Antarctica Discounts
Home I Antarctic I Cape Horn I Arctic I Our Products I Contact

Richard Henry Dana's story of going around the Horn:


Wednesday, Nov. 5th.-
The weather was fine during the previous
night, and we had a clear view of the Magellan Clouds, and of the
Southern Cross. The Magellan Clouds consist of three small nebulae in
the southern part of the heavens,- two bright, like the milky-way, and
one dark. These are first seen, just above the horizon, soon after
crossing the southern tropic. When off Cape Horn, they are nearly over
head. The cross is composed of four stars in that form, and is said to
be the brightest constellation in the heavens.
During the first part of this day (Wednesday) the wind was light,
but after noon it came on fresh, and we furled the royals. We still
kept the studding-sails out, and the captain said he should go round
with them, if he could. Just before eight o'clock (then about sundown,
in that latitude) the cry of "All hands ahoy!" was sounded down the
fore scuttle and the after hatchway, and hurrying upon deck,

we found a large black cloud rolling on toward us from the south-west,
and blackening the whole heavens. "Here comes Cape Horn!" said the
chief mate; and we had hardly time to haul down and clew up, before it
was upon us. In a few moments, a heavier sea was raised than I had
ever seen before, and as it was directly ahead, the little brig, which
was no better than a bathing machine, plunged into it, and all the
forward part of her was under water; the sea pouring in through the
bow-ports and hawse-hole and over the knightheads, threatening to wash
everything overboard. In the lee scuppers it was up to a man's
waist. We sprang aloft and double reefed the topsails, and furled
all the other sails, and made all snug. But this would not do; the
brig was laboring and straining against the head sea, and the gale was
growing worse and worse. At the same time sleet and hail were
driving with all fury against us. We clewed down, and hauled out the
reef-tackles again, and close-reefed the fore-topsail, and furled
the main, and hove her to on the starboard tack. Here was an end to
our fine prospects. We made up our minds to head winds and cold
weather; sent down the royal yards, and unrove the gear; but all the
rest of the top hamper remained aloft, even to the sky-sail masts
and studding-sail booms.

Throughout the night it stormed violently- rain, hail, snow, and
sleet beating upon the vessel- the wind continuing ahead, and the sea
running high. At day-break (about three, A.M.) the deck was covered
with snow. The captain sent up the steward with a glass of grog to
each of the watch; and all the time that we were off the Cape, grog
was given to the morning watch, and to all hands whenever we reefed
topsails. The clouds cleared away at sunrise, and the wind becoming
more fair, we again made sail and stood nearly up to our course.

Thursday, Nov. 6th. It continued more pleasant through the first
part of the day, but at night we had the same scene over again. This
time, we did not heave to, as on the night before, but endeavored to
beat to windward under close-reefed topsails, balance-reefed
trysail, and fore-topmast staysail. This night it was my turn to
steer, or, as the sailors say, my trick at the helm, for two hours.
Inexperienced as I was, I made out to steer to the satisfaction of the
officer, and neither S--- nor myself gave up our tricks, all the
time that we were off the Cape. This was something to boast of, for it
requires a good deal of skill and watchfulness to steer a vessel close
hauled, in a gale of wind, against a heavy head sea. "Ease her when
she pitches," is the word; and a little carelessness in letting her
ship a heavy sea, might sweep the decks, or knock the masts out of

Friday, Nov. 7th. Towards morning the wind went down, and during the
whole forenoon we lay tossing about in a dead calm, and in the midst
of a thick fog. The calms here are unlike those in most parts of the
world, for there is always a high sea running, and the periods of calm
are so short, that it has no time to go down; and vessels, being under
no command of sails or rudder, lie like logs upon the water. We were
obliged to steady the booms and yards by guys and braces, and to
lash everything well below. We now found our top hamper of some use,
for though it is liable to be carried away or sprung by the sudden
"bringing up" of a vessel when pitching in a chopping sea, yet it is a
great help in steadying a vessel when rolling in a long swell;
giving more slowness, ease, and regularity to the motion.
The calm of the morning reminds me of a scene which I forgot to
describe at the time of its occurrence, but which I remember from
its being the first time that I had heard the near breathing of
whales. It was on the night that we passed between the Falkland
Islands and Staten Land. We had the watch from twelve to four, and
coming upon deck, found the little brig lying perfectly still,

surrounded by a thick fog, and the sea as smooth as though oil had
been poured upon it; yet now and then a long, low swell rolling
under its surface, slightly lifting the vessel, but without breaking
the glassy smoothness of the water. We were surrounded far and near by
shoals of sluggish whales and grampuses, which the fog prevented our
seeing, rising slowly to the surface, or perhaps lying out at
length, heaving out those peculiar lazy, deep, and long-drawn
breathings which give such an impression of supineness and strength.
Some of the watch were asleep, and the others were perfectly still, so
that there was nothing to break the illusion, and I stood leaning over
the bulwarks, listening to the slow breathings of the mighty
creatures- now one breaking the water just alongside, whose black
body I almost fancied that I could see through the fog; and again
another, which I could just hear in the distance- until the low and
regular swell seemed like the heaving of the ocean's mighty bosom to
the sound of its heavy and long-drawn respirations.

