HOME      BOTHNIA 1887

CAPTAIN SMALES 

BOTHNIA 1887


 
 
 
 Captain Smales joined his first ship, the barque Bothnia, as an apprentice at Swansea on 15th April 1887. His journal takes up the story:-

"The ship was loaded in due course and the crew signed on - a regular Swansea crowd, and on the 5th of May, 1887, we towed out of dock and down the Bristol Channel. The ship's company consisted of, Captain, Chief Mate (Mr. Ford} Second Mate (Mr. Critchell), Cook and Steward, Carpenter, seven A.B.s and four apprentices, sixteen hands all told. 'We left Swansea in beautiful weather with a light breeze, bound for Coquimbo, Chile. The crew, under the capable handling of the Chief Mate, were busy rigging out the Jib boom , which was 50 feet long from keel to flying Jib boom end. When just passed Lundy Island the boom was out and guys set up and then began the sail setting, which to me was wonderful. To see the big sail sheeted home to the yardarms and in a very short time the barque was under command with sail and the tow rope let go and hauled in. The tug gave us three blasts on her whistle and turned for home again, the crew of the "BOTHNIA" replying with a cheer and then all hands to making sail until every stitch of canvas was set and we were away to a 5 or 6 knot breeze.It was now dark and the crew were all mustered aft and watches picked, then tea, all hands excepting lookout, man at the wheel and officer in charge of the deck. I was picked in the 2nd Mate's watch with Owen for a watchmate.
After tea the ropes were all coiled up and decks clear and the watch was sent below. I do not remember what watch ours had, eight to twelve or below, but the next morning the land was just faintly in sight, which one of the sailors told me was the Welsh Coast. Anyway we soon lost sight of land and saw no more for many a day. The weather continued fine and the sea smooth, consequently I was never really sea sick to vomit, but for three or four days felt squeamish and light headed, but this gradually wore away and I soon regained a bigger appetite than I could satisfy. We were all on our "Wack" as it was called, in other words, allowance, both of food and water. In the half deck, we had two buckets full between the four of us and out of that supply had to come one bucket for the cook for our tea, coffee etc, per day. The other bucket full was for drinking water, washing etc. (I will pass over the uses our scanty supply of water was put to. We performed our ablutions in the same half bucket and then washed a shirt or two afterwards, but enough.) Rain was a heaven sent blessing. We were soon down to the N,E. trades and then the Doldrums, where we had more rain than necessary. Tropical rain and calms and I have counted on one occasion in the Doldrums twenty six sail of all rigs, heading all ways until we would pick up the S,E. trades and then the slower ones would soon drop off, we made a pretty fair run to "The Horn", where we had a battering in westerly gales for about a fortnight, eventually arriving at our destination Coquimbo in 84 days from Swansea, which was considered a good passage. We sailed into port early one morning with a gentle breeze and were soon moored two anchors forward and stern moorings aft, decks cleared up and all hands knocked off, with the pleasing prospect of all night in, but I was made watchman. Sleep during the day and keep a look out and the anchor light burning and call the cook at 4.30 a.m. I had that for three weeks or so by that time the ship was discharged. Then Mick was given a spell and I was put to attend the boat with Jack Bellas, fetch the meat off at 6 a.m., wash the boat out, then the half deck. By that time breakfast at 8. a.m. After breakfast about 9.30 pull the Captain ashore and wait at the Mole until he wished to go aboard again. Several boats with apprentices were there and we used to congregate in one boat and see who could tell the biggest yarn or we would strip our shirt and trousers off and over the side for a swim. We never wore boots or stockings, only on Sundays when we would attend Church with the "Old Man" (Captain is always referred to as "The Old Man" irrespective of age.) Captain Jones was always very proud of taking his apprentices in Uniform to Church every Sunday. I omitted to mention with what joy I received letters from home on arrival and the mail used to arrive from here regular every fortnight, P.S.N.C. via Megallan Straits, six weeks from home to Valparaiso, then by coast boat to the various ports along the coast. There was great excitement when the Old Man came on board with a sheaf of letters and although tne news was about seven weeks old it was great to read them and re read them, also we were very busy writing when the sail day for posting drew near. Coquimbo at the time I write was the British Naval station for the Pacific fleet. H.M.S. "LIFY" was the permanent store ship. She was one of the old wooden wall Nelson type and I am told was at the battle of Copenhagen. At the present time (1934) she still does service in the port of Mexelones owned by a British Merchant Company, who's offices are on board and I understand some of the staff live on board. H.M.S. "HYACINTH" barque rigged, Dryad and "Nyad" barquentine rigged, were stationed on the West Coast and mostly in Coquimbo. The Bosun of the "HYACINTH" came to ask our Old Man's permission for us apprentices to attend a concert on board given by the members of her crew and we enjoyed the evening thoroughly. The Old Man had given the Bos'n great instructions as to looking after us and right well he carried them out and greatly we appreciated the talent displayed. Every evening the Men of War used to send down royal and top galland" yards and house top gallant masts and every morning at a given signal, all the Men of War ships sent aloft the yards, after fidding the Top gallant mast, all to the accompanyment of the Bos'n's whistle. It used to be great to watch them, expecially when one French and one Russian Naval vessel came. They also were barque rigged.Of course all had steam power as well as sail.
 
