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OLD WHALING CAPTAINS.
in many Arctic voyages, seemed to take a special pride in the work he was busy upon. At one time he actually determined to resign his official post for a season, and come with us; the Trinity Board, entering fully into the spirit that actuated him, agreed to keep his office, by deputy, during his absence. But the fates ruled otherwise ; he has given hostages to fortune, and his wife and family held him back. We were the losers by this resolve, for his great experience in the navigation of the northern seas, coupled with his knowledge of the curious and ever-changing phenomena of the Arctic weather in relation to the movements of the ice in the far north (a knowledge to be gained only by long experience and the keenest interest in the subject) would have been to us of the greatest possible value ; for it is needless to say, that there is no book existing, except, perhaps, the valuable contributions of Scoresby, from whose pages we could hope to draw the requisite instructions to guide us in moments of difficulty or danger, much less to direct us in the course we should pursue
when in doubt. These old whaling captains alone possess the requisite knowledge at the present time, and men of science have but little opportunity of formulating the valuable observations in daily use amongst these hardy explorers, won by long acquaintance with the dangers to which they are daily exposed ;
the more intelligent passing unscathed, while the less observant are compelled to struggle on in hopeless mazes, which too often render their venture fruitless, if no worse fate attends them, as we will have occasion to mention further on. It may
be well to mention that our friend had in the previous year sailed to the north of Spitzbergen, and in lat. 81° 24' had seen open water and islands to the north-east of Spitzbergen ; but his intention was, on the present occasion, if the season would admit of it, to advance still further north, and on his return voyage, if possible, to coast along the east side of Spitzbergen, and after rounding the north-east point to circumnavigate the island, a feat which had never yet been accomplished except by Barentz, two hundred and seventy-five years ago. It must be remembered that in those days navigators had not in use such instruments for observation as we now possess, to enable them to navigate a ship and determine the position of the land, which, as far as the east coast is concerned, is but poorly dealt with by the chart-makers. For many years
the whaling captains who continue to contribute fresh facts respecting the land, have only added to our ignorance hy suggesting corrections which make confusion worse confounded, by reporting their views upon the actual position of the places they have visited, on their
return home. The main object of our voyage however, the principal, and to our idea the most essential to modern science, was the following up of the observations commenced by our friend in the preceding year. He had noticed in the course of some deepsea sounding experiments, that the water is of a high temperature at a depth of 400 fathoms, showing a difference of go at that depth when compared with the temperature at the surface ; a fact so extraordinary as to lead scientific men to assume that this, our assertion, is so contrary to the laws laid down by modern savans, that they do not hesitate to declare that the statement we made was impossible to be received. To confirm these observations, then, was the main purpose of our journey this year (1872).
One word respecting our schooner : rigged with the usual foresail, topsail, and top-gallant sail, three jibs, fore-trysail and mainsail, she differed at first sight in no way from an ordinary pleasure yacht; but a second glance at her heavy spars, her massive bows supported with stout iron bands firmly bolted to her stem, and extending round the bluff of her bows to about twelve feet aft, evidently to protect her in encounters with the ice, her false gripe, to give her plenty of fore-reach, convinced us that the work cut out for her was no child's play. Looking closer, we found her frame was coated
with double planking, to offer the strongest resistance that could be devised to protect her from the grinding pressure of the ice,—and an inspection of her interior confirmed our readily-formed opinion : her ribs and strengthening pieces were extra strong.
We soon gathered from her general aspect, that she was built for strength combined with speed.
In her former most prosperous voyage she was manned, on some mistaken theory, with a crew of Norwegian whale-fishers, but the superstitious fears of these curious people overcame every attempt to prosecute a voyage so well begun, and our friend was most reluctantly compelled to relinquish an opportunity of sailing into the sea whose very existence is denied by some, although the season was of rare suitability for such an exploit.
Quite a crowd of people composed of the friends of the hardy sailors who are to accompany us, and of others, nautically inclined, who seem to take a lively interest in a journey they do not hesitate to speculate on freely, all day long stand loitering about the schooner. They seemed never to grow weary in watching our operations, and we marvelled that so many hands could be spared in so busy a place, where there should be occupation for everybody ; but a kind of fascination held them to the spot, and when
everything was complete, and we were actually being towed away from these earnest onlookers, they were compelled reluctantly to leave off gazing on a ship about to sail round Spitzbergen.
The schooner and such attractions as Hull has to offer to a stranger so distracted our attention we hardly noticed the time slipping by. The 11th of May came at last, with a cold northerly wind and heavy rain, arguments which left no other alternative for us than the necessity of waiting for a favourable change. While we waited, Mr. Rickaby returned home from a sealing expedition to the west ice, between Jan Mayen's Island and Greenland, where he had been fortunate enough to secure, in lat. 73° north, some seven thousand seals. He had difficulties to contend with in this voyage, of no small degree. Frozen for three weeks in the pack that surrounded them, they drifted south as far as Iceland, but at length the ice gave way, and they were once more set free.
The pursuit of the seal at this early season (in March) is, therefore, an enterprise not unattended with danger --but the tempting wages paid to needy and adventurous seamen on successful voyages always secures a crew, while the awful experiences of those who have escaped from former hazardous expeditions at this season of the year, seem to have little or no effect