Thursday, December 22, 2011

Two Years Before the Mast - by Richard Dana

Two Years Before the Mast by Richard Dana, is an 1840 account by this former Harvard student of his two years working as a common seaman.  (US Edition)  (UK Edition)
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 sufficient lookout, he thought, for a fine night, at anchor in a safe harbor.
Enough said!  That self-deprecating sort of humor is exactly what I look for in a traveling companion. 

The inevitable sailing jargon has a poetry about it and there are footnotes (unlinked):
"Here comes the Cape Horn!" said the chief mate; and we had hardly time to haul down and clew up, before it was upon us. In a few moments, a heavier sea was raised than I had ever seen before, and as it was directly ahead, the little brig, which was no better than a bathing machine, plunged into it, and all the forward part of her was under water; the sea pouring in through the bow-ports and hawse-hole and over the knight-heads, threatening to wash everything overboard. In the lee scuppers it was up to a man's waist. We sprang aloft and double reefed the topsails, and furled all the other sails, and made all snug. But this would not do; the brig was laboring and straining against the head sea, and the gale was growing worse and worse. At the same time the sleet and hail were driving with all fury against us. We clewed down, and hauled out the reef-tackles again, and close-reefed the fore-topsail, and furled the main, and hove her to on the starboard tack. Here was an end to our fine prospects. We made up our minds to head winds and cold weather; sent down the royal yards, and unrove the gear, but all the rest of the top hamper remained aloft, even to the sky-sail masts and studding-sail booms.
So brew a cuppa and settle down with your Kindle and some tea for a perilous voyage.

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