The Voyage of the Fairlina

Cape Horn to Valparaiso

On Saturday the 9th July there was strong lightning and heavy peals of thunder rolling above our heads the sky having a very angry aspect and all portending a storm. At that time, when the thunder was roaring, I thought to myself it seemed as if the ocean was tired of beating us about and that the heavens were now going to attack us. At four o'clock a strong gale with a high mountainous sea clewed (1) up the foresail and fore-topsail so that we were not able to stow them. (It will be noticed that between these dates there are intervals during which we managed to patch broken sails or bend others.) At eleven a.m., clewed up the main-top sail and wore (2) ship. It can well be conceived into what a state our sails would get after having been blown and hammered about for 12 or 24 hours in a gale of wind without being stowed.

Those who have an idea of wearing ship in a gale of wind with a mountainous sea, will have an idea of the danger we were in, in our little overloaded craft, by performing this manoeuvre nearly every day when she would come up to the wind on the other tack, I expected every moment to see her engulfed in the sea, sometimes having only the two small stay-sails to steady her. Many a time I thought what a fortunate thing it was that the Fairlina was a new vessel and strongly built for an old vessel would never have stood it without making water. It was fortunate that our vessel made comparatively little water.

On Sunday July 10th we were lying to under fore and main-staysail and might have carried main-topsail close reefed, but the apron (a large timber behind the ship's stem) was broken. This was our last topsail and new when we left Liverpool. A strong gale and high sea came on. The master very weak and sinking fast. Got him to swallow medicine which relieved him a little. Had him out of his bed every morning to wash him and put on a clean shirt. The boatswain was better and could make himself useful; my wrist also was improving. One of the lads had his feet in such a state that he could neither wear boots nor shoes and the poor fellow had to paddle in the water and amongst the frost barefooted. Every time he used to be called from his bed he would burst out a crying. At 7 p.m. on this day the gale had increased. At 8 shipped a heavy sea which filled the decks up to the top gallant rails, both sides and one of the lads narrowly escaped being washed away. The same sea carried away a large portion of our bulwarks. For the last five or six days the frost had been very severe. Some mornings, after a rainy night, the vessel presented a splendid sight, although, under the circumstances we did not much appreciate it. She appeared if she had been built of glass - not a thing moveable about her. At daybreak we had to begin to break up the ice. There was one morning a nice breeze of leading wind, but we could not break a sail open for hours as they wore frosted up so hard. An inch rope I have commonly seen encrusted to the size of my leg. At noon on this day the weather moderating we managed to patch up the fore and main-top-sail and other sails.

On Tuesday 12th July, a strong gale, a high sea; lying to under close reefed main-top-sail and fore and main-stay-sail. At 6 p.m. wore ship; the master quite insensible - to all appearances his end is drawing near. I tried to make him speak but to no purpose. He had been insensible now for days - had not had an intelligible word from him.

July 14th; Blowing fresh gales. Under double reefed topsail. At midnight visited the captain and found him on the verge of death. At 3 p.m. without having come to his senses and not having spoken one sensible word to any one since he took to his bed, the captain thus departed this life in Lat. 52.S. Long. 78. 50’ (close to Hanover Island, southern Chile). Three had been drowned, another one had just died in his bed; whose turn was it next to is and what was to be his fate! The rest of us were hardly worth one good man. The able seaman had been complaining very much lately and saying he would be forced to lay up, as he could not stand it out much longer. In reality that man must have had the heart of a lion, as I really do not know how he managed to keep up in the state he was covered all over as he was with sores. I determined to keep the body of the captain for ten or twelve hours, and bury it about noon on that day. We had him sewed up in canvass and all prepared and at noon brought it on deck covered with the Union Jack. Just as we come up the wind suddenly increased to a gale so that we had to lay the body on deck and run to reduce sail to save our spars. We were two hours before we succeeded in bringing the vessel under low canvas, as it blew a perfect gale. I then read the funeral service and committed the remains of the captain to the deep. In the midst of the enraged ocean in the cold frosty waters of Cape Horn a long way from his home and not haying enjoyed the sympathy of dear friends our captain found his last resting-place.

On me now depended the safety of the ship and those who remained of us. Though minus experience yet I always felt a good degree of confidence in myself. I maintained discipline just the same as when every one was on board. I used to listen to discussions amongst the rest of the poor fellows when on deck. One would say, "I wonder if he knows where we are? I don't think he does." Another would say, "How should he know? He never was mate before, and the captain has never told him anything before he died. I expect we shall all be drowned yet." It could not but be expected that such would be the topics of conversation among them in the circumstances in which they were placed. My belief did coincide with theirs that we were destined to an ill fate. One thing I could not bear amongst them was their superstition. One of them had to sleep by himself half the night in the lower forecastle, which was certainly a very dismal place. At last they began to consider it was haunted. This man came to me one morning and said he was afraid to sleep there any more as he had seen one of the dead men in the night. I asked him under what rig he was -bark or brig and laughed, at him. I had, however, to allow him to sleep in the apprentices house aft, and it was a common thing of a morning, after the vessel had been hove to all night, to hear them say that so and so had been seen at the wheel and the cook had been seen somewhere else; but I imputed this to their ignorance. I told them whenever they saw any of them to call me. All these tale terrified the two lads to such an extent that they would not go to the fore part of the vessel, the one without the other, after six o'clock in the evening on any account.

Sunday July 17th p.m.; Stiff gales from the west. At 4 p.m. the foresail was ripped in various parts. Handed it. At daylight the boatswain and myself set to repairing a fore-top-sail they being both broken and unbent. The deplorable circumstances in which we were placed may easily be imagined, amidst cold frosty weather, scarcely able to get any rest and not able to get food properly cooked. Still we managed to divide ourselves to keep watch - when one was at the wheel another was about the decks. I was left it must be remembered with two men and two boys such as they were. Thank God! after this day the weather began to improve.

On Monday the 28th July a.m. Blowing strong. At daylight, sighted a large ship on the port tack, bore away for her and made signals. Passed close alongside of her and she proved to be the American ship Invincible from New York to San Francisco. I asked them if they could render me any assistance? I stated our mishaps to them; they were sorry, but could give no assistance as part of their crew was laid up. I asked to be reported disabled. Exchanged longitude with her and found my reckonings to correspond. The latter part of this day there were light winds. Sent down main-top-gallant-mast and yard the mast having got cut nearly through. The iron band round the centre of the yard had worked itself more than half way through the yard. The fore one had shared the same fate.


Ever since the death of the captain I had been meditating what was best to be done with the vessel. We had yet a long distance between us and our port of destination; but once we should get into the S.E. trades we should soon ran the distance down. We had been for twelve days making no progress within a circle of 100 miles. Valparaiso was the first port we had to pass; a place of great trade. On the other hand Huanchaco was a small port of scarcely any trade at all. There I was well aware I could not get hands and was afraid I could not effect the repairs I required. Moreover our supply of water was getting rather low.

1 A square sail has a number of ropes or lines attached to the bottom of it which haul it up ready to be furled. Lines attached to the bottom corners are called clewlines while that attached to the middle is the buntline. When these lines are hauled the sail is said to be clewed up.

2 Wearing ship means turning a sailing vessel away from the wind until the sails fill on the opposite side. It requires less men to handle the manoeuvre than tacking which means putting the ship’s head through the eye of the wind rather than its stern.

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