Just before sundown
the mate ordered a boat's crew ashore, and I went as one of the number.
We passed under the stern of the English brig, and had a long pull ashore.
I shall never forget the impression which our first landing on the beach of California made upon me.
The sun had just gone down; it was getting dusky; the damp night-wind was beginning to blow, and the heavy swell of the Pacific was setting in, and breaking in loud and high "combers" upon the beach.
We lay on our oars in the swell, just outside of the surf, waiting for a good chance to run in, when a boat, which had put off from the Ayacucho just after us, came alongside of us, with a crew of dusky Sandwich Islanders, talking and hallooing in their outlandish tongue.
They knew that we were novices in this kind of boating and waited to see us go in.
The second mate, however, who steered our boat, determined to have the advantage of their ...
... experience, and would not go in first.
Finding at length how matters stood, they gave a shout, and taking advantage of a great comber which came swelling in, rearing its head, and lifting up the stern of our boat nearly perpendicular, and again dropping it in the trough, they gave three or four long and strong pulls, and went in on top of the great wave, throwing their oars overboard and as far from the boat as they could throw them, and jumping out the instant that the boat touched the beach, and then seizing hold of her, and running her up high and dry upon the sand.
We saw at once how it was to be done, and also the necessity of keeping the boat stern on to the sea; for the instant the sea should strike upon her broadside or quarter she would be driven up broadside on and capsized.
We pulled strongly in, and as soon as we felt that the sea had got hold of us, and was carrying us in with the speed of a racehorse, we threw the oars as far from the boat as we could, and took hold of the gunwale, ready to spring out and seize her when she struck, the officer using his utmost strength to keep her stern on.
We were shot up upon the beach like an arrow from a bow, and seizing the boat, ran her up high and dry, and soon picked up our oars, and stood by her, ready for the captain to come down.
On one of these expeditions we saw a battle between two Sandwich Islanders and a shark.
"Johnny" had been playing about our boat for some time, driving away the fish, and showing his teeth at our bait, when we missed him, and in a few moments heard a great shouting between two Kanakas who were fishing on the rock opposite to us, and saw them pulling away on a stout line, and "Johnny Shark" floundering at the other end.
The line soon broke; but the Kanakas would not let him off so easily, and sprang directly into the water after him.
Now came the tug of war.
Before he could get into deep water one of them seized him by the tail, and ran up wIth him upon the beach; but Johnny twisted round, turning his head under his body, and showing his teeth in the vicinity of the Kanaka's hand, made him let go and spring out of the way. The shark now turned tail and made the best of his way, by flapping and floundering, towards deep water; but here again, before he ...
... was fairly off, the other Kanaka seized him by the tail, and made a spring towards the beach, his companion at the same time paying away upon him with stones and a large stick.
As soon, however, as the shark could turn he was obliged to let go his hold; but the instant he made toward deep water they were both behind him, watching their chance to seize him.
In this way the battle went on for some time, the, shark, in a rage, splashing and twisting about, and the Kanakas, in high excitement, yelling at the top of their voices; but the shark at last got off, carrying away a hook and line, and not a few severe bruises,
Two Years Before the Mast
Thomas Nelson and Sons, London, 1947.
First published in 1840 as
Two Years Before the Mast - A Personal ...
Harper and Brothers, New York, 1840