Jack London.

Stories of Ships and the Sea Little Blue Book # 1169 online

. (page 1 of 4)
Online LibraryJack LondonStories of Ships and the Sea Little Blue Book # 1169 → online text (page 1 of 4)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Produced by Ted Garvin, Emmy and the Online Distributed
Proofreading Team at http://www.pgdp.net


Edited by E. Haldeman-Julius

Stories of Ships
and the Sea

Jack London


Copyright, 1922,
By Charmian London.

Reprinted by Arrangement.



Chris Farrington: Able Seaman 5
Typhoon Off the Coast of Japan 17
The Lost Poacher 25
The Banks of the Sacramento 40
In Yeddo Bay 54



"If you vas in der old country ships, a liddle shaver like you vood pe
only der boy, und you vood wait on der able seamen. Und ven der able
seaman sing out, 'Boy, der water-jug!' you vood jump quick, like a shot,
und bring der water-jug. Und ven der able seaman sing out, 'Boy, my
boots!' you vood get der boots. Und you vood pe politeful, und say
'Yessir' und 'No sir.' But you pe in der American ship, and you t'ink
you are so good as der able seamen. Chris, mine boy, I haf ben a
sailorman for twenty-two years, und do you t'ink you are so good as me?
I vas a sailorman pefore you vas borned, und I knot und reef und splice
ven you play mit topstrings und fly kites."

"But you are unfair, Emil!" cried Chris Farrington, his sensitive face
flushed and hurt. He was a slender though strongly built young fellow of
seventeen, with Yankee ancestry writ large all over him.

"Dere you go vonce again!" the Swedish sailor exploded. "My name is
Mister Johansen, und a kid of a boy like you call me 'Emil!' It vas
insulting, und comes pecause of der American ship!"

"But you call me 'Chris'!" the boy expostulated, reproachfully.

"But you vas a boy."

"Who does a man's work," Chris retorted. "And because I do a man's work
I have as much right to call you by your first name as you me. We are
all equals in this fo'castle, and you know it. When we signed for the
voyage in San Francisco, we signed as sailors on the _Sophie Sutherland_
and there was no difference made with any of us. Haven't I always done
my work? Did I ever shirk? Did you or any other man ever have to take a
wheel for me? Or a lookout? Or go aloft?"

"Chris is right," interrupted a young English sailor. "No man has had to
do a tap of his work yet. He signed as good as any of us and he's shown
himself as good - "

"Better!" broke in a Novia Scotia man. "Better than some of us! When we
struck the sealing-grounds he turned out to be next to the best
boat-steerer aboard. Only French Louis, who'd been at it for years,
could beat him. I'm only a boat-puller, and you're only a boat-puller,
too, Emil Johansen, for all your twenty-two years at sea. Why don't you
become a boat-steerer?"

"Too clumsy," laughed the Englishman, "and too slow."

"Little that counts, one way or the other," joined in Dane Jurgensen,
coming to the aid of his Scandinavian brother. "Emil is a man grown and
an able seaman; the boy is neither."

And so the argument raged back and forth, the Swedes, Norwegians and
Danes, because of race kinship, taking the part of Johansen, and the
English, Canadians and Americans taking the part of Chris. From an
unprejudiced point of view, the right was on the side of Chris. As he
had truly said, he did a man's work, and the same work that any of them
did. But they were prejudiced, and badly so, and out of the words which
passed rose a standing quarrel which divided the forecastle into two

* * * * *

The _Sophie Sutherland_ was a seal-hunter, registered out of San
Francisco, and engaged in hunting the furry sea-animals along the
Japanese coast north to Bering Sea. The other vessels were two-masted
schooners, but she was a three-master and the largest in the fleet. In
fact, she was a full-rigged, three-topmast schooner, newly built.

Although Chris Farrington knew that justice was with him, and that he
performed all his work faithfully and well, many a time, in secret
thought, he longed for some pressing emergency to arise whereby he could
demonstrate to the Scandinavian seamen that he also was an able seaman.

But one stormy night, by an accident for which he was in nowise
accountable, in overhauling a spare anchor-chain he had all the fingers
of his left hand badly crushed. And his hopes were likewise crushed, for
it was impossible for him to continue hunting with the boats, and he was
forced to stay idly aboard until his fingers should heal. Yet, although
he little dreamed it, this very accident was to give him the

One afternoon in the latter part of May the _Sophie Sutherland_ rolled
sluggishly in a breathless calm. The seals were abundant, the hunting
good, and the boats were all away and out of sight. And with them was
almost every man of the crew. Besides Chris, there remained only the
captain, the sailing-master and the Chinese cook.

