Davy Jones's Locker: The End of a Kanaka Voyage

A SAILOR aboard a sailing ship is fascinated by the peril of danger and death. On the calmest day he is aware that a change may come over the sea, when only his presence of mind and exertion will save him. He is face to face with a lethal thing of enormous power; this sea, from which he is separated by thin planks, will take his life with the same dispassion that she has taken the lives of millions.

A sailor fears the sea; but love mingles with this fear, as love and fear mingle in a child’s attitude toward its mother. I believe that death at sea is less terrifying to him than death ashore, because such a death has an unconscious symbolism of returning to the womb of the mother— the sea — to be reborn. This has been impressed upon me during the voyage of the schooner Tagua, when often death was very close. The fancy may seem farfetched, and probably it is; I give it only as the result of idle musings during the long night watches aboard ship.

March 20. Midnight. — The sky is overcast and the wind lighter; now and then a misty rain drizzles down on us like the spent remnant of a storm, insinuating its own dejection and despair into the weary crew of this schooner. A towering cloud has just passed ahead of us. Rain fell from it, and beyond its windward edge I could see a sad sky mottled by dull gray cloud-fragments. Across the lee of the cloud, rising from the sea in a bow a thousand feet high, was a dim moonrainbow in which faint colors were visible. It suggested a pristine world of water and humid air, with a faint tinge of color in the deep twilight of creation.

At the beginning of my watch on deck I walked forward to stand by the windward shrouds. The wind hummed softly through the old schooner’s rigging, and there was the plash of spray whiskering out from the cutwater. Out in the gloom of the Pacific the wind blew silently, save for the intermittent gasp of a toppling wave - - a gasp in the solitary spaces of the sea.

From aft came the low clang of the bell; then a hollow voice droned in the darkness: ‘Four bells! Four bells!’ There was a patter of feet as Ropes ran aft to take the wheel, someone grunted a curse, and again all was silent.

Alone on the deck of a sailing ship in the most unfrequented stretch of sea in the world, with the wind mild and the sea calm, it would seem natural that one should turn one’s thoughts to tranquil reflections. But, through some malicious quirk of the brain, mine dwelt on the meaning of death at sea, its reality, and the possibility that all of us would find a chill grave somewhere in the North Pacific. Death at sea! I recalled the passing of McLeod of Atiu, and the words of the Rarotongan, Kamu, came to me: —

‘By two in the morning only three of us were alive. Two rowed while a third rested, crouching forward, up to his shoulders in the cold water. When I called him to take his turn at the oar he did not answer. I leaned back and shook him. He was dead!

‘I tied the little boat’s anchor to his feet and laid him across the gunwale. Then I said, “Return to God; I am too weak to pray for you!” and dropped him over the side. I saw him sink with his arms raised stiffly above his head.

‘Then, for the first time, I was afraid. I thought of how my friend was sinking into the blackness, and how he would be buoyed in the bottom of the sea, standing upright in the water, his head thrown back and his hands pointing toward the surface. It terrified me; but a few moments later a raging squall swept over us and I was able to forget my friend.’

When I stared at the sea I thought of Kamu’s friend sinking into the impenetrable night. A shiver ran through me as though the cold water were clutching with her clammy fingers. I turned my eyes from the sea, bundled my coat about my neck, and paced the deck rapidly until I threw off my gloomy forebodings.

March 21. — It is eighty-six days since we sailed from Rarotonga! It seems as if land were something I have heard of but never seen. There is only the sea, ever changing: to-day, vicious in her solitude, gloomy and sublime; to-morrow, a neighborly being mothering her ships. And to-night, with the barometer low and storm clouds blackening the sky, she has become a vast and implacable thing, lonely, inexorable, and detached; willing to kill or disregard. She is indifferent to the humanity that embarks on her; she rises in magnificent and terrifying undulations, regardless of the heroism, the tragedy and misery, aboard the ships on her bosom. The sea is the mistress of millions, but she does not know them; she is like space itself in her utter disregard for animate life. Curse the sea, praise her, flatter her, pray to her, sacrifice your life in her depths — she is unmoved. The greatest navies may flounder and sink without stirring her compassion; she takes them into her womb coldly, as she has done these thousands of years, as she will do these thousands of years to come.

