Bibliographic Information

The Plough Boy Journals

The Journals and Associated Documents

The Plough Boy Anthology

19th Century American Whaling

Bonin Islands

Pitcairn's Island

Dictionaries & Glossaries

Ashley's Glossary of
Whaling Terms

Dana's Dictionary of
Sea Terms

No. 7.

W. H. Macy

Ballou's Monthly Magazine
Vol. LXIV, No. 1 (Jul 1886)
pp. 52-56.


. . . .



No. 7.

A Night on the Rocks. – Almost a Shipwreck. – We Join the St. Thaddeus Fleet.

      The breeze had hauled to the southward, light and balmy. Had the change occurred in the morning, it would have been most favorable for our purpose of looking into the sound; but we dared not run in during the night, as the dangers, if any, in the shape of tides or sunken rocks, were entirely unknown to us. To our surprise, the weather still held clear, and the orders were to stand off and on through the night, so as to keep about the same distance and position with respect to the land, until daylight should enable us to see our way in.

      When we came on deck for the middle watch, the ship was on the western tack, and the loom of the mountains on the Asiatic coast could be distinguished ahead, while the island of Karaghinsky stretched abeam of us, not less than four miles distant.

      "We'll be just right in the morning if the fog will only hold off," remarked Mr. Norton, as he stood in the waist, a few minutes after taking charge of the deck. "We can swing her off at daylight, and look in between the island and the mainland."

      "Where is our partner?" asked Francisco. u Can you see him?"

      "Yes; there he is, off the lee-quarter, with a light set. He wants to keep just abreast of that bay, where his two boats went in. I think they have not come off yet. But, Frank, what makes the water so smooth all at once? Glassy-like?"

      "I don't know, sir. There's a good breeze aloft."

      "Yes, and the ship forges ahead quick, but 1 don't like this smooth look. Give me that hand-lead."

      The boatsteerer jumped into the mainchains, and was in the act of swinging the


lead for a cast, when a slight trembling was perceptible under our feet.

      "Hard a-lee!" roared the officer. "Let fly those head sheets!"

      The ship luffed at once with everything shivering, but though her headway was deadened, it was too late to escape the danger, though she struck with less momentum. She appeared to slide upward, bumping smartly for a few seconds, then stopped, fixed, immovable, with not a ripple under the bow. The captain came leaping on deck, trousers in hand.

      "Mr. Norton, you've got the ship ashore!"

      "I know it, sir," answered the third mate, coolly. "Lee fore braces, there! Haul everything in aback as fast as you can!"

      "Where's the land ?" asked the old man, who had hardly got his wits about him yet.

      "Here, abeam of us, four miles off. That's the nearest land I know of, sir."

      By this time all hands were on deck, and the situation began to be considered more coolly. It was evident that we had shot up on a ledge of rock, and hung only by the bow, for the lead gave twelve fathoms aft. She lay so still that scarcely any motion was perceptible.

      "We'd better cany the kedge right out, hadn't we, sir?" suggested the mate.

      "Yes; out with it at once," said the captain, who was cool enough now that he understood the state of affairs. "Keep everything hard aback, and carry the kedge well out astern. Steward, get the signal lantern up, to set at the mizzen-peak. Clear away the gun, Mr. Bishop, and load her up. We must warn our neighbor, so that he won't get in the same scrape. One ship must be kept afloat, at all events."

      The waist-boat was lowered away, and the kedge-anchor hung from her bow. The tryfires were extinguished, and the lumbered decks cleared up as much as possible, to make room to work.

      "Bear a hand with that kedge!" the captain shouted, his anxiety increasing as he perceived the ship's stern to swing a little. "Pull right out here, Mr. Paddack, and drop it off the quarter! See that those fires are all out, and the pots bailed well down. Lively, now, lively! Get a strain on that kedge as soon as possible; if she swings broadside on, she's a goner."

      "All ready with the gun, sir," reported the Bishop.

      "Fire away, then! Load right up, and fire again! Heave away, now, on your hawser, Mr. Pomroy!"

      Three times the report of the six-pounder rang across the smooth water, and soon afterward a gun was heard in response from the " James and Margaret." We could also see that she neared us fast, having made all sail to come to our assistance.

      "Light 0!" sung out one of the men in the waist.

      "Where away ?" the captain asked.

