C H A P T E R X I V
Bahia to Pernambuco – The meeting of the Financeat sea – At Pernambuco – Round Cape St. Roque – A gale – Breakers – The stretch to Barbadoes – Flying fish alighting on deck – Dismasted – Arrive at Carlysle Bay
FROM Bahia to Pernambuco our course lay along that part of the Brazilian coast fanned by constant trade-winds. Nothing unusual occurred to disturb our peace or daily course, and we pressed forward night and day, as was our wont from the first.
Victor and I stood watch and watch at sea, usually four hours each.
The most difficult of our experiences in fine weather was the intense drowsiness brought on by constantly watching the oscillating compass at night: even in the daytime this motion would make one sleepy.
We soon found it necessary to arrange a code of signals which would communicate between the tiller and the "man forward." This was accomplished by means of a line or messenger extending from one to the other, which was understood by the number of pulls given by it; three pulls, for instance, meant "Turn out," one in response, "Aye, aye, I am awake, and what is it that is wanted? " one pull in return signified that it was "Eight bells," and so on. But three quick jerks meant "Tumble out and shorten sail."
Victor, it was understood, would tie the line to his arm or leg when he turned in, so that by pulling I would be sure to arouse him, or bring him somewhat unceremoniously out of his bunk. Once, however, the messenger failed to accomplish its purpose. A boot came out on the line in answer to my call, so easily, too, that I suspected a trick. It was evidently a preconceived plan by which to gain a moment more of sleep. It was a clear imposition on the man at the wheel!
We had also a sign in this system of telegraphing that told of flying-fish on board – manna of the sea – to be gathered up for the cuisine whenever they happened to alight or fall on deck, which was often, and as often they found a warm welcome.
The watch was never called to make sail. As for myself, I had never to be called, having thoughts of the voyage and its safe completion on my mind to keep me always on the alert. I can truly say that I never, on the voyage, slept so sound as to forget where I was, but whenever I fell into a doze at all it would be to dream of the boat and the voyage.
Press on! press on! was the watchword while at sea, but in port we enjoyed ourselves and gave up care for rest and pleasure, carrying a supply, as it were, to sea with us, where sail was again carried on.
Though a mast should break, it would be no matter of serious concern, for we would be at no loss to mend and rig up spars for this craft at short notice, most anywhere.
The third day out from Bahia was set fine weather. A few flying-fish made fruitless attempts to rise from the surface of the sea, attracting but little attention from the sea-gulls which sat looking wistfully across the unbroken deep with folded wings.
And the Liberdade, doing her utmost to get along through the common quiet, made but little progress on her way. A dainty fish played in her light wake, till tempted by an evil appetite for flies, it landed in the cockpit upon a hook, thence into the pan, where many a one had brought up before. Breakfast was cleared away at an early hour; then day of good things happened – "the meeting of the ships."
On the clear horizon could be seen a ship, which proved to be our staunch old friend, the Finance, on her way out to Brazil, heading nearly for us. Our course was at once changed, so as to cross her bows. She rose rapidly, hull up, showing her lines of unmistakable beauty, the Stars and Stripes waving over all. They on board the great ship soon descried our little boat, and gave sign by a deep whistle that came rumbling over the sea, telling us that we were recognized. A few moments later and the engines stopped. Then came the hearty hail, "Do you want assistance?" Our answer "No" brought cheer on cheer from the steamer's deck, while the Liberdade bowed and courtesied to her old acquaintance, the superior ship. Captain Baker, meanwhile, not forgetting a sailor's most highly prized luxury, had ordered in the slings a barrel of potatoes – new from home! Then dump they came, in a jiffy, into the canoe, giving her a settle in the water of some inches. Other fresh provisions were handed us, also some books and late papers. J. Aspinwill Hodge, D.D., on a tour of inspection in the interest of the Presbyterian Mission in Brazil – on deck here with his camera – got an excellent photograph of the canoe.1
One gentleman passed us a bottle of wine, on the label of which was written the name of an old acquaintance, a merchant of Rio. We pledged Mr. Gudgeon and all his fellow passengers in that wine, and had some left long after, to the health of the captain of the ship, and his crew. There was but little time for words, so the compliments passed were brief. The ample plates in the sides of the Finance, inspiring confidence in American thoroughness and build, we had hardly time to scan, when her shrill whistle said "good-bye," and moving proudly on, the great ship was soon out of sight, while the little boat, filling away on the starboard tack, sailed on toward home, perfumed with the interchange of a friendly greeting, tinged though with a palpable lonesomeness. Two days after this pleasant meeting, the port of Pernambuco was reached.
Tumbling in before a fresh "trade" wind that in the evening had sprung up, accompanied with long, rolling seas, our canoe came nicely round the point between lighted reef and painted buoy.
