CHAPTER IX. SANDY POINT TO LOTA BAY.
Port Grappler is rather a difficult place to make in the dark; but Tom managed it with much dexterity, and by eight o'clock we were safely anchored for the night. We all wanted Tom to stay here to-morrow to get some rest, which he much needs, but he has determined to start at five o'clock in the morning as usual, for fear of being caught by bad weather. Even I, who have of course had no anxiety as to the navigation, felt so fatigued from having been on the bridge the whole day since very early this morning, that I went straight to bed before dinner, in order to be ready for to-morrow.
Thursday, October 12th. - A day as perfect as yesterday succeeded a clear cold night. We weighed anchor at 5.15 a.m., and, retracing our course for a few miles, passed round the end of Saumarez Island, and entered the narrow channel leading to Indian Reach. The greatest care is here necessary, to avoid several sunken rocks, which have already proved fatal to many ships, a large German steamer having been wrecked as recently as last year. The smooth but treacherous surface of the channel reflected sharply the cliffs and foliage, and its mirror-like stillness was only broken at rare intervals, by the sudden appearance of a seal in search of a fresh supply of air, or by the efforts, delayed until the very last moment, of a few steamer-ducks, gannets, or cormorants, to get out of our way.
Having accomplished the passage of Indian Reach in safety, we were just passing Eden Harbour, when the cry of 'Canoe ahead!' was raised. A boat was seen paddling out towards us from behind Moreton Island, containing about half-a-dozen people, apparently armed with bows and arrows and spears, and provided with fishing-rods, which projected on either side. One man was standing up and waving, in a very excited manner, something which turned out ultimately to be a piece of cotton-waste. Our engines having been stopped, the canoe came alongside, and we beheld six wild-looking half-naked creatures - two men, three women, and a very small boy, who was crouching over a fire at the bottom of the boat. There were also four sharp, cheery-looking little dogs, rather like Esquimaux dogs, only smaller, with prick ears and curly tails, who were looking over the side and barking vigorously in response to the salutations of our pugs. One man had on a square robe of sea-otter skins, thrown over his shoulders, and laced together in front, two of the women wore sheepskins, and the rest of the party were absolutely naked. Their black hair was long and shaggy, and they all clamoured loudly in harsh guttural tones, accompanied by violent gesticulations, for 'tabaco' and 'galleta.' We got some ready for them, and also some beads, knives, and looking-glasses, but through some mistake they did not manage to get hold of our rope in time, and as our way carried us ahead they were left behind. The passage was narrow, and the current strong, and Tom was anxious to save the tide in the dangerous English Narrows. We could not, therefore, give them another chance of communicating with us, and accordingly we went on our way, followed by what were, I have no doubt, the curses - not only deep, but loud - of the whole party, who indulged at the same time in the most furious and threatening gestures. I was quite sorry for their disappointment at losing their hoped-for luxuries, to say nothing of our own at missing the opportunity of bargaining for some more furs and curiosities.
Shortly afterwards there were seen from the masthead crowds of natives among the trees armed with long spears, bows, and arrows, busily engaged pushing off their canoes from their hiding-places in creeks and hollows; so perhaps it was just as well we did not stop, or we might have been surrounded. Not far from here are the English Narrows, a passage which is a ticklish but interesting piece of navigation. A strong current prevails, and, to avoid a shoal, it is necessary at one point to steer so close to the western shore that the bowsprit almost projects over the land, the branches of the trees almost sweep the rigging, and the rocks almost scrape the side of the vessel. Two men were placed at the wheel, as a matter of precaution, and we appeared to be steering straight for the shore, at full speed, till Tom suddenly gave the order 'Hard a-port!' and the 'Sunbeam' instantly flew round and rushed swiftly past the dangerous spot into wider waters. It is just here that Captain Trivett was knocked off the bridge of his vessel by the boughs - a mishap he warned Tom against before we left England.