« AnteriorContinuar »
“ Dispecta est et Thule.”
. Our boats, to be used by-and-by, are now being overhauled, all hands being busy with their fitting, They are lightly constructed of pinewood, and are carvel-built. Their smooth sides make but little noise as they rise to the waves ; for they are coated with zinc on the outer sides, to fend off the ice, which would otherwise injure the wood by its constant grinding. Each extremity is built whale-boat fashion, fine at the end. They are fitted to pull either four or four pair of oars; each oar has a grummet, which to the uninitiated means a pin and a ring. They are steered with an oar instead of the ordinary rudder; they have a mast and sail, and cach thwart or bench has its use. These boats offer no accommodation for an idle visitor, and they seem to say in reply to a close inspection, “No admittance here except on business.”
There are four whale-lines on board, each equal to 960 yards ; these fill the spaces between the thwarts;
forward in the broad bow, there is a bollard or short post fixed firmly to the stem. This is in a line with the notch in the bows, round which the harpooner takes a turn of the line when fast in the whale ; another, iron-bound, to carry the swivel-gun of one and a-half inch bore, strong enough to throw a harpoon of ten pounds weight a distance of twenty yards with perfect accuracy. This support is firmly fixed to the keel, the bollard being twisted to enable the running bollard to pass a little to its left.
Then there are the lances, and harpoons of various kinds; one harpoon head having the handle firmly fixed, to which the line is secured ; another has the handle made to disengage itself when the harpoon, to which the line is attached, is firmly planted in the hide. The former is used for whale fishing, the latter for striking seals and walrus.
There are besides lances of most formidable proportions, mounted upon long shafts, to strike at the wounded whale when he returns to the surface after bis dive of some forty minutes' duration. These weapons rest securely on a suitable receptacle. The oars ply upon well-greased matting, and, owing to this simple arrangement, the boats are propelled without the least noise to disturb the floating monsters.
TROUBLES IN THE ICE.
As the men busy themselves with commendable alacrity, they spin yarns without number of former voyages : their adventures and disasters furnish a never-failing supply of details. Two weather-beaten men told how five winters ago the Diana, a steam bark, of Hull, was beset in the ice in Davis' Straits, and how the captain of another vessel agreed with them to stand by each other in every difficulty that might arise. They told of their long and laborious voyage to Lancaster Sound, where they were " nipped” in the ice, and the hatchway of the Diana was twisted completely round. Turning south again they were. beset in the middle ice, and all these difficulties were encountered by a ship hardly supplied with necessaries for the voyage out. The Diana was short also in her coal supply, and when her last bushel was expended and they were forced to rely on their sails alone, they had the misfortune of seeing the ice open and their consort steam away without even offering a helping hand. Their efforts to extricate themselves by the tedious method of warping, proved abortive, and the ice closed in upon them once more, cutting off all chance of escape. All through the long winter months that ensued they patiently waited for the help they expected from companions who might have found some way to their relief ; but in the April following, when they were once more set free, they learned that the man who might have saved them all this woe by one short hour's help, had informed every anxious inquirer that the Diana was secure from danger, and needed no assistance from without. Most of the crew survived their difficulties, but the captain and nine of the men were unable to cope with the sufferings of their enforced exile, and died during the winter. The remainder of the men, with tattered clothes, ill-suited to the severity of the climate, reduced to mere skeletons from want of food, and by reason of the sickness induced by their miserable condition, managed somehow to work their tottering bark, crazy and liable every minute to go to the bottom by reason of her injuries ; drifting rather than sailing as far south as the Shetlands, some fishermen at length fell in with her in the month of May. These worthy fellows, struck by the miserable appearance of the unfortunate Diana, ventured on board, and found the nearly worn-out survivors, some in their beds incapable of helping themselves, others on deck in nearly as sad a plight. They brought the leaky vessel safely into harbour, devoted themselves to the task of restoring the poor fellows to health and to their friends ; and we now had two of these Diana men on board with us, who,
but for certain indelible marks caused by the exposure and incessant toil at the pumps, seemed as capable of enduring the vicissitudes of many a future year's Arctic voyaging as the ablest seaman on board our schooner.
For two days we have the dense fog thick about us. It is in vain we strain our eyes in the direction of Van Mayen’s Island, whose snow-clad peaks of Beerenberg have often been seen at a distance of ninety miles ; but we know that we are in the vicinity of land by
the presence of sea-birds on the wing, whose flight is ever round the ship and towards the land we cannot see. Has not Providence placed these winged messengers of warning to protect the heedless sailor from rushing on a dismal fate? This rock-bound rugged