15. South to the Horn

At the iron works in San Francisco, a general strike makes the city too dangerous, so Hayes signs on with a hungry four masted sailing ship for another tour around Cape Horn.

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Here and There Synopsis:

15.1 A city on Strike

May 12, 1901

The mill superintendent’s browbeating at Eureka finally became too much. Hayes paid passage down to San Francisco on the steam schooner Santa Barbara, “and was seasick as a dog.” Upon arrival he found employment as a sheet iron worker’s helper at the Union Iron Works. “Pay is poor. $1.75 for ten hours.” On this slim salary, anything beyond bare living expenses still gets sent off in reparation for the misdeeds of his youth.

Still trying to live decently, Hayes finds rooms with Mrs. Emslie who runs a mission to women working the infamous Barbary Coast where business booms with soldiers coming and going to war in the Philipines, seamen from merchant and whaling ships carousing, and “especially Alaska fishermen.” Mrs. Emslie’s mission seems a fool’s errand to Hayes. As far as he can see, the women don’t want to rise. “They jeer those who would help them.” Nevertheless, Hayes stands with Mrs. Emslie in the streets enduring “catcalls and jeers” as she entreats all to a better life.

June 20, 1901

The iron works employs more than 5,000 men building “three torpedo boats, a cruiser, and several merchant ships … there is even a submarine, said to be the first of its kind,” and plenty of repair work. Hayes’ ears ring continuously from the constant hammering.

USS Grampus, one of two submarines
under construction at Union Iron Works in 1901

Labor unrest wracks almost every industry in San Francisco except the iron works. “The machinist, the boiler makers, and many others are on strike.” Replacement workers shipped in from Pittsburg run such a gauntlet of abuse from the strikers that the companies must quarter these “scabs” inside their workplaces. As an ironworker, not yet part of the strike, Hayes may pass the lines but not without surly bluster from the strikers.

July 6, 1901

Now the strike has spread to the teamsters and the seamen, paralyzing the entire town. “All workmen in the city are out now, and hoodlums are ruling the roost.” Perhaps if local police appointments reflected “their integrity as citizens” rather than fealty to the Catholic Church, some order could be instated. Corruption from top to bottom cripples the city.

15.2 One Soul Saved

July 27, 1901

Should the unions decide to run a labor candidate for mayor of San Francisco he would surely win. “Even the street sweepers have their union, the newsboys and up from there.” Workers and scabs clash by day and nightfall cues generalized violence and lawlessness.

Astonishingly, the ironworkers remain on the job. Nevertheless, Hayes’ work partner Risberg meets a mob of strikers on his way to work who beat him up – “for practice.” As an aside Hayes adds that Risberg spent eight months in jail in Honolulu caught smuggling 62 pounds of opium from China.

August 24,1901

With the strike escalating, leading citizens call for the governor to request National Guard intervention to restore order. “He refuses.” Strikers battle police daily in the streets. Hayes witnessed a dozen police round the Chronicle building just as twenty strikers marched toward them around the corner. “They opened fire without hesitation. One striker was killed, four bystanders hit.”

On the bright side: with all the strikers strapped for cash, “Times are a bit dull on the Barbary.” Even with the bawdy houses calm, Hayes complains that, “One of the worst features of San Francisco is the dope racket.” A shot sells for 10¢ at any drugstore. Mrs. Emslie, soldiering on, reports of its devastations especially in Chinatown. Hayes joyously accounts one man he’s seen saved from this life by the grace of God.

September 16, 1901

With the strike so dangerous, Hayes will no longer venture out after eleven at night. He dreams that maybe South Africa would be a better place, “where strikers are unknown, at least at present.” Of course he’s broke, but for the first time he writes of sending money home to help his mothers and sisters. That and repaying “for making sharp deals in days gone by,” leave him constantly down to the last dollar.

October 4, 1901

Desperate to get out of San Francisco, Hayes looks up “ old Herman, whaling shipping master,” who warns him off a sailor’s job here; better to try up in Portland.

