Capt Bernard Burt
Across the Silver Streak in the "Nautilus" - the Skipper's Yarn
"To kinder skies, where gentler manners reign I turn, and France displays her bright domain, Gay sprightly land of mirth and social ease, Pleased with thyself, whom all the world can please." GOLDSMITH
In May 1884, shortly after returning from Calcutta, Bernard Burt (then aged 19) and his friend Martin Budd sailed the cutter rigged Nautilus to Dieppe. On their return they were interviewed by the Sussex Coast Mercury.
The Nautilus was Built by EURE of Dell Quay, for the Rev. R. Nunns of Apuldram near Chichester. She was 16 feet long, 6 feet broad, partly decked forward, with a coaming round and about 2 ton nett. She was owned by John Benton of Worthing in 1884.
Noticing in the Sussex Daily News under Shipping Intelligence; "Worthing, arrived May 19th, the 'Nautilus' yacht (Burt), from Dieppe," our curiosity was excited to know something more about the "Nautilus" and her doings, as the arrival of a boat from the other side upon Worthing beach is not an everyday occurrence.
Forthwith we interviewed the skipper, and had better let him tell the story in his own fashion. - "You wish to know why the two of us started for Dieppe and back in a small boat? We have talked of this all the way home from Calcutta, wondering whether the boat was unsold, and arranging all the details. Wait till I get my pipe on. Do I smoke? Why of course I do; what's a fellow to do at sea, who doesn't drink, without his pipe? Well we found that the 'Nautilus' was still on the beach and as soon as possible commenced to get her ready. What sort of boat is she? Why she was Built by EURE, of Dell Quay, for the Rev. R. NUNNS of Appledrum, he sold her to Mr W.H. Mason, who used her for cruising around the Isle of Wight. She now belongs to Mr John Belton. She is 16ft. long, 6ft broad, cutter rigged, partly decked forward with a coming round, about two tons nett, and a good sea boat. We overhauled the gear, putting new where necessary, borrowed a couple of six-gallon breakers for water, ballasted her partly with iron, and the rest shingle, found a couple of side lights in Mr. Dunford's loft, which we cleaned up, repainted &c., and fitted them on screens of the official size - determined, as you see, that if we were run down, it should not be for want of complying with the regulations, - laid in our stock of provisions and every requisite we could think of, including a chart of the most recent date. How did we cook? Bought one of those small petroleum stoves fitted with frying pan and kettle. We had an empty lard bucket; this we intended to use as a drogue if we had to lay to. We placed the stove in the bucket - when cooking this kept off the wind - it answered admirably, but the pan would only cook one man's rations at a time - one cooked while the other steered.
Well, we made a start on Saturday, the 10th, at 6.30 p.m., on the flood; fired a salute - I forgot to tell you that we had a revolver and a gun, - there was slight breeze from the south at 7. We then tacked and stood along shore; took an amplitude of the sun, and found error of compass to be two points nearly; off Lancing at 7.30, Shoreham Harbour light bearing east by compass; lit binnacle and sidelights, Beachy Head light being east-half-north. Wind south-easterly, but very light and variable; hazy in shore, no lights visible, but could hear the break of the surf on the beach. Martin relieved me at midnight, it was very cold; had some tea, and went below for a sleep, i.e. lay partly in the locker and partly in the bottom of the boat, covered with an oilskin cover. Slept till 4 am Sunday; Martin steering/ heavy dew/ strong tide against us. Martin me up to set the top-sail; gentle breeze at day-light, relieved Martin at 5, very chilly; several vessels around us; had a shot at a diver but he was too sharp. At 7 o'clock went about, and passed close to s.s City of Bristol, too close to be pleasant; tide took us back a lot. When about 14 miles off Worthing, passed a ship, the Bay of Cadiz I think, towing down. Breakfasted at 7.30, cocoa, fried bacon, and eggs, very welcome, I assure you, for after a couple of hours at the tiller you get weary; fired at guillemots, wounded two. Tried to get a wash, but had mislaid the soap - bad luck to it. Did about 10 miles by guess. Martin broached the bottle of Burgundy at noon. We