumn evening by sea- men who are acquainted with every yard of the coast, what perils must our sands of Dee' have in store for the hard-pressed foreigner who seeks the shelter of the estuary in a mid- winter storm ?

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