Towards the evening of this day, (Friday, 7th,) the fog cleared off,
and we had every appearance of a cold blow; and soon after sundown
it came on. Again it was a clew up and haul down, reef and furl, until
we had got her down to close-reefed topsoils, doublereefed trysail,
and reefed forespenser. Snow, hail, and sleet were driving upon us
most of the night, and the sea breaking over the bows and covering the
forward part of the little vessel; but as she would lay her course the
captain refused to heave her to.

Saturday, Nov. 8th. This day commenced with calm and thick fog,
and ended with hail, snow, a violent wind, and close-reefed topsails.

Sunday, Nov. 9th. To-day the sun rose clear, and continued so
until twelve o'clock, when the captain got an observation. This was
very well for Cape Horn, and we thought it a little remarkable that,
as we had not had one unpleasant Sunday during the whole voyage, the
only tolerable day here should be a Sunday. We got time to clear up
the steerage and forecastle, and set things to rights, and to overhaul
our wet clothes a little. But this did not last very long. Between
five and six- the sun was then nearly three hours high- the cry of
"All starbowlines ahoy!" summoned our watch on deck; and immediately
all hands were called. A true specimen of Cape Horn was coming upon
us. A great cloud of a dark slate color was driving on us from the
south-west; and we did our best to take in sail ( for the light
sails had been set during the first part of the day) before we were in
the midst of it. We had got the light sails furled, the courses hauled
up, and the topsail reef-tackles hauled out, and were just mounting
the fore-rigging, when the storm struck us. In an instant the sea,

which had been comparatively quiet, was running higher and higher; and
it became almost as dark as night. The hail and sleet were harder than
I had yet felt them; seeming almost to pin us down to the rigging.
We were longer taking in sail than ever before; for the sails were
stiff and wet, the ropes and rigging covered with snow and sleet,
and we ourselves cold and nearly blinded with the violence of the
storm. By the time we had got down upon deck again, the little brig
was plunging madly into a tremendous head sea, which at every drive
rushed in through the bow-ports and over the bows, and buried all
the forward part of the vessel. At this instant the chief mate, who
was standing on the top of the windlass, at the foot of the spenser
mast, called out, "Lay out there and furl the jib!" This was no
agreeable or safe duty, yet it must be done. An old Swede, (the best
sailor on board,) who belonged on the forecastle, sprang out upon
the bowsprit. Another one must go:

I was near the mate, and sprang forward, threw the downhaul over the windlass,
and jumped between the knight-heads out upon the bowsprit.
The crew stood abaft the windlass and hauled the jib down while we got
out upon the weather side of the jib-boom, our feet on the foot-ropes, holding on by the
spar, the great jib flying off to leeward and slatting so as almost to
throw us off of the boom. For some time we could do nothing but hold
on, and the vessel diving into two huge seas, one after the other,
plunged us twice into the water up to our chins. We hardly knew
whether we were on or off; when coming up, dripping from the water, we
were raised high into the air. John (that was the sailor's name)
thought the boom would go, every moment, and called out to the mate to
keep the vessel off, and haul down the stay-sail; but the fury of
the wind and the breaking of the seas against the bows defied every
attempt to make ourselves heard, and we were obliged to do the best we
could in our situation. Fortunately, no other seas so heavy struck
her, and we succeeded in furling the jib "after a fashion;" and,
coming in over the staysail nettings, were not a little pleased to
find that all was snug, and the watch gone below; for we were soaked
through, and it was very cold. The weather continued nearly the same
through the night.

Monday, Nov. 10th. During a part of this day we were hove to, but
the rest of the time were driving on, under close-reefed sails, with a
heavy sea, a strong gale, and frequent squalls of hail and snow.

Tuesday, Nov. 11th. The same.

Wednesday. The same.

Thursday. The same.

Richard Henry Dana's full book TWO YEARS BEFORE THE MAST
written in 1840 may be seen at http://www.gruntose.com/Info/Books/Richard_Henry_Dana/two_years_before_the_mast.html

More Cape Horn