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Sea StoriesA Gale Of Wind
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Wooden And Iron Walls
My First Voyage
The fourteenth day of August was the day fixed upon for the sailing of
the brig Pilgrim on her voyage from Boston round Cape Horn to the
western coast of North America. As she was to get under way early in
the afternoon, I made my appearance on board at twelve o'clock in full
sea-rig, and with my chest, containing an outfit for a two or three
years' voyage, which I had undertaken from a determination to cure, if
possible, by an entire change of life, and by a long absence from
books and study, a weakness of the eyes, which had obliged me to give
up my pursuits, and which no medical aid seemed likely to cure.
The change from the tight dress-coat, silk cap and kid gloves of an
undergraduate at Cambridge, to the loose duck trousers, checked shirt
and tarpaulin hat of a sailor, though somewhat of a transformation,
was soon made, and I supposed that I should pass very well for a jack
tar. But it is impossible to deceive the practised eye in these
matters; and while I supposed myself to be looking as salt as Neptune
himself, I was, no doubt, known for a landsman by every one on board
as soon as I hove in sight.
A sailor has a peculiar cut to his clothes, and a way of wearing them
which a green hand can never get. The trousers, tight round the hips,
and thence hanging long and loose round the feet, a superabundance of
checked shirt, a low-crowned, well-varnished black hat, worn on the
back of the head, with half a fathom of black ribbon hanging over the
left eye, and a peculiar tie to the black silk neckerchief, with
sundry other minutiae, are signs, the want of which betrayed the
beginner, at once. Besides the points in my dress which were out of
the way, doubtless my complexion and hands were enough to distinguish
me from the regular salt, who, with a sunburnt cheek, wide step, and
rolling gait, swings his broad and toughened hands athwart-ships, half
open, as though just ready to grasp a rope.
"With all my imperfections on my head," I joined the crew, and we
hauled out into the stream, and came to anchor for the night. The next
day we were employed in preparations for sea, reeving studding-sail
gear, crossing royal-yards, putting on chafing gear, and taking on
board our powder. On the following night, I stood my first watch. I
remained awake nearly all the first part of the night from fear that I
might not hear when I was called; and when I went on deck, so great
were my ideas of the importance of my trust, that I walked regularly
fore and aft the whole length of the vessel, looking out over the bows
and taffrail at each turn, and was not a little surprised at the
coolness of the old salt whom I called to take my place, in stowing
himself snugly away under the long-boat, for a nap. That was a
sufficient lookout, he thought, for a fine night, at anchor in a safe
The next morning was Saturday, and a breeze having sprung up from the
southward, we took a pilot on board, hove up our anchor, and began
beating down the bay. I took leave of those of my friends who came to
see me off, and had barely opportunity to take a last look at the city
and well-known objects, as no time is allowed on board ship for
As we drew down into the lower harbor, we found the wind ahead in the
bay, and we were obliged to come to anchor in the roads. We remained
there through the day and a part of the night. My watch began at
eleven o'clock at night, and I received orders to call the captain if
the wind came out from the westward. About midnight the wind became
fair, and having called the captain, I was ordered to call all hands.
How I accomplished this I do not know, but I am quite sure that I did
not give the true hoarse boatswain call of "A-a-ll ha-a-a-nds! up
anchor, a ho-oy!" In a short time every one was in motion, the sails
loosed, the yards braced, and we began to heave up the anchor, which
was our last hold upon Yankee land.
I could take but little part in all these preparations. My little
knowledge of a vessel was all at fault. Unintelligible orders were so
rapidly given and so immediately executed; there was such a hurrying
about, and such an intermingling of strange cries and strange actions,
that I was completely bewildered. There is not so helpless and
pitiable an object in the world as a landsman beginning a sailor's
At length those peculiar, long-drawn sounds, which denote that the
crew are heaving at the windlass, began, and in a few moments we were
under way. The noise of the water thrown from the bows began to be
heard, the vessel leaned over from the damp night breeze, and rolled
with a heavy ground swell, and we had actually begun our long, long
journey. This was literally bidding "good-night" to my native land.
The first day we passed at sea was the Sabbath. As we were just from
port, and there was a great deal to be done on board, we were kept at
work all day, and at night the watches were set, and everything put
into sea order. When we were called aft to be divided into watches, I
had a good specimen of the manner of a sea captain. After the division
had been made, he gave a short characteristic speech, walking the
quarter-deck with a cigar in his mouth, and dropping the words out
between the puffs:
"Now, my men, we have begun a long voyage. If we get along well
together, we shall have a comfortable time; if we don't, we shall have
hell afloat. All you've got to do is to obey your orders and do your
duty like men,--then you'll fare well enough;--if you don't, you'll fare
hard enough,--I can tell you. If we pull together, you'll find me a
clever fellow; if we don't, you'll find me a bloody rascal. That's
all I've got to say. Go below, the larboard watch!"
