Honolulu, March 19, 1866
THE AJAX VOYAGE CONTINUED - THE OLD NOR'WEST SWELL
On the Sunday following our departure we had a fine day, and no wind scarcely, yet the sea ran high and the ship rolled a good deal. Upon inquiry, I learned that this was caused by the "old nor'west swell," which resembles any Broadway "swell" in that it puts on a good many airs and conducts itself pretentiously even when it is not able to "raise the wind." The old nor'west swell, produced by the prevailing wind from that quarter, is always present in these seas, ever drifting on its eternal journey across the waters of the Pacific, year after year, and century after century as well, no doubt, and piling its billows aloft careless whether it be storm or calm. The wind and the swell both die out just above the equator. Another wind and another swell come up around Cape Horn from the opposite direction, and these die out just below the equator - so what a windless, waveless belt is left at the center of the earth, which marks the equator as distinctly as does the little black line on the map. Ships drift idly on that glassy sea, under the flaming sun of the tropics, for weeks together, without a breath of wind to flutter the drooping sails or fan the sweltering and blasphemous sailors.
A BLAST FOR BALBOA, THE DISCOVERER
We hear all our lives about the "gentle, stormless Pacific," and about the "smooth and delightful route to the Sandwich Islands," and about the "steady blowing trades" that never vary, never change, never ''chop around," and all the days of our boyhood we read how that infatuated old ass, Balboa, looked out from the top of a high rock upon a broad sea as calm and peaceful as a sylvan lake, and went into an ecstasy of delight, like any other Greaser over any other trifle, and shouted in his foreign tongue and waved his country's banner, and named his great discovery "Pacific" - thus uttering a lie which will go on deceiving generation after generation of students while the old ocean lasts. If I had been there, with my experience, I would have said to this man Balboa, "Now, if you think you have made a sufficient display of yourself, cavorting around on this conspicuous rock, you had better fold up your old rag and get back into the woods again, because you have jumped to a conclusion, and christened this sleeping boy-baby by a girl's name, without stopping to inquire into the sex of it."
From all I can discover, if this foreign person had named this ocean the "Four Months Pacific," he would have come nearer the mark. My information is to the effect that the Summer months give fine weather, smooth seas and steady winds, with a month and a few days good weather at the fag end of Spring and the beginning of Autumn; and that for the other seven or eight months of the year one can calculate pretty regularly on head winds and stern winds, and winds on the quarter, and winds several points abaft the beam, and winds that blow straight up from the bottom, and still other winds that come so straight down from above that the fore-stuns'l spanker- jib-boom makes a hole through them as clean as a telescope. And the sea rolls and leaps and chops and surges "thortships" and up and down and fore-and-aft by turns, when the gales are blowing; and when they die out the old nor'west swell comes in and takes a hand, and stands a watch, and keeps up the marine earthquake until the winds are rested and ready to make trouble again.
In a word, the Pacific is "rough," for seven or eight months in the year - not stormy, understand me - not what one could justly call stormy, but contrary, baffling and very "rough". Therefore, if that Balboa-constrictor had constructed a name for it that had "Wild," or ''Untamed," to it, there would have been a majority of two months in the year in favor and in support of it.
A WORD TO THE COMMERCIALLY WISE
If the Pacific were always pacific and its "trades" blew steadily the year around, there would never be any necessity for steamers between Honolulu and San Francisco; but as it is, a trade is building up between the two ports, a considerable share of which is going to consist of fast freight and passengers, and only steamers can extend and develop this and conduct it successfully. You see we plowed through the tangled seas and against the head winds this trip in a fraction over ten days, arriving a day after one of the fast clippers which left San Francisco a matter of three weeks before. The passage back, at this rate, is about five to seven days longer for the dipper, but not more than a day and a half or two days longer for the Ajax. You can rest assured that in the tremendous trade that is to spring up between California and the Islands during the next few years, the fast freight and passengers must be carried by steamers for seven or eight months in the year.
I will remark here that my information about the character of this ocean route is obtained from old ship-captains, one of whom has commanded in the packet trade for many years, and who has sailed these seas, whaling and otherwise, for forty-six years.
But the main argument in favor of a line of fast steamers is this: They would soon populate these islands with Americans, and loosen that French and English grip which is gradually closing around them, and which will result in a contest before many years as to which of the two shall seize and hold them. I leave America out of this contest, for her influence and her share in it have fallen gradually away until she is out in the cold now, and does not even play third fiddle to this European element.
But if California can send capitalists down here in seven or eight days time and take them back in nine or ten, she can fill these islands full of Americans and regain her lost foothold. Hawaii is too far away now, though, when it takes a man twenty days to come here and twenty-five or thirty to get back again in a sailing vessel.
The steamer line ought to be established, even if it should lose money for two years. Your State has never paid one single dollar of profit to the United States - you are nothing but a burden and an expense to the country - but the kingdom of Hawaii, without costing the United States a cent, has paid her, in customs, $400,000 in a single year.
California's profits from this section can be made greater and far more lasting than those from Montana. Therefore let your Merchants' Exchange look after the former just as earnestly as they are doing with the latter.