March 22. — Are we to have no fair weather during this voyage? Is the sea intent on destroying us? This morning at four I went into Captain Thomson’s cabin to look at the barometer. It had dropped four tenths, now reading 30.01"! I woke the Captain and told him the news. His face clouded, and for a moment he spoke of the unheard-of weather we have been experiencing. Then: ‘Well, Ropati, we won’t let it catch us as it did last time. Turn out both watches and reef down.’

I went on deck and called Seaside’s watch. The temperature had dropped to fifty-four. This would be nothing to men accustomed to cold weather; but to us, with our blood thinned by years in the tropics and with only thin cotton clothes, the cold was bitter. When we put our hands to a rope they burned as though we were touching hot irons, — a strange simile, but a true one, — and our flesh rebelled against every movement, as though willing to perish rather than live and suffer.

I sang out to the boys as cheerily as I could, but got little response. Then, jumping to the reef earing with gritted teeth, I worked with all my might. Presently one or two of the boys livened up a little, the rest joined, and in an hour we had the fore and main sails reefed and the flying jib tied up.

The work was no sooner done than a howling wind struck us from the north, blowing with such violence that we had to go to work on second reefs in both sails. I held the wheel while the Captain drove the boys to work. I had thrown my oilskins aside while taking in the first reefs. Rain and spray drenched me; at first the cold was stinging, but later I became too numb to feel it.

All day long the wind howled, and the seas built up higher and higher until we stared at them at an angle of forty-five degrees. We are despicable things on the deck of the Tagua with those Titans rising above us, unconscious of our presence, rolling and tossing us skyward as though we were no more than the sea spume. But the Tagua is doing handsomely; in fact I never dreamed that a ship could move so tranquilly through a confused sea. Only once did she come to grief. At two this afternoon we sailed into a calm pocket. A great sea laid the schooner over; she rolled back quickly, having no wind in her sails to steady her, and laid her windward bulwarks under. At that instant a great comber rose over her, curled, and crashed down from stem to stern, burying her completely under.

When the sea crashed on the after house like cannon fire I thought the masts had gone. A column of water poured through the engine-room skylight, which had been raised by the movement of the water, and the whole cabin was flooded. Too dazed to grasp the significance of this, I thought the ship had been broken in two by the falling mast.

Presently Six-Seas laughed from his place at the wheel. I jumped out of my berth and ran into the Captain’s cabin. One of his windows had been bashed in; he was sitting in his berth, which was full to the coaming with water. It splashed back and forth, and over the coaming on to the floor when the schooner rolled.

Still uncertain as to exactly what had happened, I stared at Andy, waiting for him to speak. Presently he said, quietly: ‘It was just a big sea that buried us. I was sound asleep, and the first thing I knew the water was pouring through my window on top of me. The devil! Now all my clothes are wet, and we are just getting into the cold weather!’

When we went on deck we found that Six-Seas had been submerged and only saved himself by winding his legs around the wheel shaft. Ropes had jumped into the rigging, while the men in the forecastle had escaped with a flooding.

To-night at eight I decided to give the pumps a personal trial. The result is that we have been pumping steadily up to midnight; still they do not suck!

March 23. — I am tired of writing about stormy weather, but it seems that we are to have nothing else. After each storm we cheer up, saying this is the last; but the wind seems intent on keeping us from San Francisco. Last night and all day to-day it has been blowing at from eighty to ninety miles an hour.

I worked most of the night in the waist, putting new lashings on the reef boat and gasoline drums, and keeping the boys busy at the pumps until, at about half-past one, they sucked again. Every hour or two I would go into the galley to warm myself and drink a mug of strong coffee; but, back in the waist, the first volley of rain and spray drenched and chilled me. I tried to get some help from the sailors; they did their best, but are good for nothing in this cold weather. Six of them cannot do the work of one man. They walk with their backs stooped; their cheeks are becoming hollow, their eyes inflamed. Andy and I are afraid there will be scurvy among them before we make the coast. If so, God help us!

The forestaysail blew out to-day. We hoisted the jib to steady the ship, then worked four hours with all hands bending in a new sail — ordinarily an hour’s work for two men.

This evening Andy is decidedly worried. We are burying our bows with every heave of the schooner, the waist is continually flooded, and the schooner rides the seas unsteadily, plunging and lurching with a heartless strain on her timbers.

