We copy the following letter from a passenger on board the clipper ship Stag Hound from the Nantucket Inquirer:
SHIP STAG HOUND, OFF VALPARAISO,
April 7th, 1851
MR. EDITOR:-- Before I left home for San Francisco, I promised to write to you if an opportunity should present on the way; and as we are to stop at Valparaiso for water. I think I will occupy a spare half hour which I happen to have on hand, in jotting down for you a few particulars of our voyage thus far. If I should put off writing until our arrival in port, the promised letter would probably not be written at all.
We left New York, as you doubtless know, on Friday, the 31st of January; and for several days, during which we made excellent progress; nothing out of the common course on board our ship. The crew were kept busy all day, setting up the rigging, and putting the ship in order generally for the voyage. The rigging being new, and put up when everything was full of ice, stretched, as we went into warmer weather, almost like India rubber; and though it was set up again and again during the first four or five days that we were out, it would remain slack.
Tuesday, February 4th, was a squally and uncomfortable day; and the wind, which had been strong all day, increasing towards evening to a gale, the ship's top-gallant-sails and mainsail were taken in, and the topsails close-reefed. The next morning (Wednesday, February 5th,) the wind had decreased so much that the reefs were shaken out of the topsails, and the mainsail was set. Towards noon, however, the wind began to increase rapidly again, and by three o'clock in the afternoon it was blowing very heavy. About half past two the mainsail as taken in, the foresail hauled up, the main topsail close reefed. A few minutes after four the main topmast broke off just above the cap, and the topmast, topgallant mast, and royal mast came tumbling down together, bringing with them the mizzen topgallantmast also. The main topmast was not blown away, there being at the time very little sail upon it; it was literally rolled out of the ship, the rigging being very slack and the ship rolling tremendously. About half past seven, the fore topgallantmast broke off; and the ship might now be said to be pretty essentially crippled. The storm increased in violence through the evening and early part of the night, being at its height about three o'clock in the morning. After three o'clock the wind rapidly decreased, and by sunrise, Thursday morning, it was comparatively calm. Seldom, I venture to say, has daylight been more heartily welcomed, than it was on Thursday, the 6th day of February, by the passengers on board the Stag Hound.
I went on deck about eight o'clock in the morning, to view the wreck. The noble ship was sadly changed from the day before. The mainmast was gone to the cap, and on the larboard side of it, the spars, sails and rigging that had fallen, were hanging, a confused and unsightly mass. The fore and mizzen topgallantmasts were also hanging by the sides of their respective masts. The ship's company had managed in the night to secure the wreck with ropes, so that nothing of consequence was lost. The fore and mizzen topgallantmasts were broken into two pieces, and the maintopgallantmast into three. At noon, on the 6th, the ship was in latitude 36 10 N., lon. 52 30 W.
For two or three days after the disaster, all hands were busy getting the wreck in on deck -- hard work and dangerous, as the ship's spars are very heavy, and the sea was running high, nearly all the time. On Tuesday, the 11th, a new main topmast was sent up, and on Thursday, the 13th, the ship's maintopsail was again spread to the wind. On the 14th, a new main topgallantmast was sent up, and at sunset, on the 15h -- just ten days after the topmast was rolled away -- the ship had on her main royal. The foremast was next taken in hand, and then the mizzenmast; and in a short time the Stag Hound was again in as good order as ever.
We made the run from New York to the line in twenty-one days, which was doing wonders, considering the crippled condition our ship was in for a considerable part of the time; thirty days out, we were in the latitude of Rio Janeiro; and on Monday, the 24th of March, our fifty-second day at sea, we were in the longitude of Cape Horn, and in latitude 57 56 S. It took us about a week to get clear of the Cape, and we shall probably arrive at Valparaiso this evening. We are now sixty-days out, and I feel very confident that you will hear of us at San Francisco in a hundred days from New York. If our ship's spars had only kept in their places, we should doubtless have made the passage in ninety days. The Stag Hound has proved herself to be an excellent seaboat; and as to her sailing, I do not believe there is a ship afloat, that she could not beat with ease. We overtake and pass vessels, one after another, almost as if they were lying at anchor.
On the morning of the 2d of March, about sunrise, -- we were then in the latitude of Rio, -- a man aloft cried out to the officer of the deck, that there was a small boat right ahead of the ship, and not far off, with a man in it. The intelligence spread rapidly through the ship, and almost all on board, passengers and crew, were on deck, anxious to see the stranger, and to learn who he could be. A few minutes after I reached the quarter deck, the boat came in sight from where I was standing, off the lee bow, and not a hundred yards distant. She was a mere cockle-shell of a thing, old and evidently leaky, and furnished with two little apologies for oars; and in her there were, instead of the one reported, nine men, one of them lying sick or exhausted, in the bottom. The strangers were soon on board our ship, -- the one in the bottom of the boat having to be helped over the side, -- and their little craft being found to be not worth saving, it was set adrift. None of the boat's crew could speak English; but among our ship's company, made up as it is of men of almost all nations, two, were soon found who were able to act as interpreters, and through them we learned the particulars of the disaster which had befallen our unexpected guests. They were the captain, mate and crew -- all of the Swedish Finns, of a Russian brig, the Sylphidie, of 250 tons burthen. They left Rio Janeiro on the 22d of February, for Helsin[g]fors, in Finland, with a cargo of 1825 bags of Coffee. On Thursday, Feb. 27th, at two o'clock in the afternoon, their vessel was struck by a squall, which upset her; and they had only time to take to their small boat, before the brig sunk. The crew were all saved, except one man who was below in his berth, sick, and who went down with the vessel. They had not time to get a compass, or even an ounce of bread or a drop of water into their boat; all they saved, besides their lives, was their crazy old boat, and the clothes they had on their backs. From the time they took to their boat, Thursday afternoon, until we picked them up on the next Sunday morning, (64 hours,) they were without food or drink, excepting salt water, -- with which they tried to quench their thirst, -- and what nourishment they could get from chewing the tops of their boots. They were nearly exhausted when we picked them up; and in all probability they would have perished in a short time. They are still on board our ship, but they will leave us at Valparaiso.
VALPARAISO, April 8th. -- We arrived here this afternoon at three o'clock, in sixty-six days from New York. We have beaten both the Sea Serpent and the John Bertram; the former was seventy-two and the latter seventy-eight days in making the passage to this port.
Transcribed by Lars Bruzelius.
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Copyright © 1997 Lars Bruzelius.