The Sandman: His Sea Stories  by Willliam J. Hopkins

The Log-Book Story

O NCE 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.

The 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, in the long ago, the brig Industry  had sailed from Boston for a far country, and little Jacob and little Sol had gone on that voyage. Little Jacob and little Sol were very much interested in the things that they saw every day and in the things that were done every day on the ship by the sailors and by the mates and by Captain Solomon. But those things that happened the same sort of way, every day, interested little Jacob more than they did little Sol. Little Sol liked to see them a few times, until he knew just what to expect, and then he liked to be out on the bowsprit, seeing the things that he didn't expect; or he liked to be doing things. And the things that he did were the sort of things that nobody else expected. So the things that little Sol did were an amusement to the sailors and to the mates; and sometimes they were an amusement to Captain Solomon and sometimes they weren't. When they didn't amuse Captain Solomon they didn't usually amuse little Sol, either.

Every captain of a ship keeps a sort of diary, or journal, of the voyage that ship is making. This diary is usually called the ship's log. And every day he writes in it what happened that day; the courses the ship sailed and the number of miles she sailed on each course; the sails that were set and the direction and strength of the wind; and the state of the weather and the exact part of the ocean she was in and the time that she was there.

The exact part of the ocean that the ship is in is usually found by looking at the sun, just at noon, through a little three-cornered thing, called a sextant, that is small enough for the captain or the mate to hold in his hands; and by seeing what time it is, by a sort of clock, when the sun is the very highest. Then the captain goes down into the cabin and does some arithmetic out of a book, using the things that his sextant had told him, and he finds just exactly where the ship was at noon of that day. Then he pricks the position of the ship on a chart, which is a map of the ocean, so that he can see how well she is going on her course.

Sometimes it is cloudy at noon, so that he can't look at the sun then, but it clears up after dark. Then the captain looks through his sextant at the moon, or at some bright star, and finds his position that way. And sometimes it is cloudy for several days together, so that he can't take an observation with his sextant in all that time. Captains don't like it very well when it is cloudy for several days together, for then they have nothing to tell them just where the ship is, but what is called "dead reckoning."

Captain Solomon usually had the speed at which the ship was sailing measured several times every day. When he wanted that done, he called a sailor to "heave the log;" and the sailor came and took up a real log, or board, fastened to the end of a long rope, while one of the mates held an hour glass. But there wasn't sand enough in the glass to run for an hour, but it would run for half a minute. And when the mate gave the word, the sailor dropped the log over the stern of the ship and the mate turned the glass. And the sailor held the reel with the rope on it, so that the rope would run off freely, and he counted, aloud, the knots in the rope as it ran out. For the rope had knots of colored leather in it, and the knots were just far enough apart so that the number of knots that ran out in half a minute would show the number of sea miles that the ship was sailing in an hour. And when the sand in the glass had all run out, the mate gave the word again, and the sailor stopped the rope from running out. So Captain Solomon knew about how many miles the Industry  had sailed on each course, and he could put it down in his book.


That wasn't a very good way to tell where the ship was, by adding up all the courses she had sailed and getting her speed on each course, and adding all these to the last place that they knew about, but, when Captain Solomon couldn't get an observation with his sextant, it was the only way there was. That isn't the way they tell, now-a-days, how many miles a ship has sailed, for there is a better way that gives, more exactly than the old-fashioned "log," the number of miles. But they still have to add up all the courses and the miles sailed on each course to find a ship's place, when they can't take an observation. That is what is called "dead reckoning," and it isn't a very good way at its best.

Little Jacob liked to watch Captain Solomon writing up the log for the day. He always wrote it just after dinner. And when he had finished dinner, he would get out the book and clear a place on the table to put it; and then he took a quill pen in his great fist and wrote, very slowly, and with flourishes. And when he had it done he always passed the book over to little Jacob.


Little Jacob liked to watch Captain Solomon

"There, Jacob," he said, with a smile. "That please you?"

"Oh, yes, sir," answered little Jacob. "Thank you, sir." And he began to read.

