C H A P T E R  I X

The Building of the Liberdade.

Away, away, no cloud is lowering o'er us,
  Freely now we stem the wave;
Hoist, hoist all sail, before us
  Hope's beacon shines to cheer the brave.

WHEN all had been saved from the wreck that was worth saving, or that could be saved, we found ourselves still in the possession of some goods soon to become of great value to us, especially my compass and charts which, though much damaged, were yet serviceable and suggested practical usefulness; and the chronometer being found intact, my course was no longer undecided, my wife and sons agreeing with what I thought best.

The plan, in a word, was this: We could not beg our way, neither would we sit idle among the natives. We found that it would require more courage to remain in the far-off country than to return home in a boat, which then we concluded to build and for that purpose.1

My son Victor, with much pride and sympathy, entered heartily into the plan, which promised a speedy return home. He bent his energies in a practical direction, working on the boat like an old builder.

Before entering on the project, however, all responsibilities were considered. Swift ocean currents around capes and coral reefs were taken into account; and above all else to be called dangerous we knew would be the fierce tropical storms which surely we would encounter.

But a boat should be built stout and strong, we all said, one in which we should not be afraid to trust our lives even in the storm.

And with the advantage of experience in ships and boats of various sizes and in many seas, I turned to the work of constructing, according to my judgment and means, a craft which would be best adapted to all weathers and all circumstances. My family with sympathetic strength pulling hard in the same direction.

Seaworthiness was to be the first and most prominent feature in our microscopic ship; next to this good quality she should sail well; at least before free winds. We counted on favourable winds; and so they were experienced the greater part of the voyage that soon followed.

Long exposures and many and severe disappointments by this time, I found, had told on health and nerve, through long quarantines, expensive fumigations, and ruinous doctors' visits, which had swept my dollars into hands other than mine. However, with still a "shot in the locker," and with some feelings of our own in the matter of how we should get home, I say, we set to work with tools saved from the wreck – a meagre kit – and soon found ourselves in command of another ship, which I will describe the building of, also the dimensions and the model and rig, first naming the tools with which it was made.

To begin with, we had an axe, an adze, and two saws, one ½-inch auger, one 6/8 and one 3/8 auger-bit; two large sail-needles, which we converted into nailing bits; one roper, that answered for a punch; and, most precious of all, a file that we found in an old sail-bag washed up on the beach. A square we readily made. Two splints of bamboo wood served as compasses. Charcoal, pounded as fine as flour and mixed in water, took the place of chalk for the line; the latter we had on hand. In cases where holes larger than the 6/8 bit were required, a piece of small jack-stay iron was heated, and with this we could burn a hole to any size required. So we had, after all, quite a kit to go on with. Clamps, such as are used by boat builders, we had not, but made substitutes from the crooked guava tree and from massaranduba wood.

Trees from the neighbouring forest were felled when the timber from the wrecked cargo would not answer. Some of these woods that we sought for special purposes had queer sounding names, such as arregebah, guanandee, batetenandinglastampai, etc. This latter we did not use the saw upon at all, it being very hard, but hewed it with the axe, bearing in mind that we had but one file, whereas for the edged tools we had but to go down to a brook hard by to find stones in abundance suitable to sharpen them on.

The many hindrances encountered in the building of the boat will not be recounted here. Among the least was a jungle fever, from which we suffered considerably. But all that and all other obstacles vanished at last, or became less, before a new energy which grew apace with the boat, and the building of the craft went rapidly forward. There was no short day system, but we rested on the Sabbath, or surveyed what we had done through the week, and made calculations of what and how to strike on the coming week.

The unskilled part of the labour, such as sawing the cedar planks, of which she was mostly made, was done by the natives, who saw in a rough fashion, always leaving much planing and straightening to be done, in order to adjust the timber to a suitable shape. The planks for the bottom were of ironwood, 1¼ x 10 inches. For the sides and top red cedar was used, each plank, with the exception of two, reaching the whole length of the boat. This arrangement of exceedingly heavy wood in the bottom, and the light on top, contributed much to the stability of the craft.

The ironwood was heavy as stone, while the cedar, being light and elastic, lent buoyancy and suppleness, all that we could wish for.

The fastenings we gathered up in various places, some from the bulwarks of the wreck, some from the hinges of doors and skylights, and some were made from the ship's metal sheathing, which the natives melted and cast into nails. Pure copper nails, also, were procured from the natives, some ten kilos, for which I paid in copper coins, at the rate of two kilos of coin for one kilo of nails. The same kind of coins, called dumps, cut into diamond-shaped pieces, with holes punched through them, entered into the fastenings as burrs for the nails. A number of small eyebolts from the spankerboom of the wreck were turned to account for lashing bolts in the deck of the new vessel. The nails, when too long, were cut to the required length, taking care that the ends which were cut off should not be wasted, but remelted, along with the metal sheathing, into other nails.

