Two Years Before the Mast

Two Years Before the Mast

by Richard Henry Dana

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Overview

In this nineteenth-century nautical memoir, a Harvard man sails around the tip of South America to California—and returns with this classic tale of adventure.

In 1834, nineteen-year-old Richard Henry Dana left Harvard University to enlist as a deckhand on a brig sailing from Boston to the California coast. For the next two years, he recorded the terrifying storms, awe-inspiring beauty, and dreadful hardships of the journey in a diary he would later expand into this riveting memoir of “the life of a common sailor at sea as it really is.”
 
Dana spares no detail in portraying the wretched conditions he endured and the cruelty of the ship’s captain, but he also paints vivid, unforgettable pictures of natural wonders such as icebergs and schools of migrating whales. His descriptions of the missions and presidios of pre–Gold Rush California captured the imagination of the country when the book was first published in 1840, and they serve as valuable historical documentation to this day.
 
An instant classic and inspiration for contemporaries such as Herman Melville, Two Years Before the Mast is one of the most remarkable and influential adventure stories in American literature.
 
This ebook has been professionally proofread to ensure accuracy and readability on all devices.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781504025195
Publisher: Open Road Media
Publication date: 12/22/2015
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 190
Sales rank: 39,639
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Richard Henry Dana (1815–1882) was an American lawyer, author, and statesman best known for his classic memoir Two Years Before the Mast. Born to a prominent family in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Dana defended the rights of merchant seamen, helped to found the antislavery Free Soil Party in 1848, and advocated on behalf of freedmen during Reconstruction. The city and headland of Dana Point, California, is named in his honor.

Read an Excerpt

Two Years Before the Mast


By Richard Henry Dana

OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA

Copyright © 2015 Richard Henry Dana
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-5040-2519-5


CHAPTER 1

THE FOURTEENTH OF AUGUST was the day fixed upon for the sailing of the brig Pilgrim, on her voyage from Boston, round Cape Horn, to the Western coast of North America. As she was to get under way early in the afternoon, I made my appearance on board at twelve o'clock, in full sea-rig, with my chest, containing an outfit for a two or three years' voyage, which I had undertaken from a determination to cure, if possible, by an entire change of life, and by a long absence from books, with a plenty of hard work, plain food, and open air, a weakness of the eyes, which had obliged me to give up my studies, and which no medical aid seemed likely to remedy.

The change from the tight frock-coat, silk cap, and kid gloves of an undergraduate at Harvard, to the loose duck trousers, checked shirt, and tarpaulin hat of a sailor, though somewhat of a transformation, was soon made; and I supposed that I should pass very well for a Jack tar. But it is impossible to deceive the practised eye in these matters; and while I thought myself to be looking as salt as Neptune himself, I was, no doubt, known for a landsman by every one on board as soon as I hove in sight. A sailor has a peculiar cut to his clothes, and a way of wearing them which a green hand can never get. The trousers, tight round the hips, and thence hanging long and loose round the feet, a superabundance of checked shirt, a low-crowned, well-varnished black hat, worn on the back of the head, with half a fathom of black ribbon hanging over the left eye, and a slip-tie to the black silk neckerchief, with sundry other minutiae, are signs, the want of which betrays the beginner at once. Besides the points in my dress which were out of the way, doubtless my complexion and hands were quite enough to distinguish me from the regular salt who, with a sunburnt cheek, wide step, and rolling gait, swings his bronzed and toughened hands athwart-ships, half opened, as though just ready to grasp a rope.

"With all my imperfections on my head," I joined the crew, and we hauled out into the stream, and came to anchor for the night. The next day we were employed in preparation for sea, reeving studding-sail gear, crossing royal yards, putting on chafing gear, and taking on board our powder. On the following night, I stood my first watch. I remained awake nearly all the first part of the night from fear that I might not hear when I was called; and when I went on deck, so great were my ideas of the importance of my trust, that I walked regularly fore and aft the whole length of the vessel, looking out over the bows and taffrail at each turn, and was not a little surprised at the coolness of the old seaman whom I called to take my place, in stowing himself snugly away under the long-boat for a nap. That was a sufficient lookout, he thought, for a fine night, at anchor in a safe harbor.