I being in the starboard, or second mate's watch, had the opportunity
of keeping the first watch at sea. S----, a young man, making, like
myself, his first voyage, was in the same watch, and as he was the son
of a professional man, and had been in a counting-room in Boston, we
found that we had many friends and topics in common. We talked these
matters over:--Boston, what our friends were probably doing, our
voyage, etc., until he went to take his turn at the lookout, and left
me to myself.
I had now a fine time for reflection. I felt for the first time the
perfect silence of the sea. The officer was walking the quarter-deck,
where I had no right to go, one or two men were talking on the
forecastle, whom I had little inclination to join, so that I was left
open to the full impression of everything about me. However much I was
affected by the beauty of the sea, the bright stars, and the clouds
driven swiftly over them, I could not but remember that I was
separating myself from all the social and intellectual enjoyments of
life. Yet, strange as it may seem, I did then and afterward take
pleasure in these reflections, hoping by them to prevent my becoming
insensible to the value of what I was leaving.
But all my dreams were soon put to flight by an order from the officer
to trim the yards, as the wind was getting ahead; and I could plainly
see by the looks the sailors occasionally cast to windward, and by the
dark clouds that were fast coming up, that we had bad weather to
prepare for, and had heard the captain say that he expected to be in
the Gulf Stream by twelve o'clock. In a few minutes eight bells were
struck, the watch called, and we went below.
I now began to feel the first discomforts of a sailor's life. The
steerage in which I lived was filled with coils of rigging, spare
sails, old junk, and ship stores, which had not been stowed away.
Moreover, there had been no berths built for us to sleep in, and we
were not allowed to drive nails to hang our clothes upon. The sea,
too, had risen, the vessel was rolling heavily, and everything was
pitched about in grand confusion. There was a complete "hurrah's
nest," as the sailors say, "everything on top and nothing at hand." A
large hawser had been coiled away upon my chest; my hats, boots,
mattress and blankets had all fetched away and gone over leeward,
and were jammed and broken under the boxes and coils of rigging. To
crown all, we were allowed no light to find anything with, and I was
just beginning to feel strong symptoms of sea-sickness, and that
listlessness and inactivity which accompany it.
Giving up all attempts to collect my things together, I lay down upon
the sails, expecting every moment to hear the cry of "All hands ahoy,"
which the approaching storm would soon make necessary. I shortly heard
the rain-drops falling on deck, thick and fast, and the watch
evidently had their hands full of work, for I could hear the loud and
repeated orders of the mate, the trampling of feet, the creaking of
blocks, and all the accompaniments of a coming storm. In a few minutes
the slide of the hatch was thrown back, which let down the noise and
tumult of the deck still louder, the loud cry of "All hands, ahoy!
tumble up here and take in sail!" saluted our ears, and the hatch was
quickly shut again.
When I got upon deck, a new scene and a new experience was before me.
The little brig was close-hauled upon the wind, and lying over, as it
then seemed to me, nearly upon her beam ends. The heavy head sea was
beating against her bows with the noise and force almost of a
sledge-hammer, and flying over the deck, drenching us completely
through. The topsail halyards had been let go, and the great sails
were filling out and backing against the masts with a noise like
thunder. The wind was whistling through the rigging, loose ropes
flying about; loud and, to me, unintelligible orders constantly given
and rapidly executed, and the sailors "singing out" at the ropes in
their hoarse and peculiar strains. In addition to all this, I had not
got my "sea legs" on, was dreadfully sick, with hardly strength enough
to hold on to anything, and it was "pitch dark." This was my state
when I was ordered aloft, for the first time, to reef topsails.
How I got along, I cannot now remember. I "laid out" on the yards and
held on with all my strength. I could not have been of much service,
for I remember having been sick several times before I left the
topsail yard. Soon all was snug aloft, and we were again allowed to go
below. This I did not consider much of a favor, for the confusion of
everything below, and the inexpressible sickening smell, caused by the
shaking up of the bilge-water in the hold, made the steerage but an
indifferent refuge from the cold wet decks.
I had often read of the nautical experiences of others, but I felt as
though there could be none worse than mine; for in addition to every
other evil, I could not but remember that this was only the first
night of a two years' voyage. When we were on deck we were not much
better off, for we were continually ordered about by the officer, who
said that it was good for us to be in motion. Yet anything was better
than the horrible state of things below. I remember very well going to
the hatchway and putting my head down, when I was oppressed by
nausea, and always being relieved immediately. It was as good as an
This state of things continued for two days.
