The Cruise of the Snark
Part 1 out of 4
THE CRUISE OF THE "SNARK"
It began in the swimming pool at Glen Ellen. Between swims it was
our wont to come out and lie in the sand and let our skins breathe
the warm air and soak in the sunshine. Roscoe was a yachtsman. I
had followed the sea a bit. It was inevitable that we should talk
about boats. We talked about small boats, and the seaworthiness of
small boats. We instanced Captain Slocum and his three years'
voyage around the world in the Spray.
We asserted that we were not afraid to go around the world in a
small boat, say forty feet long. We asserted furthermore that we
would like to do it. We asserted finally that there was nothing in
this world we'd like better than a chance to do it.
"Let us do it," we said . . . in fun.
Then I asked Charmian privily if she'd really care to do it, and she
said that it was too good to be true.
The next time we breathed our skins in the sand by the swimming pool
I said to Roscoe, "Let us do it."
I was in earnest, and so was he, for he said:
"When shall we start?"
I had a house to build on the ranch, also an orchard, a vineyard,
and several hedges to plant, and a number of other things to do. We
thought we would start in four or five years. Then the lure of the
adventure began to grip us. Why not start at once? We'd never be
younger, any of us. Let the orchard, vineyard, and hedges be
growing up while we were away. When we came back, they would be
ready for us, and we could live in the barn while we built the
So the trip was decided upon, and the building of the Snark began.
We named her the Snark because we could not think of any other name-
-this information is given for the benefit of those who otherwise
might think there is something occult in the name.
Our friends cannot understand why we make this voyage. They
shudder, and moan, and raise their hands. No amount of explanation
can make them comprehend that we are moving along the line of least
resistance; that it is easier for us to go down to the sea in a
small ship than to remain on dry land, just as it is easier for them
to remain on dry land than to go down to the sea in the small ship.
This state of mind comes of an undue prominence of the ego. They
cannot get away from themselves. They cannot come out of themselves
long enough to see that their line of least resistance is not
necessarily everybody else's line of least resistance. They make of
their own bundle of desires, likes, and dislikes a yardstick
wherewith to measure the desires, likes, and dislikes of all
creatures. This is unfair. I tell them so. But they cannot get
away from their own miserable egos long enough to hear me. They
think I am crazy. In return, I am sympathetic. It is a state of
mind familiar to me. We are all prone to think there is something
wrong with the mental processes of the man who disagrees with us.
The ultimate word is I LIKE. It lies beneath philosophy, and is
twined about the heart of life. When philosophy has maundered
ponderously for a month, telling the individual what he must do, the
individual says, in an instant, "I LIKE," and does something else,
and philosophy goes glimmering. It is I LIKE that makes the
drunkard drink and the martyr wear a hair shirt; that makes one man
a reveller and another man an anchorite; that makes one man pursue
fame, another gold, another love, and another God. Philosophy is
very often a man's way of explaining his own I LIKE.
But to return to the Snark, and why I, for one, want to journey in
her around the world. The things I like constitute my set of
values. The thing I like most of all is personal achievement--not
achievement for the world's applause, but achievement for my own
delight. It is the old "I did it! I did it! With my own hands I
did it!" But personal achievement, with me, must be concrete. I'd
rather win a water-fight in the swimming pool, or remain astride a
horse that is trying to get out from under me, than write the great
American novel. Each man to his liking. Some other fellow would
prefer writing the great American novel to winning the water-fight
or mastering the horse.
Possibly the proudest achievement of my life, my moment of highest
living, occurred when I was seventeen. I was in a three-masted
schooner off the coast of Japan. We were in a typhoon. All hands
had been on deck most of the night. I was called from my bunk at
seven in the morning to take the wheel. Not a stitch of canvas was
set. We were running before it under bare poles, yet the schooner
fairly tore along. The seas were all of an eighth of a mile apart,
and the wind snatched the whitecaps from their summits, filling.
The air so thick with driving spray that it was impossible to see
more than two waves at a time. The schooner was almost
unmanageable, rolling her rail under to starboard and to port,
veering and yawing anywhere between south-east and south-west, and
threatening, when the huge seas lifted under her quarter, to broach
to. Had she broached to, she would ultimately have been reported
lost with all hands and no tidings.
I took the wheel. The sailing-master watched me for a space. He
was afraid of my youth, feared that I lacked the strength and the
nerve. But when he saw me successfully wrestle the schooner through
several bouts, he went below to breakfast. Fore and aft, all hands
were below at breakfast. Had she broached to, not one of them would
ever have reached the deck. For forty minutes I stood there alone
at the wheel, in my grasp the wildly careering schooner and the
lives of twenty-two men. Once we were pooped. I saw it coming,
and, half-drowned, with tons of water crushing me, I checked the
schooner's rush to broach to. At the end of the hour, sweating and
played out, I was relieved. But I had done it! With my own hands I
had done my trick at the wheel and guided a hundred tons of wood and
iron through a few million tons of wind and waves.
My delight was in that I had done it--not in the fact that twenty-
two men knew I had done it. Within the year over half of them were
dead and gone, yet my pride in the thing performed was not
diminished by half. I am willing to confess, however, that I do
like a small audience. But it must be a very small audience,
composed of those who love me and whom I love. When I then
accomplish personal achievement, I have a feeling that I am
justifying their love for me. But this is quite apart from the
delight of the achievement itself. This delight is peculiarly my
own and does not depend upon witnesses. When I have done some such
thing, I am exalted. I glow all over. I am aware of a pride in
myself that is mine, and mine alone. It is organic. Every fibre of
me is thrilling with it. It is very natural. It is a mere matter
of satisfaction at adjustment to environment. It is success.
Life that lives is life successful, and success is the breath of its
nostrils. The achievement of a difficult feat is successful
adjustment to a sternly exacting environment. The more difficult
the feat, the greater the satisfaction at its accomplishment. Thus
it is with the man who leaps forward from the springboard, out over
the swimming pool, and with a backward half-revolution of the body,
enters the water head first. Once he leaves the springboard his
environment becomes immediately savage, and savage the penalty it
will exact should he fail and strike the water flat. Of course, the
man does not have to run the risk of the penalty. He could remain
on the bank in a sweet and placid environment of summer air,
sunshine, and stability. Only he is not made that way. In that
swift mid-air moment he lives as he could never live on the bank.
As for myself, I'd rather be that man than the fellows who sit on
the bank and watch him. That is why I am building the Snark. I am
so made. I like, that is all. The trip around the world means big
moments of living. Bear with me a moment and look at it. Here am
I, a little animal called a man--a bit of vitalized matter, one
hundred and sixty-five pounds of meat and blood, nerve, sinew,
bones, and brain,--all of it soft and tender, susceptible to hurt,
fallible, and frail. I strike a light back-handed blow on the nose
of an obstreperous horse, and a bone in my hand is broken. I put my
head under the water for five minutes, and I am drowned. I fall
twenty feet through the air, and I am smashed. I am a creature of
temperature. A few degrees one way, and my fingers and ears and
toes blacken and drop off. A few degrees the other way, and my skin
blisters and shrivels away from the raw, quivering flesh. A few
additional degrees either way, and the life and the light in me go
out. A drop of poison injected into my body from a snake, and I
cease to move--for ever I cease to move. A splinter of lead from a
rifle enters my head, and I am wrapped around in the eternal
Fallible and frail, a bit of pulsating, jelly-like life--it is all I
am. About me are the great natural forces--colossal menaces, Titans
of destruction, unsentimental monsters that have less concern for me
than I have for the grain of sand I crush under my foot. They have
no concern at all for me. They do not know me. They are
unconscious, unmerciful, and unmoral. They are the cyclones and
tornadoes, lightning flashes and cloud-bursts, tide-rips and tidal
waves, undertows and waterspouts, great whirls and sucks and eddies,
earthquakes and volcanoes, surfs that thunder on rock-ribbed coasts
and seas that leap aboard the largest crafts that float, crushing
humans to pulp or licking them off into the sea and to death--and
these insensate monsters do not know that tiny sensitive creature,
all nerves and weaknesses, whom men call Jack London, and who
himself thinks he is all right and quite a superior being.
In the maze and chaos of the conflict of these vast and draughty
Titans, it is for me to thread my precarious way. The bit of life
that is I will exult over them. The bit of life that is I, in so
far as it succeeds in baffling them or in bitting them to its
service, will imagine that it is godlike. It is good to ride the
tempest and feel godlike. I dare to assert that for a finite speck
of pulsating jelly to feel godlike is a far more glorious feeling
than for a god to feel godlike.
Here is the sea, the wind, and the wave. Here are the seas, the
winds, and the waves of all the world. Here is ferocious
environment. And here is difficult adjustment, the achievement of
which is delight to the small quivering vanity that is I. I like.
I am so made. It is my own particular form of vanity, that is all.
There is also another side to the voyage of the Snark. Being alive,
I want to see, and all the world is a bigger thing to see than one
small town or valley. We have done little outlining of the voyage.
Only one thing is definite, and that is that our first port of call
will be Honolulu. Beyond a few general ideas, we have no thought of
our next port after Hawaii. We shall make up our minds as we get
nearer, in a general way we know that we shall wander through the
South Seas, take in Samoa, New Zealand, Tasmania, Australia, New
Guinea, Borneo, and Sumatra, and go on up through the Philippines to
Japan. Then will come Korea, China, India, the Red Sea, and the
Mediterranean. After that the voyage becomes too vague to describe,
though we know a number of things we shall surely do, and we expect
to spend from one to several months in every country in Europe.
The Snark is to be sailed. There will be a gasolene engine on
board, but it will be used only in case of emergency, such as in bad
water among reefs and shoals, where a sudden calm in a swift current
leaves a sailing-boat helpless. The rig of the Snark is to be what
is called the "ketch." The ketch rig is a compromise between the
yawl and the schooner. Of late years the yawl rig has proved the
best for cruising. The ketch retains the cruising virtues of the
yawl, and in addition manages to embrace a few of the sailing
virtues of the schooner. The foregoing must be taken with a pinch
of salt. It is all theory in my head. I've never sailed a ketch,
nor even seen one. The theory commends itself to me. Wait till I
get out on the ocean, then I'll be able to tell more about the
cruising and sailing qualities of the ketch.
As originally planned, the Snark was to be forty feet long on the
water-line. But we discovered there was no space for a bath-room,
and for that reason we have increased her length to forty-five feet.
Her greatest beam is fifteen feet. She has no house and no hold.
There is six feet of headroom, and the deck is unbroken save for two
companionways and a hatch for'ard. The fact that there is no house
to break the strength of the deck will make us feel safer in case
great seas thunder their tons of water down on board. A large and
roomy cockpit, sunk beneath the deck, with high rail and self-
bailing, will make our rough-weather days and nights more
There will be no crew. Or, rather, Charmian, Roscoe, and I are the
crew. We are going to do the thing with our own hands. With our
own hands we're going to circumnavigate the globe. Sail her or sink
her, with our own hands we'll do it. Of course there will be a cook
and a cabin-boy. Why should we stew over a stove, wash dishes, and
set the table? We could stay on land if we wanted to do those
things. Besides, we've got to stand watch and work the ship. And
also, I've got to work at my trade of writing in order to feed us
and to get new sails and tackle and keep the Snark in efficient
working order. And then there's the ranch; I've got to keep the
vineyard, orchard, and hedges growing.
When we increased the length of the Snark in order to get space for
a bath-room, we found that all the space was not required by the
bath-room. Because of this, we increased the size of the engine.
Seventy horse-power our engine is, and since we expect it to drive
us along at a nine-knot clip, we do not know the name of a river
with a current swift enough to defy us.
