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The seabird, wheeling round it, with the din
Of wings and winds and solitary cries,
Dashes himself against the glare, and dies.
A new Prometheus, chained upon the rock,
Still grasping in his hand the fire of Jove,
But hails the mariner with words of love.
'Sail on !' it says, 'sail on, ye stately ships !
And with your floating bridge the ocean span :
H. W. LONGFELLOW.
VOYAGE FROM PORTSMOUTH TO GIBRALTAR.
At three P.m. on Tuesday, December 6th, we got away from Spithead, and glided successively past Whitecliff Bay, Bembridge, Sandown, Shanklin, Ventnor, and St. Catherine's Lighthouse. On Wednesday morning we sighted the Isle of Ushant, on the French side of the Channel. The northern end of the island has been fretted by the waves into detached tower-like masses of rock of very remarkable appearance.
In the Channel the sea was green, and opposite Ushant it was a brighter green. On Wednesday evening we committed ourselves to the Bay of Biscay. The roll of the Atlantic was full, but not violent. There had been scarcely a gleam of sunshine throughout the day, but the cloud-forms were fine, and their apparent solidity impressive. On Thursday morning the green of the sea was displaced by a deep indigo blue. The whole of Thursday we steamed across the bay. We had little blue sky, but the clouds were again grand and varied,-cirrus, stratus, cumulus, and nimbus, we had them all. Dusky hair-like trails were sometimes dropped from the distant clouds to the sea.
These were falling showers, and they sometimes occupied the whole horizon, while we steamed across the rainless circle which was thus surrounded. Sometimes we plunged into the rain, and once or twice, by slightly changing our course, avoided a heavy shower. From time to time perfect rainbows spanned the heavens from side to side. At times a bow would appear in fragments, showing the keystone of the arch midway in air, and its two buttresses on the horizon. Sometimes gleaming patches of the firmament were seen amid the clouds.
At sunset on Thursday the denser clouds were fiercely fringed, while through the lighter ones seemed to issue the glow of a conflagration. On Friday morning we sighted Cape Finisterre,—the extreme end of the arc which sweeps from Ushant round the Bay of Biscay. Calm spaces of blue, in which floated quietly scraps of cumuli, were behind us, but in front of us was a horizon of portentous darkness. It continued thus threatening throughout the day. Towards evening the wind strengthened to a gale, and at dinner it was difficult to preserve the plates and dishes from destruction. It was very wild when we went to bed. I slumbered and slept, but after some time was rendered anxiously conscious that my body had become a kind of projectile, with the ship's side for a target. I gripped the edge of my berth to save myself from being thrown out. Outside I could hear somebody say that he had been thrown from his berth, and sent spinning to the other side of the saloon. The screw laboured violently amid the lurching; it incessantly quitted the water, and, twirling in the air, rattled against its bearings, causing the ship to shudder from stem to stern. At times the waves struck us, not with the soft impact which might be expected from a liquid, but with the sudden solid shock of battering-rams. 'No man knows the force of water, said one of the officers, 'until he has experienced a storm at sea. These blows followed each other at quicker intervals, the screw rattling after each of them, until finally the delivery of a heavier stroke than ordinary seemed to reduce the saloon to chaos. Furniture crashed, glasses rang, and alarmed inquiries immediately followed. Amid the noises I heard one note of forced laughter; it sounded very ghastly. Men tramped through the saloon, and busy voices were heard aft, as if something there had gone wrong.
I rose, and not without difficulty got into my clothes. In the after-cabin, under the superintendence of the able and energetic navigating lieutenant, Mr. Brown, a group of bluejackets were working at the tiller-ropes. These had become loose, and the helm refused to answer the wheel. High moral lessons might be gained on shipboard by observing what steadfast adherence to an object can accomplish, and what large effects are heaped up by the addition of infinitesimals. The tiller-rope, as the blue-jackets strained in concert, seemed hardly to move; still it did move a little, until finally, by timing the pull to the lurching of the ship, the mastery of the rudder was obtained. I had previously gone on deck. Round the saloon-door were a few members of the eclipse party, who seemed in no mood for scientific observation. Nor did I; but I wished to see the storm. I climbed the steps to the poop, exchanged a word with Captain Toynbee, the only member of the party to be seen on the poop, and by his direction made towards a cleat not far from the wheel. Round it I coiled my arms. With the exception of the men at the wheel, who stood as silent as corpses, I was alone.
