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    Chapter 9

    Allowance of Water — Casting Cargo into the Sea — Allowance of Provisions — Terrible Storm — Gulf Stream — Dead Calm and Rushing Hurricane — The Cook’s Prayer — Silent Agony — Wallowing between the Seas — More Respecting the Gale — Leak Increasing — Supply of Provisions — Council — Bear up for the West Indies — Reported — Safe Arrival in the West Indies.

    OUR heavy cargo of iron, and prevailing westerly gales, caused our ship to labor so incessantly that she began to leak very freely. We got up about twenty tons of iron and secured it on the upper deck. This eased her laboring some, but still the westerly gales prevailed, and we gained westward but slowly. At length Capt. Hitch said, “We must come on an allowance of water;” and asked how much I thought we could begin with. I answered, “Two quarts per day.” “Two quarts of water per day!” said he, “why, I never drank two quarts of water a day in my life. I drink two cups of coffee in the morning, and two cups of tea at night, and two or three glasses of grog during the day [temperance societies were not known then], and that is about all I drink.” Said he, “I have been following the sea for about thirty years, and never have yet been put on an allowance.” I had not been so fortunate, but had been on an allowance of food five years, and several months on a short allowance of water. I said to Capt. H., “The very idea of being on an allowance of water will increase your desire for more.” Well, he knew nothing about that, but said, “We will wait a little longer, for I don’t believe I ever drank two quarts a day.”LELJB 113.2

    As we were still hindered in our progress, and the ship was increasing her leak, Capt. H. said, “It is your morning watch to-morrow, I think you had better begin to measure out the water, and fasten up the water-casks.” “Very well, sir,” said I, “but how much shall I measure for each man?” “Well, begin with two quarts.” This was done, and the captain’s two quarts were taken to the cabin. As I was walking the deck about 7 o’clock in the evening, the after hatchway being open, I heard Capt. H., in the dark, say in a loud whisper, “Lem! you got any water?” (Lemuel T. was a nephew of Capt. H., and messed in the steerage.) “Yes, sir.” Give me a drink, will you?” In a few moments I heard the captain gurgling the water down out of “Lem’s” bottle, as though he was very thirsty, and yet it was but twelve hours since his two quarts had been measured out. At the breakfast table next morning, said I, “Capt. Hitch, how did you make out for water last night?” He smiled, and acknowledged he was mistaken. “The thought of being on an allowance (as you said) makes one feel thirsty. I never tried it before.”LELJB 114.1

    After encountering another heavy gale, Capt. H. became seriously alarmed, fearing the Frances was too deeply laden to cross the Atlantic in safety. A council was held, which decided to relieve the ship of part of her burden by casting the twenty tons of iron overboard. In a few hours this work was accomplished, and the long bars of iron were gliding swiftly to their resting place some five or more miles below us, into what the sailors call “Davy Jones’s Locker.”LELJB 115.1

    Twenty tons more were taken on deck. This change relieved the ship very perceptibly, and enabled her to make better progress. But still the captain was fearful of carrying a press of sail for fear her leak would increase, and carry us all down to the bottom. Our stock of provisions getting low, we came on a stated allowance of beef and bread, our small stores being about exhausted. We all began to feel anxious to get to our destined haven. When the captain was asleep, we would venture sometimes to crowd on a little more sail. After a westerly storm, the wind had come round to the east during the night. To improve this favorable wind, by the time the morning watch was called, we had all the reefs out of the topsails, topmast and lower studding-sails set with a good top-gallant breeze, but rather a heavy head-beat sea. Capt. H. came on deck and looked around a few moments, and said, “Mr. Bates, you had better take in the main-top-gallant sail; also the lower and topmast studding-sails. Now we will double and single reef the top-sails.” This done, he concluded the ship would get along much easier, and almost as fast.LELJB 115.2

    At length the winds favored us, and we were making rapid progress. The last three days the wind had been increasing from the south-east, and according to our reckoning, if it continued, we should reach New Bedford in three days more, making our passage in seventy days from Gottenberg. In this we were sadly disappointed, for by the third day at midnight, the gale had increased to a dreadful hight. The raging elements seemed to set at defiance every living creature that moved above the surface of the sea. In all my experience I had never witnessed such portentous signs of a dreadful, devastating storm in the heavens. The sea had risen to such an awful hight, it seemed sometimes that it would rush over our mast-heads before our heavy-laden ship would rise to receive its towering, foaming top; and then the howling, raging wind above it, straining every stitch of sail we dared to show, would dash us headlong again into the awful gulf below. All the canvas we dared to show was a close-reefed main top-sail, and reefed foresail. We needed more to hurry the ship off before the foaming sea, but were in great fear that the heavy gusts of wind would wrench them from the bolt-ropes and leave us in the power of the next sea, to be overwhelmed, and sink with our iron cargo to the bottom of the sea.LELJB 116.1

