IT was blowing hard on the day of our departure from Bahia, and we sailed down the bay under mizzen and head sails, so as to see what it was like outside before hoisting our mainsail.
A high sea was running on the bars and while the yacht was tumbling about in the broken water an accident happened to Wright. He was preparing our tea when a lurch of the vessel capsized a kettle of boiling water, the whole contents of which poured over his hands and wrists, scalding them severely, and causing intense pain; so that we had to administer a strong sleeping-draught to the poor fellow, after the usual remedies had been applied to the scalded parts. He was on the sick list for a long time, and was, of course, incapable of doing work of any description during this voyage; though, as soon as he got a bit better, it worried him to think that he was of no use, and he insisted, though his hands were bandaged up, in trying to steer with his arms.
This accident made us still more short-handed. There were but three of us left to work the vessel. Luckily, I had one good man with me, in the person of Ted Milner, who not only did the cooking, but worked hard on deck during my watch as well as on the other, and was very cheery over it all the while, too.
When we were outside we took two reefs down in the mainsail before hoisting it, and close-reefed the foresail, for it was evident that we were for a spell of squally weather.
We had better luck now than during our previous attempt at reaching Trinidad, for the wind, instead of bemg right ahead from the south-east, kept shifting backwards and forwards between north and east, so that we could always lay our course on the port tack, and could often do so with our sheets well off. But the wind was squally and uncertain, and for much of the time the sea was rough, so that we were eight days reaching the island.
At dawn on January 29th we sighted Trinidad right ahead, and in the afternoon we were about two miles off, opposite to the Ninepin rock. It was blowing hard from the east, and the sea was, I think, running higher than on any occasion since we left Southampton. The surf on the island was far heavier than we had ever seen it before, and was breaking on every portion of the coast with great fury.
We now ran before the wind towards South-west Bay, and the squalls that occasionally swept down the ravines were so fierce that we sailed with foresail down and the tack of our reefed mainsail triced well up. We saw that the seas were dashing completely over the pier and sending great fountains of spray high Into the air. When we opened out South-west Bay the scene before us was terribly grand. Huge green rollers, with plumes of snowy spray, were breaking on the sandy beach; and the waves were dashing up the sides of Noah's Ark and the Sugarloaf to an immense height, the cliffs being wet with spray quite 200 feet up. The loud roaring of the seas was echoed by the mountains, and the frequent squalls whistled and howled frightfully among the crags, so that even the wild sea-birds were alarmed at the commotion of the elements; for they had risen in multitudes from all the rocks around the bay, and were flying hither and thither in a scared fashion, while their melancholy cries added to the weirdness of the general effect.
And once more we saw before us, high above the sea-foam, our little camp, with its three tents, and the whale-boat hauled up on the sands not far off with its white canvas cover stretched over it; but we were surprised to see no men about: the camp appeared to be deserted.
It was, obviously, impossible for the shore-party to launch the boat with so high a sea running, neither could we approach within signalling distance of the beach, so that there was no chance of our being able to communicate with our friends for the present. I also saw that it would be highly imprudent, if not impossible, to come to an anchor off the cascade with the yacht. There was to be no harbour for us just yet, and the only thing to be done was to put to sea and heave-to until the weather improved.
We did not anticipate that we should have to wait long for this improvement; but, as it turned out, we had to remain hove-to for eight days, before the state of the sea permitted the boat to come onto us, during which time the bananas, pumpkins, and other luxuries of the sort, which we had brought from Bahia for the working party, began to spoil, and we had to eat them ourselves to save them; so that, when at last the men boarded us, we had but little left for them of the fresh fruit and vegetables which were so grateful to them, though of oatmeal and other provisions there was an ample store.
We soon discovered that it was much better in every way for the yacht to be hove-to than to be lying at anchor off Trinidad. To strain at her chain in an ocean swell must be injurious even to such a strong vessel as the Alerte; and, as I have said, we did pull one hawse-pipe nearly out of her on the occasion that the chain got foul of the rocks at the bottom, thus giving her a short nip. Even in fine weather we experienced a lot of wear and tear; for the yacht used to swing first in one direction, then In another, as the various flaws of wind struck her so that the chain was constantly getting round her stem, and we found that a large piece of her copper had been worn away in this manner, just below the water-line.
