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Set Sail, wks 1-2

Sunday 21st July - fine weather - general complaints of feeling cold & chilly. A vessel thought to be the Plover, seen about 12 miles to leeward, on our quarter. If it is she, she must during the night have sailed more off the wind than we did, which is perhaps her best point of sailing. Fresh and nearly favourable breeze.

Monday 22d - thick foggy weather, with drizzling rain. Moderate and foul breeze.

Tuesday 23rd - foggy drizzling weather, which occasionally cleared up, and then shut in. Light foul wind in the forenoon – light and favourable in the afternoon. Wind from NE & NNE. It is called the Portuguese trade Wind follows the coast 9 months out of 12. Hence vessels bound along the coast make good progress – but on their return to England they are obliged to stretch far to the Westward till they fall in with westerly winds.

Wednesday 24th - fine weather – favourable breeze, moderate in the forenoon and fresh in the afternoon.

Thursday 25th July - cloudy weather, fresh and favourable breeze.

Friday 26th - very pleasant but cloudy weather. Moderate and favourable breeze – several vessels in sight on a wind from the coasts of Spain & Portugal.

Saturday 27th - cloudy but pleasant weather. Moderate and favourable breeze.

Observationes Vagantes de primuo heldomade

In proceeding on a voyage from England the greatest object of desire at the commencement is to get clear out of the channel. Vessels have often been detained for weeks by a foul wind and if they have been at sea during part or all of that time the men are worn out with fatigue – great damage is done to the spars, and a heavy expense will be incurred to repair the tear and wear of the rigging and sails. Not to mention the state of the crews feelings – being in the situation of persons who look upon their native land, yet are as far removed from its enjoyments, as if they were in the midst of the Atlantic Ocean. It seems as if it were in fact a realization of the punishment of Tantalus – to see but not to touch – to admire but not to enjoy. Many vessels again instead of keeping out to sea, seek shelter in the nearest port, and there the Captains await, in a state of constant suspense, a favourable change of wind – fretting and fuming at their loss of time, and in such a temper that nothing on shore affords them pleasure.

Packets in former days wait.g  for fair wind

We merchant or hired Packets, however belong not to this latter description of vessels. Off to sea we must go – blow high, blow low – foul or fair – will ye, nil ye. At least such is the rule now-a-days – tho’ many not very old men remember when the case was otherwise – when under the mild and indulgent sway of the Packet Agent, who, a good man, knew about as much of navigation & winds, as the unbreeched child, Packets often lay in Harbour five weeks, after they had received their Mails, waiting for a fair wind. In these halcyon days, if the wind should be fair, in spite of the wishes of the Captains to the contrary, scandal whispers, that they were in the custom and wont of fastening the weather vane, by which the worthy Agent was guided in ordering the Packets to sea, - to direction, indicating a foul wind. Supposing, however, that they really went on their voyage – when every body imagined that they must be at least a thousand miles, lo back they would come into harbour alleging that there was too heavy a sea up, endangering the safety of the Mail and the Packets – and then and there they would frolic a few weeks longer.

Packets under Post Office – Captain Bull

From this state of things some curious circumstances have arisen. I shall only mention one. Captain Bull commanding H.M. Packet Marlborough, was once laying in the outer roads, along with several other Packets, expecting a fair wind. Capt.n B. perceiving that there was not much sea up, despite the persuasions of his lazy and interested brother Commanders, made the experiment of proceeding out to sea, and when well out, he got such a good slant, that he easily cleared the channel, went to Lisbon, and returned to Falmouth, as the same Packets he had left were making preparations to set sail. He had just come to an anchor, when the Agent’s boat came along side with an imperative order to proceed on his voyage – He with an oath refused, but would come on shore with the Mail. Another order from the Agent in person met with a similar reception, creating great astonishment, not unmixed with indignation – for every body believed that Capt.n Bull in his absence had been knocking about Channel, till at last he had been obliged to put back re infecta. At last the denoument was brought about by the worthy Capt.n saying that he must first land the Mail which he had brought from Lisbon!!! [4]

Changes produced by Capt.n King

As I have already said, things are differently managed now. Captain King R.N. the present Superintendent of the Packets, an excellent seaman, and a strict disciplinarian, insists, that be the wind or weather what it may, every Packet shall make a trial to proceed on her route – and should the gale prevent her, she may then but [not] otherwise dare to return. I well remember the time, when we went to sea with out Mail for Buenos Ayres. The wind blew strong – the sea ran high – but nevertheless out we were obliged to go – and sure enough for ten days we had a pretty Contest of it, knocking about the channel with the comfortable prospect of  trying the comparative hardness of our iron bound coast and the strength of our timbers. At one time we were driven up to the Eastward, as far as the Eddystone lighthouse. Hence it is that the foreign Mails are conveyed with wonderful regularity – a circumstance which has given so much satisfaction, that the old boy is allowed a guinea a day from Lloyds – and his present command is now continued about ten years, altho’, according to the Naval regulations, its duration should have been restricted to 3 years.

