The Sandman: His Sea Stories  by Willliam J. Hopkins

The Cargo Story

Once upon a time there was a wide river that ran into the ocean, and beside it was a little city. And in that city was a wharf where great ships came from far countries. And a narrow road led down a very steep hill to that wharf, and anybody that wanted to go to the wharf had to go down the steep hill on the narrow road, for there wasn't any other way. And because ships had come there for a great many years and all the sailors and all the captains and all the men who had business with the ships had to go on that narrow road, the flagstones that made the sidewalk were much worn. That was a great many years ago.

That wharf was Captain Jonathan's and Captain Jacob's and they owned the ships that sailed from it; and, after their ships had been sailing from that wharf in the little city for a good many years, they changed their office to Boston. After that their ships sailed from a wharf in Boston.

Once the brig Industry  was all ready to sail from Boston for far countries. She had her cargo all stowed, but Captain Sol hadn't seen it stowed, for he had had to be away from Boston while it was being put aboard. So a lumper, or 'longshoreman, had told the men where to put things. A lumper was a man who did the work of carrying things into a ship, or out of it. This man was a pretty good 'longshoreman, but a lumper wasn't a sailor and couldn't be expected to get the things stowed quite so well as a captain or a mate. The captain or the mate would be more interested in having the things stowed well, for it makes a great difference, in the sailing of a ship and in her behavior, how the cargo is stowed. Captain Sol generally liked to attend to those things himself.

They had put on board all the things that they would eat and the water that they would drink; and Captain Sol came back and the Industry  sailed away from that wharf out upon the great ocean. And she sailed the length of the Atlantic, but she met a good deal of rough weather and she ran into three or four storms.

Captain Sol soon found that the cargo hadn't been well stowed and it bothered him a good deal. For, in his log-book, he wrote things like these:

Aug. 27, Heavy sea from the eastward. Ship labors very badly.

Sept. 1, Squally with rough, heavy sea. Ship labors very much.

Sept. 10, Ship rolls and labors hard through the night.

Sept. 22, Heavy gales & Squally with tremendous sea. Ship'd much water.

Sept. 25, Strong gales and rough sea. Ship rolls heavy.

Sept. 30, Hard squalls and tremendous sea from N. & E. Ship labors very hard.

Oct. 3, A very heavy sea running during the 24 hours. Ship labors too much, owing to bad stowage of cargo. It must be corrected.

So, before the Industry  had got around the Cape of Good Hope, Captain Sol had made up his mind that he would have that cargo overhauled and stowed the way it ought to be. For he thought that the ship would sail enough faster to make up for the time it would take, and all hands would be more comfortable. And he had the sailors steer her to a little island that he knew about, where there was a good harbor and where he wouldn't be bothered. And she got to that island and the sailors let her anchor down to the bottom of the harbor, and they began to take out her cargo.

First they rigged tackles to the yards high up on the masts, and they swung the yards so that the tackles would be just above the hatchway; and one was over the forward hatchway and one was over the after hatchway. Then Captain Sol sent one gang of men down into the hold of the Industry  by the after hatch, with the mate to tell them what to do; and he sent another gang of men into the hold by the fore hatch, with the second mate to tell them what to do. And he divided the sailors that were left into two parts, six men for the fore hatch and six men for the after hatch. The sailors were all stripped to the waist and barefooted, for they knew, from the way the crew was divided up, that they would have to work hard and as quickly as they could. Captain Sol was a driver for work, but his crew didn't think any the less of him for that.

And Captain Sol called to the mates. "Are you all ready?" he said.

And the mates answered that they were all ready when he was.

"Well, rout it out, then, as fast as you're able," said Captain Sol; "I'll see that we keep up with you."

And he ordered four men to tail on to each rope. He meant for four men to take hold of the free end of the rope that ran through the blocks of the tackle.

"And run away with it," he said. "And when I say run I don't mean walk, either."

The sailors already had hold of the ropes, and they grinned when Captain Sol said that.

"Aye, aye, sir," they shouted.

And he ordered the other two men at the fore hatch and the other two men at the after hatch to be ready to handle and loose the bales and to be lively about it.

"All ready!" he called to the mates.

Then the fun began. The bales and the barrels and the boxes seemed to fly out of the hatchways and to alight on the deck like a flock of great birds. And the men who had to handle them and to cast off the hooks did it in the liveliest way that can be imagined, and they hustled the boxes and the barrels and the bales to one side so that there should be room for the next thing that came up. And there was a great noise of a lively chanty, that the sailors sang all the time, without stopping. It wasn't worth while to stop; for then, as soon as they had stopped singing, they would have to begin again, so they kept on all the time. And there was the soft noise of their bare feet stamping on the deck but they didn't stamp very hard because that would hurt their feet.

