Jan. 5th, 2014

xenith: (Eucalypt)


"Click, click, click, click," accompanied with a continuous "burr-urr-burr-uerr," like the sound made by the revolving shaft of a screw streamer; overheard the footsteps of the two men on the look-out--footsteps not rhythmical, but now slow, now quick, as the ship tosses and dips her bows. A loud, clear, "ping," followed by the opening of a door, then for a minute all other sounds are drowned by a noise that a baby's exaggerated cracker might make. Another "ping," comparative quietness resigns again. Such are the sounds that assail the ear of your friend Ulysses, who at the moment of writing is to all intents and purposed a prisoner in the estuary of the Thames.

Picture 1 I am in a cheerfully lit cabin, as clean and bright as a newly-minted shilling, and as big as a dining-room table. Behind me is the bunk that amid all these noises I slept in last night as sound as a top. In front of me is a lamp lashed to the table, and, if I life my eyes, they light upon the honest face of Peter Frost, who is making up his log, and who for nearly five years now has been master of the Nore lightship. Behind him again is his sleeping bunk. A brightly-polished copper stove, drawers underneath, and little cupboards at the side of each bunk, and a small book-case complete the equipment of this snug room, who acquaintance I made yesterday afternoon on the famous lightship at the mouth of the Thames.

It was then about five when the Vestal's cable was slipped from our starboard bow, and as the yacht which had brought me to the Nore steamed away I waved my adieux to Captain Reading, from whom I had received many kind attentions on the way down.

"You're a prisoner here now," said the master in kindly tones. "You can't send any letters off by post from here, or a telegram. You can't go a walk either for a change of air if the ship should disagree with you. But we'll have a cup of tea ready in a few minutes, and then it'll be time to light the lantern." I find that to get off the Nore is not an easy matter, else I should have been home by this time.

Meanwhile all hands were busy, putting the deck in something like order, for besides myself, the master, and three men, the Vestal had landed on the lightship's deck a ton of coal, a quantity of casks of water, drums full of oil, and boxes of provisions and clothes. These were put away only temporarily for the night, and this with tea brought us close to sunset, the time for hoisting the lantern, which, during the day, is in the deckhouse. I had a look at it here while it was being lit, which operation is performed by the cook for the time being.

It is octagonal, and is outside measurement is 18 feet. Inside it are 24 separate lamps, arranged in eight groups of three in the form of an equilateral triangle with the apex downwards. As these lamps revolve, one groups sheds its combined light in a particular direction, appearing to the spectator in the line of this direction like a large globe of light. This is only for a moment, for one lamp after another ceases to shine in this direction, and the globe of light dwindles until it disappears. Meanwhile, however, the first lamp of the next three is coming round, a faint spark appears, which slowly grows, until the rays from all three are focussed again in the direction of the on-looker. Thus, if anyone at a distance could always keep abreast of the same point of the lantern, the light to him would always appear the same.

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