We expect to do a lot of inland work. The smallness of the Snark
makes this possible. When we enter the land, out go the masts and
on goes the engine. There are the canals of China, and the Yang-tse
River. We shall spend months on them if we can get permission from
the government. That will be the one obstacle to our inland
voyaging--governmental permission. But if we can get that
permission, there is scarcely a limit to the inland voyaging we can
When we come to the Nile, why we can go up the Nile. We can go up
the Danube to Vienna, up the Thames to London, and we can go up the
Seine to Paris and moor opposite the Latin Quarter with a bow-line
out to Notre Dame and a stern-line fast to the Morgue. We can leave
the Mediterranean and go up the Rhone to Lyons, there enter the
Saone, cross from the Saone to the Maine through the Canal de
Bourgogne, and from the Marne enter the Seine and go out the Seine
at Havre. When we cross the Atlantic to the United States, we can
go up the Hudson, pass through the Erie Canal, cross the Great
Lakes, leave Lake Michigan at Chicago, gain the Mississippi by way
of the Illinois River and the connecting canal, and go down the
Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico. And then there are the great
rivers of South America. We'll know something about geography when
we get back to California.
People that build houses are often sore perplexed; but if they enjoy
the strain of it, I'll advise them to build a boat like the Snark.
Just consider, for a moment, the strain of detail. Take the engine.
What is the best kind of engine--the two cycle? three cycle? four
cycle? My lips are mutilated with all kinds of strange jargon, my
mind is mutilated with still stranger ideas and is foot-sore and
weary from travelling in new and rocky realms of thought.--Ignition
methods; shall it be make-and-break or jump-spark? Shall dry cells
or storage batteries be used? A storage battery commends itself,
but it requires a dynamo. How powerful a dynamo? And when we have
installed a dynamo and a storage battery, it is simply ridiculous
not to light the boat with electricity. Then comes the discussion
of how many lights and how many candle-power. It is a splendid
idea. But electric lights will demand a more powerful storage
battery, which, in turn, demands a more powerful dynamo.
And now that we've gone in for it, why not have a searchlight? It
would be tremendously useful. But the searchlight needs so much
electricity that when it runs it will put all the other lights out
of commission. Again we travel the weary road in the quest after
more power for storage battery and dynamo. And then, when it is
finally solved, some one asks, "What if the engine breaks down?"
And we collapse. There are the sidelights, the binnacle light, and
the anchor light. Our very lives depend upon them. So we have to
fit the boat throughout with oil lamps as well.
But we are not done with that engine yet. The engine is powerful.
We are two small men and a small woman. It will break our hearts
and our backs to hoist anchor by hand. Let the engine do it. And
then comes the problem of how to convey power for'ard from the
engine to the winch. And by the time all this is settled, we
redistribute the allotments of space to the engine-room, galley,
bath-room, state-rooms, and cabin, and begin all over again. And
when we have shifted the engine, I send off a telegram of gibberish
to its makers at New York, something like this: Toggle-joint
abandoned change thrust-bearing accordingly distance from forward
side of flywheel to face of stern post sixteen feet six inches.
Just potter around in quest of the best steering gear, or try to
decide whether you will set up your rigging with old-fashioned
lanyards or with turnbuckles, if you want strain of detail. Shall
the binnacle be located in front of the wheel in the centre of the
beam, or shall it be located to one side in front of the wheel?--
there's room right there for a library of sea-dog controversy. Then
there's the problem of gasolene, fifteen hundred gallons of it--what
are the safest ways to tank it and pipe it? and which is the best
fire-extinguisher for a gasolene fire? Then there is the pretty
problem of the life-boat and the stowage of the same. And when that
is finished, come the cook and cabin-boy to confront one with
nightmare possibilities. It is a small boat, and we'll be packed
close together. The servant-girl problem of landsmen pales to
insignificance. We did select one cabin-boy, and by that much were
our troubles eased. And then the cabin-boy fell in love and
And in the meanwhile how is a fellow to find time to study
navigation--when he is divided between these problems and the
earning of the money wherewith to settle the problems? Neither
Roscoe nor I know anything about navigation, and the summer is gone,
and we are about to start, and the problems are thicker than ever,
and the treasury is stuffed with emptiness. Well, anyway, it takes
years to learn seamanship, and both of us are seamen. If we don't
find the time, we'll lay in the books and instruments and teach
ourselves navigation on the ocean between San Francisco and Hawaii.
There is one unfortunate and perplexing phase of the voyage of the
Snark. Roscoe, who is to be my co-navigator, is a follower of one,
Cyrus R. Teed. Now Cyrus R. Teed has a different cosmology from the
one generally accepted, and Roscoe shares his views. Wherefore
Roscoe believes that the surface of the earth is concave and that we
live on the inside of a hollow sphere. Thus, though we shall sail
on the one boat, the Snark, Roscoe will journey around the world on
the inside, while I shall journey around on the outside. But of
this, more anon. We threaten to be of the one mind before the
voyage is completed. I am confident that I shall convert him into
making the journey on the outside, while he is equally confident
that before we arrive back in San Francisco I shall be on the inside
of the earth. How he is going to get me through the crust I don't
know, but Roscoe is ay a masterful man.
P.S.--That engine! While we've got it, and the dynamo, and the
storage battery, why not have an ice-machine? Ice in the tropics!
It is more necessary than bread. Here goes for the ice-machine!
Now I am plunged into chemistry, and my lips hurt, and my mind
hurts, and how am I ever to find the time to study navigation?
CHAPTER II--THE INCONCEIVABLE AND MONSTROUS
"Spare no money," I said to Roscoe. "Let everything on the Snark be
of the best. And never mind decoration. Plain pine boards is good
enough finishing for me. But put the money into the construction.
Let the Snark be as staunch and strong as any boat afloat. Never
mind what it costs to make her staunch and strong; you see that she
is made staunch and strong, and I'll go on writing and earning the
money to pay for it."
And I did . . . as well as I could; for the Snark ate up money
faster than I could earn it. In fact, every little while I had to
borrow money with which to supplement my earnings. Now I borrowed
one thousand dollars, now I borrowed two thousand dollars, and now I
borrowed five thousand dollars. And all the time I went on working
every day and sinking the earnings in the venture. I worked Sundays
as well, and I took no holidays. But it was worth it. Every time I
thought of the Snark I knew she was worth it.
For know, gentle reader, the staunchness of the Snark. She is
forty-five feet long on the waterline. Her garboard strake is three
inches thick; her planking two and one-half inches thick; her deck-
planking two inches thick and in all her planking there are no
butts. I know, for I ordered that planking especially from Puget
Sound. Then the Snark has four water-tight compartments, which is
to say that her length is broken by three water-tight bulkheads.
Thus, no matter how large a leak the Snark may spring, Only one
compartment can fill with water. The other three compartments will
keep her afloat, anyway, and, besides, will enable us to mend the
leak. There is another virtue in these bulkheads. The last
compartment of all, in the very stern, contains six tanks that carry
over one thousand gallons of gasolene. Now gasolene is a very
dangerous article to carry in bulk on a small craft far out on the
wide ocean. But when the six tanks that do not leak are themselves
contained in a compartment hermetically sealed off from the rest of
the boat, the danger will be seen to be very small indeed.
The Snark is a sail-boat. She was built primarily to sail. But
incidentally, as an auxiliary, a seventy-horse-power engine was
installed. This is a good, strong engine. I ought to know. I paid
for it to come out all the way from New York City. Then, on deck,
above the engine, is a windlass. It is a magnificent affair. It
weighs several hundred pounds and takes up no end of deck-room. You
see, it is ridiculous to hoist up anchor by hand-power when there is
a seventy-horse-power engine on board. So we installed the
windlass, transmitting power to it from the engine by means of a
gear and castings specially made in a San Francisco foundry.
The Snark was made for comfort, and no expense was spared in this
regard. There is the bath-room, for instance, small and compact, it
is true, but containing all the conveniences of any bath-room upon
land. The bath-room is a beautiful dream of schemes and devices,
pumps, and levers, and sea-valves. Why, in the course of its
building, I used to lie awake nights thinking about that bath-room.
And next to the bathroom come the life-boat and the launch. They
are carried on deck, and they take up what little space might have
been left us for exercise. But then, they beat life insurance; and
the prudent man, even if he has built as staunch and strong a craft
as the Snark, will see to it that he has a good life-boat as well.
And ours is a good one. It is a dandy. It was stipulated to cost
one hundred and fifty dollars, and when I came to pay the bill, it
turned out to be three hundred and ninety-five dollars. That shows
how good a life-boat it is.
I could go on at great length relating the various virtues and
excellences of the Snark, but I refrain. I have bragged enough as
it is, and I have bragged to a purpose, as will be seen before my
tale is ended. And please remember its title, "The Inconceivable
and Monstrous." It was planned that the Snark should sail on
October 1, 1906. That she did not so sail was inconceivable and
monstrous. There was no valid reason for not sailing except that
she was not ready to sail, and there was no conceivable reason why
she was not ready. She was promised on November first, on November
fifteenth, on December first; and yet she was never ready. On
December first Charmian and I left the sweet, clean Sonoma country
and came down to live in the stifling city--but not for long, oh,
no, only for two weeks, for we would sail on December fifteenth.
And I guess we ought to know, for Roscoe said so, and it was on his
advice that we came to the city to stay two weeks. Alas, the two
weeks went by, four weeks went by, six weeks went by, eight weeks
went by, and we were farther away from sailing than ever. Explain
it? Who?--me? I can't. It is the one thing in all my life that I
have backed down on. There is no explaining it; if there were, I'd
do it. I, who am an artisan of speech, confess my inability to
explain why the Snark was not ready. As I have said, and as I must
repeat, it was inconceivable and monstrous.
The eight weeks became sixteen weeks, and then, one day, Roscoe
cheered us up by saying: "If we don't sail before April first, you
can use my head for a football."
Two weeks later he said, "I'm getting my head in training for that
"Never mind," Charmian and I said to each other; "think of the
wonderful boat it is going to be when it is completed."
Whereat we would rehearse for our mutual encouragement the manifold
virtues and excellences of the Snark. Also, I would borrow more
money, and I would get down closer to my desk and write harder, and
I refused heroically to take a Sunday off and go out into the hills
with my friends. I was building a boat, and by the eternal it was
going to be a boat, and a boat spelled out all in capitals--B--O--A-
-T; and no matter what it cost I didn't care. So long as it was a
And, oh, there is one other excellence of the Snark, upon which I
must brag, namely, her bow. No sea could ever come over it. It
laughs at the sea, that bow does; it challenges the sea; it snorts
defiance at the sea. And withal it is a beautiful bow; the lines of
it are dreamlike; I doubt if ever a boat was blessed with a more
beautiful and at the same time a more capable bow. It was made to
punch storms. To touch that bow is to rest one's hand on the cosmic
nose of things. To look at it is to realize that expense cut no
figure where it was concerned. And every time our sailing was
delayed, or a new expense was tacked on, we thought of that
wonderful bow and were content.
The Snark is a small boat. When I figured seven thousand dollars as
her generous cost, I was both generous and correct. I have built
barns and houses, and I know the peculiar trait such things have of
running past their estimated cost. This knowledge was mine, was
already mine, when I estimated the probable cost of the building of
the Snark at seven thousand dollars. Well, she cost thirty
thousand. Now don't ask me, please. It is the truth. I signed the
cheques and I raised the money. Of course there is no explaining
it, inconceivable and monstrous is what it is, as you will agree, I
know, ere my tale is done.
Then there was the matter of delay. I dealt with forty-seven
different kinds of union men and with one hundred and fifteen
different firms. And not one union man and not one firm of all the
union men and all the firms ever delivered anything at the time
agreed upon, nor ever was on time for anything except pay-day and
bill-collection. Men pledged me their immortal souls that they
would deliver a certain thing on a certain date; as a rule, after
such pledging, they rarely exceeded being three months late in
delivery. And so it went, and Charmian and I consoled each other by
saying what a splendid boat the Snark was, so staunch and strong;
also, we would get into the small boat and row around the Snark, and
gloat over her unbelievably wonderful bow.
