- Journal of SD History
CHAPTER 14: RICHARD HENRY DANA
The most historically famous ship of the California hide trade arrived at San Diego in 1835. This was the little Boston brig Pilgrim, and aboard her was Richard Henry Dana, Jr. The presidio of Spanish times was crumbling away, a system of priestly rule was disappearing and San Diego itself was changing into a cosmopolitan port in which the flags of a dozen countries snapped in the breeze and the words and music of people collected from the docks of the world livened the days in old La Playa. The bells of the adobe mission church were being stilled but through the morning fog the bells of the ships of the hide and fur trade could be heard across the bay in the little town struggling to keep alive at the foot of Presidio Hill.
Dana was 19 years old, the son of a prominent Cambridge, Mass., family and a descendant of a signer of the Declaration of Independence. He had developed a serious eye trouble as the result of an attack of measles, and unable to continue his studies at Harvard University, chose to undertake, in the lingering tradition of the times, a voyage "before the mast" before settling down to a career. The sea quickly restored his full vision, and by the end of the long cruise, a rather prudish youth had become a vigorous, healthy, yet still-sensitive man who wrote a book, "Two Years Before the Mast," which thrilled a generation, unintentionally brought about changes in the conditions for seamen aboard ships around the world, and has been in print continuously since 1840.
Dana was not a reformer, and though shocked at the injustice of floggings he witnessed aboard the Pilgrim, he himself blamed much of the troubles at sea on the sailors themselves, describing many of them as blasphemous and abandoned men. Despite the hardships and cruelties experienced on long voyages in cramped quarters on rat-infested wooden ships, Dana knew that "there is a witchery in the sea, its songs and stories, and in the mere sight of a ship, and the sailor's dress, especially to a young mind, which has done more to man navies, and fill merchantmen, than all the press gangs of Europe."
When he left Boston he thought he would be away for 18 months, but soon learned that it would be at least two years before he would see again his home and family. Hides were getting somewhat scarce on the coast, and his firm, Bryant, Sturgis & Co., the pioneer in the Boston trade, intended to use the Pilgrim as a tender. The California, another company ship, already was at San Diego preparing to sail for Boston with a full cargo of hides, and she would be followed on the coast by another large ship, which the Pilgrim would help load with 40,000 hides before she could take on her own cargo and start the long and hazardous return journey.
Not much larger than the older privateering fur ships, the Pilgrim was an 180-ton vessel of only 86 feet seven inches in length and about 21 feet six inches in beam, and carried a crew of 15 men.
The Pilgrim cruised down the coast toward San Diego which Dana learned had become the depot for the vessels engaged in the hide trade, each one having built a large house of rough boards in which they stowed the hides as fast as they collected them in trips up and down the coast, and when they had procured a full cargo, spent a few weeks here taking it in, smoking ship, laying in food and water, and making other preparations for the long voyage home.
The bay was approached at sunset on March 13, and Dana noted in his journal that "we had a large and well-wooded headland directly before us." This description of Point Loma has led to continual debate as to whether the Point actually was wooded at the time of Dana's visit, or that some trees still existed from a warmer, wetter era.
"There was no town in sight, but on the smooth sandy beach, abreast, and within a cable's length of which three vessels lay moored, were four large houses, built of rough boards and looking like the great barns in which ice is stored on the borders of the large ponds near Boston, with piles of hides standing round them, and men in red shirts and large straw hats walking in and out of the doors. These were the hide houses. Of the vessels: one, a short clumsy little hermaphrodite brig, we recognized as our old acquaintance, the Loriotte; another, with sharp bows and raking masts, newly-painted and tarred, and glittering in the morning sun, with the blood-red banner and cross of St. George at her peak, was the handsome Ayacucho. The third was a large ship, with topgallant-masts housed and sails unbent, and looking as rusty and worn as two years 'hide-drodging' could make her. This was the Lagoda."
As the Pilgrim drew nearer to them in the anchorage north of Ballast Point, she dropped anchor. It failed to hold and she drifted into the Lagoda. Several hours of work were required to get her clear and finally brought to a safe anchor opposite the company's hide house which had been built with the arrival of the Brookline, which had brought Alfred Robinson to California. Given leave, Dana and a companion, dressed in the traditional white duck trousers, blue jacket and straw hat, headed for the town's grog shop, to demonstrate that despite education and family background, he was a true shipmate ashore as well as aboard ship.