Some carriage bolts, with nuts, which I found in the country, came in very handy; these I adjusted to the required length, when too long, by slipping on blocks of wood of the required thickness to take up the surplus length, putting the block, of course, on the inside, and counter-sinking the nut flush with the planks on the outside; then screwing from the inside outward, they were drawn together, and there held as in a vice, the planks being put together "lap-streak" fashion, which without doubt is the strongest way to build a boat.

These screw-bolts, seventy in number, as well as the copper nails, cost us dearly, but wooden pegs, with which also she was fastened, cost only the labour of being made. The lashings, too, that we used here and there about the frame of the cabin, cost next to nothing, being made from the fibrous bark of trees, which could be had in abundance by the stripping of it off. So, taking it by and large, our materials were not expensive, the principal item being the timber, which cost about three cents per superficial foot, sawed or hewed. Rosewood, ironwood, cedar or mahogany, were all about the same price and very little in advance of common wood; so of course we selected always the best, the labour of shaping being least, sometimes, where the best materials were used.

These various timbers and fastenings, put together as best we could shape and join them, made a craft sufficiently strong and seaworthy to withstand all the buffetings on the main upon which, in due course, she was - launched.

The hull being completed, by various other contrivances and makeshifts in which, sometimes, the "wooden blacksmith" was called in to assist, and the mother of invention also lending a hand, fixtures were made which served as well on the voyage as though made in a dockyard and at great cost.

My builders baulked at nothing, and on the 13th day of May, the day on which the slaves of Brazil were set free, our craft was launched, and we named Liberdade (Liberty).

Her dimensions being – 35 feet in length over all, 7½, feet breadth of beam, and 3 feet depth of hold. Who shall say that she was not large enough? Her model I got from my recollections of Cape Ann dories and from a photo of a very elegant Japanese sampan which I had before me on the spot, so, as it might be expected, when finished she resembled both types of vessel in some degree.

Her rig was the Chinese sampan style, which is, I consider, the most convenient boat rig in the whole world.

This was the boat, or canoe I prefer to call it, in which we purposed to sail for North America and home. Each one had been busy during the construction and past misfortunes had all been forgotten. Madam had made the sails – and very good sails they were, too!

Victor, the carpenter, ropemaker, and general roustabout, had performed his part. Our little man, Garfield, too, had found employment in holding the hammer to clinch the nails and giving much advice on the coming voyage. All were busy, I say, and no one had given a thought of what we were about to encounter from the port officials farther up the coast; it was pretended by them that a passport could not be granted to so small a craft to go on so long a voyage as the contemplated one to North America.

Then fever returned to the writer and the constructor of the little craft, and I was forced to go to bed, remaining there three days. Finally, it came to my mind that in part of a medicine chest, which had been saved from the wreck, was stored some arsenicum, I think it is called. Of this I took several doses (small ones at first, you may be sure), and the good effect of the deadly poison on the malaria in my system was soon felt trickling through my veins. Increasing the doses somewhat, I could perceive the beneficial effect hour by hour, and in a few days I had quite recovered from the malady. Absurd as it was to have the judgment of sailors set on by pollywog navigators, we had still to submit, the pollywogs being numerous.

About this time – as the astrologers say – a messenger came down from the Alfandega (Custom House), asking me to repair thither at midday on the morrow. This filled me with alarm. True, the messenger had delivered his message in the politest possible manner, but that signified nothing, since Brazilians are always polite. This thing, small as it seems now, came near sending me back to the fever.

What had I done?

I went up next day, after having nightmare badly all night, prepared to say that I wouldn't do it again! The kind administrator I found, upon presenting myself at his office, had no fault to charge me with; but had a good word, instead. "The little Liberdade," he observed, had attracted the notice of his people and his own curiosity, as being "a handsome and well-built craft." This and many other flattering expressions were vented, at which I affected surprise, but secretly said, "I think you are right, sir, and you have good taste, too, if you are a customs officer."

The drift of this flattery, to make a long story short, was to have me build a boat for the Alfandega, or, his government not allowing money to build new – pointing to one which certainly would require new keel, planks, ribs, stems, and stern-post – "could I not repair one?"

To this proposition I begged time to consider. Flattering as the officer's words were, and backed by the offer of liberal pay, so long as the boat could be "repaired," I still had no mind to remain in the hot country, and risk getting the fever again. But there was the old hitch to be gotten over; namely, the passport, on which, we thought, depended our sailing.