"Think," I would say to Charmian, "of a gale off the China coast,
and of the Snark hove to, that splendid bow of hers driving into the
storm. Not a drop will come over that bow. She'll be as dry as a
feather, and we'll be all below playing whist while the gale howls."
And Charmian would press my hand enthusiastically and exclaim:
"It's worth every bit of it--the delay, and expense, and worry, and
all the rest. Oh, what a truly wonderful boat!"
Whenever I looked at the bow of the Snark or thought of her water-
tight compartments, I was encouraged. Nobody else, however, was
encouraged. My friends began to make bets against the various
sailing dates of the Snark. Mr. Wiget, who was left behind in
charge of our Sonoma ranch was the first to cash his bet. He
collected on New Year's Day, 1907. After that the bets came fast
and furious. My friends surrounded me like a gang of harpies,
making bets against every sailing date I set. I was rash, and I was
stubborn. I bet, and I bet, and I continued to bet; and I paid them
all. Why, the women-kind of my friends grew so brave that those
among them who never bet before began to bet with me. And I paid
"Never mind," said Charmian to me; "just think of that bow and of
being hove to on the China Seas."
"You see," I said to my friends, when I paid the latest bunch of
wagers, "neither trouble nor cash is being spared in making the
Snark the most seaworthy craft that ever sailed out through the
Golden Gate--that is what causes all the delay."
In the meantime editors and publishers with whom I had contracts
pestered me with demands for explanations. But how could I explain
to them, when I was unable to explain to myself, or when there was
nobody, not even Roscoe, to explain to me? The newspapers began to
laugh at me, and to publish rhymes anent the Snark's departure with
refrains like, "Not yet, but soon." And Charmian cheered me up by
reminding me of the bow, and I went to a banker and borrowed five
thousand more. There was one recompense for the delay, however. A
friend of mine, who happens to be a critic, wrote a roast of me, of
all I had done, and of all I ever was going to do; and he planned to
have it published after I was out on the ocean. I was still on
shore when it came out, and he has been busy explaining ever since.
And the time continued to go by. One thing was becoming apparent,
namely, that it was impossible to finish the Snark in San Francisco.
She had been so long in the building that she was beginning to break
down and wear out. In fact, she had reached the stage where she was
breaking down faster than she could be repaired. She had become a
joke. Nobody took her seriously; least of all the men who worked on
her. I said we would sail just as she was and finish building her
in Honolulu. Promptly she sprang a leak that had to be attended to
before we could sail. I started her for the boat-ways. Before she
got to them she was caught between two huge barges and received a
vigorous crushing. We got her on the ways, and, part way along, the
ways spread and dropped her through, stern-first, into the mud.
It was a pretty tangle, a job for wreckers, not boat-builders.
There are two high tides every twenty-four hours, and at every high
tide, night and day, for a week, there were two steam tugs pulling
and hauling on the Snark. There she was, stuck, fallen between the
ways and standing on her stern. Next, and while still in that
predicament, we started to use the gears and castings made in the
local foundry whereby power was conveyed from the engine to the
windlass. It was the first time we ever tried to use that windlass.
The castings had flaws; they shattered asunder, the gears ground
together, and the windlass was out of commission. Following upon
that, the seventy-horse-power engine went out of commission. This
engine came from New York; so did its bed-plate; there was a flaw in
the bed-plate; there were a lot of flaws in the bed-plate; and the
seventy-horse-power engine broke away from its shattered
foundations, reared up in the air, smashed all connections and
fastenings, and fell over on its side. And the Snark continued to
stick between the spread ways, and the two tugs continued to haul
vainly upon her.
"Never mind," said Charmian, "think of what a staunch, strong boat
"Yes," said I, "and of that beautiful bow."
So we took heart and went at it again. The ruined engine was lashed
down on its rotten foundation; the smashed castings and cogs of the
power transmission were taken down and stored away--all for the
purpose of taking them to Honolulu where repairs and new castings
could be made. Somewhere in the dim past the Snark had received on
the outside one coat of white paint. The intention of the colour
was still evident, however, when one got it in the right light. The
Snark had never received any paint on the inside. On the contrary,
she was coated inches thick with the grease and tobacco-juice of the
multitudinous mechanics who had toiled upon her. Never mind, we
said; the grease and filth could be planed off, and later, when we
fetched Honolulu, the Snark could be painted at the same time as she
was being rebuilt.
By main strength and sweat we dragged the Snark off from the wrecked
ways and laid her alongside the Oakland City Wharf. The drays
brought all the outfit from home, the books and blankets and
personal luggage. Along with this, everything else came on board in
a torrent of confusion--wood and coal, water and water-tanks,
vegetables, provisions, oil, the life-boat and the launch, all our
friends, all the friends of our friends and those who claimed to be
their friends, to say nothing of some of the friends of the friends
of the friends of our crew. Also there were reporters, and
photographers, and strangers, and cranks, and finally, and over all,
clouds of coal-dust from the wharf.
We were to sail Sunday at eleven, and Saturday afternoon had
arrived. The crowd on the wharf and the coal-dust were thicker than
ever. In one pocket I carried a cheque-book, a fountain-pen, a
dater, and a blotter; in another pocket I carried between one and
two thousand dollars in paper money and gold. I was ready for the
creditors, cash for the small ones and cheques for the large ones,
and was waiting only for Roscoe to arrive with the balances of the
accounts of the hundred and fifteen firms who had delayed me so many
months. And then -
And then the inconceivable and monstrous happened once more. Before
Roscoe could arrive there arrived another man. He was a United
States marshal. He tacked a notice on the Snark's brave mast so
that all on the wharf could read that the Snark had been libelled
for debt. The marshal left a little old man in charge of the Snark,
and himself went away. I had no longer any control of the Snark,
nor of her wonderful bow. The little old man was now her lord and
master, and I learned that I was paying him three dollars a day for
being lord and master. Also, I learned the name of the man who had
libelled the Snark. It was Sellers; the debt was two hundred and
thirty-two dollars; and the deed was no more than was to be expected
from the possessor of such a name. Sellers! Ye gods! Sellers!
But who under the sun was Sellers? I looked in my cheque-book and
saw that two weeks before I had made him out a cheque for five
hundred dollars. Other cheque-books showed me that during the many
months of the building of the Snark I had paid him several thousand
dollars. Then why in the name of common decency hadn't he tried to
collect his miserable little balance instead of libelling the Snark?
I thrust my hands into my pockets, and in one pocket encountered the
cheque-hook and the dater and the pen, and in the other pocket the
gold money and the paper money. There was the wherewithal to settle
his pitiful account a few score of times and over--why hadn't he
given me a chance? There was no explanation; it was merely the
inconceivable and monstrous.
To make the matter worse, the Snark had been libelled late Saturday
afternoon; and though I sent lawyers and agents all over Oakland and
San Francisco, neither United States judge, nor United States
marshal, nor Mr. Sellers, nor Mr. Sellers' attorney, nor anybody
could be found. They were all out of town for the weekend. And so
the Snark did not sail Sunday morning at eleven. The little old man
was still in charge, and he said no. And Charmian and I walked out
on an opposite wharf and took consolation in the Snark's wonderful
bow and thought of all the gales and typhoons it would proudly
"A bourgeois trick," I said to Charmian, speaking of Mr. Sellers and
his libel; "a petty trader's panic. But never mind; our troubles
will cease when once we are away from this and out on the wide
And in the end we sailed away, on Tuesday morning, April 23, 1907.
We started rather lame, I confess. We had to hoist anchor by hand,
because the power transmission was a wreck. Also, what remained of
our seventy-horse-power engine was lashed down for ballast on the
bottom of the Snark. But what of such things? They could be fixed
in Honolulu, and in the meantime think of the magnificent rest of
the boat! It is true, the engine in the launch wouldn't run, and
the life-boat leaked like a sieve; but then they weren't the Snark;
they were mere appurtenances. The things that counted were the
water-tight bulkheads, the solid planking without butts, the bath-
room devices--they were the Snark. And then there was, greatest of
all, that noble, wind-punching bow.
We sailed out through the Golden Gate and set our course south
toward that part of the Pacific where we could hope to pick up with
the north-east trades. And right away things began to happen. I
had calculated that youth was the stuff for a voyage like that of
the Snark, and I had taken three youths--the engineer, the cook, and
the cabin-boy. My calculation was only two-thirds OFF; I had
forgotten to calculate on seasick youth, and I had two of them, the
cook and the cabin boy. They immediately took to their bunks, and
that was the end of their usefulness for a week to come. It will be
understood, from the foregoing, that we did not have the hot meals
we might have had, nor were things kept clean and orderly down
below. But it did not matter very much anyway, for we quickly
discovered that our box of oranges had at some time been frozen;
that our box of apples was mushy and spoiling; that the crate of
cabbages, spoiled before it was ever delivered to us, had to go
overboard instanter; that kerosene had been spilled on the carrots,
and that the turnips were woody and the beets rotten, while the
kindling was dead wood that wouldn't burn, and the coal, delivered
in rotten potato-sacks, had spilled all over the deck and was
washing through the scuppers.
But what did it matter? Such things were mere accessories. There
was the boat--she was all right, wasn't she? I strolled along the
deck and in one minute counted fourteen butts in the beautiful
planking ordered specially from Puget Sound in order that there
should be no butts in it. Also, that deck leaked, and it leaked
badly. It drowned Roscoe out of his bunk and ruined the tools in
the engine-room, to say nothing of the provisions it ruined in the
galley. Also, the sides of the Snark leaked, and the bottom leaked,
and we had to pump her every day to keep her afloat. The floor of
the galley is a couple of feet above the inside bottom of the Snark;
and yet I have stood on the floor of the galley, trying to snatch a
cold bite, and been wet to the knees by the water churning around
inside four hours after the last pumping.
Then those magnificent water-tight compartments that cost so much
time and money--well, they weren't water-tight after all. The water
moved free as the air from one compartment to another; furthermore,
a strong smell of gasolene from the after compartment leads me to
suspect that some one or more of the half-dozen tanks there stored
have sprung a leak. The tanks leak, and they are not hermetically
sealed in their compartment. Then there was the bath-room with its
pumps and levers and sea-valves--it went out of commission inside
the first twenty hours. Powerful iron levers broke off short in
one's hand when one tried to pump with them. The bathroom was the
swiftest wreck of any portion of the Snark.
And the iron-work on the Snark, no matter what its source, proved to
be mush. For instance, the bed-plate of the engine came from New
York, and it was mush; so were the casting and gears for the
windlass that came from San Francisco. And finally, there was the
wrought iron used in the rigging, that carried away in all
directions when the first strains were put upon it. Wrought iron,
mind you, and it snapped like macaroni.
A gooseneck on the gaff of the mainsail broke short off. We
replaced it with the gooseneck from the gaff of the storm trysail,
and the second gooseneck broke short off inside fifteen minutes of
use, and, mind you, it had been taken from the gaff of the storm
trysail, upon which we would have depended in time of storm. At the
present moment the Snark trails her mainsail like a broken wing, the
gooseneck being replaced by a rough lashing. We'll see if we can
get honest iron in Honolulu.
Man had betrayed us and sent us to sea in a sieve, but the Lord must
have loved us, for we had calm weather in which to learn that we
must pump every day in order to keep afloat, and that more trust
could be placed in a wooden toothpick than in the most massive piece
of iron to be found aboard. As the staunchness and the strength of
the Snark went glimmering, Charmian and I pinned our faith more and
more to the Snark's wonderful bow. There was nothing else left to
pin to. It was all inconceivable and monstrous, we knew, but that
bow, at least, was rational. And then, one evening, we started to
How shall I describe it? First of all, for the benefit of the tyro,
let me explain that heaving to is that sea manoeuvre which, by means
of short and balanced canvas, compels a vessel to ride bow-on to
wind and sea. When the wind is too strong, or the sea is too high,
a vessel of the size of the Snark can heave to with ease, whereupon
there is no more work to do on deck. Nobody needs to steer. The
lookout is superfluous. All hands can go below and sleep or play
Well, it was blowing half of a small summer gale, when I told Roscoe
we'd heave to. Night was coming on. I had been steering nearly all
day, and all hands on deck (Roscoe and Bert and Charmian) were
tired, while all hands below were seasick. It happened that we had
already put two reefs in the big mainsail. The flying-jib and the
jib were taken in, and a reef put in the fore-staysail. The mizzen
was also taken in. About this time the flying jib-boom buried
itself in a sea and broke short off. I started to put the wheel
down in order to heave to. The Snark at the moment was rolling in
the trough. She continued rolling in the trough. I put the spokes
down harder and harder. She never budged from the trough. (The
trough, gentle reader, is the most dangerous position all in which
to lay a vessel.) I put the wheel hard down, and still the Snark
rolled in the trough. Eight points was the nearest I could get her
to the wind. I had Roscoe and Bert come in on the main-sheet. The
Snark rolled on in the trough, now putting her rail under on one
side and now under on the other side.
Again the inconceivable and monstrous was showing its grizzly head.
It was grotesque, impossible. I refused to believe it. Under
double-reefed mainsail and single-reefed staysail the Snark refused
to heave to. We flattened the mainsail down. It did not alter the
Snark's course a tenth of a degree. We slacked the mainsail off
with no more result. We set a storm trysail on the mizzen, and took
in the mainsail. No change. The Snark roiled on in the trough.
That beautiful bow of hers refused to come up and face the wind.
Next we took in the reefed staysail. Thus, the only bit of canvas
left on her was the storm trysail on the mizzen. If anything would
bring her bow up to the wind, that would. Maybe you won't believe
me when I say it failed, but I do say it failed. And I say it
failed because I saw it fail, and not because I believe it failed.
I don't believe it did fail. It is unbelievable, and I am not
telling you what I believe; I am telling you what I saw.
Now, gentle reader, what would you do if you were on a small boat,
rolling in the trough of the sea, a trysail on that small boat's
stern that was unable to swing the bow up into the wind? Get out
the sea-anchor. It's just what we did. We had a patent one, made
to order and warranted not to dive. Imagine a hoop of steel that
serves to keep open the mouth of a large, conical, canvas bag, and
you have a sea-anchor. Well, we made a line fast to the sea-anchor
and to the bow of the Snark, and then dropped the sea-anchor
overboard. It promptly dived. We had a tripping line on it, so we
tripped the sea-anchor and hauled it in. We attached a big timber
as a float, and dropped the sea-anchor over again. This time it
floated. The line to the bow grew taut. The trysail on the mizzen
tended to swing the bow into the wind, but, in spite of this
tendency, the Snark calmly took that sea-anchor in her teeth, and
went on ahead, dragging it after her, still in the trough of the
sea. And there you are. We even took in the trysail, hoisted the
full mizzen in its place, and hauled the full mizzen down flat, and
the Snark wallowed in the trough and dragged the sea-anchor behind
her. Don't believe me. I don't believe it myself. I am merely
telling you what I saw.
Now I leave it to you. Who ever heard of a sailing-boat that
wouldn't heave to?--that wouldn't heave to with a sea-anchor to help
it? Out of my brief experience with boats I know I never did. And
I stood on deck and looked on the naked face of the inconceivable
and monstrous--the Snark that wouldn't heave to. A stormy night
with broken moonlight had come on. There was a splash of wet in the
air, and up to windward there was a promise of rain-squalls; and
then there was the trough of the sea, cold and cruel in the
moonlight, in which the Snark complacently rolled. And then we took
in the sea-anchor and the mizzen, hoisted the reefed staysail, ran
the Snark off before it, and went below--not to the hot meal that
should have awaited us, but to skate across the slush and slime on
the cabin floor, where cook and cabin-boy lay like dead men in their
bunks, and to lie down in our own bunks, with our clothes on ready
for a call, and to listen to the bilge-water spouting knee-high on
the galley floor.
In the Bohemian Club of San Francisco there are some crack sailors.
I know, because I heard them pass judgment on the Snark during the
process of her building. They found only one vital thing the matter
with her, and on this they were all agreed, namely, that she could
not run. She was all right in every particular, they said, except
that I'd never be able to run her before it in a stiff wind and sea.
"Her lines," they explained enigmatically, "it is the fault of her
lines. She simply cannot be made to run, that is all." Well, I
wish I'd only had those crack sailors of the Bohemian Club on board
the Snark the other night for them to see for themselves their one,
vital, unanimous judgment absolutely reversed. Run? It is the one
thing the Snark does to perfection. Run? She ran with a sea-anchor
fast for'ard and a full mizzen flattened down aft. Run? At the
present moment, as I write this, we are bowling along before it, at
a six-knot clip, in the north-east trades. Quite a tidy bit of sea
is running. There is nobody at the wheel, the wheel is not even
lashed and is set over a half-spoke weather helm. To be precise,
the wind is north-east; the Snark's mizzen is furled, her mainsail
is over to starboard, her head-sheets are hauled flat: and the
Snark's course is south-south-west. And yet there are men who have
sailed the seas for forty years and who hold that no boat can run
before it without being steered. They'll call me a liar when they
read this; it's what they called Captain Slocum when he said the
same of his Spray.
As regards the future of the Snark I'm all at sea. I don't know.
If I had the money or the credit, I'd build another Snark that WOULD
heave to. But I am at the end of my resources. I've got to put up
with the present Snark or quit--and I can't quit. So I guess I'll
have to try to get along with heaving the Snark to stern first. I
am waiting for the next gale to see how it will work. I think it
can be done. It all depends on how her stern takes the seas. And
who knows but that some wild morning on the China Sea, some gray-
beard skipper will stare, rub his incredulous eyes and stare again,
at the spectacle of a weird, small craft very much like the Snark,
hove to stern-first and riding out the gale?
P.S. On my return to California after the voyage, I learned that
the Snark was forty-three feet on the water-line instead of forty-
five. This was due to the fact that the builder was not on speaking
terms with the tape-line or two-foot rule.
No, adventure is not dead, and in spite of the steam engine and of
Thomas Cook & Son. When the announcement of the contemplated voyage
of the Snark was made, young men of "roving disposition" proved to
be legion, and young women as well--to say nothing of the elderly
men and women who volunteered for the voyage. Why, among my
personal friends there were at least half a dozen who regretted
their recent or imminent marriages; and there was one marriage I
know of that almost failed to come off because of the Snark.
Every mail to me was burdened with the letters of applicants who
were suffocating in the "man-stifled towns," and it soon dawned upon
me that a twentieth century Ulysses required a corps of
stenographers to clear his correspondence before setting sail. No,
adventure is certainly not dead--not while one receives letters that
"There is no doubt that when you read this soul-plea from a female
stranger in New York City," etc.; and wherein one learns, a little
farther on, that this female stranger weighs only ninety pounds,
wants to be cabin-boy, and "yearns to see the countries of the
The possession of a "passionate fondness for geography," was the way
one applicant expressed the wander-lust that was in him; while
another wrote, "I am cursed with an eternal yearning to be always on
the move, consequently this letter to you." But best of all was the
fellow who said he wanted to come because his feet itched.
There were a few who wrote anonymously, suggesting names of friends
and giving said friends' qualifications; but to me there was a hint
of something sinister in such proceedings, and I went no further in
With two or three exceptions, all the hundreds that volunteered for
my crew were very much in earnest. Many of them sent their
photographs. Ninety per cent. offered to work in any capacity, and
ninety-nine per cent. offered to work without salary.
"Contemplating your voyage on the Snark," said one, "and
notwithstanding its attendant dangers, to accompany you (in any
capacity whatever) would be the climax of my ambitions." Which
reminds me of the young fellow who was "seventeen years old and
ambicious," and who, at the end of his letter, earnestly requested
"but please do not let this git into the papers or magazines."
Quite different was the one who said, "I would be willing to work
like hell and not demand pay." Almost all of them wanted me to
telegraph, at their expense, my acceptance of their services; and
quite a number offered to put up a bond to guarantee their
appearance on sailing date.
Some were rather vague in their own minds concerning the work to be
done on the Snark; as, for instance, the one who wrote: "I am
taking the liberty of writing you this note to find out if there
would be any possibility of my going with you as one of the crew of
your boat to make sketches and illustrations." Several, unaware of
the needful work on a small craft like the Snark, offered to serve,
as one of them phrased it, "as assistant in filing materials
collected for books and novels." That's what one gets for being
"Let me give my qualifications for the job," wrote one. "I am an
orphan living with my uncle, who is a hot revolutionary socialist
and who says a man without the red blood of adventure is an animated
dish-rag." Said another: "I can swim some, though I don't know any
of the new strokes. But what is more important than strokes, the
water is a friend of mine." "If I was put alone in a sail-boat, I
could get her anywhere I wanted to go," was the qualification of a
third--and a better qualification than the one that follows, "I have
also watched the fish-boats unload." But possibly the prize should
go to this one, who very subtly conveys his deep knowledge of the
world and life by saying: "My age, in years, is twenty-two."
Then there were the simple straight-out, homely, and unadorned
letters of young boys, lacking in the felicities of expression, it
is true, but desiring greatly to make the voyage. These were the
hardest of all to decline, and each time I declined one it seemed as
if I had struck Youth a slap in the face. They were so earnest,
these boys, they wanted so much to go. "I am sixteen but large for
my age," said one; and another, "Seventeen but large and healthy."
"I am as strong at least as the average boy of my size," said an
evident weakling. "Not afraid of any kind of work," was what many
said, while one in particular, to lure me no doubt by
inexpensiveness, wrote: "I can pay my way to the Pacific coast, so
that part would probably be acceptable to you." "Going around the
world is THE ONE THING I want to do," said one, and it seemed to be
the one thing that a few hundred wanted to do. "I have no one who
cares whether I go or not," was the pathetic note sounded by
another. One had sent his photograph, and speaking of it, said,
"I'm a homely-looking sort of a chap, but looks don't always count."
And I am confident that the lad who wrote the following would have
turned out all right: "My age is 19 years, but I am rather small
and consequently won't take up much room, but I'm tough as the
devil." And there was one thirteen-year-old applicant that Charmian
and I fell in love with, and it nearly broke our hearts to refuse
But it must not be imagined that most of my volunteers were boys; on
the contrary, boys constituted a very small proportion. There were
men and women from every walk in life. Physicians, surgeons, and
dentists offered in large numbers to come along, and, like all the
professional men, offered to come without pay, to serve in any
capacity, and to pay, even, for the privilege of so serving.
There was no end of compositors and reporters who wanted to come, to
say nothing of experienced valets, chefs, and stewards. Civil
engineers were keen on the voyage; "lady" companions galore cropped
up for Charmian; while I was deluged with the applications of would-
be private secretaries. Many high school and university students
yearned for the voyage, and every trade in the working class
developed a few applicants, the machinists, electricians, and
engineers being especially strong on the trip. I was surprised at
the number, who, in musty law offices, heard the call of adventure;
and I was more than surprised by the number of elderly and retired
sea captains who were still thralls to the sea. Several young
fellows, with millions coming to them later on, were wild for the
adventure, as were also several county superintendents of schools.
Fathers and sons wanted to come, and many men with their wives, to
say nothing of the young woman stenographer who wrote: "Write
immediately if you need me. I shall bring my typewriter on the
first train." But the best of all is the following--observe the
delicate way in which he worked in his wife: "I thought I would
drop you a line of inquiry as to the possibility of making the trip
with you, am 24 years of age, married and broke, and a trip of that
kind would be just what we are looking for."