passed the s.s. Schiedam, who waved to us, and we dipped the tri-colour in return. Dined at 2. Splendid day but little wind. Nearly run down by the ship Ladakh, of Liverpool, fired two shots just in time to let them hear, for there was no one on look-out; as it was we only cleared her by getting out the oars at a distance of 20 yards. Finding that the tide was against us, we brought up, in company of two other boats. Slight catspaws began to ruffle the water, and we weighed anchor at 8.15, the tide with us and a fair wind; lit the lamps; Martin at the tiller and I at the look out. The French girls had got hold of the tow-rope, and we hoped they would keep it. Had a wink at 12, but at 1 am Martin called me to take in the top-sail, for a heavy squall had struck her; took it in; dew falling heavily. Nearly run down by a steamer, fired shots and flashed our lights, but it was no use, we had to put her about. Wind freshened, and presently had a beautiful job to lower the mast, the top-sail halyards had got jammed between the mast and sheave. Wind died away; no land in sight. On Monday gave her a wash round, and luckily found the soap, so we had a wash ourselves. Went about and spoke to a schooner, THE BLUE JACKET, who told us we were 12 or 14 miles off St.Valery, between Fecamp and Dieppe. The wind was very trying, here and there, as if you were in the doldrums. The Newhaven boat, Normandy, passed us as we lay becalmed, and some of the passengers waved to us. Very monotonous waiting for a breeze. Heavy thunderstorms around us. Got a breeze at 4, and sighted land to the westward of Dieppe; glad to get the breeze; not a sail in sight, and the wind felt chilly after the hot sun. Spoke to the St. Louis , of Dieppe, who asked us if we came from l'Angleterre, and when we said "Oui" (nearly all our sum total of French) he wished us "bon-voyage".
Chain and sheet lightning very vivid, took the top-sail off her ,and just got the main-sail lowered in time for a squall struck us, and very nearly buried us in water. Away she went with only the jib set at the rate of seven or eight knots; had to take the jib in and set the spit-fire, and afterwards we were going at three knots under bare poles; with a nasty sea. Point d'Ailly light bore south-east-half-east, so we let go the anchor with 30 fathoms of chain and rope, and we were dragging them all the time; we put a good spring on the cable, which eased the jerks, though she was pitching the thing about. Lit the hurricane lamp and hoisted it, but the wind and rain were too violent, and put it out, so we hauled it down and placed it in the bottom of the boat. It moderated towards midnight, and we both got under the cover and went to sleep, although it was raining hard and we were nearly wet through.
Well, we remained at anchor, though it was anything but pleasant. We were afraid to run for Dieppe in the dark, not knowing the place. At seven in the morning we tried to weigh anchor, both of us pulling at it, but we couldn't get more than a few inches, and we were in a proper fix, as you may imagine, but as I find I must go down to the boat to get some of our gear, if you will look me up shortly I will tell you how we got on."
(The Yarn Continued).
"Well, as I have said, we were in a fix; one consolation, the weather was fine, and the sea moderate; but it was the only anchor we had aboard and cable, however we hauled up all we could get and made it fast, and took everything weighty aft, breakers, ballast, &c., and went aft ourselves. As the tide rose she gave a jerk and started it, but the other fluke caught. We hove on it again and went aft, put a drogue over the stern so the tide would drag her, and presently she gave a tug that sent her bow up and her stern down, and we had cleared; we hauled it up and found both flukes polished bright, but not a bit bent, so it must have been a good one; in fact it was one specially looked out for us by the owner. We took a cast of the lead and found bottom at 16 fathoms; very hot, and appearance of another thunderstorm, which we didn't want after our experience of the previous night. The wind was still light and favourable, chiefly southerly. We spoke to the French luggers Hirondelle and Adrienne, said Dieppe bore S.E., as well as we could understand, very hazy and thick, which made it very difficult to know where we were with a puzzling tide.
