AN EQUINOCTIAL GALE Published in The Otago Witness 31 Mar 1860 THE PIRATE IN THE GALE
The Pirate steamer left Melbourne for Otago on Sunday, the 18th March, at 2 p.m, and after a pleasant run, with light and variable winds, the passengers on Sunday, the 25th instant., were gladdened by a distant view of the high land that bounds the West coast of the Otago Province. Throughout the whole of that day the sun was surrounded by a large ring, about 30 degrees in diameter. Every one was congratulating his fellow passengers on the near prospect of reaching a place of refuge, before the equinoctial gales commenced. About sunset we were 25 miles off Dusky Bay; our course was altered to 8.E., the wind blowmg about N.W. At 7.80 the night grew very dark, flashes of lightning for a moment lit up the darkness of the murky sky -- the swell (which is generally very great about the western entrance of Foveaux Strait) was considerably increased. At 8 p.m., the wind, which had been quite steady all day, began to blow in fitful gusts, the darkness became quite pitchy, and the captain wisely resolved to lay the vessel to for the night, and start early the next morning. Before the topsails were stowed occasional drops of rain gave unmistakeable intimation of what we might expect that night. At 10 p.m. the wind had increased to a fresh gale, but the barometer gave no indication that anything serious was to be expected. At 12 the wind began to whistle through the shrouds, producing that most disagreeable of all sounds to a landsman's ears. Many an anxious eye was turned to the barometer, but this hitherto faithful instrument remained at " Fair." At 2 a.m. (Monday) the barometer began to fall rapidly, and at 5 a.m. became very low. All hands were called on deck at grey dawn; the topsails were close reefed, and by 5.30 the Pirate was booming along at ten and a half knots. At 6.30 the topsails were again furled to save them from being blown out of the bolt-rope. In cluing up, the mainsail was split. The steamer was laid-to under half steam, mainsail, and spanker, with her head towards the shore. Although the sea was running high at the time, she rounded-to beautifully without shipping any water. At 7 a.m. the barometer became stationary at 28 inches. The horizon contracted to within half a mile of the vessel; beyond this distance nothing could be seen through the hazy mass of clouds that hung between us and the land. At 8.30 the spanker was torn from the gaff; nothing could be seen from the deck for the blinding spray that was flying over the vessel. The sea was now running very high, and the wind blowing with terrific fury; the fore topgallant, which was furled the day before, was actually torn by the wind between the lashings of the sail. At 11 a.m. the starboard life-boat was rolled into the sea, filled with water, and had the ring-bolt drawn out of her stern, and as she fell into the sea, the seamen cut her adrift. At 11.20 the Captain became suspicious that we were nearing the land, and gave orders to "ware ship;" every man trembled for the consequences of this movement, none doubting but that her decks would be swept in such a sea. All steam was put on, the mainsail lowered, and staysail set. At a given signal the wheel was put hard down; slowly the vessel began to pay off; the dreaded moment arrived - she descended into the trough of the sea; all eyes were directed to the approaching wave; for a moment it seemed as if it would leap on board, but as the vessel rolled heavily to leeward it passed under, carrying the vessel's head round about four points from the wind. Beyond this she would not go. Another attempt was made to bring her round by backing the engine, but this also failed, in consequence of the high poop counteracting the head sails. At 11.40 a.m. another sea filled the starboard quarter boat, and tore her from the davits. At noon there was a sudden break in the clouds, disclosing a dark mass of cloud shaped like a mountain. Every one asked his neighbour what it was; few could bear the thought that we were rushing to destruction: the ladies began whispering to each other - the gentlemen spoke little: every one was wrapt in thought that can never be known. We know that not a few breathed an aspiration "to Him who rides upon the storm." Suddenly the sea became smoother; the foresail was loosed, and without setting it, the vessel came round with the greatest ease, and shot out to sea again. The climax was past; the reaction - gratitude! At 2 p.m. the barometer rose the 100th part of an inch; at 4 p.m. the wind was less violent; at 4.30 a heavy sea stove in the ladies' cabin and threw several out of their beds. The gentlemen at once relinquished their cabins to the ladies. At 6 p.m. the gale was broken, and the sun set in a flood of fire. At 2 a.m. (Tuesday, 27th) the wind changed to south-west. We set sail, arrived at the Bluff about noon, and left in the evening; anchored at Port Chalmers, and delivered the English mail at 10 a.m., on Wednesday, the 28th. Converted to electronic form by Corey Woodw@rd
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