As for the grog shop,
"This was a small adobe building of only one room, in which were liquors, 'dry goods.' West India goods, shoes, bread, fruits, and everything, which is vendible in California. It was kept by a Yankee, a one-eyed man, who belonged formerly to Fall River, came out to the Pacific in a whale-ship, left her at the Sandwich Islands, and came to California and set up a pulperia."
Sailors from each of the ships in the bay took turns in buying rounds of drinks, as custom required, and finally, Dana and his companion having manfully acquitted themselves of all obligations, slipped out and mounted rented horses to see the country. Horses were cheap and the rental charge was for the saddle. They rode around the bay to see the San Diego that was entering a period of decline. The civil population as well as the military force had decreased considerably and would continue to do so for a number of years. Fort Guijarros which had fired so bravely on heavily-gunned and blockade-running American smugglers already had been abandoned.
"The first place we went to was the old ruinous presidio, which stands on a rising ground near the village, which it overlooks. It is built in the form of an open square, like all the other presidios, and was in a ruinous state, with the exception of one side, in which the commandant lived, with his family. There were only two guns, one of which was spiked, and the other had no carriage. Twelve half-clothed and half-starved-looking fellows composed the garrison; and they, it was said, had not a musket apiece. The small settlement lay directly below the fort, composed of about 40 dark brown looking huts, or houses, and three or four larger ones white-washed, which belonged to the gente de razón. This town is not more than half as large as Monterey or Santa Barbara, and has little or no business."
The adobe blocks of crumbling walls were being used in building the newer houses of Old Town. Leaving the presidio behind, and riding up the sandy bottom of the San Diego River Bed, through grass grown green and rank, and around bushes and thickets, they saw ahead the white walls of the mission, and fording the small stream that was running, came directly upon it.
"The mission is built of adobe and plaster. There was something decidedly striking in its appearance: a number of irregular buildings, connected with one another, and disposed in the form of a hollow square, with a church at one end, rising above the rest, with a tower containing five belfries, in each of which hung a large bell, and with very large rusty iron crosses at the tops. Just outside of the buildings, and under the walls, stood 20 or 30 small huts, built of straw and of the branches of trees grouped together, in which a few Indians lived, under the protection and in the service of the mission.
"Entering a gateway, we drove into the open square, in which the stillness of death reigned. On one side was the church; on another, a range of high buildings with grated windows, a third was a range of smaller buildings, or offices, and the fourth seemed to be little more than a high connecting wall. Not a living creature could we see. We rode twice round the square, in the hope of waking up some one; and in one circuit saw a tall monk, with shaven head, sandals, and the dress of the Grey Friars, pass rapidly through a gallery, but he disappeared without noticing us. After two circuits we stopped our horses, and at last a man showed himself in front of one of the small buildings. We rode up to him, and found him dressed in the common dress of the country, with a silver chain round his neck, supporting a large bunch of keys. From this, we took him to be the steward of the mission, and, addressing him as 'Majordomo,' received a low bow and an invitation to walk into his room. Making our horses fast, we went in. It was a plain room, containing a table, three or four chairs, a small picture or two of some saint, or a miracle, or martyrdom, and a few dishes and glasses.
"'Hay a1guna cosa de comer?' said 1, from my grammar. 'Si Señor!' said he. 'Que gusta usted?' Mentioning frijoles, which I knew they must have, if they had nothing else, and beef and bread, with a hint for wine, if they had any, he went off to another building across the court, and returned in a few minutes with a couple of Indian boys bearing dishes and a decanter of wine. The dishes contained baked meats, frijoles stewed with peppers and onions, boiled eggs, and California flour baked into a kind of macaroni. These, together with the wine, made the most sumptuous meal we had eaten since we left Boston; and, compared with the fare we had lived upon for seven months, it was a regal banquet. After despatching it, we took out some money and asked him how much we were to pay. He shook his head, and crossed himself, saying that it was charity - that the Lord gave it to us. Knowing the amount of this to be that he did not sell, but was willing to receive a present, we gave him 10 or 12 reals, which he pocketed with admirable nonchalance, saying, 'Dios se lo pague.' Taking leave of him, we rode out to the Indians' huts. The little children were running about among the huts, stark naked, and the men wore not much more; but the women had generally coarse gowns of a sort of tow cloth. The men are employed, most of the time, in tending the cattle of the mission, and in working in the garden, which is a very large one, including several acres, and filled, it is said, with the best fruits of the climate."
