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CHAPTER I THE LAUNCHING OF THE SCHEME
In the shadow of a big apple tree four boys lay on the grass studying a map of the United States. One of the group was talking vehemently and pointing out a route of some sort with a stubby carpenter’s pencil; the other three were watching with eager interest.

“That sounds all right,” said one of the four as he rose to lean on his elbow, “but you can’t do it with a little boat like yours. I don’t believe you could do it anyway, Ken.”

“Well, I couldn’t do it in a steam-yacht,” the boy with the pencil returned, “for obvious reasons. But I can and will make that trip.”

“I admire your pluck, Ken,” the third boy exclaimed. “It took considerable gumption to plan and build a craft like yours alone; but I don’t believe you’d bring your boat through whole.”

Again they bent down to the map, and the three listened while Kenneth Ransom went over the route again.

“Yes, it looks all right on the map,” Clyde Morrow broke in; “but you don’t realize that the couple of inches of Illinois River from Chicago to the Mississippi, for instance, is a couple of hundred miles.”

“Of course it’s a big undertaking, but think of the fun. You fellows like to sail on the Lake, and we have been through some pretty tough squalls, and had some mighty pleasant times, too. Sailing on the Lake is good sport, and exciting, too, for a while, but the cruising I propose to do makes Lake sailing tame. Think of the places we shall see, the fishing we shall do! Think of sailing on the warm Gulf of Mexico in January, cruising around the thousands of tropical islands, then up the Atlantic coast when it is most apt to be calm, stopping whenever there is anything worth stopping for. Just think of the cities we can visit—St. Louis, Vicksburg, Memphis, New Orleans, Mobile, Jacksonville, Hampton Roads, Philadelphia, New York, and—” He stopped for sheer loss of breath.

“Why, it’s the chance of a lifetime. I’ve set my heart on it, and I’m going. Who’ll go with me?”

Kenneth had talked eagerly, so full of his subject that he could hardly get the words out fast enough. Now he stopped and waited to see if his friends would take fire from his enthusiasm.

For an instant all three boys were silent. The thought of the adventure to be had tingled in their veins.

“I’ll go!” suddenly exclaimed Arthur Morrow, who had hitherto been comparatively calm, jumping to his feet to shake Ransom’s hand. Almost at the same moment, Clyde, his cousin, and Frank Chauvet grabbed Kenneth and shouted, “I, too,” in unison.

“Good!” was Ransom’s only comment as he extricated himself from the grasp of his impetuous friends. But his face was shining, and his eyes said what his voice for a minute could not express.

Kenneth had been at work on a boat for some time when the foregoing conversation took place. He had planned her himself, plotting out her lines with great care and with all the enthusiasm of a boy who has the means at last to carry out a long-cherished idea.

She was to be thirty feet over all, twenty-two feet on the water-line, nine feet wide, and three feet draught with her centre-board up. His idea was to make her yawl-rigged and as strong and staunch as good material and careful workmanship could ensure.

For a workshop he had to be content with a woodshed at the back of his father’s house, a good three-fourths of a mile from the Lake shore of St. Joseph, Michigan.

Fortunately, he was able to get some extra fine white oak, well seasoned, from a nearby mill; and though it was tough and tried the temper of his home-made tools, this very toughness and hardness stood the young ship-builder and his crew in good stead later.

He built a steaming-box to bend the ribs and planking of his boat out of rough lumber, and made an old stove, with a section of big pipe plugged up at both ends, serve as a boiler to make the steam. Thus equipped, he began the work unaided of building a thirty-foot yacht in which to cruise around on Lake Michigan and the waters tributary to it. With great labor and care the keel was steamed, bent, and laid on the blocks; then one by one the ribs were put in place. It was slow work, but it was extremely interesting to this young naval architect and ship-builder, and as his boat grew his ideas enlarged. To be a naval architect had been his ambition ever since he had left high school. To become a designer and builder of ships was his aim in life, and as he worked alone at his little ship, he wondered how he was going to get the experience that would be needed to design vessels for various uses and differing conditions. About lake craft he knew something, but of ocean and river vessels he was entirely ignorant. He made up his mind that he must see and study the different kind of craft in their native waters.

One day, as he was working on the planking of his boat, the inspiration came to him. He had pulled the plank out of the long steam-box, hot, damp, and more or less pliable, and with great labor made it fast to the cut-water with a hand vise. As he bent the plank from rib to rib he secured it until it was in place and followed the designed curve. He stood a minute facing the bow to see if the curve was true. It really began to look like a boat and less like a skeleton.

“This is going to be a pretty smart craft,” he said to himself as he eyed his work lovingly. “She’ll be strong and handy, roomy and seaworthy, and fit to go most anywhere.”

“By Jove!” he said aloud, slapping his knee by way of emphasis, and sitting down suddenly.

