Above him the boom swung creaking and he did not hear. Out of the southeast a bank of cloud crept up to obscure the sun. Far southward the Gulf was darkened, and across that darkened area specks and splashes of white began to show and disappear. The hot air grew strangely cool. The swell that runs far before a Gulf southeaster began to roll the sloop, abandoned to all the aimless movements of a vessel uncontrolled. She came up into the wind and went off before it again, her sails bellying strongly, racing as if to outrun the swells which now here and there lifted and broke. She dropped into a hollow, a following sea slewed her stern sharply, and she jibed,—that is, the wind caught the mainsail and flung it violently from port to starboard. The boom swept an arc of a hundred degrees and put her rail under when it brought up with a jerk on the sheet.
Ten minutes later she jibed again. This time the mainsheet parted. Only stout, heavily ironed backstays kept mainsail and boom from being blown straight ahead. The boom end swung outboard till it dragged in the seas as she rolled. Only by a miracle and the stoutest of standing gear had she escaped dismasting. Now, with the mainsail broaded off to starboard, and the jib by some freak of wind and sea winged out to port, the sloop drove straight before the wind, holding as true a course as if the limp body on the cockpit floor laid an invisible, controlling hand on sheet and tiller.
And he, while that fair wind grew to a yachtsman’s gale and lashed the Gulf of Georgia into petty convulsions, lay where he had fallen, his head rolling as his vessel rolled, heedless when she rose and raced on a wave-crest or fell laboring in the trough when a wave slid out from under her.
The sloop had all but doubled on her course,—nearly but not quite,—and the few points north of west that she shifted bore her straight to destruction.
MacRae opened his eyes at last. He was bewildered and sick. His head swam. There was a series of stabbing pains in his lacerated face. But he was of the sea, of that breed which survives by dint of fortitude, endurance, stoutness of arm and quickness of wit. He clawed to his feet. Almost before him lifted the bleak southern face of Squitty Island. Point Old jutted out like a barrier. MacRae swung on the tiller. But the wind had the mainsail in its teeth. Without control of that boom his rudder could not serve him.
And as he crawled forward to try to lower sail, or get a rope’s end on the boom, whichever would do, the sloop struck on a rock that stands awash at half-tide, a brown hummock of granite lifting out of the sea two hundred feet off the tip of Point Old.
She struck with a shock that sent MacRae sprawling, arrested full in an eight-knot stride. As she hung shuddering on the rock, impaled by a jagged tooth, a sea lifted over her stern and swept her like a watery broom that washed MacRae off the cabin top, off the rock itself into deep water beyond.