Two Years Before the Mast: A Personal Narrative

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Houghton, Mifflin, 1869 - Sailors - 470 pages

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This book is many things: given its age, it is a surprisingly readable and delightful tale of a life very different from the modern. It is a historical account of a long-gone Californian frontier. It is a treatise on the rights of labor in the face of an often tyrannical hierarchy at sea. Most of all, it is a great story, simply told, and one that reminds us that we should never go on an adventure without a story to tell our fellows and a song to sing while hauling at the capstan.  

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Page 138 - ... tis to cast one's eyes so low ! The crows, and choughs, that wing the midway air, Show scarce so gross as beetles. Half way down Hangs one that gathers samphire ; dreadful trade ! Methinks he seems no bigger than his head. The fishermen, that walk upon the beach, Appear like mice ; and yon' tall, anchoring bark, Diminished to her cock ; her cock, a buoy Almost too small for sight.
Page 427 - Roll on, thou deep and dark blue Ocean, roll! Ten thousand fleets sweep over thee in vain; Man marks the earth with ruin, his control Stops with the shore; upon the watery plain The wrecks are all thy...
Page 7 - How I got along, I cannot now remember. I " laid out" on the yards and held on with all my strength. I could not have been of much service, for I remember having been sick several times before I left the topsail yard.
Page 102 - Almost doubled up with pain, the man walked slowly forward, and went down into the forecastle. Every one else stood still at his post, while the captain, swelling with rage and with the importance of his achievement, walked the quarter-deck, and at each turn, as he came forward, calling out to us: "You see your condition! You see where I've got you all, and you know what to expect ! You've been mistaken in me ! You didn't know what I was ! Now you know what I am...
Page 333 - This was an iceberg, and of the largest size, as one of our men said who had been in the Northern Ocean. As far as the eye could reach, the sea in every direction was of a deep blue...
Page 5 - I now began to feel the first discomforts of a sailor's life. The steerage, in which I lived, was filled with coils of rigging, spare sails, old junk, and ship stores, which had not been stowed away. Moreover, there had been no berths built for us to sleep in, and we were not allowed to drive nails to hang our clothes upon. The sea, too, had risen, the vessel was rolling heavily, and everything was pitched about in grand confusion. There was a complete " hurrah's nest," as the sailors say, "everything...
Page 362 - ... and broken hillocks, a little stunted vegetation of shrubs. It was a place well suited to stand at the junction of the two oceans, beyond the reach of human cultivation, and encounter the blasts and snows of a perpetual winter. Yet, dismal as it was, it was a pleasant sight to us; not only as being the first land we had seen, but because it told us that we had passed the Cape,— were in the Atlantic,— and that, with twenty-four hours of this breeze, we might bid defiance to the Southern Ocean.
Page 14 - dog watches" may, perhaps, be of use to one who has never been at sea. They are to shift the watches each night, so that the same watch need not be on deck at the same hours. In order to effect this, the watch from four to eight PM is divided into two half, or dog, watches, one from four to six, and the other from six to eight. By this means they divide the twenty-four hours into seven watches instead of six, and thus shift the hours every night. As the dog watches come during twilight, after the...
Page 230 - The royal yards were all crossed at once, and royals and skysails set, and, as we had the wind free, the booms were run out, and all were aloft, active as cats, laying out on the yards and booms, reeving the studding-sail gear; and sail after sail the captain piled upon her, until she was covered with canvas, her sails looking like a great white cloud resting upon a black speck.
Page 183 - ... of their own family, would risk the same lives to complete the dishonor of another. Of the poor Indians, very little care is taken. The priests^ indeed, at the missions, are said to keep them very strictly,' and some rules are usually made by the alcaldes to punish their misconduct ; but it all amounts to but little. Indeed, to show the entire want of any sense of morality...

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