One day, when they had been out of Boston about three weeks, little Jacob watched Captain Solomon write up the log, and, when he got it, he thought he would turn back to some days that he knew about and read what Captain Solomon had said about them. And so he did.

October 2, 1796. 8 days out. Comes in fresh gales & Flying clouds. Middle & latter part much the same, with all proper sail spread. Imploy'd varnishing Deck and scraping Foreyard. Saw a Brig and two Ships standing to the N. & W. A school of porpoises about the ship a good part of the Morning, of which the Crew harpooned a good number and got them on deck. I fear they are too many for us to acct. for before they go Bad.
Course ESE 186 miles. Wind fresh from S. & W.
   Lat. 34 20 N.
   Long. 53 32 W.

That didn't seem to little Jacob to be enough to say about the porpoises. He sighed and turned to another day.

October 5, 1796. 11 days out. Comes in Fresh breezes and a rough sea fr. S. & E. Spoke Brig Transit of Workington fr.—S. Salvador for Hamburg. Middle & latter part moderate with clear skies and beautiful weather. Ran into some weed and running threw it off and on all day.
Courses ESE 98 m. Wind strong fr. N. & E., moderating to gentle airs. SSE. 54/152 m.
   Lat. 30 22 N.
   Long. 47 30 W.

And it seemed to little Jacob that it was a shame to say no more than that about that strange Seaweed Sea and the curious things that were to be found in it. But it was Captain Solomon's log and not little Jacob's. He turned to another day, to see what there was about the flying fish.

October 11, 1796. 17 days out of Boston. Comes in with good fresh Trades and flying clouds. Middle & latter part much the same. Saw a ship standing on our course. Not near enough to speak her. At daylight passed the ship abt. 5 miles to windward. All proper sail spread.

Great numbers of Flying Fish (Sea Swallows) all about the ship, and the men imploy'd in catching them. It gave the men much pleasure and a deal of sport and the Fish very good eating. Course SSE 203 miles. Wind NE. strong, Trades.
   Lat. 18 to 10 N.
   Long. 37 32 W.
Chronometer loses too much.
Took Spica and Aquila at 7 p. m.,
   Long. 35 30 W.

Little Jacob didn't know what Spica and Aquila were, and he asked Captain Solomon.

"They are stars, Jacob, and rather bright ones," said Captain Solomon. "My chronometer—my clock, you know—was losing a good deal, and I looked through my sextant at them to find out where we really were."

"Oh," said little Jacob; but he didn't understand very well, and Captain Solomon saw that he didn't. It wasn't strange that he didn't understand.

Little Jacob sat looking at the log book and he didn't say anything for a long time.

Captain Solomon smiled. "Well, Jacob," he said, at last, "what are you thinking about? I guess you were thinking that you wished that you had the log to write up. Then you could say more about the things that were interesting. Weren't you?"

Little Jacob got very red. "Oh, no, sir," he said. "That is, I—well, you see, the things that are new and interesting to me—well, I s'pose you have seen them so many times that it doesn't seem worth while to you to say much about them."

"That is a part of the reason," answered Captain Solomon. "The other part is that it doesn't seem necessary. Anything that concerns the ship is put down. We don't have time—nor we don't have the wish—to put down anything else."

"Of course," said little Jacob, "it isn't necessary."

"I'll tell you what I'll do, Jacob," said Captain Solomon. "I'll let you write up the log, and then you can write as much as you like about anything that interests you."

Little Jacob got very red again. "Oh!"  he cried, getting up in his excitement. "Will you let me do that? Thank  you. I thank you very much. But—but how shall I put down all those numbers that show how the ship goes?"

"I'll give you the numbers, as you call them," said Captain Solomon, "and I'll look over the log every day, to see that you put them down right."

"I'll put them down just exactly the way you tell me to," said little Jacob. "And I thank you very much. And I—I write pretty well."

And little Jacob ran to find little Sol and to tell him about how he was going to write the log of the voyage, after that. And he did write it, numbers and all, and it was a very interesting and well written log. For little Jacob could write very well indeed; rather better than Captain Solomon. Captain Solomon knew that when he said that little Jacob could write it.

And that's all.