The Galapagos chapters, with minor edits to correct spelling of some names (Brun = Bruun, Kuygerud = Nuggerud, etc.). See Utley's “Statement” for further details about the death of Captain Bruun.
|Louis||German seaman, last name not given|
|Mobile||Winston Cheeseman, seaman|
|Rab||Rab Buchanan, friend of the author|
Panama to the Galapagos
On 21st April, 1931, we were all ready to sail. Rab and I had wisely celebrated my departure two nights before, so I did not have my usual headache. However, I did have the usual sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach.
We had a fearful shock too that morning for we got a bill for 132 dollars from the Port Captain. Twenty-five dollars for pilotage out of Cristobal and the rest because we had been tied up to a buoy. We had asked to be taken to the yacht basin, but the Pilot had tied us up there, saying it was better. I have used buoys in many British artificial harbours; also in Cherbourg, in Brest, in Bergen, in Vigo and in Tenerife, and as a yacht was never charged anything. It meant that I was going off to the Marquesas with 200 dollars in my pocket.
The Pilot came onboard at 11 a.m. Rab started the motor and we taxied out of Balboa along the buoyed channel. Rab worked hard until the last moment, while I steered and chatted to the Pilot. Rab's last bit of work aboard was to go up the mast and notice that the chain sling holding up the yard was loose. But very soon the Pilot said he was getting off, so Rab and I said farewell and both felt very bad about it. We had a drink of Barbados rum all round and then Rab and the Pilot pushed off. There was a light breeze from just east of north, and I set jib, squaresail and raffee.
I remember feeling very much alone. My crew were really unknown quantities. I knew that Mobile was good with his hands, that he had plenty of pluck and that he was very deft and quick at handling gear, but I also knew that he was as irresponsible as a child. Louis was a bartender, who said he had been quartermaster on steamboats, but he confessed he knew nothing about sail and was not shaping well. Always at the back of my mind was Gerbault's description of the Gulf of Panama and the Doldrums. However, the wind gradually increased and as we reeled off the knots my spirits began to rise and depression gave way to exhilaration.
A ship, provisions, a crew, 200 dollars and all the Pacific before us. If I had all the responsibility I had all the power; I was alone, but I was lord and master. The wind continued to blow strong and true, and we made sixty miles in the first twelve hours. I set a course of south (magnetic) from opposite Taboga Island which put me twenty-five miles to the east of Cape Mala, for I had been warned of the strong indraught. We never saw the Mala light, but there were persistent flashings, usually grouped in twos, on the port bow, which I decided were lightning, but Mobile called me five times between three and six to say that there was a lighthouse on the port bow. On one occasion he announced a fixed white light which turned out to be a rising planet. We made very good progress until six in the afternoon of April 23rd, when the wind began to fail, but we had logged 276 miles in fifty-two hours, and were nearly one-third of the way to the Galapagos.
Our observed position at 5.0 p.m. S.A.T. [Standard Atlantic Time] was 5° 9' North, 81° 45' West. This was far, far better than I had ever dared to hope. I seem to remember that Gerbault took nearly a month to get so far south. That was the end of the north wind, and all Thursday night and all the following day we lay becalmed. There was not the faintest puff of wind, nor a cloud in the sky, and the heat was quite unbearable. I can remember nothing like it on the sea; there was a heavy suffocating quality about the atmosphere which squeezed all the vitality out of us. At sunset we got a light breeze from the south, so we said goodbye to our square rig and set our mainsail. The night was a series of calms and squalls. I did not get below till four in the morning, when things looked a little more settled. I left Louis at the helm. I was just dozing off when I heard the infernal clatter of a boat in stays. I lay still for a few minutes, hoping against hope, but the noise continued so I went on deck. Louis greeted me with “It won't steer, there's something wrong with the rudder.” I put her back on her course again and fell asleep immediately.
At four-thirty, Mobil―who was not on watch, but who did not trust Louis―woke me to say it was blowing hard. I went on deck and said it wasn't, and went to sleep again. At five forty-five, Mobile woke me once more to say that there was a heavy squall coming. I lighted a cigarette and went on deck with a bored and languid air, and was instantly almost drowned in a deluge of rain. I got the mainsail down with Mobile just before the wind hit us. It blew furiously for five minutes, then dropped to a dead calm. I left the mainsail on deck and we tossed about in a most horrid swell until 11.30 a.m., when we got a light breeze from south by east, so we again hoisted the mainsail.
Then just after noon, the whole horizon to windward became obscured by tier upon tier of thick black clouds. We had a hurried lunch while the mass grew larger and larger. The rain began to pour down about a couple of miles away while the whole mass blazed with lightning and the thunder sounded like a barrage. Meanwhile, another mass grew quickly to leeward, and for a few minutes we sailed down an ever narrowing lane of bright sunlight. I had decided to keep the mainsail up until it blew so hard that it was imperative to lower it; luckily, I lost my nerve.
There was something so portentous of evil in those two approaching masses. It seemed like being enveloped by two hostile armies. So I ordered the mainsail down on deck and Mobile and I got it down just in time. We had been sailing southwest, close-hauled. The squall struck us on the port bow coming just from the east of south. It was exceedingly violent and was accompanied by torrential rain. It blew from the same direction for perhaps five minutes, then without warning shifted a full thirteen points to the north-northeast and blew with even greater fury. The headsails and the mizzen came over in a tremendous gybe, the mizzen sheet parted, and I thanked my lucky stars that the mainsail was not up, for the boom would have gone for certain. I took the wheel from Louis and held her dead before it, while Mobile got the mizzen down in a few seconds.
I have been in an official No. 9 gale, but that was nothing to the force of the wind that day. The sustained force must have been about No. 11, and Heaven alone knows what was the force of the gusts. We ran southwest before it under the jib alone, doing over seven knots. The rain cut like hail and we were soaked through and We shivered with cold; nature, having failed us the previous day, was now trying to freeze us.
The wind quickly picked up a short vicious sea, but there was no weight in it, a lot of water slopped on board, but no heavy stuff. The force of the wind was sustained for two and a half hours, it then quickly dropped to about that of a moderate gale, and as it was still coming from the northeast, Mobile and I hoisted the squaresail and a little later the raffee, and we were then able to go due south. Then the wind began to back through north to northwest and by seven that evening it had fallen to nothing. Nevertheless, we had logged just on forty miles in those six hours, and that was nearly forty less of the Doldrums. Mobile and I were feeling very tired, what with excitement and with hoisting and lowering sails, so, as I wanted both a quiet night and some sail up, we hoisted the trysail instead of the mainsail. In those last twenty-four hours I realised what a pleasure it was to work with Mobile. Whenever we shifted sail with my old crew there were growls and curses. Mobile just accepted it as a matter of course, with a grin on his face. He was amazingly quick.
I found, though, I had much more work to do than ever before. Louis did not pick up anything at all, partly because he had no aptitude, partly because he was too much endowed with a race superiority complex to condescend to learn anything from Mobile. He even in a clumsy way attempted to teach Mobile things Mobile had known for many years. So, in the end, I always left Louis at the helm and handled all the sails myself with Mobile. In addition, I had the navigation to do, my time on watch, and my general function as skipper, which really means being willing to be called at any hour wearing a cheerful smile. Mobile was preparing three meals a day, washing up and generally keeping things tidy, keeping the gear in repair and standing his watch. In addition, Louis tried to use him as steward and cabinboy. He sat about in the saloon and whenever he wanted anything, yelled, “Mobile, Mobile,” in a voice I would not use to a dog. Moreover, he used to spit saliva, orange-pips or orange remains onto the floor and expect Mobile to clean them up. I suggested gently to him at first that Mobile had enough to do, without waiting on him, and that he must not try to order him about in that tone of voice. He said he had been handling boys for years, and that that was the way to treat them. I replied that that was not my way, and that they were not to be treated so on my ship.
But he would not learn to behave properly, and in the end I was forced to announce that Mobile and he were on an equality and that Mobile need take no orders except from me. On the night of the squall I went below at ten o'clock, leaving the ship almost becalmed, but when I came on deck at midnight to relieve Louis I found to my pleasure that the ship was slipping along to the south-southwest at about two knots, with a gentle breeze from the southeast. The breeze lasted all night, the following morning backing to the east-southeast and becoming fresher, so we hoisted the mainsail and made good progress. It was distinctly cooler; we were quickly slipping south; there was a look of trade winds about the sky; so we all felt very cheerful. But towards evening, the wind hauled round to the south and the sky became covered with thick black clouds. Extracts from my log concerning that night run:
Sunday, April 26th. From 6.00 a.m. until time of writing (8.30 p.m.) we have been surrounded by squalls which have not happened, but I am expecting trouble all the time. We are just about halfway to the Galapagos.
Monday, April 27th, 8.30 p.m. The patent log read 440 miles. Observed position at 3.15 p.m., was 3° 17' North, 84° 45' West. There has been a fresh breeze from the south all day, and the course was southwest by south. Last night I turned in at 10.00. Louis called me at 10.40 to say the ship would not steer. I found her aback and put her back on her course. Louis called me at 11.30 to say the weather looked very threatening. The whole heaven was piled up with masses of black clouds, with lightning playing and incessant roll of thunder. However, the wind was steady from the south, and there was a thin space of clearness between the clouds and the horizon. I decided to carry on. Took over from Louis at midnight. Fine, clear moonlight night with not a cloud to be seen. At 1.30 a.m. everything was blotted out with massed black clouds and with more thunder and lightning. Looked like a super-hurricane. Kept on, thinking I ought to call crew and get mainsail on deck, but hung on. Half an hour later, it was a clear moonlight night again.
I have a pet nightmare when I am ill, which dates back to my earliest childhood. It takes many forms but the essence is always the same. I am struggling against something and when everything gets hopeless and I am in an agony of terror, things suddenly go well. Then again they get hopeless and again get well, and so on interminably until I wake up in a sweat. Well, this succession of weather resembled my pet nightmare much too closely to be pleasant, for at 2.45, the sky looked worse than ever. So I stayed on watch till 3.30, when everything in the garden was again lovely. I then called Mobile to take over. At 4.00 a.m. he called out there was a really bad squall coming. I went on deck: it did look as if all the threats of the night were going to be fulfilled, so I got the mainsail down on deck, but I was probably most influenced by the thought that thus I would get some sleep. As we were getting it down, the squall tore across our bows without touching us, and in a few minutes the night was cloudless and serene. But I left the mainsail where it was, with orders to wake me at 8.00 a.m. to reset it. That squall marked the end of the Doldrums and was the last we had. It had been a wearing time, but we were extraordinarily lucky in getting through so quickly, just four days. In that zone one is always on the horns of a dilemma. If you do not take advantage of every wind, you can stay there until Doomsday; if you don't get sail off her in time you may carry away everything. You have to carry on until the last minute of safety and not an instant longer.
Next morning we had a stiff breeze from the south and we sailed close-hauled southwest by west, the ship bucking into a head sea and dipping her bows under for the first time since the gale off the coast of Portugal. We might have been beating down Channel from, say, the Start to the Lizard. The forecastle hatch, which had been recaulked in Tenerife eight months before, leaked badly, but Mobile recaulked it.
On April 28th, seven days out, our observed position at 2.30 p.m. S.A.T. was 3° 23' North, 85° 23' West and the log read 484.
I found that we were drifting about twenty miles a day to the westward and as the wind had shifted to the west of south and we could only sail west by south, I went about. We were able to sail south-southeast a quarter east on the starboard tack.
The previous night the wind dropped to nothing during my watch, while the sky did its usual rehearsal for the Day of Judgment. As the main boom was all over the place, I disturbed the crew for the first time during my watch and got the mainsail down. That was the fist night we began to notice it was getting cold.
The next day we had a very poor breeze, which fell to practically nothing at nightfall; so I thought we would have a peaceful night. We got the mainsail down and hauled the headsails in flat, let the mizzen sheet out about two feet, and she pointed five points from the wind, seeming to forge ahead slowly. We brought our bedding on deck and slept peacefully. I was the first to wake up at 8.00 a.m. and she was still on her course.
My favourite rig for a boat is a cutter, but I am beginning to think there is something to be said for a yawl in tropical waters. It is very handy to be able to put your mainsail on deck and still have some after canvas to keep her head on. Yet you still have almost as large a mainsail as you would have on a snugly rigged cutter. There is too much loss of efficiency on a boat under fifty foot waterline, rigged as a ketch or schooner.
In English waters I do not see much advantage in the yawl rig on a yacht. There it either blows or it doesn't. You don't get series of calms and squalls and want to lower your mainsail for half an hour. You want two reefs or full sail. Moreover, as you spend most of your time beating, you want the most efficient possible rig to windward. I am sure many English yachts are yawl or ketch rig merely because fishing boats are. That is quite a different matter; fishing boats need a small riding sail for their work. Of course, if you always use your motor when going to windward, it is again a different matter.
We got a good breeze the following morning and all the next day, and on April 30th were in 1° 34' North and 85° 5' West. Then, as the wind had hauled to the eastward, I went about and was able to steer south-southwest or southwest by south. We were 275 miles from the Galapagos, but had only 120 miles of southing to make. The nights had begun to get very cold. I could manage in long trousers over my shorts and a thick tweed coat, but Mobile and Louis, who have tropical constitutions, complained a lot. I gave Mobile a thick sweater I bought for coxing an eight at Cambridge in mid-winter, and he was still cold. Both he and Louis looked very funny at the wheel, all huddled up and muffled in blankets, like a couple of ancient squaws. Louis also suffered from the strange delusion that you can catch cold by feeling cold.
That night was the first really clear night since leaving Panama, and there was an almost full moon. I remember thinking to myself as I watched a gorgeous sunset, with a glass of rum in my hand, what a wonderful life this was and how I must go on leading it for a long, long time. Somehow or other, I determined, I would get about all over the South Seas; with the boat if I could, if not, some other way. Sailing, if you are made that way, never becomes satiating; the more you do the more you want to do. The first day or two you are never comfortable or at ease, but soon the solitude and beauty of the open sea soak into you, and you feel a wonderful sense of well-being, and a strange content.
On May 1st we were becalmed all day. Rab had spent several days in Panama teaching Louis how to manage the engine and I was assured he knew all about it. I had been suggesting for several days that he should try it to see if it were working properly. He kept on putting it off but this time I insisted.
After some time I heard a few abortive explosions, then he said there was a rope twisted round the shaft and he would try again the next day. There was not a breath of wind that night and a sea like glass, so I just let the boat go. We all slept on deck and I arranged that if we got a wind later, whoever's ordinary watch it was would take over. Louis woke me at 3.30 a.m. to say that there was a slight breeze. I said “Good, my watch is over,” and called Mobile. We had a lot of trouble getting under way again and it took over twenty minutes to wear her. I did not get out of my warm bed, however, but superintended the proceedings from under two blankets. Once she was on her course again I turned over and went happily to sleep. I woke at 8.00 a.m. to find her slipping along nicely, and as we could sail south-southwest with the wind two points free, I decided to set both the gaff and jib-topsail. This was the first time Mobile had set either, but he and I set the jib-topsail in a quarter of an hour and the topsail in twenty minutes.
Mobile was a dream to work with, he was so amazingly quick. I remember the first time we set the jib-topsail Tony, Jenkins and Jack took two hours, cursing all the time. Jenkins was not really slow, but Jack's swearing and blinding used to rattle him.
The wind continued to increase till noon, and for a couple of hours we were logging six knots. We have no crosstrees for our short topmast in order that we may be able to brace our yard to the full extent, so we just take the weather side stay aft and pull tight on it with a tackle. This works quite well with the topsail or the raffee, but with the jib-topsail the topmast was bending too much for my piece of mind. However, the wind dropped quickly and by evening everything was banging about in the old familiar fashion.
I calculated that we had crossed the Line at about 5.30 p.m., so we drank to the Southern Hemisphere in a punch composed of two glasses of rum, half a glass of Board of Trade lime juice, four tablespoonfuls of sugar and three glasses of water. I noted in my log that night that I had crossed the Line about the same date, fourteen years before on my way to Mesopotamia. I also remarked that I hoped I had said goodbye to the North Star for at least a couple of years.
That night when I went on watch at midnight, there was not a breath of wind, so I wrapped myself up in a blanket by the wheel and went to sleep. I was awakened at five by a faint stir in the air. I called Mobile and we spent half an hour in getting her on her course again. The wind was light all that day and fell to nothing again towards evening. When I took my meridian altitude, I found to my chagrin that we had drifted back into the Northern Hemisphere. My latitude was 0° 12' North and had been 0° 6' North the previous day, but we were forty-one miles to the west. The following day, my meridian altitude gave my latitude as 0° 36' South and my longitude worked out as 87° 55' West. The latitude of Chatham Island is 0° 50' south. I sailed on south-southwest that afternoon till I calculated I was on the parallel. For the last few days I had been set to the west at the rate of about 1.2 knots and to the north at one knot. So I set a course to allow for this.
We had a trying day. I drove Louis to the engine at noon and he freed the rope. He got a few abortive explosions out of her, but spent hours feebly cranking her. Then he announced that it had seized up. I poured paraffin into it, got it loose, cranked it and started it about five o'clock. It ran quite well and I let it go on for about twenty minutes, then stopped it and hoped for the best. I then took the wheel, telling Louis to get our new paraffin incandescent lamp lighted. A minute later there was a crash and going below I found he had dropped it and smashed the globe. I got out our only spare and went back to the wheel. A few minutes later I saw a blaze of fire coming up through the saloon top. I fell down the companion, cursing, incidentally putting my bare foot hard on the remains of the broken globe, and found Louis staring at the blare. I let the pressure out and the blaze subsided. I then sat down to investigate and discovered that someone had put paraffin in the methylated spirit filler, but I never discovered the culprit. Immediately after this, the outhaul of the mainsail parted. This was due to scamped work in Barbados, which I ought to have noticed: when they had re-cut the mainsail, they had substituted two rotten rope eyeholes for the brass ring that had been spliced in with heavy rope.
Altogether I felt very cross and irritable that night. I always get jumpy when I get near land; the succession of accidents had not improved matters, and we spent the night rolling about with the wind two points on the port quarter.
During Louis' watch, I felt all the time he would complete the tale by gybing her and carrying something away but, as it happened, when he did the wind was too light to do any damage.
The following morning the wind was very light and dead aft, so I decided to get the mainsail down and set the squaresail and raffee. I took the wheel in order to luff her and let Louis help to get the mainsail down. He signalised the event by putting his foot through the saloon top. The glass is protected by brass rods, but he went through the lot. I was furious, as he was wearing shoes, which I had forbidden him to do. He is naturally very clumsy, and the shoes made him worse; besides, wearing shoes made him indifferent to the fish hooks, broken glass, harpoons and old tins that he left about. He sustained one slight scratch over the ankle and wanted me to suspend operations while I administered iodine and bandages; but I told him to throw salt water on it and go to the wheel while I completed the sail shifting with Mobile.
When I took my meridian altitude, I found my latitude to be l° 20' South. I was thirty miles too far south. Evidently the Humboldt Current had ceased to operate. My longitude worked out at 89° 14' West, making me about thirty-two miles to the east-southeast of the southeast point of Chatham Island, so I altered course to west northwest.
The wind was light all day and it was misty, but I definitely saw land ahead at 4.00 in the afternoon. I took a position line at 5.00 o'clock which made me twenty-five miles away. At 7.30, I was eighteen miles away and I set a course for the shoal which is marked on the chart four miles west of Wreck Point. There were two fathoms marked over it, but I thought it would be safer to clear it and worked out the position of Dalrymple Rock to do so. Once I was on this bearing I intended to sail on Dalrymple Rock. The shoal at that hour was thirty-two miles away.
At 9.00 p.m., there was a thick mist, but I went below determined to get three hours sleep as I knew I would not get any later, and everything was safe for the time being. At midnight I went on watch. There was an arrow on the chart, nineteen miles from the shoal, setting me on my course at one knot, and another fifteen miles away setting me on my course at two knots.
