North Atlantic Squadron, Nantucket Bay, 1901
A FLEET OF great white vessels is standing in toward the coast, each "with a bone in her teeth" and a trail of churned-up sea foam in her wake; for the standard speed is 14 knots and one can well believe that they are making all of that. Clouds of black smoke outpouring and floating astern on the still air tell of the work going on far down in the depths of the ship. On the sea there is no such thing as the "soft coal nuisance"-except in time of war. The sea is as smooth as glass, unruffled though not flat; the ceaseless ground swell ever keeps the water in motion in long undulations. A flock of gulls are circling over a school of fish that have been startled to the surface by the rush of the hurrying floating monsters. A lone fisherman in a catboat whose sails are idly flapping as the little craft rolls back and forth on the lazy swell thinks, as he gathers in the catch of a lobster pot, how few people he can see on board of the Passing ships. Somewhere he has read that our battleships have 600 men or so ll1 each crew; but he cannot count a twentieth of that number in sight about the decks of the nearest ship. Only a few heads are visible over the weather cloth of the working bridge 60 feet above the Water, a solitary lookout in the military top, and a bos'n's mate making his rounds of the deck to see all secure.
The speed cones, black triangles in appearance, hoisted at the yardarms at full hoist and apex up tell the lone fisherman – he has had some cruising experience with the naval militia – that the ships are proceeding at full speed. Suddenly a string of signal flags flutter aloft on the flagship. The eager, sharp-eyed signal boy on the last ship sings out to the officer of the deck,
General signal, sir, "Prepare to land bluejackets and marines immediately after anchoring, heavy marching order, to camp for one week. Take the time of this evolution, it is competitive. Boats form in column on starboard beam of flagship."
Even before the signal is completed the rush of preparation is on. The bugler sounds a call or two; messengers are sent scurrying hither and thither with orders and messages; huge cranes, steam or electric, reach out their long arms and lift large boats out of the cradles and hold them suspended in midair ready to lower as soon as the anchor is down.
Below decks the scene is one of great activity. Several hundred men are diving into their bags, pulling out clothes, stowing haversack and knapsack, filling canteens with pure fresh water, and donning their equipment. These are the men of the landing battalion. Others, full half of the ship's company, those who are to remain on board and keep the ship, are manning fall and jigger, hoisting out of the hold stores of provisions and water and fuel, cookstoves and ammunition, and getting the needful articles all ready to load into their respective boats.
The flagship's cones seem suddenly to drop from the ends of the signal yard; but they stop halfway down. The other ships follow suit immediately and all go to "half speed"; then as the cones of the flagship fall lower yet they all go "slow speed,'' and "stop" when the cones disappear behind the rail. More flag signals are made, designating the bearing and distance apart the ships shall anchor, the anchor to use, and the scope of chain to veer. When the signal "Anchor" is made there are simultaneous splashes under the bows of the several ships, followed by the rattle of chain paying out through the hawse pipes. At the same moment boats are lowered into the water and hauled up to their assigned places of embarkation. The stores are lowered into the boats detailed for freight-carrying purposes.
The companies of the landing battalion are formed, mustered, and inspected, and drop into their respective boats. A powerful steam launch, lately resting quietly in her cradle, gathers up the string of boats and straightens them out into an orderly column, ready to be towed to the shore. On our ship a long blue pennant is broken, announcing to the flagship that the work ordered by signal has been accomplished, that our landing force is ready. Promptly the signal is acknowledged, and shortly thereafter the reply, "Well done!" It has taken just 45 minutes to prepare 200 men to spend one week away from and independent of the mother-ship and to hold their own at attack or defense.
The procession of boats starts for the shore, a mile or so away, approaching warily when close to, for it is a strange beach to all of us and, at least in theory, our landing is likely to be opposed. A safe-appearing landing place is selected by the battalion commander, the steam launch casts off her tow, the boats get out their oars and "pull for the shore." The lighter boats grate their noses on the beach before grounding; their debarkation is easy. But the heavy launches and store boats ground at some distance from the water's edge, making it "overboard, Jim Lucky!" for their crews and passengers, who never mind the wetting but soon haul up the lightened boat and begin to land the guns and stores.
On shore the companies are formed, arms stacked, equipment laid aside, and the men speedily unload the camp gear. Working in little squads they quickly get the tents pitched and the stores housed on the selected company grounds. Not a long time elapses before the aroma of coffee and the smell of other things cooking assail our nostrils, reminding us that supper has long ago been piped aboard ship.
When the tents have been set to rights, the guard detailed, and sentries posted, the bugle sounds the welcome call to mess. The company, led by the ubiquitous goat who feels quite frisky after indulgence in a long wished for meal of lush green grass, marches to the commissary tent where each man receives his ration. Tattoo and pipe down follow not a great while after supper, for we are late; and, pretty well tired out, we turn in to get such sleep as the hard ground, insinuating fog, meddlesome mosquitoes, dismal fog siren, and numerous imaginary attacks on the camp will permit.
THE "INTELLIGENT WHALE"
The Navy Yard, New York, houses an interesting relic of one of the Navy's earlier experiments with submarines. It is a small submersible built in 1864 by C. S. Bushnell, Augustus Rice, and Halstead of New Jersey at a cost of $60,000, and given the fanciful name of Intelligent Whale. She was not used during the Civil War, but was tried and condemned in 1872. The Intelligent Whale was hand-propelled, and· is supposed to have been capable of a maximum speed of 4 knots. She was designed to carry a crew of 10 men. Her length is 28.8 feet, with a depth of 9 feet, and she is constructed of 1-inch boiler iron.