CHAPTER III. PALMA TO RIO DE JANEIRO.
A wet sheet and a flowing sea,
A wind that follows fast
And fills the white and rustling sail
And bends the gallant mast.
Tuesday, July 25th. - There was not much wind during the night, and Palma was consequently still visible when I came on deck at daybreak. We had a light fair wind in the morning, accompanied by a heavy swell, which caused us to roll so much that I found it very difficult to do anything. Several shoals of flying fish skimmed past us along the surface of the water, occasionally rising to a considerable height above it. Their beautiful wings, glittering in the bright sunlight, looked like delicate silver filigree-work. In the night one flew on board, only to be preserved in spirits by Dr. Potter.
Saturday, July 29th. - For the last three days we have been going on quietly with fair, warm weather, but a nice fresh breeze sprang up to-day. At midday the sun was so exactly vertical over our heads, that it was literally possible to stand under the shadow of one's own hatbrim, and be sheltered all round. Our navigators experienced considerable difficulty in taking their noon-tide observations, as the sun appeared to dodge about in every direction.
About two o'clock we made the high land of St. Antonio, one of the Cape de Verde Islands, and, soon afterwards, the lower land of St Vincent. Some doubt existing as to the prevalence of fever at the latter place, Tom decided not to stop there, for fear of having to undergo quarantine at Rio de Janeiro. We therefore shortened sail, and passed slowly between the islands to the anchorage beyond the Bird Rock. This is a very small island, of perfectly conical form, covered with thousands of sea-fowl, who live here undisturbed by any other inhabitants. The town of Porto Grande, with its rows of white houses on the sea-shore, at the base of the rocky crags, looked clean and comfortable in the evening light. During the day, however, it must be a hot and glaring place, for there are no trees to afford shade, nor, indeed, any kind of vegetation. The water, too, is bad, and all supplies for passing steamers are brought from the other islands, at very uncertain intervals. It is still a great coaling-station, though not so much used as it was formerly, before the opening of the Suez Canal. The ships come out with coal, and go away in ballast (there is nothing else to be had here), procured from a point near the town, to Rio or elsewhere, where they pick up their homeward cargo of fruit, &c.
The absence of twilight in these latitudes, both at dawn and sunset, is certainly very remarkable. This morning, at four o'clock, the stars were shining brightly; ten minutes later the day had commenced to break; and at half-past four the sun had risen above the horizon, and was gilding the surrounding mountain tops.
Sunday, July 30th. - About 10 a.m. we were off Tarafal Bay - a most hopeless-looking place for supplies. High rocky mountains, sandy slopes, and black volcanic beach, composed a scene of arid desolation, in the midst of which was situated one small white house, with four windows and a thatched roof, surrounded by a little green patch of sugar-canes and cocoa-nut palms.
But the result proved the sageness of the advice contained in the old proverb, not to trust to appearances only; for, whilst we were at breakfast, Mr. Martinez, the son of the owner of the one whitewashed cottage to be seen, came on board. To our surprise, he spoke English extremely well, and promised us all sorts of supplies, if we could wait until three o'clock in the afternoon. Having agreed to do this, we shortly afterwards went ashore in his boat, with a crew of more than half-naked negroes, and a hot row of about three miles brought us to the shore, where, after some little difficulty, we succeeded in effecting a landing. Our feet immediately sank into the hot black sand, composed entirely of volcanic deposits and small pieces, or rather grains, of amber, through which we had a fatiguing walk until we reached some palm-trees, shading a little pool of water. Here we left some of the men, with instructions to fill the breakers they had brought with them, while we walked on along the beach, past the remains of an English schooner that caught fire not far from this island, and was run ashore by her captain, thirty years ago. Her iron anchor, chain, and wheel still remained, together with two queer little iron cannon, which I should have much liked to carry off as a memorial of our visit. We then turned up a narrow shadeless path, bordered by stone walls, leading away from the sea, past a sugar-mill and a ruin. A few almond, castor-oil, and fig trees were growing amongst the sugar-canes, and as we mounted the hill we could see some thirty round straw huts, like beehives, on the sandy slopes beside the little stream. An abrupt turn in the mountains, amid which, at a distance of three leagues, this tiny river takes its rise, hides it from the sea, so that the narrow valley which it fertilises looks like a small oasis in the desert of rocks and sand.