PASSING AWAY THE WEARY TIME
In writing about sea voyages it is customary to state, with the blandest air of conveying information of rare freshness and originality, that anything, however trivial, that promises to spice the weary monotony of the voyage with a new sensation, is eagerly seized upon and the most made of it by the passengers. I decline to insult your intelligence by making this thread-bare statement, preferring to believe you would easily divine the existence of the fact without having to be told it.
We had a bullock tied up on the forecastle, and a box near by with two sheep and a pig in it. These animals afforded a trifling amusement for us on our fair days, and when the opportunity offered we used to go forward and worry them. The bullock was always down on his beam-ends. If he ever dared to get up on his feet for a second in stormy weather, the next lurch of the ship would "snatch him bald-headed," as Mr. Brown expressed it, and flop him flat on the deck; and in fair weather he was seldom able to get up, on account of his sore bones, acquired through the bangs and bruises of his foul weather experiences. So the bullock lay down pretty much all the time from San Francisco to Honolulu - and ever as his wandering gaze rested upon reeling men, and plunging ship and towering billow, his eloquent eye damned the weather.
Said Mr. Brown, once: "Let's go forward and twist the Captain's tail."
"Who? Captain Godfrey?"
"Thunder! no; Captain Gordon."
"Why, the bullock - Captain Gordon. We call him Captain Gordon be cause he lays down so much."
I recognized the point of Mr. Brown's facetiousness then. Captain Gordon, a not undistinguished officer of the Eastern armies, had kept his room all the way, but as he was unwell enough to prefer that course to staggering about the tossing decks, and had a right to do as he pleased anyway, I reprimanded Brown on the spot for his inconsiderate levity.
The pig was pulled and hauled and cuffed for the amusement of the idle passengers, but unknown to himself he had his revenge; for he imparted such a villainous odor of the sty to the hands and clothing of any man who meddled with him, that that man could never drift to windward of a lady passenger without suffering disgrace and humiliation under the rebuke of her offended upturned nose. The pig had no name. This was a source of ceaseless regret to Mr. Brown, and he often spoke of it. At last one of the sailors named it, and Brown happened to be passing by and overheard him. The sailor was feeding the animals, and the pig kept crowding the sheep away and monopolizing the slop pail. The sailor rapped him on the nose and said:
"Oh, go way wid you, Dennis."
To have heard the passengers go into explosions of laughter when Brown rushed in, in a state of wild excitement, and related this circumstance, one might have supposed that this ship had been sailing round and round the world for dreary ages, and that this was the first funny circumstance that had ever blessed with a gleam of cheerfulness the dismal voyage. But, as other writers have said before, even so diluted a thing as this can send a thrill of delight through minds and bodies growing torpid under the dull sameness of a long sea voyage.
From that day forward it was Dennis here, and Dennis there, and Dennis everywhere. Dennis was in everybody's mouth; Dennis was mentioned twice where the everlasting wonder, "how many miles we made yestaday," was expressed once. A stranger's curiosity would have been excited to the last degree to know who this rival to General Grant in notoriety was, that had so suddenly sprung up - this so thoroughly canvassed, discussed, and popular "Dennis." But on the 16th of March Dennis was secretly executed by order of the steward, and Brown said that when the fact became generally known, there was not a dry eye in the ship. He fully believed what he said, too. He has a generous heart and a fervent imagination, and a capacity for creating impossible facts and then implicitly believing them himself, which is perfectly marvelous.
Dennis was served up on the 17th for our St. Patrick's dinner, and gave me a stomach-ache that lasted twenty four hours. In life he was lovely, and behold, he was powerful in death. Peace to his ashes !
The most steady-going amusement the gentlemen had on the trip was euchre, and the most steady-going the ladies had was being sea-sick. For days and nights together we used to sir in the smoking room and play euchre on the same table so sacredly devoted to "seven-up" by the livelier set of passengers who traveled last voyage in the Ajax. It took me some little time to learn to play euchre with those old sea captains, because they brought in so many terms that are neither in Hoyle nor the dictionary. Hear how they talked:
Captain Fitch - "Who hove that ace on there?"
Captain Phelps - "Why, I did."
Captain Cuttle - "No, you didn't, either- I hove it myself"
Captain Phelps - "You didn't, by the Eternal! - You hove the king."
Captain Fitch - "Well, now, that's just the way always jawin' about who hove this and who hove that - always sailin' on a taut bowlin'. Why can't you go slow? You keep heavin' on 'em down so fast that a man can't tell nothing about it."
Captain Phelps - "Well, I don't care - let it go - I can stand it, I cal' late. Here goes for a euchre!" (Here the captain played an odd-suit ace.) "Swing your bower if you've got it, but I'll take them three last tricks or break a rope-yarn."
(I, as partner to Captain Phelps, got bewildered, and make a bad play.)
Captain Phelps - "Now what did you trump my ace for? That ain't any way to do; you're always a sailin' too close to the wind."
(In a moment or two I make another bad play.)
Captain Phelps - "Ger-reat Scotland! What in the nation you dumpin' that blubber at such a time as this for? Rip! I knowed it! took with a nine-spot! royals, stuns'ls - everything, gone to smash, and nobody euchred!"
It is necessary to explain that those ancient, incomprehensible whalers always called worthless odd-suit cards "blubber."
We passengers are all at home now - taking meals at the American Hotel, and sleeping in neat white cottages, buried in noble shade trees and enchanting tropical flowers and shrubbery.
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