Saturday 18th January - at day light the Pilot having come on board we began to heave up the anchor – and in a very short time we were once more under weigh. As we came to Belize with a fair wind, the same wind blowing now, was consequently foul for us. So we had to beat up all day – now on this tack now on that – and after all gaining a good deal. The weather was generally fine with occasional showers and squalls. At 4.40 being nearly abreast of Half Moon Kay – but inside of it, the Pilot left us to ourselves.
Sunday 19th - this morning we were about 8 miles from Ambergris Kay. In the forenoon we tacked away to S & E. In the afternoon saw the Great Kay, 3 vessels beating up with ourselves – but we outstripped them very fast – wind fresh & foul – weather variable – At 7 P.M. our mainsail suddenly was split from top to bottom. This was quickly unbent and in an very short time we were supplied with a new sail without having incurred any danger as might have been.
Monday 20th - squally with heavy sea all night. – split our jib. In the morning we were in sight of the mainland, which appeared very low and sandy, with not a hill or hillock to be seen. To our right was Cozumel, so that by this time we had passed within the Triangles, a very dangerous point, and we now expected to go also within Cozumel. But as night approached & we had not cleared the Island, the Captain was afraid to try this – so we went about to get inside of Cozumel. We saw the Island distinctly – it was long & low, with the sea dashing over the breakers at its extremity, & rising in spray to an immense height. At 6 we were pretty close to it & at 9 we passed it safely by the help of the Moon.
Tuesday 21st January - during the night we made very good speed from the influence of a Northerly current, which has been in our favour since we left Belize. In the morning we still Cozumel. At 2.30 P.M. we were still abreast of Cape False. At 5 P.M. abreast of the low island of Contoy, & besides these various portions of land were seen during the day. At 5.40 we kept away for the entrance to the Gulf of Mexico. Delightfully cool weather – immense flocks of birds, preying for schools of fish.
Wednesday 22nd - fine weather. Fresh and favourable breeze. Pretty strong Westerly current. We are still at present on the Banks of Campeachy. Lovely moon light – delightfully cool. Thermometer at 72* instead of 86 or 90* as is usual in Summer.
Thursday 23rd January - fine weather rather cloudy. Fresh and favourable breeze. Now off the banks. Still very cool – but not unpleasantly so.
Friday 24th - fine weather. Light and favourable wind. Saw a lunar rainbow, which however was rather faint.
Saturday 25th - cloudy over the land. At 11 A.M. saw ri Orizaba. At 11.30 the Coffre de Pirota. Land wind in the morning, fresh and foul – then a calm, followed by the wind from NE. At 6.30 saw the light house of Vera Cruz, but we would not venture in at night, both because there is a very dangerous reef of rocks running out to some distance from the Castle de San Juan de Ulloa – and besides it would have been of no use to us to have come to an anchor.
I shall only add in addition to the particulars of each days progress, that we have made the passage in an unusually short time for which we are partly indebted to the assistance of a powerful Northerly current – and partly if not principally to the concurrent skill, carefulness and zeal of our worthy Master. To them then I ascribe no small share of merit in our voyage, for I am persuaded that the different vessels we saw sailing with the same intent as ourselves, viz. to get out of the Bay of Honduras with a foul wind, would occupy four or five days longer in attaining the same point we did before we could regain a fair wind.
About 3 weeks is generally allowed from Jamaica to Vera Cruz by way of Honduras – and we have been only a fortnight.
Northers in the Gulf of Mexico
After we had entered the Gulf of Mexico, we were daily under apprehension of being visited by a Norther – than which if it occurs with violence, nothing is more to persons in our situation having various sand banks – shoals & rocks under our lee. To understand then the cause of our fears, and this more than any other time, I should observe that during the winter months – and indeed immediately upon the cessation of the periodical rains, very frequently, gales come on from the north to N.W. being the direction of North America. These in their accession may be either sudden or gradual – and at their height may be denominated moderate or violent. In general you have some previous intimations, so as to make you to prepare yourself and make all snug before it reaches its terrific climax. But woe be to the hapless vessel, upon whose Commander its indications are lost or despised, for in an instant the whole fury of the tempest sweeps over the deep, uptearing the billows & elevating their harassed tops to the height of mountains – and at the same time roaring with constant force, so that the very sound thereof compels you to stop your ears from fear. Then it is that the barque, that so lately in gallant trim bowled along the smooth waters with a favouring gale, like a thing of life spreading her broad and snowy canvas proudly to be admired – and manned perhaps with as brave and gallant crew as such upheld their country’s glory – is at once – in the twinkling of an eye, laid on her beam ends – the mountainous sea breaks over her preventing her from righting again, till at last amidst the unavailing efforts of the hardy tars, she is whelmed in all devouring ocean.
That this is no fancy picture – no creation of a florid imagination, the lamentable experience of an hundred winters has too fully proved. Tis true indeed that our knowledge of the frequent occurrence of the Northers at a certain period of the year has led us to an observation of their indications, and to the adoption of precautionary measures by which their danger is incalculably diminished, but still there is in their occasional excited violence - the prevalence of currents – and the obscure state of the weather which accompanies them, preventing all view of the sun, and of the proximity of rocks & shores enough of danger to the most experienced mariner to make him view them, if not with a stupefying, despairing dread, at least with an intense anxiety.
The duration of these Scourges of the Mexican Gulf is very unequal & uncertain. In the commencement of the season, their occurrence is at pretty distant intervals, but their violence is proportionally great. Towards the end of their period, they come on more frequently but then their occasion is more gradual & gentle & their burst less furious.
In general, the Northers are attended with thick hazy weather – frequent fogs, which wet you to the skin - & a sensation of extreme cold. All their phenomena are, I think easy to be explained. The cold air of the High Northern regions of America rushes with mighty force, to the regions of the South, where from the heat the atmosphere [is] light – and in proportion to the less specific gravity of the southern air is the strength of that vast body which is blown from the North. I fancy also that the cold Northen air, being charged with ‘frigoric’ almost to the freezing point and bringing with it a great portion of moisture in a state if icy coldness, the heat of a tropical sun causes the moisture to be evolved - & hence the fog & heavy dew.
Again the Northers seldom last very long – which may be ascribed to the circumstance that the temperature of the air in the Gulf is soon so much reduced, as by equalising it nearly with what additional quantity which may come from the North, there is no vacuum or weak point left, at which the fierce gusts of Boreas may find an entrance to occupy by force of arms. In a very short time this violence is again destroyed, and the heated attenuated air can afford but little resistance to his overpowering force.
From all that I have said, you will now be able to judge of the reasonableness of our apprehensions, and of our great good fortune in reaching Vera Cruz without meeting a Norther. We Hope in the ensuing weeks to be equally as lucky in escaping them – but I must confess our expectations are not very sanguine or indeed well founded.