I decided to reckon a current of one knot from my dead reckoning position at 7.30 and a current of two knots from the arrow marked thus. When I went on deck there was a fair breeze and we were sailing. From time to time, during my watch, I caught a glimpse of high land through the mist to the north. This was where it should have been, but it was very indefinite. At 3.00 a.m. I could see nothing, but calculated I was seven miles from my shoal. I had still two and a half hours until it was light, and two and a half hours at two knots is five miles, so I called Mobile and we took all sail off her except the jib. Then I went below and lay down, telling Mobile to report every half hour.
At 5.30 he reported it was getting light, and he could see land about three miles away. I went on deck and could just distinguish, through the mist, a mountain, which appeared to be the whole island, and I estimated it to be about thirty miles to the northeast by east, dead to windward. I groaned and decided I had overshot my mark by about twenty-six miles. I woke Louis, told him to start the motor, and went below to verify my calculations. The motor gave a few coughs but nothing happened. Mobile had a go at it, then I, with no result. Finally, Louis got it going, but it stopped in thirty seconds. We each had another go with no result. Meanwhile, we were drifting off to the west with wind and current. Mobile and I got sail on her and at half past six started on what seemed a hopeless beat against wind and current. Then the mist suddenly cleared and I recognised Dalrymple Rock, Wreck Point, Progresso and the Kicker Rock. I took cross bearings and found I had timed everything beautifully and that I was just clearing the shoal by about a quarter of a mile. At the same time, the wind freed us two points on our course for Dalrymple Rock, the landmark for Wreck Bay.
I kept the crew sweating at the engine and swore that I would not go into Wreck Bay without it―though I knew in my heart that I would. For I have ceased for many years struggling much about decisions. I let myself go through the dreary struggle with a sort of detached interest, always knowing all the time what I am really going to do. I was very afraid of making a mistake and wrecking the boat and thus losing my chance of getting to the South Seas. On the other hand, I had crossed the Doldrums under sail alone and I felt I would like to get into port under sail alone. Nevertheless, the name, Wreck Bay, is sufficient to make one pause. Gerbault has described its difficulties; it was a dead beat in, and the Inyala is very apt to miss stays.
So as we went sailing on gently towards Dalrymple Rock, I went below and worked out the exact course into the bay. I found that when the rock bore 335° (magnetic), a course of 155° (magnetic) would just shave Lido Point―there is a patch of three fathoms off Lido Point, but that I could ignore.
Meanwhile, the crew still struggled with the motor, their last hope of any shore leave before the Marquesas fast vanishing, for it had become hopelessly seized up and almost immovable. When we were about half a mile from the rock, we were suddenly becalmed and we drifted round in circles for half an hour. Then it started blowing gently from the north-northwest, dead into the bay.
In a few minutes the rock bore 355°. Not really believing this wind could hold, I ordered the helm to be put up and we bore away into the bay.
Ahead, to starboard, the sea was breaking in huge rollers over the whole of the Schiavoni Reef, from which projected the masts of a large steamer; to port there were breakers off Lido Point; between there appeared to be a passage about eleven feet wide.
I left Louis at the wheel, sent Mobile up the port rigging and went myself up the starboard rigging to conn her in. As Louis was steering I did not let out much mainsheet.
The wind was just aft of the starboard quarter. For a time everything went nicely. As the boat was steering like a steamer, Louis was in his element and steered beautifully to degrees as I shouted them from the rigging. I had decided to keep to the Lido Point side, as there the danger was better defined and the pilot book talked about a set towards the Schiavoni Reef. But we were set the other way, and I steered more and more south―155°―157°―160°―l65°―170°, my orders ran.
Then, just opposite the point, there was a sudden squall; crash went the boom over to starboard and I thanked my stars for the short mainsheet. We ran on another hundred yards when I suddenly felt the wind in my face, just on the port side, then I felt her way check. I fell down the rigging, hauled the staysail sheet tight on my way, pushed Louis away from the wheel, put it hard over and bore away just in time to keep her out of irons. At the same time I shouted to Mobile to sheet the jib home and tried to get Louis to haul on the mainsheet, but before Louis had finished looking at it, Mobile, who was jumping about like a cat, pushed him out of the way and hauled it in. We tore down on the wreck like a train. I had no time to refresh my memory from the chart, but was fairly sure that there was water right up to the wreck. Anyway I reckoned if a large steamer had got as far as that, there ought to be plenty of water for us. I was right; there is four and a half fathoms marked on the chart.
I intended to keep her quite free and not to risk missing stays, however many tacks I might have to make. But just as we were going about and Mobile had his hand on the staysail sheet, the wind shifted again and freed us, and I was able to make the pier.
Mobile got the staysail and jib down with incredible rapidity, and I dropped anchor in four fathoms, about 300 yards from the pier. I gave a heartfelt sigh of relief and felt very pleased with myself, but I was very tired. I congratulated Mobile on his seamanship. He is an extraordinary mixture. He does not know the points of the compass and cannot, I think, manoeuvre a boat; but he has an instantaneous knowledge of any sort of gear on deck and works with amazing speed. He grasps in a second what you are after. So we were safely at anchor in Wreck Bay, having made the passage in sixteen days under sail alone, which was less than half as long as I had expected. Looking round and breathing the tonic quality of the air, I thought the Galapagos were well worth coming to see.
1. chatham island
We furled the sails in a leisurely fashion, and had just finished making things shipshape on deck when we saw a boat coming off from the shore; it was about eleven in the morning. I thought I had better dress up to meet the port officials, so I put on a shirt and a pair of shorts. As the boat approached we could see it was full of people, including one woman, and a few minutes later I was greeting the Governor and his wife, his A.D.C., Señor Cobos and two other men.
I invited them all below―where there was a most horrid mess―and got out cigarettes and Barbados rum. They said they didn't really want a drink, but would have one just to wish me luck. Then we started to talk. I can speak French fluently but badly, Louis knows some Spanish; Alain Gerbault has testified to the perfection of Señor Cobos' French, one of the others knew a little French, but the Governor and his wife spoke only Spanish. Nevertheless we all talked thirteen to the dozen.
After the drink to wish me luck I suggested another, and then the party started. It broke up at five o'clock, and we had got through five bottles of rum and six tins of cigarettes. We parted, swearing undying friendship, and I was invited to renew the good work at Señor Cobos' hacienda the following day.
I had a bath and, feeling dead tired, was just sitting down to eat some spaghetti when one of the party returned with a friend, both wanting a medical examination. I complied; spironeme pallida was the culprit in one case, a diplococcus in the other.
When they left I swallowed the meal and fell asleep immediately after, but I was awakened about midnight by a most infernal racket: it was the A.D.C., very mellow. I was very angry at being wakened and told him to go away, but he went on staggering about and woke Mobile, who interpreted for me that he had lost his key. I think he was hoping for more drink and cigarettes, but he insisted on searching the whole ship, without any results. I got him away at last, without giving him a drink or a cigarette, though he kept on circling round them.
The following day, May 7th, after a good sleep, I removed seventeen days' growth of beard, weeping bitterly as I did it. Next I had a bath in the dinghy, the seams of which had opened, as I had been warned the bay was full of sharks.
On going ashore we found two horses waiting for us, with the sort of saddles that I thought were only seen in Wild West films: the high Mexican saddles with iron shoes instead of stirrups. I was taught to ride as a child, and had to ride a lot during the war, but since then I had always declined a mount when it was offered me: at the bottom of my heart I consider horses dangerous and uncertain creatures. However, there seemed to be quite a crowd watching, so I tried to mount with nonchalance, as if it were an everyday event, and, perched on my high saddle, felt I had ceased playing at sailors and was now playing at cowboys.
We rode up and up along a rough bridle path towards Progresso, the one settlement on the island. Our way led through bush and forest, and along this road alone there were enough guavas, oranges and lemons to feed a large population. As I remained stuck to my horse I became more venturesome, tried galloping, and reined up outside of Cobos' house with quite a flourish.
I was introduced to Señora Cobos, a very beautiful Norwegian whose father had been one of the Norwegian settlers on the island, and after a cocktail or three sat down to a perfectly wonderful meal composed entirely of island products, without a single thing from a tin. When you have been at sea any length of time it is always fruit you crave for; we had tumblers of orange juice with the lunch, and melons, watermelons, and paw-paws to finish up with. I ate and ate and ate. We talked, in French and English, of my distinguished predecessors―Ralph Stock, Alain Gerbault, and others. The last yacht there had been the Southern Cross, about two months before, which Rab had seen building on the Clyde while looking for a boat for ourselves.
After lunch I rode over the hacienda with Señor Cobos. It was a sad sight; everywhere evidence of decay. A broken-down factory, acres and acres of sugarcane going to waste, weed-grown tracks and derelict machinery. Señor Cobos explained that they found it impossible to get labour, and acres of sugarcane had rotted for want of cutters and men to work his factory; but it was only later that I learnt the whole history of this tragic hacienda.
It was, in the exact meanings of the verbs, hewn and blasted out of the wilderness by Señor Cobos' father, and it became a very valuable property. The elder Cobos was apparently a man of great physical and mental force, overbearing and masterful, a slave-driver and a lover of cruelty for its own sake. He got convict labourers from the Ecuadorian Government and worked them unmercifully. The slaves swore to get him, but he was utterly fearless and had all the firearms. One revolt broke out, in which the old man was wounded, but he escaped into the bush and was succoured by his body-servant. When he had recovered he returned and restored order. He used to flog the convicts, but one day, when yet again he had ordered a man twenty-five lashes, the convicts told their overseer that if he did not help them to kill Cobos they would kill him, the overseer. The overseer thereupon shot Cobos, but not fatally, and the old man put up a tremendous fight for his life, but was eventually hacked to pieces with machetes.
On his death the estate passed to his son-in-law, Señor Alvarado, who still owns it. The Señor Cobos who entertains the yachtsmen of all nations on their way to the South Seas is the son of another wife and is the manager of the plantation. The estate is supposed to be passing into the hands of a German company in Guayaquil, to whom Alvarado is reputed to owe a hundred thousand dollars.
On the Saturday we entertained four Norwegians; two of them had come over from Santa Cruz in a small open cutter to send their dried fish to Guayaquil by the Cobos schooner; the other two had settled at Chatham. They are remnants of the two Norwegian colonies which attempted to settle the islands of Santa Cruz and Chatham about five years ago. What exactly went wrong is rather hard to gather; I heard more of the story later. There certainly seems to have been financial knavery somewhere, everybody I have talked to is agreed on that point. They are likewise agreed that other causes of failure were: lack of regular transport for their produce, bad marketing, and above all the lack of a leader. The enterprise was cooperative, and decisions were only arrived at with difficulty and never stuck to.
It was good that night to sit down to a Nordic drinking party again, but it used up a lot of alcohol. Four bottles of rum went west, and it was only at the third that anyone talked, except Louis. These four men were well content with their lot, and said they were gradually making headway. They live by fishing and are slowly making farms for themselves out of the wilderness. When it becomes comfortable enough they intend getting wives from Norway. They are badly hampered though by lack of transport, and cannot get their fish to Ecuador. They offered me the job of taking their fish to Guayaquil, and I was almost persuaded to abandon the South Seas, turn my saloon into a hold and spend the rest of my life transporting their dried cod. They suggested I should try it just once, and there would have been about a hundred dollars in the transaction, but it was not worth ruining the boat with the smell of dried fish. I was tempted though.
We had been invited to Señor Cobos' again next day, and I regretted that I had not realized that riding breeches and riding boots are an indispensable part of a deep sea sailor's equipment. I had come back from my last ride without any skin over the lower part of my sacrum or over the tuberosities of my ischium. This time I tried wearing a pair of shorts under my flannel trousers.
After another wonderful lunch we set out with a guide to ride to the two crater lakes, which are about two thousand feet up in the interior. It was a ride which will always remain in my memory as one of my most lovely experiences. I understood from Señor Cobos that none of the other people on yachts who had come to the island had ever bothered to do it. We rode up and up, first through sugarcane and forest, then low bush and finally bare grass and on into utter desolation. We passed round two peaks, and just below the backbone of the island came upon a little lake, on the far side of which grazed wild horses and wild cattle. I wanted to stop, but the guide urged me on, and about four hundred feet higher, let into the very crest of the ridge, we came upon the perfect lake. The old crater formed a complete circle about two thousand yards across and about a hundred feet deep. At the bottom was a little gem of a lake, emerald green and perfectly still. From the crest we could see the sea on every side, and to the north mile upon mile of undulating green desolation, broken by mountain peaks. Around us wild cattle and horses posed against the skyline.
As I gazed clouds began to roll up from the east. They did not settle in mist, but rolled about us, clearing and coming down again. It was really an enchanted spot, and we lingered and lingered, completely enthralled. The day died in red glory in the west, and as the sun went down it coloured the clouds round us every shade of rose and pink. I expected every minute to feel wings budding out from my shoulders and to find a harp in my hands.
As night came on I began to shiver and we started back. Then I had some excitement. I am sure I have never before ridden a horse faster than at a walk along so high a road. But we went two-thirds of the way down that mountain side at full gallop in the gathering dark. It was too exhilarating to feel much fear, but it was wildly exciting, and when I still found myself on my horse after half an hour of this going, I began to feel that perhaps I could ride a bit after all. Never will I forget that day; but I was dog-tired when I got back to the Cobos' for dinner, and the ride back to the ship was sheer torture. I had spent about eight hours in the saddle.
I lingered on at Chatham until Friday, May 15th, for no particular reason except that I liked the place. I thought then, and I still think, that the climate of the Galapagos Islands is the finest in the world. It is just warm enough to go about in shirts and shorts all day. There is plenty of sun, but it has none of the fierce tropic quality, it is the kindly sun of temperate latitudes, and is often obscured. The atmosphere is dry and very definitely bracing; the nights have just a pleasant chill about them, so that you need a coat to sit in and a blanket to sleep under. You develop an enormous appetite and quite a lot of energy. It is completely a white man's country. There are no endemic diseases, no dangerous animals on land, no poisonous insects.
Señor Cobos and the inhabitants generally were very good to us, and we left Chatham loaded to the gunwale with oranges, lemons and bananas. But I should advise anybody going there to take an unlimited number of cigarettes, cigarette papers, matches and West Indian rum. These, with clothes or footwear of any description, tools, nails, screws, rope and string, empty bottles and empty tins, in fact any manufactured article, have all the greatest value. It takes a very long time for any one who has passed his life in a highly industrialized country to realize that cups and nails and pins and string and paper do not grow on trees. The islands provide their inhabitants with abundant good food in the way of fish, beef, pork, plantains, sweet potatoes, yucca, sugar, coffee and alcohol, and they have raw tobacco; but everything else has to be imported, and there are very few exports to pay for these imports. Tinned food, butter, wheaten flour or biscuits, bacon, ham, jam, honey or manufactured cigarettes are all wonderful luxuries.
While we stayed on at Chatham I kept on trying to get Louis to get the motor in working order, and with repeated urgings I did at last get him to put in a few hours' work on it. However, there was no result. It was completely seized and he could not move it. We put in lots of paraffin, but only succeeded in breaking the starting chain.
One's character is one's fate. My character hates engines, and thus I seem fated to sail without one. I admit their usefulness but, hating them, of course neglect them, and so they will not behave. It would be much better if this one were not there at all. One should either have a reliable engine and take care of it, or dispense with one altogether. With one like mine, twenty-four years old at that time, if you are not careful you get yourself into situations from which only the engine can extricate you, and then find the damned thing won't work.
We spent the last few days getting everything shipshape and taking water on board. The mizzen and staysail, which had developed slight tears, were repaired; the foot of the mainsail re-roped, the sheave of the mizzen bumkin re-bolted and the shrouds set up. I wanted to have the mizzen as a working sail. My prejudice is all for cutters but I have learnt the value of a mizzen. Rab has a moral prejudice against cutters, yet if left alone never sets the mizzen. Every sail on board was new except the mizzen, which was rotten when we started.
But the most arduous job was taking water aboard. We took it on board in great iron drums which had their bung in the middle. From the drums the water was emptied bucket by bucket, carried down below and then emptied into a ten-gallon container, and thence siphoned into the tank. It took six hours. Louis, as it was the soft job, arranged the siphon, and then complained it would not work, saying there was something wrong with the tube. I found he was trying to make the water run uphill. He tried to argue about it, saying all the water he had ever known would, but I put him on to bucket carrying. The water reminded me of Tigris water, but I conclude it is uncontaminated for it did us no harm. It had the consistency and colour of cocoa and tasted like the smell of a pottery shed.
The Chatham Islanders were more than good to us: I wished I had more rum and cigarettes to give them in return. Instead, I was myself forced to buy more drink and had to be very mean with cigarettes. Rum was four shillings a gallon in Barbados. Rab wanted to buy four gallons. I wanted to buy fifty. We compromised on twelve. We gave it away with such a lavish hand in Panama that we were forced to buy two gallons there at the rate of twenty-four shillings a gallon. I bought another four gallons at Chatham Island at the rate of twenty-five shillings a gallon. Both the latter purchases were really inferior stuff.
May 12th, 1931.
As you will see from the above address I am one stage further on my journey. I got across the Doldrums in sixteen days and into Wreck Bay under sail alone, as the motor won't work. I have now just 3,000 miles to do to the Marquesas, all in the Trade Winds, so all ought to be well.
I did not think I would be able to write to you from here, but Señor Cobos, the lord of the Isle, has been very good to me, and is going to send it to Guayaquil when his schooner goes and thence by aeroplane post.
As you will have heard from Rab I left Panama with a queer crew, a German ex-barman and a coloured boy from Barbados. The first is quite a good sort, but talks too much and is no sailor. He can steer a course when the squaresail is up, but gives me the cold shivers when the mainsail is set. Also he can learn nothing about gear, so Mobile and I have to handle all the sails. Mobile―the West Indian―is a wonderful sailor for the most part, and seems to have perfect confidence in me and also to be quite devoted. We get on very well together, but he is amazingly childish, superstitious, excitable and irresponsible.
But I am enjoying myself, I think, more than ever before. I am lord, master and complete autocrat, and I will be quite impossible to live with soon! It is extraordinary how dependent these two are on me.
We did not do too badly getting down here. We got a north wind to start with and I crowded on every stitch and made 150 miles south in 36 hours. Then we got into the Doldrums, which behaved in the classic fashion―calms with unbearable heat, violent squalls, torrents of rain and thunderstorms. But I kept sail up and drove south with every squall. On the Sunday we got a really violent and prolonged one from the N. E., N. and N. W. It blew harder than I have ever known it, but I kept my headsails up and ran south. As soon as it moderated a little I set the squaresail, though the crew groaned, and then the raffee, and I made about seventy miles in eight hours.
It was the sort of blow in which Rab would have been thinking of the sea anchor. But I was well rewarded as I had got out of the Doldrums, and next day I got a gentle breeze from the south which, as the days went on, hauled round to the S. E. and I had no more squalls.
I tried the motor four days before getting here, with no result. Then the day before, after Louis had played with it all day, I had a go at it myself and was successful. Next morning I told Louis to start it, but again there was no result, and I had to get into here under sail. Mother, these islands really are wonderful, and at last I have found the sort of thing I have been looking for. Beauty, desolation, remoteness, and with it all fertility and kindliness of environment.
The climate is absolutely perfect―cold at night, dry, sunny and warm during the day, with a constant breeze and very bracing. It is amazing, only fifty miles from the Equator; the reason is that there is a cold current from the south. I have abandoned playing at being a sailor for the last few days and have been playing at being a cowboy! Señor Cobos has put horses at our disposal and we have had some wonderful rides. You should see me galloping about in a high Mexican saddle. Two days ago we rode into the interior, about 2,000 feet up, to see a crater lake. It was lovely beyond words and I will never forget that ride. Coming back we galloped full tilt down the mountain. I, who have not ridden a horse since 1918, and who have always refused a ride when Rab offered me a mount! I was too exhilarated to be very frightened, and after about half an hour began to feel I could ride. In spite of all temptation I never grasped the pommel once. Well, I expect to leave here the day after tomorrow and I am going to put in at Charles Island, about fifty-five miles from here. A German doctor has lived there for the last two years with his mistress. They go about naked and live on what they catch and cultivate themselves. He is very happy, they say. He chucked a brilliant career in Germany at the age of forty.