The captain was captain only by courtesy. He was an old man, past
eighty, and blissfully ignorant of the sea and its ways; but he was the
owner of the vessel, and hence the honorable title. Of course the
sailing-master, who was really captain, was a thorough-going seaman. The
mate, whose post was aboard, was out with the boats, having temporarily
taken Chris's place as boat-steerer.

When good weather and good sport came together, the boats were
accustomed to range far and wide, and often did not return to the
schooner until long after dark. But for all that it was a perfect
hunting day, Chris noted a growing anxiety on the part of the
sailing-master. He paced the deck nervously, and was constantly sweeping
the horizon with his marine glasses. Not a boat was in sight. As sunset
arrived, he even sent Chris aloft to the mizzen-topmast-head, but with
no better luck. The boats could not possibly be back before midnight.

Since noon the barometer had been falling with startling rapidity, and
all the signs were ripe for a great storm - how great, not even the
sailing-master anticipated. He and Chris set to work to prepare for it.
They put storm gaskets on the furled topsails, lowered and stowed the
foresail and spanker and took in the two inner jibs. In the one
remaining jib they put a single reef, and a single reef in the mainsail.

Night had fallen before they finished, and with the darkness came the
storm. A low moan swept over the sea, and the wind struck the _Sophie
Sutherland_ flat. But she righted quickly, and with the sailing-master
at the wheel, sheered her bow into within five points of the wind.
Working as well as he could with his bandaged hand, and with the feeble
aid of the Chinese cook, Chris went forward and backed the jib over to
the weather side. This with the flat mainsail, left the schooner hove

"God help the boats! It's no gale! It's a typhoon!" the sailing-master
shouted to Chris at eleven o'clock. "Too much canvas! Got to get two
more reefs into the mainsail, and got to do it right away!" He glanced
at the old captain, shivering in oilskins at the binnacle and holding on
for dear life. "There's only you and I, Chris - and the cook; but he's
next to worthless!"

In order to make the reef, it was necessary to lower the mainsail, and
the removal of this after pressure was bound to make the schooner fall
off before the wind and sea because of the forward pressure of the jib.

"Take the wheel!" the sailing-master directed. "And when I give the
word, hard up with it! And when she's square before it, steady her! And
keep her there! We'll heave to again as soon as I get the reefs in!"

Gripping the kicking spokes, Chris watched him and the reluctant cook go
forward into the howling darkness. The _Sophie Sutherland_ was plunging
into the huge head-seas and wallowing tremendously, the tense steel
stays and taut rigging humming like harp-strings to the wind. A buffeted
cry came to his ears, and he felt the schooner's bow paying off of its
own accord. The mainsail was down!

He ran the wheel hard-over and kept anxious track of the changing
direction of the wind on his face and of the heave of the vessel. This
was the crucial moment. In performing the evolution she would have to
pass broadside to the surge before she could get before it. The wind was
blowing directly on his right cheek, when he felt the _Sophie
Sutherland_ lean over and begin to rise toward the sky - up - up - an
infinite distance! Would she clear the crest of the gigantic wave?

Again by the feel of it, for he could see nothing, he knew that a wall
of water was rearing and curving far above him along the whole weather
side. There was an instant's calm as the liquid wall intervened and shut
off the wind. The schooner righted, and for that instant seemed at
perfect rest. Then she rolled to meet the descending rush.

Chris shouted to the captain to hold tight, and prepared himself for the
shock. But the man did not live who could face it. An ocean of water
smote Chris's back and his clutch on the spokes was loosened as if it
were a baby's. Stunned, powerless, like a straw on the face of a
torrent, he was swept onward he knew not whither. Missing the corner of
the cabin, he was dashed forward along the poop runway a hundred feet
or more, striking violently against the foot of the foremast. A second
wave, crushing inboard, hurled him back the way he had come, and left
him half-drowned where the poop steps should have been.

