If any one cares to buy the yawl Siren, he may have her for 200 pounds, or a trifle less than the worth of her ballast, as lead goes nowadays. For sufficient reasons–to be disclosed in the course of this narrative–I am unable to give her builder’s name, and for reasons quite as sufficient I must admit the figures of her registered tonnage (29.56), cut on the beam of her forecastle, to be a fraud. I will be perfectly frank; there is a mystery about the yacht. But I gave 400 pounds for her in the early summer of 1890, and thought her dirt cheap. She was built under the old “Thames rule,” that is, somewhere between 1875 and 1880, and was therefore long and narrow to begin with. She has been lengthened since. Nevertheless, though nobody could call her a dry boat, she will behave herself in any ordinary sea, and come about quicker than most of her type. She is fast, has sound timbers and sheathing that fits her like a skin, and her mainmast and bowsprit are particularly fine spars of Oregon pine; her mizzen doesn’t count for much. Let me mention the newest of patent capstans–I put this into her myself–cabins panelled in teak and pitch-pine and cushioned with red morocco, two suits of sails, besides a big spinnaker that does not belong to her present rig, a serviceable dinghy–well, you can see for yourselves without my saying more, that, even to break up, she is worth quite double the money.
In what follows I shall take leave here and there to alter a name or suppress it. With these exceptions you shall hear precisely how the Siren came into my hands.
Early in 1890 I determined, for the sake of my health, to take a longer holiday than usual, and spend the months of July, August, and September in a cruise about the Channel. My notion was to cross over to the French coast, sail down as far as Cherbourg, recross to Salcombe, and thence idle westward to Scilly, and finish up, perhaps, with a run over to Ireland. This, I say, was my notion: you could not call it a plan, for it left me free to anchor in any port I chose, and to stay there just as long as it amused me. One fixed intention I had, and one only– to avoid the big regattas. Money had to be considered, and I thought at first of hiring. I wanted something between twenty-five and forty tons, small enough to be worked by myself and a crew of three or at most three men and a boy, and large enough to keep us occupied while at sea.
Of course, I studied the advertisement columns, and for some time found nothing that seemed even likely to suit. But at last in The Field, and in the left-hand bottom corner–where it had been squeezed by the lists of the usual well-known agencies–I came on the following:–
“YAWL, 35 tons. For immediate SALE, that fast and comfortable cruiser Siren. Lately refitted and now in perfect condition throughout. Rigging, etc., as good as new. Cabin appointments of unusual richness and taste. 400 pounds. Apply, Messrs. Dewy and Moss, Agents and Surveyors, Portside Street, F–.”
On reading this I took Lloyd’s Yacht Register from its shelf, and hunted for further details. Sirens crowd pretty thickly in the Register; only a little less thickly than Undines. Including Sirenes and Sirenas, I found some fourteen–and not a yawl amongst them, nor anything of her tonnage. There were two more in Lloyd’s List of American Yachts–one a centre-board schooner, the other a centre-board sloop; and, in a further list, I came upon a Siren that had changed her name to Mirage–a screw-schooner of one hundred and ninety tons, owned by no less a person than the Marquis of Ormonde. On the whole it seemed pretty clear that Lloyd knew not of the existence of this “fast and comfortable cruiser” of thirty-five tons.