I nearly decided to remain here myself, carrying salt from one island to another, and then fish to Guayaquil. Well, my dear, I will come back I suppose, though I am more and more convinced that it is very silly. Emsy sent me Freud's Civilisation and its Discontents from New York, and he demonstrates quite conclusively that you must be unhappy in the present civilization. Freda demonstrates just as conclusively that the present one is going to bust up within the next few years, so why one should come back for the bust which will be extremely unpleasant god knows.
There are two things I think which will bring me back. You; and the fact that in spite of everything I remain a bloody intelligent. I find I absolutely eat up a book about the things I am interested in, and would like sometimes futilely to make fun and laugh with other intellectual impotents at the futility I would have returned to. But that in itself would not bring me, I think, if you were not there. . . .
. . . . . . . . .
I cannot get along without a woman, and if there is not one attached to me I inevitably find another. When I have one I am quite faithful. The moment I am alone I go about like an unsaturated carbon atom and inevitably get attached.
. . . . . . . . .
From Charles Island I sail for the Marquesas which might only take a month, but it might take three. I have written tonight as I felt, so show it to no one.
All my love.
I will try and spend two months in the Marquesas living as a native if it is still possible. Rab left me £40. Do try to find me a millionaire to send me £IOO there! It seems very hard to get there and have to come back for want of cash. Very grateful to Rab, but he was a damned fool to go home. Also tell G and Walter they have lost a chance which is offered to few men.
2. charles island
We sailed from Chatham just before sundown on May 15th. The night before I had written in my log: “Well; tomorrow evening I intend to sail for Post Office Bay, Charles Island, where I hope to talk to the famous Dr. Ritter. Then, with any luck, for Tagus Cove, Albemarle Island; and then for Hiva Oa. Have been poring over charts of South Seas. Must, must spend years there. If I have any trouble making Post Office Bay, I shall go straight on to the Marquesas.”
As I look at these last words and think of what subsequently happened, I smile. I spent all the last night writing letters, went to sleep about three o'clock in the morning and woke at eleven. Knowing we were going off again I woke up with the usual sinking feeling. I mooned about all day while Louis worked at the motor. She was free again, but would not start.
I began to get ready at four o'clock. I got up the kedge which I had put out five days before, hoisted the dinghy on deck, and tried to get everything ready in a leisurely fashion.
I nearly ended my cruise there and then in Wreck Bay. The wind was blowing fresh directly out of the harbour, but I had taken bearings of my position and, knowing that I had plenty of room, I set the mainsail while still at anchor, for I had a beam wind to Floreana (Charles Island). Four times I asked Mobile if the jib was all ready to hoist and four times he said it was, but like a damned fool I did not see for myself. Louis and Mobile started to get up the anchor. I had to leave the wheel and help them, so the boat swung onto the port tack. The second we broke out the anchor I dashed back to the wheel, ordering Mobile to hoist the jib. Nothing happened, and we drifted quickly broadside on towards the south side of the anchorage. I nearly sobbed with rage, but dared not leave the wheel and could not see what was happening. We touched bottom, stuck, and I thought my cruise was over. Then the jib went up. She shivered, bore away, began to move, and I gave a great sigh of relief.
I went forward in a fury to see what had happened, and discovered Mobile had forgotten to secure the fall of the purchase. He had just gone on hauling at the halyard wondering what was the matter, and then, by the greatest of luck, the purchase had jammed.
I made a resolution then and there: ever in future to see for myself that the jib would hoist before I weighed anchor, and ever to see for myself that the anchor chain was free before making port. The second part of the resolution has already borne fruit.
That night, at eight o'clock, I wrote in my log: “After this escape I am now hesitating about making Post Office Bay, as the open sea seems the safest place. But I rather want to explore this group a bit, as none of the other English small boat people seem to have been anywhere except Wreck Bay. On the other hand, now I am safe at sea again I feel disinclined to risk the perils of the land. It is about fifty-three miles from Dalrymple Rock to Post Office Bay. I have already done fourteen miles in two and a half hours with a beam wind under jib and main alone, which is a bit too fast. My course takes me seven miles to leeward of MacGowen Reef, with the current taking me away. It ought to be all right. I intend to sail about forty miles and then heave-to until dawn. The current should take me away from the island. If I can make it tomorrow, good. Otherwise, straight for the Marquesas.”
I had a sleepless night. At three in the morning, not allowing for current, I was eighteen miles northwest by west of Post Office Bay; allowing for current I was sixteen miles north-northwest. The Pilot Book stated that the currents were uncertain, so I split the difference and altered course to southwest by south. It was a thick night, and if I had allowed for the full force of the current and it had not operated, I might have gone ashore on the bad bit of coast to the east of the bay. At half-past five I could just make out the island bearing south by east, and the wind had backed so that I could only sail south. If I had allowed the full amount for current I would have sailed straight into the bay.
The island looked very fine in the morning sun, and I continued on the same tack until I judged I could make Daylight Point. Then I went about, and as the wind freed us nearing the land we bore down on the point at a great pace.
As we approached we could see a small motor boat coming towards us and, just as we cleared the Point and I could see that we had a dead beat into the bay, it came up to us. It was flying the Ecuadorian flag and seemed full of natives, but as I could read the name Norge―without any premonitory shiver―and could see a blond, obvious Norseman at the helm, I accepted the offer of a tow without misgivings. I was taken right inshore in a masterly fashion and I dropped my anchor in five fathoms, about two hundred yards from the beach.
A tall, spare, blue-eyed Norwegian, with a quiet manner and a charming smile, came on board. It was Captain Paul Bruun, and we took to one another instantly. I took him below for breakfast and, as he drank his coffee, laced with Barbados rum, he told me that he had not had any coffee for a month, as the schooner with his provisions from Guayaquil was six weeks overdue. He presented me with a fine yellow cod and asked us all to dinner that night.
We went ashore that afternoon and I was already in love with the place. Captain Bruun met us and showed us round his estate; his drying sheds, workshop, salt store and condenser. We also saw his six tons of dried cod awaiting shipment to Guayaquil: a big fishing industry built up by one man out of nothing. His chief difficulties, he told me, were lack of regular transport for his fish to Guayaquil, lack of a natural water supply, every drop of fresh water having to be condensed, and the trouble he had to get salt. He had either to buy salt at five sucres a quintal (100 lbs.), or get it from James Island, seventy miles away, where it had to be hauled up from a crater three miles inland, the lip of which was about six hundred feet above the salt deposit.
We then went up to his comfortable house and were introduced to Mr. Worm-Mueller, the Norwegian Vice Consul from Guayaquil, who came out with the big Norwegian settlement to Chatham Island. He confirmed that this scheme had been hindered by graft and robbery, and that many of the settlers were not fitted for the game. But he said that the Ecuadorians had fulfilled their part. It was a better evening than I had had for a very long time. I went back to the boat laden with books, and I had invited them both to dine the following day, May 17th, Norway's Independence Day.
I woke the next morning to find the shore covered with Norwegian flags, and very much regretted that I had not got one to fly. I passed a peaceful day ashore reading the Consul's books, and at sundown we went on board to celebrate. That was a night of nights, and as I write this two months later I could weep. One cannot account for these things, but we three just took to one another, and from that night began my deep affection and admiration for Captain Bruun.
I started them off with West Indian rum punch, and Mobile, who was also very taken with these two, surpassed himself as a cook. Then we settled down to some serious Norse drinking; seven bottles of rum went west. We parted at dawn, Captain Bruun alone showing no signs of wear except perhaps for a slightly more pronounced twinkle in his eye. I was already booked to stay for several days, and I had the idea that night of suggesting to Bruun that I would go to Santiago (James Island) with him and carry back salt if it would be any help. But as I am a cautious Yorkshireman, also of Norse extraction, I waited until the sober morrow to think it over.
I remember thinking that night how curiously things work out. I have already mentioned how the first book I ever read was Nansen's Farthest North. This led to a demand for a Norwegian governess, which was granted. She was a dear and very beautiful, and she used to tell me tale after tale about the Vikings: Gunnar, Ganger Rolf and, above all, Kari the avenger of Njal and his sons, and Jarl Eric Hakonsson, the conqueror of Olaf Trigvisson whom I did not like. They superseded Diomedes and Ajax as the heroes of my childhood. I played nothing but Viking games, and my cup was full when my governess' father, himself a sea captain, sent me a perfect model of a Viking ship.
How careful parents should be about the first books their children read and the first tales they hear! Put Nansen's Farthest North into their hands, and thirty years later the child is celebrating Norway's Day in the Galapagos Islands instead of sticking to his job of looking after lunatics in Colney Hatch and paying income tax. If that book had only been Smiles' Self Help I might be a millionaire now.
Captain Bruun, looking as fresh as a baby, woke me about noon the next day. We went and fished with the drag net in Patrick Cove for bait. This was a new game for me. One of the Indians walked diagonally out to sea with the net and, making a wide curve, came back towards the land. My job was to swim out and splash the fish towards the gap. It was great fun and the “morning after” feeling disappeared.
The cove itself is a beautiful spot, really a shallow lagoon entirely surrounded by a narrow belt of rocks on which cacti grow. It seemed like my imagined South Seas. As I hauled naked at one end of the net with an equally naked Indian hauling at the other, I felt I had really left civilization at last and was finding what I had come to seek.
Patrick's Cove, I am told, is named after an Irishman who lived there about a hundred and thirty years ago. He was very useful to the whalers as he cultivated fresh fruit and vegetables for them, and he collected quite a lot of money. But he was lonely without a woman and tried to buy a boat to go in search of one. However, none of the whalers would sell as they were afraid he would not return. He tried unsuccessfully to steal one, but was caught and robbed of his savings. Later he succeeded and got back to the mainland. He started again for the Galapagos with his woman, but came into conflict with some South American authorities and was imprisoned. His end I do not know.
The following day we went fishing on the Norge, starting at three in the morning and making a complete circuit of the island. As with all the other islands of this group, the leeward side is calm and peaceful, the windward disturbed and wild, with great rollers and breakers far out at sea. The fishing was good fun. With eight lines down we caught over a hundred and sixty big codfish, averaging about twenty-five to thirty pounds, and I managed to get twenty-seven. I had my line out over the stern. Each line was a thick piece of cord attached to an iron weight to which was fastened a large hook. The bait was bits of small fish netted the previous day. As soon as the engine stopped, over went the lines. When you felt the bottom you hauled up a foot or so and just let the weight touch. We were greatly bothered by sharks, which kept on taking our fish before we could haul them in. For that reason it is impossible to use a long line in these waters. We actually landed and killed four sharks; one was a big one over ten feet long, which managed to get mixed up with four separate lines. Bruun told me, though, that the sharks were less numerous round Floreana than anywhere else in the group. The worst place he knew was round Santa Cruz; the Norwegians there complained that sometimes half the catch was sharks.
We returned about one o'clock, tired, hungry and happy; and I thought there could be few better ways of spending one's life than earning one's living fishing in this gorgeous climate. The Norwegians I had met in Chatham had told me how happy and content they were, and Bruun said how much happier he was leading this life than he had been when he commanded a big tourist steamer.
That day I decided definitely I would go with Bruun to Santiago and help him to get salt. The only condition I made was that he should fill me up with water on my return. He gladly assented to this, and promised me smoked meat, dried fish, fowls and oranges in addition. He also said that if the schooner did not come before we got back he would take me to Chatham in the Norge to get supplies. That night we skoaled again.
We fished with the drag net the following day, but got very little bait except four large rays. But it was just as much fun. This sport is one of the great joys of the island. The day after that we went fishing again in the Norge, going out this time to three islands, which are simply three most extraordinary rocks. I was not so successful this time, only catching nine fish to Mobile's eleven. I had offered sixpence a fish for every one he caught more than I did. The ray bait was not very successful and we only got sixty-eight fish with eight lines. The next day, as Bruun and I had decided that it was almost time to go to Santiago, I made up my mind to set out and pay my call on Dr. Ritter.
3. a visit to dr. ritter
“On no account miss the Galapagos,” had said two friends of mine in Panama, but I had paid very little attention, for my heart was set on the South Seas, and all places between England and my heart's desire I had, up to then, regarded merely as a means to an end. “The islands are more or less on our route to the Marquesas,” I thought; “If it suits our convenience we will go into Chatham for a couple of days to get some fresh fruit, but there is not likely to be much to interest me as I am neither a naturalist nor a fisherman.”
Nevertheless, my interest had been piqued by the description in a Panama paper of an eccentric German physician who lived, with his wife, a hermit's life on one of the islands. All I knew about him then was that he had been a very successful physician, who had thrown up his practice and gone to live with the woman he loved on Floreana. I gathered it was another case of the present desire to flee from European civilization which I feel myself.
To the Panama paper the most interesting fact about the Ritters seemed to be that they went about naked. However, to me it was hardly surprising. The revoltés, eccentrics, intellectuals, highbrows, call them what you will, have their distinctive national mark when you read about them. The Russians neither bath, nor shave, nor eat, sleep nor change their clothes; they spend their lives talking god, and live on tea and vodka, occasionally rousing themselves to commit a murder or to have an epileptic fit. The French have charming mistresses, drink absinthe, but always remain lucid, and they alone appear to have any time to work. The English sit about in saloon bars, full of chronic scorn and weak beer―they can afford nothing stronger―accompanied by mistresses who often, poor dears, have had to cut up a window curtain or a divan cover to clothe their nakedness. The men always have one lowbrow passion, whose emblems they flaunt defiantly in the faces of their peers, “penny dreadfulls,” cricket, horse racing, sailing. The Americans, better off than their English cousins, and thus able to buy stronger drink, appear to spend their lives in a state of complete intoxication, awaking for brief, moments to hurl obscene oaths of amazing ingenuity and variety at the companion of their sorrows. But the Teuton's first gesture of revolt is always to throw off all his or her clothes.
The two universal stigmata of us all are―a taste for drink, and complicated sexual relationships.
I was very shy about calling on Dr. Ritter, as I gathered from the Panama paper that he was a fierce ogre, who detested visitors, resenting bitterly any intrusions on his privacy. However, I decided to brave him. I borrowed a horse and a guide from Bruun and set out to pay my call; Louis and Mobile came on foot.
The Ritters live about three hours' journey from Post Office Bay, about a thousand feet up I should judge. There are usually two quite definite zones in these islands. From sea level to about eight hundred feet is a belt of nearly waterless, and on Floreana completely waterless, country, covered with almost impassable bush, the ground consisting of lava or cinders. Above this height is open parkland, with rare springs and on Floreana a small lake. There was a rough track leading into the interior, probably first cut out by the pirates, the earliest frequenters of the island, and afterwards kept open by the whalers.
When the guide told me that we were on the borders of the Ritters' domain, I fired the customary warning shot, so that they could clothe themselves, and waited. A very charming feminine voice called out to us in German to enter. We went into the garden and I introduced myself to Frau Ritter, a small, rather fragile, fair-haired and blue-eyed woman; very pretty and vivacious, with a quick smile, a whimsical expression and rather mocking eyes. I caught a glimpse of the garden, but was immediately taken to their house, which consisted of corrugated iron sheets laid on the branches of a large tree. I was seated on a homemade chair and given a delicious drink made from lemon and the juice of freshly-crushed sugarcane. I chatted with Frau Ritter as if I had been paying her a conventional call in, say, her flat in Berlin, and this added to the fantastic unreality of the moment. Coming upon this patch of cultivation in the Galapagos bush was startling enough. I kept on glancing round. The most prominent object was an immense double bed of massive construction. How it could have got up there was a mystery. The other thing which caught my eye was the large number of tools.
Dr. Ritter soon appeared―my first impression being of a very long beard and very long golden-brown hair through which flashed a pair of bright and restless eyes. He was not at all ogreish, but, on the contrary, gracious and hospitable, and they both gave me a warm welcome. We soon sat down to a vegetarian dinner. The first course was a very good stew, composed of at least a dozen different fruits and vegetables grown in their garden; next a sweet of paw-paws, oranges and bananas stewed in sugarcane juice; lastly fresh bananas, paw-paws and oranges as dessert. They explained that I was in luck as they only cook twice a week, living the other days on fresh fruit. After dinner they showed me the garden they had made out of the wilderness in three years. The site had been a small tract of marshy ground with a spring at the upper end, draining at the lower end into the ground. First they had had to clear it of bush and then of stones and boulders. They had had no help whatever, and it is a tremendous achievement. When I was shown the rocks they had dug up, pushed and levered away, I understood how simple it must have been to build the Pyramids with an unlimited army of slaves. They were not content with merely moving the boulders away: as soon as the garden really got going they had started to build a house with them, and they are engaged on this work at present. When I was there it had already risen about ten feet, from foundations calculated to last for eternity. Altogether this strange oasis will be a rare puzzle to anthropologists about 10,000 A. D. They will find the temple of a sun-worshipping race with an advanced knowledge of pure mathematics. For with a German love of harmony the garden boundaries form a parabola, the path bisecting it runs true north and south, the trees are planted in harmonica1 series. These are just a few of the mathematical propositions embodied; there were many more.
My German is embryonic and the Ritters' English is the same, so though they were quite willing to talk about the impulse which had driven them there and their philosophical ideas, I was only able to understand them in a very sketchy fashion. I had been expecting everything that so often goes with vegetarianism: an arty-arty, sloppy, ineffectual humanitarianism of the Garden City type, Jean Jacques Rousseau and water-green clinging robes of a washed-out tint with complexions to match; but this was something quite different. Their predecessors were Lao T'se, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche―which is quite a different story.
The first, I am ashamed to say, I have never read, but I have read The World as Will and Idea and I am a bit of a Nietzschean myself. When I started reading History at Cambridge I produced for my director of studies a rather colourless essay on Frederick II of Hohenstaufen, one of his heroes. In a fury he threw The Twilight of the Gods at my head, and I immediately became a Nietzschean. My weekly two hours with Green, when we were supposed to be delving into the drier documents of English Constitutional History, became set debates on Nietzsche. Green was, and for all I know is, a wonderful man. I met him in August 1914 as a private in the Rifle Brigade, and again in 1918 in Alexandria as a Captain in the Rifle Brigade, covered with gold wound stripes, D. S. O.'s, M. C.'s and whatnot. He had served through every intermediate rank, including Q. C. S. M. The Ritters are obviously very much in love with one another, and they have a mystical sanction for what they are doing. Of such a sanction I am not competent to judge. For the rest, I gathered that Dr. Ritter had dreamt from his boyhood of living by his hands on a desert island, that Frau Ritter had found no satisfaction in a conventional life in Berlin, that they had decided that another and more fully satisfying life was possible if they really willed, and they had willed it.
I told them what I had heard about them in the Panama papers and they laughed. However, they did complain that they had been misrepresented everywhere. Their private letters to friends had been hastily collected together into a book, and an awful botch-patch, full of errors of every description, made. The man they kept on mentioning as having rendered them the greatest service was a certain American yachtsman, MacDonald. To him, I gather, they are very grateful. They also complained that letters and parcels from friends are always going astray in Guayaquil. What they were most in need of when I was there were: a rifle and cartridges to shoot destructive animals, fats and oils―preferably vegetable, and a good tackle, Bruun and I having managed to supply one―but with a single purchase only.
Well, we went on talking in a halting fashion, but by throwing various names of philosophers at one another, and most of all by the fact that they were there and I was there, we managed to understand one another. It was a case of “Your way and my way, for the way does not exist.” But we both had a way.
I found great difficulty in tearing myself away; before I went I arranged to lend them Freud's Civilisation and its Discontents and Jeans' Mysterious Universe.
I will not forget that fragile figure of Frau Ritter standing against those immense boulders, the foundations of her house, and demonstrating her lovely garden with a wave of the arm: “Yes. Both you and we, we do as we will, but we can will.”
I had stayed too long at the Ritters, and when we arrived at the other German settlement where I was to leave the horse it was already dusk. First I was hailed by Herr Schmidt, the latest settler, who invited me into his house, which still lacked a roof. It was neatly constructed of interwoven boughs, and was obviously going to be a very desirable residence. One wondered really if there was any necessity for it.
