We went aboard late at night, with our cameras and film in our sea bags, but saying nothing to anybody of our intentions. We signed as sailors, to do the ship's work. We considered, then, that it was not the ship's business what else we might intend to do. We knew about the conservatism of sailing-ship masters, and feared that if we opened our mouths about this film, other able seamen might be found and we should lose our job. There also was the possibility of the captain cabling to his owner and raising the question of film rights and such things. It is the film producers' own fault that there exists a world-wide impression that the outpouring of gold unlimited is a necessity, and even pastime, to anyone concerned with the making of "pictures"; but we were not ordinary film producers and we had no gold.
So we joined the ship and did our work with the others and said nothing. In the course of time the Grace Harwar sailed. She was a lovely full-rigged ship, of 1,760 tons, ideal for our purpose. She was Clyde-built, more than forty years old; she had an open wheel and none of those labor-saving devices--brace winches, halyard winches, and the like-of later days. She was a genuine sister of the Horn of forty years ago-one of the last, if not the very last, full-rigger actually to round the Horn. There are a few other full-rigged ships (Tusitala is one; the Swedish Af Chapman and the German Grossherzogin Elisabeth are others), but they do not go that way. They stay in kinder seas and never venture toward the Roaring Forties and the graveyards of the Far South.
In Wallaroo we discharged the Grace Harwar's ballast, which she had brought down from Wilmington, North Carolina, after discharging a cargo of Peruvian guano there, toward the end of 1928. The ballast out, we took the wheat in. Half the crew ran away and others were shipped in their stead. We took aboard, from the police, a curious Swedish-speaking West Indian negro who had deserted the Erikson bark Penang not long before. He was a prohibited immigrant in Australia, being black, and to avoid a $500 fine we had to take him with us out of the country. He had been cook in the Penang. We had our own cook, and the negro was merely to be a passenger.
The grain loaded, the hatches battened dawn and breakwaters built up on them, the sails bent and the gear all clear, the negro aboard, the water tanks full and our food aboard, the lifeboats lashed down and the wheel gear oiled, we dropped our moorings and put out to sea. That was on April 17, 1929. It was not Until September 3, 138 days later, that we arrived at our destination. In the interval one of us was killed; a second went out of his mind; a third went overboard. We were short of food and the ship leaked. We tried to make for Cape Town in distress and could not. We saw black albatrosses and endured indescribable suffering off the Horn in the dead of winter.
We might have known these things would happen. We had thirteen in our crew--thirteen hands before the mast. I don't remember that we noticed it in Wallaroo, before we left. We remembered about it well enough afterward.
The Londoner and I had been in more ships under the Finn flag than any of the Finns aboard. He had sailed in Olivebank; I in Lawhill and Herzogin Cecilie. The Finns were all first-voyage boys, some deserters from other ships, two or three members of the original crew who had joined the Grace Harwar in Swansea nearly two years before. The average age of our crew was about 19. Three had never been to sea before.
But they were all fine boys and settled down manfully. They were strong and willing, which is a lot, There was an entire absence of that old bickering spirit which was so evident in sail's heyday when every forecastle had its boss, its bloodshed, and its undercurrent of cliques and jealousies. We had no fight the whole voyage. I have not seen a fight in a Finnish ship.
We began the voyage well. We knew that it was coming on winter then and prayed for a quick run to the Horn, The Horn is bad enough in summer, and we did not want to prolong our passage of the west winds getting there. In six days we passed to the south of Tasmania. That was good. We had a strong west wind the whole time, with a big sea. It was piercingly cold and the little Grace Harwar was inclined to throw the sea about her decks a lot.
We blew out a sail or two. The first night out the mizzen-topgallant sail blew out of its boltropes, and we set no sail upon that yard thereafter because the ship had none. There was no square topgallant sail fit to stand down there. The mizzen-topgallant yard had to go bare until a new sail was cut and sewn. That took some time.
We did not mind the cold. We did not mind the ceaseless wet at the cold wheel, the seas that slopped over us at brace and buntline, the teeth-chattering peril of the work aloft. We laughed at the big seas and thought it a joke when a larger one than usual fell aboard with a shock that made the whole ship tremble and threatened to do her serious damage. What did we care, while the wind was fair and we came quickly toward Cape Horn?
From Wallaroo to Cape Horn is, roughly speaking, about 6000 miles. If we ran nine knots before the strong west winds, we should make it in 30 days--say, 35 or 38, allowing for some spells of lesser winds and maybe some days hove to, when there was too much wind to use. We went that way, as all sailing ships do, in the hope of getting strong west winds, in order that if we had to suffer acute discomfort, and cold and wet, and ceaseless work, at least it would not last long and we should be quickly round. The sailing ship does not mind strong wind, so long as it is fair. We had nothing to fear from westerly gales, which would help us on; it was wind from the east we feared.