Had I fully realized before the great advantages of heaving-to, I do not think I should have ever let go my anchor at all here; but, in that case, I should have been compelled to remain on board all the while, and would not have had my fortnight's stay in camp. To remain hove-to off this lee side of the island is a very easy matter. Our method was to sail out to sea from South-west Bay until we had got out of the baffling local squalls into the steady breeze, and then we hove-to under reefed mainsail, small jib with sheet to windward, and helm lashed. The yacht then looked after herself; and, as the wind was always more or less off shore and the current was setting to the south, she would drift away about twelve miles In the night towards the open sea, always remaining right opposite our bay, so that those on shore could see us at daybreak. We divided ourselves into three watches at night, one man being sufficient for a watch, for he never had anything to do but look out for the passing vessels. Hove-to as we were under such short canvas the fiercest squall we ever encountered had no effect on the vessel, and she was in every way very comfortable.
In the morning we would hoist the foresail and tack towards South-west Bay, so as to attempt communication with the shore; if that were impossible, we hove-to once more, to drift slowly seawards; and we repeated this process several times in the course of a day, before we finally sailed out for our night's rest on the bosom of the ocean.
We could sail into South-west Bay until we were abreast of the Sugarloaf, but no farther; we were then at least a mile and a quarter from the camp, and it was difficult to read the signals of the shore-party at thee distance, as the flags they had with them were of a small size.
To have approached nearer than this would have been a very risky proceeding; for, though we might have succeeded in getting some way farther in, and out again, with safety, time after time, the day would most assuredly have come when a serious accident would have happened. For, as soon as the yacht had sailed across the line connecting the two extreme points of the bay, the high cliffs diverted the wind so that it was only felt occasionally, and then in short squalls, from various directions; and between these baffling squalls were long spells of calm, during which the vessel would drift helplessly before the swell towards the surf under the cliffs, or would be carried by the southerly current towards the lava reefs off South Point, in both cases at imminent risk of destruction. And even when the squalls did come down to render assistance, they shifted so suddenly that the sails were taken aback two or three times in as many minutes, so that all way, was lost, or even stern way was got on the vessel, and one lost control over her at a critical moment.
The Alerte sailed into that bay a great many times without mishap; but there were anxious moments now and then, and I was always glad to escape out of this treacherous trap to the open sea, clear of the rocks and squalls, with deep water round, and a comparatively steady wind to help me.
We remained thus, standing off and on, and hove-to, during the rest of our stay at Trinidad. Our anchor was never let go here again. We had been lucky with our weather when we first arrived at the island, and had successively landed our working party and stores, and our whale-boat had been beached in South-west Bay a good many times, without serious accident, though very seldom without risk. But now all this was changed. High seas and squally weather were the rule during the eighteen days we remained hove-to: for the first eight days, as I have said, we were unable to hold communication with the shore; and, after that, there were but few occasions on which we could beach the boat, and then this feat was generally attended with a capsize, loss of property, and risk of life. But, fortunately, as will be seen, the two days preceding our final departure from the islet were fine, and we were thus enabled to carry off our tents and other stores. Had it not been for this short spell of calm, we should probably have been compelled to leave behind everything we possessed.
The fine season here is in the southern summer — our winter. In winter — especially in the months of June, July, and August — landing on Trinidad is almost always impossible. Strong winds and heavy rains then prevail, while the seas run high. It is possible that the fine weather was now beginning to break up, and that when we sailed from the island — February 15th — the stormy autumn season was setting in.
The ship's log for this period presents a monotonous repetition of vain attempts at boating, as the following short record of our proceedings for the first eight days will show. It will be remembered that we arrived off the island and hove-to on the evening of January 29th.
January 30th.— Sailed into South-west Bay after breakfast. Though we saw the camp standing as we had left it, could not perceive any men, neither had we done so on the previous day. Wonder if, for some reason or other, the shore-party have left the island, and been carried away by a passing vessel? Drift out of bay and heave-to. In afternoon sail into bay again. This time are glad to see all the men walking down to the beach. We signal for news. They reply, "All well" and "Too rough for boating." We signal that we have brought them some letters from Bahia. When outside bay heave-to for night.