      "Down here on that point of land. I saw it flare up against the rocks just now. Yes, there it is, brighter than it was before."

      "I see it," said Captain Stetson. "It's a bonfire on the point. It may be some wandering party of Russians, or perhaps Church's men have built it. Yes, that's most likely it,"

      "Tide's rising a little, sir," hailed Mr. Pomroy, who had been sounding under the bows.

      "All right then; don't heave anymore strain on the hawser at present. We can't do any more, we must wait till the flood."

      The bonfire soon blazed up fiercely on the land, casting a bright glare upon the sterile background, but it was too distant to distinguish human figures. The approaching sound of oars was heard in the direction of our consort, and soon afterward Captain Church and his boat's crew jumped in on our deck.

      "Stetson," said he, "what sort of a scrape have you got into here? Rearing up with your 'Gorgon's' head all out of water. I don't see any breakers near, nor any rollers."

      "Not a ripple," replied our captain. "Yet here we are, hard and fast, with a kedge out."

      "Moored head and stern, eh?" said Church. "Well, I can't say I want to have the wrecking of you, though you've got a fat lot of oil in your hold. Here's my boat's crew; make use of 'em if you want 'em, and I can send you more help as soon as I get all hands aboard, if you don't float before that time. How's the tide?"

      "Rising. If it holds smooth, we shall haul her off before daylight."

      "Oh, yes; you are all right. There's a 'great rise and fall hero, in these high latitudes. You haven't thrown your blubber overboard?"


      "No. I've thrown nothing overboard yet. I sha'n't give you a chance to skim any slicks, if I can possibly help it. Is that fire made by your men, do you suppose?"

      "I presume it is. They heard the guns, and thought they were mine, so they came down and built a fire on the point. They are all right. They've got a humpback, I suppose, or a scrag, or something of the kind."

      "Well, we can't do any more for the old ship at present. We may as well go below a while. She lies as still as if she were in a dry dock."

      "Start your fires, Stetson, and go to boiling," said the rattle-headed Church. "You are losing time."

      "Not quite," answered the old man. "I'll see her afloat before I do that. If I have to leave her on these rock, and go home a-foot, I sha'n't want the oil."

      "No; but I shall," returned Church, with a laugh. "I'll stay by you, Stetson, and strip you to a girt-line—that is, if I don't get the "Jamie and Maggie" into the same scrape. But, seriously, I think you'll come off all right with the flood tide."

      "So do I. By the way, I suppose you have finished boiling? I don't see any light from your ship, except her signal lantern."

      "Yes. I' cooled down ' just before night. My whale turned up two hundred and seventy barrels. Pretty well for a right whale, eh?"

      "It's a most singular fact," said our captain, with a smile of incredulity, " that you New Londoners always get those largo whales."

      "Of course we do," Church returned. "We always pick them out. I wouldn't object, though, to have that scrag of yours, so that I -could stow down three hundred— round number, eh?"

      "You don't need it. You'll call your whale three hundred, before you get the oil stowed down."

      And the two captains vanished below, whence a suspicious clinking noise, heard coming up immediately afterwards, indicated the fortification of their stomachs with three doses. The "generous" balsam probably reminded them that a pleasure shared with others is doubled, for the steward forthwith appeared at the mainmast with a brace of black bottles, and the mate's call to grog was. responded to by a grand rally.

      "This is a quick way to find out how many men we have got," said the second mate. "Who'd have thought we could muster such an army? You'll have to trot out another bottle, steward."

      Our New London friends had the first pulls at the tumbler, guests invariably havimg the precedence in such cases. The "Gorgon" was, emphatically, a temperance ship; not total abstinence, for the words have very different meanings. On particular occasions, such as cutting a whale, or any extra duty in bad weather, it was thought well to administer an eye-opener; and, being somewhat of a rarity, we did not fail to make the most of it when we got it.

      "Stout three fingers, steward," said one. "Your fingers are not so wide as the old man's."

      "Can't I work a traverse round the mainmast, and come in for the second allowance?" asked another.

      "I'm looking out for that measure," said Mr. Pomroy, who was within hearing. "You needn't try it."

      "I wouldn't care if she run on a ledge of rocks every night in the week," said old Kendall, smacking his lips in keen enjoyment of the liquor he had swallowed.

