magazine and Seamen's Friend
The Americn Seamen's Friend Society, 76 Wall St, New York
Jan 1915, LXXXVII (1) 146-151 [part 1]
Shipwreck of the Wild Wave
James F. Bartlett*
The clipper ship Wild Wave: [J.] N. Knowls. Master, and James F. Bartlett, Chief Officer, left the port of San Francisco on the 9th of February, 1858, bound for Valparaiso and Callao.
The crew consisted of four officers, cook, steward and twenty-four men and boys before the mast, with the carpenter and ten passengers, making a total of forty-two souls on board.
Upon the 4th of March the position of the ship by good observations was found to be Lat. 22" 13' S. Long. 130° 26' West. During the afternoon and evening the ship was steered on a S.S.W. course so as to pass some fifteen miles to the westward of the Island of Oeno as it was laid down upon our charts. The ship had at this time topgallant sails set over single reefed topsails. The night came on fair and clear and the ship was making some nine knots through the water. The best of lookouts was kept by a seaman in the fore castle, in the gangway by the fourth officer, and by the second officer on the quarter-deck. At midnight the deck was relieved by the first officer and the third, with the port watch. More than usual precaution was used ; the lookouts duly warned the officers in their stations, and everything bid fair for a pleasant watch. At 30 minutes past 1 o'clock the third officer and the lookout reported breakers ahead. At the same time the first officer saw them from the quarter-deck stretching away under the lee. Hard down the helm ! Call all hands ! Stations for stays, was hardly out of his mouth before the ship was in the breakers. In an instant she struck upon the reef where fate had decreed the loss of our noble ship.
The captain with his usual energy was on deck in an instant, and all that nautical skill or seamanship could do was done, but in vain ; for in less time than it takes me to pen it, she swung broadside to the surf which every instant broke over her, drenching her unlucky crew to the skin, and threatening them with destruction. The captain now gave the order to cut away the masts, which was done, though not without danger to the lives and limbs of those who did it. Upon inspecting the boats they were found to be whole. To clear them away was now the order, and have them ready at any moment. All hands gathered aft around the captain whose agony for the loss of
ship was stifled to an occasional sigh His stout heart still bore up, and his words put courage in the souls of the most craven. All hands looked up to him as children to a father. "We will wait until daylight," said he, "we are all safe so far, and when morning comes we will see what can be done." At length the night wore away and daybreak disclosed a small green island nearly two miles from where the ship had struck. The reef surrounded it on all sides forming an almost impossible barrier between ocean and land.
The life-boat was launched and manned with a daring crew, well-armed and in command of the first officer. With many a cheer they left the ship and soon were dashing through the surf. After a long pull the boat touched the coral strand and the boat's crew stood upon the beach.
We found it a low, sandy island one mile in length and one-half mile in breadth, covered with a stunted growth of trees ; but no fruit or any plant capable of sustaining life. Sea birds of many kinds were plenty, and some were killed by the men.
The boat soon returned to the ship and preparations were made to land all hands, and also provisions as soon as possible. Two of the passengers came on shore in the next boat with pickaxe and shovels in order to dig for water. On our next return with the boat, water had been found at a depth of six feet, and in great plenty. We were now much easier in our minds, and bent all our energies towards getting provisions on shore. By night all hands had been landed and tents pitched to sleep in. This last operation did not suit the mosquitoes and sandflies, who during the first part of the night feasted themselves upon us without mercy. At daylight the life-boat started for the wreck. The long boat came off in charge of the third officer. We made five trips in the life-boat through the surf and discharged into the long boat. In this manner we got a large quantity of provisions on shore, of all kinds, and also more sails to make us more suitable tents.
Sunday, March 7th, out at daybreak, but found the weather and surf so bad that it was impossible to board the wreck, as the surf broke over her tops with a noise almost deafening. Some of the men are engaged in making a net to catch fish with. One of the passengers caught a large fish today, and some small ones—the most Beautiful ones I ever saw—showing all the colors of the rainbow exquisitely blended together. They were cooked and all hands did them ample justice.
Monday, 8th, the bad weather still continues and the surf is worse than it was yesterday, if possible. The ship still keeps together ; her stern has swung more on the reef.
Tuesday, 9th, rainy, bad weather. The surf still playing its "Devil's Tattoo" upon the reef as much as to say we have you fellows. All faces look anxious and solemn, and among the tents Bibles and prayer-books seem to have come in general use instead of the light reading usually seen amongst seafaring men ; and those who have lived all their lives as if there was no power above to punish evil deeds, now in their distress take to the Bible as naturally as saints. There is nothing like faith in the Church.
Wednesday, 10th, impossible to board the wreck. I came to that conclusion after three attempts, the surf each time nearly swamping our little boat, and I am sure no life insurance office would like a policy on the man who would attempt it again. I then pulled round the island inside the reef in search of a passage or channel through the reef to the sea, but could not find a better place than where the ship had struck. After coming on shore had a consultation with the captain, and concluded to start for Pitcairn Island for assistance as soon as the weather would permit, in the life-boat. Pitcairn Island is about 80 miles from here in a S.S.W. direction. As soon as this was decided upon the life-boat was hauled up and the carpenter set to work repairing her ; and a crew was picked to go, the captain, myself, carpenter, and four seamen.