Wednesday, Aug. 20th. We had the watch on deck from four till eight,
this morning. When we came on deck at four o'clock, we found things
much changed for the better. The sea and wind had gone down, and the
stars were out bright. I experienced a corresponding change in my
feelings; yet continued extremely weak from my sickness. I stood in
the waist on the weather side, watching the gradual breaking of the
day, and the first streaks of the early light. Much has been said of
the sunrise at sea; but it will not compare with the sunrise on shore.
It wants the accompaniments of the songs of birds, the awakening hum
of men, and the glancing of the first beams upon trees, hills, spires,
and house-tops, to give it life and spirit. But though the actual
rise of the sun at sea is not so beautiful, yet nothing will compare
with the early breaking of day upon the wide ocean.
There is something in the first gray streaks stretching along the
eastern horizon and throwing an indistinct light upon the face of the
deep, which combines with the boundlessness and unknown depth of the
sea round you, and gives one a feeling of loneliness, of dread, and of
melancholy foreboding, which nothing else in nature can give. This
gradually passes away as the light grows brighter, and when the sun
comes up, the ordinary monotonous sea day begins.
From such reflections as these, I was aroused by the order from the
officer, "Forward there! rig the head-pump!" I found that no time was
allowed for day-dreaming, but that we must "turn to" at the first
light. Having called up the "idlers," namely carpenter, cook, steward,
etc., and rigged the pump, we commenced washing down the decks. This
operation, which is performed every morning at sea, takes nearly two
hours; and I had hardly strength enough to get through it.
After we had finished, swabbed down, and coiled up the rigging, I sat
down on the spars, waiting for seven bells, which was the sign for
breakfast. The officer, seeing my lazy posture, ordered me to slush
the main-mast, from the royal mast-head down. The vessel was then
rolling a little, and I had taken no sustenance for three days, so
that I felt tempted to tell him that I had rather wait till after
breakfast; but I knew that I must "take the bull by the horns," and
that if I showed any sign of want of spirit or of backwardness, that I
should be ruined at once. So I took my bucket of grease and climbed up
to the royal-mast-head. Here the rocking of the vessel, which
increases the higher you go from the foot of the mast, which is the
fulcrum of the lever, and the smell of the grease, which offended my
fastidious senses, upset my stomach again, and I was not a little
rejoiced when I got upon the comparative terra firma of the deck. In
a few minutes seven bells were struck, the log hove, the watch called,
and we went to breakfast.
Here I cannot but remember the advice of the cook, a simple-hearted
"Now," said he, "my lad, you are well cleaned out; you haven't got a
drop of your 'long-shore swash aboard of you. You must begin on a
new tack--pitch all your sweetmeats overboard, and turn-to upon good
hearty salt beef and sea bread, and I'll promise you, you'll have your
ribs well sheathed, and be as hearty as any of 'em, afore you are up
to the Horn."
This would be good advice to give passengers, when they speak of the
little niceties which they have laid in, in case of sea-sickness.
I cannot describe the change which half a pound of cold salt beef and
a biscuit or two produced in me. I was a new being. We had a watch
below until noon, so that I had some time to myself; and getting a
huge piece of strong, cold salt beef from the cook, I kept gnawing
upon it until twelve o'clock. When we went on deck I felt somewhat
like a man, and could begin to learn my sea duty with considerable
At about two o'clock we heard the loud cry of "Sail ho!" from aloft,
and soon saw two sails to windward, going directly athwart our hawse.
This was the first time that I had seen a sail at sea. I thought then,
and have always since, that it exceeds every other sight in interest
and beauty. They passed to leeward of us, and out of hailing distance;
but the captain could read the names on their sterns with the glass.
They were the ship Helen Mar, of New York, and the brig Mermaid, of
Boston. They were both steering westward, and were bound in for our
"dear native land."
Thursday, Aug. 21st. This day the sun rose clear, we had a fine
wind, and everything was bright and cheerful. I had now got my sea
legs on, and was beginning to enter upon the regular duties of a
sea-life. About six bells, that is, three o'clock, P.M., we saw a sail
on our larboard bow. I was very anxious, like every new sailor, to
speak her. She came down to us, backed her maintopsail and the two
vessels stood "head on," bowing and curvetting at each other like a
couple of war-horses reined in by their riders. It was the first
vessel that I had seen near, and I was surprised to find how much she
rolled and pitched in so quiet a sea. She plunged her head into the
sea, and then, her stern settling gradually down, her huge bows rose
up, showing the bright copper, and her stern, and breast-hooks
dripping, like old Neptune's locks, with the brine. Her decks were
filled with passengers who had come up at the cry of "Sail ho," and
who by their dress and features appeared to be Swiss and French
emigrants. She hailed us in French, but receiving no answer, she tried
us in English. She was the ship La Carolina, from Havre, for New York.
We desired her to report the brig Pilgrim, from Boston, for the
northwest coast of America, five days out. She then filled away and
left us to plough on through our waste of waters. This day ended
pleasantly; we had got into regular and comfortable weather, and into
that routine of sea-life which is only broken by a storm, a sail, or
the sight of land.