Pretty soon the bodies and the faces of the sailors began to glisten; and, before long, the sweat was running down in streams. For, working there, at that island, was just about the same as it would have been if they had been working at Charleston or Savannah in May. It was pretty hot for such hard work. But the sailors were merry at it, and grinned and shouted their chanty, and they kept at it until all the things were out on the deck of the Industry  that had to be taken out. The things that were the heaviest they didn't take out, but just moved them to one side and left them in the hold.

By dinner time, they had all the cargo taken out that had to be taken out, and the heaviest freshly stowed in the middle of the ship at the very bottom. Then Captain Sol told the mates and the sailors to come up.

"There!" said he. "I'll bet dollars to buttons there never was a ship unloaded any quicker than we've unloaded this one. Now go to your dinner, and we'll finish this stowing this afternoon."

And he told the mate to serve out to the sailors a little rum. They had been working very hard and they would have a lot more hard work to do before the day was done. It was the custom, in those days, to serve out rum to the crew now and then; perhaps once a week. It wasn't a good custom, perhaps, but it was a custom. Captain Sol never once thought of breaking that custom, but he gave each man a very little, and then they had their dinner.

And, after they had finished their dinner, the sailors who had been on deck in the morning went down into the hold and the sailors who had been in the hold in the morning stayed on deck. But the mates had to go down, and sometimes Captain Sol was in the hold and sometimes he was on deck. For he wanted to see for himself how the work was being done.

They put the heaviest things they had left next to those great, heavy things that were stowed in the middle of the ship at the very bottom. And they kept lowering down the heaviest things that they had on deck, and the sailors who were in the hold stowed them. They packed them very tightly, so that, no matter how much the ship should pitch and toss and roll, the cargo should not get loose. For it is a very bad thing for the cargo to shift, and a ship might be lost if its cargo shifted, in a storm. It is only in a storm that such a thing is likely to happen.

At last they had lowered the last bale and the last box that they had on deck, and they had been stowed. And the men who were in the hold called out for more, and the men on deck said that there wasn't any more. The mates were surprised, for there was some room left in the hold that there hadn't been the way the cargo was stowed at first. And the mates came up, and the sailors came up, and they were just dripping wet.

And Captain Sol thanked the men for working so willingly all day, and he said that he thought that they would all be glad because the ship would ride easier, after this, and wouldn't take in so much water; and it would be much easier to handle sail in rough weather. And he said that he supposed they thought they ought to have a little more rum. He was going to serve it out to them, but he warned them that it would be a very little.

And, at that, the men all roared out, and Captain Sol went to the quarter deck and stood by the railing that divided it from the rest of the ship. He had a jug beside him. And the men came up, with their tin cups in their hands, and they held their cups up high, one at a time. And Captain Sol poured a very little rum into each cup, and the man with the cup went forward.

But, while Captain Sol was doing that, there was one sailor near the middle of the ship who felt as if he would rather have a dousing of cold water than all the rum in the jug. And that man got one of those buckets that were used to get salt water from the ocean for washing down decks and for other things. The bucket had a long rope for a handle. And he dropped the bucket overboard and gave the right jerk to the rope, and he pulled it up, full of water. Then he stopped a man who was going by with his cup, and asked him to throw the water over him. The other man asked him where he would have it.

"Alow and aloft," said the sailor who had got the water, "and fore and aft."

So the other sailor began to throw the water over him. But, just then, there was another sailor just going by, and the temptation was too great. He threw what water was left in the bucket over that other sailor. And that sailor gave a great roar, and ran to get another bucket. And he filled it and tried to throw the water on the man who had wet him down; but he couldn't find him. So he threw the water over another man.


And that man ran for a bucket, and in about a minute all the sailors were chasing each other around, throwing water over everybody they met. There was a great noise and uproar, but everybody was good-natured about it, for they were all very hot and the salt water felt very pleasant to them. And, of course, the clothes that they had on were all wet through, but nobody had on anything much besides his breeches, and it didn't matter. And Captain Sol and the mate stood on the quarter deck and laughed at them.

And, when the men had got tired of playing, they went down to their supper; and Captain Sol went down to write in his log-book.

Nov. 6. Had cargo out and restowed it between 9 a. m. and 6 p. m., with an hour for dinner. I w'ld like to see the gang of lumpers that can do half as well. So ends this day.

And that's all.