Later. — I turned in at 8 P.M., but could not sleep. The masts hung over me, breaking, falling, breaking, falling, forever about to crash through the after house! ‘To the devil with the masts!’ I shouted to myself. ‘If they come down I’ll never know the difference. No death could be quicker and less painful; and how much better to be buried in the clean sea than in the mud ashore!’ But this did not put me to sleep. I lay on the floor, thinking it should be safer; but then the thought came that if the masts fell I might be pinned down to suffer a long and painful death. I returned to my berth. Every wrench and lunge of the ship tortured me like the rack; and when a stool fell and rolled across the cabin floor I jumped out of my berth with a half-suppressed cry. I have been through many storms at sea without fear, and I should be easy enough now if it were not for these two rotten masts that stand only by the grace of God. Expecting them to fall, waiting for them to crash down, creates a maddening tension.

At seven bells I fell asleep; when Seaside woke me fifteen minutes later I smelled a strong stench of gasoline. Going into the engine room with my flash light, I found that the tap on the leaky gasoline tank had broken, and the room was flooded. As most of the gasoline had already leaked through the floor into the bilge, and as the tank was now empty, I could do nothing but wake Andy to warn him against lighting his lamp.

March 24. — The wind blows with more violence than ever. This afternoon even Captain Thomson was terrified. ‘By God, Ropati!’ he cried, holding to the rail and watching the little schooner being flung madly about. ‘She can’t stand this much longer! If we don’t do something to ease her we’ll be dead men before the morning!’

A moment later he said that our only hope lay in heaving to. ‘I’ve never had the Tagua hove to in stormy weather,’ he muttered, as though speaking to himself, ‘and I don’t know how she’ll act; but we can’t go on as we are.’

We called all hands, put a triple reef in the foresail, and tied up the forestaysail. Then the Captain took the wheel, judged his time, and brought the schooner into the wind. She rolled much easier in the great froth-lipped seas, now that her way was stopped; but even now all that is saving her is the massive timbers fitted into these old sailing ships, which were built to weather the Horn or the fiercest Indian Ocean typhoon — and she has weathered them many a time, too; but now she is old and unfit for the strenuous work of newer ships. Planks part for the water to leap in; ribs strain to the breaking point as the seas roll under her worm-eaten sides, lifting her high in the air only to throw her aside as though she were no more than the sea foam; and the masts whip from side to side with terrific momentum! Those masts! Why don’t they go, and break the tension? We are all thinking, ‘Break, damn you, and be done with it!’

March 25. — Last night, during the twelve-to-four watch, the wind was blowing as I had never before experienced it. It shrieked above us at a hundred miles an hour. It came upon us like a gigantic wildcat hurtling through the sky, tearing the sails with its claws, bent on destruction. Toward midnight it shifted to the east, and cross-seas worked up to an amazing height, blotting out a third of the sky when we lay in a trough.

At two in the morning Andy called me, saying that I should try to put a triple reef in the mainsail. I crawled out of the cabin. On deck the wind’s roar was like an aeroplane engine, its force so great I did not dare rise from my hands and knees until I was at the rail, which I gripped with both hands to keep myself from being blown across the midshiphouse! I found Ropes, drenched and numb with cold, crouching in the lee of the after house; Six-Seas was at the wheel, astraddle the shaft and, though the wheel was hard over and lashed down, gripping the spokes. I sent Ropes forward for Seaside’s watch, then lowered myself into the lazaret for a bundle of rope yarn to use as reef points.

We worked like slaves last night, without time to complain, or even to think of anything but the safety of the schooner. The safety of the schooner! What a blessing that sailors can transmute the fear of losing their lives into a fear of losing the schooner! Otherwise they would go mad with terror. On the after house, when we put the reefing tackle in the third reef cringle, the force of the wind would have picked us up and hurled us over the sea like strips of canvas if we had not clung to the boom; and when I was tying the reef points the wind crushed me against the boom until my limbs ached. At half-past three it was done. I crawled along the skylight and the scuttle hatch to the break of the after house, dropped on deck by the companionway, and returned to my cabin.

I lay back in my berth. My brain was uncomfortably alert; I was vividly aware that there was no predestination saving me, that I was not immortal, that the elements were striving with a worm-eaten old ship, and, whichever won, I should not be considered. I had hallucinations. There appeared in the darkness above me leering hideous faces more clearly defined than real faces could be; then abruptly they vanished, to give place to visions of ravishing beauty. These dissolved, and I was in a darkness glowing with red points of light which gradually dimmed into nothingness. There followed a stupefied fatigue which knew neither hope nor fear.