We were invited to spend the night, but there was not much room and no spare blankets. While I was hesitating I received a note from Herr Schimff*, asking us to visit him before we went down, so the whole party moved along to his residence. This was another type of house―a stone cave, one of the many which had been hewn out by the old pirates. Here Herr Schimff and his partner lived in comparative luxury, and we ate an enormous meal. Herr Schimff, a tall grave man who spoke perfect English, had once been a medical student, but just before he qualified he had bought a small plantation in Tahiti. Working before the mast, he had got as far as British Samoa in 1920, but while he was waiting for a boat to take him to Tahiti, we had deported him as an alien. Since then he had been wandering round South America, until the writings of Dr. Ritter had attracted him to the Galapagos.
* Herr Schimff [sic] is J. F. Schimpff.
Altogether, at that time, there were five Germans living on the island, and one had an Ecuadorian girl with him. They had all come as disciples of the Ritters, but it was obvious that the enthusiasm had burnt out. The Ritters were absorbed in one another and were sustained by a religious and metaphysical passion; they had become quite independent of the outside world. The others all lived on imported food and wild cattle; their plantations were not flourishing.
That night was one of the queerest I have ever spent. There we sat, the three Germans, Louis, Mobile and I, in this old pirates' cave where once perhaps the ransom of Guayaquil had been divided. Now the cave was littered with books on metaphysics and the more intellectual periodicals of Europe and America. Schimff and I sat up far into the night settling the universe. I offered to take him to Tahiti and he said he would think about it. I slept in another cave that night.
4. james island
On May 25th, we left Post Office Bay, bound for Santiago to get salt. This was a most inglorious sail on our part.
We had a scrap meal ashore with Bruun and the Vice Consul and a little drink and went on board about six in the evening. There was not a breath of wind in the bay and I waited with the cable straight up and down till I heard the sound of Bruun's motor, then I started heaving the anchor and the Norge came alongside. But the anchor was inextricably fouled with about fifteen fathoms of cable looped round and hanging down. Mobile and Louis scrapped as usual, and when I sent Louis aft for some rope, he first brought me some about one foot long and then some lanyard. We struggled and struggled with it, but most foolishly I did not use the staysail halyard. I ought to have got a purchase on it straight away. Then Bruun, with three of his crew, came on board and helped us. When we got it up, we took a towline from the Norge and set off. It was a perfect night, as smooth as glass, with a half moon. Steering was very trying and I set two-hour watches. At about ten, during Mobile's watch, when I was in the bows looking out, he let her yaw. I cursed him and at the same moment the rope went slack, and I found we had torn off the cleat on the Norge to which we were made fast. Bruun quickly picked up the line again.
All went well till dawn, when at last we got a breeze and Bruun called out that we might start sailing. We were then opposite Duncan Island. I called to Louis to go to the helm and Mobile and I set the squaresail. We were just coiling down the halyards when Bruun called out that our dinghy had filled, for I had been silly enough to tow it. Mobile and I tried to bale her with a bucket, but she turned over and one of the painters parted. Bruun came alongside and said he would take her. I managed to give him the other painter―cutting my foot in the process―but that parted too. Then he shouted that he would find the dinghy and deal with it. I felt very small but I had no qualms about his dealing with the situation. During these manoeuvres I had mysteriously acquired one of his crew.
We continued to sail until about eleven on Tuesday morning. I had just hoisted the raffee when the wind dropped light and Bruun started his motor and gave us a line again, but we kept sail up and made over six knots. We dropped anchor at one in the afternoon of the twenty-sixth, in James Bay. This is a lovely spot, one of the grandest bays in the Galapagos, uninhabited and completely desolate. The bay is a deep indentation, with shores of bare lava cliffs twisted into fantastic shapes. North and south are two high mountains, joined by a semi-circular wall, the half of a tremendous crater. To the west are the three northern peaks of Isabela, one an active volcano, about twenty miles away. Over them the sun gave a regular evening performance.
There is good holding ground in the anchorage and all strong winds are off shore. I was anchored in five fathoms, with the following bearings (magnetic): the east end of Albany Island 9° the summit of Sugar Loaf 154°; the left-hand hut 112° the highest point of Red Rock (a reddish colour, some little way inland, towering up behind black lava cliffs) 49°. These bearings do not coincide on the British Admiralty charts, but Bruun checked them and agreed. This anchorage is considerably to the south of the anchorage marked on the chart. The landing on the beach below the huts can be very bad, I understand, but it is always better than the landing to the north marked on the chart. Landing is always possible to the south-southeast under the shelter of the natural rocky breakwater.
Bruun came on board after settling his crew on shore. He was still fresh and cheerful after nearly eighteen hours at the helm. After a skoal, he suggested cutthroat and we played till midnight: he was ashore and working next morning at four o'clock.
I went ashore at about ten o'clock and walked up the well-marked track to the salt lake. There was the usual thick scrub. This island seems drier than the others and the soil consists entirely of lava slabs or lava dust. The animal life is even tamer than elsewhere. You have to avoid treading on birds and lizards. The lake is at the bottom of a perfectly circular crater with perpendicular sides, exactly 600 feet deep. It is about two feet deep, composed of a saturated salt solution with a bottom of salt of unknown depth. That afternoon I descended into the crater and had a swim in the lake. It was an extraordinary sensation. You just sat down on it as if it were solid and floated in any position. We invented a great game of yacht racing, the idea being to so trim your body that you got the maximum sail area for the best underwater design. While we were there, the temperature of the water was never hotter than a comfortable bath, but Bruun told me that sometimes it is too hot to work in, and he has to haul his dinghy up because his men get scalded.
The way Bruun gathered salt was real hard labour. He had six men. First, they dug salt from the lake bottom and shovelled it on to a raft. When the raft was laden, they pushed it ashore. Then they carried the salt for a hundred yards on hurdles up a very bad path to the foot of a rude platform about fifteen feet high and left it to drain. From this platform a steel cable (the relic of an old enterprise, of which more later) extended to the top of the crater. When sufficient salt had been collected at the foot of the platform, it was loaded into sandbags and hauled by a tackle onto the top. Then it was hauled, five quintals at a time, by means of a homemade winch, to the top of the crater. There was a primitive handcart to transport the sacks down to the sea, but the first quarter of a mile was uphill. It was impossible to push the cart up this incline laden with more than ten quintals, but the rest of the way fifteen quintals could just be moved. So each time five quintals had to be carried to the top of the slope by hand and then put on the cart which, laden with fifteen quintals, started on the downhill journey. But downhill is not quite the right word; it describes the general grade but the road really resembles a switchback, so there was plenty of sweating, uphill work, the last half mile being all uphill and just heartbreaking. When we got the salt to the beach, it had to be taken off through quite a surf. To make matters worse, we intended to carry back two hundred quintals, and we had only sacks enough for a hundred and twenty.
I had taken Mobile and Louis up to the crater that first morning and told them to go away and shoot goats. I said we must contribute our fair share of game and not to let me see them without a goat apiece.
Before I started up again with Bruun, on a second climb to the lake, Mobile arrived, saying he had shot three goats with the rifle. On our way up, we encountered Louis, clothed mostly in blood and sweat, with a goat across his shoulder which he had killed with the twelve-bore.
After my swim I went after Mobile and one of Bruun's people to help them deal with the goats. I found them in the bush with the first just skinned. I then set off with Mobile to find the other two. He led off with complete confidence. I was not worrying much but, remembering the story of the German at Santa Cruz, kept on glancing back and noticed that we were bearing directly away from the sun. After about twenty minutes, I noticed Mobile's confidence was oozing, and after a little I forced him to admit that he couldn't find the goats. He was quite confident, however, that he knew the way back. I followed him for a quarter of an hour, but noticed that what he was really doing was to take the easiest way, which was downhill to the right and at right angles to the sun. I had a vague idea of the configuration and knew that going downhill was wrong, so I took command, went towards the sun, and, in spite of all temptations, bore to the left. After three quarters of an hour hard going, we struck the crater about one mile to the right of our point of departure.
It is queer how uneducated people will jeopardize everything because of their passion for being right and their reluctance to admit that they do not know. The less people know the more certain they are. With my crew I suffered from this more than anything else. Louis and Mobile spent their lives scoring off one another and trying to prove unfounded statements.
I spent a very pleasant time at Santiago; at first a very lazy one but later a very strenuous one. Bruun and his men worked like slaves, and we helped them a little in a desultory fashion. Until towards the end of our stay most of our time was spent supplying the party with goat flesh. Mobile turned out to be by far the best hunter and seldom returned without meat.
The best food to be found in the island is a species of wild dove which makes most delicious eating. They swarm about a certain water hole, and once one acquires the knack one can knock down as many as one likes with a stick. The water hole lies to the south of the huts at the foot of Sugar Loaf and there is now a well-marked track leading to it. The hole is at the lower end of a shallow gorge, really a subterranean watercourse, and the water is sweet and good. The gorge itself is unmistakable, it runs straight down the lower slopes of Sugar Loaf and bright green vegetation marks it. The water hole is quite a recent discovery. Some years ago, an Ecuadorian contracted with his government to deliver salt from the lake. He arrived there with an oil engine and about seventy labourers. They constructed the track up to the lake, erected the oil engine and the steel cable and started to haul salt. But they had omitted to make sufficient provision for water, so the men mutinied. Bruun, who was then in command of the Cobos, arrived to find the contractor and a few others defending the huts with pistols against an infuriated crowd of peons armed with machetes. Bruun landed with an armed party and restored order, eventually supplying water; but the enterprise collapsed a little later. Bruun got nothing for his services. I think he said he was still owed some money by the contractor.
Bruun dined with me each night and slept on board. After dinner we usually played two handed cutthroat, but however late he went to bed, he always got on shore for work at four in the morning. We became better and better friends, and I got fonder of him and admired him more every day. I have a note about him written in my log at this time: “My affection for Bruun keeps on increasing. It is impossible to describe him properly or to lay bare the secret of his charm. He is tall, spare and fair, of iron physique, his face showing his age but with the body of a young man. He is very quiet, with skeptical blue eyes, an ironical sense of humour and a very gentle manner. He never raises his voice or says a bitter word. He is one of those people with whom one is happy in silence. Yet he is quite the grand seigneur and commands amazing confidence and complete obedience from his men. He gets about four times as much work out of the peons as anyone else in the Galapagos, yet I have never heard him raise his voice.”
Bit by bit, over our skoal, he told me his history. His father, grandfather and great-grandfather had all been sea captains. He had gone to sea at the age of twelve and was mate of a schooner at sixteen. At that age he had once crossed from Newfoundland to Liverpool in twelve days; the captain was over seventy, the rest of the crew under eighteen. After many years in sail he became captain of a passenger boat between Bergen, his native town, and Newcastle. He was on this route during the war, and he told me that he had once saved the British Government I think it was £500,000 in gold by refusing to stop when ordered to by a German submarine.
After the war he owned two steamers, and for a bit was a millionaire in kroner; but the post-war slump in shipping ruined him. For a time he commanded a tourist liner. Then, at the time of the settlement of the two Norwegian colonies in the Galapagos, he heard that a ten-ton boat was being sent out there for their use and that a skipper was wanted. He asked for the job and sailed with her within twenty-four hours. When he arrived at Guayaquil, he found that the colonies had collapsed. He took one voyage round the islands in the service of the Ecuadorian Government, looking for the crew of a vessel which had caught fire to the north. Then there was a lawsuit about his boat―it is not settled yet―and he was without a job. He then commanded the Cobos schooner for twenty dollars a month. Later when she passed temporarily into the hands of a German company, he got a hundred dollars. When it passed back again to Alvarado, he gave up the job.
He was determined to start cod fishing at Floreana and prepared a rowing boat to go out there single-handed. However, a friend of his came to the rescue and he bought the Norge on credit. When I first met him his affairs were just beginning to take a turn for the better, although the price of salt cod was steadily falling. On May 29th, Edwardson Stampa, one of the Santa Cruz Norwegians whom I had met in Wreck Bay, also put in. He came aboard a couple of nights to play bridge and we became very friendly. He insisted that I should come along to Santa Cruz before I left the islands, and Bruun promised to take me in there on our way back from Chatham if Stampa would guarantee to give us tortoise liver, which is the great delicacy there.
On Sunday, May 3lst, Bruun and I set off with Mobile and Louis in the dinghy to have a look at the salt lakes which are about three miles to the north, opposite the anchorage on the British Admiralty chart. The anchorage, Bruun told me, was quite good, but the landing is definitely bad compared with the landing by the huts. It was that day, I think, that I unconsciously made up my mind I could not stand Louis any longer.
We had a great business getting there. First we sailed, then the wind got dead ahead. Neither Louis nor Mobile was much good at rowing. Louis, as usual, blamed everything and made excuses. He said he could not row properly “because his muscles were too strong for his body and he was afraid of doing himself an injury.” Mobile and I rowed half way, making heavy weather of it. Bruun rowed the other half in an effortless fashion. We had some slight difficulty in landing and I sat down in the water with the camera.
I went off with Bruun to look for possibilities of salt, but all the lakes were too full. Meanwhile, Louis and Mobile went off with gun and rifle. We heard a lot of shots and eventually found that Louis, who had been boasting the whole way from Panama about his skill with a shot gun, had only got two ducks for seven shots. Very poor shooting for an “expert.” The birds were completely tame, the lakes swarmed with them, in couples, every shot a sitter at about five yards. He said he had killed another, but both he and Mobile were too scared to wade out for it. I went back with Bruun to retrieve it, but it had vanished. To show how tame the birds were, Bruun killed one with a stick; it was a long-necked and long-beaked bird, resembling a greenshank.
This place was a lovely bit of desolation. As we rowed towards it there was first a length of lava cliff, and where we landed mangroves separated the salt lagoons from the sea. As well as the swarms of tame birds we saw turtle beds everywhere. Coming back, we first sailed, but then the wind dropped and Louis and Mobile rowed. We made poor progress while they indulged in recriminations. Eventually Bruun and I took an oar apiece and rowed the whole way back in style.
The next day I managed to get Louis off after goats and enjoyed some peace. But at dinner time he commented on Mobile's wearing no clothes. I told him off and said that Mobile could go about as naked as he liked. My note book reads; “I am sorry for Louis but he is a fool and so useless. I have definitely told him that he must not tell Mobile off. If he has any complaints he must make them to me. Without my protection, he does not stand a ghost of a chance against Mobile. He gets on my nerves beyond endurance and I suppose I treat him badly. But whatever resolutions I make to curb my tongue are of no avail, for he always rouses me by his treatment of Mobile. He doesn't realize how useless he is at sea and that Mobile is indispensable. Also, Mobile cooks, cleans and looks after things, while he does nothing. Poor devil though. It must be difficult for him. I am deliberately rude to him to stop him talking and you have to be very rude to succeed in this. I never before knew anybody talk so much and so much rot.”
On Tuesday, June 2nd, Bruun had got all the salt he thought he could carry stacked at the bottom of the platform. But we had been there much longer than we expected, and the food situation was getting serious. We were still shooting goats, but Bruun had run out of everything else. I lent him twenty-five pounds of rice and about ten pounds of beans, but I was running short of coffee, sugar and potatoes. Bruun had been using a herb called Yava-Lusisa in place of coffee for some time. It is a wild plant found in the mountains, with a mint-like taste, slightly stimulating.
Because of our shortage of supplies, it became a race against time. On the day we had seventy quintals of salt on the beach, we started loading the Inyala. I had brought with me from Post Office Bay four great iron drums, one on each side of the mainmast and one on each side of the mizzen. We ran two boats. Bruun took one and I took the other, with a man apiece; on shore were Louis and three men; on board were Mobile and one other. We took five sacks at a time in each boat and managed to store forty quintals loose on board. There were thirty-two quintals in the drums on deck and another eight quintals in the store cupboard.
Then, as there was still an hour's light left, Bruun decided we could get another load down from the crater, so we all set off, hauling the cart. He had an even better idea; he suggested that if he and I harnessed ourselves tandem to the cart we could set the pace. We did it and it worked, but I lost pounds and I now know something about coolie labour. We all continued to work, winching up salt from the crater and hauling it down, until July 7th, when we got short of meat, so next day I went after goat with Mobile, starting about an hour before dawn. We decided to climb the Sugar Loaf Mountain, twelve hundred feet high, where Mobile had been once before with Alberto, one of Bruun's men, and where they had seen large herds of goats. We first made the water hole I have mentioned and then struck up straight from there, making for a point about fifty yards to the right of the summit. The first third of the ascent was through loose volcanic dust, which slid back two paces for every three we made. This gave way to hard lava, but the strata sloped downward and the rock was completely rotten. We took our shoes off, but it was very difficult to negotiate for there were no safe footholds or handholds. However, the last third consisted of firm lava with the strata sloping upwards. I arrived at the top very exhausted, but felt well repaid. It was magnificent. What appears as a mountain from below is just the thin rim of a crater about four miles in diameter and about one thousand feet deep. The sides are almost perpendicular; the floor was covered with bright green vegetation and on the far side was a waterfall.
There was a wonderful view of the whole group of islands. To the west was Isabela, a series of peaks shrouded in pink mist; to the north, the bare rock of Abington Island; to the east and northeast, this island, Salvador, appeared as an enormous semicircle, the half of a tremendous crater, the interior covered with thick bush, cut across by a river of frozen lava. To the south and southeast were Duncan and Jervis Islands, black rocks set in an azure sea, and in the distance Santa Cruz. At our feet, the tortured black cliffs of Salvador were dark against the calm blue of the sea.
I stayed where I was while Mobile went after goats. About an hour later I heard a shot, and thinking it was about time I coped with things again, set off round the rim of the crater. There was a well marked goat track. Almost exactly on the opposite side I found Mobile, but he had not found any goats. However, we could hear some on the plain below. I had had quite enough, but as it was essential to get meat, we started down. It was very bad going. The first part was rotten rock which collapsed at the slightest touch; the second part was the same rock, covered with thick bush which broke if you put any trust in it, but which was obdurate if you tried to break through it. At the bottom, we got our reward, for Mobile shot a fine billygoat and he gave me a lesson in cutting it up.
We had thought that we could make our way round Sugar Loaf back to the anchorage, but the bush was very thick. So, bearing in mind the fate of the German who attempted to follow a well-marked track in Santa Cruz and who was never heard of again, we decided to retrace our steps. It was a really bad climb, laden with the rifle and the meat, and except that it had to be done I could never have managed it. We diverged from our path down and just below the summit were confronted by thirty feet of perpendicular rock. Mobile just hauled me up it. Going down, the loose lava was very difficult, but we arrived safely at the water hole, where we drank gallons and felt a bit better. We stayed long enough to kill thirty-four doves as additional food. We got back to the huts just before dusk, feeling very tired. We had done eleven hours on a cup of cocoa and one biscuit. In the light of subsequent events it was a picnic, but it was our first introduction to real Galapagos bush. Yet I advise anybody who goes to Salvador to climb the Sugar Loaf.
We had hoped to sail the following day, but the axle of the cart began to bend and the job of getting the sacks down from the crater became harder and harder. The last load we got down before sunset was sledged down. The wheels jammed and we just dragged it down by main force, the whole ten of us.
This was the position that night; we each had forty quintals of salt loose on board and Bruun had sixty sacks. There were sixty for me to ship, forty-five on shore and fifteen by the crater. Bruun said that night that he would abandon those fifteen sacks but I remember confiding to Mobile that he would not. Sure enough, he got up long before dawn, dismounted the axle, made a fire, beat it straight and had got the fifteen sacks down by eight in the morning. The Inyala was loaded by eleven o'clock. She looked a strange sort of yacht. My cabin was loaded to the deck beams, the saloon was nearly full and an overflow of six sacks was stowed in the lavatory.
The engineer could not start Bruun's Diesel but, after cooking us an excellent lunch, Mobile went aboard and did the trick within five minutes. He was in great pain that day from a tremendous aveolar abscess, on the starboard side this time, but he carried on valiantly. We weighed anchor at three o'clock, having wasted two hours in getting the Diesel started. I hoped to be in Post Office Bay the next day to celebrate my birthday, but feared there would be no skoal to celebrate it with. The wind was light and dead ahead, so the Norge towed us. She had a list to port and barely three inches freeboard on that side, nevertheless we made three knots. We were towed until dawn, when we got a fresh breeze which just let us sail close hauled, so we cast off the tow rope. Two hours later the wind dropped so we were towed again. At three in the afternoon when we were about fourteen miles from Floreana the wind rose, blowing about a point free and kicking up a nasty sea, which began to slop over the heavily loaded Norge. Bruun cast off the tow rope, came alongside, and said he was short of fuel and that his salt was getting spoilt, so he would have to leave us, but that he would come back for us when he had got fresh fuel. We set all plain sail and in spite of the ten tons of salt and the windage of those four drums managed to make four knots.
