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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
A Dry Gale
By Richard Henry Dana, Jr. (1815–1882)
 

WE had been below but a short time before we had the usual premonitions of a coming gale,—seas washing over the whole forward part of the vessel, and her bows beating against them with a force and sound like the driving of piles. The watch, too, seemed very busy trampling about decks and singing out at the ropes. A sailor can tell by the sound what sail is coming in; and in a short time we heard the top-gallant-sails come in, one after another, and then the flying jib. This seemed to ease her a good deal, and we were fast going off to the land of Nod, when—bang, bang, bang—on the scuttle, and “All hands, reef topsails, ahoy!” started us out of our berths, and it not being very cold weather, we had nothing extra to put on, and were soon on deck. I shall never forget the fineness of the sight. It was a clear and rather a chilly night; the stars were twinkling with an intense brightness, and as far as the eye could reach there was not a cloud to be seen. The horizon met the sea in a defined line. A painter could not have painted so clear a sky. There was not a speck upon it. Yet it was blowing great guns from the northwest. When you can see a cloud to windward, you feel that there is a place for the wind to come from; but here it seemed to come from nowhere. No person could have told from the heavens, by their eyesight alone, that it was not a still summer’s night. One reef after another we took in the topsails, and before we could get them hoisted up we heard a sound like a short quick rattling of thunder, and the jib was blown to atoms out of the bolt-rope. We got the topsails set, and the fragments of the jib stowed away, and the foretopmast staysail set in its place, when the great mainsail gaped open, and the sail ripped from head to foot. “Lay up on that main yard and furl the sail, before it blows to tatters!” shouted the captain; and in a moment we were up, gathering the remains of it upon the yard. We got it wrapped round the yard, and passed gaskets over it as snugly as possible, and were just on deck again, when with another loud rent, which was heard throughout the ship, the foretopsail, which had been double-reefed, split in two athwartships, just below the reef-band, from earing to earing. Here again it was—down yard, haul out reef-tackles, and lay out upon the yard for reefing. By hauling the reef-tackles chock-a-block we took the strain from the other earings, and passing the close-reef earing, and knotting the points carefully, we succeeded in setting the sail, close reefed.  1
  We had but just got the rigging coiled up, and were waiting to hear “Go below the watch!” when the main royal worked loose from the gaskets, and blew directly out to leeward, flapping and shaking the mast like a wand. Here was a job for somebody. The royal must come in or be cut adrift, or the mast would be snapped short off. All the light hands in the starboard watch were sent up one after another, but they could do nothing with it. At length John, the tall Frenchman, the head of the starboard watch (and a better sailor never stepped upon a deck), sprang aloft, and by the help of his long arms and legs succeeded after a hard struggle,—the sail blowing over the yard-arm to leeward, and the skysail adrift directly over his head,—in smothering it and frapping it with long pieces of sinnet. He came very near being blown or shaken from the yard several times, but he was a true sailor, every finger a fish-hook. Having made the sail snug, he prepared to send the yard down, which was a long and difficult job; for frequently he was obliged to stop and hold on with all his might for several minutes, the ship pitching so as to make it impossible to do anything else at that height. The yard at length came down safe, and after it the fore and mizzen royal yards were sent down. All hands were then sent aloft, and for an hour or two we were hard at work, making the booms well fast, unreeving the studding sail and royal and skysail gear, getting rolling-ropes on the yard, setting up the weather breast-backstays, and making other preparations for a storm. It was a fine night for a gale, just cool and bracing enough for quick work, without being cold, and as bright as day. It was sport to have a gale in such weather as this. Yet it blew like a hurricane. The wind seemed to come with a spite, an edge to it, which threatened to scrape us off the yards. The force of the wind was greater than I had ever felt it before; but darkness, cold, and wet are the worst parts of a storm to a sailor.  2
  Having got on deck again, we looked round to see what time of night it was, and whose watch. In a few minutes the man at the wheel struck four bells, and we found that the other watch was out and our own half out. Accordingly the starboard watch went below, and left the ship to us for a couple of hours, yet with orders to stand by for a call.  3
  Hardly had they got below before away went the foretopmast staysail, blown to ribands. This was a small sail, which we could manage in the watch, so that we were not obliged to call up the other watch. We laid upon the bowsprit, where we were under water half the time, and took in the fragments of the sail; and as she must have some headsail on her, prepared to bend another staysail. We got the new one out into the nettings; seized on the tack, sheets, and halyards, and the hanks; manned the halyards, cut adrift the frapping-lines, and hoisted away; but before it was half-way up the stay it was blown all to pieces. When we belayed the halyards, there was nothing left but the bolt-rope. Now large eyes began to show themselves in the foresail; and knowing that it must soon go, the mate ordered us upon the yard to furl it. Being unwilling to call up the watch, who had been on deck all night, he roused out the carpenter, sailmaker, cook, and steward, and with their help we manned the foreyard, and after nearly half an hour’s struggle, mastered the sail and got it well furled round the yard. The force of the wind had never been greater than at this moment. In going up the rigging it seemed absolutely to pin us down to the shrouds; and on the yard there was no such thing as turning a face to windward. Yet there was no driving sleet and darkness and wet and cold as off Cape Horn; and instead of stiff oilcloth suits, southwester caps, and thick boots, we had on hats, round jackets, duck trousers, light shoes, and everything light and easy. These things make a great difference to a sailor. When we got on deck the man at the wheel struck eight bells (four o’clock in the morning), and “All star-bowlines, ahoy!” brought the other watch up, but there was no going below for us. The gale was now at its height, “blowing like scissors and thumb-screws”; the captain was on deck; the ship, which was light, rolling and pitching as though she would shake the long sticks out of her, and the sails were gaping open and splitting in every direction. The mizzen-topsail, which was a comparatively new sail and close reefed, split from head to foot in the bunt; the foretopsail went in one rent from clew to caring, and was blowing to tatters; one of the chain bobstays parted; the spritsailyard sprung in the slings, the martingale had slued away off to leeward; and owing to the long dry weather the lee rigging hung in large bights at every lurch. One of the main-topgallant shrouds had parted; and to crown all, the galley had got adrift and gone over to leeward, and the anchor on the lee bow had worked loose and was thumping the side. Here was work enough for all hands for half a day. Our gang laid out on the mizzen-topsailyard, and after more than half an hour’s hard work furled the sail, though it bellied out over our heads, and again, by a slat of the wind, blew in under the yard with a fearful jerk and almost threw us off from the foot-ropes.  4
  Double gaskets were passed round the yards, rolling tackles and other gear bowsed taut, and everything made as secure as it could be. Coming down, we found the rest of the crew just coming down the fore rigging, having furled the tattered topsail, or rather, swathed it round the yard, which looked like a broken limb bandaged. There was no sail now on the ship but the spanker and the close-reefed main-topsail, which still held good. But this was too much after-sail, and order was given to furl the spanker. The brails were hauled up, and all the light hands in the starboard watch sent out on the gaff to pass the gaskets; but they could do nothing with it. The second mate swore at them for a parcel of “sogers,” and sent up a couple of the best men; but they could do no better, and the gaff was lowered down. All hands were now employed in setting up the lee rigging, fishing the spritsail yard, lashing the galley, and getting tackles upon the martingale, to bowse it to windward. Being in the larboard watch, my duty was forward, to assist in setting up the martingale. Three of us were out on the martingale guys and back-ropes for more than half an hour, carrying out, hooking, and unhooking the tackles, several times buried in the seas, until the mate ordered us in from fear of our being washed off. The anchors were then to be taken up on the rail, which kept all hands on the forecastle for an hour, though every now and then the seas broke over it, washing the rigging off to leeward, filling the lee scuppers breast-high, and washing chock aft to the taffrail.  5
  Having got everything secure again, we were promising ourselves some breakfast, for it was now nearly nine o’clock in the forenoon, when the main-topsail showed evident signs of giving way. Some sail must be kept on the ship, and the captain ordered the fore and main spencer gaffs to be lowered down, and the two spencers (which were storm sails, brand-new, small, and made of the strongest canvas) to be got up and bent; leaving the main-topsail to blow away, with a blessing on it, if it would only last until we could set the spencers. These we bent on very carefully, with strong robands and seizings, and making tackles fast to the clews, bowsed them down to the water-ways. By this time the main-topsail was among the things that have been, and we went aloft to stow away the remnant of the last sail of all those which were on the ship twenty-four hours before. The spencers were now the only whole sails on the ship, and being strong and small, and near the deck, presenting but little surface to the wind above the rail, promised to hold out well. Hove-to under these, and eased by having no sail above the tops, the ship rose and fell, and drifted off to leeward like a line-of-battle ship.  6
  It was now eleven o’clock, and the watch was sent below to get breakfast, and at eight bells (noon), as everything was snug, although the gale had not in the least abated, the watch was set and the other watch and idlers sent below. For three days and three nights the gale continued with unabated fury, and with singular regularity. There were no lulls, and very little variation in its fierceness. Our ship, being light, rolled so as almost to send the fore yard-arm under water, and drifted off bodily to leeward. All this time there was not a cloud to be seen in the sky, day or night; no, not so large as a man’s hand. Every morning the sun rose cloudless from the sea, and set again at night in the sea in a flood of light. The stars, too, came out of the blue one after another, night after night, unobscured, and twinkled as clear as on a still frosty night at home, until the day came upon them. All this time the sea was rolling in immense surges, white with foam, as far as the eye could reach, on every side; for we were now leagues and leagues from shore.  7
 
 
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