Afterwards the boys looked back on the ensuing five minutes as a dream rather than a reality. The cruiser grounded with an impetus that set pans rattling in galley, lifted again and once more thumped her stern down, as she did so swinging her stern slowly around in a last frantic effort to pull clear. Then the boat careened, a sea washed clean across the deck and, with her keel forward of the engine firmly imbedded in the sand, she lay still save for the tremors that shook her when the angry surf rushed in across her beam.
There was confusion enough, but on the whole the six alarmed boys behaved sensibly. Steve, wet to his waist, turned off the engine and banged shut the chart-box even as he shouted his orders. “Life preservers, fellows! Han, get the big cable from the locker. Keep your heads now!”
Clinging like a leech to the canted roof of the forward cabin, Steve himself worked along with the rope and, half-drowned in rain and surf, made it fast to the cleat. The others, struggling into life-belts, clung to the stanchions or whatever they could find. Steve crawled back with the coil, drenched and breathless.
“We’ve got to get off, fellows,” he said. “It’s only a dozen yards to the beach and we can make it all right. Close every hatch. Ossie, fetch a can of biscuits. See that the lid’s tight.” Wave after wave struck on the starboard beam and fell hissing across the boat. The side curtains were ripped from the stanchions and fluttered wildly about them.
“Going to swim for it?” asked Joe above the roar of waves and tempest.
“Yes! We’ve got to. The boat would swamp in an instant. I’ll start ahead with the line. You fellows wait and then follow it in.”
“Better let me go along,” said Joe, his hands formed into a speaking-trumpet.
“No need. I’ll make it.”
“Look out for back-tow!”
The other nodded. He had pulled off his coat and unlaced his shoes and now he dropped these things through the forward hatch and wrapped the big rope around his waist. “Better not try to swim with your coats, fellows,” he instructed. “Nor shoes. Don’t take any chances. Last man off see that this hatch is shut tight.” He crawled around the stanchions on the starboard side and crept along to the bow, the others, huddled together on the sloping bridge, watching anxiously. Then he slipped from sight. Once they saw his head, or thought they saw it, a darker blot in the grey-green welter. Joe was already creeping toward the bow, and, having reached it, he crouched there, blinded by rain and spray, and waited for the rope to tauten. It seemed a long while before he waved an arm to the watchers behind and swung himself off. They saw his hands travel along the rope a moment and then he was smothered up in the spume.