    We charged the watch that were going below not to lay off any of their clothing, but be ready at a moment’s warning. We considered ourselves in the eastern edge of the Gulf Stream, one of the most dreaded places for continual storms on the American coast, or any other coast in the world. Cross it somewhere we must, to reach our home.LELJB 116.2

    I entered the cabin for a moment to inform Capt. H. of the increasing storm. He was unwilling to see it, but said, “Mr. Bates, keep the ship dead before the sea!” That was our only hope. Our tiller had been broken off within four feet of the rudder-head, a short time previous, by a violent sea that struck us on the bow. We had spliced it, and now with tiller-ropes and relieving tackles it required four experienced men, with our utmost skill in “conning” them, to manage the helm, to keep the ship running directly before the foaming, mountainous seas. Our continual work was something like the following: “Starboard your helm!” “Starboard, sir,” was the reply. “Steady, here comes another dreadful sea!” “Steady,” was the reply. “How do we head now?” “North-west,” was the reply. “Steady, keep her head just so. That was well done!” If the ship had not answered her helm as she did, it appeared that that fearful sea would have rushed over our quarter, and swept us all by the board. “Port your helm! here comes another on the larboard side! Steady now, the sea is square on our stern,” etc.LELJB 117.1

    With the dawn of the morning the rain came down upon us in such torrents that it was with much difficulty that we could see the shape of the sea until it was rushing upon us. This rain was ominous of a change more dreadful (if possible) than our present situation. My short experience had taught me that the Gulf Stream 1The Gulf Stream is caused by a large body of water issuing from the Gulf of Mexico, flowing north-easterly from the south-east point of the coast of Florida, in some places passing close to the land, widening as it flows onward by our northern coast, where it branches off toward the banks of Newfoundland, where it is sometimes found to be several hundred miles in width, narrowing and widening as influenced by the heavy winds. This current sweeps along our southern coast, sometimes at the rate of three miles per hour. In passing from or approaching the coast of the United States, mariners always find the water much warmer in this stream than on either side of it. The weather is also changeable and tempestuous, such as is not found elsewhere. was more dangerous for navigators on this account than any other navigable sea.LELJB 117.2

    Between 7 and 8 o’clock in the morning, without a moment’s warning, the wind suddenly struck us from the opposite quarter, and our sails were struck against the mast. The simultaneous cry was uttered, “The ship’s aback!” “Hard aport your helm!” “Quick! quick!” It seemed as though I touched the deck but twice in getting some thirty feet to the mainmast, where the weather forebraces were belayed. I whirled them from the pins, and shouted, “All hands on deck in a moment!” Descending from the top of the sea, the ship answered her helm; her head paid off to the north-east. The foresail filled again, or we should inevitably have gone down stern foremost, from the overpowering rush of the next sea. The wind came furiously from the west for a few moments, and suddenly died away, leaving us in a dead calm. “Lash your helm to the starboard!” “Call the captain, one of you!” “Clew up the main top-sail!” “Haul up the foresail!” “All hands aloft now, and furl the main top-sail.” “Make haste, men, and secure it to the yard as fast as you can!”LELJB 118.1

    The ship was now unmanageable. The sea described above was now on our lee beam, and seemed as though it would either run over our mast-heads or roll us bottom upward to windward. As the captain came up from the cabin and saw our situation, he cried out, “Oh, my grief!” and for a while was silent. The ship was now writhing and wrenching some like a person in perfect agony. Her tumbling in such a tumultuous and violent manner made it very difficult for the men to get aloft. Before they reached the top-sail yard, the wind came rushing upon us like a tornado, from the west-south-west. This was what we feared, and why we hurried to save our storm-sails if we could. It was some time before the men could secure the sails. When this was done, and the ship pumped after a manner, the crew were all clustered on the quarter-deck, except Lemuel T. and George H., the captain’s nephew and son, who, by the captain’s orders, were fastened below for fear they would be swept from the deck, also one passenger. Said the captain, “Cook, can you pray with us?” The cook knelt down where he could secure himself, the rest of us holding on upon our feet, and prayed most fervently for God to protect and save us from the dreadful, raging storm. This was the first prayer that I ever heard uttered in a storm upon the ocean. Sinners as we were, I believe it was remembered by Him whose ear is not closed to the distressed mariner’s cry; for the Scriptures testify that “he commandeth, and raiseth the storm wind, which lifteth up the waves thereof. They mount up to the heaven, they go down again to the depths; their soul is melted because of trouble. They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wit’s end. Then they cry unto the Lord in their trouble, and he bringeth them out of their distresses.” Psalm 107:25-28.LELJB 118.2