The "BOTHNIA" was chartered to load Manganese ore at Coquimibo for the UK. This was considered a dangerous cargo for a ship not specially constructed or fitted for tnis cargo, wnich was very heavy. Regular "Copper Ore men" as the ships were called, were fitted with a trunk-way fore and aft the ship, which had the effect of keeping the ore well built up in the centre of the ship and so making her better in a sea way. Ships of our type required a platform three feet high from the floor of the hold. The platform was built of Chile oak beams running across the ship and supported by heavy toms or shores, placed very close together and floored over by Chile oak planks. The cargo was dumped down the hatch on to this platform. The first twenty or tnirty tons is lowered and the tubs emptied on to tne platform until there is a good pile to break the fall when the dumping from the hatchway begins. At sea, the Carpenter has to take periodical crawls under the platform to see that the "toms" or shores are standing the strain. Ships have been lost by this platform breaking down under the strain and if the platform gives way all at once the sudden drop of 12/14hundred tons invariably takes the bottom out of the ship and down she goes, In six weeks from the time of our arrival, we were loaded and ready for sea. Three or four days before completion of loading we were kept busy when no lighters were alongside with cargo, bending sails, so that by the time she was loaded all the sails were bent.
Then began the homeward passage. First heaving up the stern moorings and then the anchors, one of which was hove right up and "catted", then "heave short" on the other. Generally other ships in port contributed by sending two or three men or apprentices to lend the Homeward Bounder a hand in getting under weigh. It was a cheery job and everything went well to good old Chanties. 'When "hove short", the old man would yell out, "sheet home the fore and main lower topsails". This was quickly done with our augmented crew then "hoist away fore and main upper topsails" and up they went to a lively Shanty. - "Slow the Man down", "Storm' along" or "Ruben Ranzo". Then "Trip your anchor", "Hoist away fore main and mizen staysails", "Haul out the spanker, mind your helm,then Luff a bit, steady as she goes", "Sheet home fore and main to'gallant sails", - now she feels the breeze and slips along through the water. "Away boats crews" and there is a scramble for the gangway and the helpers get into the boats and await their "Old Man" who has accompanied them and is now saying goodbye to our "Old Man", who is wishing they would hurry up and let him get the Royals, Jibs and Staysails on her to say nothing of the Gaff topsail. Now the last "Old Man" is in his boat. They ail give us three cheers for the "Bothnia", we reply by giving them three cheers as we cast off their painters (boat ropes) and now. we are fairly off and very soon all sail is set, ropes coiled down and watches set. We stand out to the westward with a good eight knot breeze and by daylight next morning we are out of sight of land and bowling along S.W. on our way for the Horn. When we get to 45° S latitude, the galley is left open all night as the weather is very cold and the crew that is, watch on deck, "Stand by" in the Galley. Now we begin to bowl along before Westerley gales and high seas and when below in the Half deck, the platform can be heard creaking with every roll and Chips makes his pilgrimages under it accompanied by one of us Apprentices every morning
watch. It was most uncanny for the first two or three times, then one got used to it and took a philosophical view, - "Dry ,job here Chips anyway and better then swimming about up to the waist in water on deck, eh ?". He would make the job last a bit longer than absolutely necessary.
 
