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HOME > Inspiring Novel > The Cruise of the Snark17 > CHAPTER IX A PACIFIC TRAVERSE
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 Sandwich Islands to Tahiti.—There is great difficulty in making this passage across the trades.  The whalers and all others speak with great doubt of fetching Tahiti from the Sandwich islands.  Capt. Bruce says that a should keep to the until she gets a start of wind before bearing for her destination.  In his passage between them in November, 1837, he had no variables near the line in coming south, and never could make easting on either , though he endeavoured by every means to do so.  
So say the sailing directions for the South Pacific Ocean; and that is all they say.  There is not a word more to help the weary voyager in making this long traverse—nor is there any word at all concerning the passage from Hawaii to the Marquesas, which lie some eight hundred miles to the northeast of Tahiti and which are the more difficult to reach by just that much.  The reason for the lack of directions is, I imagine, that no voyager is supposed to make himself weary by attempting so impossible a traverse.  But the impossible did not the Snark,—principally because of the fact that we did not read that particular little paragraph in the sailing directions until after we had started.  We sailed from Hilo, Hawaii, on October 7, and arrived at Nuka-hiva, in the Marquesas, on December 6.  The distance was two thousand miles as the crow flies, while we actually travelled at least four thousand miles to accomplish it, thus proving for once and for ever that the shortest distance between two points is not always a straight line.  Had we headed directly for the Marquesas, we might have travelled five or six thousand miles.
Upon one thing we were resolved: we would not cross the Line west of 130° west .  For here was the problem.  To cross the Line to the west of that point, if the southeast trades were well around to the southeast, would throw us so far to of the Marquesas that a head-beat would be maddeningly impossible.  Also, we had to remember the equatorial current, which moves west at a rate of anywhere from twelve to seventy-five miles a day.  A pretty , indeed, to be to leeward of our destination with such a current in our teeth.  No; not a minute, nor a second, west of 130° west longitude would we cross the Line.  But since the southeast trades were to be expected five or six degrees north of the Line (which, if they were well around to the southeast or south-southeast, would our sliding off toward south-southwest), we should have to hold to the , north of the Line, and north of the southeast trades, until we gained at least 128° west longitude.
I have forgotten to mention that the seventy-horse-power gasolene engine, as usual, was not working, and that we could depend upon wind alone.  Neither was the launch engine working.  And while I am about it, I may as well confess that the five-horse-power, which ran the lights, fans, and pumps, was also on the sick-list.  A striking title for a book haunts me, waking and sleeping.  I should like to write that book some day and to call it “Around the World with Three Gasolene Engines and a Wife.”  But I am afraid I shall not write it, for fear of hurting the feelings of some of the young gentlemen of San Francisco, Honolulu, and Hilo, who learned their trades at the expense of the Snark’s engines.
It looked easy on paper.  Here was Hilo and there was our objective, 128° west longitude.  With the northeast trade blowing we could travel a straight line between the two points, and even slack our sheets off a goodly bit.  But one of the chief troubles with the trades is that one never knows just where he will pick them up and just in what direction they will be blowing.  We picked up the northeast trade right outside of Hilo harbour, but the breeze was away around into the east.  Then there was the north equatorial current setting like a river.  Furthermore, a small boat, by the wind and into a big headsea, does not work to advantage.  She jogs up and down and gets nowhere.  Her sails are full and straining, every little while she presses her lee-rail under, she flounders, and bumps, and splashes, and that is all.  Whenever she begins to gather way, she runs ker-chug into a big mountain of water and is brought to a standstill.  So, with the Snark, the resultant of her smallness, of the trade around into the east, and of the strong equatorial current, was a long south.  Oh, she did not go quite south.  But the easting she made was .  On October 11, she made forty miles easting; October 12, fifteen miles; October 13, no easting; October 14, thirty miles; October 15, twenty-three miles; October 16, eleven miles; and on October 17, she actually went to the westward four miles.  Thus, in a week she made one hundred and fifteen miles easting, which was equivalent to sixteen miles a day.  But, between the longitude of Hilo and 128° west longitude is a difference of twenty-seven degrees, or, roughly, sixteen hundred miles.  At sixteen miles a day, one hundred days would be required to accomplish this distance.  And even then, our objective, 128° west longitude, was five degrees north of the Line, while Nuka-hiva, in the Marquesas, lay nine degrees south of the Line and twelve degrees to the west!