      The tension was kept up on the hawser by heaving a little at every motion of the ship, as the tide rose, and she was kept in the same direction, as if moored. At three o'clock, she began to move buoyantly, hanging, as it appeared, by a trifle; and half an hour later, with a fresh effort at the windlass brakes, aided by the power of her canvas, she slid suddenly into her own element, and, with a wilil hurrah, we filled our topsails on the eastern taek. The pumps were tried, and she made no water.

      "Well, I'm mighty glad for you, Stetson, that you are out of the kelp," said Captain Church. "But it was a wonderful chance for you. If there had been any swell at all, she'd have broken her back long ago."

      "I know it," was the reply. "But ' all's well that ends well.' Here's the season hardly begun yet, and I've been run into by the ' Dutchman,' nipped in the ice-floes, and dry-docked on the rocks, but she is as tight as a jug yet. Start your fires again, Mr. Pomroy, and let the watch go below."

      "Well, good-by," said the other. "I must go aboard. I want to be close in to the bay at daylight."

      "So do I. I will send in and try whether


we can pull up our humpback, or pull the iron out of him. I don't think I shall try to explore any further behind Karaghinsky."

      We met Church's boats at the mouth of the haven, coming out with a humpback in tow, as we pulled in.

      "We've eaten up your bear-steaks—all that you left," hailed the New London mate.

      "All right," replied ours. "Is our whale afloat yet?"

      "Didn't know you had one there."

      "Yes; we sunk him day before yesterday."

      "Well, he ought to come up now, if you give him a start."

      "What's that you've got piled in your boats?"

      "Seal-skins. Got about fifty of them."

      It appeared that they had killed and anchored the whale, late in the day, and had afterwards stumbled upon a cove where they had surprised a rookery of seals, and killed the greater part of them. They decided to skin them, and make a night of it, and had built the fires on the point in answer to the guns, supposing their own ship had fired them. In their wandering, they had fallen upon our encampment, and found the bearmeat, which we had covered with stones, to save it from the birds. They knew nothing of our ship having been on the rocks.

      We easily found our drug-buoy, by the landmarks which we had noted; and, taking the line into the chocks, we brought a strain carefully upon it, fearful of pulling the iron out. Little by little we gained upon it, boxing the boat down nearly gunwale-to, but the strain became less and less, and we gathered in faster, till we had coiled down four or five fathoms, when the tension relaxed, and all was slack in our hands.

      "Stern all, quick! out of the way!" was the word; and we had hardly time to clear the track, when there was a lifting and bubbling near us, as our humpback came to the surface with a jump, floating high and buoyant.

      "He's just mellow enough for boiling, now," said the Bishop. "'Twould take a greater power to pull him down again, now, than it did to lift him."

      In a few minutes our prize was in tow, and we were heading trinmphantly out for the ship, a third boat reinforcing us as soon as the waif was seen flying as our signal of success.

      The breeze had freshened to a whole-top-sail gale when we arrived on board, and every preparation had been made to " hook on," as soon as he was fluked.

      "I want to get out of this corner, now," said the old man. "I've got enough of it, and I'm afraid the fleet are letting into the bowheads up off Thaddeus. Here, Mr. Pomroy," he added, " come here and take the spy-glass a minute. Just look at the place where we were docked half the night."

      I climbed a few ratlines of the forerigging, and followed the direction of the mate's glass. The sea was getting up, under the influence of the increasing wind, and already the rollers could be seen to break with great violence over the spot where the ship had rested so immovably but a few hours before.

      "My stars!" exclaimed the mate, after a long look at the breakers. "If she was there now, our consort wouldn't get near enough to her to pick her bones! But that ledge wouldn't be dangerous in a breeze, for we could see it in time to avoid it."

      "Yes, so we could," the captain assented. "But it's going to blow on to a gale, and I can't lose any more time here. We must strip this humpback as fast as we can, and haul off shore while we can make an offing on the eastern tack."

      The rock-bound coast of Siberia, from Karaghinsky Island towards Cape Olutorsk, makes a general direction a little north of east, the only dangerous wind for us being a south-caster of long continuance. But as the strength of the gale increased, it hauled to the south-west, and we made a fair wind of it, as soon as the bloated carcass of the humpback was stripped and abandoned to the ravenous birds. The " James and Margaret" had the start of us by an hour or more, and as she sailed faster than the "Gorgon," we were soon left to make outobservations alone.

