“We shall be first round the Nab, sir,” Hawkins said in delight. “The schooners are smothering the cutters, but they are not hurting us.”
“Give her plenty of room when we get there,” Frank said.
The skipper nodded. “I won’t risk a foul, sir, you may be sure.”
The three ladies on board the Phantom were seated on footstools under the weather bulwark—although as yet the yachts were travelling on an almost even keel. Miss Haverley and Lady Olive uttered exclamations of satisfaction as the Phantom slowly drew ahead of the others, and were loud in their disgust as they saw the effect of the schooner’s sail behind them on their own speed.
“I don’t call it fair,” the former said; “if a vessel cannot sail well herself, that she should be allowed to damage the chances of others. Do you, Bertha?”
“I don’t know. I suppose it is equally fair for all, and that we should do the same if a boat had got ahead of us. Still, it is very tiresome, but it is just as bad for the other cutters.”
“Look at the Osprey,” Lady Olive said soon afterwards. “She is coming up fast; you see, she has nothing behind her. I do believe that she is going to pass us.”
“It won’t make much difference,” Carthew, who was standing close to her, said confidently. “The race won’t really begin until we are round the Nab, and after that we shan’t hamper each other. I am quite content with the way that we are going.”
The Osprey rounded the lightship two lengths ahead, the Phantom came next, three lengths before the Chrysalis, and the others followed in quick succession. The sheets were hauled in, and the yachts were able to lie close-hauled for Ventnor. The three leading boats maintained their respective places, but drew out from each other, and when they passed Ventnor the Osprey was some five lengths ahead of the Phantom.
“Don’t be downcast, ladies,” Carthew said, gaily. “We have a long way to go yet, and once round the point we shall have to turn till we pass the Needles.”
The sea was now getting a good deal rougher. The wind was against tide, and the yachts began to throw the spray over the bows. Bertha was struck with the confidence with which Carthew had spoken, and watched him closely.
“We shall get it a good deal worse off St. Catherine’s Head,” he went on. “There is a race there even in the calmest weather, and I should advise you to get your wraps ready, for the spray will be flying all over her when we get into it.”
They were now working tack and tack, but the Osprey was still improving her position, and as they neared St. Catherine’s Head she was a good quarter of a mile to the good. Still Carthew maintained his good temper, but Bertha could see that it was with an effort. He seemed to pay but little attention to the sailing of the Phantom, but kept his eyes intently fixed upon the Osprey.
“I should not be surprised at some of us carrying away a spar before long,” he said. “The wind is freshening, and we shall have to shift topsails and jibs, I fancy.”