    We seemed to be placed in the very position the psalmist speaks of. After we had done all we could to save our lives from the raging elements of the past night, until our ship was rendered unmanageable, our sails secured and the helm lashed alee, then we were at our “wit’s end,” and prayed to the Lord for help, and secured ourselves to the mizzen rigging and quarter-deck, there in deep contemplation and utter silence to wait the issue of our case. Capt. H. doubtless felt that he had neglected his duty in commending us to God daily, during our long voyage, and now in this perilous hour, when we were at our “wit’s end,” his confidence failed him. Himself and the cook were the only professors of religion on board. They both belonged to the Close-Communion Baptist Church, in New Bedford, Mass. The cook was the only colored man on board. I have always believed that the Lord specially regarded his prayer. Once only during the voyage I heard the captain pray. I had become almost exhausted from extreme labor in some of the storms I have before mentioned, and was losing two hours of my evening watch to get some rest, when I overheard Capt. H., in a dark part of the cabin, praying the Lord to raise me to health and strength. In saying this I mean no disrespect to Capt. H., for he was a gentlemanly, good-hearted man, and treated his officers and men with kindness and respect.LELJB 120.1

    After the cook’s prayer I secured myself to the weather foremost mizzen shroud, to watch the furious, raging storm. Capt. H, was next behind me, the second mate and crew all ranged along the weather side of the quarter-deck, waiting in silence the decision of our case. The wind was so unabating in its fury that it would whirl the top of the contending seas over us, and drench us like pouring rain from the clouds. The labor of the ship seemed to be more than she could long endure. The marvel was that she had held together so long. It seemed sometimes, when she was rushing from the top of some of those mountain seas, broadside foremost, that she would either turn clear over or rush down with such impetuosity that she never would rise again. After a while the sea became furious from the west, and the two seas would rush together like enemies contending for victory. We had remained in silence about three hours, when I said, “Our ship can stand this but a little longer.” “So I think,” replied the captain. I said, “It appears to me that our only hope is to loose the wings of the foresail, and drive her between these two seas on a north-east course.” “Let us try it,” said Capt. H.LELJB 120.2

    Soon our good old ship was making her way through between these two tumbling mountains, being most severely buffeted, first on the right and then on the left. And when our hearts would almost sink for fear of her being overwhelmed, she would seem to rise again above it all, and shake herself as though some unseen hand was girding her from beneath, and with her two little outstretched wings, filled to overflowing with the howling, raging wind, she would seem to move onward again with more than mortal energy. Thus she wallowed along until midnight between these tumbling seas, trembling, wrenching, and groaning, with her heavy iron load and precious living souls that she was laboring to preserve, in answer to the poor negro sailor’s prayer, that had passed from her upper deck, away from amidst the distracting hurricane and dreadful storm, to the peaceful mansions of the Governor of Heaven, and earth, and seas.LELJB 121.1

    My wife was visiting one of our relatives, a few miles distant from home, when a Methodist minister called in to visit the family. He asked why she appeared so sober. He was told that the ship her husband sailed in was out of time, and much fear was entertained for her safety, and particularly at that time, as there was a violent, raging storm. Said the minister, “I want to pray for that ship’s company.” His prayer was so fervent, and made so deep an impression on my wife, that she noted down the time. When the ship came home, her log-book was examined, which proved it was the same storm.LELJB 122.1

    Somewhere about midnight, as the wind had veered round to the north and west, and the furious sea from that quarter had become very dangerous, and was continuing to subdue and overpower the one that had been so dangerous from the south-east, we deemed it for our safety to still bear away and head the ship on to the south-east sea, and give her the whole of her reefed foresail to drive her from the irregular, furious cross-sea that was raging from the west. Thus, for four days, we were driven onward by the furious hurricane, to save ourselves from what we considered a more dangerous position, that of lying to under bare poles, exposing the ship to the irregular cross-seas that might render her unmanageable, and wrench her in pieces. We first steered north-west before a most violent south-east gale, and in a moment of time our sails were all aback with the gale from the north-west; then in a few moments followed a dead calm for about fifteen minutes, rendering the ship unmanageable; and then came a raging hurricane from the west-south-west, veering in four days round by the north to the east, our course being north-east between the seas; then east and south-east, south and south-west. In this manner, in about four days, we run three-quarters of the way round the compass, some hundreds of miles further from home than we were at the hight of the storm. This was the most peculiar and trying storm in all my experience; neither have I read of the like in its nature and duration. The marvel with us was that our good old ship had weathered this most trying time. Her leak, however, had increased to twelve thousand strokes of the pump in twenty-four hours.LELJB 122.2