At four o'clock, the wind fell light and by sunset we were completely becalmed about six miles from Floreana. There was a slight mist and not a breath of a wind; we drifted I know not where. This didn't seem the right way to celebrate my birthday. I knew my mother would be thinking of me and I thought of all my birthday parties of the past. There was not a drop of drink on board.
Just after midnight Louis said he could see a light. I said “Rot! I have been caught that way before; it is a planet.” But he was right, for it gradually got larger, so I lit the saloon lamp and brought it on deck. A few minutes later, we heard the motor and then Bruun's voice, wishing me many happy returns. We got the towline on board the Norge and got into Post Office Bay just as dawn was breaking. We had drifted about twelve miles to the southwest. Bruun had calculated our drift and made straight for us without hesitation. When he sighted us, we were dead ahead. I can confirm this, for his light had borne east by south and our course back was the same. A very good piece of work. Bruun had got into Post Office Bay, eaten a hurried meal―the first they had had for thirty-six hours―and come straight back for me. I was tired, but it was very lovely entering Post Office Bay. The last quarter of the moon rose just before we started to go in, and the sea was glass calm. I will not forget that morning.
When we were both safely at anchor, Bruun came on board and Mobile produced a bottle of Barbados rum he had carefully hidden for the occasion. So, though the first part of the night had been a bit unorthodox, I managed to enjoy the tail end of my birthday in my usual fashion, for it is my habit to give a party lasting till dawn on this day, and I greeted the sun of my thirty-sixth year with a glass in my hand.
5. with bruun on the ‘norge’
Bruun got the salt off the Inyala in a couple of days, and I prepared to sail with him in the Norge for Chatham Island to get provisions. I still had about a hundred pounds of biscuits left on the Inyala, but beyond the biscuits no farinaceous food. I had also eighteen tins of bully beef, thirty-six tins of sardines, six-pound pots of jam and the same of honey, fourteen pounds of butter and about three dozen tins of fruit. I had no milk, sugar, fat, onions or alcohol. I had a thousand cigarettes and twenty boxes of matches, also two hams.
Louis had been slightly ill the last two days and had been groaning about all over the place. I diagnosed constipation and gave him calomel which seemed to do the trick. Then there was great trouble, for I arranged that he should live ashore with the Consul and left Mobile in charge of the ship. Louis was furious, but I dared not leave them together. Louis would just have sat about trying to play the heavy white man, and there might have been murder. Louis had made friends with Bruun's peons and was toying with the idea of staying in the Galapagos. I was toying with the idea of leaving him. He was only useful for steering, and I was likely to have trouble with the French authorities at the other end on account of his German nationality. The steering would be a bit of a strain going across the Pacific with only Mobile, but it could be done, and I would save food. Louis had been living aft with me and I tried treating him as an equal, but it was impossible. He was really a barman by profession and had that type of mentality. Superimposed on this was the influence of the American he-man and roughneck. He spoke to Mobile in a tone I would not use to a dog, but had no idea of keeping his dignity and always descended to wrangling. I thought on the whole I would leave him there if I could arrange it, but realized it might be difficult. Bruun would have taken him as a labourer before we went to Santiago, but I doubted if he would still be willing to do so. Also Louis had worked for him there for a couple of days and did not like it. At the bottom of my heart I knew I would rather like to cross the Pacific with one man, and that I would be much less tied when I got to the Marquesas. About nine o'clock on June 13th we got under way for Chatham. Bruun had hoped to sail all the way, but there was a dead calm, so we motored. I had announced firmly that I was a passenger and I most shamefully spent the night in my bunk. It seemed very pleasant to be at sea without any responsibilities. Nevertheless, my superego was too strong for me and I took the tiller at dawn. We were abreast Dalrymple Rock at 11.00 a.m. Going into Wreck Bay under the motor was a very simple affair; I wondered what I had made such a fuss about. There is really plenty of room. The wreck marks the starboard-hand side of the channel beautifully. The chief thing is to make Dalrymple Rock before working in.
We were met on the pier by the Governor and his wife and by the two Chatham Norwegians, who gave us lunch. Everyone was surprised to see me on the Norge and thought I had been wrecked. Afterwards, declining an offer of horses from the Governor, we walked up to the Cobos' hacienda.
We found Señor Cobos outside his office: he, too, was surprised to see me again. I pretended that I had been wrecked, and he immediately put his hacienda and himself at my disposal, inviting me to stay with him until I could get away. It was very charming of him. We explained the joke, but he insisted on our dining with him and spending the night. But we could not get the provisions we wanted, for the Cobos, which was already overdue when I had put in five weeks before, had not yet arrived from Guayaquil. I managed to buy ten pounds of lard (a personal favour on Señor Cobos' part), one quintal of otoi, some bananas, coffee, sugar and drink. Matches, tobacco, flour, eggs, onions, plantains and paraffin were unobtainable.
We dined that night in the usual Cobos fashion, a delicious meal: the first really good one I had had since I had dined with them five weeks before. It consisted of chicken soup, pork with tomatoes and otoi, eggs and local sausages, and a wonderful compote made from oranges and paw-paws. As I sipped my coffee and liqueur, and watched the afterglow of the sunset over the sea to the west, I remember feeling wonderfully content. I had overeaten myself and felt a slight abdominal discomfort, but I was happy in my company. Bruun was the perfect friend and companion, Cobos had been kindness itself to me, and his wife was very beautiful. Thinking of these things, I suggested to Cobos that he only needed one thing more, an avenue of trees leading from his house to the hillside so that he could see the sea between them; but he spoke guardedly of the present ruin.
The following day, Sunday, after lunching in the same sumptuous fashion, we went back to the beach and spent the night with the two Norwegians, Jenssen [sic, Jensen] and Nuggerud. We got through a bottle of skoal, and played bridge with the dirtiest and stickiest pack of cards I have ever come across. These two are fine types of men; silent, pleasant mannered, hospitable, independent and resolute; and I have a very pleasant memory of the time I spent with them. They are quite happy in the life they lead, although things were then rather bad for them. The non-arrival of the Cobos meant that they had no petrol for fishing, that the dried fish awaiting transport was deteriorating, and that they were short of all provisions.
On the night of June 16th we sailed for Santa Cruz, with the Governor as passenger. We had dropped two men at Chatham and not picked up any fresh ones, so there were only Bruun, the engineer and myself. Bruun asked if I would mind hoisting the sails, and I replied, “Right, but from now on I am mate of the Norge.” He said, “I officially appoint you mate,” and we had a skoal on it. This joking compact was to have a queer sequel. We sailed out under the jib, and when we judged we were clear of all dangers we hoisted the mainsail, which immediately collapsed on our heads. The peak halyard had parted and the gaff jaws were broken. Bruun repaired the gaff in an incredibly short time; tied a third knot in the peak halyard and hoisted the mainsail again. I celebrated my reversion from passenger to mate by taking the first watch. At eleven o'clock the next morning we were off Point Nuñez and we started the motor. The south coast of Santa Cruz is very grim and forbidding and should be given a wide berth. Round the South Cape to the Gordon Rocks the breakers appear to stretch five miles out to sea, and off every little point the sea breaks a long way out. Here, as on the windward side of the other islands, you get occasional breakers far out to sea in what is usually smooth water. One such breaker drowned two members of the former Norwegian colony, just to the west of Academy Bay. We approached the anchorage in Academy Bay between Jensen [Caamaño] Island and the southeast shore, and this passage is free from danger, bearing in mind that the island itself is surrounded by reefs. But in the passage between the island and the northwest shore Bruun told me there are many reefs, and I noticed the sea breaking in two places. We went right into the harbour and dropped anchor in three fathoms, about two hundred yards from the huts. It is the best sheltered anchorage in the Galapagos for small boats, and quite different from all the others in type, since it is quiet, enclosed and pretty rather than grand.
We landed on the stone pier which had been constructed by the Norwegian settlers, and were greeted by my old acquaintance, Edwardson Stampa. His partner, Wold, was away fishing. We were desperately hungry, as we had had nothing but coffee and two biscuits since five o'clock the afternoon before. While we were waiting for dinner I had an excellent freshwater bath, for there is good water right down on the beach, and afterwards we explored the remains of the settlement.
It is a rather melancholy sight, for you can see how much Northern energy and intelligence have been put into it. You feel it has been built for permanence. There are four houses still standing―the remainder have been removed―and they are now inhabited by the two Norwegians, two peons and a female cook. Around were scattered rails, piping, and a derelict Ford tractor; there were also properly constructed latrines, and three orderly graves. The original settlement consisted of forty-five Norwegians, men and women, of whom only Stampa and his partner remain. I amused myself going through the remains of a medical store, and I stole a tooth extractor and a tube of Novocaine: the latter I lost immediately. At last the longed-for meal arrived, and it was excellent. Soup, roast pork with otoi, whole plantains boiled in tortoise oil, finely shaved green plantains boiled in the same oil―tasting very like chipped potatoes―fried eggs and coffee. Everything was local produce. These two men were really much better situated than either Bruun or the two Chatham Norwegians, for except for tobacco and rice they were completely self-supporting. I was so taken with the meal that I made up my mind to visit the plantation next day.
After dinner I was able to do a useful bit of minor surgery on Stampa, who had a septic wrist and a streptococcal lymphangitis which was just beginning to infect the axilla. I lanced it with a razor and dressed it with hot saturated salt solution, and the following morning it had cleared up.
The next day I got up at dawn and, after a good breakfast, which finished up with some delicious cakes made of banana flour boiled in tortoise oil, set off with a peon and two donkeys for the plantation.
The ascent was very gradual and the track quite fair, but we took eight hours there and back. It was interesting, but there were no fine views as there are at Floreana. The bush is extraordinarily thick. Some time ago a young German, who was staying with the Norwegians, announced his intention of exploring the interior. They begged him not to go alone, but when he insisted they suggested that at least he ought to take a compass. He replied that he carried a compass in his head; he went off and was never heard of again.
The plantation is very large; acres and acres of plantains, also bananas, coffee, paw-paws, sugarcane, otoi and yuccas. They keep a lot of pigs, and there are plenty of tortoises on the island. Altogether. this little colony, with fresh water available at the harbour, is much the most self-supporting one I visited during my stay. In times of scarcity they lived better than anyone else, except Señor Cobos, of course.
For lunch I had the promised tortoise liver at last. I noted in my log: “ … It is delicious. I have never tasted anything better; I bring it to the notice of all epicures, fried in tortoise oil and served with either rice or fried plantains.” If I had known what was in store for me――
As a reward for this meal I had to make a medical examination of the Cook; it was rather amusing, for I had to address my questions in English to Bruun, who translated them into Norwegian for Stampa, who translated them into Spanish for the cook; as the questions had to be very intimate and personal it was slightly embarrassing. I diagnosed chronic salpingitis.
I should certainly advise anybody visiting the Galapagos to go into Academy Bay. Stampa and Wold are delightful people; it is a lovely little place and very interesting. Also it is quite a good place to get fresh provisions, though the water is rather too brackish for most tastes. With a small boat and a motor the way in is quite simple if you take the eastern passage between Jensen Island and the shore. Keep a good lookout and avoid going too close to any point. If I had a large boat I would take one of the Chatham Norwegians as a pilot. Whether there is a chart of the bay I do not know. My general chart plus my large scale chart of Wreck Bay give many anchorages in the islands, but not Academy Bay.
We taxied out of Academy Bay at about two o'clock that afternoon, going this time between the island and the southwest shore. Tremendous breakers could be seen right away to the west, sometimes a mile out to sea. It was on this coast that the two Norwegians were drowned. They were caught by a roller breaking unexpectedly far out and their boat was swamped; although they were good swimmers, only their bodies were recovered. This coast is no place to approach at night.
We got into Floreana about eight o'clock and found the whole German colony, including Dr. Ritter, on the verandah of the house. I had brought a couple of bottles of drink ashore and we had a very merry party. It was much more like Bloomsbury than anything else. I finally made up my mind that night to part with Louis. I was strongly advised to by Bruun, who offered to take him into Guayaquil for me.
Bruun and Dr. Ritter came on board with me, and I spent half the night drinking with Bruun and discussing with Dr. Ritter, a strict teetotaler, Freud's Civilization and its Discontents and Jeans' Mysterious Universe, which I had lent to him.
Bruun and I went fishing with the seine that afternoon and we got a good catch. I had invited the Governor, Bruun and Herr Schmidt to dinner that night, but it turned out a complete fiasco. Mobile blued a month's wages on a gramophone, stole a bottle of drink and got very drunk. When I came on board with my guests he had managed to cook the dinner but had eaten most of it. We got about a half ounce of fish each. He improved matters by putting his arm round the Governor's neck and starting to give him a short history of his life.
I managed to put him to bed and arranged a pail. The Governor and Herr Schmidt pretended to notice nothing, but before we left Bruun went in to see if Mobile was all right and also got embraced: the pail was filling then. It was the first time Mobile had behaved like this, and I had only seen him drunk once before, in Colon where he was perfectly entitled to be. Usually I left my liquor about without a thought, and I was annoyed at his letting me down in this fashion. That, of course, was his trouble. You could depend on him for long periods, then suddenly get let down, It was the same with his steering and his seamanship. He had developed into an excellent helmsman, but you could never be quite sure that something would not distract his attention, and then goodbye. From the time of the incident of the jib failing to hoist I had learnt to oversee everything myself. I developed an attention to detail which would have delighted Rab's heart. Nevertheless, Mobile was a good boy, and I grew more and more fond of him. He was quite willing to cross the Pacific alone with me; in fact, he said he would much prefer to. He even informed me, after overhearing me talk about finances, firstly that he would stay with me as long as I could keep going, without pay; secondly that if he only had some money he would give it to me.
That night, Friday, June 20th, we sailed for Isabela on the Norge with the Governor and Herr Schmidt as passengers. We motored out of Post Office Bay and then set sail; the wind was light and on the port quarter. I did my five hours watch that night, and by dawn we were off Tortuga Island. There we started the motor again and fished. The island was a fine sight that morning with a heavy sea breaking on it. It towers three hundred feet straight up from the sea, and is formed of a third of a circular volcanic crater, then a gap, and another eighth. The rest is missing. Bruun was even more daring than usual that day: time and again we went into the backwash of the breakers and fished about two yards from destruction. The skill with which he handled the boat was a revelation. We were rewarded by sixty very large cod, but we had used the motor for three hours.
We hoisted sail again and made for Villamil. This is a very bad harbour to approach, the worst in the Galapagos, and I should not advise anybody to go in there without local knowledge. But if they have to, they should get right over to the western point of the bay, then steer towards the northern shore, and when well inside the line of breakers which stretch westward from the eastern point, steer for the anchorage, which is a deep indentation in the eastern shore.
There was an unusually heavy sea that day, and there appeared to be an unbroken line of breakers stretching from Tortuga to the mainland, though I believe there is really quite a wide passage of deep water. However, it is safer to keep well to the west of a line joining Tortuga with the eastern point of the bay. We went in too near the eastern point and, looking back, saw a complete circle of breakers where we had passed thirty seconds before. There were scores of enormous mantae about that day. As the Norge only draws three feet we passed the usual anchorage, which I did not like the look of, and threaded our way in a series of zigzags between the two reefs to within twenty-five yards of the shore.
We had barely dropped anchor when Señor Gil, the lord of the island, arrived on a sort of raft and invited all four of us to dine with him: Bruun, the Governor, Schmidt and me, although we were all, except Bruun, unknown to him. I was very relieved at the invitation, as I was desperately hungry―my usual state on arriving anywhere. The way Bruun and I used to go visiting was to go off with some coffee and a couple of biscuits inside us, and trust to getting a good meal off somebody ashore. But I had grown accustomed to having biscuits and coffee at dawn and going the whole day without anything to eat, then having one good meal. It seems to be a matter of habit, and I believe one could live quite well on one full meal a day. But one could never learn this living with English people who consider three full meals at regular hours the absolute minimum.
Señor Gil entertained us royally, and seemed to think nothing of having three strangers planted on him without warning.
His father had come out from Ecuador to settle in the islands. His first attempt was in Post Office Bay, but he eventually decided that the lack of water on the sea coast there made any hope of a large settlement impossible, so he moved to Villamil, where there is fair but slightly brackish water on the coast. He planted coconuts, the only ones I saw in the islands, and established his first plantations, then when these prospered he gradually blasted his way up the mountain to the fertile uplands.
Villamil now has about eighty inhabitants, living in scattered houses. The country near the settlement is low-lying, covered with mangroves, and at spring tide is flooded far inland. The houses are built on piles, and the spring tides wash the place clean, which is lucky, as there are no sanitary arrangements. The spring tide also enables Señor Gil to collect a large quantity of salt, but when I was there he was not able to sell any. Bruun had collected it with me at the cost of 1.70 sucres a quintal in Santiago; Gil would not sell it at less than five sucres. As the Norwegians were his only possible customers, and as they refused to buy at his price, he had ceased collecting it.
On Sunday, June 22nd, we sailed from Villamil for Floreana about an hour before sunset. We shipped a new hand, a double murderer but a fine and cheerful-looking fellow. We had five fowls and half a dozen tortoises on board, and the Governor, to my disgust, brought a small puppy. We had ten gallons of water and a few coconuts. I had succeeded in buying otoi and sweet potatoes, four bottles of tortoise oil, four bottles of syrup, two small cheeses, some alcohol and a thousand cigars. Bruun had sweet potatoes, plantains and a hundred cigars. The Governor and Schmidt each had two thousand cigars.
As it was from this time that my adventures really started, I will take the account straight from my log.
St. Pedro, June 26th. . . . With the new hand we shipped in Isabela, there were eight of us on board. The distance to Post Office Bay was about forty miles. The engineer judged we had enough petroleum for four hours, about twenty-eight miles. The wind had been from the south for the last three weeks, and Bruun thought we would have no trouble in making Post Office Bay, which was east by south.
There was a glorious crimson sunset as we taxied out of the bay. The two cloud covered volcanoes, the black rock of the coastline showing up against the frantic surf, the almost complete circle of the seaward breakers crashing, crashing, and the utter desolation threatened and overbore one. But beauty without fear or sadness is not beauty.
We motored south and west first, so that when we started sailing we should clear Tortuga. After about three quarters of an hour we hoisted sail, and our course was east by north. I took the first watch that night, and the wind gradually dropped until I had no steerage way. At two in the morning when Bruun relieved me there was again a faint breeze.
The following morning we appeared to have drifted south, but had made a little easting. Floreana was visible about thirty-five miles away. That day and the following night what little wind we had was from the north of east, and all Tuesday was a dead calm. Floreana and Tortuga were out of sight; all we could see was the great southwest mass of Isabela, five thousand feet high, anything up to forty miles away. I was beginning to get worried, for we were obviously drifting west and south, and it looked to me as if we were going off to the Marquesas in a half-decked boat with a couple of gallons of water between eight people. The others did not realize the danger, except Bruun, of course, who was very anxious; but he thought we were nearer Villamil than I did.
We sailed north when we had any wind, and when Bruun relieved me at midnight he said he would turn on the motor at dawn and try to make Villamil. I asked if he thought we had enough petrol. He smiled and shrugged his shoulders, said he hoped so, but anyway there was nothing else to be done, and we had a large drink.
I was wakened at dawn by the sound of the motor, and went out to have a look at things. We had drifted more to the west but also nearer the Isabela coast, and we were steering northeast in the direction of Villamil. I could see Bruun was worried, and I personally did not think we had the chance of a snowball in hell of making it. We discussed our probable position, and I was still more pessimistic than Bruun as to our distance away. We had one biscuit apiece and what we thought was the last of the coffee, and went out to look at things. We were closer to land, it was clearer and everything looked very forbidding. Just a line of low lava cliffs with a very heavy surf breaking on it, relieved at intervals by surf breaking on rocks far out at sea. I wondered what we could do when the motor stopped. With our coconuts we had enough to drink for about twenty-four hours. There was no wind and there did not appear to be a landing anywhere. The ship's boat would not hold all of us, and even if we did get in, I thought I knew enough of the island to be sure we would not find water.
