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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 Start; and Parting Company
By Richard Henry Dana, Jr. (1815–1882)
 

THE CALIFORNIA had finished discharging her cargo, and was to get under way at the same time with us. Having washed down decks and got breakfast, the two vessels lay side by side in complete readiness for sea, our ensigns hanging from the peaks and our tall spars reflected from the glassy surface of the river, which since sunrise had been unbroken by a ripple. At length a few whiffs came across the water, and by eleven o’clock the regular northwest wind set steadily in. There was no need of calling all hands, for we had all been hanging about the forecastle the whole forenoon, and were ready for a start upon the first sign of a breeze. Often we turned our eyes aft upon the captain, who was walking the deck, with every now and then a look to windward. He made a sign to the mate, who came forward, took his station deliberately between the knightheads, cast a glance aloft, and called out, “All hands lay aloft and loose the sails!” We were half in the rigging before the order came, and never since we left Boston were the gaskets off the yards and the rigging overhauled in a shorter time. “All ready forward, sir!” “All ready the main!” “Crossjack yards all ready, sir!” “Lay down, all hands but one on each yard!” The yard-arm and bunt gaskets were cast off; and each sail hung by the jigger, with one man standing by the tie to let it go. At the same moment that we sprang aloft a dozen hands sprang into the rigging of the California, and in an instant were all over her yards; and her sails too were ready to be dropped at the word. In the mean time our bow gun had been loaded and run out, and its discharge was to be the signal for dropping the sails. A cloud of smoke came out of our bows; the echoes of the gun rattled our farewell among the hills of California, and the two ships were covered from head to foot with their white canvas. For a few minutes all was uproar and apparent confusion; men jumping about like monkeys in the rigging; ropes and blocks flying, orders given and answered amid the confused noises of men singing out at the ropes. The topsails came to the mastheads with “Cheerly, men!” and in a few minutes every sail was set, for the wind was light. The head sails were backed, the windlass came round “slip—slap” to the cry of the sailors;—“Hove short, sir,” said the mate; “Up with him!”—“Ay, ay, sir.” A few hearty and long heaves, and the anchor showed its head. “Hook cat!” The fall was stretched along the decks; all hands laid hold;—“Hurrah, for the last time,” said the mate; and the anchor came to the cathead to the tune of ‘Time for us to go,’ with a rollicking chorus. Everything was done quick, as though it was for the last time. The head yards were filled away, and our ship began to move through the water on her homeward-bound course.  1
  The California had got under way at the same moment, and we sailed down the narrow bay abreast, and were just off the mouth, and, gradually drawing ahead of her, were on the point of giving her three parting cheers, when suddenly we found ourselves stopped short, and the California ranging fast ahead of us. A bar stretches across the mouth of the harbor, with water enough to float common vessels; but being low in the water, and having kept well to leeward, as we were bound to the southward, we had stuck fast, while the California, being light, had floated over.  2
  We kept all sail on, in the hope of forcing over; but failing in this, we hove back into the channel. This was something of a damper to us, and the captain looked not a little mortified and vexed. “This is the same place where the Rosa got ashore, sir,” observed our red-headed second mate, most mal-àpropos. A malediction on the Rosa, and him too, was all the answer he got, and he slunk off to leeward. In a few minutes the force of the wind and the rising of the tide backed us into the stream, and we were on our way to our old anchoring place, the tide setting swiftly up, and the ship barely manageable in the light breeze. We came-to in our old berth opposite the hide-house, whose inmates were not a little surprised to see us return. We felt as though we were tied to California; and some of the crew swore that they never should get clear of the “bloody” coast.  3
  In about half an hour, which was near high water, the order was given to man the windlass, and again the anchor was catted; but there was no song, and not a word was said about the last time. The California had come back on finding that we had returned, and was hove-to, waiting for us, off the point. This time we passed the bar safely, and were soon up with the California, who filled away, and kept us company. She seemed desirous of a trial of speed, and our captain accepted the challenge, although we were loaded down to the bolts of our chain-plates, as deep as a sand-barge, and bound so taut with our cargo that we were no more fit for a race than a man in fetters; while our antagonist was in her best trim. Being clear of the point, the breeze became stiff, and the royal-masts bent under our sails, but we would not take them in until we saw three boys spring aloft into the rigging of the California; when they were all furled at once, but with orders to our boys to stay aloft at the topgallant mastheads and loose them again at the word. It was my duty to furl the fore-royal; and, while standing by to loose it again, I had a fine view of the scene. From where I stood, the two vessels seemed nothing but spars and sails, while their narrow decks, far below, slanting over by the force of the wind aloft, appeared hardly capable of supporting the great fabrics raised upon them. The California was to windward of us, and had every advantage; yet, while the breeze was stiff, we held our own. As soon as it began to slacken, she ranged a little ahead, and the order was given to loose the royals. In an instant the gaskets were off and the bunt dropped. “Sheet home the fore royal!” “Weather sheets home!”—“Lee sheets home!”—“Hoist away, sir!” is bawled from aloft. “Overhaul your clew-lines!” shouts the mate. “Ay, ay, sir! all clear!” “Taut leech! belay! Well the lee brace; haul taut to windward,”—and the royals were set. These brought us up again; but the wind continuing light, the California set hers, and it was soon evident that she was walking away from us. Our captain then hailed and said that he should keep off to his course; adding, “She isn’t the Alert now. If I had her in your trim she would have been out of sight by this time.” This was good-naturedly answered from the California, and she braced sharp up, and stood close upon the wind up the coast; while we squared away our yards, and stood before the wind to the south-southwest. The California’s crew manned her weather rigging, waved their hats in the air, and gave us three hearty cheers, which we answered as heartily, and the customary single cheer came back to us from over the water. She stood on her way, doomed to eighteen months’ or two years’ hard service upon that hated coast; while we were making our way home, to which every hour and every mile was bringing us nearer.  4
 
 
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