“I wish I were at the wheel of the boat for about three minutes,” muttered Darrin hoarsely.
At that moment Laura and Belle both screamed, while Dan Dalzell shouted:
“There she goes—for sure, this time!”
A bigger wave than usual had half filled the launch and caused it to careen. Before the little craft could right itself a second and a third wave, rolling along, had completed the work. The launch had sunk!
PROVING THEIR TRAINING
In the same instant, without a word to each other, Dave Darrin and Dalzell had done the same thing. That is, they started to run and at the same time doffed coats and vests, leaving these garments to flutter behind them.
As they reached the sailboat both midshipmen cast off their shoes. Dave leaped into the boat while Dalzell threw off the bowline, then boarded.
Like a flash both youngsters went at the lashings of the mainsail.
“There isn’t a reef in,” Dan discovered. “Going to take time for a close reef, Dave?”
“There isn’t time,” Darrin muttered, with drops of cold perspiration on his forehead as he toiled. “We’ll have to go out under a full sail, Dan.”
“Great Scott!” muttered Dalzell.
“We may be too late to save any one as it is. There! Jump to the halyard. I’ve got the sheet.”
Dan Dalzell began to hoist with a will. In an incredibly short time he had the sail hoisted all the way up, while Darrin, stern and whitefaced, crouched and braced himself by the tiller, gripping the sheet with his left hand.
In a twinkling Darrin had the wind in his canvas. They had nearly a fair wind as they bounded away from the float.
During these few instants of preparation neither Belle nor Laura had spoken. Both girls realized the gravity of the situation, and they knew that a word from them might distract the rescuers from the work in hand.
Knowing that he had the high, fast wind with him, Dave steered straight for the last spot where he had seen the motor launch. Though the boat was no longer visible, and the distance too great for seeing the heads of the swimmers, if there were any, Darrin had taken his bearings by trees on the further shore upstream.
At first, to keep the sailboat from capsizing, the young skipper at the helm let the sheet well out. Then, when Dan hurriedly rejoined him, Darrin passed the sheet over to his comrade as to one who would know exactly what to do with it. Dan perched himself on the weather gunwale, his weight there serving as ballast to keep the craft from capsizing. Yet, even so, everything had to be done with the utmost skill, for, with the mainsail up, the least fluke in handling the boat would send her over.
“We’ve got to go fast and take all the chances,” muttered Dave.
“Sure,” nodded Midshipman Dan understandingly. “It would be no great scare to us if we did heel over into the drink. It might mean a different story, though, for those who are already sopping up the wet.”