16. North From the Horn – Starving


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Here and There Synopsis:

16.1 The Great Rocks of Diego Ramirez

January 22, 1902

The Crown of India sailed past “the great rocks [of] Diego Ramirez” with good wind “under topsail yards all hauling.” Moss grows on the deck from the constant damp and, even at midsummer this far south, one may not look directly into the cold wind. With a little snow that falls on deck Hayes musters the energy to throw a few snowballs at a shipmate “Missouri.” All the men have “our fingers crossed lest bad wind spring up and we blow back west instead of passing the Horn.” But for now “Cape Horn is in a quiet mood for once.”

Unusually good weather, and, almost as welcome, Fleck is still below deck nursing his eyes. All the men wish him a long and painful illness lasting at least until they are safely round the Horn. Hayes is “shocked because at heart I agree with these men.” Because of Captain Sauter and his wife, every sailor on board starves on “pound and pint” rations, nevertheless all respond well to his just treatment.

“There are worlds of sea birds,” down here at the bottom of the world, from the tiny petrels “that really walk on the water” to giant albatross that “flap and run far over the sea as they endeavor to arise.” Despite the “fishy taste and coarse flesh,” catching a few for the stew pot compliments the short rations.

16.2 Shaving on a rolling sea

January 30, 1902

On the night of the previous entry, all the crossed fingers on board did not prevent a fierce gale from blowing up, forcing the crew up into the wild riggings to strip the sails. But at least the two-finger charm prevented the worst: the ferocious winds blew from the south pushing the ship smartly north into warmer weather. After a week running before this storm, Hayes and some other men “heaved the log” to gauge ship’s speed. All eleven knots ran out before their hourglass drained, “which means she is doing better than eleven knots per hour, and is almost under bare poles.” Of course, “food at its worst and growing worse daily,” and the rough seas wet everything aboard ship.

With the rough weather, the second mate hasn’t been shaved since the ship reached the Horn Latitudes on the west side. Despite the big rollers following the storm, Hayes agrees to barber. Both men brace themselves in the mate’s tiny cabin on the rolling ship with three hands on shoulders and one free to handle the razor. “We made it, but I scarred his face a little.” For now, “the men keep cheery in the forecastle despite the hardships.” The poor food, though, will become a real danger to all.

Fleck’s eyes have recovered enough that, “he imagined he could see the loom of the Falkland Islands” when he came on deck for the first time in nearly a month. With no real expectation Fleck has reformed, Hayes remarks that he “spoke to me in an even voice,” – an aberration, no doubt.

Evidently sailors frequently succumb to “Cape Fever” sailing around the Horn. Schillerstrom, the reckless Swede and comic of the ship says with a straight face, the one time he had it, “Eet was very bad, very bad.” Nothing like the real affliction Fleck suffered, men with Cape fever seem, “to eat well and sleep well, but are unable to work until clear of Cape Stiff.” Luckily, no one on board caught it this time round.

16.3 24th Birthday at Sea

February 10, 1902

Only the elements celebrate Hayes’ 24th birthday – “in fine weather now.”

How quickly Fleck has recovered his spleen. At 35° from the equator, hints of the southwest trades flutter the sails, “and Fleck is frigging the watch, hauling, trimming, sweating every rope in the ship,” pretending to catch these favorable winds. With Fleck returned to his cursing, beating, and kicking the crew, every man aboard swears he’ll never “again go deep sea.”

16.4 Even the Rats are Hungry

February 22, 1902

“Full rations are a bare subsistence,” and now the crew of the Crown of India is reduced to half. One can eat a shark, but not when prepared by this cook. “We have even considered the numerous rats the big cat in the hold drives on deck.”

The starving rats do severe damage to the ship: they eat the sails when stowed and even when furled, get into the cargo casks, chew the straps on the life preservers, and worst, chew on the feet of sleeping men. “The old Dutch cook, who is a sound sleeper and has corns, bunions and calluses on his feet, is unable to walk because of so much rat gnawing.” While dozing on the graveyard watch, a rat bit Hayes’ bare foot and, “it bled freely.” All men hate the rats and drive them overboard – thus far, no one seems to be eating them.

Least of all, the captain; he sold the crew’s food but not the officer’s. Because Hayes is handy at so many skills, he sometimes helps the carpenter, “and this takes me on the poop where the skipper plays with his much loved wife.” The careless skipper, coming too near a hammer stroke, dodged sharply sending his cork hat over the side. This brought Hayes a stern glare from the skipper and an appeal from the skipper’s happy well-fed wife to stop the ship, lower a boat, and retrieve the hat slowly receding from the ship on the calm seas. The skipper knew better than to ask starving men to delay their return home for his own folly.

16.5 Doldrums Past the Line

March 5, 1902

On deck, the second mate calls Hayes to see St. Paul’s Rocks, a small archipelago of granite rocks, flocked with birds, standing out of the sea, “almost on the equator and equally distant from South America on one hand and Africa on the other.” It is so hot here, “the pitch boils out of the seams in the decks.” More of the rain they caught for storage crossing the equator would be a welcome relief.

The starving crew can barely work. It’s a good thing they have water. Skip reading the following description of their rations if you have a light stomach: “our daily allowance now is a small portion of fat, yellowish pork and a mess the cook makes out of the sweepings of the biscuit tanks in the hold. These are half weevil larvae, wriggling like maggots and of similar appearance.”

Fleck is back to full form, frigging the men “until our flaccid muscles are worn out.” No one has energy to curse him; all move about “as if half dead.” As an officer, still on reasonable rations, Fleck has plenty of energy to fill in for any insufficiency of curses.