As we had now a long "spell" of fine weather, without any incident to
break the monotony of our lives, there can be no better place to
describe the duties, regulations, and customs of an American
merchantman, of which ours was a fair specimen.
The captain, in the first place, is lord paramount. He stands no
watch, comes and goes when he pleases, and is accountable to no one,
and must be obeyed in everything, without a question, even from his
chief officer. He has the power to turn his officers off duty, and
even to break them and make them do duty as sailors in the forecastle.
Where there are no passengers and no supercargo, as in our vessel, he
has no companion but his own dignity, and no pleasures, unless he
differs from most of his kind, but the consciousness of possessing
supreme power and, occasionally, the exercise of it.
The prime minister, the official organ, and the active and
superintending officer, is the chief mate. He is first lieutenant,
boatswain, sailing-master, and quartermaster. The captain tells him
what he wishes to have done, and leaves to him the care of overseeing,
of allotting the work, and also the responsibility of its being well
done. The mate (as he is always called, par excellence) also keeps
the logbook, for which he is responsible to the owners and insurers,
and has the charge of the stowage, safe-keeping, and delivery of the
cargo. He is also ex-officio, the wit of the crew; for the captain
does not condescend to joke with the men, and the second mate no one
cares for; so that when "the mate" thinks fit to entertain "the
people" with a coarse joke or a little practical wit, every one feels
bound to laugh.
The second mate's is proverbially a dog's berth. He is neither officer
nor man. The men do not respect him as an officer, and he is obliged
to go aloft to reef and furl the topsails, and to put his hands into
the tar and slush, with the rest. The crew call him the "sailor's
waiter," as he has to furnish them with spun-yarn, marline, and all
other stuffs that they need in their work, and has charge of the
boatswain's locker, which includes serving-boards, marline-spikes,
etc. He is expected to maintain his dignity and to enforce obedience,
and still is kept at a great distance from the mate, and obliged to
work with the crew. He is one to whom little is given and of whom much
is required. His wages are usually double those of a common sailor,
and he eats and sleeps in the cabin; but he is obliged to be on deck
nearly all his time, and eats at the second table, that is, makes a
meal out of what the captain and chief mate leave.
The steward is the captain's servant, and has charge of the pantry,
from which every one, even the mate himself, is excluded. These
distinctions usually find him an enemy in the mate, who does not like
to have any one on board who is not entirely under his control; the
crew do not consider him as one of their number, so he is left to the
mercy of the captain.
The cook is the patron of the crew, and those who are in his favor can
get their wet mittens and stockings dried, or light their pipes at the
galley in the nightwatch. These two worthies, together with the
carpenter and sail-maker, if there be one, stand no watch, but, being
employed all day, are allowed to "sleep in" at night unless all hands
The crew are divided into two divisions, as equally as may be, called
the watches. Of these the chief mate commands the larboard, and the
second mate the starboard. They divide the time between them, being on
and off duty, or, as it is called, on deck and below, every other four
hours. If, for instance, the chief mate with the larboard watch have
the first night-watch from eight to twelve; at the end of the four
hours the starboard watch is called, and the second mate takes the
deck while the larboard watch and the first mate go below until four
in the morning, when they come on deck again and remain until eight;
having what is called the morning watch. As they will have been on
deck eight hours out of the twelve, while those who had the middle
watch--from twelve to four--will only have been up four hours, they have
what is called a "forenoon watch below," that is, from eight A.M. till
twelve M. In a man-of-war, and in some merchantmen, this alternation
of watches is kept up throughout the twenty-four hours; but our ship,
like most merchantmen, had "all hands" from twelve o'clock to dark,
except in bad weather, when we had "watch and watch."
An explanation of the "dog-watches" may, perhaps, be of use to one who
has never been at sea. They are to shift the watches each night, so
that the same watch need not be on deck at the same hours. In order to
effect this, the watch from four to eight A.M. is divided into two
half, or dog-watches, one from four to six; and the other from six to
eight. By this means they divide the twenty-four hours into seven
watches instead of six, and thus shift the hours every night. As the
dog-watches come during twilight, after the day's work is done, and
before the night-watch is set, they are the watches in which everybody
is on deck. The captain is up, walking on the weather side of the
quarter-deck, the chief mate on the lee side, and the second mate
about the weather gangway. The steward has finished his work in the
cabin, and has come up to smoke his pipe with the cook in the galley.
The crew are sitting on the windlass or lying on the forecastle,
smoking, singing, or telling long yarns. At eight o'clock, eight bells
are struck, the log is hove, the watch set, the wheel relieved, the
galley shut up, and the other watch goes below.
