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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

A Storm off the Bermudas

By William Strachey (1572?–1621)

[By William Strachey, resident in Virginia, 1610–12. A True Reportory of the Wracke and Redemption of Sir Thomas Gates. 1610.]

ON St. James his day, July 24, being Monday (preparing for no less all the black night before) the clouds gathering thick upon us, and the winds singing and whistling most unusually, which made us to cast off our Pinnace, towing the same until then afterne, a dreadful storm and hideous began to blow from out the Northeast, which, swelling and roaring as it were by fits, some hours with more violence than others, at length did beat all light from heaven, which like an hell of darkness, turned black upon us, so much the more fuller of horror, as in such cases horror and fear use to overrun the troubled and overmastered senses of all, which (taken up with amazement) the ears lay so sensible to the terrible cries, and murmurs of the winds and distraction of our Company, as who was most armed and best prepared, was not a little shaken….

For four and twenty hours the storm, in a restless tumult, had blown so exceedingly, as we could not apprehend in our imaginations any possibility of greater violence, yet did we still find it, not only more terrible, but more constant, fury added to fury, and one storm urging a second, more outrageous than the former, whether it so wrought upon our fears, or indeed met with new forces. Sometimes strikes in our Ship amongst women, and passengers not used to such hurly and discomforts, made us look one upon the other with troubled hearts, and panting bosoms, our clamors drowned in the winds, and the winds in thunder. Prayers might well be in the heart and lips, but drowned in the outcries of the Officers,—nothing heard that could give comfort, nothing seen that might encourage hope….

Our sails, wound up, lay without their use, and if at any time we bore but a Hollocke, or half forecourse, to guide her before the Sea, six, and sometimes eight men, were not enough to hold the whipstaffe in the steerage, and the tiller below in the Gunner room; by which may be imagined the strength of the storm, in which the Sea swelled above the Clouds and gave battle unto heaven. It could not be said to rain, the waters like whole Rivers did flood in the ayre. And this I did still observe, that whereas upon the Land, when a storm hath poured itself forth once in drifts of rain, the wind as beaten down, and vanquished therewith, not long after endureth—here the glut of water (as if throatling the wind ere while) was no sooner a little emptied and qualified, but instantly the winds (as having gotten their mouths now free and at liberty) spake more loud, and grew more tumultuous and malignant. What shall I say? Winds and Seas were as mad as fury and rage could make them.


Howbeit this was not all; it pleased God to bring a greater affliction yet upon us, for in the beginning of the storm we had received likewise a mighty leak, and the ship in every joint almost having spewed out her Okam, before we were aware (a casualty more desperate than any other that a Voyage by Sea draweth with it) was grown five foot suddenly deep with water above her ballast, and we almost drowned within, whilest we sat looking when to perish from above. This, imparting no less terror than danger, ran through the whole Ship with much fright and amazement, startled and turned the blood, and took down the braves of the most hardy Mariner of them all, insomuch as he that before happily felt not the sorrow of others, now began to sorrow for himself, when he saw such a pond of water so suddenly broken in, and which he knew could not (without present avoiding) but instantly sink him. So as joining (only for his own sake, not yet worth the saving) in the public safety, there might be seen Master, Master’s Mate, Boatswain, Quarter Master, Coopers, Carpenters, and who not, with candles in their hands, creeping along the ribs, viewing the sides, searching every corner, and listening in every place, if they could hear the water run. Many a weeping leak was this way found and hastily stopt, and at length one in the Gunner room made up with I know not how many pieces of Beef; but all was to no purpose, the Leak (if it were but one) which drunk in our greatest Seas and took in our destruction fastest, could not then be found, nor ever was, by any labor, counsel, or search. The waters still increasing, and the Pumps going, which at length choaked with bringing up whole and continual Bisket (and indeed all we had, ten thousand weight) it was conceived as most likely, that the Leak might be sprung in the Bread room, whereupon the Carpenter went down and ript up all the room, but could not find it so….

Once so huge a Sea brake upon the poop and quarter, upon us, as it covered our ship from stern to stem, like a garment or a vast cloud. It filled her brimful for a while within, from the hatches up to the spar deck. This force or confluence of water was so violent, as it rushed and carried the Helm man from the Helm and wrested the Whipstaffe out of his hand, which so flew from side to side, that when he would have seized the same again, it so tossed him from starboard to larboard, as it was God’s mercy it had not split him. It so beat him from his hold, and so bruised him, as a fresh man hazarding in by chance fell fair with it and by main strength bearing somewhat up, made good his place, and with much clamor encouraged and called upon others, who gave her now up, rent in pieces and absolutely lost….

During all this time the heavens looked so black upon us, that it was not possible the elevation of the Pole might be observed; not a star by night nor sunbeam by day was to be seen. Only upon the Thursday night, Sir George Summers being upon the watch, had an apparition of a little round light, like a faint star, trembling and streaming along with a sparkling blaze, half the height upon the mainmast, and shooting sometimes from shroud to shroud, tempting to settle as it were upon any of the four shrouds, and for three or four hours together, or rather more, half the night it kept with us, running sometimes along the mainyard to the very end, and then returning. At which Sir George Summers called divers about him and showed them the same, who observed it with much wonder and carefulness. But upon a sudden, towards the morning watch, they lost the sight of it and knew not what way it made….

East and by South we steered away as much as we could to bear upright, which was no small carefulness nor pain to do, albeit we much unrigged our ship, threw overboard much luggage, many a trunk and chest (in which I suffered no mean loss) and staved many a butt of beer, hogsheads of oil, cider, wine, and vinegar, and heaved away all our ordnance on the starboard side, and had now purposed to have cut down the mainmast, the more to lighten her, for we were much spent, and our men so weary, as their strengths together failed them with their hearts, having travailed now from Tuesday till Friday morning, day and night, without either sleep or food; for the leakage taking up all the hold, we could neither come by beer nor fresh water. Fire we could keep none in the Cook-room to dress any meat, and carefulness, grief, and our turn at the Pump or Bucket, were sufficient to hold sleep from our eyes…. Tuesday noon till Friday noon we bailed and pumped two thousand tun, and yet, do what we could, when our ship held least in her (after Tuesday night second watch) she bore ten foot deep, at which stay our extreme working kept her one eight glasses, forbearance whereof had instantly sunk us; and it being now Friday, the fourth morning, it wanted little but that there had been a general determination, to have shut up hatches and commending our sinful souls to God, committed the ship to the mercy of the sea. Surely that night we must have done it, and that night had we then perished; but see the goodness and sweet introduction of better hope by our merciful God given unto us. Sir George Summers, when no man dreamed of such happiness, had discovered and cried “Land!” Indeed the morning, now three quarters spent, had won a little clearness from the days before, and it being better surveyed, the very trees were seen to move with the wind upon the shore-side.