    Again, by a unanimous decision, we launched another twenty tons of our iron cargo into the sea. We endeavored to steer for a southern port, but the westerly winds continued to check our progress westward. Winter had now fairly commenced, and our provisions and water were getting so low that we were about to reduce our allowance, while our constant labor at the pumps was also reducing our strength. We saw vessels occasionally, but at too great a distance to approach them. We made an extra effort, and sailed for one until night-fall, and then, to induce her to approach us, we rigged a spar over our stern, on which we fastened a barrel with tar, and fired it, to make them believe we were on fire, and so come to our relief, but to no purpose.LELJB 123.1

    Soon after this, when things began to look more dubious, just at the close of a gale of wind, about midnight, we saw a vessel directly ahead steering toward us. She soon answered our signal by hoisting her “lanthorn,” and soon we met within speaking distance. “Where are you from?” “New York,” was the reply. “Where are you bound?” “South America.” “Can you spare us some provisions?” “Yes, as much as you want; I am loaded with them.” “Lay by us and we will send our boat.” “Very well.”LELJB 124.1

    Capt. Hitch’s heart began to fail him as we began to clear away our small boat. Said he, “The swell is so high the boat will be swamped, and I dare not have you go, Mr. Bates. To lose some of the crew now would be very discouraging, and how could the ship be saved in her leaky, sinking condition?” “But, Capt. Hitch, we are in want of provisions, and can now get a supply.” He still declared himself unwilling to command any one to attempt it. Said I, “Allow me, then, to call for volunteers.” He continued irresolute. Fearing we should miss this opportunity, I inquired, “Who among you will volunteer to go with me in the boat?” “I will go for one, sir.” “I will go,” “and I will go,” said others. “That will do,” said I, “three are enough.” In a few moments we were almost out of sight of our ship, steering for the signal light. One sea boarded us, and about half filled the boat. With one hand bailing out the water, and the other two at the oars, we reached the brig. On account of the rough sea we could carry but a few barrels of bread and flour. I gave the captain a draft on our owners in New Bedford. “Your name is Bates,” said he; “are you related to Dr. Bates, of Barre, Massachusetts?” “He is my brother.” “Well, I am his near neighbor; I left there a few weeks ago. Don’t you want some more?” “No, sir. Only if you will fill away and tow us to the windward of our ship we will be much obliged.” This done, we reached the ship in safety, and soon had our supply of bread and flour safely landed on deck. Our boat was stowed away, and each vessel filled away on its course. Capt. H. was almost overjoyed at our safe return with a supply of provisions to carry us into port. The westerly winds, however, prevailed, and our ship’s bottom had become so foul with grass and barnacles that she moved very slowly. We prepared a scraper, with which we were enabled in a calm to scrape some of it off. Bushels of barnacles as large as thimbles, and green grass two feet long, would rise under our stern as we hauled the scraper under her bottom, all of which had accumulated during our passage.LELJB 124.2

    Again we met with a vessel from the West Indies, which supplied us with three casks of water; after which a ship from Portland supplied us with potatoes from her cargo. These were very acceptable, not only for a change of diet, but also to check the scurvy, which is common with those seamen who are obliged to subsist on salted provisions. In a few weeks we obtained another short supply, and were animated with the hope of reaching some port on the coast in a few days. But our buoyant hopes would sink again with the increasing westerly gales, and we would wish that we had taken a larger supply of provisions. Thus we continued to toil on, gaining sometimes a considerable distance westward, and then in one gale losing almost as much distance as we gained in a week before.LELJB 125.1