Going through the little settlement at the foot of Presidio Hill, on their way back to the ship, they found Indian boys and girls engaged in a ball game, amid the clapping and screaming of their elders; sailors reeling about town, or being thrown from vicious horses to the delight of the Mexicans from whom they had obtained them, and a half dozen Sandwich-Islanders dashing about at full gallop "hallooing and laughing like so many wild men." Beacon Hill in Boston was never like that. Aboard ship, with daylight, came the cry of "all hands ahoy" and shore clothes were laid aside for the taking out and landing of the 3500 hides collected along the coast. There would be no time to think of home until the house had been filled to its capacity of 40,000 hides.
"The hides, as they come rough and uncured from the vessels, are piled up outside of the houses, whence they are taken and carried through a regular process of pickling, drying and cleaning, and stowed away in the house, ready to be put on board. This process is necessary in order that they may keep during a long voyage and in warm latitudes."
As soon as the hides were landed, the captain intended to leave two or three of the crew and an officer on shore, to take charge of curing the hides, and fill out the crew with Sandwich-Islanders. There was a considerable colony of them at La Playa, as it was the habit of ships' captains to use them as extra crew members in trade between the Hawaiian Islands and California. But he could not get any Sandwich-Islanders to go, although he offered them $15 a month, for the report of the flogging had got among them, and he was called "aole maikai" (no good), and that was an end of the business. They were, however, willing to work on shore, and four of them were hired and put to curing the hides.
When unloaded, the Pilgrim made another journey up the coast for more hides, returning early in May, to find the harbor deserted, all the hide houses but that of Bryant, Sturgis & Co. closed up, and between a dozen or 20 more Sandwich-Islanders living on the beach, "keeping up a grand carnival." They made their home in a large oven which had been built on the beach by the Russians for baking bread. It had a door on one side and a vent-hole in the top, and while it could hold eight or 10 men fairly comfortably was crowded with all of the Hawaiian natives, who lived in happy idleness, drinking, singing and playing cards, and cutting up a bullock once a week for food. The captain of the Pilgrim tried to hire some of them, but as long as the money from their previous hide work lasted, "it was like throwing pearls before the swine."
After the Pilgrim's cargo of hides and tallow had been discharged, some of the Hawaiians, their money gone, were ready to resume work, and this time Dana was left on the beach in charge of hide-curing. His quarters were in the large hide house itself. Dana grew very attached to the Hawaiians, finding them interesting, intelligent and kind-hearted, with their winsome and carefree ways and such odd names as Ban-yan, Fore-top, Rope-yam, Pelican, or Mr. Bingham, which had been given to them by sailors. They all had a great desire to see the United States but were afraid of rounding Cape Hom as they suffered much from the cold.
There was time for rest and relaxation, too, and Dana, one Sunday, after writing letters to be sent home aboard the Lagoda, watched the Ayacucho drop her foretopsail, which was a signal for her sailing and the crew heaving at the windlass.
"I listened to the musical notes of a Sandwich-Islander named Mahanna who 'sang out' for them. Sailors, when heaving at a windlass, in order that they may heave together, always have one to sing out, which is done in high and long-drawn notes, varying with the motion of the windlass. This requires a clear voice, strong lungs, and much practice, to be done well. This fellow had a very peculiar wild sort of note, breaking occasionally into a falsetto. The sailors thought that it was too high, and not enough of the boatswain hoarseness about it; but to me it had a great charm. The harbour was perfectly still, and his voice rang among the hills as though it could have been heard for miles. Towards sundown, a good breeze having sprung up, the Ayacucho got under way, and with her long sharp head cutting elegantly through the water on a taut bowline, she stood directly out of the harbour, and bore away to the southward. She was bound to Callao, and thence to the Sandwich Islands, and expected to be on the coast again in eight or 10 months."
As the months went by the ships came and went and the hide houses began to fill up. The crews of vessels depositing their hides at San Diego came ashore in the evenings.
"Spanish was the common ground upon which we all met; for everyone knew more or less of that. We had now, out of 40 or 50 representatives from almost every nation under the sun - two Englishmen, three Yankees, two Scotchmen, two Welshmen, one Irishman, three Frenchmen (two of whom were Normans, one from Gascony), one Dutchman, one Austrian, two or three Spaniards (from old Spain), and half a dozen Spanish-Americans and halfbreeds, two native Indians from Chile, one Negro, one mulatto, about 20 Italians, from all parts of Italy, as many more Sandwich-Islanders, one Tahitian, and one Kanaka from the Marquesas Islands.
