Saturday, June 2, 2012

EUTERPE: STORMY WEATHER - Part I The captain was anxious

Weather in an old sailing ship was hugely significant. The wind drove the ship forwards, held it back and tossed it around. It could make the passengers sick, it could destroy their possessions and even kill them. Sails were ripped, fittings broke, hatch covers blew off. And there was no escaping the rain, it bucketed down, water ran in the scuppers and flooded not only the holds but the sleeping accommodation as well.

So it was on board the sailing ship Euterpe in 1879. All were affected, including the passengers, who were roped in to help with emergencies – and indeed, it must have often been a relief to have something worthwhile to do. Anyone who could help did so.

One spectacularly severe storm started threatening on a Tuesday in late October. Diarist Joshua Charlesworth who, early in the voyage, wrote: "I sleep athwart ship or cross the ship so that when there is any rough weather & rolling I have to pack myself in my bunk, sometimes on my head & and then on my feet" saw the signs of an approaching storm. He noted laconically: "Cat washed overboard, ship pitching heavily".

Three days later George Lister wrote a vivid account of what happened: "A strong breeze with rain. In the evening came a gale. All sails were taken in but the sea ran mountains high and the ship sailing heavily so that the mainyards were tipping in the waves. In the night it was awful. We could not get a wink of sleep. Boxes, tins and boots were rolling about. Some Messes lost all their week's stores. The hatches were closed but the water came through fast so we were in a nice mess. No one could stand without having hold of something. We scarce could go on deck for the sea was coming over like mountains and we often got wet through. Saturday morning .... some of us went up on deck to wash as usual but while we were washing she rolled down on one side and we all went rolling about the deck. There are no exceptions between passengers and sailors for falling. One woman was carried near the length of the ship with a wave and another named Mrs Owen fell and broke her leg in the cabin, coming out of her bunk."

Charlesworth added: "Storm last night, very high sea running & shipping tons of water every minute especially on the quarter deck. Sometimes it came over the ship and went down the ventilators & into our cabins. Not sleeped a wink last night, engaged swabbing out as quick as possible. Ship rolled tremendously, sometimes going over 40 degrees and very slow in regaining her position on account of her bad loading. The Captain was very anxious about her I'll assure you."

The photograph was, as so often, kindly provided by Mike Wood Photography

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