Bruised and bleeding, dimly conscious, he felt for the rail and dragged
himself to his feet. Unless something could be done, he knew the last
moment had come. As he faced the poop, the wind drove into his mouth
with suffocating force. This brought him back to his senses with a
start. The wind was blowing from dead aft! The schooner was out of the
trough and before it! But the send of the sea was bound to breach her to
again. Crawling up the runway, he managed to get to the wheel just in
time to prevent this. The binnacle light was still burning. They were

That is, he and the schooner were safe. As to the welfare of his three
companions he could not say. Nor did he dare leave the wheel in order to
find out, for it took every second of his undivided attention to keep
the vessel to her course. The least fraction of carelessness and the
heave of the sea under the quarter was liable to thrust her into the
trough. So, a boy of one hundred and forty pounds, he clung to his
herculean task of guiding the two hundred straining tons of fabric amid
the chaos of the great storm forces.

Half an hour later, groaning and sobbing, the captain crawled to Chris's
feet. All was lost, he whimpered. He was smitten unto death. The galley
had gone by the board, the mainsail and running-gear, the cook, every

"Where's the sailing-master?" Chris demanded when he had caught his
breath after steadying a wild lurch of the schooner. It was no child's
play to steer a vessel under single reefed jib before a typhoon.

"Clean up for'ard," the old man replied "Jammed under the fo'c'sle-head,
but still breathing. Both his arms are broken, he says and he doesn't
know how many ribs. He's hurt bad."

"Well, he'll drown there the way she's shipping water through the
hawse-pipes. Go for'ard!" Chris commanded, taking charge of things as a
matter of course. "Tell him not to worry; that I'm at the wheel. Help
him as much as you can, and make him help" - he stopped and ran the
spokes to starboard as a tremendous billow rose under the stern and
yawed the schooner to port - "and make him help himself for the rest.
Unship the fo'castle hatch and get him down into a bunk. Then ship the
hatch again."

The captain turned his aged face forward and wavered pitifully. The
waist of the ship was full of water to the bulwarks. He had just come
through it, and knew death lurked every inch of the way.

"Go!" Chris shouted, fiercely. And as the fear-stricken man started,
"And take another look for the cook!"

Two hours later, almost dead from suffering, the captain returned. He
had obeyed orders. The sailing-master was helpless, although safe in a
bunk; the cook was gone. Chris sent the captain below to the cabin to
change his clothes.

After interminable hours of toil day broke cold and gray. Chris looked
about him. The _Sophie Sutherland_ was racing before the typhoon like a
thing possessed. There was no rain, but the wind whipped the spray of
the sea mast-high, obscuring everything except in the immediate

Two waves only could Chris see at a time - the one before and the one
behind. So small and insignificant the schooner seemed on the long
Pacific roll! Rushing up a maddening mountain, she would poise like a
cockle-shell on the giddy summit, breathless and rolling, leap outward
and down into the yawning chasm beneath, and bury herself in the smother
of foam at the bottom. Then the recovery, another mountain, another
sickening upward rush, another poise, and the downward crash. Abreast of
him, to starboard, like a ghost of the storm, Chris saw the cook dashing
apace with the schooner. Evidently, when washed overboard, he had
grasped and become entangled in a trailing halyard.

For three hours more, alone with this gruesome companion, Chris held the
_Sophie Sutherland_ before the wind and sea. He had long since forgotten
his mangled fingers. The bandages had been torn away, and the cold, salt
spray had eaten into the half-healed wounds until they were numb and no
longer pained. But he was not cold. The terrific labor of steering
forced the perspiration from every pore. Yet he was faint and weak with
hunger and exhaustion, and hailed with delight the advent on deck of the
captain, who fed him all of a pound of cake-chocolate. It strengthened
him at once.

He ordered the captain to cut the halyard by which the cook's body was
towing, and also to go forward and cut loose the jib-halyard and sheet.
When he had done so, the jib fluttered a couple of moments like a
handkerchief, then tore out of the bolt-ropes and vanished. The _Sophie
Sutherland_ was running under bare poles.

By noon the storm had spent itself, and by six in the evening the waves
had died down sufficiently to let Chris leave the helm. It was almost
hopeless to dream of the small boats weathering the typhoon, but there
is always the chance in saving human life, and Chris at once applied
himself to going back over the course along which he had fled. He
managed to get a reef in one of the inner jibs and two reefs in the
spanker, and then, with the aid of the watch-tackle, to hoist them to
the stiff breeze that yet blew. And all through the night, tacking back
and forth on the back track, he shook out canvas as fast as the wind
would permit.

The injured sailing-master had turned delirious and between tending him
and lending a hand with the ship, Chris kept the captain busy. "Taught
me more seamanship," as he afterward said, "than I'd learned on the
whole voyage." But by daybreak the old man's feeble frame succumbed,
and he fell off into exhausted sleep on the weather poop.

Chris, who could now lash the wheel, covered the tired man with blankets
from below, and went fishing in the lazaretto for something to eat. But
by the day following he found himself forced to give in, drowsing
fitfully by the wheel and waking ever and anon to take a look at things.

On the afternoon of the third day he picked up a schooner, dismasted and
battered. As he approached, close-hauled on the wind, he saw her decks
crowded by an unusually large crew, and on sailing in closer, made out
among others the faces of his missing comrades. And he was just in the
nick of time, for they were fighting a losing fight at the pumps. An
hour later they, with the crew of the sinking craft were aboard the
_Sophie Sutherland_.

Having wandered so far from their own vessel, they had taken refuge on
the strange schooner just before the storm broke. She was a Canadian
sealer on her first voyage, and as was now apparent, her last.

The captain of the _Sophie Sutherland_ had a story to tell, also, and he
told it well - so well, in fact, that when all hands were gathered
together on deck during the dog-watch, Emil Johansen strode over to
Chris and gripped him by the hand.

"Chris," he said, so loudly that all could hear, "Chris, I gif in. You
vas yoost so good a sailorman as I. You vas a bully boy und able
seaman, und I pe proud for you!

"Und Chris!" He turned as if he had forgotten something, and called
back, "From dis time always you call me 'Emil' mitout der 'Mister'!"


_Jack London's First Story, Published at the Age of Seventeen._

It was four bells in the morning watch. We had just finished breakfast
when the order came forward for the watch on deck to stand by to heave
her to and all hands stand by the boats.

"Port! hard a port!" cried our sailing-master. "Clew up the topsails!
Let the flying jib run down! Back the jib over to windward and run down
the foresail!" And so was our schooner _Sophie Sutherland_ hove to off
the Japan coast, near Cape Jerimo, on April 10, 1893.

Then came moments of bustle and confusion. There were eighteen men to
man the six boats. Some were hooking on the falls, others casting off
the lashings; boat-steerers appeared with boat-compasses and
water-breakers, and boat-pullers with the lunch boxes. Hunters were
staggering under two or three shotguns, a rifle and heavy ammunition
box, all of which were soon stowed away with their oilskins and mittens
in the boats.

The sailing-master gave his last orders, and away we went, pulling three
pairs of oars to gain our positions. We were in the weather boat, and so
had a longer pull than the others. The first, second and third lee boats
soon had all sail set and were running off to the southward and
westward with the wind beam, while the schooner was running off to
leeward of them, so that in case of accident the boats would have fair
wind home.

It was a glorious morning, but our boat steerer shook his head ominously
as he glanced at the rising sun and prophetically muttered: "Red sun in
the morning, sailor take warning." The sun had an angry look, and a few
light, fleecy "nigger-heads" in that quarter seemed abashed and
frightened and soon disappeared.

Away off to the northward Cape Jerimo reared its black, forbidding head
like some huge monster rising from the deep. The winter's snow, not yet
entirely dissipated by the sun, covered it in patches of glistening
white, over which the light wind swept on its way out to sea. Huge gulls
rose slowly, fluttering their wings in the light breeze and striking
their webbed feet on the surface of the water for over half a mile
before they could leave it. Hardly had the patter, patter died away when
a flock of sea quail rose, and with whistling wings flew away to
windward, where members of a large band of whales were disporting
themselves, their blowings sounding like the exhaust of steam engines.
The harsh, discordant cries of a sea-parrot grated unpleasantly on the
ear, and set half a dozen alert in a small band of seals that were ahead
of us. Away they went, breaching and jumping entirely out of water. A
sea-gull with slow, deliberate flight and long, majestic curves circled
round us, and as a reminder of home a little English sparrow perched
impudently on the fo'castle head, and, cocking his head on one side,
chirped merrily. The boats were soon among the seals, and the bang!
bang! of the guns could be heard from down to leeward.

The wind was slowly rising, and by three o'clock as, with a dozen seals
in our boat, we were deliberating whether to go on or turn back, the
recall flag was run up at the schooner's mizzen - a sure sign that with
the rising wind the barometer was falling and that our sailing-master
was getting anxious for the welfare of the boats.

Away we went before the wind with a single reef in our sail. With
clenched teeth sat the boat-steerer, grasping the steering oar firmly
with both hands, his restless eyes on the alert - a glance at the
schooner ahead, as we rose on a sea, another at the mainsheet, and then
one astern where the dark ripple of the wind on the water told him of a
coming puff or a large white-cap that threatened to overwhelm us. The
waves were holding high carnival, performing the strangest antics, as
with wild glee they danced along in fierce pursuit - now up, now down,
here, there, and everywhere, until some great sea of liquid green with
its milk-white crest of foam rose from the ocean's throbbing bosom and
drove the others from view. But only for a moment, for again under new
forms they reappeared. In the sun's path they wandered, where every
ripple, great or small, every little spit or spray looked like molten
silver, where the water lost its dark green color and became a dazzling,
silvery flood, only to vanish and become a wild waste of sullen
turbulence, each dark foreboding sea rising and breaking, then rolling
on again. The dash, the sparkle, the silvery light soon vanished with
the sun, which became obscured by black clouds that were rolling swiftly
in from the west, northwest; apt heralds of the coming storm.

We soon reached the schooner and found ourselves the last aboard. In a
few minutes the seals were skinned, boats and decks washed, and we were
down below by the roaring fo'castle fire, with a wash, change of
clothes, and a hot, substantial supper before us. Sail had been put on
the schooner, as we had a run of seventy-five miles to make to the
southward before morning, so as to get in the midst of the seals, out of
which we had strayed during the last two days' hunting.

We had the first watch from eight to midnight. The wind was soon blowing
half a gale, and our sailing-master expected little sleep that night as
he paced up and down the poop. The topsails were soon clewed up and made
fast, then the flying jib run down and furled. Quite a sea was rolling
by this time, occasionally breaking over the decks, flooding them and
threatening to smash the boats. At six bells we were ordered to turn
them over and put on storm lashings. This occupied us till eight bells,
when we were relieved by the mid-watch. I was the last to go below,
doing so just as the watch on deck was furling the spanker. Below all
were asleep except our green hand, the "bricklayer," who was dying of
consumption. The wildly dancing movements of the sea lamp cast a pale,
flickering light through the fo'castle and turned to golden honey the
drops of water on the yellow oilskins. In all the corners dark shadows
seemed to come and go, while up in the eyes of her, beyond the pall
bits, descending from deck to deck, where they seemed to lurk like some
dragon at the cavern's mouth, it was dark as Erebus. Now and again, the
light seemed to penetrate for a moment as the schooner rolled heavier
than usual, only to recede, leaving it darker and blacker than before.
The roar of the wind through the rigging came to the ear muffled like
the distant rumble of a train crossing a trestle or the surf on the
beach, while the loud crash of the seas on her weather bow seemed almost
to rend the beams and planking asunder as it resounded through the
fo'castle. The creaking and groaning of the timbers, stanchions, and
bulkheads, as the strain the vessel was undergoing was felt, served to
drown the groans of the dying man as he tossed uneasily in his bunk. The
working of the foremast against the deck beams caused a shower of flaky
powder to fall, and sent another sound mingling with the tumultuous
storm. Small cascades of water streamed from the pall bits from the
fo'castle head above, and, joining issue with the streams from the wet
oilskins, ran along the floor and disappeared aft into the main hold.

At two bells in the middle watch - that is, in land parlance one o'clock
in the morning; - the order was roared out on the fo'castle: "All hands
on deck and shorten sail!"

Then the sleepy sailors tumbled out of their bunk and into their
clothes, oilskins and sea-boots and up on deck. 'Tis when that order
comes on cold, blustering nights that "Jack" grimly mutters: "Who would
not sell a farm and go to sea?"

It was on deck that the force of the wind could be fully appreciated,
especially after leaving the stifling fo'castle. It seemed to stand up
against you like a wall, making it almost impossible to move on the
heaving decks or to breathe as the fierce gusts came dashing by. The

1 3 4

Online LibraryJack LondonStories of Ships and the Sea Little Blue Book # 1169 → online text (page 1 of 4)