"The night before the vessels were ready to sail, all the Europeans united and had an entertainment at the Rosa's hide-house, and we had songs of every nation and tongue. A German gave us 'Ach! mein lieber Augustin!' the three Frenchmen roared through the Marseillaise Hymn; the English and Scotchman gave us 'Rule, Britannia,' and 'Wha'll be King but Charlie?'; the Italians and Spaniards screamed through some national affairs, for which I was none the wiser; and we three Yankees made an attempt at the 'Star Spangled Banner!' After these national tributes had been paid, the Austrian gave us a little pretty love-song, and the Frenchmen sang a spirited thing -- ’Senntinelle! 0 prenez garde á vous!' and then followed the mélange which might have been expected. When I left them, the aguardiente and annisou were pretty well in their heads, they were all singing and talking at once, and their peculiar national oaths were getting as plenty as pronouns."
The Alert, also owned by Bryant, Sturgis & Co., and on which Dana was to return to Boston, arrived and brought welcome mail and newspapers, and for Dana, in addition, a supply of duck to make some new clothes, and flannel shirts and shoes. Thus the long summer and autumn passed, and then spring came again. The California long since had sailed with a full cargo and was on her way back. Nearly 40,000 more hides were stacked at La Playa ready for loading. Dana had gone aboard the Alert on her coastal cruises and in March she returned to San Diego. "This was our last port. Here we were to discharge everything from the ship, clean her out, smoke her, take in our hides, wood, and water and set sail for Boston." Early the next morning came the cry "all hands ahoy" for the heaving out of ballast. Dana said that a regulation of the port forbade any ballast to be thrown overboard, and accordingly the long boat was lined with rough boards and brought aside the gangway, but where one tubfull of ballast went into the boat, 20 went overboard - if nobody from the presidio was watching. This saved more than a week of rowing and unloading at Ballast Point, and "this is one of those petty frauds which many vessels practice in ports of inferior foreign nations, and which are lost sight of among the deeds of greater weight which are hardly less common."
The connection between San Diego and Boston has led to stories of the paving of Boston streets with cobblestones taken from Ballast Point as ballast. To be sure, old streets of Boston were paved with cobblestones though this was started back in the late 1600's. Most of the old stones have been covered over, though some still are to be seen around Louisburg Square on Beacon Hill. A loaded ship would not need more ballast, but many a ship over the years had to make it back with a disappointing cargo. The Alert was made ready, and the bottom of the hold covered over with dried brush for dunnage, and with everything leveled off, the operation of taking on hides began, a task that required from two to six weeks.
The little Pilgrim, still cruising the coast and picking up hides, returned to San Diego and "it was a sad sight for her crew to see us getting ready to go off the coast, while they, who had been longer on the coast than the Alert, were condemned to another year's hard service." The California, too, was back in San Diego, discharging hides for storing to make up another cargo. The time came for Dana to say goodbye to San Diego.
"This promised to be our last day in California. Our 40,000 hides and 30,000 horns, besides several barrels of otter and beaver skins, were all stowed below, and the hatches were caulked down ... All our spare spars were taken on board and lashed, our water-casks secured, and our livestock, consisting of four bullocks, a dozen sheep, a dozen or more pigs, and three or four dozens of poultry were all stowed away in their different quarters."
Here Dana, in his narrative, inserted a paragraph to the effect that the ship had also taken aboard a small quantity of gold dust, which Mexicans or Indians had brought down from the interior. "It was not uncommon," he wrote, "for our ships to bring a little, as I have since learned from the owners. I had heard rumors of gold discoveries, but they attracted little or no attention, and were not followed up." The Gold Rush to California was 14 years away.
The hide trade was to go on for many years, though like everything else in California at the time, conditions were uncertain and troublesome. Five Boston companies engaged in the hide trade during the 20 years of its existence, McCullough, Hartnell and Company, which soon withdrew; Bryant, Sturgis & Company, J. B. Eaton and Company, Appleton and Company, and B. T. Reed. William Heath Davis, Jr., another of the Boston men, who arrived on the bark Louis in 1831 and remained to write his famous book, "Seventy-five Years in California," estimated that more than a million and a quarter hides were shipped out of California during the years of the hide trade, and 13 ships alone, including the Pilgrim, the Alert, the California and the Lagoda, took out more than 300,000 in the five years from 1831 to 1836. Hides sold for $2 each and Bryant, Sturgis & Co. bought and exported 500,000 in 20 years. Alfred Robinson tells how he often had $200,000 to $300,000 in goods entrusted to the missions.