“Why not?” The idea was so bold that he hardly dared to think of it. Sail to the ocean in a craft only thirty feet long? Impossible; but why? He could hardly wait to secure the plank permanently, he was so anxious to look at a map and see if there was a possible route to the salt sea that his vessel could follow.

The rest of that day was spent in studying maps, and for a good part of the night Kenneth and his father discussed it.

“Yes, it is possible,” Mr. Ransom said at length; “but I doubt if it has ever been done before, and certainly never by so small a boat.”

“But, father,” the boy pleaded, “can I go? You know what I want to do and why I want to go. It would mean a whole lot to me; it would be experience I can get in no other way.”

“Yes, boy, you can go if the mother can spare you,” the elder reluctantly consented; “but don’t set your heart on it till I talk to her. Good night.”

“Well, if they won’t let me go,” the boy said, as he blew out the lamp, “I’ll miss the chance of my life; but I think they will,” and he went to bed.

It was late the next morning when the boat felt the touch of her designer’s hand, for there was much talking to be done, much to be explained, and the boy found it hard to convince his mother that it was to his advantage; that it was almost necessary, in fact, for him to go on this hazardous trip.

“We can go!” he almost shouted, partly to his boat, partly to relieve his feelings, “and we’ll do it, too.” The boy’s eyes travelled over every line and curve of his creation with a pride that was tempered with concern, for much depended on the staunchness and sea-worthiness of his handiwork.

The fire in his makeshift furnace was soon roaring, and it was not long before the ring of the hatchet and adze filled the little shop as the boy went to work with new zest. Luncheon was a vexatious interruption, for he begrudged the time spent in eating. The yawl took shape plank by plank; and as she grew her builder planned ways and means, figured out places to stow provisions, water, spare tackle, rigging, and all the other hundred and one things that would be required for a long voyage. His imagination played a large part, too, and he sailed wonderful seas, through terrific storms, and along beautiful coasts—dreams, many of which, improbable as they were, came true, for adventures innumerable and utterly unexpected were to be encountered.

“By Jove!” he said aloud one day after he had had a particularly hard tussle with a plank that had to be both bent and twisted into position. “This is almost too much for me alone; and I can’t sail around to the Atlantic by myself. Whom shall I get to go with me?”

He leaned up against the workbench to think. The yawl, almost fully planked, now stood up higher than the builder’s head. The newly placed timber still steamed and gave out an odor dear to the wood-worker. There was no sound except the hiss of steam in the steam-box. Suddenly the door of the shed opened and three heads appeared.

“Hello, Ken, what are you doing? Holy smoke! look at that; isn’t she a beauty?” Frank Chauvet didn’t even stop to take breath between his sentences.

“Hullo, you chaps. Come in,” returned Ken, making a place for them on the bench. “The very fellows I want to see,” he said to himself. “What do you think of my boat? Look out, Arthur, you’ll sit on that adze if you don’t be careful. You’ve got to look before you sit in this shop.”

The third boy was meanwhile walking around the boat, inspecting her critically, feeling the wood, measuring the thickness of the timbers, and eying the shape with an approving glance.

“Say, Ken, where are you going to take her? Arctic regions? She’s built strong enough to go around the Horn.” Clyde Morrow looked up at his friend inquiringly. “Ken, did you do all this yourself? She’s great, simply great!”

“Yep—sure—you knew I was building a boat. Why didn’t you come around before?” Then, before they had time to answer, he went on, “Clyde, you said she was strong enough to go around the Horn; she’s got to be strong enough to make a journey almost as long and quite as trying.” He paused a minute and eyed his friends one after the other. Frank and Arthur were sitting side by side on the workbench. Clyde was leaning against the boat, Ransom himself faced them, half leaning, half sitting on a large block of iron that served as an anvil.

“What do you think about cruising to the Atlantic and back in that boat?” Kenneth pointed to the yawl. “Circumnavigating the Eastern half of the United States, in other words.”

“What!” cried Arthur and the other two boys. “You’re crazy!” Clyde added.

“No, I’m not; it can be done and I’m going to try to do it.” Kenneth spoke confidently and with a smile at his friends’ incredulity.

“Wake up, old man,” said Frank with a laugh; “that’s a nice dream, but you’re likely to fall out of bed.”

“Listen; I’ve studied this thing out and it can be done. Wait a minute,” he interrupted himself to say as Clyde opened his mouth to speak. “You know what I want to be and what I want to do, and there is no way of seeing all kinds of boats and experiencing all kinds of weather and conditions of water and climate except by seeing and experiencing them.” He laughed at the lame finish of his sentence. “The best and most thorough way of doing it, it seems to me, is to go in a small boat that you have built yourself and see everything at first-hand. What a cruise it will be! I wish I could go to-morrow.”

“What! do you really mean to go?” said Frank. “Why, you’re clean daft, Ken.”

“Not on your life,” answered Ransom sturdily. “Look here.”

He reached down a well-thumbed atlas from a shelf and led the way out of doors and under the apple tree. Then spreading it out, he began to explain what was in his mind.



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