There remained only one thing to do—to work south out of the trade and into the variables.  It is true that Captain Bruce found no variables on his traverse, and that he “never could make easting on either tack.”  It was the variables or nothing with us, and we prayed for better luck than he had had.  The variables constitute the belt of ocean lying between the trades and the doldrums, and are to be the of heated air which rise in the doldrums, flow high in the air counter to the trades, and gradually sink down till they fan the surface of the ocean where they are found.  And they are found where they are found; for they are wedged between the trades and the doldrums, which same shift their territory from day to day and month to month.
We found the variables in 11° north , and 11° north latitude we hugged jealously.  To the south lay the doldrums.  To the north lay the northeast trade that refused to blow from the northeast.  The days came and went, and always they found the Snark somewhere near the eleventh parallel.  The variables were truly variable.  A light head-wind would die away and leave us rolling in a calm for forty-eight hours.  Then a light head-wind would spring up, blow for three hours, and leave us rolling in another calm for forty-eight hours.  Then—hurrah!—the wind would come out of the west, fresh, beautifully fresh, and send the Snark along, wing and wing, her wake bubbling, the log-line straight astern.  At the end of half an hour, while we were preparing to set the spinnaker, with a few sickly the wind would die away.  And so it went.  We optimistically on every fan of air that lasted over five minutes; but it never did any good.  The fans faded out just the same.
But there were exceptions.  In the variables, if you wait long enough, something is bound to happen, and we were so stocked with food and water that we could afford to wait.  On October 26, we actually made one hundred and three miles of easting, and we talked about it for days afterwards.  Once we caught a moderate from the south, which blew itself out in eight hours, but it helped us to seventy-one miles of easting in that particular twenty-four hours.  And then, just as it was expiring, the wind came straight out from the north (the directly opposite quarter), and fanned us along over another degree of easting.
In years and years no sailing vessel has attempted this traverse, and we found ourselves in the midst of one of the loneliest of the Pacific .  In the sixty days we were crossing it we sighted no sail, lifted no steamer’s smoke above the horizon.  A disabled vessel could drift in this expanse for a dozen generations, and there would be no rescue.  The only chance of rescue would be from a vessel like the Snark, and the Snark happened to be there principally because of the fact that the traverse had been begun before the particular paragraph in the sailing directions had been read.  upright on deck, a straight line from the eye to the horizon would measure three miles and a half.  Thus, seven miles was the diameter of the circle of the sea in which we had our centre.  Since we remained always in the centre, and since we constantly were moving in some direction, we looked upon many circles.  But all circles looked alike.  No tufted islets, gray headlands, nor patches of white canvas ever the symmetry of that unbroken curve.  Clouds came and went, rising up over the of the circle, flowing across the space of it, and spilling away and down across the opposite rim.
The world faded as the procession of the weeks marched by.  The world faded until at last there ceased to be any world except the little world of the Snark, freighted with her seven souls and floating on the expanse of the waters.  Our memories of the world, the great world, became like dreams of former lives we had lived somewhere before we came to be born on the Snark.  After we had been out of fresh vegetables for some time, we mentioned such things in much the same way I have heard my father mention the vanished apples of his boyhood.  Man is a creature of habit, and we on the Snark had got the habit of the Snark.  Everything about her and aboard her was as a matter of course, and anything different would have been an and an offence.
There was no way by which the great world could .  Our bell rang the hours, but no caller ever rang it.  There were no guests to dinner, no telegrams, no telephone jangles invading our privacy.  We had no engagements to keep, no trains to catch, and there were no morning newspapers over which to waste time in learning what was happening to our fifteen hundred million other fellow-creatures.
But it was not dull.  The affairs of our little world had to be regulated, and, unlike the great world, our world had to be in its journey through space.  Also, there were cosmic to be encountered and baffled, such as do not the big earth in its orbit through the windless void.  And we never knew, from moment to moment, what was going to happen next.  There were spice and variety enough and to spare.  Thus, at four in the morning, I relieve Hermann at the wheel.
“East-northeast,” he gives me the course.  “She’s eight points off, but she ain’t .”
Small wonder.  The vessel does not exist that can be steered in so absolute a calm.
“I had a breeze a little while ago—maybe it will come back again,” Hermann says hopefully, ere he starts forward to the cabin and his .