The hide houses on La Playa built of rough boards bought from Boston, were given the names of ships in the trade, and from the recollections of pioneers in the area it was established that the hide houses were named as the California, the Admittance, the Sterling and the Tasso. The first American flag raised on California soil probably was the one that flew over the Brookline's house which became known as the California. And the sight of the Mexican flag never kept the Americans in the harbor from celebrating the Fourth of July by burning powder on the decks of the ships.
The hoisting of the flag, made aboard ship out of shirt cloth, was described in later years in the Boston Advertiser by Capt. James P. Arther, who was the first mate of the Brookline when the first hide house was built in 1829. The Advertiser commented that "these men raised our national ensign, not in bravado, nor for war and conquest, but as honest men to show they were American citizens ... and while the act cannot be regarded as in the light of a claim to sovereignty, it is still interesting as a fact, and as an unconscious indication of manifest destiny."
The advent of secularization had brought on an increase in the slaughter of cattle though nowhere in the amount so often cited. At their height all of the missions never had more than 200,000 head on the ranges. Over a period of 20 years the missions had been drained of a million dollars in cash and goods to support the military, and the indolent, and now, facing ruin, the herds of cattle were reduced, the hides and tallow sold, and the carcasses left to bleach on the dry hills. Juan Bandini later said that 2000 cattle were killed in one day at a single mission, but did not identify the mission, and José Antonio Estudillo was to add that after a time nothing but hides were saved. No Pico in his historical notes said that in 1833 he was working at Rancho San José, which belonged to Mission San Luis Rey, and was slaughtering cattle for half shares with the mission. The mission in 1832 had 27,500 cattle.
"My contract with the fathers had no limit. I was to kill as many head of cattle as I could but to turn over half the hides. I brought 10 cowboys and 30 Indians on foot from the Missions of San Luis Rey and San Diego, with more than 300 horses. I first slaughtered 2500 head at the Coyote Rancho. Then I moved to that of San José Rancho and killed about the same number."
Thus 5000 were killed in one period at San Luis Rey and perhaps another 5000 at San Gabriel. There are no records of any other large scale slaughtering for hides.
The territorial assembly had moved to prevent any indiscriminate cutting down of herds, and in reply to their warning, Fr. Vicente Pascual Oliva at San Luis Rey reported that only old, wild and unbranded cattle were being killed, out of the necessity for clothing, and to settle the debts of the mission with the American traders, as he was bound and pledged to the amount of $16,000 and had no other way to raise money except through the sale of hides. The contractors often killed more than they reported to the missions and slipped the hides off for private sale.
The slaughter of stock was not new to California, however. Wild horses especially often ravaged the grasslands and their numbers had to be cut down by drastic measures, or the cattle and sheep would starve. In 1808 more than 7200 horses were killed in the Santa Barbara area and at Monterey in 1810, 3200 were slaughtered. Horses were shipped directly from San Diego to the Hawaiian Islands, and sometimes to Baja California, and stories persist that in times of drought, in the days of the great ranchos, wild horses were rounded up and driven over the cliffs of Torrey Pines. One report has it that several hundred cattle once were killed near San Francisco merely for hides in which to pack bread sold to the Russians.
All this left Dana with some unhappy impressions of Californians. As had so many others who visited these shores, he found the men thriftless, proud and extravagant, the women possessing a good deal of beauty but little education and protected by the ready weapons of fathers and brothers, but "the very men who would lay down their lives to avenge the dishonor of their own family would risk the same lives to complete the dishonour of another." Murders committed by white settlers were seldom punished; in case of crimes of Indians, justice, or rather vengeance, was swift. A white man who had run away with another's wife, and then murdered him to boot, was pointed out to Dana on the streets of San Diego; but an Indian who had killed another in hot blood, over the fatal stabbing of a horse he was riding, was taken out and shot. Dana's eyes could not fail to see the sadness brought on the country by secularization of the missions:
"Ever since the independence of Mexico, the missions had been going down; until at last, a law was passed, stripping them of all their possessions, and confining the priests to their spiritual duties, at the same time declaring all the Indians free and independent Rancheros. The change in the condition of the Indians was, as may be supposed, only nominal; they are virtually serfs, as much as they ever were. But in the missions the change was complete. The priests have now no power, except in their religious character, and the great possessions of the missions are given over to be preyed upon by the harpies of the civil power, who are sent there in the capacity of administradores, to settle up the concerns; and who usually end, in a few years, by making themselves fortunes, and leaving their stewardships worse than they found them.