The morning commences with the watch on deck "turning-to" at day-break
and washing down, scrubbing, and swabbing the decks. This together
with filling the "scuttled butt" with fresh water, and coiling up the
rigging, usually occupies the time until seven bells (half after
seven), when all hands get breakfast. At eight, the day's work begins,
and lasts until sundown, with the exception of an hour for dinner.
Before I end my explanations, it may be well to define a day's work,
and to correct a mistake prevalent among landsmen about a sailor's
life. Nothing is more common than to hear people say--"Are not sailors
very idle at sea? what can they find to do?" This is a very natural
mistake, and being very frequently made, it is one which every sailor
feels interested in having corrected. In the first place, then, the
discipline of the ship requires every man to be at work upon
something when he is on deck, except at night and on Sundays. Except
at these times, you will never see a man, on board a well-ordered
vessel, standing idle on deck, sitting down, or leaning over the side.
It is the officer's duty to keep every one at work, even if there is
nothing to be done but to scrape the rust from the cabin cables. In no
state prison are the convicts more regularly set to work, and more
closely watched. No conversation is allowed among the crew at their
duty, and though they frequently do talk when aloft, or when near one
another, yet they always stop when an officer is nigh.
With regard to the work upon which the men are put, it is a matter
which probably would not be understood by one who has not been at sea.
When I first left port, and found that we were kept regularly employed
for a week or two, I supposed that we were getting the vessel into sea
trim and that it would soon be over, and we should have nothing to do
but to sail the ship; but I found that it continued so for two years,
and at the end of the two years there was as much to be done as ever.
As has often been said, a ship is like a lady's watch, always out of
repair. When first leaving port, studding-sail gear is to be rove, all
the running rigging to be examined, that which is unfit for use to be
got down, and new rigging rove in its place; then the standing rigging
is to be overhauled, replaced, and repaired, in a thousand different
ways; and wherever any of the numberless ropes or the yards are
chafing or wearing upon it, there "chafing gear," as it is called,
must be put on. This chafing gear consists of worming, parcelling,
roundings, battens, and service of all kinds--both rope-yarns,
spun-yarn, marline, and seizing-stuffs. Taking off, putting on, and
mending the chafing gear alone, upon a vessel, would find constant
employment for two or three men, during working hours, for a whole
The next point to be considered is, that all the "small stuffs" which
are used on board a ship--such as spun-yarn, marline, seizing-stuff,
etc.--are made on board. The owners of a vessel buy up incredible
quantities of "old junk," which the sailors unlay after drawing out
the yarns, knot them together and roll them up in balls. These
"rope-yarns" are constantly used for various purposes, but the greater
part is manufactured into spun yarn. For this purpose every vessel is
furnished with a "spun-yarn winch"; which is very simple, consisting
of a wheel and spindle. This may be heard constantly going on deck in
pleasant weather; and we had employment, during a great part of the
tune, for three hands in drawing and knotting yarns, and making
Another method of employing the crew is "setting up" rigging. Wherever
any of the standing rigging becomes slack (which is continually
happening), the seizing and coverings must be taken off, tackles got
up, and after the rigging is bowsed well taut, the seizings and
coverings replaced; which is a very nice piece of work.
There is also such a connection between different parts of a vessel,
that one rope can seldom be touched without altering another. You
cannot stay a mast aft by the back-stays without slacking up the
head-stays, etc. If we add to this all the tarring, greasing, oiling,
varnishing, painting, scraping, and scrubbing which is required in the
course of a long voyage, and also remember this is all to be done in
addition to watching at night, steering, reefing, furling, bracing,
making and setting sail, and pulling, hauling, and climbing in every
direction, one will hardly ask, "What can a sailor find to do at sea?"
If, after all this labor--after exposing their lives and limbs in
storms, wet and cold,
"Wherein the cub-drawn bear would couch;
The lion and the belly-pinched wolf
Keep their furs dry;--"
the merchants and captains think that they have not earned their
twelve dollars a month (out of which they clothe themselves), and
their salt beef and hard bread, they keep them picking oakum--ad
This is the usual resource upon a rainy day, for then it will not do
to work upon rigging; and when it is pouring down in floods, instead
of letting the sailors stand about in sheltered places, and talk, and
keep themselves comfortable, they are separated to different parts of
the ship and kept at work picking oakum. I have seen oakum stuff
placed about in different parts of the ship, so that the sailors might
not be idle in the snatches between the frequent squalls upon
crossing the equator.
Some officers have been so driven to find work for the crew in a ship
ready for sea, that they have set them to pounding the anchors (often
done) and scraping the chain cables. The "Philadelphia Catechism" is,
"Six days shalt thou labor and do all that thou art able,
And on the seventh--holystone the decks and scrape the cable."
