Two Years Before the Mast eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 591 pages of information about Two Years Before the Mast.

This day we saw the last of the albatrosses, which had been our companions a great part of the time off the Cape.  I had been interested in the bird from descriptions, and Coleridge’s poem, and was not at all disappointed.  We caught one or two with a baited hook which we floated astern upon a shingle.  Their long, flapping wings, long legs, and large, staring eyes, give them a very peculiar appearance.  They look well on the wing; but one of the finest sights that I have ever seen was an albatross asleep upon the water, during a calm, off Cape Horn, when a heavy sea was running.  There being no breeze, the surface of the water was unbroken, but a long, heavy swell was rolling, and we saw the fellow, all white, directly ahead of us, asleep upon the waves, with his head under his wing; now rising on the top of one of the big billows, and then falling slowly until he was lost in the hollow between.  He was undisturbed for some time, until the noise of our bows, gradually approaching, roused him, when, lifting his head, he stared upon us for a moment, and then spread his wide wings and took his flight.

[1] It is the fashion to call the respective watches Starbowlines and Larbowlines.


Monday, November 17th.  This was a black day in our calendar.  At seven o’clock in the morning, it being our watch below, we were aroused from a sound sleep by the cry of ``All hands ahoy! a man overboard!’’ This unwonted cry sent a thrill through the heart of every one, and, hurrying on deck, we found the vessel hove flat aback, with all her studding-sails set; for, the boy who was at the helm leaving it to throw something overboard, the carpenter, who was an old sailor, knowing that the wind was light, put the helm down and hove her aback.  The watch on deck were lowering away the quarter-boat, and I got on deck just in time to fling myself into her as she was leaving the side; but it was not until out upon the wide Pacific, in our little boat, that I knew whom we had lost.  It was George Ballmer, the young English sailor, whom I have before spoken of as the life of the crew.  He was prized by the officers as an active and willing seaman, and by the men as a lively, hearty fellow, and a good shipmate.  He was going aloft to fit a strap round the main topmasthead, for ringtail halyards, and had the strap and block, a coil of halyards, and a marline-spike about his neck.  He fell from the starboard futtock shrouds, and, not knowing how to swim, and being heavily dressed, with all those things round his neck, he probably sank immediately.  We pulled astern, in the direction in which he fell, and though we knew that there was no hope of saving him, yet no one wished to speak of returning, and we rowed about for nearly an hour, without an idea of doing anything, but unwilling to acknowledge to ourselves that we must give him up.  At length we turned the boat’s head and made towards the brig.

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Two Years Before the Mast from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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