      For two days the gale followed us, with thick, murky weather, the sea short and chopping, owing to the comparative shallowness of the water, and the ship reeling off six or seven degrees of longitude each day. Not that she had anything to boast of in the way of sailing qualities, but that the degrees on the parallel of sixty north, were only half grown ones, of about thirty miles eachstunted, the Bishop said, like everything else in these regions, except bears and bowheads. We were obliged to put out the fires again, and keep the blubber under hatches, as we were scudding nearly before


it, it being impossible to carry on the operation of boiling, with the wind aft, as the fires cannot be made to draw.

      A stray humpback whale was seen and passed during the run. Finbacks were also met with, as a matter of course; this species, or some of its varieties, being found in every part of the ocean where the keel of the navigator has penetrated, in high or low latitudes, on soundings or off. "Streams " of ice were numerous, but generally of no great width, and such as could be avoided by a slight deviation from the course, for it was not desirable to come in contact with pieces of even moderate size, while running under swift headway. The muzzle and shoulders of a seal occasionally popped up in our track, the cunning animal staring at us a moment in blank astonishment, and diving out of view again, as if more than satisfied with his brief scrutiny.

      On the third morning the gale blew itself out, and we hauled to the wind, the land about Cape St. Thaddeus dimly visible in the distance, but inaccessible by reason of an icy barrier, and sixty ships in sight, all standing off and on, or lying aback to "gam "with each other; but not a thread of smoke could be seen rising from one of them. Where, then, were the bowheads?

      "They haven't found the whales yet," said the old man, after leveling his glass to every point of the compass, examining the ships. "Our chance is as good as anybody's, so we've lost nothing by our delay. Fire up again, now, and let's astonish the fleet."

      Astonishment and curiosity indeed seemed to have seized upon the captains of the nearest ships, as the dingy smoke-pall floated off our lee-quarter; and a disposition was immediately shown to close with us, and to "speak the admiral." A barque which was hovering on our weather-quarter edged off at once, and passed across our stern. His spotless canvas, and the bright paint in his waist, indicated that he had cut nothing since leaving port. He gave his name as the "Rob Roy," of Sag Harbor, Captain Winters, and after the usual salutations:—

      "Why don't you hoist a broad pennant?" he asked.

      "What for?"

      "Why, you've got the only blubber in the fleet. Where did you get your whale?"

      "In Humpback Bay," was the ready answer.

      "Humpback Bay! Where in thunder is that?"

      "It's a new discovery, in here to the westward. Come aboard, and I'll tell you all about it."

      "Thank you; I can't stop now. What have you got this season ?" in a tone of surprise, not unmixed with envy, as he looked at our dirty waist and sails, and general begrimed appearance.

      "Eight whales," answered the old man.

      "You ought to leave the ground, then. You've got your share." And, with a farewell flourish of his trumpet, he passed out of hearing, while a long, sharp, rakish ship luffed up within hail under our lee.

      "That's one of the dandy clippers, just out from home," said the mate.

      "Hope you are well, Captain Stetson.''

      "Very well, thank you. What ship is that?"

      "The ' Star of Empire,' of New Bedford, Captain Manchester. Have you got any more blubber than you can take care of alone?" he asked, with a quizzical tone.

      "No. I think wo can manage it all, if we have decent weather."

      "Because I'd like to take some to try out to halves. Or I'll rent my tryworks at a reasonable rate, either. Stetson, you've got the handsomest-looking ship I've seen this season."

      "How so? I did'nt know the ' Gorgon' had any claim to beauty."

      "Because she's the dirtiest. You look as if you had been blubber-logged for a month."

      "Well, you'll have your turn of luck byand-by."

      "Thank you," answered Captain Manchester. "I hope it may come soon. Won't you come aboard?"

      "Not now, thank you. Towards night, perhaps."

      And thus several others passed and hailed us, and went on their way, while we lay a-back, poking up our fires in the most aggravating manner, and flaunting the broad pennant of black, grimy smoke.


Author: Macy, William Hussey
Title: Up North in the "Gorgon" - No. 7.
Publication: Ballou's Monthly Magazine.
Vol/No/Date: Vol. 64, No. 1 (Jul 1886)
Pages: 52-56