Bruun, I was certain, would not leave his boat, which is uninsured and his sole livelihood, while the slenderest hope remained. There seemed to be just a remote chance that if we got some wind we might work round the island to Iguana Cove, but, what then? There was no water there. I reckoned we would just drift off to the southwest and die of thirst. Our Indians would cut up rough in the process, I thought. Bruun was armed and so was the Governor, and I wondered how the latter would face it; well, I thought. There was nothing to be done, so I went back to my bunk and tried to immerse myself in an adventure story called Honey of Danger. Later Bruun came in and we talked over possibilities. He told me there was a cove, St. Pedro, fifteen to twenty miles west of Villamil, and that we might make that. I had not known of this before.
Well, that was that. Everybody else was standing outside looking with longing intensity at the land, but I decided that this was too painful a way of passing the time so I went back to Honey of Danger―a good tale. I read for about an hour, I suppose, when Bruun came in and said that there was only half-an-hour's petroleum left. I went on deck with him and he pointed out approximately where the cove lay. I estimated the distance, said to myself, “Not an earthly,” looked at the time, which was ten o'clock, and murmured to Bruun, “Let's have a small drink.” We had one, and I read a tale about a New York beauty parlour. It was continued in our next, and as the half-hour's grace was then up I went out again. We were near the entrance to the cove and the motor was still going―we got nearer―we were in the entrance―I saw the obviously snug anchorage―we were in. Bruun gave the order to stand by the anchor, and as he gave it the motor coughed and stopped.
Even then things did not look too good. The murderer, Garcia and Alberto seized the boat and went ashore. Alberto came back alone, bringing water which was better than we had dared to hope. He said he thought the other two had sloped off, but they came back six hours later, laden with tortoise flesh, and we had our first proper meal for three days. Then, what to do? Bruun decided to try to get petroleum.
That evening the engineer, Alberto and the murderer offered to row the dinghy to Villamil and if necessary to Floreana to get some. Next morning, with the exception of the engineer, they thought better of it and refused to go. Meanwhile it was low tide and the water hole was empty. Then the Governor decided that he would set out on foot for Villamil with the murderer. He, I gathered, was sighing for a bed on dry land and was very sick of the discomfort. But I wonder now if he realized what he was in for. I did not myself till the following day, but I had learnt something in Santiago about the Galapagos bush, and I had to smile when he appeared ready for the journey with all his belongings in a big brown leather suitcase. The murderer explained gently that this would not do, so the Governor smiled cheerfully and exchanged the suitcase for a bottle of water, a bottle of spirit and some food; but he insisted on two blankets.
After he left, Bruun and I discussed ways and means. We decided that one of us must go with the boat and the other stay here with the ship. I managed to say that I would go, although in my heart I funked it badly, but Bruun decided that if I were willing to stay it would be better if he went, as he knew the coast between here and Villamil. Also, though he did not say so, he knew he was a much better oarsman than I am. So it was decided that I should stay behind with Garcia and the engineer, and that Bruun, Schmidt and Alberto should go to Villamil and then make Floreana, get fuel there and bring it back in my sailing dinghy. I offered to let Bruun sail the Inyala over to Villamil, but he thought it was too risky without a motor among those rocks. He is so grateful to me for staying―and there is so little to it. Waiting in this cove is just an amusing experience; taking that sieve of a boat to Floreana is a heroic enterprise.
We spent the morning making a raft so that we could get backwards and forwards from the shore after the dinghy had gone. There are big sharks cruising about all the time, so we did not like the idea of swimming. We found a great V-shaped piece of mangrove from the stem of which projected a mass of gnarled wood exactly like a dragon's head. This caught the eye of the two descendants of the Vikings, and we chose it for the stem of the raft. To this Bruun lashed a long board like a tea tray, about eight feet long and two feet wide, on which he cuts up his fish. Then at intervals along the tea tray we lashed three logs at right angles. It serves its purpose, but is impossible to paddle, so we have fixed up a double series of lines.
To my joy the Governor left word that we could destroy the puppy. I hate animals on ships, and this little beast let loose on a cabin floor, six feet by three, was a pest. It naturally dirtied everywhere, and it had one of the “I-must-be-loved ” temperaments. It whined all night and all day to be taken notice of, and was very smelly. Incidentally about the first time I ever told Louis off was over the matter of keeping a pet on board. He expressed a desire to keep a kitten or a puppy, and I said he might if he would promise to clean up all faeces as soon as they were made. He replied quite calmly that “the boy ” meaning Mobile, could do that. I got quite furious at that and let him have all I had been saving up. I told him that Mobile had quite enough to do in his triple role of cook, bo'sun and A. B. I also said that he was to go about barefoot, so that he would not be so clumsy on his feet and would be more careful about the filth, fish hooks, nails, tools and broken glass he left about. I also asked him to refrain from spitting out pips and pulp on the saloon floor.
Well, Bruun objected to the puppy as much as I did, but the Governor, who went about in field boots, did not seem to mind the mess. I kept up a ceaseless indirect agitation by calling one of the men to clean it up as soon as it was made. They did not like this and I suppose their murmurs were heard by the Governor.
Bruun woke up at four o'clock and got everything ready to start as soon as it was light. We breakfasted off tortoise liver and tea, and we had a farewell skoal. This is a desperate venture of Bruun's. He has an old flat-bottomed boat, about twelve feet long, triangular in shape and three feet wide in the stern. It is about eighteen inches deep, and with three men in it has not more than six inches freeboard. Moreover, it is completely rotten and leaks badly. One man has to bale all the time. It was given to him by Governor Pinchot, who ought to be interested if ever he reads about this. Its official name is Sigfrid, but it goes by the name of “the submarine.”
I felt more than a little emotion when I said goodbye to Bruun. We have been living together day after day for about six weeks now, the last ten days or so sharing a bunk―Box and Cox―and we get on perfectly. He is one of the nicest, kindest, most lovable and efficient people I have ever come across. He is a man in whom you have complete confidence, a genius with his hands, a born leader of infinite resource who is never rattled or assertive or at a loss. He commands without effort, gently and with a smile.
They went off in the twilight. I have mentioned that the entrance to the cove is very shallow and from time to time the seas break right across it. It had been one more piece of luck that we had arrived two days before at high water.
As they rowed out we could dimly see a big sea rolling in. It appeared in the half light to be breaking right over them, and I held my breath as they disappeared, but a moment later I caught sight of them still steadily rowing and then they were lost in the gloom.
That was Friday, June 26th. As I write this it is about six o'clock Sunday evening, June 28th, and I do not expect them back before Thursday, although Bruun thought Wednesday.
I was left with two cigarettes, five thousand cigars, two boxes of matches, no paraffin, one rooster, two small cheeses, a sack of sweet potatoes and a large number of plantains, which are rapidly rotting. For reading matter I have two ancient magazines, and The Golden Centipede and Piccadilly Jim, both of which I have already read. I find the crew have a large quantity of privately-owned coffee and I have three bottles of alcohol. Thus, except for books, I have all my necessary drugs.
As soon as it was light my crew conveyed by signs that they wanted to go tortoise hunting and would I like to go with them. I assented light-heartedly, and getting ashore one by one we set out. We plunged into the bush in a westerly direction and in a few minutes I wished I had not come. The ground consisted of loose volcanic rock, piled up in little hills and valleys, planted with such dense cactus that I soon resembled a pin-cushion, especially about the head. I had on shorts, no hat, and the heels and half the soles of my shoes were flapping loose. I did not mind the thorns in my limbs so much, but I kept on hitting my head against cacti and getting thorns mixed up in my hair. I managed to ask if the way to Villamil was like this, and they replied “malo;” they made me understand that it would take the Governor at least two days. I am afraid he is in for a bad time. I hope he is all right, for I like him. The murderer, his guide, had said on one occasion that he knew the way, on another that he did not.
We eventually came out at a small cove where there was another large water hole, with a dead cow beside it. It is a peculiar fact, and I do not quite understand the reason for it, but here at our cove a mound of volcanic boulders rises steeply from the sea for about fifteen or twenty feet, then the mound slopes down again on the opposite side to about sea level and here is a pool of fresh water, only full when the tide is up. At low water it can often be found trickling down the beach. From the hole we struck inland, along a well-marked cattle track, making for a four-toothed hill about two hundred feet high, by far the most conspicuous object in the surrounding country. It is the seaward mark for St. Pedro, and you cannot miss it after rounding Cape Rose from the eastward. Here the going was easier. The hill is a favourite haunt for tortoises. We killed a giant one measuring three and a half feet along the shell and I watched the dissection. It is turned on its back and the ventral part of the shell chopped round the margin with an axe. This is removed, exposing the organs. The liver and windpipe are removed, and then the great pads of fat lining the dorsal shell. Lastly the limbs are cut off.
We killed four in all and came back laden with meat. The presence of tortoise is betrayed by their distinctive white droppings. They take no interest in man and are quite defenceless, but I do not see how any other animal can deal with them.
Coming back we skirted along the seashore after reaching the coast, which is much the better way. I got on board just in time to witness an amazing performance on the part of the cove sea lion, which usually passes the day fishing, diving and coming to the surface in a most languid fashion a few yards from the shore. I had just got on board when it tore at express speed towards the boat. About ten yards ahead of it was a large pink fish with a long head and a triangular dorsal fin. They darted round the bows, the sea lion gaining and then losing as it shot out of the water for a gulp of air. Back to the shore they went in a wide curve, then round the bows again, the sea lion nearer this time. Then about fifty yards further on the sea lion rose to the surface with the fish in its jaws.
Watching the animal life here keeps me amused for hours. The gulls, a mole-coloured species, have dropped all their ordinary ways of earning a living and now depend entirely on us. They eat everything, plantains, sweet potatoes, coconut, filth and cigars. Also we cannot keep them off the drying salt fish, with which the boat is festooned. The other inhabitants take no notice of our presence, but go on living their own lives.
There are five pelicans attached to the cove and seven fisher gulls, brown and white birds about the same size as our greater black-backed gull. Pelicans strike me as one of the most archaic of all animals; something left over from another age. A pterodactyl must have looked very like one. They are built so differently from the fisher gulls, whose way of living is superficially so similar, and they dive quite differently. The Pelican always works on its own, it flies slowly without twists or swerves, it always dives at approximately the same angle from the same position, and does not appear to immerse more than its head and neck. The fisher gulls often work together five or six at a time, wheeling and swooping simultaneously like a well-drilled squad, hitting the water at the same instant. They dive from any position, often making extraordinary turns at the start of the dive, the leader giving the signal by a joyous squeak. They dive quite deep and are often immersed for five to ten seconds. Both the pelicans and the gulls keep their wings half-spread when they dive. It is a great sight to see the sea lion, the pelicans and the fisher gulls all working one corner of the cove and never interfering with one another. The frigate birds are visitors from the wide open spaces and not permanent residents of the cove, and what they live on is a mystery to me. I seem to have read of them feeding on flying fish, but there are practically no flying fish here. I have only seen one during my stay in the islands. I do not think there is a more beautiful flier than the frigate bird with it a great stretch of wing and long tail. What family it belongs to I do not know, but it appears to be built on the same lines as the falcon, though I judge they are not related. You see them planing at great heights for hours, then they drift out of view, but I have never seen one feeding. Other permanent inhabitants of the cove are a large number of turtles, which make our mouths water, but which we have no means of catching. Ashore I have seen wild dogs.
Monday, June 29th. Four days have gone since Bruun left, and strange as it may seem they have been very happy ones. I have spent my time writing this journal and the account of my experiences to send home, lying in the sun watching the animal life and bathing. Time has just slipped by. My two men are quite good and feed me three times a day. We can only communicate by signs. The disadvantages of the life are the swarms of flies by day, the mosquitoes at night, the straight tortoise and sweet potato diet and the absence of any light after sunset. Last night was clear for the first time since we have been here, and I had a little drinking party all by myself with the moon and thoroughly enjoyed myself. My crew seemed fascinated, too, and I left them on deck at eleven o'clock still gazing at the moon.
Thursday, July 2nd. On Tuesday I explored the country to the east along the sea coast after trying to wash my clothes in a fresh water trickle on the beach. The clothes were certainly improved and I had a good bath. The coast to the east was the wildest desolation, naked lava with a few cacti. The sea was alive with turtles. I saw two stork-like birds and found two more water holes, with cattle droppings near by. My crew went tortoise hunting, and returned at dusk with four.
That night the boat tossed about quite differently, and at dawn there was a tremendous sea breaking the whole way across the entrance to the cove. After breakfast Garcia took the raft ashore for firewood. About nine o'clock, while I was in the cabin getting a cigar I heard the engineer shout, “Capitano! Capitano! ”
I rushed out, and saw a small boat, seemingly laden with men, and an enormous breaker rearing up behind it. It broke and overwhelmed them, but as the foam subsided they seemed to be all in the boat and still rowing. Then almost immediately another breaker crashed over them, and this time the sea was strewn with objects. There was a temporary lull, and I could see two men swim first to the boat and then shoreward, two others clambered into it, the fifth, whom I made out to be Bruun, did not appear to have been thrown out. I could see him trying to paddle from the stern with one oar. I decided to gather up the line we used for the raft, to get to the east point of the cove and to try and swim out to the boat with the line.
However, the line was tangled in the bottom and Garcia was some distance away strolling along in a leisurely fashion with a bundle of firewood. I yelled at him, but he merely shrugged his shoulders. The engineer understood what I wanted, and shouted explanations to Garcia. We got one line coiled, and I swam ashore with it while Garcia coiled the other. I then made my way to the point; but all this had taken time.
Meanwhile I could see Bruun still trying to paddle, but losing ground. Every two or three minutes three or four seas would break over the boat. I started to wade off from the rocks with the line round my waist. The boat was still about the middle of the cove.
Just as I started to swim there came a series of tremendous breakers, larger than any that had come before, ten or twelve in succession. I was swept off my feet and submerged and floated among the rocks. When I got to my feet again I saw the boat had been carried right over to the far side of the cove.
There was a short lull, then another series of great breakers, and the boat went on the rocks with some black figures beside it.
I made my way round to the other side of the cove, but it took time as the going was very bad. First I came across a very shaken man, Colon, Señor Gil's brother-in-law. I demanded Bruun, and he replied, “Morta,” banging himself on the head. He wanted sympathy, but I wanted Bruun.
Next I found Alberto, who was very badly bruised and shaken and obviously all in. Again I asked for Bruun, and again got “Morta” in reply, with the gesture of banging himself on the head. However, there seemed no reason why he should be dead yet if he could be found, so I went further.
Next I found the murderer waving a flag. I could not understand what he was doing until he pointed to a schooner about three miles away. Once more I asked for Bruun, and once more got the same reply.
I went further along to the west, outside the cove, but could not find Bruun. Then I came back and saw a body caught in the rocks some way out in the cove. I swam out to it, and found Bruun. There was no sign of life. I yelled for Garcia and I got Bruun's body some way ashore. Then Garcia brought the boat, which had drifted in, one side half missing, and we got him into it. The boat was awash, but we managed by swimming with it to get ashore at last. I did not think there was much hope, but I emptied the water out of him and did artificial respiration for more than half-an-hour without any result. He was slightly bruised over his right cheekbone and had two ribs broken, but he died of drowning. I feel completely heartbroken.
On going back on board Herr Schmidt, who had managed to swim straight back to the Norge, told me what had happened. They got to Villamil all right late on Friday evening. Bruun spent Saturday morning caulking the boat and making a mast and sails. On the Saturday afternoon he set out for Floreana with Alberto and a volunteer from Villamil. They spent three days and nights in that leaky tea tray trying to row against the wind, sea and current, but were eventually driven back to Villamil by exhaustion on the Tuesday afternoon.
As soon as they got back Bruun started making some alterations in the boat with the intention of trying again the following day. However, the long-expected Cobos schooner arrived that evening, and Alvarado agreed to give them fuel and to drop them at the entrance to St. Pedro. He first said he would sail that night with the full moon, but afterwards postponed the start till the following morning. He promised he would wait and see them safely in. As they approached the entrance they noticed there was a bad sea, but Bruun thought they could go in as they had gone out.
When they upset Bruun told the murderer to swim ashore if he could and signal the schooner. Schmidt tried to persuade Bruun to swim ashore with him, but Bruun replied he wanted to save the boat, also he did not think Alberto and Colon could make it. In the last few moments when everything became quite hopeless he told them to swim, but noticing that Alberto was done, stuck by him.
This morning we buried Bruun. We scraped a hole among the lava boulders with our hands, laid him in it, and then made a great mound of stones over him. It would have been more fitting to have burnt the old Viking on a funeral pyre. I have seldom felt so upset as I do now. While we were burying him I felt just as I did when I heard of my father's death, that horrible feeling of wanting to cry and not being able to. Just in these weeks I had got to love the man, and would have followed him anywhere. There are not many like him in this world.
I keep on cudgelling my brains about how I could have saved him. If only I had been on the other side of the cove when he went ashore I might have dragged him out. But the side I went to was five times as near, and I could not know that they would drift to the other. Yet I know that if I had been in that boat and Bruun had been ashore he would have saved me somehow. I am utterly miserable.
We are not in a very good position ourselves. This afternoon the cable attached to the big patent anchor I had lent Bruun parted, and the boat is hanging on to a little homemade affair by a bit of rusty iron wire. I have got her moored to one shore by the old peak halyard, the new one, and the jib halyard; to the other by a doubled fishing line. There is not an inch of rope left on the ship. The swell inside is increasing hourly. How to prevent her going ashore when the other anchor goes I do not know. Yet again I say to myself, Bruun would think of something.
We are hoping that Alvarado will come tomorrow. Bruun had promised to meet him without fail yesterday evening, so he must realize there is something seriously wrong. He is not only on a trading voyage, but is also representing the Government biannual ship. Also we have the Governor's suitcase which contains, I understand, his full dress uniform.
If the schooner does not come I will try and get Colon, Garcia and the murderer away, and stick it here with Schmidt, the engineer and Alberto in hope of eventual relief. Schmidt is a very good fellow and game for anything, though he has no experience of the sea. Bruun's partner, Arends, came out on the Cobos and is at Floreana. He ought to get something done.
I cannot bear to abandon the boat Bruun left me in charge of. It is worth about four hundred pounds and Bruun leaves a widow and two daughters. It is getting too dark to write now. I am feeling very depressed.
7. a desperate journey
Friday, July 3rd. It is now two o'clock in the afternoon, but there are no signs of Alvarado. We have given up all hope of him.
We are properly marooned now and where relief can come from I do not know. Arends is at Floreana with three men, plenty of fuel and a launch with a broken magneto. A new one had been ordered from Guayaquil and should have arrived with the schooner. Anyway, the launch has been rowed to Villamil before, but Schmidt does not think Arends could do it.
There are signs of trouble with the crew. Alberto and the engineer are quite good, but there is trouble with the murderer and Garcia. I know no Spanish and have to talk through Schmidt by means of very indifferent German, so I cannot find out what is the matter. I have appointed myself Captain, though I have no locus standi, except that Bruun left me in charge of the ship. But, of course, I don't pay the men and cannot be quite sure that anyone ever will. Colon, who goes about with an automatic day and night―he came ashore with it―summoned Schmidt and me to a conference. He was sure there was going to be trouble and wanted me to wear Bruun's pistol. I thought this was too provocative, but consented to clean it. The engineer and the murderer found me at the task and did it for me.
I am thinking of trying to row the Norge back. I seem to be getting more adventures than I ever bargained for, this time―in fact, going through the whole of the Boy's Own Paper bit by bit.
Saturday, July 4th. We look at the sea with little hope. We are building on the chance that Arends went off to Floreana on the Cobos to ask the Chatham Norwegians to look for us. They would, I am sure.
I decided today to make oars and to try to row the boat to Villamil. Colon and Garcia refused, so I packed them off to Villamil with a note to Señor Gil asking for three volunteers to make the attempt. The Governor took five days getting to Villamil and arrived, I understand, half dead. I hope those two will only take three days. The murderer is quite willing to come with me.
The sea is much quieter.
