The Voyage of the Fairlina

The voyage continues towards Cape Horn

On Saturday 21st May, in a fresh and increasing gale, we gradually reduced canvas. At 2a.m. we experienced a strong gale. The vessel shipped great quantities of water, and laboured heavily. We handed courses (the lowest and largest squaresail on a mast) and double-reefed the topsails. At daylight a fearful sea was running and we shipped a sea, which stove in the skylight and damaged a great quantity of stores. We experienced another gale, which did us some damage, on the 23rd of May, but on the 31st we had a storm accompanied by hail with such force as could scarcely be resisted. The sea made a complete breach over us and what made matters worse was the severity of the frost. All hands mustered aloft to hand the fore-topsail and fore- sail. The cook, an ordinary seaman, and myself went to the leeside; the boatswain and two others to the weather side. The sail on my side had blown over the yardarm and the two men and myself were pushing it on the fore part. We had just succeeded when the wind caught it underneath again and slammed it heavily against us. To my terror I saw the two men next to me hurled off the yard. The one next me in falling took hold of me by the leg and by the jerk he gave me I was nearly sharing the same fate as them. I immediately gave the alarm; every one left the yard and rushed down the rigging, if possible to assist those unfortunate beings. The tempestuous night was dark, and as we were nearly blinded by the hailstones it was impossible to see any distance. Someone fancied he heard groans on the lee fore-yardarm, though it was supposed to be the wind. One hand went up to ascertain and there lay the ordinary seaman clinging to the topsail sheets. The man stayed there and held him on. The cook (probably Charles Fielding) was more unfortunate. He was seen on the leeside holding on to the foresheet. Seeing that he had hold of the foresheet we thought he could be saved, by hauling the bight of it over the rail. But the poor fellow's strength had either failed him or his hands were cold to such a degree that they were useless to him, for they slipped down the rope as fast as we hauled in, so that he got down below our reach. Some were getting life buoys, others boat hooks but unfortunately at those times nothing is at hand, and to our horror we saw the poor fellow let go his hold and drop away astern. He again clung to the main chains, but just for an instant and he disappeared in the deep. Whilst we were engaged trying to save the cook the man on the fore-yard was begging of us, for God's sake, to assist him to get the ordinary seamen down, else, his hands getting so frost bitten he would have to let him go. After some trouble in getting him to let go the sheet we lowered him down with a rope. Contrary to expectation he had no limbs broken. He had, however, had a heavy fall and a great fright, which after a few days he got over.

We reckoned ourselves wretchedly unfortunate – two hands out of nine drowned on two different occasions, another laid up, others with sores, which began to break out on them through being constantly wet with salt water and not being too well fitted out with clothes. The vessel had got crippled, some of our sails had been blown away, our main-topgallant mast was carried away, but alas! our misfortunes did not end there.