The wind refused flatly to go back toward any point west. We held on, giving the ship the full mainsail in the hope that it would hold her head up a little, decrease her leeway, and give us some longitude toward Cape Horn. The newcomers to the sea were sick and utterly fed up with it. They wondered why, if once one ship had sailed that road and met with such conditions, any others were ever foolhardy enough to follow after. The sea froze where it touched the steel of the bulwarks; one of our pigs was drowned; the rain and the sleet froze into the serving of the footropes.
We tried our best to beat those easterly winds, hoping always they would stop, believing that the Wind God would take pity on us and at least let us come to the Horn, no matter what torment he wreaked on us on the way. But it was not fair to delay us so, with this accursed east wind.
The east wind continued, with no slightest sign of ever giving up. Gale succeeded gale. Constantly the open decks of the old full-rigger were awash; one had to look lively to the lifelines going to the wheel. At night the lookout man could not go on the forecastle head, for the seas came over there green, and if he had gone there he would have been drowned. We began to notice how short-handed we were, with six in one watch and seven in the other.
In the end, Captain Svensson got fed up with the east wind and put up the helm to run for Cook Strait, that separates the two islands of New Zealand, intending to pass through that way into the South Pacific beyond, if the east wind would not allow us to pass south of that Dominion. We reached Cook Strait after three weeks at sea, and then it fell calm and we could not get through.
Four days we lay there, wallowing stagnantly, with Mount Egmont on the one hand and the rocky northern shores of the south island an the other, we were about to up helm and stand on northward to pass right round the northern extremity of New Zealand, when a west wind came at last and saw us through.
We saw the lights of Wellington, capital of New Zealand, and reported the ship all well. The west wind kept with us for a day or two and saw us clear of the Chatham Islands. We began to think it meant to stay, and that we would come to the Horn without further undue misery.
Oilskins were long since useless; there was no dry spot in the ship, nor dry rag. The hutch of a forecastle was washed out time and time again by great seas that swept joyously through the inefficient doors. When the forecastle doors were shut, the atmosphere was stifling. When they were open, the sea swept in. We kept them shut, preferring to die of suffocation rather than exposure.
There was often no warm food. The seas put the galley fire out, and because the water stormed so incessantly across the main deck, where the fresh-water pump was, we could not work the inefficient pump for fear of mingling salt water with the fresh, and went thirsty. We were cold, wet through, and hungry. There is no heating system in a full-rigged ship. The very cockroaches and the bugs in the bunks retired from active service and might all have died, for all we saw of them.
"May 16, 29 days out," he wrote. "Looking back, those 29 days seem an interminable age. Many strange things have happened in them.... Frenchman and I were sent aloft to make fast the fore upper topgallant sail this morning, in a hard squall which showed every sign of developing into a real Cape Horn snorter. We climbed into the shrouds at 6 a. m., in pitch darkness. It was raining steadily and big seas were coming aboard. The wind had a cold sting in it which gradually froze us to the marrow, in spite of heavy clothing, oilskins, and sea boots.
"We were up there for nearly two hours, while a cold and cheerless dawn broke over the wind-torn sea, and we fought with the sodden sails until the work became a pain and a purgatory. The rain persistently drove at us, making our caps sodden and our oilskins sodden; the cold water trickled down through crevices which nothing but water could find. Our fingers were stiff and blue with the cold and red with blood from tears with the jagged wire gear....
"At first we shivered when an icy finger of water found its way down our backs or up a sleeve, but soon we were so wet and cold we ceased to care. Get wet and stay wet is the best policy for sailing ships. The greatest agony of mind comes when you change into comparative dry, only to know with horrible certainty that as soon as you go on deck again everything will be sodden through and through once more. ...
"May 19, 32 days. You stand a miserable lookout on the forecastle head for hours, with plenty of time for thought, but the antidote for depression lies just behind you, towering into the darkness, sweeping on and on along the rolling road, heaving or stumbling as she meets a sea, rushing on again and on, indomitable, insuperable as fate.
"Down, down, sinks the ship, shuddering already at the impending blow. A hundred lesser blows she has avoided; this mighty one she cannot beat. She writhes like a living thing, in fear and trembling. She heels over heavily; she hovers frighteningly...
"The stars shoot suddenly past the spars--not so bad with them out--careening madly across the sky. The ship receives the blow full, staggering at the impact. A tremor runs through the laboring hull...
"But the shattered sea crest has met its match. The warrior's plume has dropped; the ship rises again, tumbling hundreds of tons of roaring, fighting water from her gushing wash ports. The sea sweeps her furiously end to end, murderously intent upon human prey. Balked of that, it shifts whatever is movable and snarls and hisses at the hatch breakwaters, maddeningly intent upon breaking them down...
"But the ship wins. Under her load of hundreds of tons of seething water, she rolls on, recovering her poise, steadying herself to meet the next onslaught, and the next, and the next after that. For forty years and more now she has been doing that. Beautiful and game old ship!