CHAPTER XII. VALPARAISO TO TAHITI.
The western sea was all aflame,
The day was well nigh done!
Almost upon the western wave
Rested the broad bright sun.
Tuesday, October 31st. - Throughout the night a flat calm prevailed. The morning was wet and foggy, or we might still have seen Valparaiso, and perhaps have had a peep at Aconcagua. There was a light contrary wind from the N.W. throughout the day. In the afternoon we saw two whales blowing in the distance.
Wednesday, November 1st. - An almost calm day, with a few light showers, and fitful but unfavourable breezes. Some thirty or forty little birds, which the sailors called Mother Carey's chickens, but which were smaller and more graceful than any I have seen of that name, followed closely in our wake. I was never tired of watching the dainty way in which they just touched the tips of the waves with their feet, and then started off afresh, like a little maiden skipping and hopping along, from sheer exuberance of spirit.
Thursday, November 2nd. - A bright sunny morning, with a heavy swell and light contrary wind, but the sea became more tranquil towards the evening. The sunset was superb, and the afterglow, as is often the case in these latitudes, lighted up sky and sea with an indescribable beauty, which attained its greatest magnificence about five minutes after the sun had disappeared, reminding one of the glorious sunsets of the African deserts, so often described by travellers.
Friday, November 3rd. - Still a blue sky, bright sunshine, smooth sea, and light head-wind. The crew have all turned tailors, and are making themselves new suits from some dungaree we bought at Valparaiso, the clothes we expected for them not having met us there.
Saturday, November 4th. - As fine as ever. This is certainly sailing luxuriously, if not swiftly. We have now settled down into our regular sea-ways, and have plenty to do on board; so the delay does not much signify. Still, our time is limited, and we all hope to fall in with the trades shortly to carry us to Tahiti or some of the South Sea islands. We caught half-a-dozen of the little petrels, for stuffing, by floating lines of black cotton astern, in which they became entangled.
To-night's sunset was more superb than ever. Each moment produced a new and ever increasingly grand effect. I mean to try and take an instantaneous photograph of one. It would not, of course, reproduce all the marvellous shades of colouring, but it would perhaps give some idea of the forms of the masses of cloud, which are finer than any I ever saw before. This ocean seems to give one, in a strange way, a sense of solemn vastness, which was not produced to the same extent by the Atlantic. Whether this results from our knowledge of its size, or whether it is only fancy, I cannot say, but it is an impression which we all share.
Sunday, November 5th. - Fine, and considerably hotter, though not unpleasantly so. We had the Litany at eleven, and evening prayers and a sermon at four o'clock. Not a single ship has passed within sight since we left Valparaiso, and the only living creatures we have seen are some albatrosses, a few white boobies, a cape-hen, the little petrels already mentioned, a shoal of porpoises, and two whales.
Monday, November 6th. - Passed, at 3 a.m. to-day, a large barque, steering south, and at 8 a.m. a full-rigged ship, steering the same course. We held - as we do with every ship we pass - a short conversation with her through the means of the mercantile code of signals. (This habit of exchanging signals afterwards proved to have been a most useful practice, for when the report that the 'Sunbeam' had gone down with all hands was widely circulated through England, I might almost say the world, - for we found the report had preceded us by telegram to almost all the later ports we touched at, - the anxiety of our friends was relieved many days sooner than it would otherwise have been by the fact of our having spoken the German steamer 'Sakhara,' in the Magellan Straits, Oct. 13, four days after we were supposed to have gone to the bottom.) The weather continues fine, and we have the same light baffling winds. We hoped, when we started, to average at least 200 miles a day, but now we have been a week at sea, and have only made good a little more than 700 miles altogether, though we have sailed over 800 miles through the water. It is, however, wonderful, in the opinion of the navigators, that we have made even as much progress as this, considering the very adverse circumstances under which the voyage has so far been performed, and we must endeavour to console ourselves with the reflection that the sailing qualities of the yacht have undergone another severe test in a satisfactory manner. How the provisions and water will last out, and what time we shall leave ourselves to see anything of Japan, are questions which, nevertheless, occasionally present themselves to our minds. Independently of such considerations, nothing could be more luxurious and delightful than our present mode of existence. With perfect weather, plenty of books to read and writing to do, no possibility of interruptions, one can map out one's day and dispose of one's time exactly as one pleases, until the half-past six o'clock dressing-bell - which always seems to come long before it is wanted - recalls one to the duties and necessities of life.