Tuesday, July 7th. We are still in St. Pedro. We have made oars, cut rowlocks and constructed rowers' benches. I would like to get out with four oarsmen, but know it would be impossible against wind and current. Our course to Villamil is first east, and then to Floreana, east by south. The wind is persistently from the east and the current runs westward at about two knots.
We will have to do something soon for there are only a few sweet potatoes left. We have never had any sugar, but have used syrup, which is nearly finished. We have coffee and unlimited cigars. The murderer and the engineer got a lot of tortoise flesh yesterday. The crew have been very good since Colon and his pistol left. Ovendo, the murderer, the most willing of the lot.
If it were not for Bruun's death, it would not be so bad, for it is amazing how one settles down to things. The world outside has become quite faded and unreal, the cove and the horizon mark the limit of the universe. It would be easy just to dream your life away like this.
I have dammed up the stream which trickles down the rocks at low tide and have a beautiful fresh water bath. I wash one of my two shirts in it each day by hitting it with a boulder and then leave it to dry in the sun. They don't look up to much but they smell clean. I made my last bottle of alcohol go a long way, but finished off the last thimbleful the day before yesterday. The one thing I am worried about is that Mobile may come looking for me in the Inyala and wreck her, and stop my trip to the South Seas.
The cove is as smooth as glass.
Wednesday, July 8th. I was disturbed in my bath at noon by seven men arriving from Villamil. They brought me as a gift from Señor Gil two bottles of alcohol, one bottle of coffee, two boxes of matches and some plantains. Three of these men are willing to come with us, and I propose to start at dawn tomorrow, making for Floreana or Villamil. I will take as much water as possible. Two men went off this morning for tortoise.
I hope for the best, but it is rather a desperate undertaking against wind and currents. The other alternatives are: one, to abandon the boat and go to Villamil, but this goes too much against the grain; the other, to stay where we are, but this is impossible for food is running out and the anchor may go at any minute. The mooring line parted days ago.
Later. Only two of the men will come. I have cleaned out an old fish tub and filled it with water. It is very foul, but we will drink it if we get thirsty enough; it would last for a week or ten days.
I am starting at dawn tomorrow if the crew don't change their minds. Only Schmidt's eloquence persuaded the two men. We are becoming great friends, he is very game and resolute.
Thursday, July 9th. We started off at seven o'clock this morning, six men rowing. I have with me the engineer, Ovendo, Schmidt, Alberto and the two reinforcements. We lost ground steadily to the west. The wind was dead ahead of our course to clear Cape Rose, and the high forecastle of the boat swung her off the wind, so it was impossible to steer within four points of our course. When the crew were exhausted, we hoisted sail and tried to beat, but the ship would only point seven points off the wind, so we went steadily away with the current. We are now about halfway to Essex Point, the southward extremity of Isabela. It is a poor lookout. We may be able to get up the western side of the island to Iguana Cove but the case for the boat seems hopeless. Probably we will just drift helplessly out into the Pacific. If we had not gone willingly this morning we would have gone willy-nilly later, for the anchor was hanging by one strand.
Friday, July 10th. About noon. After sunset yesterday evening, the wind went round to the north and we were able to steer east at last. I steered all night and kept to that course without tacking inland. There was a free wind and had to take the chance. At dawn there was a flat calm and we were twelve miles to the southwest of Essex Point.
I told Schmidt we were in a very bad position and unless we got a strong wind we were for it. The crew were in excellent spirits and drew lots for the first to be eaten. Alberto lost. We continued to drift west until two hours ago when it suddenly started blowing hard from the south. We are sailing east-northeast at about four knots, but we cannot hope to do anything better than to get round Essex Point into Iguana Cove. However, this wind has probably saved our lives.
Saturday, July 11th. We got round Essex Point about three in the afternoon and then got a really stiff breeze from the south-southwest. We went up the coast like a train and lamented that we had not got this breeze the day before, but probably it was not blowing on the south coast. I only have with me an old smallscale American chart, which does not give plans of the anchorages, and the coast does not resemble the chart at all. Bruun had once told me the chart was wrong hereabouts. We ran up the coast for two hours, doing four knots, without seeing anything that looked like a cove at all. Then we came to a very forbidding indentation which the engineer, who had been round here once before, thought was Iguana Cove. It did not look inviting, so I decided to push on to Webb Cove. When we were about half a mile away from a point round which I hoped the cove lay the wind suddenly fell to nothing. Then just before sunset it started to blow furiously from the east-northeast. I held on for a few minutes close-hauled, but she was sliding off to leeward like a crab, then a blast heeled her over and she dipped her gunwale under, taking in some water. This decided me, and going about with the help of an oar, we made for the cove we had passed earlier. In the gathering gloom steered a course to shave the northeast point of the cove so as to lose nothing that I had in hand to windward. We shaved a rock and twice more she dipped her gunwale, forcing me to luff and so to lose ground to leeward. We tore across the bay always sliding off to leeward. I could see surf everywhere, but in the dusk the southeast corner seemed the quietest―I doubt if I could have made any other spot ―so I made for that. It was almost dark, but we tore on, ignoring rocks, the engineer shouting the soundings, and we brought up safely in two fathoms, about fifty yards from the shore, just outside a little cove.
The prospect was not inviting. It was blowing really hard off shore, and we were clinging to the land by the little homemade anchor, attached to its rusty wire, knotted where it had frayed through in Saint Pedro. If it parted, the next land was the Marquesas, three thousand miles away. Even if we were not blown out to sea, there seemed no prospect of saving the boat without an anchor. There were two more anchorages on that coast, Isabel Bay to the east-northeast, which was impossible to make, Tagus Cove to the north.
Tagus Cove, as far as I remembered, was a good anchorage with water, but it was forty miles away and also, I recollected, had precipitous sides rising straight from the sea, so there was no chance of beaching the boat. Moreover, Tagus Cove was sixty miles as the crow flies from Villamil. To get back, we would have had to traverse unknown, mountainous country which was probably nearly waterless.
Our surroundings were intimidating. Just bare black lava boulders rising to the south into the great mass of the Blue Mountain―the western volcano of Isabela, five thousand feet high. It was starkly desolate, but very beautiful. All the time the wind howled. The two new recruits wanted to sleep ashore but I refused, and Ovendo and the engineer backed me up. I made up my mind if the anchor parted to try beating up and down the coast and to wait upon events.
Ovendo cooked an excellent meal of the eternal tortoise and sweet potatoes. Over a drink, I laughed with Schmidt about the situation which had arisen out of our weekend in Isabela.
I said I had begun to feel rather like Odysseus, whose efforts to get home only got him further and further away. My crew, both in physique and in temperament, probably resemble his Aegeans and are led, as his were, by a sprinkling of blue-eyed blonds. Mine are a cheerful, lazy lot of rascals whose only concern is that their bellies should be full. Like his, mine would cheerfully and without a qualm murder the Sun God's cattle for a meal. His boat was probably just as handy to windward as the Norge and about the same build. The number of years he took going home always seemed to me rather excessive, but now I consider that with a boat that would not go to windward he did rather well. I wonder when I will meet Circe and Calypso.
Let me describe this bitch of a Norge. She is about twenty-five feet long, has eleven feet beam and three feet draft and is almost flat bottomed. Forward she has a great house with full head room, containing four bunks in two tiers, aft she is undecked with two feet freeboard. Bruun had recently put weatherboards on her and these we had pierced for oar holes, but the port one snapped off six inches above the gunwale and that was the side she dipped under last night. All the running rigging is rotten, not a length without a few knots in it, and the only spare rope we have are two dubious looking coils Señor Gil sent me as mooring lines. All the spars and sails are homemade by Bruun. With the wind on the quarter, she gripes terribly and needs two men at the tiller. We actually split the tiller yesterday. She won't go about without the help of an oar and, queerly enough, it is almost impossible to gybe her. On the other hand she has a very good Diesel engine capable of driving her at seven knots. That is what she is, a motor boat. Bruun had made sails for her and used them for running in the open. I never saw him manoeuvre her under sail. But somehow or other he thought when we left Villamil that she was a sailing boat; and now he lies in St. Pedro.
I spent an unhappy few hours listening to her tugging at that wire while the wind howled outside. There was no steady pull; on account of her high bows she lay five points off the wind, first to one side, then to the other. She jerked and snapped at her anchor and at each shift the wire slackened and then suddenly jerked taut. For a couple of hours I went on worrying, but at last persuaded myself that I could do nothing and went to sleep, without the slightest hope that we should still be there next morning. However, I woke at seven this morning to find that we were.
The wind had moderated but was still blowing hard from the east, so it was impossible to make Isabel Bay, where the engineer had a vague idea there was a beach.
I decided therefore to go ashore and examine the cove for possibilities. It was better than we had dared to hope. The cove itself was very quiet, but at the extreme end of it, and at an angle to it, was a little natural basin, absolutely still, with a narrow entrance between sunken rocks. I decided to manoeuvre the Norge in here. We explored the country a little. It is just another splendid bit of desolation, but the vastest and grandest I have yet seen. To the southeast the Blue Mountain rises five thousand feet, an immense volcano, completely bare of vegetation; to the southwest is another volcano, four thousand feet high, and between, rising gradually to about two thousand feet is an enormous waste of lava and cinders. The whole area is honeycombed with craters, great and small. It is as if this had been some great battlefield of Titans who had been using eighteen foot shells. There were plenty of salt lakes but no fresh water. The place swarmed with turtles and there were a lot of iguana, completely tame. I had only seen wild ones before. Weird beasts, obvious survivors from another epoch, the iguana give just the final archaic touch to a completely archaic scene. For the surrounding country is as something left over from the youth of the world. We killed a big iguana and are eating it tomorrow. The engineer and I have now lived on a straight reptilian diet for three weeks.
At noon the wind dropped and then blew gently from the west, so I brought the Norge into the basin under the jib, with four men rowing, and got her in without touching. She now lies with land on three sides of her, in two fathoms of water. She has the anchor out ahead, is moored amidships on both sides at right angles, and has two mooring ropes astern. Moreover, there is a reef across the entrance, with a gap to one side which was just wide enough to get her through. There is not the slightest movement of the water and if the mooring ropes hold―they are all rotten―she should be safe for months. I feel greatly relieved.
We now have probably two day's journey before us over terrible country which is quite waterless. No one, as far as any of the crew knows, has ever crossed it before. Ovendo and Alberto both know of a water hole on the far side of the Blue Mountain, which they judge to be a day and a half away. From thence it is another day's journey to Alemania, a small hut where there is meat, plantains, milk and water.
We are starting tomorrow because we must, for want of water. We shall leave in the afternoon, after the heat of the day, and hope to make the water hole the following evening. It should be rather a good experience, but I am afraid it will be difficult for me to keep up with the others because the only shoes I have are a thin pair of gym shoes which belonged to Bruun, and they are two sizes too big for me.
I am finishing this at seven o'clock, by the light of a bit of hide floating in tortoise fat. I have a drink beside me, and when I finish writing Schmidt and I will have another and then we will go to sleep. He is a great man.
It is queer; the only thing civilized about my life is that I manage to keep my body clean. For the rest, I have a beard and a mane of hair, I wear no shoes and am clothed in rags. I live on tortoise flesh and sweet potatoes which I eat with my fingers, and I sleep on straw with a coat for a pillow. I live a precarious life and have been near disaster in the last few weeks, yet I am thoroughly contented and happy. I cannot bear the thought of returning to civilization, which only seems to make life safe at the cost of making it damned dull.
I wonder if I will have to come here again and take the Norge back to Floreana. If I am asked I suppose I will. I seem to have an affection for this bitch, into the command of which I have been forced willy-nilly.
Monday, July 13th. About five hundred feet below summit of western volcano of Isabela. We left the ship on Saturday afternoon at 2.00 p.m. We put all the good water that remained into sixteen bottles, each carrying two, and also took some iguana. I wanted to take more, but it was impossible to organize anything; the expedition was more in the nature of a “sauve qui peut.”
I got Ovendo to carry this notebook and my razor and a pair of flannel trousers for me, for the sum of three sucres. I was very much afraid, for myself, whether I could do the climb with my one lung; everybody else seemed fit. Schmidt, who is a big man, said that he had walked all over South America and that two bottles of water would last him four days easily.
We started off over smooth lava, which continued for two hours, but we were forced all the time up the mountainside by impassable craters. Then the smooth lava ended and we had to clamber over the loose coke-like stuff. It was terrible going, but I managed to keep up. To my surprise Schmidt cracked up first. He collapsed, asked for alcohol, of which I had a little, drank half a bottle of water and sat down for a time. The others went on, but Ovendo and the engineer waited for us. We halted at nightfall, and everyone except Schmidt managed to chew some cold iguana. I slept well but Schmidt moaned and groaned all night.
We started again at dawn up those hellish loose cinders. My shoes were cut to ribbons in a couple of hours and so were Schmidt's leather ones. Schmidt began to crack again, moaning, refusing to go any further and asking me to shoot him. He drank all his water straight off, got an acute bellyache and vomited it all up again. It broke my heart to see good water wasted so.
The others went on and this time deserted us, but Ovendo and the engineer stuck to us. Schmidt lay down and refused to move at more and more frequent intervals, taking longer to recover each time. All the while he was praying to be put out of his misery. At what I judge was about 2.00 p.m. Ovendo said we must go on and leave Schmidt and come back for him.
Then this situation arose: I had a full bottle of water, Schmidt had none, the other two just a little. I felt dead beat but could have staggered on. However, I did not like to leave Schmidt. Ovendo and the engineer were willing to leave all their baggage here and travel with the empty bottles to the water hole; Ovendo was sure he could bring back water by nine the following morning. I thought I might delay them, so I decided to stop and share my bottle with Schmidt. It is always the way, if you conserve water you find you have to share it.
We lay in a stupor for about two hours under a scorching sun, which turned the rocks into a furnace. Then I tried to eat a flat cactus. Schmidt could not manage it, but I persevered and felt better. Schmidt kept on moaning for water, but I was stern and refused. At nightfall we each had a generous dose, leaving about a third of the bottle. I managed to sleep all right. This morning Schmidt begged and prayed for water, but I am going to try and keep it till nightfall. However, I have found a great, fat, round species of cactus which we have eaten and I feel better. I believe we can keep alive on these for several days.
It is now about midday, and there are no signs of Ovendo. I believe myself that the water is much further off than he thought. I think he will come back if he possibly can. I know he is fond of me and only the day before yesterday he was saying how he liked going about with me. He has committed two murders, both over women, and has served two gaol sentences of five and seven years respectively. He and the engineer are the only ones I have any trust in. Nevertheless, if the water is so very far away he will be done in too, and they have no food.
I will cling on to life as long as I bloody well can, and hope if I have to die that I will manage it without making a fuss. Like most people with a pessimistic philosophy, I have a sanguine temperament and a zest for life. On the other hand, if I have got to die I have had a very fine time and thoroughly enjoyed myself. I have tried everything under the sun and experienced most things, and my last experience is being thirsty, which, as I remarked to Bruun when it was a tossup whether we made St. Pedro or not, was an experience I had not yet had. (I have never been in gaol either.)
Well, here I lie waiting and Ovendo does not come. I am feeling very weak and will find it difficult to walk much further. This is no sort of a game for a man with one lung. I have had nothing to eat except cactus since the evening of the day before yesterday and that was precious little. Schmidt is semi-delirious.
Wednesday, July 16th. Things got worse and worse with the terrific heat. When it was about one o'clock, I judged it was later and decided that Ovendo was not coming. Thirst is certainly a most unpleasant sensation. I kept my mind off things by scribbling in my log and turning over past memories. It is very true that you do not regret the things you have done but only the things you did not do. I made lists of the people and books which have influenced me and lists of the persons whom I have loved and who have loved me, and although the lists were nearly similar, the order was very different. All the time Schmidt moaned and raved. Then I went to get another cactus and fell twice in 200 yards bringing it back. I kept on looking at the water bottle but refrained. I ate half the cactus, eating this time only the inside, which is not bitter, and I got some relief.
To our joy, at about three o'clock, we heard Ovendo calling, and about a quarter of an hour later he appeared, smiling as ever. He brought three full bottles of water and a two quart oil tin, which had just started to leak. There was no way of conserving this, beyond filling our empty bottle, so we drank our fill. It was sheer delight, and amazing how our strength returned.
Ovendo told us that after they left us they had vainly tried to get round the mountain, but were repeatedly held up by deep chasms as we had been earlier in the day. Eventually they decided to climb straight up it. They had spent the night below the summit, gone on at dawn and reached the water hole at nine in the morning. They saw signs that the others had passed by. Ovendo must have started back at once.
When Ovendo had rested, we started to climb the mountain over those hellish cinders. I call them cinders, but they were exactly like lumps of coke, varying in size from about that of an apple―not too bad―to bits several times higher than a man. They were very light and very sharp, and the whole mass slithered and collapsed as one climbed. With heavy boots, it would not have been so bad, but we had not gone a hundred yards when my shoes literally fell to pieces and Ovendo fitted me with a spare pair of sandals which the crew had made from a hide we had on board. Luckily I had worn sandals as a child and had been going about barefoot a lot in the last few months, so I managed to get along. With this kind you have to learn to lift your foot higher and put it down flat, but there is no protection for your ankles and mine got rather cut about.
We went up that mountainside in a series of section rushes which got shorter and shorter. I stuck to Ovendo like his shadow, and the signal for the section to throw itself down was whenever Schmidt gave a moan and collapsed. It was awful. My heart pounded, my temples throbbed and the world kept spinning round me, but I noted with interest and relief that however much I panted, the right side of my chest scarcely moved. This I considered meant that I was not doing myself any permanent harm. I kept on saying to myself: “This is my chance to live. I am bloody well going to live.”
We went on till it was quite dark and made about one thousand five hundred feet. I had misjudged the distance before. When I thought we were only five hundred feet from the summit, we had been only about two thousand feet up. We had about another one thousand five hundred feet to climb, but Ovendo said there was only about another couple of hours of coke.
There was a little oasis of earth and trees and here we lit a fire and lay down. As our bellies were full of water, we remembered we had not eaten for two and a half days, but the sensation was not acute and I felt strangely happy. There is always something exhilarating about a night in the mountains under the sky. The sea and the islands looked very beautiful through the stunted trees, whose leaves reflected the fire. We still had a hard time before us with little hope of any food for another two days, but the thirst was over and unless anything unforeseen occurred we were going to live. That beauty made life seem very good and I wanted very much to live.
I slept soundly, but all night I dreamt of food, whereas the previous night my dreams had consisted entirely of drinks. I woke with the first light and saw Ovendo already stirring. I said to him, “Mas cafe?” and thereby perpetuated a joke which seems to delight these people. On the Norge, after I had had my share I used to say, “Mas cafe, Ovendo? ” and he always found me some. He roared with joy that morning.
All the valleys and the sea were covered with clouds looking like snow, over which the sun rose in a dull crimson dawn. It was very lovely, but all landmarks were obscured.
We set off immediately and endured our two promised hours of inferno. After that, the going gradually got better, longer and longer spaces of dust and earth were interposed between the coke fields, and we reached the summit about ten o'clock, utterly exhausted.
The summit is oval, and I should judge it to be about five miles across from north to south, and about seven miles from east to west. It consists of two main craters, an eastern one long extinct and composed of black dust, and a western one which looked very deep and rocky, and which Ovendo said is still active. The eastern crater was the one we were crossing; Ovendo asked if I would like to go and look at the other, but it was a mile out of our way.
We started down the eastern side of the mountain and were in another world. We plunged into the clouds and were soon soaking in a steady drizzle. There were no more cinders but earth, grass, thick moss, bracken and the smell of moist vegetation. Cattle were everywhere and we might have been coming down a Highland glen. Here I found it impossible to keep on my feet in sandals. After falling down several times I followed Ovendo's example and went barefoot. Through the mist I could vaguely make out many small valleys leading into a main one, and in this main one what I had learnt to distinguish as a watercourse in these islands; a dry ditch of hard lava in which the rain collects in puddles, beneath which water can usually be obtained by digging. At the first puddle we drank our fill, joyously but guiltily, for we could not really believe the supply was unlimited. Nevertheless, we soaked ourselves with it, and I immediately felt much stronger.