However, to expedite matters, a fishing licence was hit upon, and I wondered why I had not thought of that before, having been, once upon a time, a fisherman myself. Heading thence on a new diplomatic course, I commenced to fit ostensibly for a fishing voyage. To this end, a fishing net was made, which would be a good thing to have, anyway. Then hooks and lines were rigged and a cable made. This cable, or rope, was formed from vines that grow very long on the sandbanks just above tide water, several of which twisted together make a very serviceable rope, then being light and elastic, it is especially adapted for a boat anchor rope, or for the storm drag. Ninety fathoms of this rope was made for us by the natives, for the sum of ten milreis ($5.00).

The anchor came of itself almost. I had made a wooden one from heavy sinking timber, but a stalwart ranchman coming along, one day, brought a boat anchor with him which, he said, had been used by his slaves as a pot-hook. "But now that they are free and away," said he, "I have no further use for the crooked thing." A sewing-machine, which had served to stitch the sails together, was coveted by him, and was of no further use to us; in exchange for this the prized anchor was readily secured, the owner of it leaving us some boot into the bargain. Things working thus in our favour, the wooden anchor was stowed away to be kept as a spare bower.

These arrangements completed, our craft took on the appearance of a fishing smack, and I began to feel somewhat in my old element, with no fear of the lack of ways and means when we should arrive on our own coast, where I knew of fishing banks. And a document which translated read: "A licence to catch fish inside and outside of the bar" was readily granted by the port authorities.

"How far outside the bar may this carry us ? " I asked

"Quien sabe!" said the officer. (Literally translated; "Who knows?" but in Spanish or Portuguese used for, "Nobody knows, or, I don't care.")

"Adieu, señor," said the polite official; "we will meet in heaven !"

This meant you can go since you insist upon it, but I must not officially know of it; and you will probably go to the bottom. In this he and many others were mistaken.

Having the necessary document now in our possession, we commenced to take in stores for the voyage, as follows: Sea-biscuits, 120 lbs.; flour, 25 lbs.; sugar, 30 lbs.; coffee, 9 lbs., which, roasted black and pounded fine as wheaten flour, was equal to double the amount as prepared in North America, and afforded us a much more delicious cup.

Of tea we had 3 lbs.; pork, 20 lbs.; dried beef, 100 lbs.; baccalao secca (dried codfish), 20 lbs.; 2 bottles of honey, 200 oranges, 6 bunches of bananas, 120 gallons of water; also a small basket of yams, and a dozen sticks of sugar-cane, by way of vegetables.

Our medicine chest contained Brazil nuts, pepper, and cinnamon; no other medicines or condiments were required on the voyage, except table salt, which we also had.

One musket and a carbine – which had already stood us in good stead – together with ammunition and three cutlasses were stowed away for last use, to be used, nevertheless, in case of necessity.

The light goods I stowed in the ends of the canoe, the heavier in the middle and along the bottom, thus economizing space and lending to the stability of the canoe. Over the top of the midship stores a floor was made, which, housed over by a tarpaulin roof reaching three feet above the deck of the canoe, supported by a frame of bamboo, gave us sitting space of four feet from the floor to the roof, and twelve feet long amidships. This arrangement of cabin in the centre gave my passengers a berth where the least motion would be felt; even this is saying but little, for best we could do to avoid it we had still to accept much tossing from the waves.

Precautionary measures were taken in everything, so far as our resources and skill could reach. The springy and buoyant bamboo was used wherever stick of any kind was required, such as the frame and braces for the cabin, yards for the sails, and, finally, for guard on her top sides, making the canoe altogether a self-righting one, in case of a capsize. Each joint in the bamboo was an air-chamber of several pounds buoyant capacity, and we had a thousand joints.

The most important of our stores, particularly the flour, bread, and coffee, were hermetically sealed, so that if actually turned over at sea, our craft would not only right herself, but would bring her stores right side up, in good order, and it then would be only a question of baling her out, and of setting her again on her course, when we would come on as right as ever. As it turned out, however, no such trial or mishap awaited us.

While the possibility of many and strange occurrences was felt by all of us, the danger which loomed most in little Garfield's mind was that of the sharks.

A fine specimen was captured on the voyage, showing five rows of pearly teeth, as sharp as lances.

Some of these monsters, it is said, have nine rows of teeth; that they are always hungry is admitted by sailors of great experience.

How it is that sailors can go bathing, as they often do, in the face of a danger so terrible, is past my comprehension. Their business is to face danger, to be sure, but this is a needless exposure, for which the penalty is sometimes a life. The second mate of a bark on the coast of Cuba, not long ago, was bitten in twain, and the portions swallowed whole by a monster shark that he had tempted in this way. The shark was captured soon after, and the poor fellow's remains taken out of the revolting maw. Leaving the sharks where they are, I gladly return to the voyage of the Liberdade.

1 This alternative I was obliged to accept, or bring my family home as paupers, for my wealth was gone – need I explain more? This explanation has been forced from me.