The next morning was Saturday, and, a breeze having sprung up from the southward, we took a pilot on board, hove up our anchor, and began beating down the bay. I took leave of those of my friends who came to see me off, and had barely opportunity for a last look at the city and well-known objects, as no time is allowed on board ship for sentiment. As we drew down into the lower harbor, we found the wind ahead in the bay, and were obliged to come to anchor in the roads. We remained there through the day and a part of the night. My watch began at eleven o'clock at night, and I received orders to call the captain if the wind came out from the westward. About midnight the wind became fair, and, having summoned the captain, I was ordered to call all hands. How I accomplished this, I do not know, but I am quite sure that I did not give the true hoarse boatswain call of "A-a-ll ha-a-a-nds! up anchor, a-ho-oy!" In a short time every one was in motion, the sails loosed, the yards braced, and we began to heave up the anchor, which was our last hold upon Yankee land. I could take but small part in these preparations. My little knowledge of a vessel was all at fault. Unintelligible orders were so rapidly given, and so immediately executed; there was such a hurrying about, and such an intermingling of strange cries and stranger actions, that I was completely bewildered. There is not so helpless and pitiable an object in the world as a landsman beginning a sailor's life. At length those peculiar, long-drawn sounds which denote that the crew are heaving at the windlass began, and in a few minutes we were under way. The noise of the water thrown from the bows was heard, the vessel leaned over from the damp night-breeze, and rolled with the heavy groundswell, and we had actually begun our long, long journey. This was literally bidding good night to my native land.

CHAPTER 2

THE FIRST DAY WE passed at sea was Sunday. As we were just from port, and there was a great deal to be done on board, we were kept at work all day, and at night the watches were set, and everything was put into sea order. When we were called aft to be divided into watches, I had a good specimen of the manner of a sea-captain. After the division had been made, he gave a short characteristic speech, walking the quarter-deck with a cigar in his mouth, and dropping the words out between the puffs.

"Now, my men, we have begun a long voyage. If we get along well together, we shall have a comfortable time; if we don't, we shall have hell afloat. All you have got to do is to obey your orders, and do your duty like men, — then you will fare well enough; if you don't, you will fare hard enough, — I can tell you. If we pull together, you will find me a clever fellow; if we don't, you will find me a bloody rescal. That's all I've got to say. Go below, the larboard watch!"

I, being in the starboard or second mate's watch, had the opportunity of keeping the first watch at sea. Stimson, a young man making, like myself, his first voyage, was in the same watch, and as he was the son of a professional man, and had been in a merchant's counting-room in Boston, we found that we had some acquaintances and topics in common. We talked these matters over — Boston, what our friends were probably doing, our voyage, &c. — until he went to take his turn at the lookout, and left me to myself. I had now a good opportunity for reflection. I felt for the first time the perfect silence of the sea. The officer was walking the quarter-deck, where I had no right to go, one or two men were talking on the forecastle, whom I had little inclination to join, so that I was left open to the full impression of everything about me. However much I was affected by the beauty of the sea, the bright stars, and the clouds driven swiftly over them, I could not but remember that I was separating myself from all the social and intellectual enjoyments of life. Yet, strange as it may seem, I did then and afterwards take pleasure in these reflections, hoping by them to prevent my becoming insensible to the value of what I was losing.

But all my dreams were soon put to flight by an order from the officer to trim the yards, as the wind was getting ahead; and I could plainly see by the looks the sailors occasionally cast to windward, and by the dark clouds that were fast coming up, that we had bad weather to prepare for, and I had heard the captain say that he expected to be in the Gulf Stream by twelve o'clock. In a few minutes eight bells were struck, the watch called, and we went below. I now began to feel the first discomforts of a sailor's life. The steerage, in which I lived, was filled with coils of rigging, spare sails, old junk, and ship stores, which had not been stowed away. Moreover, there had been no berths put up for us to sleep in, and we were not allowed to drive nails to hang our clothes upon. The sea, too, had risen, the vessel was rolling heavily, and everything was pitched about in grand confusion. There was a complete "hurrah's nest," as the sailors say, "everything on top and nothing at hand." A large hawser had been coiled away on my chest; my hats, boots, mattress, and blankets had all fetched away and gone over to leeward, and were jammed and broken under the boxes and coils of rigging. To crown all, we were allowed no light to find anything with, and I was just beginning to feel strong symptoms of sea-sickness, and that listlessness and inactivity which accompany it. Giving up all attempts to collect my things together, I lay down on the sails, expecting every moment to hear the cry, "All hands ahoy!" which the approaching storm would make necessary. I shortly heard the raindrops falling on deck thick and fast, and the watch evidently had their hands full of work, for I could hear the loud and repeated orders of the mate, trampling of feet, creaking of the blocks, and all the accompaniments of a coming storm. In a few minutes the slide of the hatch was thrown back, which let down the noise and tumult of the deck still louder, the cry of "All hands ahoy! tumble up here and take in sail," saluted our ears, and the hatch was quickly shut again. When I got upon deck, a new scene and a new experience was before me.

The little brig was close-hauled upon the wind, and lying over, as it then seemed to me, nearly upon her beam ends. The heavy head sea was beating against her bows with the noise and force almost of a sledgehammer, and flying over the deck, drenching us completely through. The topsail halyards had been let go, and the great sails were filling out and backing against the masts with a noise like thunder; the wind was whistling through the rigging; loose ropes were flying about; loud and, to me, unintelligible orders constantly given, and rapidly executed; and the sailors "singing out" at the ropes in their hoarse and peculiar strains.

In addition to all this, I had not got my "sea legs on," was dreadfully sea-sick, with hardly strength enough to hold on to anything, and it was "pitch dark." This was my condition when I was ordered aloft, for the first time, to reef topsails.

How I got along, I cannot now remember. I "laid out" on the yards and held on with all my strength. I could not have been of much service, for I remember having been sick several times before I left the topsail yard, making wild vomits into the black night, to leeward. Soon all was snug aloft, and we were again allowed to go below. This I did not consider much of a favor, for the confusion of everything below, and that inexpressible sickening smell, caused by the shaking up of bilge water in the hold, made the steerage but an indifferent refuge from the cold, wet decks. I had often read of the nautical experiences of others, but I felt as though there could be none worse than mine; for, in addition to every other evil, I could not but remember that this was only the first night of a two years' voyage. When we were on deck, we were not much better off, for we were continually ordered about by the officer, who said that it was good for us to be in motion. Yet anything was better than the horrible state of things below. I remember very well going to the hatchway and putting my head down, when I was oppressed by nausea, and always being relieved immediately. It was an effectual emetic.

This state of things continued for two days.

Wednesday, August 20th. We had the watch on deck from four till eight, this morning. When we came on deck at four o'clock, we found things much changed for the better. The sea and wind had gone down, and the stars were out bright. I experienced a corresponding change in my feelings, yet continued extremely weak from my sickness. I stood in the waist on the weather side, watching the gradual breaking of the day, and the first streaks of the early light. Much has been said of the sunrise at sea; but it will not compare with the sunrise on shore. It lacks the accompaniments of the songs of birds, the awakening hum of humanity, and the glancing of the first beams upon trees, hills, spires, and house-tops, to give it life and spirit. There is no scenery. But, although the actual rise of the sun at sea is not so beautiful, yet nothing will compare for melancholy and dreariness with the early breaking of day upon "Old Ocean's gray and melancholy waste."

There is something in the first gray streaks stretching along the eastern horizon and throwing an indistinct light upon the face of the deep, which combines with the boundlessness and unknown depth of the sea around, and gives one a feeling of loneliness, of dread, and of melancholy foreboding, which nothing else in nature can. This gradually passes away as the light grows brighter, and when the sun comes up, the ordinary monotonous sea day begins.