    Three times after this we obtained a supply of what could be spared from different vessels we met with, making in all seven different times. And it had become a common saying with us that at the very time we needed relief it came. Wicked as we still were, we could but acknowledge the hand of a merciful God in it all. Finally, we began to despair, contending with the almost continual westerly winds in our disabled condition, and called all hands in “council,” to determine whether, in our perilous position, to preserve our lives, we should change the voyage, and run for a port in distress. It was decided unanimously that we bear up for the West Indies. After running about two days south, the wind headed us from that quarter. As the ship was now heading westward, Capt. H. concluded he could reach a southern port in the United States. But the wind changed again, which cut off this prospect. Capt. H. now regretted that he had taken it upon him to deviate from the decision of the council, and wished me to call another, and see if it would be decided for us to bear up again for the West Indies. The whole crew expressed themselves in favor of adhering to our previous decision, to steer for the West Indies; but what was the use of deciding? Capt. H. would turn back again as soon as the wind came fair to steer westward. I stated that if he did I should oppose him, and insist on abiding by the decision we then made in council. It was a unanimous 2When a deviation from a policy of insurance is made in a vessel’s voyage, it is required to be done by the majority or whole crew in council, that they do so for the preservation of lives, or vessel and cargo; this transaction being recorded in the daily journal or log-book of said vessel, that the owners may lawfully recover their insurance, if a loss occurs after deviation. The same is required when casting cargo overboard to preserve life. vote to bear up in distress for the West Indies. Capt. H. was not present.LELJB 126.1

    Shortly after we changed our course, we met a schooner from the West Indies, bound to New York. We requested the captain to report the ship Frances, Hitch, one hundred and twenty-two days from Gottenberg, in Sweden, bound to St. Thomas, in the West Indies, in distress.LELJB 127.1

    As letters had reached our friends, advising them of our sailing from Gottenberg for New Bedford some four months previous, one-third of the time being sufficient for a common passage, various conjectures were afloat respecting our destiny. Few, if any, believed that we were numbered among the living.LELJB 127.2

    As the New York packet was leaving the wharf for New Bedford and Fairhaven, the schooner arrived and reported us. In about twenty-four hours the New York packet touched at Fairhaven wharf with the report, one day in advance of the mail. My wife, father, mother, and sisters were on a social visit at my sister’s near the wharf. Mr. B., my sister’s husband, left them a few moments, and was standing on the wharf with other citizens of F., when the first item of intelligence from the packet as she touched the wharf was that a schooner had arrived in New York from the West Indies, which had fallen in with the ship Frances, Hitch, in lat. -----, and long. -----, one hundred and twenty-two days from Gottenberg, bound to St. Thomas, in distress.” With this unexpected item of news, Mr. B. hurried back to the family circle, declaring that the ship Frances was still afloat, bound to the West Indies. In a moment the scene was changed, and the news spread throughout the village to gladden other hearts, for there were other husbands and sons on board the long-looked-for missing ship. On the arrival of the mail the next day, the news was confirmed. No piece of intelligence for many years had caused such universal joy in F. The principal owner of the ship and cargo (Wm. Roach, of New Bedford) said it gave him more joy to hear that the crew were all alive than all his interest in the ship and cargo. Owners and friends were exceedingly anxious to hear particulars, how we had been sustained such a length of time with only provisions and water for about half said time, also what had caused our delay.LELJB 127.3

    We had a successful run and passage to St. Thomas, one of the Virgin Islands in the West Indies, belonging to Denmark. The night preceding our arrival, a schooner came in company with us, bound on the same course. By request of Capt. H., she consented to keep our company during the night, as her captain professed to be well acquainted with that region. The night was delightful, with a fair wind. The schooner took in all her sail except her top-sail lowered on the cap. We were under a cloud of sail, lower, top-mast, and top-gallant steering sails, all drawing and filled with the pleasant gale. The captain of the schooner seemed out of all patience with us because we did not sail fast enough to keep up with him. About midnight he sheered up within speaking distance, and cried out, “Ship ahoy!” “Halloo!” replied Capt. H. “Do you know what I would do with that ship if I commanded her?” “No,” was the reply. “Well, sir,” said he, “if I had charge of that ship I would scuttle her and send her to the bottom with all hands on board!” Our ship’s bottom was so full of grass and barnacles that she sailed only half her usual speed.LELJB 128.1

    We arrived, however, the next day, and thought we felt thankful to God for preserving and sustaining us through the perilous scenes we had experienced. Even when our ship was safely anchored and our sails all furled, for awhile we could hardly realize that we were safe in the harbor of St. Thomas. Careening our ship to clean the bottom, it was wonderful to behold the quantity of green grass, from two to three feet long, and large barnacles on the bottom. The “survey” decided that the ship could be repaired to proceed to the United States.LELJB 129.1

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