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.

Thursday, August 21st.  This day the sun rose clear; we had a fine wind, and everything was bright and cheerful.  I had now got my sea legs on, and was beginning to enter upon the regular duties of a sea life.  About six bells, that is, three o’clock P.M., we saw a sail on our larboard bow.  I was very desirous, like every new sailor, to speak her.  She came down to us, backed her main-top-sail, and the two vessels stood ``head on,’’ bowing and curveting at each other like a couple of war-horses reined in by their riders.  It was the first vessel that I had seen near, and I was surprised to find how much she rolled and pitched in so quiet a sea.  She plunged her head into the sea, and then, her stern settling gradually down, her huge bows rose up, showing the bright copper, and her stem and breasthooks dripping, like old Neptune’s locks, with the brine.  Her decks were filled with passengers, who had come up at the cry of ``Sail ho!’’ and who, by their dress and features, appeared to be Swiss and French emigrants.  She hailed us at first in French, but receiving no answer, she tried us in English.  She was the ship La Carolina, from Havre, for New York.  We desired her to report the brig Pilgrim, from Boston, for the northwest coast of America, five days out.  She then filled away and left us to plough on through our waste of waters.

There is a settled routine for hailing ships at sea:  ``Ship a-hoy!’’ Answer, ``Hulloa!’’ ``What ship is that, pray?’’ ``The ship Carolina, from Havre, bound to New York.  Where are you from?’’ ``The brig Pilgrim, from Boston, bound to the coast of California, five days out.’’ Unless there is leisure, or something special to say, this form is not much varied from.

This day ended pleasantly; we had got into regular and comfortable weather, and into that routine of sea life which is only broken by a storm, a sail, or the sight of land.

[1] Of late years, the British and American marine, naval and mercantile, have adopted the word ``port’’ instead of larboard, in all cases on board ship, to avoid mistake from similarity of sound.  At this time ``port’’ was used only at the helm.


As we have now had a long ``spell’’ of fine weather, without any incident to break the monotony of our lives, I may have no better place for a description of the duties, regulations, and customs of an American merchantman, of which ours was a fair specimen.

The captain, in the first place, is lord paramount.  He stands no watch, comes and goes when he pleases, is accountable to no one, and must be obeyed in everything, without a question even from his chief officer.  He has the power to turn his officers off duty, and even to break them and make them do duty as sailors in the forecastle.[1] Where there are no passengers and no supercargo, as in our vessel, he has no companion but his own dignity, and few pleasures, unless he differs from most of his kind, beyond the consciousness of possessing supreme power, and, occasionally, the exercise of it.

Project Gutenberg
Two Years Before the Mast from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
Follow Us on Facebook