Come to think of it, for the average man it must be fairly difficult
to write an honest letter of self-recommendation. One of my
correspondents was so stumped that he began his letter with the
words, "This is a hard task"; and, after vainly trying to describe
his good points, he wound up with, "It is a hard job writing about
one's self." Nevertheless, there was one who gave himself a most
glowing and lengthy character, and in conclusion stated that he had
greatly enjoyed writing it.
"But suppose this: your cabin-boy could run your engine, could
repair it when out of order. Suppose he could take his turn at the
wheel, could do any carpenter or machinist work. Suppose he is
strong, healthy, and willing to work. Would you not rather have him
than a kid that gets seasick and can't do anything but wash dishes?"
It was letters of this sort that I hated to decline. The writer of
it, self-taught in English, had been only two years in the United
States, and, as he said, "I am not wishing to go with you to earn my
living, but I wish to learn and see." At the time of writing to me
he was a designer for one of the big motor manufacturing companies;
he had been to sea quite a bit, and had been used all his life to
the handling of small boats.
"I have a good position, but it matters not so with me as I prefer
travelling," wrote another. "As to salary, look at me, and if I am
worth a dollar or two, all right, and if I am not, nothing said. As
to my honesty and character, I shall be pleased to show you my
employers. Never drink, no tobacco, but to be honest, I myself,
after a little more experience, want to do a little writing."
"I can assure you that I am eminently respectable, but find other
respectable people tiresome." The man who wrote the foregoing
certainly had me guessing, and I am still wondering whether or not
he'd have found me tiresome, or what the deuce he did mean.
"I have seen better days than what I am passing through to-day,"
wrote an old salt, "but I have seen them a great deal worse also."
But the willingness to sacrifice on the part of the man who wrote
the following was so touching that I could not accept: "I have a
father, a mother, brothers and sisters, dear friends and a lucrative
position, and yet I will sacrifice all to become one of your crew."
Another volunteer I could never have accepted was the finicky young
fellow who, to show me how necessary it was that I should give him a
chance, pointed out that "to go in the ordinary boat, be it schooner
or steamer, would be impracticable, for I would have to mix among
and live with the ordinary type of seamen, which as a rule is not a
clean sort of life."
Then there was the young fellow of twenty-six, who had "run through
the gamut of human emotions," and had "done everything from cooking
to attending Stanford University," and who, at the present writing,
was "A vaquero on a fifty-five-thousand-acre range." Quite in
contrast was the modesty of the one who said, "I am not aware of
possessing any particular qualities that would be likely to
recommend me to your consideration. But should you be impressed,
you might consider it worth a few minutes' time to answer.
Otherwise, there's always work at the trade. Not expecting, but
hoping, I remain, etc."
But I have held my head in both my hands ever since, trying to
figure out the intellectual kinship between myself and the one who
wrote: "Long before I knew of you, I had mixed political economy
and history and deducted therefrom many of your conclusions in
Here, in its way, is one of the best, as it is the briefest, that I
received: "If any of the present company signed on for cruise
happens to get cold feet and you need one more who understands
boating, engines, etc., would like to hear from you, etc." Here is
another brief one: "Point blank, would like to have the job of
cabin-boy on your trip around the world, or any other job on board.
Am nineteen years old, weigh one hundred and forty pounds, and am an
And here is a good one from a man a "little over five feet long":
"When I read about your manly plan of sailing around the world in a
small boat with Mrs. London, I was so much rejoiced that I felt I
was planning it myself, and I thought to write you about filling
either position of cook or cabin-boy myself, but for some reason I
did not do it, and I came to Denver from Oakland to join my friend's
business last month, but everything is worse and unfavourable. But
fortunately you have postponed your departure on account of the
great earthquake, so I finally decided to propose you to let me fill
either of the positions. I am not very strong, being a man of a
little over five feet long, although I am of sound health and
"I think I can add to your outfit an additional method of utilizing
the power of the wind," wrote a well-wisher, "which, while not
interfering with ordinary sails in light breezes, will enable you to
use the whole force of the wind in its mightiest blows, so that even
when its force is so great that you may have to take in every inch
of canvas used in the ordinary way, you may carry the fullest spread
with my method. With my attachment your craft could not be UPSET."
The foregoing letter was written in San Francisco under the date of
April 16, 1906. And two days later, on April 18, came the Great
Earthquake. And that's why I've got it in for that earthquake, for
it made a refugee out of the man who wrote the letter, and prevented
us from ever getting together.
Many of my brother socialists objected to my making the cruise, of
which the following is typical: "The Socialist Cause and the
millions of oppressed victims of Capitalism has a right and claim
upon your life and services. If, however, you persist, then, when
you swallow the last mouthful of salt chuck you can hold before
sinking, remember that we at least protested."
One wanderer over the world who "could, if opportunity afforded,
recount many unusual scenes and events," spent several pages
ardently trying to get to the point of his letter, and at last
achieved the following: "Still I am neglecting the point I set out
to write you about. So will say at once that it has been stated in
print that you and one or two others are going to take a cruize
around the world a little fifty- or sixty-foot boat. I therefore
cannot get myself to think that a man of your attainments and
experience would attempt such a proceeding, which is nothing less
than courting death in that way. And even if you were to escape for
some time, your whole Person, and those with you would be bruised
from the ceaseless motion of a craft of the above size, even if she
were padded, a thing not usual at sea." Thank you, kind friend,
thank you for that qualification, "a thing not usual at sea." Nor
is this friend ignorant of the sea. As he says of himself, "I am
not a land-lubber, and I have sailed every sea and ocean." And he
winds up his letter with: "Although not wishing to offend, it would
be madness to take any woman outside the bay even, in such a craft."
And yet, at the moment of writing this, Charmian is in her state-
room at the typewriter, Martin is cooking dinner, Tochigi is setting
the table, Roscoe and Bert are caulking the deck, and the Snark is
steering herself some five knots an hour in a rattling good sea--and
the Snark is not padded, either.
"Seeing a piece in the paper about your intended trip, would like to
know if you would like a good crew, as there is six of us boys all
good sailor men, with good discharges from the Navy and Merchant
Service, all true Americans, all between the ages of 20 and 22, and
at present are employed as riggers at the Union Iron Works, and
would like very much to sail with you."--It was letters like this
that made me regret the boat was not larger.
And here writes the one woman in all the world--outside of Charmian-
-for the cruise: "If you have not succeeded in getting a cook I
would like very much to take the trip in that capacity. I am a
woman of fifty, healthy and capable, and can do the work for the
small company that compose the crew of the Snark. I am a very good
cook and a very good sailor and something of a traveller, and the
length of the voyage, if of ten years' duration, would suit me
better than one. References, etc."
Some day, when I have made a lot of money, I'm going to build a big
ship, with room in it for a thousand volunteers. They will have to
do all the work of navigating that boat around the world, or they'll
stay at home. I believe that they'll work the boat around the
world, for I know that Adventure is not dead. I know Adventure is
not dead because I have had a long and intimate correspondence with
CHAPTER IV--FINDING ONE'S WAY ABOUT
"But," our friends objected, "how dare you go to sea without a
navigator on board? You're not a navigator, are you?"
I had to confess that I was not a navigator, that I had never looked
through a sextant in my life, and that I doubted if I could tell a
sextant from a nautical almanac. And when they asked if Roscoe was
a navigator, I shook my head. Roscoe resented this. He had glanced
at the "Epitome," bought for our voyage, knew how to use logarithm
tables, had seen a sextant at some time, and, what of this and of
his seafaring ancestry, he concluded that he did know navigation.
But Roscoe was wrong, I still insist. When a young boy he came from
Maine to California by way of the Isthmus of Panama, and that was
the only time in his life that he was out of sight of land. He had
never gone to a school of navigation, nor passed an examination in
the same; nor had he sailed the deep sea and learned the art from
some other navigator. He was a San Francisco Bay yachtsman, where
land is always only several miles away and the art of navigation is
So the Snark started on her long voyage without a navigator. We
beat through the Golden Gate on April 23, and headed for the
Hawaiian Islands, twenty-one hundred sea-miles away as the gull
flies. And the outcome was our justification. We arrived. And we
arrived, furthermore, without any trouble, as you shall see; that
is, without any trouble to amount to anything. To begin with,
Roscoe tackled the navigating. He had the theory all right, but it
was the first time he had ever applied it, as was evidenced by the
erratic behaviour of the Snark. Not but what the Snark was
perfectly steady on the sea; the pranks she cut were on the chart.
On a day with a light breeze she would make a jump on the chart that
advertised "a wet sail and a flowing sheet," and on a day when she
just raced over the ocean, she scarcely changed her position on the
chart. Now when one's boat has logged six knots for twenty-four
consecutive hours, it is incontestable that she has covered one
hundred and forty-four miles of ocean. The ocean was all right, and
so was the patent log; as for speed, one saw it with his own eyes.
Therefore the thing that was not all right was the figuring that
refused to boost the Snark along over the chart. Not that this
happened every day, but that it did happen. And it was perfectly
proper and no more than was to be expected from a first attempt at
applying a theory.
The acquisition of the knowledge of navigation has a strange effect
on the minds of men. The average navigator speaks of navigation
with deep respect. To the layman navigation is a deed and awful
mystery, which feeling has been generated in him by the deep and
awful respect for navigation that the layman has seen displayed by
navigators. I have known frank, ingenuous, and modest young men,
open as the day, to learn navigation and at once betray
secretiveness, reserve, and self-importance as if they had achieved
some tremendous intellectual attainment. The average navigator
impresses the layman as a priest of some holy rite. With bated
breath, the amateur yachtsman navigator invites one in to look at
his chronometer. And so it was that our friends suffered such
apprehension at our sailing without a navigator.
During the building of the Snark, Roscoe and I had an agreement,
something like this: "I'll furnish the books and instruments," I
said, "and do you study up navigation now. I'll be too busy to do
any studying. Then, when we get to sea, you can teach me what you
have learned." Roscoe was delighted. Furthermore, Roscoe was as
frank and ingenuous and modest as the young men I have described.
But when we got out to sea and he began to practise the holy rite,
while I looked on admiringly, a change, subtle and distinctive,
marked his bearing. When he shot the sun at noon, the glow of
achievement wrapped him in lambent flame. When he went below,
figured out his observation, and then returned on deck and announced
our latitude and longitude, there was an authoritative ring in his
voice that was new to all of us. But that was not the worst of it.
He became filled with incommunicable information. And the more he
discovered the reasons for the erratic jumps of the Snark over the
chart, and the less the Snark jumped, the more incommunicable and
holy and awful became his information. My mild suggestions that it
was about time that I began to learn, met with no hearty response,
with no offers on his part to help me. He displayed not the
slightest intention of living up to our agreement.
Now this was not Roscoe's fault; he could not help it. He had
merely gone the way of all the men who learned navigation before
him. By an understandable and forgivable confusion of values, plus
a loss of orientation, he felt weighted by responsibility, and
experienced the possession of power that was like unto that of a
god. All his life Roscoe had lived on land, and therefore in sight
of land. Being constantly in sight of land, with landmarks to guide
him, he had managed, with occasional difficulties, to steer his body
around and about the earth. Now he found himself on the sea, wide-
stretching, bounded only by the eternal circle of the sky. This
circle looked always the same. There were no landmarks. The sun
rose to the east and set to the west and the stars wheeled through
the night. But who may look at the sun or the stars and say, "My
place on the face of the earth at the present moment is four and
three-quarter miles to the west of Jones's Cash Store of
Smithersville"? or "I know where I am now, for the Little Dipper
informs me that Boston is three miles away on the second turning to
the right"? And yet that was precisely what Roscoe did. That he
was astounded by the achievement, is putting it mildly. He stood in
reverential awe of himself; he had performed a miraculous feat. The
act of finding himself on the face of the waters became a rite, and
he felt himself a superior being to the rest of us who knew not this
rite and were dependent on him for being shepherded across the
heaving and limitless waste, the briny highroad that connects the
continents and whereon there are no mile-stones. So, with the
sextant he made obeisance to the sun-god, he consulted ancient tomes
and tables of magic characters, muttered prayers in a strange tongue
that sounded like INDEXERRORPARALLAXREFRACTION, made cabalistic
signs on paper, added and carried one, and then, on a piece of holy
script called the Grail--I mean the Chart--he placed his finger on a
certain space conspicuous for its blankness and said, "Here we are."