Thursday, March 11th, more settled weather to-day, but the surf continued so bad that we could not board the wreck. Some of the men engaged in getting provisions ready for the boat. The second officer took a gang and caught a large number of fish which made an excellent meal for all hands. Friday, 12th, moderate and pleasant. To-day made two trips to the wreck and landed many useful articles and more provisions. As we now have provisions enough on shore to last with economy many months, we have concluded to start for Pitcairn Island to-morrow, if the surf will permit. Hauled the life-boat on the beach and varnished her inside and out. The second officer and gang caught more fish to-day, the same kind as before.
Saturday, 13th, commenced clear and pleasant with every prospect of a fine day. The surf is less heavy than I have seen it since our disaster.
All preparations being made for our departure at 11 o'clock, we left the beach after bidding farewell to those who were to stay
behind, and pulled for the wreck. The long boat was already side manned with a good crew in charge of the fourth officer to render assistance to us in case of accident. After filling our water cask and getting two boxes of specie on board, containing $14,000.00, the captain gave the order to pull off and lay on our oars alongside the ship. After waiting a moment—and a long one it was to me—he at length gave the word : "Pull boys, and for your lives !" Keep her head to sea, sir," to me who had the steering oar. To say that every man in that little boat did his best would but faintly express the manner in which they dipped their oars and made their ashen blades bend again, for well they knew it was for life or death. Dame Fortune for once was kind, and soon the cheers from those on board the wreck told us that the danger was over, and now we return them with right good will and are so rejoiced at our escape that the distance of nearly 100 miles, which is before us in a leaky boat not 25 feet long, seems as nothing. Up goes our mast and the sail is set. "Keep her S.E. by S." said the captain, and a smile came over his pale, determined face—the first I had seen there in a long time. Now we have time to look back at the island which seems with its vegetation just seen over the crest of the surf, an immense emerald in a pale blue setting, and this again encircled with a wreath of snow white foam. But even as we look it is fading from our sight as our little bark is borne along at the rate of four or five knots an hour. Already the tents have disappeared and now I am taking my last look at the good old ship which has been my home for the past three years.
Memory is busy within me reviewing the past, and as every incident connected with my services within her wooden walls passes before me I ask myself with a sigh, "Will you ever see such stirring times again ?" But small time is given me, however, for reflection, for the compass is bobbing about like mad as the little boat rears and plunges to the surge of the mighty Pacific, and it requires all my skill to keep her on the course. At 6 o'clock, after a frugal meal, the captain relieved me and I am to sleep until midnight. Sleeping in an open boat at sea is a problem yet to be solved, at least I found it so, after trying my six hours, and so the captain seemed to think during the latter part of the night. However, at midnight the captain seemed to think it advisable to heave to and as we had run by our reckoning sixty miles we might pass the island in the darkness. This was accordingly done, our sail furled, the mast masted and the boat's head with difficulty kept to wind and sea. At length the morning of the 14th broke and the carpenter, who was on old whaler and used
looking out for whale spouts, and whose vision was sharpened by the practice to a degree not to be believed by landsmen, after a close scrutiny sung out, "Land ho !" and bearing S. by E. by compass, a small speck covered by dark, ominous clouds is seen. "It is Pitcairn Island," broke from every lip. The mast is stepped and we are soon bowling along at our best rate of sailing. Some of the party vow to go to church if we get there in time, little thinking of the struggle which is before them, for about 9 o'clock, the wind, which has been gradually dying away, shifts to the southeast and as we are some fifteen miles from the island with a heavy sea on and the squalls increasing every minute, our only alternative is to pull that distance ; so unstepping our mast we commenced pulling. Our boat, though an excellent sea boat was not a fast one. It was not until dark that we were near enough to land, and we concluded to lay on our oars under the lee of the island until morning. We were nearly exhausted, and dividing into two watches, we alternately tasted the sweets of sleep, nor could the tossing of the boat or the pelting of the rain rob us of it. At daybreak we pulled round the island, but could find no place to land, signs of habitation, or anything which gave token of man except an old ruined flagstaff with an old ensign's remains hanging to its crop-trees ; and an occasional crowing of a cock. The coast was completely rockbound and we were nearly in despair of ever being able to land when a little cove in the rocks on the N.W. side of the island met our view. Here we without difficulty landed, and after removing our effects and provisions moored the boat head and stern between the rocks. It was now nearly 10 o'clock, but the captain and carpenter started to explore the island to find the inhabitants while the rest of us reposed our weary limbs upon the rocky beach. After a short repose some of the party climbed the cliffs and threw down some green cocoanuts. We found the milk very refreshing and drank as many as we were able. I now began to be anxious for the safety of the captain and carpenter, but about 4 o'clock they came in sight and having arrived nearly exhausted gave us the unwelcome intelligence that we were the only persons upon the island. They had discovered the landing place on the N.E. side of the island and also the town where the inhabitants had formerly lived. From notices posted in some of the houses, they found that the people left on the 2d of May, 1856, for Norfolk Island, at the expense of the British government in the ship Morayshire. As the place where we had landed was the worst side of the island and our boat by no means in safe quarters, we proposed to pull around to the other landing-
place in the morning, and after recruiting our strength start for Tahita, which was distanced about 1200 miles. Nearer we could not hope to obtain relief for our shipmates at Oeno. With our boat's sail we pitched a tent upon the beach and slept dull care away until awakened by the crowing of a cock who was upon the cliffs over our heads. This incident we embraced as a lucky omen and thought of home and friends once more with the expectation of again beholding them. — (To be continued.)