The following story is based upon real life accounts which appeared in the Scarborough Daily Post in 1920 as part of the 'Sea Dogs' stories by Forrest Frank. This story was told by Captain Henry Nicholson.
We had a favourable passage till we approached the Western Islands. We had just got a westerly breeze, and I was lying down in the afternoon, in case I was kept late on deck at night, when the mate came below and reported that there was a steamer in sight flying a signal of distress. She proved to be the SS Nelson. We approached him as near as we could get, and he reported that he had been fifteen days with his rudder broken in two.
I told him I would stand by him till the morning, and then neared him and took a rope from Leeward of him without lowering a boat - a thing I would never do again. He was drifting down on me, and I called: "Can't you give her a turn ahead?" He did so, and just cleared our yards. Whether it was due to the excitement of the moment or not, I cannot say, for I could never fathom how it happened, but as the vessels sheered apart the rope was let go from us.
The steamer Captain hailed: "What are we going to do?" I replied: "Lower your boat," and I tacked off to give myself time to turn round.
The steamer's mate brought the rope in a boat, his crew to my surprise, consisted of two firemen! We took the rope aboard, and I explained to the mate thoroughly the plan. It was that the steamer was to steam and tow me, and that I would steer him. This would be simple, once we got on a straight course, with the two ships in line, but I said "It will take you a long time to turn round, and when you have turned round you won't want these engines to go any more than half speed."
The mate left, and I assumed he gave my Captain his message. Meanwhile I was watching the steamer's movements. We had got turned round two point, and were coming slowly, when, to my amazement, I saw him jab his telegraph over to "full speed." I sung out to our people to "Look out." when she straightened the "rope, and smash it went."
The wind all this time had been freshening. The steamer Captain, very flurried, hailed again: "What shall I do?" and again I replied : "Put out a boat." He answered : "There is too much sea," and I shouted back : Then I am bound for London," for I felt angry. He said:
"You'll surely never leave me, expecting my sternpost go any minute,"
and I replied:
"I'll stand by you so long as there is a bit of this ship left, but I'll be damned if I do all the helping."
The fact that he had had to put two firemen into his boat gave me some idea of what his crew was like, so I told him: "We'll wait till morning," and we did. His fellows were lax with their signals; it was we who had to burn the flares to keep in company. In the morning he closed down on me - I was under shorted sail - and said there was too much sail for a boat, and I agreed with him and added: "I'll go back to Fayal and report you."
"Alright," he replied, and asked (what a thing to say to a sailing ship) "Will you come back?"
"No," I said "you know who I am and I know who you are." This was a Saturday morning. It was blowing hard, and I made sail, steering for Herta, Fayal. We made the island at night after a quick run, but, as the anchorage is in 45 fathoms, I shortened sail to wait for daylight.
All hands were kept hard at it making short tacks, and when light came I discovered we had passed the port. We worked back, and I saw the Nelson also in sight.
At this I called for volunteers - four men - to go away in the boat with me and report the lame duck before he reported himself. The men responded readily, and, leaving the mate in charge of the ship, we pulled for port.