DISCOVERIES IN SOUTH-WEST BAY
AT last, on December 7th, communication between the yacht and the shore was resumed for the wind and sea had greatly moderated, and the doctor was enabled to come off to us at midday, with four volunteers and paid hands. They had been labouring hard with pick and shovel, and looked like it, too. Digging into the volcanic soil of Trinidad soon takes all superfluous flesh off. Indeed, led on by the energetic doctor, they had worked harder, perhaps, than white men should in such a climate, and had a stale, overstrained appearance, while they admitted that they felt somewhat slack.
They brought us off a quantity of turtle eggs. The female turtle frequent South-west Bay in large numbers, for the purpose of depositing their eggs in the sand. But up till now they had failed to catch any of the turtle. The eggs are excellent, and can be used for every purpose for which fowl's eggs are employed. Here is a recipe for making egg-nog which I have tried myself and can recommend: Two turtle eggs, a teaspoonful of tinned milk, some water, sugar, and a small glass of rum.
The shore-party had obtained an abundance of fish; they used to catch them not only with hook and line, but with an extemporised seine net, which they dragged with great success through the pools left by the receding tide. This seine was simply a long piece of the wire-netting which we had brought with us to serve as land-crab-proof fencing round the camp. It seems that this netting did not fulfil its original purpose very satisfactorily, as the crabs could burrow under it.
The land-crabs, however, did not molest the shore-party to any extent, and it was only now and then that a man found one of these unpleasant creatures In his bed. It was the custom for the men to sally forth every evening, just before dark, and kill, with sticks, every land-crab they could find in the immediate neighbourhood of the camp, each man slaying his sixty or seventy. This afforded an abundance of food for the others during the night, so that they had no need to stray into the tents. The crabs, I was informed, were excellent scavengers, and consumed all the cook's refuse.
The doctor and his companions had no lack of news to impart. I was anxious, of course, in the first place, to learn how the work had progressed. I was told that some hundreds of tons of earth had been already removed, and that a broad trench was being dug, along the face of the cliff, through the landslip in the first bend of the ravine, but that, so far, no indications of the treasure had been come across. The chief difficulty consisted in the presence of a great many stones of all sizes that were mixed up with the fallen soil, some of them being of several tons weight. In digging the trench, an inclined plane was left at either end, up which the barrows of earth could be wheeled; and when one of the big stones was found the earth was, in the first place, cleared from round it, and then it was dragged from the bottom of the trench up one of these inclined planes by means of powerfu1 tackle, assisted by the hydraulic jack. When they had got it by these means to the top of the trench, they could easily roll it down the ravine.
The doctor explained to me all the routine that he had laid down for observance on shore and the different details of the work. Sunday was always a holiday, and was occupied, as a rule, in wandering about and exploring; but it was sometimes too terribly hot for this.
I was informed that a crowbar and several other fresh relics of Mr. A—'s expedition had been discovered, and that a wooden box had been found, carefully hidden away at the farther end of the bay, which contained a chess-board, a quantity of shot cartridges, and several London and Newcastle newspapers, dated October I875. Mr. A—'s expedition took place in 1885, Mr. P—'s — the first expedition — in I880- So the papers gave us no clue as to who had brought them here. The shore-party had amused themselves by reading these ancient journals. In them they found accounts of the Wainwright trial and of the collision between the Mistletoe and the Alberta.
It was strange to read, on Trinidad, the old theatrical advertisements in the Standard, with Charles Matthews acting at the Gaiety and Miss Marie Wilton at some other house. There was an excellent notice of the latter charming actress in one of these papers.
I was told that there had not been so much surf in South-west Bay as might have been expected with so strong a wind; but, as I have explained, the south-east is the wind that raises the least surf on this sandy beach, though it blows right on to it.
The doctor told me that they had experienced, on every occasion they had landed, a strong current sweeping along the shore of the bay in an easterly direction, so that, no sooner did the bow of the boat touch the sand, than her stern was driven round by the current to the left, and, unless proper precautions were taken, she would get broadside on to the next sea and be rolled over.
On being asked whether they had had much rain in the bay, they replied that the showers had been as heavy as those tropical downpours we had experienced in the doldrums. They said that the Sugarloaf presented a magnificent appearance after one of these showers, for then a cascade 700 feet in height would pour down its almost perpendicular sides. They had been enabled to fill their tanks and breakers with rain-water, and had only used the condensmg apparatus on one or two occasions, and then more by way of experiment, to see how it worked, than from necessity. It acted perfectly, and with it five gallons of fresh water were distilled from seawater in a very short time.
The fortunate discovery had also been made of two small issues of water among the cliffs at the east end of the bay. The supply was sufficient, and though the carrying of the water in breakers from here to the camp over the rough ground entailed heavy labour, it was easier to fetch it in this way than to collect the large quantity of firewood necessary for condensing an equal amount of water.
The doctor reported Arthur Cotton as being ill and unfit for further digging for the present; so he was left on board with me, while George went on shore to take his place. The doctor promised to come off for me on the following morning, so that I could pay a short visit to the shore and inspect the works — provided, of course, the surf permitted. Then we bade each other farewell, and the working party returned to the bay.
The boat did not come off to me on the following day, as the surf was dangerous in South-west Bay and I held no communication with the shore-party for another week. During this time the wind was from the south-east; but though it rushed down the ravine with the usual violent squalls, it was moderate outside, and we had no more of the heavy sea which had been running throughout the previous week. It would have been possible for me to have landed at the pier on nearly any day, but there was still a sufficient surf to prevent our carrying off any more stones from the shore.