I had seen grandeur elsewhere, but this was a new sort of grandeur to me. The Urgent is long and narrow, and during our expedition she lacked the steadying influence of sufficient ballast. She was for a time practically rudderless, and lay in the trough of the sea. I could see the long ridges, with some hundreds of feet between their crests, rolling upon the ship perfectly parallel to her sides. As they approached, they so grew upon the eye as to render the expression mountains high ’ intelligible. At all events, there was no mistaking their mechanical might, as they took the ship upon their shoulders and swung her like a pendulum. The deck sloped sometimes at an angle which I estimated at over forty-five degrees; wanting my previous Alpine practice, I should have felt less confidence in my grip of the cleat. Here and there the long rollers were tossed by interference into heaps of greater height. The wind caught their crests, and scattered them over the sea, the whole surface of which was seething white. The aspect of the clouds was a fit accompaniment to the fury of the ocean. The moon was almost full,—at times concealed, at times revealed, as the scud flew wildly over it. These things appealed to the eye, while the ear was filled by the groaning of the screw and the whistle and boom of the storm.
Nor was the outward agitation the only object of interest to me.
The Urgent is an elderly ship. She had been built, I was told, by a contracting firm for some foreign government, and had been diverted from her first purpose when converted into a troop-ship. She had been for some time out of work, and I had heard that one of her boilers, at least, needed repair. Our scanty but excellent crew, moreover, did not belong to the Urgent, but had been gathered from other ships. Our three lieutenants were also volunteers. All this passed swiftly through my mind as the steamer shook under the blows of the waves, and I thought that probably no one on board could say how much of this thumping and straining the Urgent would be able to bear. This uncertainty caused me to look steadily at the worst, and I tried to strengthen myself in the face of it.
But at length the helm laid hold of the water, and the ship was got gradually round to face the waves.
The rolling diminished, a certain amount of pitching taking its place. Our speed had fallen from eleven knots to two.
went again to bed. After a space of calm, when we seemed crossing the vortex of a storm, heavy tossing recommenced. I was afraid to allow myself to fall asleep, as my berth was high, and to be pitched out of it might be attended with bruises, if not with fractures. From Friday at noon to Saturday at noon, we accomplished sixty-six miles, or an average of less than three miles an hour. I overheard the sailors talking about this storm. The Urgent, according to those that knew it, had never previously experienced anything like it.
All through Saturday, the wind, though somewhat sobered, blew dead against us. The atmospheric effects were exceedingly fine. The cumuli resembled mountains in shape, and their peaked summits shone as white as Alpine snows. At one place this resemblance was greatly strengthened by a vast area of cloud, uniformly illuminated, and lying like a névé below the peaks. From it fell a kind of cloud-river, strikingly like a glacier. The horizon at sunset was remarkable,-spaces of brilliant green between clouds of fiery red. Rainbows had been frequent throughout the day, and at night a perfectly continuous lunar bow spanned the heavens from side to side. Its colours were feeble ; but, contrasted with the black ground against which it rested, its luminousness was extraordinary.
Sunday morning found us opposite to Lisbon, and at midnight we rounded Cape St. Vincent, where the lurching seemed disposed to recommence. Through the kindness of Lieutenant Walton, a cot had been slung for me. It hung between a tiller-wheel and a flue, and at one A.M. I was roused by the banging of the cot against its boundaries. But the wind was now behind us, and we went along at a speed of eleven knots. We felt certain of reaching Cadiz by three. But a new lighthouse came in sight, which some affirmed to be Cadiz Lighthouse, while the surrounding houses were declared to be those of Cadiz itself. Out of deference to these statements, the navigating lieutenant changed his course, and steered for the place. A pilot came on board, and he informed us that we were before the mouth of the Guadal