When we looked at the blank space and asked, "And where is that?" he
answered in the cipher-code of the higher priesthood, "31-15-47
north, 133-5-30 west." And we said "Oh," and felt mighty small.
So I aver, it was not Roscoe's fault. He was like unto a god, and
he carried us in the hollow of his hand across the blank spaces on
the chart. I experienced a great respect for Roscoe; this respect
grew so profound that had he commanded, "Kneel down and worship me,"
I know that I should have flopped down on the deck and yammered.
But, one day, there came a still small thought to me that said:
"This is not a god; this is Roscoe, a mere man like myself. What he
has done, I can do. Who taught him? Himself. Go you and do
likewise--be your own teacher." And right there Roscoe crashed, and
he was high priest of the Snark no longer. I invaded the sanctuary
and demanded the ancient tomes and magic tables, also the prayer-
wheel--the sextant, I mean.
And now, in simple language. I shall describe how I taught myself
navigation. One whole afternoon I sat in the cockpit, steering with
one hand and studying logarithms with the other. Two afternoons,
two hours each, I studied the general theory of navigation and the
particular process of taking a meridian altitude. Then I took the
sextant, worked out the index error, and shot the sun. The figuring
from the data of this observation was child's play. In the
"Epitome" and the "Nautical Almanac" were scores of cunning tables,
all worked out by mathematicians and astronomers. It was like using
interest tables and lightning-calculator tables such as you all
know. The mystery was mystery no longer. I put my finger on the
chart and announced that that was where we were. I was right too,
or at least I was as right as Roscoe, who selected a spot a quarter
of a mile away from mine. Even he was willing to split the distance
with me. I had exploded the mystery, and yet, such was the miracle
of it, I was conscious of new power in me, and I felt the thrill and
tickle of pride. And when Martin asked me, in the same humble and
respectful way I had previously asked Roscoe, as to where we were,
it was with exaltation and spiritual chest-throwing that I answered
in the cipher-code of the higher priesthood and heard Martin's self-
abasing and worshipful "Oh." As for Charmian, I felt that in a new
way I had proved my right to her; and I was aware of another
feeling, namely, that she was a most fortunate woman to have a man
I couldn't help it. I tell it as a vindication of Roscoe and all
the other navigators. The poison of power was working in me. I was
not as other men--most other men; I knew what they did not know,--
the mystery of the heavens, that pointed out the way across the
deep. And the taste of power I had received drove me on. I steered
at the wheel long hours with one hand, and studied mystery with the
other. By the end of the week, teaching myself, I was able to do
divers things. For instance, I shot the North Star, at night, of
course; got its altitude, corrected for index error, dip, etc., and
found our latitude. And this latitude agreed with the latitude of
the previous noon corrected by dead reckoning up to that moment.
Proud? Well, I was even prouder with my next miracle. I was going
to turn in at nine o'clock. I worked out the problem, self-
instructed, and learned what star of the first magnitude would be
passing the meridian around half-past eight. This star proved to be
Alpha Crucis. I had never heard of the star before. I looked it up
on the star map. It was one of the stars of the Southern Cross.
What! thought I; have we been sailing with the Southern Cross in the
sky of nights and never known it? Dolts that we are! Gudgeons and
moles! I couldn't believe it. I went over the problem again, and
verified it. Charmian had the wheel from eight till ten that
evening. I told her to keep her eyes open and look due south for
the Southern Cross. And when the stars came out, there shone the
Southern Cross low on the horizon. Proud? No medicine man nor high
priest was ever prouder. Furthermore, with the prayer-wheel I shot
Alpha Crucis and from its altitude worked out our latitude. And
still furthermore, I shot the North Star, too, and it agreed with
what had been told me by the Southern Cross. Proud? Why, the
language of the stars was mine, and I listened and heard them
telling me my way over the deep.
Proud? I was a worker of miracles. I forgot how easily I had
taught myself from the printed page. I forgot that all the work
(and a tremendous work, too) had been done by the masterminds before
me, the astronomers and mathematicians, who had discovered and
elaborated the whole science of navigation and made the tables in
the "Epitome." I remembered only the everlasting miracle of it--
that I had listened to the voices of the stars and been told my
place upon the highway of the sea. Charmian did not know, Martin
did not know, Tochigi, the cabin-boy, did not know. But I told
them. I was God's messenger. I stood between them and infinity. I
translated the high celestial speech into terms of their ordinary
understanding. We were heaven-directed, and it was I who could read
the sign-post of the sky!--I! I!
And now, in a cooler moment, I hasten to blab the whole simplicity
of it, to blab on Roscoe and the other navigators and the rest of
the priesthood, all for fear that I may become even as they,
secretive, immodest, and inflated with self-esteem. And I want to
say this now: any young fellow with ordinary gray matter, ordinary
education, and with the slightest trace of the student-mind, can get
the books, and charts, and instruments and teach himself navigation.
Now I must not be misunderstood. Seamanship is an entirely
different matter. It is not learned in a day, nor in many days; it
requires years. Also, navigating by dead reckoning requires long
study and practice. But navigating by observations of the sun,
moon, and stars, thanks to the astronomers and mathematicians, is
child's play. Any average young fellow can teach himself in a week.
And yet again I must not be misunderstood. I do not mean to say
that at the end of a week a young fellow could take charge of a
fifteen-thousand-ton steamer, driving twenty knots an hour through
the brine, racing from land to land, fair weather and foul, clear
sky or cloudy, steering by degrees on the compass card and making
landfalls with most amazing precision. But what I do mean is just
this: the average young fellow I have described can get into a
staunch sail-boat and put out across the ocean, without knowing
anything about navigation, and at the end of the week he will know
enough to know where he is on the chart. He will be able to take a
meridian observation with fair accuracy, and from that observation,
with ten minutes of figuring, work out his latitude and longitude.
And, carrying neither freight nor passengers, being under no press
to reach his destination, he can jog comfortably along, and if at
any time he doubts his own navigation and fears an imminent
landfall, he can heave to all night and proceed in the morning.
Joshua Slocum sailed around the world a few years ago in a thirty-
seven-foot boat all by himself. I shall never forget, in his
narrative of the voyage, where he heartily indorsed the idea of
young men, in similar small boats, making similar voyage. I
promptly indorsed his idea, and so heartily that I took my wife
along. While it certainly makes a Cook's tour look like thirty
cents, on top of that, amid on top of the fun and pleasure, it is a
splendid education for a young man--oh, not a mere education in the
things of the world outside, of lands, and peoples, and climates,
but an education in the world inside, an education in one's self, a
chance to learn one's own self, to get on speaking terms with one's
soul. Then there is the training and the disciplining of it.
First, naturally, the young fellow will learn his limitations; and
next, inevitably, he will proceed to press back those limitations.
And he cannot escape returning from such a voyage a bigger and
better man. And as for sport, it is a king's sport, taking one's
self around the world, doing it with one's own hands, depending on
no one but one's self, and at the end, back at the starting-point,
contemplating with inner vision the planet rushing through space,
and saying, "I did it; with my own hands I did it. I went clear
around that whirling sphere, and I can travel alone, without any
nurse of a sea-captain to guide my steps across the seas. I may not
fly to other stars, but of this star I myself am master."
As I write these lines I lift my eyes and look seaward. I am on the
beach of Waikiki on the island of Oahu. Far, in the azure sky, the
trade-wind clouds drift low over the blue-green turquoise of the
deep sea. Nearer, the sea is emerald and light olive-green. Then
comes the reef, where the water is all slaty purple flecked with
red. Still nearer are brighter greens and tans, lying in alternate
stripes and showing where sandbeds lie between the living coral
banks. Through and over and out of these wonderful colours tumbles
and thunders a magnificent surf. As I say, I lift my eyes to all
this, and through the white crest of a breaker suddenly appears a
dark figure, erect, a man-fish or a sea-god, on the very forward
face of the crest where the top falls over and down, driving in
toward shore, buried to his loins in smoking spray, caught up by the
sea and flung landward, bodily, a quarter of a mile. It is a Kanaka
on a surf-board. And I know that when I have finished these lines I
shall be out in that riot of colour and pounding surf, trying to bit
those breakers even as he, and failing as he never failed, but
living life as the best of us may live it. And the picture of that
coloured sea and that flying sea-god Kanaka becomes another reason
for the young man to go west, and farther west, beyond the Baths of
Sunset, and still west till he arrives home again.
But to return. Please do not think that I already know it all. I
know only the rudiments of navigation. There is a vast deal yet for
me to learn. On the Snark there is a score of fascinating books on
navigation waiting for me. There is the danger-angle of Lecky,
there is the line of Sumner, which, when you know least of all where
you are, shows most conclusively where you are, and where you are
not. There are dozens and dozens of methods of finding one's
location on the deep, and one can work years before he masters it
all in all its fineness.
Even in the little we did learn there were slips that accounted for
the apparently antic behaviour of the Snark. On Thursday, May 16,
for instance, the trade wind failed us. During the twenty-four
hours that ended Friday at noon, by dead reckoning we had not sailed
twenty miles. Yet here are our positions, at noon, for the two
days, worked out from our observations:
Thursday 20 degrees 57 minutes 9 seconds N
152 degrees 40 minutes 30 seconds W
Friday 21 degrees 15 minutes 33 seconds N
154 degrees 12 minutes W
The difference between the two positions was something like eighty
miles. Yet we knew we had not travelled twenty miles. Now our
figuring was all right. We went over it several times. What was
wrong was the observations we had taken. To take a correct
observation requires practice and skill, and especially so on a
small craft like the Snark. The violently moving boat and the
closeness of the observer's eye to the surface of the water are to
blame. A big wave that lifts up a mile off is liable to steal the
But in our particular case there was another perturbing factor. The
sun, in its annual march north through the heavens, was increasing
its declination. On the 19th parallel of north latitude in the
middle of May the sun is nearly overhead. The angle of arc was
between eighty-eight and eighty-nine degrees. Had it been ninety
degrees it would have been straight overhead. It was on another day
that we learned a few things about taking the altitude of the almost
perpendicular sun. Roscoe started in drawing the sun down to the
eastern horizon, and he stayed by that point of the compass despite
the fact that the sun would pass the meridian to the south. I, on
the other hand, started in to draw the sun down to south-east and
strayed away to the south-west. You see, we were teaching
ourselves. As a result, at twenty-five minutes past twelve by the
ship's time, I called twelve o'clock by the sun. Now this signified
that we had changed our location on the face of the world by twenty-
five minutes, which was equal to something like six degrees of
longitude, or three hundred and fifty miles. This showed the Snark
had travelled fifteen knots per hour for twenty-four consecutive
hours--and we had never noticed it! It was absurd and grotesque.
But Roscoe, still looking east, averred that it was not yet twelve
o'clock. He was bent on giving us a twenty-knot clip. Then we
began to train our sextants rather wildly all around the horizon,
and wherever we looked, there was the sun, puzzlingly close to the
sky-line, sometimes above it and sometimes below it. In one
direction the sun was proclaiming morning, in another direction it
was proclaiming afternoon. The sun was all right--we knew that;
therefore we were all wrong. And the rest of the afternoon we spent
in the cockpit reading up the matter in the books and finding out
what was wrong. We missed the observation that day, but we didn't
the next. We had learned.
