Average – Swiss Family Robinson By Johann Wyss

We soon dragged four large barrels out of the hold onto the lower deck, which was barely above water. I sawed them across the middle converting them into tubs. After this hard work, we sat down to a lunch of goat’s milk and biscuits. We also had wine, with that of my sons well diluted, as was the custom in our country.

My eight tubs now stood in a row near the water’s edge. I was satisfied, but my wife was not. “I shall never,” she said, “be brave enough to get into one of these!”

“Do not be too sure of that, dear wife, until you see the finished craft.” I sorted through the ship’s lumber supply and found some long, thin, flexible boards. These I nailed together in a long, narrow boat-shape. I then nailed the tubs to this frame, all in one long row of eight, to produce a sort of narrow boat. We tried to launch it and got a bad surprise: it was too heavy to move, even by all heaving together.

“I need a lever,” I cried. “Run and fetch a capstan bar!”

Fritz ran to the capstan, a great horizontal wheel normally used to raise the anchor, and removed one of the heavy spoke-like bars. I sawed a spare mast into rollers, then put the capstan bar under our boat’s bow and pried upward. Thinking quickly, my sons slipped a roller under the boat without my orders.

“Father,” inquired Ernest, “how does that thing let you do more than all of us together?”

“Using this lever, the further I can stand from the object, the more weight I can lift,” I explained in haste.

“But now we must hurry. We can have a longer talk about mechanics on land.”

I tied a long rope to our boat’s stern, then to the ship’s side, and heaved the boat so that two more rollers could fit underneath. Again we all pushed and our gallant craft slid swiftly into the water. It was narrow and tipsy, so we nailed a pair of boards across it and attached empty barrels on each side, similar to the outriggers used to make sea canoes stable. Even so, we would have to distribute the weight very carefully.

I boarded our boat, both to test it and to cut away some wreckage blocking its exit. The boys brought oars and wanted to jump in, but it was too late in the day to try for land. We did not care to spend another night aboard the wreck, but we had no choice. My wife had prepared a good dinner, and we ate heartily after the day’s hard work.

Before nightfall I made everyone put on a swimming-belt. I persuaded my wife, with difficulty, to change her dress for a sailor’s clothing; surely she would find it more comfortable. She finally gave in and left for a short time. When she came back, she wore a seaman’s shirt and trousers, blushing scarlet. At home she would have considered this indecent, for in Switzerland women always wore dresses. We all told her she looked splendid, however, and her embarrassment faded.

Nothing was left but to try to sleep. Tomorrow would be the crucial day.