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Chapter 16

Our passage from Para was good until the brig reached the latitude of
Bermuda. Here, one morning, for the first time in this craft, Sundays
excepted, we got a forenoon watch below. I was profiting by the
opportunity to do a little work for myself, when the mate, an
inexperienced young man, who was connected with the owners, came and
ordered us up to help jibe ship. It was easy enough to do this in the
watch, but he thought differently. As an old seaman, I do not hesitate to
say that the order was both inconsiderate and unnecessary; though I do not
wish to appear even to justify my own conduct, on the occasion. A hasty
temper is one of my besetting weaknesses, and, at that time, I was in no
degree influenced by any considerations of a moral nature, as connected
with language. Exceedingly exasperated at this interference with our
comfort, I did not hesitate to tell the mate my opinion of his order.
Warming with my own complaints, I soon became fearfully profane and
denunciatory. I called down curses on the brig, and all that belonged to
her, not hesitating about wishing that she might founder at sea, and carry
all hands of us to the bottom of the ocean. In a word, I indulged in all
that looseness and profanity of the tongue, which is common enough with
those who feel no restraints on the subject, and who are highly
exasperated.

I do think the extent to which I carried my curses and wishes, on this
occasion, frightened the officers. They said nothing, but let me curse
myself out, to my heart's content. A man soon wearies of so bootless a
task, and the storm passed off, like one in the heavens, with a low
rumbling. I gave myself no concern about the matter afterwards, but things
took their course until noon. While the people were at dinner, the mate
came forward again, however, and called all hands to shorten sail. Going
on deck, I saw a very menacing black cloud astern, and went to work, with
a will, to discharge a duty that everybody could see was necessary.

We gathered in the canvass as fast as we could; but, before we could get
through, and while I was lending a hand to furl the foresail, the squall
struck the brig. I call it a squall, but it was more like the tail of a
hurricane. Most of our canvass blew from the gaskets, the cloth going in
ribands. The foresail and fore-topsail we managed to save, but all our
light canvass went. I was still aloft when the brig broached-to. As she
came up to the wind, the fore-topmast went over to leeward, being carried
away at the cap. All the hamper came down, and began to thresh against the
larboard side of the lower rigging. Just at this instant, a sea seemed to
strike the brig under her bilge, and fairly throw her on her beam-ends.

All this appeared to me to be the work of only a minute. I had scrambled
to windward, to get out of the way of the wreck, and stood with one foot
on the upper side of the bitts, holding on, to steady myself, by some of
the running rigging. This was being in a very different attitude, but on
the precise spot, where, two or three hours before, I had called on the
Almighty to pour out his vials of wrath upon the vessel, myself, and all
she contained! At that fearful instant, conscience pricked me, and I felt
both shame and dread, at my recent language. It seemed to me as if I had
been heard, and that my impious prayers were about to be granted. In the
bitterness of my heart, I vowed, should my life be spared, never to be
guilty of such gross profanity, again.

These feelings, however, occupied me but a moment. I was too much of a
real sea-dog to be standing idle at a time like that. There was but one
man before the mast on whom I could call for anything in such a strait,
and that was a New Yorker, of the name of Jack Neal. This man was near me,
and I suggested to him the plan of getting the fore-topmast staysail
loose, notwithstanding the mast was gone, in the hope it might blow open,
and help the brig's bows round. Jack was a fellow to act, and he succeeded
in loosening the sail, which did blow out in a way greatly to help us, as
I think. I then proposed we should clamber aft, and try to get the helm
up. This we did, also; though I question if the rudder could have had much
power, in the position in which the brig lay.

Either owing to the fore-top-mast staysail, or to some providential sea,
the vessel did fall off, however, and presently she righted, coming up
with great force, with a heavy roll to windward. The staysail helped us, I
feel persuaded, as the stay had got taut in the wreck, and the wind had
blown out the hanks. The brig's helm being hard up, as soon as she got
way, the craft flew round like a top, coming up on the other tack, in
spite of us, and throwing her nearly over again. She did not come fairly
down, however, though I thought she was gone, for an instant.