Thunder with rain waking up, raising a swell, we steered the same course as a Newhaven boat which passed us, at noon the weather calm but cloudy, tide setting to the westward, snugged her down, and rowed into Dieppe at dead low water, took her up to the place we picked out for her, the Quai de Lacalle, I think it was, and were up till about 2 o'clock fixing her. We found that she grounded at low water, the tide leaving her about a couple of hundred yards; slept in the boat all night; crowds of "young France" down in the morning to look at us. The morning was rainy and overcast, but I thought I had better go and see if we could get anything to eat. Tired? I believe you, we were tired, being so long cramped in the boat, it was as much as we could do to walk.
First impressions of Dieppe were that it was a queer looking hole which might improve upon further acquaintance. Well, we went ashore, as I have said, to a cafÃ©, where we stayed the day, and were very glad to turn in for a good night's rest in a comfortable bed. The next day it was blowing hard from the north-west, with heavy sea. The French boys gave us a deal of trouble; like other boys, they were very mischievous.
On Thursday morning when we came down we found the boat was shifted from the place we put her; two Frenchman explained this by saying they moved her at 1 o'clock in the morning as a heavy sea was breaking in the harbour, and she ran risk of damage. It was very kind of them and we had great difficulty in inducing them to receive any payment for the service. Dieppe can't be a pleasant place in such weather, for there were green seas up in the streets. They charged us so high a rate at the cafÃ© that we resolved to sleep and have our meals on board. The wind was still a head wind for us, but we busied ourselves getting ready for sea again, took her alongside the steam tug Deanville, and lay there waiting for a favourable wind. Martin went ashore after provisions, tried a dozen shops before he could make them understand what he wanted. Friday brought a westerly wind with heavy sea on the bar, so we were still fixed; but the town and harbour was gay with flags &c., to receive a Minister of Public Works, who was coming to inspect the harbour. We hoisted the whole of our bunting to be in it, and what with the sun shining, guns firing from the Newhaven boats, soldiers marching, drums beating, and trumpets blowing, they kept things alive. The Landlord of the cafÃ© where we had been staying came down to the boat for a present; he got one, as sailors say, with a hook in it, for he had piled it on too much while we were with him. The town was illuminated at night. We found that the fishermen were considerably exercised as to why we had paid them a visit in such a small craft; couldn't understand our doing it for amusement. On Saturday we washed down, breakfasted, and set sails for sea; lovely day and a nice fresh breeze, found that the captain of the tug could speak English pretty well. He accompanied us ashore, and showed us the chief objects of interest, was very kind indeed, and would not let us repay him in any way. One of the crew was equally polite, handing me materials for cleaning my gun, without my asking for them, and would not take aught in return. However, I handed him half a bag of powder, and this pleased him mightily. We left Dieppe on Saturday, at noon, the people on the quay wishing us "bon voyage". Little wind from three until about 8.30, when we got a steady breeze, and passed through two or three tide races, with a disagreeable choppy sea. We lost sight of Point D'Ailly at 3.30 a.m.; wind became very unsteady and variable, we were afraid it would come dead ahead, very cold towards morning.
Sunday morning, the wind still light, breakfasted, but a troublesome job to put a fresh wick in our cooking stove, as the other had got wet; had a sleep afterwards, so did Martin for a couple of hours, weather became thick in the water, now and then a breeze, followed by calm, nothing in sight but a few coasters. Tired of waiting, we resolved to seek consolation after my old friend Mr James Osborne's fashion, in a cup of tea, so on went the kettle forthwith. At seven o'clock a light breeze sprang up, thick and hazy all round, but clear overhead; no land or lights visible.
