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New Orleans to San Francisco in '49

Storms and Grounding

The second night after we entered the Gulf the wind rose to a perfect gale. The waves were mountain high, and the old ship rolled, tossed, and pitched frightfully. Towards morning it was discovered that she had sprung a leak, and the pumps had to be used. The next day buckets had to be used also/ But the storm abated that night, and the next day was calm and pleasant, though the water seemed strongly agitated. The ocean to my childish eyes resembled hills and vales. The ship seemed to be continually climbing hills, and sliding down into deep valleys. But the water gradually grew calm, and the leak was stopped.

That day a large number of flying fish were taken on board. My brother caught some of them; the steward cooked them for us, and as we had recovered from our sickness we ate them, and thought them delicious.

One incident of the storm is very vivid in my mind. There were on board a number of sheep to be killed for mutton. A wave came over the deck, and broke the pen in which they were confined, and seven of the sheep jumped overboard. The poor things started in a drove to swim in an opposite direction to that in which the ship was going. They did not part from one another, but kept close together as long as we could see them. I felt very sorry for them, and thought that something ought to be done to save them.

I think that it was on the morning of the eighth day out that the ship ran on a coral reef. It was about four o'clock in the morning when I was awakened by a big bump. I did not know what was the matter, but I saw everyone running out of the staterooms without stopping to dress. Mother soon came to us, and told us to get up and dress ourselves as quickly as possible, for the ship had struck on a reef. We were dressed in a very short time, but did not understand the danger we were in. The captain, however, soon came into the cabin, and told the passengers to be cool, for although the steamer had struck a sunken reef, she had backed off; and as it was so calm there was very little danger. This quieted the fears of the passengers, but they all dressed, and waited anxiously for daylight. The crew were hurrying hither and thither, and the officers were giving orders, and directing. The old pump was set at work once more. Daylight at length came and revealed a beautiful sight. Not a ripple disturbed the surface of the water, and a short distance off was a lovely little island covered with palms. The ship was standing still, and the carpenters were busy repairing the damage that had been done. The officers said it was a dangerous place if a storm should come up, and they were encouraging the men to hurry as much as possible. This was my first view of a sunrise at sea, and it was indeed a glorious one. The water was so extremely clear that many beautiful fish could be seen swimming around the vessel. Some of the men said that they could see the reef on which we had struck; but I could not. The little island on which we saw the palms did not seem to be more than a foot above the surface of the ocean, and was perfectly level.

Late in the afternoon the carpenters finished patching the hole in the bow of the ship, and again we steamed on our way. This incident happened in the Caribbean Sea, when everyone supposed we were near Chagres; but it was three days more before we reached the place.

Nothing more of importance happened before we arrived at the Isthmus, except that the cholera each day claimed its victims. Mother said that she thought my father would not live to see land; he was so low that nothing seemed to help him. My little sister, too, was very feeble. But their time had not yet come, and they both lived to reach land.

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