This kind of work, of course, is not kept up off Cape Horn, Cape of
Good Hope, and in extreme north and south latitudes; but I have seen
the decks washed down and scrubbed, when the water would have frozen
if it had been fresh; and all hands kept at work upon the rigging,
when we had on our pea-jackets, and our hands so numb that we could
hardly hold our marline-spikes.
I have here gone out of my narrative course in order that any who read
this may form as correct an idea of a sailor's life and duty as
possible. I have done it in this place because, for some time, our
life was nothing but the unvarying repetition of these duties which
can be better described together.
Before leaving this description, however, I would state, in order to
show landsmen how little they know of the nature of a ship, that a
ship carpenter is kept in constant employ during good weather on
board vessels which are in, what is called, perfect sea order.
After speaking the Carolina, on the 21st August, nothing occurred to
break the monotony of our life until--
Friday, Sept. 5th, when we saw a sail on our weather (starboard)
beam. She proved to be a brig under English colors, and passing under
our stern, reported herself as forty-nine days from Buenos Ayres,
bound to Liverpool. Before she had passed us, "Sail ho!" was cried
again and we made another sail, far on our weather bow, and steering
athwart our hawse. She passed out of hail, but we made her out to be
an hermaphrodite brig, with Brazilian colors in her main rigging. By
her course, she must have been bound from Brazil to the south of
Europe, probably Portugal.
Sunday, Sept. 7th. Fell in with the northeast trade winds. This
morning we caught our first dolphin, which I was very eager to see. I
was disappointed in the colors of this fish when dying. They were
certainly very beautiful, but not equal to what has been said of them.
They are too indistinct. To do the fish justice, there is nothing more
beautiful than the dolphin when swimming a few feet below the surface,
on a bright day. It is the most elegantly formed, and also the
quickest fish, in salt water; and the rays of the sun striking upon
it, in its rapid and changing motions, reflected from the water, make
it look like a stray beam from a rainbow.
This day was spent like all pleasant Sabbaths at sea. The decks are
washed down, the rigging coiled up, and everything put in order; and
throughout the day, only one watch is kept on deck at a time. The men
are all dressed in their best white duck trousers, and red or checked
shirts, and have nothing to do but to make the necessary changes in
the sails. They employ themselves in reading, talking, smoking, and
mending their clothes. If the weather is pleasant, they bring their
work and their books upon deck, and sit down upon the forecastle and
windlass. This is the only day on which these privileges are allowed
them. When Monday comes, they put on their tarry trousers again, and
prepare for six days of labor.
To enhance the value of the Sabbath to the crew, they are allowed on
that day a pudding, or as it is called a "duff." This is nothing more
than flour boiled with water, and eaten with molasses. It is very
heavy, dark, and clammy, yet it is looked upon as a luxury, and really
forms an agreeable variety with salt beef and pork. Many a rascally
captain has made friends of his crew by allowing them duff twice a
week on the passage home.
On board some vessels this is made a day of instruction and of
religious exercises; but we had a crew of swearers, from the captain
to the smallest boy; and a day of rest, and of something like quiet
social enjoyment, was all that we could expect.
We continued running large before the northeast trade winds for
several days, until Monday--
Sept. 22d., when, upon coming on deck at seven bells in the morning we
found the other watch aloft throwing water upon the sails, and looking
astern we saw a small clipper-built brig with a black hull heading
directly after us. We went to work immediately, and put all the canvas
upon the brig which we could get upon her, rigging out oars for
studding-sail yards; and continued wetting down the sails by buckets
of water whipped up to the mast-head, until about nine o'clock, when
there came on a drizzling rain.
The vessel continued in pursuit, changing her course as we changed
ours, to keep before the wind. The captain, who watched her with his
glass, said that she was armed, and full of men, and showed no colors.
We continued running dead before the wind, knowing that we sailed
better so, and that clippers are fastest on the wind. We had also
another advantage. The wind was light, and we spread more canvas than
she did, having royals and sky-sails fore and aft, and ten studding
sails, while she, being an hermaphrodite brig, had only a gaff-topsail
aft. Early in the morning she was overhauling us a little, but after
the rain came on and the wind grew lighter, we began to leave her
as We Changed Ours"]
All hands remained on deck throughout the day, and we got our arms in
order; but we were too few to have done anything with her, if she had
proved to be what we feared. Fortunately there was no moon, and the
night which followed was exceeding dark, so that by putting out all
the lights on board and altering her course four points, we hoped to
get out of her reach. We had no light in the binnacle, but steered by
the stars, and kept perfect silence through the night. At daybreak
there was no sign of anything in the horizon, and we kept the vessel
off to her course.
