Britain Keeps the Sea

And Contains European Militarism for the 100 Years of the Pax Britannica

The little ship, just 90 feet long on deck, was tackling Cape Horn at the wrong time of year.

Starting in late March 1788-early autumn in the southern hemisphere-she was assaulted by a series of Cape Horn snorters.

Under short canvas she battl ed her way to windward aga inst horrendous dri vi ng snowstorms and towering seas.

The captain was a seaman of long experience,

who had sailed as navigator with Captain Cook through the Roaring Forties and the gales of the Southern Ocean a decade earlier,

earning good marks from his famous mentor,

but he noted in his journal that he had never encountered a “Sea so very high,

and the Weather side of it like a wall. “

It was biting cold, but the Captain kept the men on the three-watch system he had learned from Cook,

Assuring them of eight hours off for every four on deck-except for necessary calls for all hands on deck.

With fires in the ship ‘s stoves the men could dry their clothes in their off watches.

The crew were in robust health going into the ordeal,

thanks to the healthy diet Cook had devised to prevent scurvy,

which the Captain insisted the men fo llow, and a regimen that included music, dancing and singing.

He also insisted on a fiddler to pipe a stave in the evenings and had final! y fo und a good one just before sailing.

He was signed on, despite the fact that the man, Able Seaman Mi chae l Byrne, was more than half blind.

But there was no dancing or singing as the small wooden ship fou ght her way to windward against the icy, avalanching seas that continuously buried the ship in rushing water.

 Men came down from aloft staggering and sometimes, the Captain tells us in his account, unable to speak, their faces numbed by lancing sleet and snow. And the ship?

The ship kept crashing her way into the oncoming walls of hurtling water, which wracked her frame so that the seams opened up here and there,

and water sprayed into the men’s quarters forward.

The Captain, remarkably, gave up his own cabin aft to ” those poor fellows” who had been washed out of their berths in the forecastle.

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