And we learned well, better than for a while we thought we had. At
the beginning of the second dog-watch one evening, Charmian and I
sat down on the forecastle-head for a rubber of cribbage. Chancing
to glance ahead, I saw cloud-capped mountains rising from the sea.
We were rejoiced at the sight of land, but I was in despair over our
navigation. I thought we had learned something, yet our position at
noon, plus what we had run since, did not put us within a hundred
miles of land. But there was the land, fading away before our eyes
in the fires of sunset. The land was all right. There was no
disputing it. Therefore our navigation was all wrong. But it
wasn't. That land we saw was the summit of Haleakala, the House of
the Sun, the greatest extinct volcano in the world. It towered ten
thousand feet above the sea, and it was all of a hundred miles away.
We sailed all night at a seven-knot clip, and in the morning the
House of the Sun was still before us, and it took a few more hours
of sailing to bring it abreast of us. "That island is Maui," we
said, verifying by the chart. "That next island sticking out is
Molokai, where the lepers are. And the island next to that is Oahu.
There is Makapuu Head now. We'll be in Honolulu to-morrow. Our
navigation is all right."
CHAPTER V--THE FIRST LANDFALL
"It will not be so monotonous at sea," I promised my fellow-voyagers
on the Snark. "The sea is filled with life. It is so populous that
every day something new is happening. Almost as soon as we pass
through the Golden Gate and head south we'll pick up with the flying
fish. We'll be having them fried for breakfast. We'll be catching
bonita and dolphin, and spearing porpoises from the bowsprit. And
then there are the sharks--sharks without end."
We passed through the Golden Gate and headed south. We dropped the
mountains of California beneath the horizon, and daily the surf grew
warmer. But there were no flying fish, no bonita and dolphin. The
ocean was bereft of life. Never had I sailed on so forsaken a sea.
Always, before, in the same latitudes, had I encountered flying
"Never mind," I said. "Wait till we get off the coast of Southern
California. Then we'll pick up the flying fish."
We came abreast of Southern California, abreast of the Peninsula of
Lower California, abreast of the coast of Mexico; and there were no
flying fish. Nor was there anything else. No life moved. As the
days went by the absence of life became almost uncanny.
"Never mind," I said. "When we do pick up with the flying fish
we'll pick up with everything else. The flying fish is the staff of
life for all the other breeds. Everything will come in a bunch when
we find the flying fish."
When I should have headed the Snark south-west for Hawaii, I still
held her south. I was going to find those flying fish. Finally the
time came when, if I wanted to go to Honolulu, I should have headed
the Snark due west, instead of which I kept her south. Not until
latitude 19 degrees did we encounter the first flying fish. He was
very much alone. I saw him. Five other pairs of eager eyes scanned
the sea all day, but never saw another. So sparse were the flying
fish that nearly a week more elapsed before the last one on board
saw his first flying fish. As for the dolphin, bonita, porpoise,
and all the other hordes of life--there weren't any.
Not even a shark broke surface with his ominous dorsal fin. Bert
took a dip daily under the bowsprit, hanging on to the stays and
dragging his body through the water. And daily he canvassed the
project of letting go and having a decent swim. I did my best to
dissuade him. But with him I had lost all standing as an authority
on sea life.
"If there are sharks," he demanded, "why don't they show up?"
I assured him that if he really did let go and have a swim the
sharks would promptly appear. This was a bluff on my part. I
didn't believe it. It lasted as a deterrent for two days. The
third day the wind fell calm, and it was pretty hot. The Snark was
moving a knot an hour. Bert dropped down under the bowsprit and let
go. And now behold the perversity of things. We had sailed across
two thousand miles and more of ocean and had met with no sharks.
Within five minutes after Bert finished his swim, the fin of a shark
was cutting the surface in circles around the Snark.
There was something wrong about that shark. It bothered me. It had
no right to be there in that deserted ocean. The more I thought
about it, the more incomprehensible it became. But two hours later
we sighted land and the mystery was cleared up. He had come to us
from the land, and not from the uninhabited deep. He had presaged
the landfall. He was the messenger of the land.
Twenty-seven days out from San Francisco we arrived at the island of
Oahu, Territory of Hawaii. In the early morning we drifted around
Diamond Head into full view of Honolulu; and then the ocean burst
suddenly into life. Flying fish cleaved the air in glittering
squadrons. In five minutes we saw more of them than during the
whole voyage. Other fish, large ones, of various sorts, leaped into
the air. There was life everywhere, on sea and shore. We could see
the masts and funnels of the shipping in the harbour, the hotels and
bathers along the beach at Waikiki, the smoke rising from the
dwelling-houses high up on the volcanic slopes of the Punch Bowl and
Tantalus. The custom-house tug was racing toward us and a big
school of porpoises got under our bow and began cutting the most
ridiculous capers. The port doctor's launch came charging out at
us, and a big sea turtle broke the surface with his back and took a
look at us. Never was there such a burgeoning of life. Strange
faces were on our decks, strange voices were speaking, and copies of
that very morning's newspaper, with cable reports from all the
world, were thrust before our eyes. Incidentally, we read that the
Snark and all hands had been lost at sea, and that she had been a
very unseaworthy craft anyway. And while we read this information a
wireless message was being received by the congressional party on
the summit of Haleakala announcing the safe arrival of the Snark.
It was the Snark's first landfall--and such a landfall! For twenty-
seven days we had been on the deserted deep, and it was pretty hard
to realize that there was so much life in the world. We were made
dizzy by it. We could not take it all in at once. We were like
awakened Rip Van Winkles, and it seemed to us that we were dreaming.
On one side the azure sea lapped across the horizon into the azure
sky; on the other side the sea lifted itself into great breakers of
emerald that fell in a snowy smother upon a white coral beach.
Beyond the beach, green plantations of sugar-cane undulated gently
upward to steeper slopes, which, in turn, became jagged volcanic
crests, drenched with tropic showers and capped by stupendous masses
of trade-wind clouds. At any rate, it was a most beautiful dream.
The Snark turned and headed directly in toward the emerald surf,
till it lifted and thundered on either hand; and on either hand,
scarce a biscuit-toss away, the reef showed its long teeth, pale
green and menacing.
Abruptly the land itself, in a riot of olive-greens of a thousand
hues, reached out its arms and folded the Snark in. There was no
perilous passage through the reef, no emerald surf and azure sea--
nothing but a warm soft land, a motionless lagoon, and tiny beaches
on which swam dark-skinned tropic children. The sea had
disappeared. The Snark's anchor rumbled the chain through the
hawse-pipe, and we lay without movement on a "lineless, level
floor." It was all so beautiful and strange that we could not
accept it as real. On the chart this place was called Pearl
Harbour, but we called it Dream Harbour.
A launch came off to us; in it were members of the Hawaiian Yacht
Club, come to greet us and make us welcome, with true Hawaiian
hospitality, to all they had. They were ordinary men, flesh and
blood and all the rest; but they did not tend to break our dreaming.
Our last memories of men were of United States marshals and of
panicky little merchants with rusty dollars for souls, who, in a
reeking atmosphere of soot and coal-dust, laid grimy hands upon the
Snark and held her back from her world adventure. But these men who
came to meet us were clean men. A healthy tan was on their cheeks,
and their eyes were not dazzled and bespectacled from gazing
overmuch at glittering dollar-heaps. No, they merely verified the
dream. They clinched it with their unsmirched souls.
So we went ashore with them across a level flashing sea to the
wonderful green land. We landed on a tiny wharf, and the dream
became more insistent; for know that for twenty-seven days we had
been rocking across the ocean on the tiny Snark. Not once in all
those twenty-seven days had we known a moment's rest, a moment's
cessation from movement. This ceaseless movement had become
ingrained. Body and brain we had rocked and rolled so long that
when we climbed out on the tiny wharf kept on rocking and rolling.
This, naturally, we attributed to the wharf. It was projected
psychology. I spraddled along the wharf and nearly fell into the
water. I glanced at Charmian, and the way she walked made me sad.
The wharf had all the seeming of a ship's deck. It lifted, tilted,
heaved and sank; and since there were no handrails on it, it kept
Charmian and me busy avoiding falling in. I never saw such a
preposterous little wharf. Whenever I watched it closely, it
refused to roll; but as soon as I took my attention off from it,
away it went, just like the Snark. Once, I caught it in the act,
just as it upended, and I looked down the length of it for two
hundred feet, and for all the world it was like the deck of a ship
ducking into a huge head-sea.
At last, however, supported by our hosts, we negotiated the wharf
and gained the land. But the land was no better. The very first
thing it did was to tilt up on one side, and far as the eye could
see I watched it tilt, clear to its jagged, volcanic backbone, and I
saw the clouds above tilt, too. This was no stable, firm-founded
land, else it would not cut such capers. It was like all the rest
of our landfall, unreal. It was a dream. At any moment, like
shifting vapour, it might dissolve away. The thought entered my
head that perhaps it was my fault, that my head was swimming or that
something I had eaten had disagreed with me. But I glanced at
Charmian and her sad walk, and even as I glanced I saw her stagger
and bump into the yachtsman by whose side she walked. I spoke to
her, and she complained about the antic behaviour of the land.
We walked across a spacious, wonderful lawn and down an avenue of
royal palms, and across more wonderful lawn in the gracious shade of
stately trees. The air was filled with the songs of birds and was
heavy with rich warm fragrances--wafture from great lilies, and
blazing blossoms of hibiscus, and other strange gorgeous tropic
flowers. The dream was becoming almost impossibly beautiful to us
who for so long had seen naught but the restless, salty sea.
Charmian reached out her hand and clung to me--for support against
the ineffable beauty of it, thought I. But no. As I supported her
I braced my legs, while the flowers and lawns reeled and swung
around me. It was like an earthquake, only it quickly passed
without doing any harm. It was fairly difficult to catch the land
playing these tricks. As long as I kept my mind on it, nothing
happened. But as soon as my attention was distracted, away it went,
the whole panorama, swinging and heaving and tilting at all sorts of
angles. Once, however, I turned my head suddenly and caught that
stately line of royal palms swinging in a great arc across the sky.
But it stopped, just as soon as I caught it, and became a placid
Next we came to a house of coolness, with great sweeping veranda,
where lotus-eaters might dwell. Windows and doors were wide open to
the breeze, and the songs and fragrances blew lazily in and out.
The walls were hung with tapa-cloths. Couches with grass-woven
covers invited everywhere, and there was a grand piano, that played,
I was sure, nothing more exciting than lullabies. Servants--
Japanese maids in native costume--drifted around and about,
noiselessly, like butterflies. Everything was preternaturally cool.
Here was no blazing down of a tropic sun upon an unshrinking sea.
It was too good to be true. But it was not real. It was a dream-
dwelling. I knew, for I turned suddenly and caught the grand piano
cavorting in a spacious corner of the room. I did not say anything,
for just then we were being received by a gracious woman, a
beautiful Madonna, clad in flowing white and shod with sandals, who
greeted us as though she had known us always.
We sat at table on the lotus-eating veranda, served by the butterfly
maids, and ate strange foods and partook of a nectar called poi.
But the dream threatened to dissolve. It shimmered and trembled
like an iridescent bubble about to break. I was just glancing out
at the green grass and stately trees and blossoms of hibiscus, when
suddenly I felt the table move. The table, and the Madonna across
from me, and the veranda of the lotus-eaters, the scarlet hibiscus,
the greensward and the trees--all lifted and tilted before my eyes,
and heaved and sank down into the trough of a monstrous sea. I
gripped my chair convulsively and held on. I had a feeling that I
was holding on to the dream as well as the chair. I should not have
been surprised had the sea rushed in and drowned all that fairyland
and had I found myself at the wheel of the Snark just looking up
casually from the study of logarithms. But the dream persisted. I
looked covertly at the Madonna and her husband. They evidenced no
perturbation. The dishes had not moved upon the table. The
hibiscus and trees and grass were still there. Nothing had changed.
