CHAPTER II. SOUTHWARD HO!
They saw the cables loosened, they saw the gangways cleared,
They heard the women weeping, they heard the men who cheered.
Far off-far off the tumult faded and died away.
And all alone the sea wind came singing up the Bay.
On July 31, 1901, the Discovery left the London Docks, and slowly wended her way down the Thames; and at Cowes, on August 5, she was honored by a visit from King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra. This visit must be ever memorable for the interest their Majesties showed in the minutest details of equipment; but at the same time it was natural for the members of the expedition to be obsessed by the fear that they might start with a flourish of trumpets and return with failure. The grim possibilities of the voyage were also not to be forgotten - a voyage to the Antarctic, the very map of which had remained practically unaltered from 1843-93.
With no previous Polar experience to help him, Scott was following on the track of great Polar explorers, notably of James Cook and James Ross, of whom it has been well said that the one defined the Antarctic region and the other discovered it. Can it be wondered therefore that his great anxieties were to be off and doing, to justify the existence of the expedition at the earliest possible moment, and to obey the instructions which had been given him?
Before the Discovery had crossed the Bay of Biscay it was evident that she did not possess a turn of speed under any conditions, and that there must be none but absolutely necessary delays on the voyage, if she was to arrive in the Antarctic in time to take full advantage of the southern summer of 1901-2 for the first exploration in the ice. This proved a serious drawback, as it had been confidently expected that there would be ample time to make trial of various devices for sounding and dredging in the deep sea, while still in a temperate climate. The fact that no trials could be made on the outward voyage was severely felt when the Antarctic was reached.
On October 2 the Discovery arrived within 150 miles of the Cape, and on the 5th was moored off the naval station at Simon's Bay. The main object of staying at the Cape was to obtain comparisons with the magnetic instruments, but Scott wrote: 'It is much to be deplored that no permanent Magnetic Station now exists at the Cape. The fact increased the number and difficulty of our own observations, and it was quite impossible to spare the time for such repetitions and verifications as, under the circumstances, could alone have placed them beyond dispute.' Armitage and Barne, however, worked like Trojans in taking observations, and received so much valuable assistance 'that they were able to accomplish a maximum amount of work in the limited time at their disposal.' In every way, indeed, the kindliest sympathy was shown at the Cape.
The magnetic work was completed on October 12, and two days later the Discovery once more put out to sea; and as time went on those on board became more and more satisfied with her seaworthy qualities. Towards the end of October there was a succession of heavy following gales, but she rose like a cork to the mountainous seas that followed in her wake, and, considering her size, she was wonderfully free of water on the upper deck. With a heavy following sea, however, she was, owing to her buoyancy, extremely lively, and rolls of more than 40º were often recorded. The peculiar shape of the stern, to which reference has been made, was now well tested. It gave additional buoyancy to the after-end, causing the ship to rise more quickly to the seas, but the same lifting effect was also directed to throwing the ship off her course, and consequently she was difficult to steer. The helmsmen gradually became more expert, but on one occasion when Scott and some other officers were on the bridge the ship swerved round, and was immediately swept by a monstrous sea which made a clean breach over her. Instinctively those on the bridge clutched the rails, and for several moments they were completely submerged while the spray dashed as high as the upper topsails.
On November 12 the Discovery was in lat. 51 S., long. 131 E., and had arrived in such an extremely interesting magnetic area that they steered to the south to explore it. This new course took them far out of the track of ships and towards the regions of ice, and they had scarcely arrived in those lonely waters when Scott was aroused from sleep by a loud knocking and a voice shouting, 'Ship's afire, sir.' Without waiting to give any details of this alarming news the informant fled, and when Scott appeared hastily on the scenes he found that the deck was very dark and obstructed by numerous half-clad people, all of whom were as ignorant as he was. Making his way forward he discovered that the fire had been under the forecastle, and had been easily extinguished when the hose was brought to bear on it. In these days steel ships and electric light tend to lessen the fear of fire, but in a wooden vessel the possible consequences are too serious not to make the danger very real and alarming. Henceforth the risk of fire was constantly in Scott's thoughts, but this was the first and last occasion on which an alarm was raised in the Discovery.