Monday brought a breeze from the north-west, not enough to clear the haze. Sighted Beachy Head light as the fog lifted, but the light was so indistinct that we took it at first as a fishing boat's light. Saw the Royal Sovereign light ship at day-break, lots of ships standing in. Soon the breeze freshened, and home-ward we came, with top-sail and everything else set. During the night we had the top-sail down, and the tack twice up, as you could not see the lights till close down upon them. An east-south-east breeze brought us along finely, and at 11.30 we were on Worthing beach, pleased enough to see G. Belton's genial face waiting to welcome us. The distance of Worthing to Dieppe? About 80 miles. You think it was rather a risky business? Well you know what the Captain of the Canoe Club said, himself a boat sailor of the first order, that 'It is better to be called rash than to be called timid.' That's your opinion also ? I'm glad of it. Good day."
There's a signal well known to the mariner brace His guide o'er the waters from perils to save; 'Tis hailed with a welcome whenever in sight, And the mariner calls it "The Beacon Light." FOLKARD.
Since the cruise to Dieppe and back (May 10 to 19, 1884) the "Nautilus", with Bernard Burt and Mr J. Osborne, jnr., as his mate, has visited the Isle of Wight. Leaving Worthing on July 28th, calling in the outward trip upon the Owers Light Vessel with a parcel of newspapers, etc., they were hospitably entertained by the master at breakfast. A head wind and dirty weather necessitated putting in to Littlehampton for a day or so; but, eventually, sail was made for the westward, and a run up by Chichester Harbour brought them to the free town of Bosham. A walk from Bosham to Funtington gave them an opportunity of stretching their legs, and a hospitable dinner and tea with an old school-mate, Mr C. Thomas, made an agreeable diversion from the cuisine of the "Nautilus", which was necessarily somewhat limited. A thick fog made the getting out of Bosham harbour a rather difficult matter, but this cleared off and they had a very pleasant run to the Island. Standing in to Brading Haven, and passing Sea View, with the Island looking very lovely in the bright sunlight, they anchored at Ryde, and on the succeeding day visited Southampton, leaving the boat at Ryde. According to arrangements they met Mr. A. Stubbs ('Shadow') at Portsmouth, on Saturday afternoon. A pleasant sail to Cowes past Osborne and up as far as the entrance to Southampton Water, occupied the earlier hours of Sunday, Leaving Ryde at 3.30 p.m., with topsail and spinnaker set, a fine fresh breeze brought them homewards; but the wind dropping at Goring, they had to pull the rest of the way, reaching home about 10.30.
"All's well that ends well "
Capt Burt was born in 1864. He was the son of James Burt and Jane Stubbs.
Master, Lieut Commander, RNR, Captain, Union-Castle Steamship Co. Ltd.
Was apprenticed to the sailing ship British Empire in 1879 and served for some years in the Mediterranean trade.
Joined the Union Line in July 1893 as a junior officer and worked his way up to become Captain. At the outbreak of war in August 1914 he was in command of the SS Galeka commandeered for transport work and made several trips across the Channel and between Gib, Malta and India
In 1915 he took part in the landing of Australians at Galipoli. The following September was relieved from duty owing to a severe attack of colitis and on recovery commanded the Durham Castle which was on the Cape mail service.
In November 1917 was appointed to HMHS Glenart Castle (hospital ship) which was lost at sea in the Bristol Channel 26 Feb 1918 when the ship was torpedoed by an enemy submarine.
SS Galician a 6576 ton Union Steam Ship Co Ltd vessel SS Galician was renamed Glenart Castle in September 1914 and put to use as a Hospital Ship.
She had left Newport, South Wales on the day before being torpedoed at 0347 hours by the German Submarine UC56. The torpedo struck the ships engine room and she sank stern first in about seven minutes.
Of the 206 crew, medical staff and chaplains onboard only 38 survived the atrocity. It was widely reported that the ships Master 55 year old Lt-Cdr Bernard Burt RNR (Retd) from Crowborough, Sussex could have saved himself but went down with his ship.