Wednesday, Oct. 1st. Crossed the equator in long. 24 deg. 24' W. I now,
for the first time, felt at liberty, according to the old usage, to
call myself a son of Neptune, and was very glad to be able to claim
the title without the disagreeable initiation which so many have to go
through. After once crossing the line you can never be subjected to
the process, but are considered as a son of Neptune, with full powers
to play tricks upon others. This ancient custom is now seldom allowed,
unless there are passengers on board, in which case there is always a
good deal of sport.
It had been obvious to all hands for some time that the second mate,
whose name was Foster, was an idle, careless fellow, and not much of a
sailor, and that the captain was exceedingly dissatisfied with him.
The power of the captain in these cases was well known, and we all
anticipated a difficulty.
Foster (called Mr. by virtue of his office) was but half a sailor,
having always been short voyages and remained at home a long time
between them. His father was a man of some property, and intended to
have given his son a liberal education; but he, being idle and
worthless, was sent off to sea, and succeeded no better there; for,
unlike many scamps, he had none of the qualities of a sailor--he was
"not of the stuff that they make sailors of." He was one of the class
of officers who are disliked by their captain and despised by the
crew. He used to hold long yarns with the crew, and talk about the
captain, and play with the boys, and relax discipline in every way.
This kind of conduct always makes the captain suspicious, and is never
pleasant in the end, to the men; they preferring to have an officer
active, vigilant, and distant as may be, with kindness. Among other
bad practices, he frequently slept on his watch, and having been
discovered asleep by the captain, he was told that he would be turned
off duty if he did it again. To prevent it in every way possible, the
hen-coops were ordered to be knocked up, for the captain never sat
down oh deck himself, and never permitted an officer to do so.
The second night after crossing the equator, we had the watch from
eight till twelve, and it was "my helm" for the last two hours. There
had been light squalls through the night, and the captain told Mr.
Foster, who commanded our watch, to keep a bright lookout. Soon after
I came to the helm, I found that he was quite drowsy, and at last he
stretched himself on the companion and went fast asleep.
Soon afterward, the captain came very quietly on deck, and stood by me
for some time looking at the compass. The officer at length became
aware of the captain's presence, but pretending not to know it, began
humming and whistling to himself, to show that he was not asleep, and
went forward, without looking behind him, and ordered the main-royal
to be loosed. On turning round to come aft, he pretended surprise at
seeing the master on deck.
This would not do. The captain was too "wide awake" for him, and
beginning upon him at once, gave him a grand blow-up, in true nautical
style--"You're a lazy good-for-nothing rascal; you're neither man, boy,
soger, nor sailor! you're no more than a thing aboard a vessel!
you don't earn your salt! you're worse than a Mahon soger!" and
other still more choice extracts from the sailor's vocabulary. After
the poor fellow had taken this harangue, he was sent into his
stateroom, and the captain stood the rest of the watch himself.
At seven bells in the morning, all hands were called aft and told that
Foster was no longer an officer on board, and that we might choose one
of our number for second mate. It is usual for the captain to make
this offer, and it is very good policy, for the crew think themselves
the choosers and are flattered by it, but have to obey, nevertheless.
Our crew, as is usual, refused to take the responsibility of choosing
a man of whom we would never be able to complain, and left it to the
captain. He picked out an active and intelligent young sailor born
near the Kennebec, who had been several Canton voyages, and proclaimed
him in the following manner:
"I choose Jim Hall--he's your second mate. All you've got to do is, to
obey him as you would me; and remember that he is Mr. Hall." Foster
went forward into the forecastle as a common sailor, and lost the
handle to his name, while young foremast Jim became Mr. Hall, and
took up his quarters in the land of knives and forks and tea-cups.
Sunday, Oct. 5th. It was our morning watch; when, soon after day
began to break, a man on the forecastle called out, "Land ho!" I had
never heard the cry before, and did not know what it meant (and few
would suspect what the words were, when hearing the strange sound for
the first time), but I soon found, by the direction of all eyes, that
there was land stretching along on our weather beam. We immediately
took in the studding sails and hauled our wind, running for the land.
This was done to determine our longitude; for by the captain's
chronometer we were in 25 deg. W., but by his observations we were much
further, and he had been for some time in doubt whether it was his
chronometer or his sextant which was out of order. This landfall
settled the matter, and the former instrument was condemned, and
becoming still worse, was never afterwards used.
As we ran in toward the coast, we found that we were directly off the
port of Pernambuco, and could see with the telescope the roofs of the
houses, and one large church, and the town of Olinda. We ran along by
the mouth of the harbor, and saw a full-rigged brig going in. At two
P.M., we again kept off before the wind, leaving the land on our
quarter, and at sundown it was out of sight.
It was here that I first saw one of those singular things called
catamarans. They are composed of logs lashed together upon the water;
have one large sail, are quite fast, and, strange as it may seem, are
trusted as good sea boats. We saw several, with from one to three men
in each, boldly putting out to sea, after it had become almost dark.