15.3 Looking for a Ship in the Rain

October 10, 1901

On the steamer Columbia up to Portland from San Francisco Hayes tried a home remedy for the seasickness: “Someone told me if I would drink salt water it would make me very ill, but I would never suffer again.” The first part was correct at least.

Cold rain falls at Portland – of course. Hayes returns to Sullivan’s boarding house and inquires for jobs with the same Grant and McCarren who sent him out two years previously. Sullivan is “a man wholly without honor,” and Grant and McCarren “are not making money so easily as when they could rob a man of most of his wages before he earned them.” The dour mood of the city hastens Hayes toward any ship he can find. “Food is poor here, everything is bad. The San Francisco strike is hurting the entire coast.” Even another tour around Cape Horn seems better than this.

15.4 Four Masted Bark at Astoria

October 20, 1901

Hayes, now an “ordinary seaman” on the four-mast bark, Crown of India, sits at a shallow spot in the Columbia waiting a second day for the tidal surge to lift the ship off the sand grounding her. Ships rations, “poor food, almost none,” weaken all the men before the ship even reaches Astoria. Once there, the fourteen ships lined up waiting to be towed over the bar, signal another a long wait.

“The skeleton-like rigging,” of tall ships stripped bare in a gale blowing through the port of Astoria from the southeast against tall fir trees sodden from the constant rain make a gloomy start to the long voyage ahead. As does the cast of characters among the officers: A brutal bawling ship’s mate, his assistant “a swell headed third, just out of his apprenticeship,” and the American second mate, “a fair sailor.” “The usual drunken crew is aboard.” Some don’t even know under what name they’ve shipped.

Most ominous of all: “this ship is hungry.” Like the Austrasia, on his first trip around the Horn, the Crown of India carries wheat, but this flinty captain brooks no broaching of cargo. When the men complain about breaking fast every morning on burgoo, a “pitiful mass of glue,” the captain reduces morning rations to “a clouded, muddy liquid called coffee by the old Dutch cook.” Hayes wonders how men already weak from working full speed all day on poor food can be expected to pull hard around the stern seas off Cape Horn?

November 17, 1901

At noon the old cook boils salt horsemeat, with any bit left over served as dinner. Crown of India sails with the captain’s wife on board which surely explains the poor food: “it is rumored that he sold a good part of the ship’s stores to give her a good time on shore.” The swinging tides at Astoria regularly tangle the two heavy anchor chains holding the ship in port for nearly a month now. Hungry sailors haul them to the surface, fight them apart, then replace them in anticipation of the next tidal surge.

At least getting out to sea will escape this dreary place; after watching the fourteen ships ahead towed one by one over the bar, “We expect to be towed to sea tomorrow.”

15.5 300 Miles Due West

November 23, 1901

A fierce three-day gale out of Astoria forces sailors to scramble canvas down from the poles. All are seasick in the rough weather but the bellowing mate, never satisfied with the ship’s rigging, orders seaman aloft. “Hanging onto a jackstay with one hand, a bit of sail in the other and deathly sick at the same time is about enough for one in a gale.” The cook has found a few potatoes, but Hayes doubts this slight culinary improvement will last long.

15.6 Frigging South

December 11, 1901

“Frigging” means useless work. As when Fleck, the first mate, “Every night has kept us going sweating the braces, lifts, halyards and every rope on the ship.” Captain Sauter put a stop to it but Hayes doubts his kindness of heart. More likely Sauter sees the weakness of the crew and fears rounding “Cape Stiff” with sailors needlessly overworked to exhaustion.

Hayes’ constant seasickness, made worse by the bad food, brings Fleck’s bawling wrath. Toward those even less strong, Fleck does more than yell. Doudou, “a little German boy” suffers dizzy spells and cannot climb above the “sheerpoles.” For this Fleck “kicks the boy about with abandon, much to the dislike of the crew.” The Captain restrains Fleck – but then the Captain beat up an assistant himself.

15.7 “Drear Christmas Eve”

December 24, 1901

On a sailing ship like the Crown of India, officers quarter aft, sailors fore. In the forward mess, all the potatoes are gone which Hayes calls, “a calamity.” But aft, “there is plenty.” The men grumble – fearful of even less during the long dangerous journey ahead. The ever-resourceful Hayes offers to shave the “genial second mate” in return for a bit of extra food now and then. “In all his years at sea [the mate] has never learned to use a razor.”

The cheerless ship crosses the equator foregoing Neptune’s initiation rites. Rains “like I have never seen before,” soak the already despondent crew right through their useless oilskins for two days across the line. With all hands engaged catching much-needed fresh water, most of the fair weather sails blow off in a gale accompanying the rain. Morale is so bad, the ordinary sailors wish for a speedy trip home – contrary to their usual desire to sail slowly to earn as much as possible for the debauch at home port.

On Christmas Eve light directionless winds puff at the ship – just right for more of Fleck’s frigging: “It gives him a reason for chasing catspaws round the compass, every man hauling his heart out, no one alive enough to lead a chantey.” No sailor’s song for the holiday – just the tempo of Fleck’s constant cursing.

15.8 Jonah of the ship

January 1, 1902

Sailors on this starving, fearful ship look for a “Jonah” – the source of all their bad luck. A little rhesus monkey one of the crew picked up off Sumatra suffered this identity until the first day of the new year. After the monkey died of its mistreatment, the ship made “12 knots under to-gan-sals” for two whole days with the crew celebrating losing their totem of ill fortune. When the wind blew out, consensus settled on a good-natured Mulatto sailor as the new Jonah. But he takes it so cheerily, “Everybody swears, and wishes the monkey was back.”

As Captain Sauter continues restraining Fleck from excesses of physical abuse, Fleck bides the time sailing south content with curses and threats: “The old man can’t stay on deck all the time and watch you. Let any bloody man shirk, he’ll roost on the royal yard right round Old Stiff!” (Hayes’ quote) The unlucky Crown of India has already lost one man blown from the rigging before Hayes came aboard; ordering a sailor up to the high royals in the wild storms off Cape Horn threatens his life.

Hayes makes no mention of any celebration marking the New Year.

15.9 Fire in the Cargo!

January 5, 1902

Damp, rotting wheat will sometimes generate enough heat to catch fire. Perhaps if the hungry crew had been allowed to broach cargo, someone would have noticed heat building up before “smoke was pouring up from the after hatch.” A thousand miles from land, “a reckless Swede, Schillerstrom,” waded into the smoke saving the ship. “Must have been spontaneous combustion.”

In an unrelated development: “Fleck has sore eyes,” now swollen completely shut. Blind and enraged, Fleck calls the mulatto Jonah aft bellowing, “every curse and abominable abusive word he has in his large vocabulary.” No “man forward of the mainmast” can restrain his glee, hoping Fleck’s blindness holds until they arrive safely round the Horn. Even Hayes, who has read in his Bible that one should love our enemies and pray for those who do us evil, finds “it difficult to mean it when I pray for Fleck.”

15.10. Nearing the Cape

January 12, 1902

Even with fair weather, the Crown of India makes poor speed; “the ship has a foul bottom.” Waiting in Astoria those long weeks, the sailors dragged a “great scrubbing brush” from sided to side across her bottom – not very effectively. In calm water Hayes can see two feet of sea grass dragging along growing out from the hull.

“Flecks eyes are in frightful condition, and this arouses the greatest joy from the entire crew.” Whatever responsibility Captain Stuart has for starving the crew, at least he is not brutal. With Fleck lying below deck in severe pain, the Captain simply and competently sails the ship southward. When Crown of India “sprung a yard at its parrel,” the men would have tried to replace it for the Captain but he can see that they are weak “and is willing to give us a break.”

With humane treatment from the Captain, some of the gloom lifts from Crown of India. Still, this is a lonely dangerous place for any ship. The dangers of the Horn approach ahead and from behind, “ tremendous seas that follow us sometimes give apprehension of pooping a sea” – that is, a wave breaking over the stern of the ship.

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One Response to 15. South to the Horn

  1. I love how this segment has a real “bad guy” with a perfect name–Fleck! Can’t you just see how’ rotten he is?

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