Finding it possible to move, I now ran forward, and succeeded in stopping
the wreck into the rigging and bitts. At this time the brig minded her
helm, and fell off, coming under command. To help us, the head of the
spencer got loose, from the throat-brail up, and, blowing out against the
wreck, the whole formed, together, a body of hamper, that acted as a sort
of sail, which helped the brig to keep clear of the seas. By close
attention to the helm, we were enabled to prevent the vessel from
broaching-to again, and, of course, managed to sail her on her bottom.
About sunset, it moderated, and, next morning, the weather was fine. We
then went to work, and rigged jury-masts; reaching New York a few
days later.

Had this accident occurred to our vessel in the night, as did that to the
Scourge, our fate would probably have been decided in a few minutes. As it
was, half an hour, in the sort of sea that was going, would have finished
her. As for my repentance, if I can use the term on such an occasion, and
for such a feeling, it was more lasting than thorough. I have never been
so fearfully profane since; and often, when I have felt the disposition to
give way to passion in this revolting form, my feelings, as I stood by
those bitts, have recurred to my mind--my vow has been remembered, and I
hope, together, they did some good, until I was made to see the general
errors of my life, and the necessity of throwing all my sins on the
merciful interposition of my Saviour.

I was not as reckless and extravagant, this time, in port, as I had
usually been, of late years. I shipped, before my money was all gone, on
board the Henry Kneeland, for Liverpool, viā New Orleans. On reaching the
latter port, all hands of us were beset by the land-sharks, in the shape
of landlords, who told us how much better we should be off by running,
than by sticking by the ship. We listened to these tales, and went in a
body. What made the matter worse, and our conduct the less excusable, was
the fact, that we got good wages and good treatment in the Henry Kneeland.
The landlords came with two boats, in the night; we passed our dunnage
down to them, and away we went, leaving only one man on board. The very
next day we all shipped on board the Marian, United States' Revenue
Cutter, where I was rated a quarter-mate, at fifteen dollars a month;
leaving seventeen to obtain this preferment!

We got a good craft for our money, however. She was a large comfortable
schooner, that mounted a few light guns, and our duty was far from heavy.
The treatment turned out to be good, also, as some relief to our folly.
One of our Henry Kneelands died of the "horrors" before we got to sea, and
we buried him at the watering-place, near the lower bar. I must have been
about four months in the Marion, during which time we visited the
different keys, and went into Key West. At this place, our crew became
sickly, and I was landed among others, and sent to a boarding-house. It
was near a month before we could get the crew together again, when we
sailed for Norfolk. At Norfolk, six of us had relapses, and were sent to
the hospital; the cutter sailing without us. I never saw the craft
afterwards.

I was but a fortnight in the hospital, the disease being only the fever
and ague. Just as I came out, the Alert, the New York cutter, came in, and
I was sent on board her. This separated me from all the Henry Kneelands
but one old man. The Alert was bound south, on duty connected with the
nullification troubles; and, soon after I joined her, she sailed for
Charleston, South Carolina. Here a little fleet of cutters soon
collected; no less than seven of us being at anchor in the waters of South
Carolina, to prevent any breach of the tariff laws. When I had been on
board the Alert about a month, a new cutter called the Jackson, came in
from New York, and being the finest craft on the station, our officers and
crew were transferred to her in a body; our captain being the senior of
all the revenue captains present.

I must have been at least six months in the waters of South Carolina, thus
employed. We never went to sea, but occasionally dropped down as far as
Rebellion Roads. We were not allowed to go ashore, except on rare
occasions, and towards the last, matters got to be so serious, that we
almost looked upon ourselves as in an enemy's country. Commodore Elliott
joined the station in the Natchez sloop-of-war, and the Experiment,
man-of-war schooner, also arrived and remained. After the arrival of the
Natchez, the Commodore took command of all hands of us afloat, and we were
kept in a state of high preparation for service. We were occasionally at
quarters, nights, though I never exactly knew the reasons. It was said
attacks on us were anticipated. General Scott was in the fort, and matters
looked very warlike, for several weeks.

At length we got the joyful news that nullification had been thrown
overboard, and that no more was to be apprehended. It seems that the crews
of the different cutters had been increased for this particular service;
but, now it was over, there were more men employed than Government had
needed. We were told, in consequence, that those among us who wished our
discharges, might have them on application.

I had been long enough in this 'long-shore service, and applied to be
discharged, under this provision. My time was so near out, however, that I
should have got away soon, in regular course.

I now went ashore at Charleston, and had my swig, as long as the money
lasted. I gave myself no trouble about the ship's husband, whose
collar-bone I had broken; nor do I now know whether he was then living, or
dead. In a word, I thought only of the present time; the past and the
future being equally indifferent to me. My old landlord was dead; and I
fell altogether into the hands of a new set. I never took the precaution
to change my name, at any period of my life, with the exception, that I
dropped the Robert, in signing shipping-articles. I also wrote my name
Myers, instead of Meyers, as, I have been informed by my sister, was the
true spelling. But this proceeded from ignorance, and not from intention.
In all times, and seasons, and weathers, and services, I have sailed as
Ned Myers; and as nothing else.

It soon became necessary to ship again; and I went on board the Harriet
and Jesse, which was bound to Havre de Grace. This proved to be a
pleasant, easy voyage; the ship coming back to New York filled with
passengers, who were called Swiss; but most of whom, as I understand, came
from Wurtemberg, Alsace, and the countries on the Rhine. On reaching New
York, I went on to Philadelphia, to obtain the effects I had left there,
when I went out in the Amelia. But my landlord was dead; his family was
scattered; and my property had disappeared. I never knew who got it; but a
quadrant, watch, and some entirely new clothes, went in the wreck. I
suppose I lost, at least, two hundred dollars, in this way. What odds did
it make to me? it would have gone in grog, if it had not gone in
this manner.

I staid but a short time in Philadelphia, joining a brig, called the
Topaz, bound to Havana. We arrived out, after a short passage; and here I
was exposed to as strong a temptation to commit crime, as a poor fellow
need encounter. A beautiful American-built brig, was lying in port, bound
to Africa, for slaves. She was the loveliest craft I ever laid eyes on;
and the very sight of her gave me a longing to go in her. She offered
forty dollars a month, with the privilege of a slave and a half. I went so
far as to try to get on board her; but met with some difficulty, in having
my things seized. The captain found it out; and, by pointing out to me the
danger I ran, succeeded in changing my mind.

I will not deny, that I knew the trade was immoral; but so is smuggling;
and I viewed them pretty much as the same thing, in this sense. I am now
told, that the law of this country pronounces the American citizen, who
goes in a slaver, a pirate; and treats him as such; which, to me, seems
very extraordinary. I do not understand, how a Spaniard can do that, and
be no pirate, which makes an American a pirate, if he be guilty of it. I
feel certain, that very few sailors know in what light the law views
slaving. Now, piracy is robbing, on the high seas, and has always been
contrary to law; but slaving was encouraged by all nations, a short time
since; and we poor tars look upon the change, as nothing but a change in
policy. As for myself, I should have gone in that brig, in utter ignorance
of the risks I ran, and believing myself to be about as guilty, in a moral
sense, as I was when I smuggled tobacco, on the coast of Ireland, or opium
in Canton. [15]

As the Topaz was coming out of the port of Havana, homeward bound, and
just as she was abreast of the Moro, the brig carried away her bobstay. I
was busy in helping to unreeve the stay, when I was seized with sudden and
violent cramps. This attack proved to be the cholera, which came near
carrying me off. The captain had me taken aft, where I was attended with
the greatest care. God be praised for his mercy! I got well, though
scarcely able to do any more duty before we got in.

A short voyage gives short commons; and I was soon obliged to look out for
another craft. This time I shipped in the Erie, Captain Funk, a Havre
liner, and sailed soon after. This was a noble ship, with the best of
usage. Both our passages were pleasant, and give me nothing to relate.
While I was at work in the hold, at Havre, a poor female passenger, who
came to look at the ship, fell through the hatch, and was so much injured
as to be left behind. I mention the circumstance merely to show how near I
was to a meeting with my old shipmate, who is writing these pages, and yet
missed him. On comparing notes, I find he was on deck when this accident
happened, having come to see after some effects he was then shipping to
New York. These very effects I handled, and supposed them to belong to a
passenger who was to come home in the ship; but, as they were addressed to
another name, I could not recognise them. Mr. Cooper did not come home in
the Erie, but passed over to England, and embarked at London, and so I
failed to see him.

In these liners, the captains wish to keep the good men of their crews as
long as they can. We liked the Erie and her captain so much, that eight or
ten of us stuck by the ship, and went out in her again. This time our luck
was not so good. The passage out was well enough, but homeward-bound we
had a hard time of it. While in Havre, too, we had a narrow escape.
Christmas night, a fire broke out in the cabin, and came near smothering
us all, forward, before we knew anything about it. Our chief mate, whose
name was Everdy,[16] saved the vessel by his caution and exertions; the
captain not getting on board until the fire had come to a head. We kept
everything closed until an engine was ready, then cut away the deck, and
sent down the hose This expedient, with a free use of water, saved the
ship. It is not known how the fire originated. A good deal of damage was
done, and some property was lost.

Notwithstanding this accident, we had the ship ready for sea early in
January, 1834. For the first week out, we met with head winds and heavy
weather; so heavy, indeed, as to render it difficult to get rid of the
pilot. The ship beat down channel with him on board, as low as the
Eddystone. Here we saw the Sully, outward bound, running up channel before
the wind. Signals were exchanged, and our ship, which was then well off
the land, ran in and spoke the Sully. We put our pilot on board this ship,
which was doing a good turn all round. The afternoon proving fair, and the
wind moderating, Captain Funk filled and stood in near to the coast, as
his best tack. Towards night, however, the gale freshened, and blew into
the bay, between the Start Point and the Lizard, in a heavy,
steady manner.

The first thing was to ware off shore; after which, we were compelled to
take in nearly all our canvass. The gale continued to increase, and the
night set in dark. There were plenty of ports to leeward, but it was
ticklish work to lose a foot of ground, unless one knew exactly where he
was going. We had no pilot, and the captain decided to hold on. I have
seldom known it to blow harder than it did that night; and, for hours,
everything depended on our main-top-sail's standing, which sail we had set,
close-reefed. I did not see anything to guide us, but the compass, until
about ten o'clock, when I caught a view of a light close on our lee bow.
This was the Eddystone, which stands pretty nearly in a line between the
Start and the Lizard, and rather more than three leagues from the land.
As we headed, we might lay past, should everything stand; but, if our
topsail went, we should have been pretty certain of fetching up on those
famous rocks, where a three-decker would have gone to pieces in an hour's
time in such a gale.

I suppose we passed the Eddystone at a safe distance, or the captain would
not have attempted going to windward of it; but, to me, it appeared that
we were fearfully near. The sea was breaking over the light tremendously,
and could be plainly seen, as it flashed up near the lantern. We went by,
however, surging slowly ahead, though our drift must have been
very material.

The Start, and the point to the westward of it, were still to be cleared.
They were a good way off, and but a little to leeward, as the ship headed.
In smooth water, and with a whole-sail breeze, it would have been easy
enough to lay past the Start, when at the Eddystone, with a south-west
wind; but, in a gale, it is a serious matter, especially on a flood-tide.
I know all hands of us, forward and aft, looked upon our situation as very
grave. We passed several uneasy hours, after we lost sight of the
Eddystone, before we got a view of the land near the Start. When I saw it,
the heights appeared like a dark cloud hanging over us, and I certainly
thought the ship was gone. At this time, the captain and mate consulted
together, and the latter came to us, in a very calm, steady manner, and
said--"Come, boys; we may as well go ashore without masts as with them,
and our only hope is in getting more canvass to stand. We must turn-to,
and make sail on the ship."

Everybody was in motion on this hint, and the first thing we did was to
board fore-tack. The clews of that sail came down as if so many giants had
hold of the tack and sheet. We set it, double-reefed, which made it but a
rag of a sail, and yet the ship felt it directly. We next tried the
fore-topsail, close-reefed, and this stood. It was well we did, for I feel
certain the ship was now in the ground-swell. That black hill seemed
ready to fall on our heads. We tried the mizen-topsail, but we found it
would not do, and we furled it again, not without great difficulty. Things
still looked serious, the land drawing nearer and nearer; and we tried to
get the mainsail, double-reefed, on the ship. Everybody mustered at the
tack and sheet, and we dragged down that bit of cloth as if it had been
muslin. The good ship now quivered like a horse that is over-ridden, but
in those liners everything is strong, and everything stood. I never saw
spray thrown from a ship's bows, as it was thrown from the Erie's that
night. We had a breathless quarter of an hour after the mainsail was set,
everybody looking to see what would go first. Every rope and bolt in the
craft was tried to the utmost, but all stood! At the most critical moment,
we caught a glimpse of a light in a house that was known to stand near the
Start; and the mate came among us, pointed it out, and said, if we
weathered _that_, we should go clear. After hearing this, my eyes were
never off that light, and glad was I to see it slowly drawing more astern,
and more under our lee. At last we got it on our quarter, and knew that we
had gone clear! The gloomy-looking land disappeared to leeward, in a deep,
broad bay, giving us plenty of sea-room.