 We ran before several heavy gales and on one occasion had to "heave to", as the sea got too heavy and in danger of "pooping" (putting her stern under), or "broaching to" by wild steering (bringing the sea abeam). Then there would be danger of smashing in the hatches and she would have gone down like a stone. Consequently in these circumstances the "old man" using his keen judgement would "heave to" put her under topsails (lower) Fore and Mizen Staysails and bring her bow on to the sea and she would ride like a duck. As soon as the wind and sea would moderate, we would be away again and give her as much sail as prudent. Thus we were soon round the Horn quite a different proposition to the outward passage, beating against Westerley gales. When off the Horn just after a heavy gale, Captain Jones called me into his Cabin one Dog watch and asked me if I liked the sea. I said, Oh yea, I am very happy and satisfied. He said, "I am very pleased to hear it", and by way of encouragement related or instanced several boys that had served tneir time with him and how they had got on, said he was very pleased with me etc., etc. I thought he did that because we had had a wild time for the last few days, wet clothes, wet bed, sea boots full of water and generally getting washed about the deck, when caught unawares by a heavy sea coming on board. However, once clear of the Horn and heading N.E., we soon ran up into finer weather and after passing 45° Lat. the galley was closed and we resumed pacing the deck and yarning,with our thoughts, mostly towards home, counting every day as we crept north. Soon we were into the S.E. trades, then Doldrums, then N.E. trades. Then we were well to the Westward. Gulf Weed looks very pretty in a clear bottle filled with sea water and hermetically sealed. We, Torrible and I, each caught some and took a bottle home. After losing the N.E. trades, we pick up Westerley winds and begin to count how many days if this breeze holds.
 
We are bound to Queenstown for orders. We had sighted no land since leaving Coquimbo and one afternoon when I was at the wheel, I heard the Old Man say to the 2nd mate, "if this breeze holds, we should pick up the Old Head of Kinsale light between 10 and 11 p.m. tonight, that is if the Chronometer is right." I conveyed the news to the Half deck, greatly marvelling at how the Old Man could be so confident and anxiously waiting the 1st watch 8 to 12, and sure enough before 11 p.m. the light hove in sight. At midnight, all hands shorten sail. We were under main t'gallantsails. We shortened her down to two lower top sails and reefed upper topsails. I'll never forget the Job we had with the Foresail, The ship was now brought to the wind and the hail squalls were coming along fast and heavy. Month of December. It was now blowing a W.N.W, gale. I'm sure all hands were up on that fore yard for an hour. My fingers were frozen stiff and I think I must have been of little use handling the sail as it took me all my tise to hold on. Next morning the wind took off and we bore up for Queenstown. Soon picked up the Pilot and sailed into Queenstown harbour. 90 days from Coquimbo. Then the Bum boat was alongside with anything and everything from provisions to boots and clothes. The anchor was not down very long before the Captain's gig was lowered and us four Apprentices all brass bound, pulled him ashore.

We had a great three days in Queenstown awaiting orders, each morning we took the Captain ashore and tied up the boat. One would stay to look after the boat and the other three away for a stroll and yarn with the nurse girls, relieving each other at intervals watching the boat. On the third or fourth day the Captain came down to the boat in a hurry. "Pull boys, pull", he said, "good breeze blowing outside. We are bound to Middlesboro.We no sooner got on board than the order was given. "Heave short and loose the topsails," Pilot came aboard soon after we got to the ship, and we were outside Queenstown by 6 p.m., away before a fair wind. We had a good run up Channel passing one or two tramp steamers on the way, arriving off Middlesboro on Christmas Day and there we lay tacking about waiting for tug and pilot and there we were until the next morning. I suppose the Tug boat Captain and Pilot wanted Christmas Day at home. At any rate they had it at home so far as we were concerned. The tug and Pilot came out to us during the forenoon of the 26th and we towed in and moored alongside the Barque "Doune Castle" of Glasgow. Our Jibboom was rigged in and gear all stopped up during our tow up the river. After the ship was moored and all gear coiled up the Mate spoke the magic words "that will do men", which meant that the men (A.B.s) had now finished for that voyage and being a Swansea crew they were all away by Board of Trade that night for home. looking back on that crowd, I think they were about as fine a crowd of A.B.s ever I was shipmates with. Jackie Jones, Dan Able, Big Griffiths and little Griffiths, Dan Lloyds all stand out very clearly in my memory. Jackie Jones could neither read nor write but he put the greatest curio into a small bottle I ever saw. A spinning wheel all complete, three legged stool affair wheel and cotton from the spool to its proper place. He was also a good Chanty man and a very good humorous soul. He also was good at models in bottles and put a four masted full rigged ship in a bottle for me. I only met one of the crew since and he was Dan Lloyd, I met him in Iquique or Valparaiso, I forget which, after I was out of my time. He was in a ship called "Ironsides".
 
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