We continued our cruise along the coast, until we had run down into
the Bay of Arcason, where we captured two or three vessels, and
obliged many more to run on shore. And here we had an instance showing
how very important it is that the captain of a man-of-war should be a
good sailor, and have his ship in such discipline as to be strictly
obeyed by his ship's company. I heard the officers unanimously assert,
after the danger was over, that nothing but the presence of mind which
was shown by Captain Savage could have saved the ship and her crew. We
had chased a convoy of vessels to the bottom of the bay: the wind was
very fresh when we hauled off, after running them on shore; and the
surf on the beach even at that time was so great, that they were
certain to go to pieces before they could be got afloat again. We were
obliged to double-reef the topsails as soon as we hauled to the wind,
and the weather looked very threatening. In an hour afterwards, the
whole sky was covered with one black cloud, which sank so low as
nearly to touch our mast-heads, and a tremendous sea, which appeared
to have risen up almost by magic, rolled in upon us, setting the
vessel on a dead lee shore. As the night closed in, it blew a dreadful
gale, and the ship was nearly buried with the press of canvas which
she was obliged to carry: for had we sea-room, we should have been
lying-to under storm staysails; but we were forced to carry on at all
risks, that we might claw off shore. The sea broke over us as we lay
in the trough, deluging us with water from the forecastle, aft, to the
binnacles; and very often as the ship descended with a plunge, it was
with such force that I really thought she would divide in half with
the violence of the shock. Double breechings were rove on the guns,
and they were further secured with tackles; and strong cleats nailed
behind the trunnions; for we heeled over so much when we lurched, that
the guns were wholly supported by the breechings and tackles, and had
one of them broken loose it must have burst right through the lee side
of the ship, and she must have foundered. The captain, first
lieutenant, and most of the officers, remained on deck during the
whole of the night; and really, what with the howling of the wind, the
violence of the rain, the washing of the water about the decks, the
working of the chain-pumps, and the creaking and groaning of the
timbers, I thought that we must inevitably have been lost; and I said
my prayers at least a dozen times during the night, for I felt it
impossible to go to bed. I had often wished, out of curiosity, that I
might be in a gale of wind; but I little thought it was to have been a
scene of this description, or anything half so dreadful. What made it
more appalling was, that we were on a lee shore, and the consultations
of the captain and officers, and the eagerness with which they looked
out for daylight, told us that we had other dangers to encounter
besides the storm. At last the morning broke, and the look-out man
upon the gangway called out, "Land on the lee beam!" I perceived the
master dash his feet against the hammock-rails, as if with vexation,
and walk away without saying a word, looking very grave.
"Up there, Mr. Wilson," said the captain to the second lieutenant,
"and see how far the land trends forward, and whether you can
distinguish the point." The second lieutenant went up the
main-rigging, and pointed with his hand to about two points before the
"Do you see two hillocks, inland?"
"Yes, sir," replied the second lieutenant.
"Then it is so," observed the captain to the master, "and if we
weather it we shall have more sea-room. Keep her full, and let her go
through the water; do you hear, quartermaster?"
"Ay, ay, sir."
"Thus, and no nearer, my man. Ease her with a spoke or two when she
sends; but be careful, or she'll take the wheel out of your hands."
It really was a very awful sight. When the ship was in the trough of
the sea, you could distinguish nothing but a waste of tumultuous
water; but when she was borne up on the summit of the enormous waves,
you then looked down, as it were, upon a low, sandy coast, close to
you, and covered with foam and breakers. "She behaves nobly," observed
the captain, stepping aft to the binnacle, and looking at the compass;
"if the wind does not baffle us, we shall weather." The captain had
scarcely time to make the observation, when the sails shivered and
flapped like thunder, "Up with the helm; what are you about,
"The wind has headed us, sir," replied the quartermaster, coolly.
The captain and master remained at the binnacle watching the compass;
and when the sails were again full, she had broken off two points, and
the point of land was only a little on the lee-bow.
"We must wear her round, Mr. Falcon. Hands, wear ship--ready, oh,
"She has come up again," cried the master, who was at the binnacle.
"Hold fast there a minute. How's her head now?"
"N.N.E., as she was before she broke off, sir."
"Pipe belay," said the captain. "Falcon," continued he, "if she breaks
off again we may have no room to wear; indeed, there is so little room
now, that I must run the risk. Which cable was ranged last night--the
"Jump down, then, and see it double-bitted and stoppered at thirty
fathoms. See it well done--our lives may depend upon it."
The ship continued to hold her course good; and we were within half a
mile of the point, and fully expected to weather it, when again the
wet and heavy sails flapped in the wind, and the ship broke off two
points as before. The officers and seamen were aghast, for the ship's
head was right on to the breakers. "Luff now, all you can,
quartermaster," cried the captain. "Send the men aft directly. My
lads, there is no time for words--I am going to club-haul the ship,
for there is no room to wear. The only chance you have of safety is to
be cool, watch my eye, and execute my orders with precision. Away to
your stations for tacking ship. Hands by the best bower anchor. Mr.
Wilson, attend below with the carpenter and his mates, ready to cut
away the cable at the moment that I give the order. Silence there,
fore and aft. Quartermaster, keep her full again for stays. Mind you
ease the helm down when I tell you." About a minute passed before the
captain gave any further orders. The ship had closed-to within a
quarter-mile of the beach, and the waves curled and topped around us,
bearing us down upon the shore, which presented one continued surface
of foam, extending to within half a cable's length of our position.
The captain waved his hand in silence to the quartermaster at the
wheel, and the helm was put down. The ship turned slowly to the wind,
pitching and chopping as the sails were spilling. When she had lost
her way, the captain gave the order, "Let go the anchor. We will haul
all at once, Mr. Falcon," said the captain. Not a word was spoken; the
men went to the fore brace, which had not been manned; most of them
knew, although I did not, that if the ship's head did not go round the
other way, we should be on shore, and among the breakers, in half a
minute. I thought at the time that the captain had said that he would
haul all the yards at once, there appeared to be doubt or dissent on
the countenance of Mr. Falcon; and I was afterwards told that he had
not agreed with the captain; but he was too good an officer, and knew
that there was no time for discussion, to make any remark: and the
event proved that the captain was right. At last the ship was head to
wind, and the captain gave the signal. The yards flew round with such
a creaking noise, that I thought the masts had gone over the side, and
the next moment the wind had caught the sails; and the ship, which for
a moment or two had been on an even keel, careened over to her gunwale
with its force. The captain, who stood upon the weather hammock-rails,
holding by the main-rigging, ordered the helm a-midships, looked full
at the sails, and then at the cable, which grew broad upon the
weather-bow, and held the ship from nearing the shore. At last he
cried, "Cut away the cable!" A few strokes of the axes were heard, and
then the cable flew out of the hawse-hole in a blaze of fire, from the
violence of the friction, and disappeared under a huge wave, which
struck us on the chesstree, and deluged us with water fore and aft.
But we were now on the other tack, and the ship regained her way, and
we had evidently increased our distance from the land.
"My lads," said the captain to the ship's company, "you have behaved
well, and I thank you; but I must tell you honestly that we have more
difficulties to get through. We have to weather a point of the bay on
this tack. Mr. Falcon, splice the main-brace, and call the watch.
How's her head, quartermaster?"
"S.W. by S. Southerly, sir."
"Very well; let her go through the water;" and the captain, beckoning
to the master to follow him, went down into the cabin. As our
immediate danger was over, I went down into the berth to see if I
could get anything for breakfast, where I found O'Brien and two or
"By the powers, it was as nate a thing as ever I saw done," observed
O'Brien: "the slightest mistake as to time or management, and at this
moment the flatfish would have been dubbing at our ugly carcases.
Peter, you're not fond of flatfish, are you, my boy? We may thank
Heaven and the captain, I can tell you that, my lads; but now, where's
the chart, Robinson? Hand me down the parallel rules and compasses,
Peter; they are in the corner of the shelf. Here we are now, a
devilish sight too near this infernal point. Who knows how her head
"I do, O'Brien: I heard the quartermaster tell the captain S.W. by S.
"Let me see," continued O'Brien, "variation 2-1/4--leeway--rather too
large an allowance of that, I'm afraid; but, however, we'll give her
2-1/2 points; the Diomede would blush to make any more, under any
circumstances. Here--the compass--now, we'll see;" and O'Brien advanced
the parallel rule from the compass to the spot where the ship was
placed on the chart. "Bother! you see, it's as much as she'll do to
weather the other point now, on this tack, and that's what the captain
meant when he told us we had more difficulty. I could have taken my
Bible oath that we were clear of everything, if the wind held."
"See what the distance is, O'Brien," said Robinson. It was measured,
and proved to be thirteen miles. "Only thirteen miles; and if we do
weather, we shall do very well, for the bay is deep beyond. It's a
rocky point, you see, just by way of variety. Well, my lads, I've a
piece of comfort for you, anyhow. It's not long that you'll be kept in
suspense, for by one o'clock this day you'll either be congratulating
each other upon your good luck, or you'll be past praying for. Come,
put up the chart, for I hate to look at melancholy prospects; and,
steward, see what you can find in the way of comfort." Some bread and
cheese, with the remains of yesterday's boiled pork, were put on the
table, with a bottle of rum, procured at the time they "spliced the
main brace"; but we were all too anxious to eat much, and one by one
returned on deck to see how the weather was, and if the wind at all
favored us. On deck the superior officers were in conversation with
the captain, who expressed the same fear that O'Brien had in our
berth. The men, who knew what they had to expect, were assembled in
knots, looking very grave, but at the same time not wanting in
confidence. They knew that they could trust to the captain, as far as
skill or courage could avail them; and sailors are too sanguine to
despair, even at the last moment. As for myself, I felt such
admiration for the captain, after what I had witnessed that morning,
that, whenever the idea came over me, that in all probability I should
be lost in a few hours, I could not help acknowledging how much more
serious it was that such a man should be lost to his country. I do not
intend to say that it consoled me, but it certainly made me still more
regret the chances with which we were threatened.