Spray from the breakers on the reef opportunely wetting her sails gave them a flat surface to the wind as we came close haul.
The channel leading up the harbour was not strange to us, so we sailed confidently along the lee of the wonderful wall made by worms, to which alone Pernambuco is indebted for its excellent harbour; which, extending also along a great stretch of the coast, protects Brazil from the encroachment of the sea.
At 8 p.m. we came to in a snug berth near the Alfandega, and early next morning received the official visit from the polite port officers.
Time from Bahia, five days; distance sailed, 390 miles.
Pernambuco, the principal town of a large and wealthy province of the same name, is a thriving place, sending out valuable cargoes, principally of sugar and cotton. I had loaded costly cargoes here, times gone by. I met my old merchant again this time, but could not carry his goods on the Liberdade. However, fruits from his orchards and a run among the trees refreshed my crew, and prepared them for the coming voyage to Barbadoes, which was made with expedition.
From Pernambuco we experienced a strong current in our favour, with, sometimes, a confused cross sea that washed over us considerably. But the swift current sweeping along through it all made compensation for discomforts of motion, though our "ups and downs" were many. Along this part of the coast (from Pernambuco to the Amazon), if one day should be fine, three stormy ones would follow, but the gale was always fair, carrying us forward at a goodly rate.
Along about half-way from Cape St. Roque to the Amazon, the wind which had been blowing hard for two days, from E.S.E., and raising lively waves all about, increased to a gale that knocked up seas, washing over the little craft more than ever. The thing was becoming monotonous and tiresome; for a change, therefore, I ran in toward the land, so as to avoid the ugly cross sea farther out in the current. This course was a mistaken one; we had not sailed far on it when a sudden rise of the canoe, followed by an unusually long run down on the slope of a roller, told us of a danger that we hardly dared to think of, then a mighty comber broke, but, as Providence willed, broke short of the canoe, which under shortened sail was then scudding very fast.
We were on a shoal, and the sea was breaking from the bottom! The second great roller came, towering up, up, up, until nothing longer could support the mountain of water, and it seemed only to pause before its fall to take aim and surely gather us up in its sweeping fury.
I put the helm a-lee; there was nothing else to do but this, and say prayers. The helm hard down, brought the canoe round, bows to the danger, while in breathless anxiety we prepared to meet the result as best we could. Before we could say "Save us, or we perish," the sea broke over with terrific force and passed on, leaving us trembling in His hand, more palpably helpless than ever before. Other great waves came madly on, leaping toward destruction; how they bellowed over the shoal! I could smell the slimy bottom of the sea, when they broke! I could taste the salty sand!
In this perilous situation, buried sometimes in the foaming breakers, and at times tossed like a reed on the crest of the waves, we struggled with might and main at the helm and the sheets, easing her up or forcing her ahead with care, gaining little by little toward deep water, till at last she came out of the danger, shook her feathers like a sea-bird, and rode on waves less perilous. Then we had time and courage to look back, but not ull then.
And what a sight we beheld ! The horizon was illumined with phosphorescent light from the breakers just passed through. The rainstorm which had obscured the coast was so cleared away now that we could see the whole field of danger behind us. One spot in particular, the place where the breakers dashed over a rock which appeared awash, in the glare flashed up a shaft of light that reached to the heavens.
This was the greatest danger we had yet encountered. The elasticity of our canoe, not its bulk, saved it from destruction. Her light, springy timbers and buoyant bamboo guards brought her upright again and again through the fierce breakers. We were astonished at the feats of wonder of our brave little craft.
Fatigued and worn with anxiety, when clear of the shoal we hauled to under close reefs, heading off shore, and all hands lay down to rest till daylight. Then, squaring away again, we set what sail the canoe could carry, scudding before it, for the wind was still in our favour, though blowing very hard. Nevertheless the weather seemed fine and pleasant at this stage of our own pleased feelings. Any weather that one's craft can live in, after escaping a lee shore, is pleasant weatherš though some may be pleasanter than other.
What we most wished for, after this thrilling experience, was sea room, fair wind, and plenty of it. That these without stint would suit us best, was agreed on all hands. Accordingly then I shaped the course seaward, clearing well all the dangers of the land.
The fierce tropical storm of the last few days turned gradually into mild trade-winds, and our cedar canoe skipped nimbly once more over tranquil seas. Our own agitation, too, had gone down and we sailed on unruffled by care. Gentle winds carried us on over kindly waves, and we were fain to count fair days ahead, leaving all thoughts of stormy ones behind. In this hopeful mood we sailed for many days, our spirits never lowering, but often rising higher out of the miserable condition which we had fallen into through misfortunes on the foreign shore. When a star came out, it came as a friend, and one that had been seen by friends of old When all the stars shone out, the hour at sea was cheer ful, bright, and joyous. Welby saw, or had in the mind's eye, a day like many that we experienced in the soft, clear "trades" on this voyage, when writing the pretty lines:
"The days pass, and our ship flies fast upon her way."
For several days while sailing near the line we saw the constellations of both hemispheres, but heading north, we left those of the south at last, with the Southern Cross – most beautiful in all the heavens – to watch over a friend.
Leaving these familiar southern stars and sailing toward constellations in the north, we hoist all sail to the cheery breeze which carries us on
In this pleasant state of sailing with our friends all about us, we stood on and on, never doubting once our pilot or our ship. A phantom of the stately Aquidneck appeared one night, sweeping by with crowning skysails set, that fairly brushed the stars. No apparition could have affected us more than the sight of this floating beauty, so like the Aquidneck, gliding swiftly and quietly by, from her mission to some foreign land – she, too, was homeward bound!
This incident of the Aquidneck's ghost, as it appeared to us, passing at midnight on the sea, left a pang of lonesomeness for a while. But a carrier dove came next day, and perched upon the mast, as if to tell that we had yet a friend ! Welcome harbinger of good ! You bring us thoughts of angels.
The lovely visitor remained with us two days, off and on, but left for good on the third, when we reached away from Avis Island, to which, maybe, it was bound. Coming as it did from the east, and flying west toward the island when it left, bore out the idea of the lay of sweet singer Kingsley's "Last Buccaneer":
The old Buccaneer, it may have been, but we regarded it as the little bird, which most likely it was, that sits up aloft to look out for poor "Jack."2
A moth, blown to our boat on the ocean, found shelter and a welcome there. The dove we secretly worshipped.
With utmost confidence in our little craft, inspired by many thrilling events, we now carried sail, blow high, blow low, till at times she reeled along with a bone in her mouth quite to the mind of her mariners. Thinkmg one day that she might carry more sail on the mast already bending hopefully forward, and acting upon the liberal thought of sail, we made a wide mistake, for the mainmast went by the board, under the extra press, and the foremast tripped over the bows. Then spars, booms, and sails swung alongside like the broken wings of a bird, but were grappled, however, and brought aboard without much loss of time. The broken mast was then secured and strengthened by fishes or splints after the manner in which doctors fish a broken limb.
Both of the masts were very soon refitted and again made to carry sail, all they could stand; and we were again bowling along as before. We made that day a hundred and seventy-five miles, one of our best days' work.
I protest here that my wife should not have cried "More sail! more sail !" when as it has been seen the canoe had on all the sail that she could carry. Nothing further happened to change the usual daily events until we reached Barbadoes. Flying-fish on the wing striking our sails, at night, often fell on deck, affording us many a toothsome fry. This happened daily, while sailing throughout the trade-wind regions. To be hit by one of these fish on the wing, which sometimes occurs, is no light matter, especially if the blow be on the face, as it may cause a bad bruise or even a black eye. The head of the flying-fish being rather hard makes it in fact a night slugger to be dreaded. They never come aboard ~n the daylight. The swift darting bill-fish, too, is a danger to be avoided in the tropics at night. They are met with mostly in the Pacific Ocean; therefore South Sea Islanders are loath to voyage during the "bill-fish season."
As to the flight of these fishes, I would estimate that of the flying-fish as not exceeding fifteen feet in height, or five hundred yards of distance, often not half so much.
Bill-fish, darting like an arrow from a bow, have, fortunately for sailors, not the power or do not rise much above the level of the waves, and cannot dart farther, say, than two hundred and fifty feet, according to the day for jumping. Of the many swift fish in the sea, the dolphin, perhaps, is the most marvellous. Its oft-told beauty, too, is indeed remarkable. A few of these fleet racers were captured, on the voyage, but were found tough and rank; notwithstanding some eulogy on them by other epicures, we threw the mess away. Those hooked by my crew were perhaps the tyrrhena pirates "turned into dolphins" in the days of yore.
On the 19th day from Pernambuco, early in the morning, we made Barbadoes away in the west. First, the blue, fertile hills, then green fields came into view, studded with many white buildings between sentries of giant wind-mills as old nearly as the hills. Barbadoes is the most pleasant island in the Antilles; to sail round its green fringe of coral sea is simply charming. We stood in to the coast, well to windward, sailing close in with the breakers so as to take in a view of the whole delightful panorama as we sailed along. By noon we rounded the south point of the island and shot into Carlysle Bay, completing the run from Pernambuco exactly in nineteen days. This was considerably more than a hundred miles a day. The true distance being augmented by the circuitous route we adopted made it 2,150 miles.
1 We had the pleasure of meeting this gentleman again on the voyage at Barbadoes, again at New London, and finally with delight we heard him lecture on his travels, at Newport, and saw there produced on the wall the very picture of the Liberdade taken by the doctor on the great ocean.
2 There's a sweet little cherub that sits up aloft,