You are herePanic in the Gulf of Naples

Panic in the Gulf of Naples

The afternoon passed without our having entered the Gulf of Naples. On the contrary, we were steadily drawn in a westerly direction; the boat moved further and further away from Cape Minerva and nearer and nearer to Capri.Everybody was glum and impatient, except Kniep and myself. Looking at the world with the eyes of painters, we were per¬fectly content to enjoy the sunset, which was the most magnifi¬cent spectacle we had seen during the whole voyage.

Cape Minerva and its adjoining ranges lay before us in a display of brilliant colours.The cliffs stretching to the south had already taken on a bluish tint. From the Cape 10 Sorrento the whole coast was lit up. Above Vesuvius towered an enormous smoke cloud, from which a long streak trailed away to the east, suggesting that a violent eruption was in progress. Capri rose abruptly on our left and, through the haze, we could see the outlines of its precipices.

The wind had dropped completely, and the glittering sea, showing scarcely a ripple, lay before us like a limpid pond under the cloudless sky. Kniep said what a pity it was that no skill -with colours, however great, could reproduce this harmony and that not even the finest English pencils, wielded by the most practised hand, could draw these contours. I was convinced, on the con¬trary, that even a much poorer memento than this able artist would produce would be very valuable in the future, and urged him to make an attempt at it. He followed my advice and pro¬duced a most accurate drawing which he later coloured, which shows that pictorial representation can achieve the impossible.

With equally rapt attention we watched the transition from evening to night. Ahead of us Capri was now in total darkness. The cloud above Vesuvius and its trail began to glow, and the longer we looked the brighter it grew, till a considerable part of the sky was lit up as if by summer lightning.

We had been so absorbed in enjoying these sights that we had not noticed that we were threatened with a serious disaster; but the commotion among the passengers did not leave us long in doubt. Those who had more experience of happenings at sea than we bitterly blamed the captain and his helmsman, saying that, thanks to their incompetence, they had not only missed the en¬trance to the straits but were now endangering the lives of the passengers, the cargo and everything else confided to their care. We asked why they were so anxious, for we did not see why there could be any cause to be afraid when the sea was so calm. But it was precisely the calm that worried them: they saw we had already entered the current which encircles Capri and by the peculiar wash of the waves draws everything slowly and irresisti¬bly towards the sheer rock face, where there is no ledge to offer the slightest foothold and no bay to promise safety.
The news appalled us. Though the darkness prevented us from seeing the approaching danger, we could see that the boat, rolling and pitching, was moving nearer to the rocks, which loomed ever darker ahead. A faint afterglow was still spread over the sea. Not the least breath of wind was stirring. Everyone held up handker¬chiefs and ribbons, but there was no sign of the longed-for breeze. The tumult among the passengers grew louder and louder. The women and children knelt on the deck or lay hud¬dled together, not in order to pray, but because the deck space was too cramped to let them move about. The men, with their thoughts captain. They now attacked him for every iliing they had silently criticized during the whole voyage—the miserable accommoda¬tion, the outrageous charges, the wretched food and his behav¬iour.
Actually, he had not been unkind, but very reserved; he had never explained his actions to anyone and even last night he had maintained a stubborn silence about his manoeuvres. Now they called him and his helmsman mercenary adventurers who knew nothing about navigation, but had got hold of a boat out of sheer greed, and were now by their incompeteni  bungling about to bring to grief the lives of all those in their care. The captain re¬mained silent and still seemed to be preoccupied with saving the boat. But I, who all my life have hated anarehy worse than death, could keep silent no longer. I stepped forward and addressed the crowd, with almost the same equanimity I had shown in facing the "Birds" of Malcesine. I pointed out to iliem that, at such a moment, their shouting would only confuse ilie cars and minds of those upon whom our safety depended, and make it impossible for them to think or communicate with one another. "As for you," I exclaimed, "examine your hearts and then say your prayers to the Mother of God, for she alone can decide whether she will intercede with her Son, that he may do for you what He once did for His apostles on the storm-swept sea of Tiberias. Our Lord was sleeping, the waves were already  In-caking into the boat, but when the desperate and helpless men woke Him, He immediately commanded the wind to rest, and now, if it should be I /is will, I Ic can command the wind to stir."

These words had an excellent effect. One woman, with whom I had had some conversation about moral and spiritual matters, ex¬claimed: "Ah, il barlame. Benedetto il barlami" and as they were all on their knees anyway, they actually began to say their lita¬nies with more than usual fervour. They could do this with greater peace of mind, because the crew were now trying an¬other expedient, which could at least be seen and understood by all. They lowered the pinnace, which could hold from six to eight men, fastened it to the ship by a long rope, and tried, by rowing hard, to tow the ship after them. Bur their very efforts seemed to increase the counter-pull of the current. For some reason or other, the pinnace was suddenly dragged backwards to¬wards the ship and the long towing rope described a bow like a whiplash when the driver cracks it. So this hope vanished.

Prayers alternated with lamentations and the situation grew more desperate, when some goatherds on the rocks above us whose fires we had seen for some time shouted with hollow voices that there was a ship below about to founder. Much that they cried was unintelligible, but some passengers, familiar with their dialect, took these cries to mean that they were gleefully looking forward to the booty they would fish out of the sea the next morning.

Any consoling doubt as to whether our ship was really dangerously near the rocks was soon banished when we saw the sailors taking up long poles with which, if the worst came to the worst, they could  keep fending the ship off the rocks. Of course, if the poles broke, all would be lost. The vio¬lence of the surf seemed to be increasing, the ship tossed and rolled more than ever; as a result, my seasickness returned and I had to retire to the cabin below. I lay down half dazed but with a certain feeling of contentment, due, perhaps, to the sea of Ti¬berias; for in my mind's eye, I saw clearly before me the etching from the Merian Bible. It gave me proof that all impressions of a sensory-moral nature are strongest when a man is thrown com¬pletely on his own resources.

How long I had been lying in this kind of half-sleep I could not tell, but I was roused out of it by a tremendous noise over my head. My ears told me that it came from dragging heavy ropes about the deck, and this gave me some hope that the sails were being hoisted. Shortly afterwards Kniep came down in a hurry to tell me we were safe. A very gentle breeze had sprung up; they had just been struggling to hoist the sails, and he himself had not neglected to lend a hand. We had, he said, visibly moved away from the cliff, and, though we were not yet completely out of the current, there was hope now of escaping from it. On deck everything was quiet again. Presently, several other passengers came to tell me about the lucky turn of events and to lie down themselves.
Goethe May 14, 1787

    Tags - Fly at a Smile-Price