Before twelve o'clock the rocky point which we so much dreaded was in
sight, broad on the lee bow; and if the low sandy coast appeared
terrible, how much more did this, even at a distance. The captain eyed
it for some minutes in silence, as if in calculation.
"Mr. Falcon," said he, at last, "we must put the mainsail on her."
"She never can bear it, sir."
"She must bear it," was the reply. "Send the men aft to the
mainsheet. See that careful men attend the buntlines."
The mainsail was set, and the effect of it upon the ship was
tremendous. She careened over so that her lee channels were under the
water; and when pressed by a sea, the lee side of the quarter-deck and
gangway were afloat. She now reminded me of a goaded and fiery horse,
mad with the stimulus applied; not rising as before, but forcing
herself through whole seas, and dividing the waves, which poured in
one continual torrent from the forecastle down upon the decks below.
Four men were secured to the wheel--the sailors were obliged to cling
to prevent being washed away--the ropes were thrown in confusion to
leeward--the shot rolled out of the lockers, and every eye was fixed
aloft, watching the masts, which were expected every moment to go over
the side. A heavy sea struck us on the broadside, and it was some
moments before the ship appeared to recover herself; she reeled,
trembled, and stopped her way, as if it had stupefied her. The first
lieutenant looked at the captain, as if to say, "This will not do."
"It is our only chance," answered the captain to the appeal. That the
ship went faster through the water, and held a better wind, was
certain; but just before we arrived at the point the gale increased in
force. "If anything starts we are lost, sir," observed the first
"I am perfectly well aware of it," replied the captain, in a calm
tone; "but, as I said before, and as you must now be aware, it is our
only chance. The consequence of any carelessness or neglect in the
fitting and securing of the rigging will be felt now; and this danger,
if we escape it, ought to remind us how much we have to answer for if
we neglect our duty. The lives of a whole ship's company may be
sacrificed by the neglect or incompetence of an officer when in
harbor. I will pay you the compliment, Falcon, to say, that I feel
convinced that the masts of the ship are as secure as knowledge and
attention can make them."
The first lieutenant thanked the captain for his good opinion, and
hoped that it would not be the last compliment which he paid him.
"I hope not, too; but a few minutes will decide the point."
The ship was now within two cables' lengths of the rocky point; some
few of the men I observed to clasp their hands, but most of them were
silently taking off their jackets, and kicking off their shoes, that
they might not lose a chance of escape provided the ship struck.
"'Twill be touch and go, indeed, Falcon," observed the captain (for I
had clung to the belaying pins, close to them for the last half-hour
that the mainsail had been set). "Come aft, you and I must take the
helm. We shall want nerve there, and only there, now."
The captain and first lieutenant went aft, and took the fore-spokes of
the wheel, and O'Brien, at a sign made by the captain, laid hold of
the spokes behind him. An old quartermaster kept his station at the
fourth. The roaring of the seas on the rocks, with the howling of the
wind, were dreadful; but the sight was more dreadful than the noise.
For a few moments I shut my eyes, but anxiety forced me to open them
again. As near as I could judge, we were not twenty yards from the
rocks, at the time that the ship passed abreast of them. We were in
the midst of the foam, which boiled around us; and as the ship was
driven nearer to them, and careened with the wave, I thought that our
main yard-arm would have touched the rock; and at this moment a gust
of wind came on, which laid the ship on her beam-ends, and checked her
progress through the water, while the accumulating noise was
deafening. A few moments more the ship dragged on, another wave dashed
over her and spent itself upon the rocks, while the spray was dashed
back from them, and returned upon the decks. The main rock was within
ten yards of the counter, when another gust of wind laid us on our
beam-ends, the foresail and mainsail split, and were blown clean out
of the bolt-ropes--the ship righted, trembling fore and aft. I looked
astern:--the rocks were to windward on our quarter, and we were safe. I
thought at the time that the ship, relieved of her courses, and again
lifting over the waves, was not a bad similitude of the relief felt by
us all at that moment; and, like her, we trembled as we panted with
the sudden reaction, and felt the removal of the intense anxiety which
oppressed our breasts.
The captain resigned the helm, and walked aft to look at the point,
which was now broad on the weather-quarter. In a minute or two, he
desired Mr. Falcon to get new sails up and bend them, and then went
below to his cabin. I am sure it was to thank God for our deliverance:
I did most fervently, not only then, but when I went to my hammock at
night. We were now comparatively safe--in a few hours completely so;
for, strange to say, immediately after we had weathered the rocks, the
gale abated, and before morning we had a reef out of the topsails.