and Swallows and Amazons
and Two Years before the Mast
Wind south-southwest. Sunrise five seventeen. The sextant swept overboard in the storm of yesterday eve, unable to confirm latitude or longitude, excepting by stars. Sky overcast, clouds thick after storm, so unable to confirm latitude or longitude by stars. In addition to sextant, washed overboard: one seaman, one cabin boy, one barrel of rum, three chickens. The cabin boy is not felt to be a loss due to poor eyesight and lack of coordination when scaling the mast, but must water the remaining rum and trust there are minimal complaints.
Wind south-southwest all night, but calmed to flat before sunrise. Sunrise five fifteen. It is possible that the ship clock was altered by a mutinous member of the crew. I have reset it according to best approximation with current location, and length of day. As skies continued overcast, heavy dark clouds, approximated location on charts, but may have been moved further off course by storm of two days ago, and am unable to confirm. Have suspicions of mutinous seaman’s identity but no evidence. Thinned rum noticed but not commented upon. Sail repairs almost complete.
Wind flat: movement not discernible in any direction. Stars visible briefly last night, updated charts to approximate location. Suspect recent storm pushed off course and into fabled Pacific Doldrums, which have always steered well clear of in past. There are rumors of a chain of islands protected by the Doldrums, but none I know have ever seen them.
Wind easterly but too slight for movement. Sunrise five ten. Repaired sails hung, process much more efficient without cabin boy. Must send message to the families upon return, if there are families to send message to. Murmuring during grog hour, which quieted when I approached; believe in relation to thinned rum. Mutinous sailor claiming barrel did not go overboard, but that I plan to sell it at steep profit to the natives. We know of no natives in this sea, not upon any of the islands, but morale is low as the air hangs heavy and we do not progress. Begin white-washing decks and mending ropes as sails are empty and slack.
Wind easterly but weak. Sunrise five ten. Watch reported sighting a seagull, but as it was only one bird and an unconfirmed sighting, it may have been a high cloud or a restless mind. It is impossible to tell how long we will remain mired in this circle of water; I update the chart but we would make faster progress swimming. A pod of whales passed by yesterday in the distance, but otherwise the sea is as eerily calm as the air. I suspect the second mate of tampering with my meal yesterday evening, but have no proof. I will have to check the storage of my food stuffs, and perhaps start preparing my own meals. The white-washing has progressed at a steady pace, but I came upon one young sailor painting caricatures upon the deck, rather than painting the deck. It was a good likeness of the unfortunate cabin boy entangled in the sails, but I cannot encourage this practice.
Wind easterly. Sunrise five ten. We have moved somewhat further, and, while it is not in the direction I would have hoped, it seems best to travel as swiftly as possible in any direction that removes us from this cursed area of dead calm. I charted our location against the rumored chain of islands that lies protected by the Doldrums, and, if the islands do exist, it is possible we might be able to make landfall. They cannot possibly be inhabited, and are likely no more than exposed rock, but there might be freshwater. I have locked my foodstuffs and taken to preparing all my meals by my own hand. The moon rose yesterday evening encircled by a red ring, and I fear for my own safety and the safety of my ship.
Wind flat. Sunrise five ten. We are but floating, there is not wind enough to counter the current, and we have lost the progress of the past three days. The men have taken to grumbling openly about the rum ration, but even when I offer to search the ship with them to demonstrate that it was lost in the storm of last week, they refuse. The mutinous sailor has been filling their minds with stories of the islands of paradise in this region, and I do not know which to fear more: that we will not sight land and I will be cursed for withholding Paradise through Incompetent Navigation, or that we will sight land and the sailors will call him a Prophet. As the winds stay eerily absent, tempers grow short, and there is little I can offer to calm the men. The mate is induced to bring out his accordion, but as the air is thick and heavy, there is little spirit for dancing.