January 31st.— At dawn ten miles off island. Tack towards island. Sea high; squally. Sail into bay. No signals from shore. We conclude it is too rough for boating, and that the men are at work in the ravine. In afternoon sail again into bay. No signals. Heave-to for night, as before.
February 1st.— Sail into bay in morning. See the men on shore taking the cover off the whale-boat, as if with the intention of coming off. They drag her down to the edge of the sea. We cannot now distinguish them, so cannot tell whether they have launched the boat or not, or whether they have capsized, or what may have happened. All is hidden from us for some time; then we see them hauling the boat up the beach again. They have evidently abandoned the attempt as too dangerous. Very squally. While hove-to, drive a long way from island. In evening, sail towards the bay again and heave-to for night.
February 2nd.— Heavy showers of rain obscuring island from our view. Enter bay in morning. It being Sunday no work is done in the ravine, but the shore-party make many fruitless attempts at launching the boat during the day. We stand in and out of the bay all day, watching the proceedings of those on shore through our glasses. On several occasions the men draw the boat down to the edge of the sea, disappear from our sight for a time, and at last reappear hauling the boat up again. They persevere despite repeated failures. Think they have capsized once at least, as they are baling the boat out on the beach. At last, at 4 p.m., they give up the attempt as hopeless, and hoist the signal: "Impossible to launch life-boat." We exchange several signals, but find it difficult to distinguish their small flags from the yacht. At sunset we sail out to sea and heave-to. Choppy sea. Tumble about a good deal. Stormy-looking sky.
February 3rd.— This morning very clear, so see distinctly for first time the three rocky islets of Martin Vas, distant about twenty-five miles from Trinidad, bearing east. Sail into bay. Again several vain attempts to launch boat. Heave-to. Drift this night upwards of fifteen miles from island.
February 4th.— Sail into bay. Still high surf. A signal flying on shore which we cannot distinguish, so sail somewhat nearer in. Are becalmed under Sugarloaf. Then a squall — then taken aback by another squall — then calm again. We drift towards Noah's Ark, up whose face the sea is breaking fifty or sixty feet high. Another squall; wear vessel and clear out of bay. A very squally day, with baffling winds making it more than usually dangerous to enter the bay.
At last, on February 5th, after having made three vain attempts to cross the barrier of tumbling surf, the whale-boat was successfully launched, and we saw her come out safely from the line of breakers at the end of the bay; then the men pulled away towards us, visible one moment as the boat rose to the top of the swell, and hidden the next moment from our sight by the rollers as she sank into the valleys between them
We sailed into the bay to meet her, and hove-to abreast of the Sugarloaf. The boat came nearer, and we saw that the doctor, Powell, Pursell, and the two black men were in her. It was now thirty-eight days since we had last seen our companions. They all looked gaunt and haggard, and were clad in flannel shirts and trousers, ragged and earth-stained from the work in the ravine.
But they were the same cheery boys as ever, as I discovered by the jovial manner of their greeting as soon as they were within hail. "Hullo!" sang out the doctor, "what vessel's that, and where do you come from? I am the doctor of the port here. Hand over your bill of health, that I may see whether you can have pratique."
"And I am the governor of this island of Trinidad," cried Powell, with affable pompousness, from under an extraordinary hat that had been manufactured by himself, apparently out of the remains of old hampers and birds' nests; "will you do me the honour of dining with me at Government House to-night? I shall be glad to learn from you how the revolution is progressing in our neighbouring State of Brazil. I was just on the point of sending out my squadron here" — patting the whale-boat on the side — "to Bahia, to look after the interests of any of our subjects who may be there."
It was startling for us to kind that these dwellers on a desert island had already heard of the Brazilian revolution, and we were still more amazed when they proved to us that they were well informed as to all that had been going on in the outer world. We had been looking forward to imparting the latest news to them, but lo! all that we had to tell was stale to them They kept us in a state of mystification for some time before they revealed the source of this marvellous knowledge, and the only information that Powell would vouchsafe us on the subject was to the effect that: "We found it slow here without the newspapers at breakfast, and have established telegraphic communication with England. All the latest racing intelligence comes through the tape in the doctor's tent." But before asking any questions we greeted our long-absent friends. They came on board and had a good square meal, such as they had not enjoyed for a long time, with red wine, cigars, and other luxuries, and after this we sat down to a long yarn and an exchange of news.