Here’s a passage from “Rough Enough,” my Civil War book detailing Richard Clow’s Enlistment, Training, Combat, Reenlistment for the Frontier, Indian Conflicts, Marriage, Life on the farm, Mining for Deadwood Gold and moving on to Oregon.
Do you empathize with this section of his letter dated Feb. 23, 1865 on board the Steamship De Molay?
“I had rather a hard time on board the boat. They put 350 of us in the after hold. It was dark as pitch almost and only one small hole to get out by. There was just room for us all to stand up in it and when it came to lie down in it we were five tier deep and if you wanted to get out from the back of the crud you would have to crawl over all the rest of them and they would put a knife into you. A great many were served this way. I came through all right though.”
For me, although I can never truly understand the living “hell” that those men went through, it does bring back memories of two awful, yet very memorable passages across the Atlantic: one in the Spring of 1960 (March), and the other in the Fall of 1960 (October) aboard the Dutch Ship Maasdam and the German Ship Seven Seas respectively.
Our only source of escape from seasickness (the illness itself, the smell of the illness and the messes of puke left everywhere) during the five days of storms on each of those 7 day voyages was to wake up, grab your clothes and get out into the cold and the rain on deck. Then nip into the dining room, wolf your food and get back out on deck again before you know what came up all over the place.
By standing in the rear of the ship out of the direct wind and rain and watching the horizon and waves we managed to hold things together, eat a couple more meals and wait until dark. Then it was a mad dash to the bunk in a tiny cabin with six of us in it and fall asleep to the rocking and not get sick. If you went into the toilet, you had to literally scream to prevent yourself from gagging due to the smell and shut your eyes while sitting on the can to prevent yourself from seeing the mess all around you.
The crew couldn’t keep up with the upchucks!
The only enjoyment during the day, once we got into the storms was to brave the wind and icy rain and follow the safety rope handrails to the open foredeck near the bow where a three foot high sheet metal rail stood fast against the storm.
There we would stand, faces into the wind, squinting our eyes, laughing, and watching the bow of the ship bury itself into the depths of a giant wave. Then, watching as the bow rose up towards the sky and the ship plowed over the mighty crest, a wall of water was thrown back towards us. Across the decks it came rushing, reaching higher than our heads. With grins like the fools we were at ages 16 and 11, my brother and I would wait until the last possible moment when the wall of water was almost upon us.
Then with shrieks of laughter we would duck down into the protective hollow behind the wall as the water roared and crashed into the wall and above our heads, leaving us unscathed. With fire in our eyes we would repeat the adventure for hours until a poorly timed duck soaked us to the skin or a passing crew member shepherded us back to safety with a warning.
Back to the acid stinking air of the hold, back to thoughts of seasickness and back to dreams of doing it again tomorrow.
So, You’ve heard from me. How do you relate to Richard Clow’s experience?