16.6 Beating North Into the Wind

March 20,1902

With her foul bottom, the Crown of India, can’t make headway against strong winds. They sail east half a day, turn the ship, then sail west half a day, tacking back and forth against the wind. She sails plenty of miles – while making almost no progress north toward home. The skipper restrains Fleck who still delights in frigging the crew. How can the cruel mate be unaware of the real danger to a ship worked by a crew too weak to stand? Doudou, a young German boy, “is first to break. He is semi-conscious, partly from fear of the brutal mate.”

16.7 Scurvy at Ponta Delgada

March 27, 1902

At Ponta Delgada on the island of San Miguel, the Crown of India lies in a small stream with the men gazing over green, well-tended fields, longing to be off this starving ship. A basket of oranges and a “lean beef” come over the side but disappear immediately aft for the officers. Perhaps the oranges indicate the skipper fears scurvy aft, this sailor’s malady, due to lack of vitamin C, already spreads among the crew. Hayes reports sore teeth but no swelling of the lower limbs – either is an advanced symptom of scurvy. Finally, “even Fleck has softened.” What’s the use of yelling at men who “move because we have to, instinctively rather than obedience to the officers of the ship?”

Some of the locals speak English. “It is said that there are some 9,000 priests, monks and nuns in this small town of only 16,000 population.” His observations about the large families and the power of the church are not flattering.

“For days we have been trying to contact a ship, the flag flying upside down, the symbol of a ship in distress.” Many ships pass, but none stop to offer aid. All can see that Crown of India is “a homeward bounder.” Their captains know “the ways of skippers who sell the crew’s ration and spend the proceeds on themselves.” Some of the men have collapsed from scurvy.

16.8 Finally, Some Cabbage

March 29, 1902

Captain Sauter must have procured some food at Ponta Delgada, the ship left the narrow stream and “a great feast was enjoyed aft.” And for the working crew forward? “The thrifty skipper let us go 24 hours without feeding us.” Some cabbages left over from the feast aft hung briefly for storage “under the bridge near the break of the poop.” All but a leaf and a root vanished in the night to the starving crew. When the captain finally produces some boiled beef and pan tiles for the crew, Hayes’ teeth are so loose from the scurvy he can scarcely eat.

Of course, with a little food in the crew, Fleck’s abuse returns. “He has the filthiest mouth I have ever listened too, and his spleen is always being vented on the man nearest him.” At least the ship is making headway toward Falmouth where this nightmare trip will finally end.

16.9 The End is Near

April 6, 1902

Landfall at the Scilly Islands “raises hope in our hearts that the end is near.” Now these abused and physically wrecked sailors speculate what they’ll do next. Most plan a visit home; Chris, a shipmate from Trondjehm, has patched his clothes and saved his money for a reunion, but admits, “It will be the same old thing, I guess.” Juan Guerrero, another shipmate, succinctly describes this same old thing: “enjoy the fleshpots of whatever port we make, then go out and make enough to do it in the next one.”  Guerrero, a Chilean adventurer, who has hunted rubber in South America, explored the Pilcomayo River in Argentina, faced a jaguar aboard ship, and quietly sailed the world draws this praise from Hayes: “A better shipmate than most of the crew, he is.”

16.10 Falmouth

April 8, 1902

Falmouth at last. “Every man among us are wan and broken by the hardship and hunger of this unlucky ship we want to leave.” By comparison the “ruddy-faced Englishmen” coming on board look hale and fit. The Englishmen bring food, “but it will require months to renew our health after the starvation of the past few months.”

5 Responses to 16. North From the Horn – Starving

  1. John S says:

    Good Lord. Sounds horrible but at least he’s still alive through that!

    • johnmmartin says:

      Yes, that’s how I feel reading a lot of the sections. He’ll kind of get his health together with a relatively decent job for a few months then go off and do something like walk from Houston to LA through the desert. It’s amazing he lived into his eighties.

  2. Noel Martin says:

    It seems all of his early voyages were accompanied by hunger and mistreatment. He must have been very driven by the travel bug to get back on those old sailing ships knowing what was in store for him during the journey. Life was harder for everybody back then so maybe from that perspective it wasn’t as bad as it seems today. Still; I think after a first experience like his I would have given up on the idea.

    • johnmmartin says:

      Hey Noel, Do you get the sense from reading forward that his later travels were any more sane? He was only 24 in 1902; I think it took him two full years to recover from the scurvy and mistreatment on this trip. Having read the whole diary, do you have a sense of what might have motivated him?

      • Noel Martin says:

        His travels were pretty rough whenever he was on a sailing ship. I can’t remember if it was this trip or another one but he had scurvy so bad he thought he was going to lose his teeth. That episode would cause him trouble with his teeth later in life and he ended up leaving Africa at one point to have a European dentist work on them. Later trips did get a little better but travel by ship didn’t improve much for him until he started getting on steamers. Later in life he was able to pay for his travel without having to work the ship to pay for the ride. When paying to ride he was always very frugal and never rode any higher a class than he had to, though sometimes they wouldn’t let him ride the lowest class because he was a white man and it was not accepted by the ships crew for him to mingle with the the immigrants in the lowest class.

        Hard to say what motivated him for sure but I got the impression he was always looking for a place where people treated each other fairly, lived morally, and strived to better the world and others. Of course he was disappointed because such a place in the world doesn’t exist yet. He remarks many times during the journal when seeing human cruelty or the upper class living large at the expense of the poor that “this earth would have been a much better place without humans”. Another reason might be a need for escape during the suffering his father put him through when a young boy. Early in life he would read/hear of the great adventurers like Stanley and Livingston imagine what it would be like to be away from his fathers beatings and see the world. What motivated him is a question too big to answer here and might require some conversations with a beer or two to get a full understanding 🙂

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