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In July 1912, the four-masted barque Olive Grove set sail for Sydney, Australia. She carried a cargo of machinery spares and manufactured goods, while on her return was to bring Australian grain.
Captain Whittle was a competent and experienced master and his first mate, Will Arnold, had been trained for the sea at an early age. He was just 19. The crew, a motley lot, looked forward to Sydney as a favourite port of call.
The wind stood fair through the Channel, and the Bay of Biscay, down the west coast of Africa, round the Cape of Good Hope, and into the Indian Ocean to Australia, where 50 miles off-shore of Fremantle they smelt the wattle and knew they were almost there.
By October they were in Sydney and thinking of their voyage home and ready to load grain from one or other of the ports. Round to Fremantle again. Spring winds can be capricious, but the winds stood fair for the passage home.
But by the time they reached the Bay of Biscay the storm clouds rolled up and when they reached Brittany in northern France things started to look grim. The English Channel is not a large sea, but with its treacherous tides, currents and hidden sands it can and does cost ships and lives.
Since Captain Whittle had already shortened sail they were confronted by the Atlantic Ocean meeting the Channel. This turbulence, plus the howling ale caused the cargo to shift, thus unbalancing the ship, and on top of it all, the rain added to the confusion. Try as they did, they could do little until, in the hurling waters, the ship was flung onto those evil Cornish rocks. What sails remained were in tatters, the mast broke and spars and rigging ended in the water.
The Cornish villagers were alert to it all, not surprising with their long history of wrecks, either by accident or design, and now, with their lanterns they got a breeches buoy to the ship. No lives were lost and once ashore the crew were given dry clothes and money for the train fare to London.
The next day, the storm having abated, the young first mate reappeared requesting to get back on board. This he did and disappeared below deck. Back in the breeches bouy with his bundle. They were all amazed to see a wet, bedraggled and terrified little cat. Safe at last – but after all he was one of the crew!