SABBATH, MAY 4, was perhaps the most dismal day we had during the voyage. We had both snow and hail, and the storm was so great that we could neither sit nor stand, and there was no alternative but to lie in bed. Even there no ease was to be obtained, for we were knocked from one side to the other till our sides ached. No cooking could be accomplished, and no provisions were served out, except rotten Dutch cheese, as bitter as soot, and bread partly alive. Luckily we had brought some provisions along with us, which were of immense service on these occasions. About noon the gale began to abate, though the swell did not, the aspect of the sea was at this time grand, to any who could contemplate it without terror. One moment we were placed upon an eminence, from which we could see in all directions the waves curling their monstrous tops to the sky. The next we descended into a gulf, which seemed opening its mouth to swallow us up. At sunset the wind was become quite moderate, but the swell was still prodigious. During worship I was thrown down by the rolling of the ship, but not hurt.
After a very uncomfortable night, I had the satisfaction to find, in the morning of the 6th, that the wind was fair, and we were proceeding at the rate of seven miles an hour. This continued all day; the wind southeast, and still considerably agitated.
May 7th – After a good sleep I arose in the morning much refreshed. Health is sweet after sickness, and rest after toils. For some days past I had not only been affected with sea-sickness, but in other respects was very unwell. Whenever we had stormy weather, or a head wind, as the sailors call it, I was affected with a qualmish sickness, a headache and an aversion to food of every kind; and these symptoms always lessened or increased with the roughness of the sea and the rolling of the ship. The best remedy I found was a little vinegar and sugar. Fourteen of our passengers found their own provisions. Hitherto they had the use of the fire for cooking, but they were now forbidden to come near it, the Captain alleging this was an indulgence he had never promised them!
In the morning of May 8, we found that the wind was still fair, but very light. I was well and had a good appetite, the swell being now greatly abated. The day was fine, and the sun shone bright. About noon we passed a quart bottle floating on the water. Perhaps it was the bearer of a letter, but we could not persuade the Captain to lower the boat and take it up, though we passed very near it. Our water for some time past had been very bad. When it was drawn out of the casks, it was no clearer than that of a dirty kennel after a heavy shower of rain, so that its appearance alone was sufficient to sicken one.. But its dirty appearance, was not its worst quality. It had such a rancid smell, that, to be in the same neighbourhood, was enough to turn one’s stomach: judge then, what its taste must have been. I do not know what I would not have given at this time for a draught of good water. What we brought from Stromness was good to the last, but what came from Leith was now horrid. The stink it emitted was intolerable. Some said that its being put in port-wine pipes was the reason it was so bad; others, that Leith water is always bad after it has been some time at sea. But the boy informed us that it had been in the casks near six months.
On May 9, we had a light west wind. Many of our passengers were seized with a dysentery, in consequence of eating putrid fresh beef; I mean some that was fresh when we left Leith, five weeks ago. They were not allowed to taste it till it was unfit for use, and then they were made welcome to use it. Three or four seemed almost in a dying condition, and were placed under the doctor’s care.
What took place on the 10th I cannot inform you, as I was too sick to get out of bed. It was a favourable circumstance, however, that Mrs. Bell was a little better, so that she could take care of the children. I would not be a sailor for the world. A quiet life, and domestic comfort, in the humblest cottage on land, are preferable, in my estimation, to the best accommodations at sea. The agitation, the noise, and the crowded state of a ship, are bad enough when one is well, but sickness renders them doubly disagreeable.
On the 11th, a light breeze sprung up from the northwest, and we proceeded about three Miles an hour. The day was fine, but I did not enjoy it, not being able to quit my bed. Mr. Taylor preached to the people in the afternoon. As I grew worse and worse, the doctor attended, and gave me some medicine in the evening. Of the Captain I saw nothing; but Mr. Richmond, the first mate, paid me every attention in his power, as indeed he had done to all the family, during their protracted illness. But the water was now in such an abominable state, that our situation was very uncomfortable. I was told that two sharks were seen near the ship, and at some distance a whale was observed.
During the 12th, the wind was fair, though light, and we sailed four miles an hour. Being something better, I sat up about an hour on deck. We passed a Danish ship from St. Thomas, the first we had seen since we entered the ocean.
The wind was still fair on the 13th, and stronger, so that we sailed eight miles an hour. The day was fine, and we were visited by two kinds of birds, which I was told had been very rare for about a week past. The one was a large black kind, called by the sailors boatswains, the other gulls, which were fatter and heavier than those we saw on the coast of Scotland.
On the 14th, the wind was so favourable that we ran a hundred miles in twelve hours. I felt considerably better; but some of the female passengers were seriously ill. The amusing phenomenon, produced by the dashing of the salt water against against the bows of a ship, or any other opposing object, was seen to great advantage in the evening. The agitated water seemed to be entirely on fire, and produced a very fine effect. This was followed by showers of rain.
On the 15th we were surrounded with fog, which indicated that we were near the banks of Newfoundland. We sounded, but found no bottom, with a line of 120 fathoms. Our progress was about five miles an hour. The fog made the weather cold and uncomfortable.
At sunrise, on the 16th, we sounded, and found the bottom with a line of 70 fathoms. Two hours after we sounded again, and found the bottom at 43 fathoms, a coarse gravel. We tried to fish, but took nothing. At 9 A.M. a mass of ice appeared, just ahead, about two hundred yards distant. We instantly altered our course a little. The novelty of its appearance brought every person on deck, who was able to get out of bed. It was of an oval shape, and appeared to be half a mile in length. We had scarce time to look at it when another and larger mass was announced. It was as high as our top mast, and probably reached near the bottom of the sea. At a distance, it had much the appearance of North Berwick Law in East Lothian. In the course of the day we passed about thirty other masses, but none of them large excepting four. They were all moving to the southeast, with a velocity which showed that the current in this place is very considerable. The air was cold, and the fog prevented our seeing anything more than a mile from the ship. At 10 A.M. a whale was observed blowing within a stone’s throw of our bow. The alarm was instantly given, but he disappeared so quickly that we had just time to see his back, which appeared like a black rock, before he went down. In five minutes he was observed blowing, about a cable’s length from the ship’s stern, but very little of him appeared above water. About noon we shortened sail, and again tried fishing, but were not very successful. After fishing three hours, with five lines, we had taken only twenty-two cod. These, however, filled a barrel, and afforded a very seasonable refreshment. The sea is here smoother, and of a more muddy colour than in the deeper parts of the ocean.
On the 17th, being becalmed, we again tried fishing, but were not more successful than on the former day. We took only twelve fish. When the sun grew hot, the fog cleared off, and we had a very fine day. Two brigs were in sight. At a distance we observed a large mass of ice, which we had passed in the night unobserved. It had much the appearance of a great castle in ruins.