“Oceangoing Pioneers (Part Three)” Friend, Sept. 1996, 11
A young boy and his parents are on the Brooklyn with other Latter-day Saints going to California in 1846. First a raging storm, the worst the captain had ever experienced, then the Doldrums, a part of the ocean so calm that the ship was motionless under a blazing sun, threatened their lives. Finally a wind came up and blew them toward Cape Horn, expected to be the most dangerous part of their journey.
Since leaving New York, we voyagers aboard the Brooklyn had seen nothing but ocean and sky day after day, week after week, month after month.
We were running out of food, and what we had was stale and wormy. We had to inspect every bite we ate for cooked or crawling insects or larvae. Rats multiplied faster than the cats could catch them. They nibbled away at the little food we had. Cockroaches and weevils devoured more of it.
The drinking water tasted terrible and was full of stringy slime. Each person was allowed only two cups a day.
As the calendar flipped from April to May, the Brooklyn came closer and closer to Cape Horn. In the Southern Hemisphere, it was nearly winter, the season of the most hazardous weather. Could the ship successfully round the corner and head north into the “peaceful Pacific”? Or would it be dashed to pieces and buried forever in the “graveyard of the oceans”? I wondered and worried.
The days were getting shorter and shorter. We hardly saw the sun at all and never got a glimpse of land.
Finally a wind came along from the east that carried the ship far enough west to clear the Cape. The date was May 4, 1846, exactly three months after the voyage began.
Everyone rejoiced that the most dangerous part of the trip had been so easy. Children romped and played on the deck, and the women celebrated by making bread, pies, cakes, and doughnuts. They weren’t worried about using up the last of the flour and sugar—we planned to stop in Valparaiso, Chile, to get more supplies. It couldn’t happen too soon to suit me!
The Brooklyn moved north, parallel to the coast of Chile. Still no land was visible, and one man wondered aloud if the captain really knew where we were. To prove that he did, he maneuvered the ship closer to the coast and pointed to a peak barely visible in the distance. He said it was Aconcagua, the highest mountain in the Andes and not far from our landing place.
At last, after more than three months, we had actually seen some land. What a welcome sight! How I longed to step on solid ground again. I watched eagerly as we moved closer and closer to the steep mountain range and the city below.
But we never reached Valparaiso!
As we neared the port, the temperature suddenly dropped and a frigid wind whipped the sails. A raging gale blew us back toward the cape—so far south that we could see icebergs! Seamen fought for control of the ship as the fierce storm continued. Ice froze on the sails and the rigging. The masts were almost impossible to manage. A sailor was washed overboard and nearly drowned before he was rescued. Passengers were hatched below again.
Captain Richardson tried several times to land on the west coast of Chile. After three difficult days, he gave up going to Valparaiso and headed for some islands 360 miles out in the Pacific.
“The Juan Fernández islands,” Papa said. “One of them is called Robinson Crusoe’s island.”
“You mean the place where he was shipwrecked and lived all alone until he found his man Friday?”
“Well, that was a make-believe place, just as Robinson Crusoe was an imaginary man. The Juan Fernández are real islands where a real sailor, Alexander Selkirk, was put ashore after he had an argument with the captain of his ship. He lived alone for four years, waiting to be rescued. His experiences there gave Daniel Defoe the idea for his book.”
It might not have been Robinson Crusoe’s island, but a real island where an actual man was marooned sounded like an exciting place to visit!
The first thing we saw as we approached was a tall, green hump on the horizon. What a pleasant sight to see a color we’d almost forgotten. As we came closer, we could see rocky mountains covered with heavy forests. Wispy clouds wound around the tops of the peaks like ladies’ scarves blowing in the wind.
As we neared the shore, we had a closer view of the beautiful island. It looked like the Garden of Eden to me! All kinds of trees, shrubbery, ferns, and flowers were growing everywhere. Ripe fruit hung on some of the trees—peaches! How my mouth watered! Several natives stood on the beach, waving a welcome as we approached.
Even though we didn’t understand their words, their actions made it clear that we were welcome to anything we needed. Fruits and vegetables grew everywhere. We filled up on peaches, figs, and potatoes. The ocean and streams teemed with fish. Great spotted eels were caught and cooked. Some people refused to eat them because they looked too much like snakes. They didn’t go hungry, though. Goats, hares, and pigs provided other kinds of meat.
We splashed and bathed in the fresh water. Papa fished and gathered firewood; Mama washed the clothes and hung them on the bushes to dry. My friends and I rambled around the island, exploring tunnels and caves in the porous rock.
After five wonderful days, the Saints helped the crew load the Brooklyn with vegetables, fruit, meat, freshly salted fish, 18,000 gallons of fresh water, and plenty of firewood for cooking.
As we sailed away, Papa remarked, “God works in mysterious ways.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“He knew that we didn’t have enough money to buy the supplies we needed in Valparaiso, so He sent a storm to keep us from landing. Then He led us to this beautiful island where we could get food, water, and fuel at no cost.”
“It’s strange,” I said, “that something that seems terrible at the time can turn out to be a good thing.”
“That’s quite often the case,” Papa assured me.
When we left the Juan Fernández islands on May 9, I wondered what other surprises the “peaceful Pacific” might have in store for us.
(To be continued)