Morning came, bringing the most awe-inspiring sunrise I have ever seen. We were on the north edge of the storm. From east to west, directly above us, was a ragged line of clouds dividing the black hollow of the storm to the south from a clear star-stippled northern sky. Gradually the dawn brightened. The storm clouds kindled to a fuliginous red like the reflection of lurid lights from a bank of fog; but the northern sky was tinged with silver and long strata of the tenderest fallow gold. Never have I seen such a distinct line between fair weather and foul, and never a sight which filled me with such mingled reverence and dread.

Noon. — The storm has blown itself out in a few malicious squalls and one tremendous waterspout which crossed our bows not fifty yards away. When it had passed, so close that it actually drew us toward its vortex, Andy laughed in a high-pitched hysterical way.

‘Why did you laugh?’ I asked him later.

‘I could n’t help it,’ he said. ‘It seemed so ironical that we should fight like grim death through a four days’ storm, believing we were getting the best of the elements, and then, when it was all over, a little waterspout should come along which might break us to pieces. There was something terrible and satirical about it, as though the elements were saying: “You think we had to blow for days to wreck such a picayune schooner as the Tagua? See, with one wrench, in ten seconds, we can make kindling of you!”'

The barometer, which was down to 29.90", has risen to 30.52". The same drop in the tropics would have given us a reading of 29.50", which would have been a sure sign of a cyclonic storm.

March 26. — At eight bells I went into my cabin to read Wilde’s Salome for half an hour; but it did not give me the usual pleasure. It seemed sophisticated, forced, unreal, here at sea, where sky, wind, and water are pregnant with the realities of existence. I could take no interest in the easy flow of meticulously chosen words when from beyond the thin bulkhead of my cabin was audible the low and dolorous moaning of the wind; the tragedy of Salome was trivial in comparison with the potential tragedy in a brooding storm, and the might of King Herod was a bubble beside the might of towering seas that destroy dispassionately, blindly, and silently move on their way. As I write this it occurs to me that perhaps the truth or falsehood of a book makes itself apparent when read under such conditions as the present; when we are face to face with a stern reality, flights of imagination become unnecessary, if not superfluous, for the experiences of the moment are more impressive than imaginary experiences could be.

April 2. — What an inhospitable sea, sky, wind! There is only a dim light that casts a leaden hue on the clouds. For a few moments the wind will blow a channel through the high canopy, and then indeed there is a promise of warmth and light, glowing coldly through the mist. But soon the clouds fill in, shadowing the little schooner with nostalgia and despair. At night threatening clouds loom above the horizon—clouds that would portend storms or squalls in the tropics; but here they pass over us with a proud deliberation — gloomy, without increase of wind.

The crew seem hushed and afraid of some impending disaster that they believe to be at hand. There are whispered rumors that we are lost, that the schooner will never make land, and that we are doomed to perish at sea. Captain Thomson and I are affected by the depressed state of the sailors. He is unusually excited; a fire burns in his eyes as he paces the deck restlessly, working himself into a frenzy over the wind, the crew, or whatever attracts his attention.

The wind is blowing with an intent determination to keep us from our destination.

The balmy air, the white coral strands of the South Seas, attract unremittingly, exasperatingly.

April 4. — We crossed the latitude of San Francisco to-day — 37° 47' 57"; but, as we are in longitude 149° 34', we still have 1284 miles of easting to make. The northwesterlies cannot come too soon for us now.

What a relief it will be to go ashore! The first night I am going to the best hotel in San Francisco, order a suite of rooms, bathe in floods of warm soapy water, and then sleep! Sleep all night long! Or perhaps do like the retired seaman — have someone call me every four hours so that I can tell him to go to the devil, and roll over to enjoy my repose doubly. When sated with sleep, I will reach from the bed for the telephone, call a waiter, and order a simple breakfast of ham and eggs, beefsteak and potatoes, sausages and pancakes, coffee and toast, oatmeal and cornflakes, two or three kinds of fruit, and everything else that happens to be on the menu. Potatoes will be a big item.

I have told Captain Thomson that I am going to leave the ship in San Francisco, though I have no intention of doing so. It was just a malicious attempt to annoy him, as he often does me nowadays. This is natural enough, for even the best of friends grate on one another after so many days cooped together.