The Indians go out in them after fish, and as the weather is regular
in certain seasons, they have no fear. After taking a new departure
from Olinda, we kept off on our way to Cape Horn.
We met with nothing remarkable until we were in the latitude of the
river La Plata. Here there are violent gales from the southwest called
Pamperos, which are very destructive to the shipping in the river, and
are felt for many leagues at sea. They are usually preceded by
lightning. The captain told the mates to keep a bright lookout, and if
they saw lightning at the southwest, to take in sail at once. We got
the first touch of one during my watch on deck. I was walking in the
lee gangway, and thought that I saw lightning on the bow. I told the
second mate, who came over and looked out for some time. It was very
black in the southwest, and in about ten minutes we saw a distinct
flash. The wind, which had been southeast, had now left us, and it was
dead calm. We sprang aloft immediately and furled the royals and
top-gallant-sails, and took in the flying-jib, hauled up the mainsail
and trysail, squared the after yards and awaited the attack. A huge
mist capped with black cloud came driving towards us, extending over
that quarter of the horizon, and covering the stars, which shone
brightly in the other part of the heavens. It came upon us at once
with a blast, and a shower of hail and rain, which almost took our
breath from us. The hardiest was obliged to turn his back. We let the
halyards run, and fortunately were not taken aback. The little vessel
"paid off" from the wind, and ran on for some time directly before it,
tearing through the water with everything flying. Having called all
hands, we close reefed the topsails and trysail, furled the courses
and jib, set the foretopmast staysail, and brought her up nearly to
her course, with the weather braces hauled in a little, to ease her.
This was the first blow, that I have seen, which could really be
called a gale. We had reefed our topsails in the Gulf Stream, and I
thought it something serious, but an older sailor would have thought
nothing of it. As I had now become used to the vessel and to my duty,
I was of some service on a yard, and could knot my reef-point as well
as anybody. I obeyed the order to lay aloft with the rest, and
found the reefing a very exciting scene; for one watch reefed the
foretopsail, and the other the main, and every one did his utmost to
get his topsail hoisted first. We had a great advantage over the
larboard watch, because the chief mate never goes aloft, while our new
second mate used to jump into the rigging as soon as we began to haul
out the reef-tackle, and have the weather earing passed before there
was a man upon the yard. In this way we were almost always able to
raise the cry of "Haul out to leeward" before them, and having knotted
our points, would slide down the shrouds and back-stays, and sing out
at the topsail halyards to let it be known that we were ahead of them.
[Footnote 3: This word "lay," which is in such general use on board
ship, being used in giving orders instead of "go;" as, "Lay
forward!" "Lay aft!" "Lay aloft!" etc., I do not understand to be
the neuter verb lie, mispronounced, but to be the active verb lay
with the objective case understood; as, "Lay yourselves forward!"
"Lay yourselves aft!" etc.]
Reefing is the most exciting part of a sailor's duty. All hands are
engaged upon it, and after the halyards are let go, there is no time
to be lost--no "sogering," or hanging back, then. If one is not quick
enough, another runs over him. The first on the yard goes to the
weather earing, the second to the lee, and the next two to the dog's
ears, while the others lay along the bunt, just giving each other
elbow-room. In reefing, the yard-arms (the extremes of the yards), are
the posts of honor; but in furling, the strongest and most experienced
stand in the slings (or, middle of the yard), to make up the bunt. If
the second mate is a smart fellow, he will never let any one take
either of these posts from him; for if he is wanting either in
seamanship, strength, or activity, some better man will get the bunt
and earings from him; which immediately brings him into disrepute.
We remained for the rest of the night, and throughout the next day,
under the same close sail, for it continued to blow very fresh; and
though we had no more hail, yet there was a soaking rain, and it was
quite cold and uncomfortable; the more so, because we were not
prepared for cold weather, but had on our thin clothes. We were glad
to get a watch below, and put on our thick clothing, boots, and
southwesters. Toward sundown the gale moderated a little, and it began
to clear off in the southwest. We shook our reefs out, one by one, and
before midnight had topgallant-sails upon her.
We had now made up our minds for Cape Horn and cold weather, and
entered upon every necessary preparation.
Tuesday Nov. 4th. At daybreak, saw land upon our larboard quarter.
There were two islands, of different size, but of the same shape;
rather high, beginning low at the water's edge, and running with a
curved ascent to the middle. They were so far off as to be of a deep
blue color, and in a few hours we sunk them in the northeast. These
were the Falkland Islands. We had run between them and the main land
of Patagonia. At sunset the second mate, who was at the masthead, said
that he saw land on the starboard bow. This must have been the island
of Staten Land; and we were now in the region of Cape Horn, with a
fine breeze from the northward, topmast and topgallant-studding-sails
set, and every prospect of a speedy and pleasant passage round.
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