Posted by: Karlee A. Turner | January 26, 2011

Heading for Cape Horn….and treacherous weather

Mary Brewster, MONDAY JANUARY 26th [1846]: “The morning very pleasant with a fair breeze. Middle and last fresh winds and think fog and cold — We are nearing the Falkland Islands and the Birds are vert pleasant.  LAT  50.10 [South],  LONG. 60.21 West.”

NOTE: The Falkland Islands are a few hundred miles from Cape Horn – the only way into the Pacific Ocean during the early to mid years of the whaling industry.  Cape Horn is at the southeastern-most tip of South America and is a treacherous area of ocean.  The waters are unpredictable and weather conditions can change rapidly, not to mention the frigid water and air temperatures.  So, understandably, captains, their wives and crews anticipating the Cape often had to cope with nerves on edge.  Rounding from the Atlantic to the Pacific could be far worse than from the Pacific to the Atlantic because the prevailing winds were from the east – often gale force with accompanying heavy seas. 

The men, at least, had their work to distract them from their fears, but our Sister Sailors had to stay below, in cabins where the side lights and stern windows were boarded up and caulked shut to keep unwanted sea water out.  Harriet Swain wrote on 6 April 1853, “….make no headway….our passage has been prolonged beyond all expectations….when a violent squall took us from SSE called all hands and took in all sail except main topsail. The wind continued to blow with all violence….the weather very cold with squalls of snow and hail. We had a good coal fire going all we (who have our watch below) can do to set on the floor by the stove and talk of friends at home, hoping for better days.” For Harriet, rounding the Horn that voyage and better days remained elusive for more than three weeks. She wrote on 13 May, “Have been sick 12 days, vomiting up everything I took down. During the time it has been a continual succession of gales of wind with rain hail and cold. We have made no headway in the time but have instead drifted back which is very discouraging to all.”

Martha Brown did not make a journal entry for this date in 1848.

And in little more than a decade, Mary Lawrence experienced and anticipated similar physical discomforts just as Mary Brewster when heading toward Cape Horn. Mary Lawrence wrote on [Monday] JANUARY 26 [1857]: “Nothing of interest has occurred for the last week, except that we have cold, stormy, and rough weather; for the last three days I have kept to my bed most of the time. Nothing in the cabin has been safe. We are in the vicinity of Cape Horn and have a very unfavorable time to get round. last night we caught another porpoise, which was very acceptable just now for something fresh as well as the oil.”

Eliza Willliams remained silent though February 3, 1859.

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