I partook of more nectar, and the dream was more real than ever.
"Will you have some iced tea?" asked the Madonna; and then her side
of the table sank down gently and I said yes to her at an angle of
"Speaking of sharks," said her husband, "up at Niihau there was a
man--" And at that moment the table lifted and heaved, and I gazed
upward at him at an angle of forty-five degrees.
So the luncheon went on, and I was glad that I did not have to bear
the affliction of watching Charmian walk. Suddenly, however, a
mysterious word of fear broke from the lips of the lotus-eaters.
"Ah, ah," thought I, "now the dream goes glimmering." I clutched
the chair desperately, resolved to drag back to the reality of the
Snark some tangible vestige of this lotus land. I felt the whole
dream lurching and pulling to be gone. Just then the mysterious
word of fear was repeated. It sounded like REPORTERS. I looked and
saw three of them coming across the lawn. Oh, blessed reporters!
Then the dream was indisputably real after all. I glanced out
across the shining water and saw the Snark at anchor, and I
remembered that I had sailed in her from San Francisco to Hawaii,
and that this was Pearl Harbour, and that even then I was
acknowledging introductions and saying, in reply to the first
question, "Yes, we had delightful weather all the way down."
CHAPTER VI--A ROYAL SPORT
That is what it is, a royal sport for the natural kings of earth.
The grass grows right down to the water at Waikiki Beach, and within
fifty feet of the everlasting sea. The trees also grow down to the
salty edge of things, and one sits in their shade and looks seaward
at a majestic surf thundering in on the beach to one's very feet.
Half a mile out, where is the reef, the white-headed combers thrust
suddenly skyward out of the placid turquoise-blue and come rolling
in to shore. One after another they come, a mile long, with smoking
crests, the white battalions of the infinite army of the sea. And
one sits and listens to the perpetual roar, and watches the unending
procession, and feels tiny and fragile before this tremendous force
expressing itself in fury and foam and sound. Indeed, one feels
microscopically small, and the thought that one may wrestle with
this sea raises in one's imagination a thrill of apprehension,
almost of fear. Why, they are a mile long, these bull-mouthed
monsters, and they weigh a thousand tons, and they charge in to
shore faster than a man can run. What chance? No chance at all, is
the verdict of the shrinking ego; and one sits, and looks, and
listens, and thinks the grass and the shade are a pretty good place
in which to be.
And suddenly, out there where a big smoker lifts skyward, rising
like a sea-god from out of the welter of spume and churning white,
on the giddy, toppling, overhanging and downfalling, precarious
crest appears the dark head of a man. Swiftly he rises through the
rushing white. His black shoulders, his chest, his loins, his
limbs--all is abruptly projected on one's vision. Where but the
moment before was only the wide desolation and invincible roar, is
now a man, erect, full-statured, not struggling frantically in that
wild movement, not buried and crushed and buffeted by those mighty
monsters, but standing above them all, calm and superb, poised on
the giddy summit, his feet buried in the churning foam, the salt
smoke rising to his knees, and all the rest of him in the free air
and flashing sunlight, and he is flying through the air, flying
forward, flying fast as the surge on which he stands. He is a
Mercury--a brown Mercury. His heels are winged, and in them is the
swiftness of the sea. In truth, from out of the sea he has leaped
upon the back of the sea, and he is riding the sea that roars and
bellows and cannot shake him from its back. But no frantic
outreaching and balancing is his. He is impassive, motionless as a
statue carved suddenly by some miracle out of the sea's depth from
which he rose. And straight on toward shore he flies on his winged
heels and the white crest of the breaker. There is a wild burst of
foam, a long tumultuous rushing sound as the breaker falls futile
and spent on the beach at your feet; and there, at your feet steps
calmly ashore a Kanaka, burnt, golden and brown by the tropic sun.
Several minutes ago he was a speck a quarter of a mile away. He has
"bitted the bull-mouthed breaker" and ridden it in, and the pride in
the feat shows in the carriage of his magnificent body as he glances
for a moment carelessly at you who sit in the shade of the shore.
He is a Kanaka--and more, he is a man, a member of the kingly
species that has mastered matter and the brutes and lorded it over
And one sits and thinks of Tristram's last wrestle with the sea on
that fatal morning; and one thinks further, to the fact that that
Kanaka has done what Tristram never did, and that he knows a joy of
the sea that Tristram never knew. And still further one thinks. It
is all very well, sitting here in cool shade of the beach, but you
are a man, one of the kingly species, and what that Kanaka can do,
you can do yourself. Go to. Strip off your clothes that are a
nuisance in this mellow clime. Get in and wrestle with the sea;
wing your heels with the skill and power that reside in you; bit the
sea's breakers, master them, and ride upon their backs as a king
And that is how it came about that I tackled surf-riding. And now
that I have tackled it, more than ever do I hold it to be a royal
sport. But first let me explain the physics of it. A wave is a
communicated agitation. The water that composes the body of a wave
does not move. If it did, when a stone is thrown into a pond and
the ripples spread away in an ever widening circle, there would
appear at the centre an ever increasing hole. No, the water that
composes the body of a wave is stationary. Thus, you may watch a
particular portion of the ocean's surface and you will see the sane
water rise and fall a thousand times to the agitation communicated
by a thousand successive waves. Now imagine this communicated
agitation moving shoreward. As the bottom shoals, the lower portion
of the wave strikes land first and is stopped. But water is fluid,
and the upper portion has not struck anything, wherefore it keeps on
communicating its agitation, keeps on going. And when the top of
the wave keeps on going, while the bottom of it lags behind,
something is bound to happen. The bottom of the wave drops out from
under and the top of the wave falls over, forward, and down, curling
and cresting and roaring as it does so. It is the bottom of a wave
striking against the top of the land that is the cause of all surfs.
But the transformation from a smooth undulation to a breaker is not
abrupt except where the bottom shoals abruptly. Say the bottom
shoals gradually for from quarter of a mile to a mile, then an equal
distance will be occupied by the transformation. Such a bottom is
that off the beach of Waikiki, and it produces a splendid surf-
riding surf. One leaps upon the back of a breaker just as it begins
to break, and stays on it as it continues to break all the way in to
And now to the particular physics of surf-riding. Get out on a flat
board, six feet long, two feet wide, and roughly oval in shape. Lie
down upon it like a small boy on a coaster and paddle with your
hands out to deep water, where the waves begin to crest. Lie out
there quietly on the board. Sea after sea breaks before, behind,
and under and over you, and rushes in to shore, leaving you behind.
When a wave crests, it gets steeper. Imagine yourself, on your
hoard, on the face of that steep slope. If it stood still, you
would slide down just as a boy slides down a hill on his coaster.
"But," you object, "the wave doesn't stand still." Very true, but
the water composing the wave stands still, and there you have the
secret. If ever you start sliding down the face of that wave,
you'll keep on sliding and you'll never reach the bottom. Please
don't laugh. The face of that wave may be only six feet, yet you
can slide down it a quarter of a mile, or half a mile, and not reach
the bottom. For, see, since a wave is only a communicated agitation
or impetus, and since the water that composes a wave is changing
every instant, new water is rising into the wave as fast as the wave
travels. You slide down this new water, and yet remain in your old
position on the wave, sliding down the still newer water that is
rising and forming the wave. You slide precisely as fast as the
wave travels. If it travels fifteen miles an hour, you slide
fifteen miles an hour. Between you and shore stretches a quarter of
mile of water. As the wave travels, this water obligingly heaps
itself into the wave, gravity does the rest, and down you go,
sliding the whole length of it. If you still cherish the notion,
while sliding, that the water is moving with you, thrust your arms
into it and attempt to paddle; you will find that you have to be
remarkably quick to get a stroke, for that water is dropping astern
just as fast as you are rushing ahead.
And now for another phase of the physics of surf-riding. All rules
have their exceptions. It is true that the water in a wave does not
travel forward. But there is what may be called the send of the
sea. The water in the overtoppling crest does move forward, as you
will speedily realize if you are slapped in the face by it, or if
you are caught under it and are pounded by one mighty blow down
under the surface panting and gasping for half a minute. The water
in the top of a wave rests upon the water in the bottom of the wave.
But when the bottom of the wave strikes the land, it stops, while
the top goes on. It no longer has the bottom of the wave to hold it
up. Where was solid water beneath it, is now air, and for the first
time it feels the grip of gravity, and down it falls, at the same
time being torn asunder from the lagging bottom of the wave and
flung forward. And it is because of this that riding a surf-board
is something more than a mere placid sliding down a hill. In truth,
one is caught up and hurled shoreward as by some Titan's hand.
I deserted the cool shade, put on a swimming suit, and got hold of a
surf-board. It was too small a board. But I didn't know, and
nobody told me. I joined some little Kanaka boys in shallow water,
where the breakers were well spent and small--a regular kindergarten
school. I watched the little Kanaka boys. When a likely-looking
breaker came along, they flopped upon their stomachs on their
boards, kicked like mad with their feet, and rode the breaker in to
the beach. I tried to emulate them. I watched them, tried to do
everything that they did, and failed utterly. The breaker swept
past, and I was not on it. I tried again and again. I kicked twice
as madly as they did, and failed. Half a dozen would be around. We
would all leap on our boards in front of a good breaker. Away our
feet would churn like the stern-wheels of river steamboats, and away
the little rascals would scoot while I remained in disgrace behind.
I tried for a solid hour, and not one wave could I persuade to boost
me shoreward. And then arrived a friend, Alexander Hume Ford, a
globe trotter by profession, bent ever on the pursuit of sensation.
And he had found it at Waikiki. Heading for Australia, he had
stopped off for a week to find out if there were any thrills in
surf-riding, and he had become wedded to it. He had been at it
every day for a month and could not yet see any symptoms of the
fascination lessening on him. He spoke with authority.
"Get off that board," he said. "Chuck it away at once. Look at the
way you're trying to ride it. If ever the nose of that board hits
bottom, you'll be disembowelled. Here, take my board. It's a man's
I am always humble when confronted by knowledge. Ford knew. He
showed me how properly to mount his board. Then he waited for a
good breaker, gave me a shove at the right moment, and started me
in. Ah, delicious moment when I felt that breaker grip and fling
On I dashed, a hundred and fifty feet, and subsided with the breaker
on the sand. From that moment I was lost. I waded back to Ford
with his board. It was a large one, several inches thick, and
weighed all of seventy-five pounds. He gave me advice, much of it.
He had had no one to teach him, and all that he had laboriously
learned in several weeks he communicated to me in half an hour. I
really learned by proxy. And inside of half an hour I was able to
start myself and ride in. I did it time after time, and Ford
applauded and advised. For instance, he told me to get just so far
forward on the board and no farther. But I must have got some
farther, for as I came charging in to land, that miserable board
poked its nose down to bottom, stopped abruptly, and turned a
somersault, at the same time violently severing our relations. I
was tossed through the air like a chip and buried ignominiously
under the downfalling breaker. And I realized that if it hadn't
been for Ford, I'd have been disembowelled. That particular risk is
part of the sport, Ford says. Maybe he'll have it happen to him
before he leaves Waikiki, and then, I feel confident, his yearning
for sensation will be satisfied for a time.
When all is said and done, it is my steadfast belief that homicide
is worse than suicide, especially if, in the former case, it is a
woman. Ford saved me from being a homicide. "Imagine your legs are
a rudder," he said. "Hold them close together, and steer with
them." A few minutes later I came charging in on a comber. As I
neared the beach, there, in the water, up to her waist, dead in
front of me, appeared a woman. How was I to stop that comber on
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