April 5.— Yesterday evening I sat with my feet hanging over the midshiphouse, waiting for the cabin boy to bring our evening meal of boiled rice and tinned beef. Presently, from under the water tank jumped a rat — a poor sickly creature as damp and miserable as the rest of the Taguans. He flittered about for a moment or two, when suddenly he met the destiny that was written upon his forehead. ‘The Destroyer came upon him, the Separator of friends, who overturns all palaces and towers, and gluts the hunger of the tomb.’ The tomcat, Romeo, appeared from nowhere, and there was one less rat and a fatter cat.

After I had turned in at eight bells, Romeo jumped on to my berth, rubbed himself against my head, and, when I raised a corner of the blankets, worked himself toward my legs, curled between them, and started purring himself to sleep.

‘Lucky cat!’ I thought; then soliloquized at length on relative felicities, coming to the decision that cats receive more pleasure from life than men, and that intelligence and imagination are doubtful blessings.

Later. — The cat has ceased purring; he is carousing in the feline Fiddler’s Green, where fat mice are forever creeping from barn doors, and little fountains of cream gurgle past boxes bedded with flannel and straw. I felt viciously jealous of this tomcat and kicked him out of the berth.

April 6.—To-day, almost for the first time, we have laid a course within one point of San Francisco, sailing eastnortheast magnetic.

Last night I dreamed that Old Man Boreas came out of a cloud. There was a smile on his weather-beaten and bearded face. Glancing abstractedly at the Tagua, he mumbled: ‘Poor little cockroach schooner! So she has weathered my gales! I had to blow great guns to sink that impudent Red Line steamer, and I did n’t even notice this sea louse in the scud and foam. Well, well, I’ll compensate this inoffensive little thing, lay the seas smooth about her, and let my old enemy, South Wind, blow just strong enough to keep her moving handsomely toward the coast of California. Anyway, I need a rest after sinking that vain steamer.’

April 7. — Andy called me on deck during the first dogwatch. His face was clouded as he pointed to the mainmast just above the boom collar. There was a break in it five inches wide and two feet long! Every time the schooner rolled, the break would open itself, working its lower end out a half inch or more. I have put a seizing of twoinch rope around the broken place. It will not do the least good; but it will hide the break so that we shan’t go crazy staring at it, wondering when it will break the rest of the way through.

A half-dozen stormy petrels (Mother Carey’s chickens) fluttered near the schooner this evening. Sailors claim that they are a warning of foul weather. They are amazing birds; no bigger than a sparrow, they flutter across the widest stretches of open sea. They cannot soar, and in their fluttering they give one the impression of fledglings learning to fly. Where do they sleep? What do they eat? Where do they nest? At Puka-Puka one fell ashore dead from a wound in its breast. The natives told me it was a bird of the sea (manu-moana) that never comes to land except on rare occasions such as that one. They said that it lays its eggs on the water, that they float, and that the birds live on sea foam.

April 10. — The wind has shifted to the northwest at last. Shaking the reefs out of the sails this morning, we put the main boom in the long guy for the first time on the passage. When it came to hoisting the sails we found that there was not enough strength in the entire crew to hoist either the peak or the throat halyard. We were obliged to strop a handy-billy tackle on the throat halyard and set up on it, then take the tackle to the peak halyard to set it up, then back to the throat, and so on until we had the sail set. Even with the tackle it was all we could do to manage it. Our winch, unluckily, is out of order; we could have hoisted the sails easily with it.

April 11. — This evening I found what is weakening the crew. Scurvy! When Six-Seas came aft to take the wheel I noticed that his legs bulged his overalls. He told me that they have been swelling for some time, and added that Second-Return’s mouth is in bad shape. Captain Thomson called this sailor aft, to find that his teeth are so loose he can move them back and forth with his fingers, and that the gums are starting to ulcerate! Food is also sick, but with him it shows only in inflamed eyes and slightly swollen legs.

Later in the evening Captain Thomson decided that, calm or blow, he will not shorten sail. ‘If we lower sail,’ he said, ‘we shall not be able to hoist it again, and we’ll just wallow out here until we are all dead men. And by carrying our sail we may be dismasted, which will also mean the end of us; but if the masts hold we may make San Francisco in time to save most of the crew.’

Where are all the ships that ply the sea? Were they destroyed in the storms we went through ? We have not sighted sail or smoke at sea since leaving Rarotonga, one hundred and seven days ago.

I am ill and do not doubt that it is scurvy. Andy is nervous and irritable. He calls from his cabin continually, shouting to t he sailors to keep the sails full — a difficult thing when the wind is so far aft.

Only Ropes keeps in good health. This Sinful Peck cannot be killed. He remains fat and greasy, and he alone devours his daily ration of beef and rice.

April 12. — The wind freshened today, so we are bowling along at a better rate. At 4 P.M. we wore ship, for the wind had shifted to the southwest. Now, at last, we are laying for San Francisco with a fair wind; and it is none too soon, for we cannot hold out many more days. The Golden Gate is six hundred and fifteen miles away.

I am much weaker to-day. My head is giddy, hallucinations trouble me, and I am afraid of myself on deck.

April 13. — West-southwest wind blowing a moderate gale. With all canvas set we are making a hundred and fifty miles a day. We need two men at the wheel now; one man is too weak to hold it.

April 14. — Six-Seas is down in his bunk, unable to get up. The rest of the crew, Ropes excepted, look as though they could not last many more days; but Andy seems confident that we shall make the coast. He says that he needs only one man to help him. I am growing weaker rapidly. This evening, before turning in, I stamped my feet to warm them. The result was a half hour’s dizziness.

Later, — I have just been forward to see Six-Seas. His eyes are glassy; they stare at me horribly as he talks about bananas and oranges, and fish flapping out of the lagoon to be eaten raw. I tried to divert his thoughts to other channels by talking about the fine time he would have in the street cars and automobiles of the United States; but he would only ask if I was sure that there would be plenty of potatoes in America. Leaving Six-Seas, I talked with Food, who was at the wheel. His mind was on lobsters; nor could I make him think of anything else.

April 15. — I rose this morning, walked across the midshiphouse, turned, and fell on deck. On leaving my cabin I had felt fairly strong, but it seems that: the exertion of climbing the ladder and crossing the deck was enough to exhaust me. Andy helped me into my berth, where I have been ever since. I noticed that it was all he could do to support me. He must be quite ill; but he is too much of a man to mention it. When I am ill I moan and bewail my lot like an old woman.

I have been saving three bottles of lime juice for the worst. I opened one to-day, took a good dose, and gave the bottle to Andy to dose the crew.

Second-Return is still able to hold the wheel. He looks much worse than I. I feel like a malingerer, lying in my berth.

April 16. — This is my thirty-third birthday. I felt a little better this morning and went on deck to stand my watch. After a few moments I returned to my berth with difficulty. It is marvelous how Second-Return and Food still stand their watches. Andy says that Six-Seas is no worse.

We drank the second bottle of lime juice to-day.

What odd writing this is in my journal! I can barely read it. My letters slip all over the page; first they are minute, then as big as a schoolboy’s figures. Oh well, many a man has had scurvy and recovered, and in all probability we shall be in San Francisco in three or four days.

April 17. — What a day! Light winds to noon, then a dead calm. Sails booming back and forth, wrenching the masts as though intent on tearing them from the ship. Flocks of gannets paddling about us, waiting for the first scurvy victim to be thrown overboard. I wonder if they are man-eaters. Second-Return’s face is blotched and starting to break out in ulcers; but still he stands his trick at the wheel. It fascinates me horribly to watch from my porthole when he is due on deck. Each time I doubt if he will appear; but as the bell sounds he emerges, a gaunt, terrifying skeleton. He staggers aft, grasps the wheel with both hands, braces himself against the wheel-box, and stands his watch without. a complaint. The wheel is light now, so he can hold it alone.

When his watch is through and he passes my cabin, I call from the porthole, ‘Okirua-tane’ (‘Second-Return the man!’) A hollow, painful voice comes from his smiling lips: ‘Ropatitane!’ But I am no man; I am in my berth when I should be on deck.

Drank the last, bottle of lime juice to-day.

April 18. — Both Six-Seas and I were able to stand our watches to-day. This proves, as has been proved many times before, the value of lime juice as a scurvy specific.

I stood with Six-Seas, helping him with the wheel. He asked if it is true that all Americans carry revolvers, to shoot from their coat pockets when they meet someone with money. (Glory to the educational movies!) He wanted to know if the Tagua sailors would be in danger. I told him to be at case, for no one would imagine that a poor Atiu sailor had money. He agreed with me, but added that he would have money, for he could draw over six pounds. I am glad that he can think of something besides food.