We now took in canvass, to ease the ship. The mainsail and fore-topsail
were furled, leaving her to jog along under the main-topsail, foresail,
and fore-topmast staysail. I look upon this as one of my narrowest escapes
from shipwreck; and I consider the escape, under the mercy of God, to have
been owing to the steadiness of our officers, and the goodness of the ship
and her outfit. It was like pushing a horse to the trial of every nerve
and sinew, and only winning the race under whip and spur. Wood, and iron,
and cordage, and canvass, can do no more than they did that night.

Next morning, at breakfast, the crew talked the matter over. We had a hard
set in this ship, the men being prime seamen, but of reckless habits and
characters. Some of the most thoughtless among them admitted that they had
prayed secretly for succour, and, for myself, I am most thankful that _I_
did. These confessions were made half-jestingly, but I believe them to
have been true, judging from my own case. It may sound bravely in the ears
of the thoughtless and foolish, to boast of indifference on such
occasions; but, few men can face death under circumstances like those in
which we were placed, without admitting to themselves, however
reluctantly, that there is a Power above, on which they must lean for
personal safety, as well as for spiritual support. More than usual care
was had for the future welfare of sailors among the Havre liners, there
being a mariners' church at Havre, at which our captain always attended,
as well as his mates; and efforts were made to make us go also. The effect
was good, the men being better behaved, and more sober, in consequence.

The wind shifted a day or two after this escape, giving us a slant that
carried us past Scilly, fairly out into the Atlantic. A fortnight or so
after our interview with the Eddystone we carried away the pintals of the
rudder, which was saved only by the modern invention that prevents the
head from dropping, by means of the deck. To prevent the strain, and to
get some service from the rudder, however, we found it necessary to sling
the latter, and to breast it into the stern-post by means of purchases. A
spar was laid athwart the coach-house, directly over the rudder, and we
rove a chain through the tiller-hole, and passed it over this spar. For
this purpose the smallest chain-cable was used, the rudder being raised
from the deck by means of sheers. We then got a set of chain-topsail
sheets, parcelled them well, and took a clove hitch with them around the
rudder, about half-way up. One end was brought into each main-chain, and
set up by tackles. In this manner the wheel did tolerably well, though we
had to let the ship lie-to in heavy weather.

The chain sheets held on near a month, and then gave way. On examination,
it was found that the parcelling had gone under the ship's counter, and
that the copper had nearly destroyed the iron. After this, we mustered all
the chains of the ship, of proper size, parcelled them very thoroughly,
got another clove hitch around the rudder as before, and brought the ends
to the hawse-holes, letting the bights fall, one on each side of the
ship's keel. The ends were next brought to the windlass and hove taut.
This answered pretty well, and stood until we got the ship into New York.
Our whole passage was stormy, and lasted seventy days, as near as I can
recollect. The ship was almost given up when we got in, and great was the
joy at our arrival.

As the Erie lost her turn, in consequence of wanting repairs, most of us
went on board the Henry IVth, in the same line. This voyage was
comfortable, and successful, a fine ship and good usage. On our return to
New York most of us went back to the Erie, liking both vessel and captain,
as well as her other officers. I went twice more to Havre and back in this
ship, making four voyages in her in all. At the end of the fourth voyage
our old mate left us, to do business ashore, and we took a dislike to his
successor, though it was without trying him. The mate we lost had been a
great favourite, and we seemed to think if he went we must go too. At any
rate, nearly all hands went to the Silvie de Grasse, where we got another
good ship, good officers, and good treatment. In fact, all these Havre
liners were very much alike in these respects, the Silvie de Grasse being
the fourth in which I had then sailed, and to me they all seemed as if
they belonged to the same family. I went twice to Havre in this ship also,
when I left her for the Normandy, in the same line. I made this change in
consequence of an affair about some segars in Havre, in which I had no
other concern than to father another man's fault. The captain treated me
very handsomely, but my temperament is such that I am apt to fly off in a
tangent when anything goes up stream. It was caprice that took me from the
Silvie de Grasse, and put me in her sister-liner.

I liked the Normandy as well as the rest of these liners, except that the
vessel steered badly. I made only one voyage in her, however, as will be
seen in the next chapter.

James Fenimore Cooper

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