The mizzen is in and fast furled.  In the night, what of the roll and the absence of wind, it had made life too to be permitted to go on rasping at the mast, smashing at the tackles, and the empty air into hollow outbursts of sound.  But the big mainsail is still on, and the staysail, jib, and flying-jib are snapping and at their sheets with every roll.  Every star is out.  Just for luck I put the wheel hard over in the opposite direction to which it had been left by Hermann, and I lean back and gaze up at the stars.  There is nothing else for me to do.  There is nothing to be done with a sailing vessel rolling in a calm.
Then I feel a fan on my cheek, faint, so faint, that I can just sense it ere it is gone.  But another comes, and another, until a real and just perceptible breeze is blowing.  How the Snark’s sails manage to feel it is beyond me, but feel it they do, as she does as well, for the compass card begins slowly to in the binnacle.  In reality, it is not at all.  It is held by terrestrial in one place, and it is the Snark that is revolving, upon that delicate cardboard device that floats in a closed vessel of alcohol.
So the Snark comes back on her course.  The breath increases to a tiny .  The Snark feels the weight of it and actually heels over a trifle.  There is flying overhead, and I notice the stars being out.  Walls of darkness close in upon me, so that, when the last star is gone, the darkness is so near that it seems I can reach out and touch it on every side.  When I lean toward it, I can feel it against my face.  Puff follows puff, and I am glad the mizzen is furled.  Phew! that was a stiff one!  The Snark goes over and down until her lee-rail is buried and the whole Pacific Ocean is pouring in.  Four or five of these make me wish that the jib and flying-jib were in.  The sea is picking up, the gusts are growing stronger and more frequent, and there is a splatter of wet in the air.  There is no use in attempting to gaze to windward.  The wall of blackness is within arm’s length.  Yet I cannot help attempting to see and the blows that are being struck at the Snark.  There is something and menacing up there to windward, and I have a feeling that if I look long enough and strong enough, I shall divine it.  feeling.  Between two gusts I leave the wheel and run forward to the cabin companionway, where I light matches and consult the .  “29-90” it reads.  That sensitive instrument refuses to take notice of the which is humming with a deep, throaty voice in the rigging.  I get back to the wheel just in time to meet another , the strongest yet.  Well, anyway, the wind is and the Snark is on her course, eating up easting.  That at least is well.
The jib and flying-jib bother me, and I wish they were in.  She would make easier weather of it, and less weather likewise.  The wind snorts, and stray raindrops like birdshot.  I shall certainly have to call all hands, I conclude; then conclude the next instant to hang on a little longer.  Maybe this is the end of it, and I shall have called them for nothing.  It is better to let them sleep.  I hold the Snark down to her task, and from out of the darkness, at right angles, comes a of rain accompanied by wind.  Then everything eases except the blackness, and I rejoice in that I have not called the men.
No sooner does the wind ease than the sea picks up.  The combers are breaking now, and the boat is tossing like a .  Then out of the blackness the gusts come harder and faster than before.  If only I knew what was up there to windward in the blackness!  The Snark is making heavy weather of it, and her lee-rail is buried oftener than not.  More and snorts of wind.  Now, if ever, is the time to call the men.  I will call them, I resolve.  Then there is a burst of rain, a slackening of the wind, and I do not call.  But it is rather lonely, there at the wheel, steering a little world through howling blackness.  It is quite a responsibility to be all alone on the surface of a little world in time of stress, doing the thinking for its sleeping inhabitants.  I from the responsibility as more gusts begin to strike and as a sea licks along the weather rail and splashes over into the cockpit.  The salt water seems strangely warm to my body and is shot through with ghostly nodules of phosphorescent light.  I shall surely call all hands to shorten sail.  Why should they sleep?  I am a fool to have any compunctions in the matter.  My intellect is arrayed against my heart.  It was my heart that said, “Let them sleep.”  Yes, but it was my intellect that backed up my heart in that .  Let my intellect then reverse the judgment; and, while I am speculating as to what particular issued that command to my intellect, the gusts die away.  for bodily comfort has no place in practical seamanship, I conclude ; but study the feel of the next series of gusts and do not call the men.  After all, it is my intellect, behind everything, , measuring its knowledge of what the Snark can endure against the blows being struck at her, and waiting the call of all hands against the striking of still severer blows.
Daylight, gray and violent, steals through the cloud-pall and shows a sea that under the weight of recurrent and increasing squalls.  Then comes the rain, filling the windy valleys of the sea with smoke and further the waves, whi............
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