April 19. — At 4 A.M. I turned in for the first sleep in twenty-four hours. Captain Thomson left me alone until noon, when he turned me out to start the engine and wear ship. On looking out of my port I found the sky clear for the first time in weeks.

During the afternoon watch we sighted smoke. Shortly after, a San Francisco revenue cutter steamed up, went round our stern to make out who we were, and then hurried away as though disgusted that she should have wasted steam on such an insignificant craft, with nothing but rancid copra and scurvy sailors aboard.

April 20. — Last night, at halfpast twelve, we sighted the intermittent glow of the Point Reyes light. It had an odd effect on me. I climbed to the fore hounds and sat there for more than an hour, glancing now and then at the light, but oftener at the sea below me, at the sky, and back along our wake at the great expanse of ocean we were leaving behind.

Now that we were close to land and reasonably certain of being in San Francisco to-morrow, the fear of death at sea left me; I realized that I loved the sea, and took little interest in our arrival in port. I understood that every man aboard this schooner is a man of the sea, and that only the sea can hold any permanent fascination for him. I stared over the stern at the gray moving water of the Pacific. A sense of exultation thrilled through me. Out there I had been very close to death in its ugly reality, and it had terrified me; but now I knew that I should infinitely prefer death in the cold womb of the mother sea to death ashore. The thought of mother earth brought no response; death must be a return to the womb of the sea.

The dull gray shimmer on the water darkened when a cloud passed overhead. The sea became a brooding monster, terrifying but magnificent. Again, as earlier in the voyage, I ruminated on Kamu’s story of burying his friend at sea.

For a moment I visualized myself as Kamu’s dead friend: I am sinking into the deep twilight, down to the realm of the last ray of light, on until there is only the secular night of great depths, and on until, miles below the last faint glimmer, the boat’s anchor sinks into the marine ooze and I am buoyed, upright, with my head thrown back and my arms raised stiffly above my head, forever! Here is a tomb inviolate, a solitude and a stillness in perpetuity!

We entered the Golden Gate at sundown; but there was little thrill in it for any of us. The sailors stared silently at the barren hills and the bleached white streets of houses set out with mathematical precision. With hardly a glance at the land, Andy talked with the pilot. This man had been a disappointment to me. I had expected a weather-beaten old salt in a pea-coat and a sou’wester; but a fashionably dressed young man had boarded us, with evident disgust, having been rowed over in a varnished dinghy.

‘That is the Legion of Honor Building,’ the pilot said, pointing to a white pile on top of one of San Francisco’s hills. Andy and I glanced at it and then our attention returned to the ship.

‘Look, Ropati, how she sails!’ he cried. ‘How she scuds through the water! We’re making nine knots if we’re making one!'

‘This is the first fine wind we’ve had since leaving Rarotonga,’ I growled.

The pilot started to make a remark about the barracks on Presidio Hill, but old Seaside’s senile wail broke in: ’Tagua aye! She sails! She sails! The wind spanks her stern!’

The engine was running wide open, and, though it was blowing great guns, every stitch of canvas was set. The schooner lay steadily on her beam, with her midshiphouse deck lapping the water. She was alive! She leaped through the water, and if she had had a voice she would have shouted with exultation.

Second-Return stood at the wheel, an animated skeleton, with the grin of a dead man across his blotched and emaciated face.

‘I wish you would take in sail,’ the pilot said, with a glance at the cold, darkening water.

‘Take in sail!’ Andy cried with unfeigned derision. ‘Carry on, you mean! Let the old plug have her head! We’ll tear the masts out of her and save the shipyard a job! ’ Then, with a wild rush of spirits: ‘ Tagua aye! Now she sails! Now she sails! Oh, man! I ’m dying already to get out of port and roll down the old Pacific again! ’

April 22. — This morning our agent came aboard. When we were seated in the cabin he said, ‘I hear you had a pretty bad time of it coming north. Just what kind of passage did you have?’

His words brought to my mind pictures of the hardships and dangers I have related in this journal. I waited for Andy to say something that would surprise the man. But he just leaned back and with entire sincerity said: —

‘Oh, about the usual thing: blows and calms and plenty of hard work for all hands. Just the sort of voyage that sailormen have been making in sailing ships for hundreds of years.’