When we got to the regular water hole we found a most miserable-looking engineer hunched up in the rain, shivering, soaked and hungry. He had been there alone for thirty hours without fire or food. We rested and considered the situation. It was about twelve hours journey to Alemania and we had rather hoped that our advance guard, the deserters, realizing that we had now been three days without food, would have managed to send some here, for they knew we were making for this point. Coming up the mountain I had thought to let the men go on and wait with Schmidt at the water hole for food. However, I felt much better and so did Schmidt, so I decided to struggle on. We filled our bottles once more, for there was no more water to be had till we got to Alemania. I also handed a small bottle to Ovendo, which had contained alcohol and had been corked with toilet paper; the paper had fallen inside and soaked up a fair quantity of drink. Ovendo extracted the paper, squeezed part of the alcohol into a cup for me, and then put the paper into his mouth and chewed it up.
It was about half past two when we started again. For a time the way led through open grass country, but as we descended, the trees grew thicker and we were soon in thick forest. The ground was very hard on my bare feet. Then Ovendo lost the way and went back to get his bearings. We spent an unhappy time waiting for him, wondering if he would lose us too, but he turned up in an hour, saying he knew the way now. We pushed on till nightfall. Then Ovendo, with great skill, killed a bird with a stone. It was about the size of a plover and had a bill like a duck and quacked like one, but its feet were unwebbed and it had quite twelve inches of neck.
It was still raining steadily, so we collected an immense pile of firewood and roasted our bird. There fell to my share half the breast―one mouthful―and the neck, which I chewed up completely, bone and all. It tasted very good, but the morsel only roused our hunger. However, it had a very good psychological effect. I sat on the woodpile, roasting my front while water Poured down my back; I lit a cigar and felt well content. The expedition has lacked food and water, but never cigars―we left five thousand on the Norge. I amused myself by thinking of the adjectives to fit my condition: unshorn, unshaven, dirty, ragged, barefoot, lacerated, muscle-sore, cold, wet, starved and worn. They all applied, yet I was quite happy. How often had I been shaved, bathed, well-dressed, well-wined, well-dined, yet bored and discontented.
We pushed on again with the first light at a good Pace, though we were all obviously weaker, and Schmidt collapsed several times. Moreover, the way was extremely rocky and our feet got very cut about. After six hours going, at about eleven in the morning, Ovendo calculated that we were three hours from Alemania. We were just getting up from a short rest when we heard the sound of some mounted men, and a fine-looking Indian, wearing a red Poncho and waving a tremendous machete, reined up. There were cries of “Ho, Ovendo! ” It was a rescue Party.
In a few minutes they had a blazing fire lit and very soon produced grilled beef, plantains and, best of all, hot coffee and milk. That is the advantage of being rescued by the inhabitants of nearly every country except my own: you are sure to be provided with good coffee. Curiously enough, I was not conscious of any unusual hunger, I just thoroughly enjoyed that first meal for four days. The “Mas cafe ” joke served me well. It was quickly explained to our rescuers by Ovendo and I got six cups.
Our troubles were over. The rescuers had even brought me a pair of boots which fitted; so with these on my feet, a full belly, a cigar in my mouth and mounted on a donkey, I completed the remaining three hours journey to Alemania.
All this happened today. I am writing this tonight by the light of a bit of rawhide stuck in beef fat, in the one rude hut which is all there is to Alemania. The walls are constructed of poles, with gaps between which are wider than the poles; the roof is made of hides, with many holes through which the water drips incessantly. Raw meat and hides in various stages of curing hang everywhere; hens, dogs, cats, pigs, fleas and other domestic animals wander about; but here is food, water and warmth.
Our rescuers have been more than kind and are unremitting in their attentions. They cook us a full meal at hourly intervals and between times Ovendo, who looks after me like a mother, beats up eggs and milk and forces me to drink them.
I am suffering from the usual reaction, and feel cold and shocked. My feelings are very mixed. In one way I am rather pleased with myself. I managed to behave as I would have liked to behave: I kept my control quite tight, I stopped behind with Schmidt, I conserved my water and shared what I had saved equally, I never called a halt or exclaimed when I fell or hurt my feet.
On the other hand, I have twice failed in these last weeks to do what I set out to do. I failed to save Bruun's life, and I have failed to get the boat he had confided to me safely back to Floreana. I can make plenty of excuses, but they give me no satisfaction; results are the only things that ever do.
The man in the story is Ovendo, the murderer, to whom we undoubtedly owe our lives. If he had not come back we would have died of thirst on that mountain, for I had not the remotest idea where the water hole was. To retrace his steps as he did was very fine.
Thirst is a most unpleasant experience; it weakens one with the greatest rapidity and it is very hard to keep one's mental balance intact while undergoing it. One realizes acutely that it is only a matter of time.
I have starved before for forty-eight hours and for the first twenty-four felt acute discomfort; I remember, though, this began to wear off. On this occasion, the first hours of hunger were unnoticed because of our thirst. When we had drunk, we wanted food, but there was no acute discomfort and the want became if anything less. I imagine that, given sufficient water, we could have lasted ten to twelve days without food―getting weaker and weaker, of course.
St. Thomas, Friday, July 18th. I slept worse at Alemania than during all the previous nights. I lay on a wooden bed, which is much worse than rock, and shared it with Schmidt, who tossed and groaned and scratched all night, for, as usual, when there is anybody else to feed on the fleas refused to feed on me.
At dawn, we set out on horseback for St. Thomas, the other hacienda in the uplands, and arrived about one o'clock. It should have been a glorious ride across the ridge connecting the two peaks of the southern portion of Isabela, but the whole land was shrouded in clouds so we could see nothing and moreover were soaked through and through. Here we have been most hospitably received into the house of Señor Aristobulo Cordoba, the leader of our rescuers.
The house has open planked walls and a thatched roof and is divided roughly into three compartments with open passages between. Schmidt, Ovendo and I sleep in the centre one, which is also the living room; Señor Cordoba and his wife and child in the right-hand one; another couple in the left-hand one, which is also the kitchen. We get wonderful food and wonderful cooking.
I gave Ovendo fifteen sucres (three dollars) yesterday as the price of my life, which I consider was valuing it moderately; he seemed to think I was conceited, for he was very pleased.
In the afternoon, Ovendo, who, besides being a mother, has also become my valet and bodyguard, cut my hair and shaved off a month's growth. For the latter operation I should have had a general anaesthetic. He struggled on and on and one by one the inhabitants of the hacienda strolled on to the verandah and offered advice and razors. The latter they sat down and stropped and proffered to Ovendo. At last this major operation was complete and I looked at myself in the mirror. I got quite a shock, for my face seemed to have altered. I said nothing, but Schmidt suddenly exclaimed in German that I looked ten years older. I asked him to ask Señor Cordoba how old he thought I was, and he too said forty-five.
That evening Señora Cordoba offered to attend to my feet. I protested, but she insisted. She tended them with the gentlest hands I have ever known. When she had got the dirt away, they did look a mess; rather as if I had tried to kick a cucumber frame to pieces with my bare feet. After her care, they were much more comfortable.
Ovendo immediately blued two thirds of my blood money on alcohol that morning, which he and his pals consumed. I insisted on paying for this and sent for another couple of bottles which quickly disappeared. He went out and Schmidt and I went thankfully to the first dry, clean, soft and warm beds we had had for weeks. It was delicious: then I began dreaming that I had found Bruun alone in the Norge, hungry and thirsty, somewhere off the western coast of Isabela. He was alone, because, though his crew had stuck to him manfully at first, they had been decoyed away by Alvarado, who played Spanish music to them, to remind them of their loves.
I woke with great reluctance, to find a very drunken Ovendo holding a glass of alcohol to my lips, the room full of people and a gramophone playing. There was nothing for it, so I put on my glasses, sat up in bed and from there joined the party. Except that it was conducted with rather more decorum, it was like any Bloomsbury party, or for that matter, like any party anywhere in the world. The proportion of couples dancing, of couples making love, of unattached men talking―presumably philosophy―in corners, was in about the usual ratio. The setting, though, did not look real; there was something so fantastic about the interior of that hut, lit up by tallow flares that you felt it must be some “Cabaret Parisien.”
St. Thomas, Saturday, July 19th. We are still here, feasting and resting, but are going down to Villamil tomorrow. Señor Gil sent me an invitation and a bottle of drink yesterday. I wonder how long I am going to be kept in Isabela. I am worried about the Inyala and Mobile.
8. salving the ‘norge’: and departure
Here I will stop quoting from my log. We lingered on at St. Thomas for a few more days because we were so comfortable there. Whenever we made an attempt to go Señor Cordoba would not hear of it. I have never had more lavish hospitality. I even got a bath every day without asking for it, and the water had to be transported a mile on donkeys. Then on the evening of the 22nd I received the following letter from Mobile, brought by a messenger from Villamil.
I am writing you these few lines to let you know I am here. Captain Bruun's partner, myself and three others came looking for you. We lost the boat and I had six days' walking to get here. I have lost all my clothes and was nearly drowned. The yacht is all right; moored with three anchors and in charge of the Consul.
Disaster seemed to follow on disaster. As far as I could make out from the messenger they had come over in the Pinta and capsized in St. Pedro as Bruun had done. I gathered that Mobile was in Villamil, Arends halfway between Villamil and St. Pedro, and the three others left at St. Pedro―all old men over eighty years of age. Señor Gil had immediately sent an expedition along the coast and we sent off two, one to St. Pedro and one to Cape Rose. At daybreak we rode down to Villamil. My horse fell on the way, but I managed to throw myself clear and was only shaken. I found Mobile looking about twenty years older―a complete wreck. He told me a pathetic tale of a gallant effort undertaken by people without the least knowledge of seamanship. I did not get the complete story out of him then, but have gradually pieced it together bit by bit, though there are still gaps. Arends, Bruun's partner in Guayaquil, a young Dane with no knowledge of the sea, had come on the Cobos to visit Bruun, and had brought a new outboard motor from Guayaquil. They waited and waited, hoping we would turn up, but the Consul was convinced that either Bruun or I was dead. They could not understand what was the matter, for Alvarado had said that he had seen Bruun safely into St. Pedro, and even that he had seen the engineer and me greeting Bruun. At last they set out to look for us on Sunday, July 12th, the day we left the Norge. Arends, Mobile, Colonel the blacksmith, the cook and another old man.
They arrived off Villamil about dawn on Sunday, but instead of going in there for news and to get a reliable pilot they continued on down the coast looking for St. Pedro. They missed it, of course, and went on and on. About four-thirty in the afternoon they were just to the east of Essex Point, a most desolate bit of coast where the rollers come up straight from the Antarctic. They had plenty of petrol, food and water; but they felt rather tired, so they just went in near the coast, dropped their anchor and went to sleep. They were awakened half an hour later by the boat capsizing in a breaker. They all got ashore with difficulty, and, when the boat followed them, managed to salvage the motor, a demijohn of water and some matches.
They found a large tortoise that night but did not eat it, and the following day set out for Alemania, the direction of which one of the men said he knew. They spent one day getting some way up the Blue Mountain, then decided to make the coast again and to try for Villamil. One by one the old men dropped out, and Arends and Mobile alone got to St. Pedro on the afternoon of the third day. Here they stumbled on the grave. They both rushed to see whether it was Bruun or me. Arends wept and wept when he saw the name. He only got a few yards further, and then told Mobile to go on alone and to try to get help. Mobile got to Villamil on the sixth day. He lived on crabs and had only found fresh water twice, but had drunk sea water. It was, I think, a magnificent piece of endurance, but he said if he had had the means he would have killed himself. When I heard the tale I thought Bruun must have turned in his grave.
It was the same old story: nine out of ten disasters at sea come from breaking the rule, when in doubt keep to sea. There was nothing to force them to land. They had ample fuel, water and food, they had only been at sea twenty-four hours, the weather was good and there was no fear of gales. Yet they went inshore and anchored in the open on what must be one of the most savage coasts in the world.
Señor Gil had immediately sent a rescue party along the coast and we had sent one off from St. Thomas. Ovendo was away, but he came back on Tuesday morning, and immediately went off with Alberto to look for them. On Tuesday evening the first rescue party came back saying they had found no trace of anyone, and we gave them up for dead. However, we got news on Wednesday night that Arends and Colonel had been found alive by Alberto and Ovendo. They got in on Thursday afternoon; Colonel had passed Arends unawares. Colonel was completely broken up and Arends had a very bad septic foot pouring pus from five places. Nothing yet had been heard of the other two. One got into Alemania three days later, but the other was never heard of again. We then all sat down in Señor Gil's house―he was hospitality itself―on a weary wait for some boat to come in and take us off. We knew it might be many months. Mobile had given me reassuring news about the Inyala. He said she was ready to sail, and that he had not touched any of the preserved provisions. He also told me that Arends and the Consul, who could not stand Louis any longer, had given him ten dollars and paid his fare to Guayaquil.
However, to our great joy we saw a sail on the morning of Friday, July 24th. It was the Santa Cruz Norwegians. They had paid a friendly call at Floreana and had found a distracted Consul quite alone, so they had come to Villamil to look for us. We sailed for Floreana the following day, Señor Gil with us. We did not get there without a last effort on the part of the gods to gainsay us. Some little way out of Villamil the motor broke down, and we started drifting off to the west in the old familiar fashion. The Norwegians had to dismantle the motor completely, but got it going again after three hours' hard work.
It was a heartbreaking business announcing to the Consul that Bruun was dead. I took him on board that night with the two Norwegians and told him all about it over several bottles of skoal. I found the Inyala was all right, but Mobile had broken into a cupboard where I had locked up the last eight hundred cigarettes of the seven thousand I had brought from Panama, and had smoked all but three hundred. stayed one day at Floreana and then set out with the two Norwegians back to Webb Cove to get the Norge. We went into Villamil for one night to drop Señor Gil and to enable me to get some provisions. I was quite terrified at going and felt distinctly “fey” about the expedition; just an unreasoning terror. Mobile begged me not to go, as he was sure there was going to be a disaster. Feeling like that it was absolutely necessary to do it. But I spent a rotten night in Villamil before we set out at eight in the morning of Tuesday, July 28th. The Norwegians had a fine little double-ended open boat, imported from Norway, and we went down the coast in style with a fresh easterly wind and the current. I realized anew what a bad coast this is, and how impossible it was to beat against wind and a two and a half knot current. For the last ten miles before Essex Point it blew really hard and we tore along. The chart is definitely incorrect round this portion of the coast, the distances are a good deal longer than are marked and Essex Point is much sharper and more prominent than is shown.
We got to Webb Cove just before sunset, and to my extreme disgust found that the Norge was full of water and had sunk by the stern. Two of the mooring ropes had parted on the port side, and she had gone aground to starboard on one tide and filled on the following one. I felt frightfully upset, but at least she was quite undamaged, and the Norwegians assured me she could be floated again with drums and tackle. We stayed there two days while we salvaged what we could out of the cabin and the Norwegians worked out how to raise her. We saved a good deal of stuff, but the Governor's suitcase, containing his full dress uniform and some ledgers which comprised the dossiers of everyone on the islands, had floated away. Also the whole coast was littered with ruined cigars. We motored back the whole way to Floreana and got there safely on the night of Friday, July 31st, having taken about thirty hours to do sixty miles against the current, the motor giving five knots. So much for premonitions and “feeling fey.” I mention this because one is always hearing of premonitions which come off, never of those which don't.
At Floreana we found the Chatham Island Norwegians, Nuggerud and Jenssen. They had paid a friendly call at Santa Cruz only to find that Stampa and Wold had disappeared in the direction of Floreana. So they had come along to investigate. We arranged that our three boats should go to Webb Cove, the Norwegians to raise the Norge, the Inyala to carry empty drums, a gallows and tackle and water for them. Thence I was going straight on to the Marquesas.
I stipulated for three days rest before we started as I wanted to write letters. Arends went off to Santa Cruz to see two Danish friends of his who had come out on the last boat with about ten thousand dollars capital to reopen the old canning factory there. They wanted a boat to fish with and to ply between the Islands and Guayaquil, and Arends wanted me to see them with the idea of going into partnership. The suggestion was either to use the Inyala or to get another boat of which I was to be the skipper. The Norwegians, with whom I had struck up a firm friendship, were all in favour of the scheme―it was one of several others which meant my remaining in the islands―but much as I loved this Galapagos life I wanted to go to my long-dreamed-of South Seas.
Instead of writing letters I developed a virulent streptococcal infection of the ring finger of my right hand, which gave rise to a lymphangitis and an adenitis of my axilla. I was completely knocked over for three days. Then the infection ceased to spread, but nearly the whole of the proximal joint was an open sore. I then developed a less vicious infection of my left foot and left arm.
I was in no condition to sail, but everyone was waiting for me, so we sailed from Floreana on Friday, August 7th, in company with the Santa Cruz Norwegians. It was rather like leaving home, and I said goodbye to the Consul with the deepest regret. Arends had given me oranges, flour, matches, a hundred and forty cigarettes, some onions and a little salted beef. But there was no smoked meat available, and most of the animal he had shot for me had gone bad owing to delay in bringing it down. I had bought five hens, four small tortoises, four bags of sweet potatoes, one bag of plantains and four bottles of tortoise oil. I had in addition four tins of biscuits, twenty pounds of rice, a hundred pounds of sugar, and thought I had twenty-eight tins of bully beef, thirty tins of sardines and thirty-six tins of fruit. The Chatham Norwegians had gone to Villamil the day before and were bringing me ten pounds of lard and two thousand cigars, I hoped. Schmidt had left with them. He was going to try to start a chicken farm there. We had grown rather intimate and had quite a sorrowful farewell.
It was about five in the afternoon when we left Post Office Bay, and although the night was nearly a calm we were off Essex Point at seven the next morning. Then the wind dropped and we spent all day working up the coast. The Santa Cruz Norwegians had passed us long before, and at four in the afternoon it looked as if we were going to spend the night drifting about the coast. We had Ovendo on board, who, ever since we got off the Blue Mountain, had been trying to persuade me to take him with me to the Marquesas. Mobile had objected violently to coming up this way, he never wanted to see that bit of coast again, he was convinced that if he did he would leave his bones there, and he tried to persuade me to jettison our cargo and go off, plus Ovendo, to the Marquesas. However, the Chatham Norwegians came up behind us and gave us a tow into the cove. The Norge was in just the same state as we had left her, and the Norwegians were quite sure they could float her. I stayed for three days at Webb Cove. The four Norwegians slept on board with me, and each night we had a party. As I was very short of meat they caught several turtles, which lay belly upwards on the deck. They also caught and salted about fifty pounds of cod for me.
I continue to call this anchorage Webb Cove, but I am rather doubtful about it. Bearings taken on four points on Isabela and one from Narborough Island all coincide at the position of Webb Cove. On the other hand, it does not look like the plan of Webb Cove I have on my chart, but like the plan I have of Iguana Cove. Moreover, I have come up the coast three times now and have never spotted Iguana Cove, which ought to lie to the south if this is Webb Cove. I leave the mystery unsolved. I lingered on at anchor, thinking that I probably would not have a full night's sleep for many weeks. I reckoned that with only two of us it would take at least forty days to cross the three thousand miles to the Marquesas, or even two months. I had taken thirty-five days to cross the Atlantic, and the Pacific Trades were not supposed to be as consistent as the Atlantic. Moreover, as there were only two of us this time I thought that after a week or ten days we would get so weary that we would let her drift at night. However, I decided to sail on Tuesday, August 11th. We had a great farewell party on the Monday night, and the invitation to go to Santa Cruz and live with Stampa and Wold was repeated and confirmed. I was to fish with them and they would supply me with food, drink and cigars.
My sores were no longer acute, but they showed no signs of healing and I was swathed in bandages. So the Norwegians came on board to help me get under way at four o'clock, an hour before the light sea breeze usually turns into a strong land one from the east. They got the dinghy on board―one they had given me, for my own had been smashed up while I was marooned in Isabela―weighed the kedge, made everything secure and hoisted the mainsail. When we all went below for a final drink there was a nice easterly wind blowing. I said goodbye to them with the greatest regret; they are four of the very best.
When we went on deck again the wind had dropped, so they offered to give me a tow out, which I accepted gladly. Two went off and got their boat while the other two got my anchor up. They towed me a couple of miles, and as the sun set cast off the line. We were off.