This section is from the book "Moose-Hunting Salmon-Fishing And Other Sketches Of Sport Being The Record Of Personal Experiences Of Hunting Wild Game In Canada", by T. R. Pattillo. Also available from Amazon: Moose-Hunting, Salmon-Fishing and Other Sketches of Sport: Being the Record of Personal Experiences of Hunting Wild Game in Canada.
Including A Hurricane Adventure, The Capture Of A Man-Eater Shark And Dolphin, Closing With An Encounter And The Killing Of A Fish Bearing The Euphonious Title Of The Devil-Fish? In A Boat On The Gulf Of Para.
To seamen as well as landsmen the threatened approach of an ordinary gale carries a dread of results, but the stealthy on-coming of a hurricane in mid-ocean bears before it indescribable terror. In August, 18 , I was supercargo on board the square-rigged Big Albion, ("square-rigged" means yards on both masts) on a voyage from Liverpool, Nova Scotia, to Trinidad, British West Indies, loaded with lumber, fish, etc. The passage up to the latitude of the Island of Antigua had been more than usually short and prosperous, neither tack nor sheet, as seamen say, having to be started from the time of leaving the wharf.
The trade winds, which had been bearing us along so rapidly and agreeably, had died out and we lay becalmed. The sky, which had been so bright, began to assume a dull, lowering appearance, and the atmosphere became oppressive as the day advanced. Our captain and mate were both men of large experience, the former having made a hundred and forty-two trips to the West Indies, and the latter upwards of a hundred experience which did splendid service for us in the approaching perilous hours. Every available sail had been and was spread to the hitherto propitious breezes, when the dog-watch from four to six was called. To make this intelligible to my ordinary readers, allow me a short digression to explain.
The twenty-four hours on board ship are divided into watches of four hours each, called the larboard and starboard watches, composed of the officers and men equally divided; the captain and cook in vessels with a crew of eight hands and upwards being excepted from what, in nautical language, is called " standing watch." The steering of the ship and the trimming of the sails supposed to be alternately in the care of the captain, who is represented by the third officer, styled the second mate, and his assistants, known as the " starboard watch; " while the mate, with a corresponding number of helpers, takes command of the "larboard watch." Unless some more than ordinarily heavy work is to be done, and to be done at once, the watch off duty is not called. That each watch may have an equal amount of sleep, the one on duty from 8 to 12 p.m. and 4 to 8 a.m. one night is supposed to be resting those hours the following watch. So to accomplish this change the hours from 4 to 8 p.m. are divided up into two watches of two hours each, called dog-watches 4 to 6 and 6 to 8. By doing this the other watches are changed every day, and all hands secure an equal amount of rest. To return now to the calling of the dog-watch from 4 to 6 p.m. I had noticed the captain and mate in anxious conversation for some time, when the former said to the mate, " Gall all hands, and we'll get all the light sails furled. Halloa 1 below. Ahoy! All hands on deck to shorten sail! "
The boys soon responded, when the mate, whose watch it was, ordered them to " take in and stow snugly and carefully, so that they couldn't blow loose, the royals, topgallant, sails, staysails, jibs, trysail, and square mainsail. Be lively about it, boys!" Now the hitherto quietness of the deck was broken in upon by the shouting of the men, for sailors work most effectively and rapidly when they can halloa! It seems to grease the blocks and sharpen the muscles, and the labour is less wearisome.
" Be sharp, boys! be sharp! " he repeated.
It was still calm, and to ignoramuses like ourselves, the work seemed uncalled for, and looked much like what sailors call a " work-up job," not very agreeable affairs to men entitled to rest. One of the crew in the top-gallant yard thoughtlessly expressed himself in the following style : " The d d old fool is giving us a work-up job! " which reached the captain's ears, unbeknown to Jack who uttered it. The officers noticed the work was lagging, so the captain shouted, " Be lively, boys, be lively! we have got to get in those topsails. A hurricane is coming down upon us," which electrified all hands. Captain repeated, "Fasten those gaskets (the wrappers of the sails) solid, so the sails can't blow loose, and rush the work, boys ! rush it! " and it was rushed. By the time the light sails were secured, the necessity for every one's help, cook and supercargo as well, was evident. So we manned the topsail-yards and assisted in reefing first and then furling the fore-topsail and square-foresail, also tying first, second, and third (or close) reefs in the main-topsail.
Ere this had been accomplished it was pitchy dark, only lightened by the most vivid and continuous lightning, accompanied by the most terrific and constant thunder, as though the battlements of heaven had been attacked, and were replying in defence. To say we were not frightened, would be disguising the truth. All of us, from the captain to the cook, felt there was a fearful experience ahead of us, out of which none of us might pass to tell the story. " Boys," the captain asked, " is everything secure?" To which the men replied, " Ay, ay, sir! " " Then each one take his station to man those main-topsail braces, and see you have a rope at your hand and something solid to fasten it to at a moment's warning, so as to secure yourselves."
There were not many happy hearts in that crew just then. Up to that time there was apparently not a breath of wind, and the vessel lay sluggishly on the water. The captain and second mate were lashed by the wheel, to take charge of it when needed. Now there strikes a " cat's-paw " (a puff of wind), quickly followed by another, and fortunately a little abaft the beam, so that our close-reefed topsail felt it and started the vessel into steering, which was our salvation.
Oh, the thunder and lightning ! We poor souls were clinging with terror, as it shook the very spars in our helpless little craft. The wind increased rapidly, and now the Albion was moving at a quarter course the object being, as the captain told us afterwards, to run out of it, as the track of a hurricane is not very wide. Don't you see where the experience came in? Presently he shouts out, for he had now to halloa to be heard