Wind southwest. Sunrise five fifteen. If these islands do exist, they are guarded by the stormy god Eurus to ensure they remain undiscovered. Yesterday I consulted C——’s book of Voyages and here quote his passage on the Doldrums:
… there is one region of that great Ocean that every good-hearted Captain fears, for it has a surface as smooth as polished glass and wind as calm as the snuggest cottage. This region is commonly called “The Doldrums,” and many a ship has laid trapped here for weeks, waiting in vain for the winds to blow fortunate and make some progress against the current, before the crew runs out of fresh water. At dawn and dusk the air becomes heavy and reflective, like a fog or smokey mirror, and tales of ghost ships, swarming sharks, and even the most elusive giant squid have been reported from this half-light. Many a sea captain has been led against his own better judgment into the region of the Doldrums, as he seeks the rumored isles of fire and emeralds, covered in the sweetest tropical fruits, and populated by a race generous and beautiful. This kingdom has been called the Sandwich Islands, but it is as dangerous and unlikely as the tribes of Amazonian warriors in South America…
Wind westerly but quiet. Sunrise five twenty. We are pushed further off course and now I begin to understand C——’s fear that our water stocks may run low. There has been no further sighting of seagull or even albatross, and the rocks that were sighted on the horizon turned out to be a school of dolphins, swimming into the distance. The padlock on my foodstuffs had been tampered with, but I do not think it was broken into. For the moment I continue with my own stores, but will switch to sharing the sailor’s salt-beef and hardtack if any further evidence arises. Our artistic seaman has been commissioned to elaborate the figurehead of the ship, and yesterday was roped into a harness, and spent the day hanging overboard, painting upside-down. The other sailors do not jeer or throw rotten food at him, but watch his work with something approaching religious fervor. He has been promised an extra ration of rum at its completion. Played penny-whistle during the overnight watch, but the wind brought back some kind of echo. I do not trust these waters.
Wind east southeast. Sunrise five fifteen. Sails slack, as they have been since the storm that cost us the sextant and rum and two pairs of hands. Today I began eating the salt-beef and hardtack, like a common sailor. I told them it was nostalgia for my own first years at sea, but the men all but openly jeered at this excuse. I tried to describe my first crossing of the Cape, as a cabin boy of ten, tied into the nest, but was interrupted by a shout from up deck. Land, sighted, of some type. All hands on deck. There is so little wind as to make trimming the sails all but useless, but, as the men were more enthusiastic than they have been in many days, we pulled the sails as taut as possible, and trained our eyes towards the horizon. It could just be a rock, or a storm cloud, or the islands that may or may not have fruit stranger and sweeter than anything we have ever known, and caverns of jewels tucked under the cliffs, but any change can only lift the spirits and makes the prospect of mutiny less imminent.
Wind easterly. Sunrise five ten. The wind has picked up enough to counteract the current, and I intend, by guiding the ship on a sharp curve, to stay in front of the wind and clear of the strongest currents. As we begin to move again, painting of our figurehead is postponed, but the sailor is given his extra ration in good faith. Someone has rifled through my cabin, but I do not know if it was with the intention to steal from me, or to plant evidence to implicate me in some crime. There is no longer the shadow of landmass on the horizon, but even though it may have been but a cloud or small outcropping, I tell the men we have to circumvent the current to approach the islands. New moon; clear sky. Many comets, which I do not know if they are good omens or ill. There are hushed murmurings from below decks that silence awkwardly as I approach. I do not think it bodes well.
Wind easterly, filling sails. Sunrise, five ten. Confirmation at dawn of land mass sighted in distance, encouraging presence of birdlife. Estimate arrival in another day’s clear sailing. Morale higher, all hands working, whistling at noon. Accordion brought out in evening; painter-sailor from Scottish islands, and dances elaborately. I do not think he has been won over to the mutineers, would make a powerful ally to keep order aboard ship.
Wind easterly. Islands close enough geography can be confirmed. At least one volcano, which may be active. Watch begins for reefs and rocks below water; charts do not indicate path to safe harbor. Landing likely. Presence of natives unknown.