Reasons why I made foregoing remarks

I have been led to make the above desultory rambling remarks, by considering how fortunate we have been in the outset of our voyages. Out of 14 or 15 times, we have not been detained in channel above twice – and then only for a comparatively short period. In the present instance also we have soon got out of the net, and sped out way into the open sea, where we had plenty of room for manoeuvring.

After getting clear of the chops of the channel, if you are bound to the Southward, the next great object is to cross the Bay of Biscay – and not be there embayed for weeks, exposed to probable danger, and certain detriment to the gear of your vessel, from the tremendous NW swell, prevailing there. The wind at first bore [us] along on our course at a good rate, which was much impeded by the NW swell – then we had thick foggy weather, with the wind not so favourable, and, as I observed, a great subsidence of the swell. We were much afraid that we should not be able to weather Cape Finisterre, which would have obliged us to tack – but luckily, when we approached the coast, we got hold of the Portuguese Trade wind at NE & NNE, which carried us with flying colours beyond the dreaded cape.

Saturday 27th July – 1, P.M. cloudy but pleasant weather. Moderate and favourable breeze.

Sunday 28th – beautiful weather, fresh and favourable wind.

Monday 29th – passed Madeira during the night. Beautiful weather. Moderate and favourable breeze.

Tuesday 30th – very fine weather. Moderate and favourable breeze.

Wednesday 31st July – very fine weather, light and favourable breeze. Warmest days since we have been out.

Thursday 1st August – very light and favourable breeze all day – nearly a calm in the evening – very fine weather.

Friday 2d – very fine weather – wind sometimes fair sometimes foul with intervals of calms alternating with cat-paws or puffs – exactly as we had last voyage for three weeks. At 3 P.M. a light steady wind sprung up from W by N and continued all night.

Saturday 3rd – up to Noon – cloudy weather. Moderate but foul wind.

Observations of 2.d Week [5]

Our second week commenced under favourable auspices, I mean with a fair win and delightful weather. The Portuguese Trade bore us along the coast. We had expected to have seen some of Don Pedro’s squadron – but we did not being too far off from the land. We met indeed when nearly off Lisbon, many vessels steering away from the land to the Northward & West.d These had probably first left Portugal and were on their way home to England. We did not speak any of them.

Our course leading us to the South.d and Westward, we soon lost all traces of homeward bound ships, and were left in solitude to wend our way to the Island of Madeira, which is generally made on a voyage to the West Indies. It is what is called an excellent land fall – that is to say a place, whence having corrected the error of your chronometers since leaving England by an observation giving you the difference of longitude by your time pieces, and the known longitude of the place, you can take a fresh departure with much greater confidence, than if you were not to make it. On Monday 30th July we had expected to have seen Madeira – but were not so fortunate as we passed it in the night, and when day light broke in we were at too great a distance off to make it out, especially as the horizon was very cloudy.

We, now being certain that we had passed this island, steered a direct course for Barbadoes – going 3 points more to the Westward than we had done previous to this. The wind was still most favourable but had become rather light. From being light it soon came to be very light, till on Friday 2.d August it fell away a calm, which in an hour or two was succeeded by foul variable winds – in puffs or catspaws. At 4 P.M. on the same day the wind settled steady in W by N, which of course was foul for us in some degree, enabling us to go to the S.th as we wished but precluding us from making so much Westing as we desired. The next day, up to Noon (the precise end of this week) was marked by a moderate and foul breeze from the same quarter – but we expect soon better things.

Having said so much of the wind, I cannot pass over, the next most interesting topic, viz. the weather. This has been delightful throughout – neither too hot nor too cold, generally speaking. Indeed I am rather agreeably surprised to find it so, contrary to my fears. Once or twice for an hour or two, I have felt rather warm – but then that was, when I have been out of the influence of the enlivening breeze. In short the gently rippled sea lying before you like a vast extended plain – the steady even motion of the vessel in consequence, hardly inclining to one side more than to another – The deep blue sky, smiling over head with the glorious sun, shedding his rays tempered by the cooling breeze by day – and the silvery moon by night, rising with her broad full orb from the bed ocean, and slowly pursuing her silent course thro’ cloudless empyrium – all these were circumstances, which were calculated to make us consider the period of the bygone week as one of quiet enjoyment and pleasant reflection.