On the Water

Van Valen’s Gold Rush Journey

Day 130 – May 31, 1849

Questions

Based on the careful examination of Van Valen’s journal and supporting primary sources:

  1. What was life like for sailors and ship passengers at sea in the 1840s? List at least two words or phrases from each primary source that support your conclusion.

Van Valen’s Journal Entry

Thursday May 31st 1849. Clear. no Wind. weather
warm an pleasant. Lat 27° 11' South. Long 80° 35' West.

It is amusing to observe the difference in the dis-
-positions of the passengers in a calm or when we
have a fair wind. In a Sea Voyage a man learns
a great deal, the Ocean has its charms, as well as
its discomfits. and the voyage subject to many changes,
as Storms and Calms, Heat and Cold, which makes
the passage as varied perhaps as a journey upon
the lands. After getting through with the initiatory
preliminaries, such as Sea Sickness and the like,
he then begins to relish his food and feel consid-
-erably at home in his floating habitation. he
must also have what is nautically termed his
“Sea legs” on, in order, to more safely navigate the
decks, otherwise movement is perilous. and
promenading almost impossible, the Ship
has their motions in which her planks vary
their line of gravitation. with rapid alteration
and often with a suddeness which a mere
landsman can ill endure. Those of pitching
and rocking and lurching. The billows of the
Ocean move in successive ranges almost para-
-llel before the driving winds, and seem like the
mighty furrows of a fresh ploughed field. It is
often that the course of the Ship is transverse or
oblique to these. And hence she plunges
down gracefully and rises with the same
curvature. Splendidly to repeat the action

[continued onto page # 62]
immediately, and dash along the ups and downs
of her determined way. Behind her a resplendant
wake is levelled from her Keel, and boils as it
recedes foamy and indignant from her intrusion
Sometimes the wind is light, or fair astern as
can be, and in both these cases she rocks us at
a sound rate. How one feels as if certainly we
should capsize as she puts down her masts on
the Starboard or Larboard as the case may be
to an angle of 45 degrees, seemingly, to the plane
of the general surface, then recovering she recedes
to the opposite extreme, and as regular as the
motions of a pendulum, vibrates with portentious
sweep from one side to the other, Thus she ploughs
the mighty main superiur, and as if instinct
with thoughts of the port she has to make, the
effects of this is seen and felt through all the
interior. The whole Cabin hangs out signals of
distress, your trunks, boots, books and other
small notions, are all confused, thrown about
in topsy-turvey order, and sometimes considerably
damaged, till one learns properly to bestow and
secure them. Till then indeed it is difficult
to walk or stand, to eat and even to Sleep, as
one feels in his uneasy berth a nervous propensity
to resist the lateral rolling, lest she should go
down with him irrecoverably far, although he
discovers afterward that his ballancing efforts
are all ridiculous and childish, and at length
can seem deliciously indeed by the gratuitous
rocking. A lurch is very sudden, irregular
or extraordinary motion, out of the common
shaking routine, which the Ship is want to make
at intervals, and which no sagacity can
anticipate, or alertness and practice can
evade. Connected with this is the fine...

[65]
asked how many bells? The Captain seldom
gives orders except to the mates. A Sailor’s life
is a dogs life, but now I shudder with a different
perception. a dog’s life is far better than theirs.
no ordinary dog suffers as much, is injured at all
so grievously, or is as destitute of apt resources in
times of exposure or want.
“his dwelling is the
mountain wave, his home is on the deep.” At Sea
they are exposed to all weather, occupied with
toil and painful duty. half clothed and often
with no adequate covering from the Storms they
brave, self-immolated on the altar of duty, A Sailor
seems a kind of an amphibious animal, devoted
to hard service, wet or dry, aloft or on deck, by
night or day,
swinging on the Main-top-gallant yard
at midnight, or washing down the decks in the
morning.

Primary Sources