"The dynasty of the priests was much more acceptable to the people of the country, and, indeed, to every one concerned with the country, by trade or otherwise, than that of the administradores. The priests were connected permanently to one mission, and felt the necessity of keeping up its credit. Accordingly the debts of the missions were regularly paid, and the people were, in the main, well treated, and attached to those who had spent their whole lives among them. But the administradores are strangers sent from Mexico, having no interest in the country, not identified in any way with their charge, and, for the most part, men of desperate fortunes - broken-down politicians and soldiers - whose only object is to retrieve their condition in as short a time as possible. The change had been made but a few years before our arrival upon the coast, yet, in that short time, the trade was much diminished, credit impaired, and the venerable missions were going rapidly to decay."
Dana was in error in believing the administrators had been sent up from Mexico; the Californians had succeeded in taking things over themselves, and he did not fully understand the historical Spanish role of the frontier missions. To an idealistic youth from Boston, whose ancestor had signed the Declaration of Independence, on principle and justice, the California revolutions were selfish and petty affairs.
"They are got up by men at the foot of the ladder ... the only object, of course, is the loaves and fishes; and instead of caucusing, paragraphing, libelling, feasting, promising, and lying, they take muskets and bayonets, and, seizing upon the presidio and custom-house, divide the spoils, and declare a new dynasty. As for justice they know little but will and fear."
The situation hardly could have been otherwise, however. San Diego was a long way from Mexico City, and Mexico was in the agony of her own search for stability and freedom.
From Dana we also get a passing glimpse of Juan Bandini, now in reduced circumstances as a result of his troubles at San Diego. The Alert took him from Monterey to Santa Barbara, as a non-paying passenger, and to Dana he was a typical example of the decadent aristocrat of California, indolent and poor but proud:
"He had a slight and elegant figure, moved gracefully, danced and waltzed beautifully, spoke good Castilian, with a pleasant and refined voice and accent, and had throughout the bearing of a man of birth and figure. Yet here he was, with his passage given him, for he had no means of paying for it, and living on the charity of our agent. He was polite to every one, spoke to the sailors, and gave four reals - I dare say the last he had in his pocket - to the steward who waited upon him."
It was all hard for Dana to understand.
"Such are the people who inhabit a country embracing four or five hundred miles of sea-coast, with several good harbours, with fine forests in the north; the waters filled with fish, and the plains covered with thousands of herds of cattle; blessed with a climate, than which there can be no better in the world; free from all manner of diseases, whether epidemic or endemic; and with a soil in which corn yields from seventy to eighty-fold. In the hands of an enterprising people, what a country this might be! we are ready to say. Yet how long would a people remain so, in such a country? The Americans (as those from the United States are called) and Englishmen who are fast filling up the principal towns, and getting the trade into their hands, are indeed more industrious and effective than the Mexicans; yet their children are brought up Mexicans in most respects, and if the 'California fever' spares the first generation, it is likely to attack the second."
The "California fever" was laziness, a native disease which even to this day is hard to resist.
The tip of Point Loma disappeared below the horizon as the Alert's sails filled with the prevailing wind on the long run down the coast. In the south, it ran into a series of violent storms and was almost crushed by the weight of ice that formed on her decks, spars and lines. One evening, Dana wrote, "The captain called all hands aft, and told them that not a man was to leave the deck that night; that the ship was in the greatest danger, any cake of ice might knock a hole in her, or she might run on an island and go to pieces. No one could tell whether she would be a ship the next morning." That night of terror passed, and so did the others. At last the Alert rounded the Cape and once again broke into tropical waters.
Slipping through warm waters and soft air was a thing of serene beauty to Dana. Out on the end of the flying jib-boom he could look back on the ship as a separate vessel "and there rose up from the water, supported only by the small black hull, a pyramid of canvas, spreading out far beyond the hull, and towering up almost, as it seemed in the indistinct night air, to the clouds. The sea was as gentle as an inland lake; the light trade wind was gently and steadily breathing from astern; the dark blue sky was studded with the tropical stars, there was no sound but the rippling of the water under the stem; and the sails were spread out wide and high... " An old withered seaman, who had gone out on the flying jib-boom with him, and whom Dana had almost forgotten was there, looked at the marble sails and said almost to himself, "How quietly they do their work."
The sea has meant so much to San Diego throughout the centuries, and across its vast emptiness have come the men of history, the Cabrillos, the Vizcaínos, the Vilas, the Vancouvers, the Winships, the Shalers, the Bradshaws, the Robinsons and the Danas. And the ships that came and went shaped the destiny of a city.
Search Pourade's 7-book series on San Diego History: