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Up Anchor, and away.—What the Old Folks thought of it—The Narrator's Preface.—"Squeamish."—A North-easter.—Foggy.—The Schooner "Catfish."—Catching Cod-Fish on the Grand Bank.—The First Ice.—The Polar Current.—The Lengthening Day.—Cape Farewell.—We bear away for Cape Resolution.—Hudson's Straits.—Its Ice and Tides.
[In Wash's manuscript, the voyage as far as Cape Resolution occupies four chapters. We have been obliged to condense it into one, as indicated by periods.—Ed.]
On the afternoon of the 9th of June, Capt. Mazard telegraphed, "Can sail to-morrow morning if the wind serves."
We had been ready several days, waiting for the last job,—strengthening the schooner.
Good-by was said; and, going out to Gloucester, we went on board to pass the night.
As some of our readers may perhaps feel inclined to ask what our "folks" said to this somewhat adventurous departure, it may as well be stated that we were obliged to go considerably in opposition to their wishes, advice, counsel; in short, everything that could be said save a down-right veto. It was unavoidable on our part. They could not be brought to look upon our (or rather Raed's) project of self-education as we did; they saw only the danger of the sea. Had we done as they advised, we should have stayed at home. I shall not take it upon me to say what we ought to have done. As a matter of fact, we went, or this narrative would never have been written. Nor can I say conscientiously, by way of moral, that we were ever, for any great length of time, sorry that we went: on the contrary, I now believe it far the best way we could have spent our money; though the experience was a rough one. It may also be added, that we did not publicly state our intention of going so far north as Labrador; one reason for this being, that we were in no wise certain we should go farther than St. John's, Newfoundland.
Our "saloon" was arranged with a sort of divan, or wide seat, along the starboard-side, at about chair-height. On this we laid our mattresses and blankets. Each had his bunk, this divan serving in the place of berths. The captain had his toward the forward end of the apartment. Guard bunked directly under him on an old jacket and pants. Along the port-side there was made fast a strong broad shelf, at table-height, running the entire length: this was for our books and instruments. The captain had the forward end of it, the part fronting his bunk, for his charts and papers. Before this table there was a long bench, fixed conveniently for sitting to read or write. This bench, together with three strong barroom-chairs and four camp-stools, made up our sitting-accommodations. From pegs over the divan and table there hung a miscellaneous collection of powder-horns, rifles, fishing-tackle, tarpauling-hats, rubber coats, and "sou'-westers;" nor had I failed to bring along the old Sharpe's rifle which had done such good service among the moose-stags of Katahdin.
... We had brought "Palmleaf" with us, and now installed him in the galley. As a specimen of his art, we had him make muffins and tea that evening. Very fair they were, with butter and canned peaches.
The men came down during the evening, having been previously notified, and were assigned to their berths. We boys turned in at about eleven, and were only aroused next morning by the rattle of blocks, clank of the windlass, and trampling of feet, on deck.
"We're off!" exclaimed Raed, starting up. "Turn out, and say farewell to 'our native countree.'"
We stumbled up on deck; for it was still quite dark: only a pale-bright belt along the ocean to the eastward showed the far-off coming of the day. The shore and the village looked black as night. We were already several hundred yards from the wharf. A smart, cold breeze gushed out of the north-west. The huge, dim-white sails were filling: "The Curlew" gathered way, and stood out to sea. The chilling breeze, the motion, the ink-black waves, and their sharp cracking on the beach, were altogether a little disheartening at first, coming so suddenly from sleep. We felt not a little inclined to shrink back to our warm blankets; but, mastering this feeling, braced our courage, and drew breath for our long cruise. The captain came aft.
"Ah! good-morning!" he cried, seeing us huddled about the companion-way. "I meant to get off without waking you. We made too much noise. I suppose. Smart breeze this. Make ten knots on it, easy. Could put you to the north pole in fifteen days with such a capful,—if there were no ice in the way," he added.
"We might soon be at Hudson Straits were this to hold," laughed Kit.
"Yes, sir," replied the captain. "Eight days would do it. But of course this is mere fine talk. You are not to look for any thing of the sort."
"We don't," said Raed. "But how long do you suppose it will take to work up there with ordinary weather?"
"Oh! well, for a guess, eighteen days,—anywhere from eighteen to twenty-five. Oughtn't to be over twenty-five with this schooner. Will sail thirteen knots on a wind."
... We were now fairly clear of the shore. The wind freshened. "The Curlew" dashed forward, rising and falling with the swells. The whole east was reddening. The dark spar of the bow-sprit rose and fell through it. It seemed a good omen to be going toward the light. Ere the sun met us on the sea, we were twelve miles out of Gloucester....
Kit had often complained that he had been unable to write up the account of our Katahdin expedition so well as he could have done had he known beforehand that it would have fallen to Jim to do. At his suggestion, Raed, Wade, and myself, this morning, drew lots to sea who would be the historian of the present cruise. The reader, doubtless, has already inferred which of us got the short lot. Well, it was fun for the others, though any thing but fun for me. Nothing but a strong sense of restraining shame, added to the rather inconvenient distance from land, prevented me from deserting. Nature never designed me for a writer. Of that I am convinced; and doubtless my readers will not long differ with me. This is my first literary effort. If I know myself, it will also be my last. Under these circumstances, I beg that such of my young fellow-citizens as may happen to come upon this narrative (and I am not ambitions to have the number large) will kindly forbear to criticise it; for it will not bear criticism. Such of the facts and incidents of our voyage as I have thought would be of interest I have tried to write out. Strictly nautical terms and phrases I have sought to avoid: first, because I believed them of no great interest to the general reader; second, because, with this my first sea-trip, I have not become adept enough in their use to "swing" them with the fluent grace of your true-going, irresistible old salt; and from any other source they are, to my mind, unendurable.
In the plan of education we have marked out for ourselves, it has not been our intention to become sailors. We would merely use the sea and its ships as a means of conveyance in our scheme of travel.
... Breakfast at six o'clock; two messes,—one of the crew, the other comprising our party and the captain. The men had boiled potatoes, fried pork, corn-bread, and biscuit. At our table we had roast potatoes and butter with corn-bread, then biscuit and butter with canned tomatoes. After breakfast, we went on deck a while; but the motion was far too great for comfort. The breeze held. The coast of Massachusetts was low in the west. To the north, the mountains of Maine showed blue on the horizon. We went below to read. Raed had bought, borrowed, and secured every work he could hear of on northern voyages and exploration, particularly those into Hudson Bay. It was our intention to thoroughly read up the subject during our voyage: in a word, to get as good an idea of the northern coast as possible from books, and confirm this idea from actual observation. This was the substance of Raed's plan of study.
... By eleven o'clock we had grown a little sea-sick,—just the slightest feeling of nausea. Kit shuts his book, rests his arm on the table, and leans his head on it.
"You sick?" demands Raed.
"Oh, no! not much; just a little squeamish."
Presently Wade lies down on his mattress, and I immediately ask,—
"Much sick, Wade?" To which he promptly replies,—
"Oh, no! squeamish a little; that's all."
By and by the skipper looks down to inquire, "Sick here, anybody?" To which we all answer at once,—
"Oh, no! only a bit squeamish."'
Squeamish was the word for it till near night, when we seemed suddenly to rally from it, though the motion continued the same; but the wind had veered to the south, and almost wholly lulled. We slept pretty well that night; but the next forenoon the nausea returned, and stuck by us all day. Every one who has been to sea knows how such a day passes. We had expected it, however, and bore it as lightly as possible.
... On the third morning out we found it raining, with the wind north-east. The schooner was kept as near it as possible, making about three knots an hour. The wind increased during the forenoon. By eleven o'clock there was a smart gale on. The rain drove fiercely. We grew sick enough.
"This is worse than the 'poison spring' at Katahdin!" groaned Kit.
The skipper came down.
"Is it a big gale?" Raed managed to ask.
"Just an ordinary north-easter."
"Well, then, I never wish to meet an extraordinary one!" gasped Wade.
The captain mixed us some brandy and water from his own private supply, which we took (as a medicine). But it wouldn't stay down: nothing would stay down. Our stomachs refused to bear the weight of any thing. Night came on: a wretched night it was for us. "The Curlew" floundered on. The view on deck was doubtless grand; but we had neither the legs nor the disposition to get up.... Some time about midnight, a dozen of our six-pound shots, which had been sewed up in a coarse sack and thrown under the table-shelf, by their continued motion worked a gap in the stitches; and three or four of them rolled out, and began a series of races from one end of the cabin to the other, smashing recklessly into the rick of chairs and camp-stools stowed in the forward end. Yet I do not believe one of us would have got up to secure those shot, even if we had known they would go through the side: I am pretty certain I should not. They went back and forth at will, till the captain, hearing the noise, came down, and after a great amount of dodging and grabbing, which might have been amusing at any other time, succeeded in capturing the truants and locking them up. The next day it was no better: wind and rain continued. We were not quite so sick, but even less disposed to get up, talk, or do anything, save to lie flat on our backs. We heard the sailors laughing at and abusing Palmleaf, who was dreadfully sick, and couldn't cook for them. Yet we felt not the least spark of sympathy for him: I do not think we should have interfered had they thrown him overboard. Wade called the poor wretch in, and ordered him, so sick he could scarcely stand, to make a bowl of gruel; and, when he undertook to explain how bad he felt, we all reviled him, and bade him go about his business.
"Nothin' like dis on de oyster schoonah," we heard him muttering as he staggered out.
... The storm had blown us off our course to the south-east considerably; and the next morning we tacked to the northward, and continued due north all that day and the next. It may have been fancy; but we all dated our recovery from this change of course. It had stopped raining, and the wind gradually went down.
Now that the nausea had passed off we were hungry as wolves, and kept Palmleaf, who was now quite recovered, busy cooking all day long.... The weather continued cloudy. The view from the damp deck was dull to the last degree. Capt. Mazard was in considerable doubt as to our latitude. Not a glimpse of the sun had he been able to catch for five days; and during this time we had been sailing sometimes very fast, then scarcely making way in the teeth of the strong north-easter. To the north and north-east the fog banks hung low on the sea. So light was the wind, that the sails scarcely filled. The schooner seemed merely to drift.... Toward night we entered among the fog-banks. The whole face of the sea steamed like a boiling kettle. The mist rose thin and gauze-like. We could scarcely see the length of the deck. It was blind work sailing in such obscurity,—possibly dangerous.
"Have you any idea where we are, captain?" Raed asked. We stood peering ahead from the bow.
"Somewhere off Newfoundland. On the Grand Bank, I think. Fog indicates that. Always foggy here this time o' year."
"It is here that the gulf stream meets the cold currents and ice from Baffin's Bay," said Kit. "The warm current meeting the cold one causes the fog: so they say."
"I have seen the statement," remarked Raed, "that these great banks are all raised from the ocean-bottom by the débris brought along by the gulf stream and the current from Davis Straits."
"But I have read that they are raised by the melting of icebergs," said Wade. "The iceberg has lots of sand and stones frozen into it: when it melts, this matter sinks; and, in the course of ages, the 'banks' here have been formed."
"Perhaps both causes have had a hand in it," said Kit.
"That looks most probable," remarked Capt. Mazard. "These scientific men are very apt to differ on such subjects. One will observe phenomena, and ascribe it wholly to one cause, when perhaps a half-dozen causes have been at work. Another man will ascribe it wholly to another of these causes. And thus they seem to contradict each other, when they are both, in part, right. I've noticed that very frequently since I began to read the scientific books on oceanic matters. They draw their conclusions too hastily, and are too positive on doubtful subjects."
I have often thought of this remark of Capt. Mazard since, when reading some of the "strong points" of our worthy scientists.
"How deep is it here, for a guess?" asked Wade.
"Oh! for a guess, a hundred fathoms; about that."
"Too deep for cod-fishing here?" Raed inquired.
"Rather deep. We'll try them, however, in the morning."
Suddenly, as we were talking, a horn—a genuine old-fashioned dinner-horn—pealed out, seemingly not a hundred yards ahead.
"Port your helm there!" shouted the skipper to Bonney, who was at the wheel. The old sea-dog, Trull, caught up a tin bucket setting near, and began drumming furiously; while the skipper, diving down the companion way, brought up a loaded musket, which he hastily discharged over his head.
"Shout, halloo, scream!" he sang out to us. "Make all the noise you can, to let them know where we are!"
The schooner sheered off, minding her helm; and, at the same moment, we saw the dim outline of a small vessel almost under the bows.
"What ship is that?" demanded Capt. Mazard.
"Schooner 'Catfish' of Gloucester," replied a boyish voice.
"Can you give us the latitude?"
"Can't do it, skippy. Haven't seen the sun for a week. Not far from forty-five degrees, I reckon."
"Are we in any danger of Cape Race?"
"Not a bit. We're more than a hundred miles east of it, I think."
The little schooner, of not more than sixty tons, drifted slowly past. There were seven hands on deck; all boys of sixteen and eighteen, save one. This is the training which makes the Gloucester sailors so prized for our navy.
... During the evening, we heard at a distance the deep, grum whistle of the Inman steamer going down to Halifax,—whistling at intervals to warn the fishermen. It continued foggy all night, but looked thinner by nine next morning. The captain brought up an armful of out-riggers (a short spar three or four feet long to set in the side-rail, with a small pulley-block in the upper end to run a line through.)
"Now, boys," said he, setting the out-riggers, "we will try the cod.—Palmleaf! Palmleaf! Here, you sunburnt son! A big chunk of pork!"
"They won't bite it," said old Trull.
"I've sometimes caught 'em with it," replied the captain. "It's pork or nothing. We've no clams nor manhaden (a small fish of the shad family) to lure them."
The stout cod-hooks, with their strong linen lines, were reeved through the blocks, baited, and let down into the green water. For some time we fished in silence. No bites. We kept patiently fishing for fifteen minutes. It began to look as if old Trull was right. Presently Kit jerked hastily.
"Got one?" we all demanded.
"Got something; heavy too."
"Haul him up!" cried the skipper.
Kit hauled. It made the block creak and the out-rigger bend. Yard after yard of the wet line was pulled in; and by and by the head of a tremendous fellow parted the water, and came up, one, two, three feet, writhing and bobbing about.
"Twenty pounds, if an ounce!" shouted young Donovan.
"Heave away!" cried the captain. "Now swing him over the rail!"
They were swinging him in, had almost got their hands on him, when the big fish gave a sudden squirm. The hook, which was but slightly caught in the side of its mouth, tore out. Down he went,—chud!
Such a yell of despair as arose! such mutual abuse as broke out all round! till, just at that moment, Wade cried, "I have one!" when all attention was turned to him. Slowly he draws it up. We were all watching. But 'twas a smaller one.
"About a seven-pounder," pronounces the captain, safely landing him on deck, where he was unhooked, and left to wriggle and jump out his agonies.
A minute later, Raed had out a "ten-pounder;" and, having once begun to bite, they kept at it, until the deck grew lively with their frantic leaping.
"Got all we want!" cried the skipper, after about an hour of this sort of thing. "There's a good two hundred weight of them.—Here, Palmleaf, pick 'em up, dress 'em, and put 'em in pickle: save what we want for dinner.—Now, you Donovan and Hobbs, bear a hand with those buckets. Rinse off the bulwarks, and wash up the deck."
"This is the kind of sport they have on a cod-fisher every day, I suppose," said Raed.
"Yes; but it gets mighty stale when you have to follow it for a month," replied Donovan. "I know what cod-fishing is."
... Toward noon the sun began to show its broad disk, dimly outlined in the white mists. The captain ran for his sextant; and an observation was caught, which, being worked up, gave our latitude at 45° 35'. We had probably made in the neighborhood of thirty miles during the night: so that the boys on "The Catfish" had given a very shrewd guess, to say the least. In the afternoon we had a fair breeze from the south-east. All sail was made, and we bowled along at a grand rate. Early the next morning we saw the first ice,—three or four low, irregular masses, showing white on the sea, and bearing down toward us from the north-west with the polar current. This current, coming along the coast of Labrador, is always laden with ice at this season. To avoid it, we now bore away to the north-east, keeping for several days on a direct course for Iceland; then gradually—describing the arc of a circle—came round west into the latitude of Cape Farewell, the southern point of Greenland.
... Each day, as we got farther north, the sun set later, and rose earlier; till, on the 28th of June, its bright red disk was scarcely twenty minutes below the northern horizon.
... On the 3d of July we discerned Cape Farewell,—a mountainous headland, crowned with snow, at a distance of fifteen or twenty leagues.
From this point, Cape Resolution, on the north side of the entrance into Hudson Straits, bears west ten degrees north, and is distant not far from seven hundred miles. The wind serving, we bore away for it.
... During June and July, Hudson Straits are full of ice driving out into the Atlantic. This ice forms in the winter in vast quantities in the myriads of inlets and bays on both sides of the straits. The spring breaks it up, and the high tides beat it in pieces. It is rare that a vessel can enter the straits during June for the out-coming ice; but by July it has become sufficiently broken up and dispersed to allow of an entrance by keeping close up to the northern side, which has always been found to be freest from ice in July and August; while, on coming out in September, it is best to hug the southern main (land) as closely as possible.
On our voyage up we had taken great pains to read and compare every account we could find regarding both the ice and the general character of the straits. Our plan was to make Cape Resolution, wait for a fair wind, and slip into the straits early in the day, so as to get as far up as possible ere night came on. A person who has never been there can form no idea of the tremendous force with which the tide sets into the straits, the velocity of the currents, and the amazing smash they made among the ice....