During the next few days we had very bad weather in which we lost some of our bulwarks and had a ventilator smashed, the hole of which admitted tons of water, damaging a large quantity of rich bale goods. We found however that the hull of the vessel had not been damaged, as she shipped no more water than usual. Gale was succeeded by hurricane, frost severe, hail-stones falling, the galley washed away with all utensils, no possibility of cooking good, the boatswain off duty with a swelling in his right hand - altogether we were in a sorry predicament. On June 8th we had severe squalls and gales - the vessel labouring and shipping great quantities of water. The fore-sail was split, the master laid up complaining of weakness, and loss of appetite and the boatswain’s hand getting worse. Hardly one of us was free from some complaint or another. With some of the crippled lot I managed to get the fore and main courses reefed and determined to keep them so whilst disabled as we were. On Monday June 12th there was a moderate breeze with a pretty smooth sea. The master and boatswain still laid up and the master getting worse. I had then but one man and three lads to assist me and one of them had constantly to be at the wheel. About ten p.m. the weather beginning to appear thick in the westward, clewed up the maintop-gallant sail the able seaman and Walsh going up to stow it. I took the wheel - the vessel going about four or five knots an hour and the weather very fine at the time. I stood at the helm contemplating our sad misfortune and thinking of what was likely to become of the rest of us, when I got startled from my solitude by a violent rush in the rigging and on looking up to my horror I saw a man tumbling down the main rigging (Despite calling him Walsh this was, in fact, James Walters, a 44 year Cornishman from Penzance). I just saw his head strike the rail and he tipped overboard. I immediately put the helm down, hove a coil of rope near me over the side, but the wretched fellow had been killed in striking the rail and had sunk to rise no more. A piece of flesh from his head with hair and blood on it was found where he had struck. I was the only one on board who witnessed that cruel death, being the only one on deck at the time. How horrible it was to think that the victim of this cruel death was the same unfortunate Walsh who fourteen days previously had so miraculously escaped on the fore-yard. The master, who was no better on hearing the noise on deck, came up to enquire the cause and when told replied "my God! it will be my next turn." I little expected that those words would so soon be realised as they were. Walsh had been for several days as well as ever he had been, though since his first fall he had been very sedate and had hardly anything to say. It is therefore quite a mystery to me how he came by his fall as I thought he had had a warning.

On Monday the 20th June, the master, getting weaker had given up all care of the ship. On the 22nd we had a furious gale, a high sea and severe showers of hailstones, and more damage was done to the rigging. At 3.30 a.m. split the fore-staysail and main-top-mast staysail by force of the wind. At 6.30, a.m. shipped a heavy sea which carried away the guard board of the port lantern and nearly filled the cabin with water, again damaging flour, sugar, &c. Our stores were nearly all getting damaged. This day I was myself disabled having my left arm in a sling, with a large gathering on my wrist, which prevented me from moving my hand. To afford an idea of the state to which we were reduced I may mention that when the boatswain and I went to dinner that day we could not cut our own meat, having only one sound hand each. We contrived, however, to cut it by the one holding the fork while the other cut with the knife. Bad as we were we could not help passing a jest over our wretched destiny. Luckily we had still left a small stove for the cabin by which we contrived to warm some food when we could spare time.

On Sunday the 3rd July, the master, who had been gradually sickening, would take neither food nor medicine. The boatswain was improving. I entreated the captain to take medicine but to no avail. He kept saying he knew it was too late; that it would do him no good and that he knew he would never see land again. I tried in vain to persuade him not to entertain such ideas, but that very afternoon he began to write letters to his wife and enclose his private papers. Up till this time I had no idea that his disease would terminate fatally, but by seeing him make such preparations and afterwards observing him commit an action which I will not record, I imagined that he did not appreciate his life very much. On this day I felt very low-spirited. I meditated on the situation we were in, on the lives we had lost and on the likelihood of another being soon snatched by death from our small wretched number, - and that the principle amongst us - our commander. When I saw in all its force the precarious position in which I was placed not having one soul on board the ship that knew any navigation whatever. On this day I had to take my own altitude and time. I made our position 50 miles from the Evangelist's Island who were dead to leeward and I knew that if the weather continued 2 or 3 days more as it was we would be sure to drift on shore. This afternoon we sighted a large vessel, passing a large way from us on our weather beam. We made signals of distress but they ware unnoticed.


On Wednesday 6th July the master was completely out of his mind. He got out of his bed, capsizing and breaking everything moveable in his room. Fearing the safety of the chronometer I had it removed into the cabin. In the afternoon he was in such frenzy that I deemed it prudent to lash him in his bed. He looked frightful and talked most incoherently I had not had observations for three days, but today I found we had drifted to within 28 miles of land. I had sad forebodings as to the future of the vessel but did not make the rest on board aware of their danger. In the middle of that night I went to lay down, but had not been long below when the boatswain came down and said there was a shift of wind, and thanks be to God such was the case. There was a splendid breeze from the eastward with which we ran for some hours, having loosed all our broken sails, and all the canvas we could. We thereby again commanded a good offing.


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