In 1900 Walter returned to the Fly, a third class sailing cruiser of 60 tons, which he had first met nearly 20 years earlier, moving from the east coast of Ireland to the western Limerick station. It was a short posting during winter repairs.
Having taken up my appointment, with the prospects of spending much of the winter in harbour, I sent for my wife to join me, occupying temporary accommodation.
Day after day the Fly swung leisurely at her moorings and for three months the most of my nights were spent on shore; a new experience for me and an agreeable change after the previous two winters in the Flora.
Captain Sir William Fisher of HMS Collingwood was the Senior Officer of the Western Coastguard District. In February the three tenders being in company with the parent ship, Sir William decided to give a little dinner party to some of his “salt house” junior officers. Accordingly the chief officers in command of the tenders Amelia, Argus and Fly and two Royal Naval rescue lieutenants serving on board the Collingwood were invited to join him at dinner on board the battleship. He received us in a jolly sailor-like manner without any formality whatever, putting us at our ease and regaling us with some of his deep sea yarns of which he had an unlimited store, many of them of a very thrilling nature. Then he listened to the less exciting reminiscences of his guests, thus giving to the party a free and easy atmosphere and a very enjoyable evening.
The cutter Fly was at the moment riding by the moorings of a channel mark buoy that had been taken on shore for cleaning, by no means heavy enough to hold the vessel with any force of wind. When the guests were about to take their leave he enquired if “I was going on board to sleep or going ashore?” Replying that I was going on board, he said: “Oh don’t mind going on board, go home and if you find her up on the beach in the morning, clean her bottom!” Very sport y of him, I thought.
HMS Collingwood having departed for Devonport for the annual refit, orders were given that the Fly was to make certain periodical visits to Berehaven. One morning when sailing down the bay, it was noticed that the mast head was leaning over a little to leeward. Sending a man aloft to ascertain the cause, he reported that the mast was sprung just above the eyes of the lower rigging. With the lower mast sprung, it was necessary to return to the harbour without delay, report the defect to the parent ship and await instructions.
It was fully expected that one of the steam cruisers would be ordered to tow the Fly to Queenstown for the fitting of a new mast, but Captain Fisher thought otherwise and ordered the Argus to call at Bantry with instructions that the Fly’s mast was to be lifted out using our own spars and gear for the purpose; the old mast then to be taken to Queenstown as a pattern when a new mast would be made in the dockyard, by no means an easy job with the spars and tackles available. Fortunately a battleship – one of the Atlantic fleet – came in and the Commander kindly consented to lift the mast out with his derrick. And so the job was done in a few minutes that would have taken days by manpower only.
After swinging at the moorings for some weeks, in due course the Argus returned with the new mast. Again a battleship came into the harbour, the Commander consenting to lift the new mast into its place, saving us much labour and leaving us merely to set up the rigging and refit the running gear.
It was afterward discovered that during the time of my predecessor, the mainsail had been allowed to gybe over in a strong breeze. In all probability accounting for the springing of the mast head, of which probably he was not altogether ignorant.
The few months that I had been in the Fly covering the winter was the most sheltered that I had experienced for some years – and much appreciated – giving me the opportunity of enjoying the company of my wife and children. As it was possible that I might be in this little craft for a long time a house was rented and our furniture brought over. The time passed pleasantly and although Captain Fisher was considered by some to be rather stern, he was always very considerate toward me.
On one occasion when returning to the harbour with a nice fresh breeze, in passing close under the stern of HMS Collingwood, Sir William happened to be walking the quarter deck. As luck would have it, when putting the helm over, the distance from the buoy was well judged, having just sufficient weigh to reach it when a man jumped over the bow and made fast the rope.
When reporting my arrival to the captain, he remarked: “Picked up the buoy very nicely.”
“A bit of poetry about that” he added, meaning that the manoeuvre was well executed.
On the next occasion of my attempting the same manoeuvre, it was a good job that he was not a spectator, for it was anything but well executed. The distance was wrongly estimated, the buoy missed and over-run, entailing a second attempt.
The summer days passed pleasantly in this very sheltered appointment, with a trip to Berehaven occasionally. On the first of August this soft job came to an abrupt conclusion. I was removed to the command of one of the North Sea fishery cruisers.