C H A P T E R  X

Across the bar – The run to Santos – Tow to Rio by the steamship – At Rio

THE efficiency of our canoe was soon discovered: On the 24th of June, after having sailed about the bay some few days to temper our feelings to the new craft, and shake things into place, we crossed the bar and stood out to sea, while six vessels lay inside "barbound," that is to say by their pilots it was thought too rough to venture out, and they, the pilots, stood on the point as we put out to sea, crossing themselves on our behalf, and shouting that the bar was crudo. But the Liberdade stood her course, the crew never regretting it.

The wind from the sou'west at the time was the moderating side of a pampeiro which had brought in a heavy swell from the ocean, that broke and thundered on the bar with deafening roar and grand display of majestic effort.

But our little ship bounded through the breakers like a fish – as natural to the elements, and as free!

Of all the seas that broke furiously about her that day, often standing her on end, not one swept over or even boarded her, and she finally came through the storm of breakers in triumph. Then squaring away before the wind she spread her willing sails, and flew onward like a bird.

It required confidence and some courage to face the first storm in so small a bark, after having been years in large ships; but it would have required more courage than was possessed by any of us to turn back, since thoughts of home had taken hold on our minds.

Then, too, the old boating trick came back fresh to me, the love of the thing itself gaining on me as the little ship stood out: and my crew with one voice said: "Go on." The heavy South Atlantic swell rolling in upon the coast, as we sped along, toppled over when it reached the ten-fathom line, and broke into roaring combers, which forbade our nearer approach to the land.

Evidently, our safest course was away from the shore, and out where the swelling seas, though grand, were regular, and raced under our little craft that danced like a mite on the ocean as she drove forward. In twenty-four hours from the time Paranagua bar was crossed we were up with Santos Heads, a run of 150 miles.

A squall of wind burst on us through a gulch, as we swept round the Heads, tearing our sails into shreds, and sending us into Santos under bare poles.

Chancing then upon an old friend, the mail steamship Finance, Capt. Baker, about to sail for Rio, the end of a friendly line was extended to us, and we were towed by the stout steamer toward Rio, the next day, as fast as we could wish to go. My wife and youngest sailor took passage on the steamer, while Victor remained in the canoe with me, and stood by with axe in hand, to cut the tow-line, if the case should require it – and I steered.

"Look out," said Baker, as the steamer began to move ahead, "look out that I don't snake that canoe out from under you."

"Go on with your mails, Baker," was all I could say, "don't blow up your ship with my wife and son on board, and I will look out for the packet on the other end of the rope."

Baker opened her up to thirteen knots, but the Liberdade held on!

The line that we towed with was 1/3 inches in diameter, by ninety fathoms long. This, at times when the steamer surged over seas, leaving the canoe on the opposite side of a wave astern, would become as taut as a harp-string. At other times it would slacken and sink limp in a bight, under the forefoot, but only for a moment, however, when the steamer's next great plunge ahead would snap it taut again, pulling us along with a heavy, trembling jerk. Under the circumstances, straight steering was imperative, for a sheer to port or starboard would have finished the career of the Liberdade, by sending her under the sea. Therefore, the trick of twenty hours fell to me – the oldest and most experienced helmsman. But I was all right and not overfatigued until Baker cast oil upon the "troubled waters." I soon got tired of that.

Victor was under the canvas covering, with the axe still in hand, ready to cut the line which was so arranged that he could reach it from within, and cut instantly, if by mischance the canoe should take a sheer.

I was afraid that the lad would become sleepy, and putting his head "under his wing" for a nap, would forget his post, but my frequent cry, "Stand by there, Victor," found him always on hand, though complaining somewhat of the dizzy motion.

Heavy sprays dashed over me at the helm, which, however, seeming to wash away the sulphur and brimstone smoke of many a quarantine, brought enjoyment to my mind.

Confused waves rose about us, high and dangerous – often high above the gunwale of the canoe – but her shapely curves balanced her well, and she rode over them all in safety.

This canoe ride was thrilling and satisfactory to us all. It proved beyond a doubt that we had in this little craft a most extraordinary sea-boat, for the tow was a thorough test of her seaworthiness.

The captain of the steamer ordered oil cast over from time to time, relieving us of much spray and sloppy motion, but adding to discomforts of taste to me at the helm, for much of the oil blew over me and in my face. Said the captain to one of his mates (an old whaler by the way, and whalers for some unaccountable reason have never too much regard for a poor merchantman), "Mr. Smith."

"Aye, aye, sir," answered old Smith.

"Mr. Smith, hoist out that oil."

"Aye, aye, sir," said the old "blubberhunter," in high glee, as he went about it with alacrity, and in less than five minutes from the time the order w as given, I was smothering in grease and our boat was oiled from keel to truck.

"She's all right now," said Smith.

"That's all right," said Baker, but I thought it all wrong. The wind, meanwhile, was in our teeth, and before we crossed Rio bar I had swallowed enough oil to cure any amount of consumption.

Baker, I have heard, said he wouldn't care much if he should "drown Slocum." But I was all right so long as the canoe didn't sheer, and we arrived at Rio safe and sound after the most exciting boat-ride of my life. I was bound not to cut the line that towed us so well; and I knew that Baker wouldn't let it go, for it was his rope.

I found at Rio that my fishing licence could be exchanged for a pass of greater import. This document had to be procured through the officer of the Minister of Marine.

Many a smart linguist was ready to use his influence on my behalf with the above-named high official; but I found at the end of a month that I was making headway about as fast as a Dutch galliot in a head sea after the wind had subsided. Our worthy consul, General H. Clay Armstrong, gave me a hint of what the difficulty was and how to obviate it. I then went about the business myself as I should have done at first, and I found those at the various departments who were willing to help me without the intervention of outside "influence."

Commander Marquis of the Brazilian navy recommended me to his Excellency, the Minister of Marine, "out of regard," he said, "for American seamen," and when the new document came it was "Passe Especial," and had on it a seal as big as a soup plate. A port naval officer then presented me to the good Administradore, who also gave me a passe especial, with the seal of the Allfandega.

I had now only to procure a bill of health, when I should have papers enough for a man-o'-war. Rio being considered a healthy place, this was readily granted, making our equipment complete.

I met here our minister whose office, with other duties, is to keep a weather-eye lifting in the interest of that orphan, the American ship – alas, my poor relation! Said he, "Captain, if your Liberdadc be as good as your papers" (documents given me by the Brazilian officials), "you may get there all right"; adding, "well, if the boat ever reaches home she will be a great curiosity," the meaning of which, I could readily infer, was, "and your chances for a snap in a dime museum will be good." This, after many years of experience as an American shipmaster, and also shipowner, in a moderate way, was interesting encouragement. By our Brazilian friends, however, the voyage was looked upon as a success already achieved.

The utmost confidence [said the "Journal Opiz," of Rio] is placed in the cool-headed, audacious American mariner, and we expect in a short time to hear proclaimed in all of the journals of the Old and New World the safe arrival of this wonderful little craft at her destination, ourselves taking part in the glory. (Temos confianca na pericia e sangue frio do audaciauso marinhero Americano por isso esperamos que dentro em pouco tempo veremos o seu nome proclamado por todos os jornaes do velho e novo mundo. A nos tambem cabera parse da gloria.)
With these and like kind expressions from all of our friends, we took leave of Rio, sailing on the morning of July 23rd, 1888.