We were anchored on a sandy bottom, but we could feel, by the grumbling of our chain as the yacht swung, that there were many rocks under us as well. These caused us a good deal of annoyance; for on several occasions, when the vessel was lying right over her anchor, the slack of the chain would take a turn round a rock and give us a short nip; so that when a swell passed under us the vessel could not rise to it, but was held down by the tautened chain, which dragged her bows under, producing a great strain. The rocks must have been of bustle coral formation, for, after giving two or three violent jerks as the sea lifted her, the vessel would suddenly shake herself free with a wrench, evidently by the breaking away of the obstruction. At last all the projecting portions of the coral rock in our immediate neighbourhood must have been torn off, the chain having swept a clear space for itself all round, for after a time we were no longer caught in this way. These great strains loosened our starboard hawse-pipe badly, so that we had to slip our chain and pass it through the other hawse-pipe.
On December 9th, it being a very fine day, I made an expedition in the dinghy towards the north end of the island. We found no good landing-place in that direction, for a coral ledge extends along the whole coast, causing broken water, and there are dangerous rocks in the midst of the breakers. We pulled into several little bays, each hemmed in by inaccessible barren mountains, so crowded with birds that, from the sea, the black crags looked quite white with them. We pulled inside Bird Island and inspected the Ninepin from close to. This huge cylinder of rock, 900 feet in height, is described by old navigators as having been crowned with large trees. It is now completely bare of vegetation, as it also was when I first saw it in 1881. I observed that, since my last visit, a huge mass had fallen off the top of it which now lay by its side in shattered fragments. We caught a quantity of fish in these bays, one a fine fellow weighing thirty pounds; and we saw several large turtle floating on the water, but they sank as soon as we got near them.
The uneventful days passed by and I grew stout on laziness, salt beef, and duff. At last, on December 14th, we pulled off in the dinghy to South-west Bay to see how the shore-party was getting on. We took with us a signal code book and the flags, so as to converse with our diggers in case we could not effect a landing — a feat not to be attempted with our rotten little dinghy except under the most exceptional circumstances. The shore-party was, of course, also provided with a code book and set of flags.
As I required some more specimens of birds, I took with me, not a gun with which to shoot them, but simply a ramrod, the end of which I had loaded with a piece of lead. With this, as I sat in the boat, I found no difficulty in knocking down the inquisitive birds as they flew just over our heads, and I thus procured several good specimens.
When we had pulled round the point and were in South-west Bay we saw the white tents of the camp in front of us, and we could plainly distinguish, in the ravine behind, the great trench which the men had dug at the side of the cliff. We found little surf in the bay, but I would not risk a landing; for it would not require much bumping to knock our dinghy's ancient bottom off; so we remained outside the breakers and signalled "Any news?"
There was no reply with the flags, but some of them men walked down to the rocks under the Sugar-loaf, so that we could come near enough to them to hail. A very disreputable lot our friends looked, too: as unkempt and rough as the original pirates might have been. The costume of each consisted merely of shirt, trousers, and belt, some sort of an apology for a hat crowning all. They were all more or less ragged, and were stained from head to foot with the soil in which they had been digging, so that they presented a uniform dirty brownish-yellow appearance, and, from a passing vessel, might easily have been taken for Brazilian convicts.
They shouted what news they had to tell. They reported that they were progressing well with the digging, and that they had caught a number of turtle. They promised to come off to the yacht the next morning, surf permitting. I made some sketches of Treasure Bay and West Bay as seen from the sea, and then returned to the vessel to skin my birds.
The whale-boat was alongside on the following morning, December I5th, and the doctor, Powell, Pollock, and two paid hands, boarded us. They had brought off some fresh and salted turtle and a quantity of turtle eggs.
The yacht had now been lying off Trinidad for twenty-five days, and the shore-party had been hard at work for seventeen days; so I thought it was quite time for me to join the camp and do my share of the work. I could see that the energetic doctor was anything but anxious to change the hard labour on shore for the lazy life on board ship, and though, as mate. he would have been the proper person to take charge of the vessel during my absence on land, still we considered it advisable to arrange matters differently.
The doctor, as I have said, was a most useful man on shore, and, as we were anxious to complete our operations as quickly as possible and leave the island before the stormy season should set in, it seemed a pity to waste so much energy and muscle as his in an idle life on board the yacht. Having remained at anchor for so long, and knowing that our anchor had now got such a firm hold that there was but little chance of its dragging, and having, moreover, discovered by experience that it was possible to ride where we were even in bad weather, I had acquired a considerable confidence in the safety of the vessel, and I believe that she could have remained off the cascade for six months without suffering damage. I, therefore, now came to the conclusion that it would not be very imprudent to leave a somewhat incompetent person in charge, as the chances were that he would have nothing to do. Pollock, who had complained of slackness for some time, was the one from whom the least amount of work could be extracted on shore, and was, therctore, the one who could be the most easily spared. I, consequently, decided to leave him on board the yacht, instead of the doctor.
The weather now looked very settled and there was little chance of bad weather for a time. I gave Pollock his instructions, and left with him, as a crew Ted Milner and George Spanner. I packed up my traps and pulled off with the others to the bay, not at all sorry to do a little work for a change.
We took Jacko on shore with us. He did not admire the island, and particularly objected to the land-crabs. His favourite amusement was to turn on the tap of our tank, when no one was looking, and let all our hard-got supply of water run out.
He behaved very well on the whole, however, except on Christmas Day, when he drank some rum which he found at the bottom of a pannikin and, I am grieved to say, became disgracefully intoxicated. He had a dreadful headache the next day.