From such reflections as these, I was aroused by the order from the officer, "Forward there! rig the headpump!" I found that no time was allowed for daydreaming, but that we must "turn to" at the first light. Having called up the "idlers," namely, carpenter, cook, and steward, and rigged the pump, we began washing down the decks. This operation, which is performed every morning at sea, takes nearly two hours; and I had hardly strength enough to get through it. After we had finished, swabbed down decks, and coiled up the rigging, I sat on the spars, waiting for seven bells, which was the signal for breakfast. The officer, seeing my lazy posture, ordered me to slush the mainmast, from the royal-mast-head down. The vessel was then rolling a little, and I had taken no food for three days, so that I felt tempted to tell him that I had rather wait till after breakfast; but I knew that I must "take the bull by the horns," and that if I showed any sign of want of spirit or backwardness, I should be ruined at once. So I took my bucket of grease and climbed up to the royal-mast-head. Here the rocking of the vessel, which increases the higher you go from the foot of the mast, which is the fulcrum of the lever, and the smell of the grease, which offended my fastidious senses, upset my stomach again, and I was not a little rejoiced when I had finished my job and got upon the comparative terra firma of the deck. In a few minutes seven bells were struck, the log hove, the watch called, and we went to breakfast. Here I cannot but remember the advice of the cook, a simple-hearted African. "Now," says he, "my lad, you are well cleaned out; you haven't got a drop of your 'long-shore swash aboard of you. You must begin on a new tack, — pitch all your sweetmeats overboard, and turn to upon good hearty salt beef and ship bread, and I'll promise you, you'll have your ribs well sheathed, and be as hearty as any of 'em, afore you are up to the Horn." This would be good advice to give to passengers, when they set their hearts on the little niceties which they have laid in, in case of sea-sickness.

I cannot describe the change which half a pound of cold salt beef and a biscuit or two produced in me. I was a new being. Having a watch below until noon, so that I had some time to myself, I got a huge piece of strong, cold salt beef from the cook, and kept gnawing upon it until twelve o'clock. When we went on deck, I felt somewhat like a man, and could begin to learn my sea duty with considerable spirit. At about two o'clock, we heard the loud cry of "Sail ho!" from aloft, and soon saw two sails to windward, going directly athwart our hawse. This was the first time that I had seen a sail at sea. I thought then, and have always since, that no sight exceeds it in interest, and few in beauty. They passed to leeward of us, and out of hailing distance; but the captain could read the names on their sterns with the glass. They were the ship Helen Mar, of New York, and the brig Mermaid, of Boston. They were both steering westward, and were bound in for our "dear native land."

Thursday, August 21st. This day the sun rose clear; we had a fine wind, and everything was bright and cheerful. I had now got my sea legs on, and was beginning to enter upon the regular duties of a sea life. About six bells, that is, three o'clock P.M., we saw a sail on our larboard bow. I was very desirous, like every new sailor, to speak her. She came down to us, backed her main-top-sail, and the two vessels stood "head on," bowing and curveting at each other like a couple of war-horses reined in by their riders. It was the first vessel that I had seen near, and I was surprised to find how much she rolled and pitched in so quiet a sea. She plunged her head into the sea, and then, her stern settling gradually down, her huge bows rose up, showing the bright copper, and her stem and breasthooks dripping, like old Neptune's locks, with the brine. Her decks were filled with passengers, who had come up at the cry of "Sail ho!" and who, by their dress and features, appeared to be Swiss and French emigrants. She hailed us at first in French, but receiving no answer, she tried us in English. She was the ship La Carolina, from Havre, for New York. We desired her to report the brig Pilgrim, from Boston, for the northwest coast of America, five days out. She then filled away and left us to plough on through our waste of waters.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Two Years Before the Mast by Richard Henry Dana. Copyright © 2015 Richard Henry Dana. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

  • INTRODUCTION
  • CHAPTER I
  • CHAPTER II
  • CHAPTER III
  • CHAPTER IV
  • CHAPTER V
  • CHAPTER VI
  • CHAPTER VII
  • CHAPTER VIII
  • CHAPTER IX
  • CHAPTER X
  • CHAPTER XI
  • CHAPTER XII
  • CHAPTER XIII
  • CHAPTER XIV
  • CHAPTER XV
  • CHAPTER XVI
  • CHAPTER XVII
  • CHAPTER XVIII
  • CHAPTER XIX
  • CHAPTER XX
  • CHAPTER XXI
  • CHAPTER XXII
  • CHAPTER XXIII
  • CHAPTER XXIV
  • CHAPTER XXV
  • CHAPTER XXVI
  • CHAPTER XXVII
  • CHAPTER XXVIII
  • CHAPTER XXIX
  • CHAPTER XXX
  • CHAPTER XXXI
  • CHAPTER XXXII
  • CHAPTER XXXIII
  • CHAPTER XXXIV
  • CHAPTER XXXV
  • CHAPTER XXXVI
  • TWENTY-FOUR YEARS AFTER
  • SEVENTY-SIX YEARS AFTER

Reading Group Guide

1. Discuss Dana's motives for the voyage. What do you feel was the predominating factor in his decision to undertake such a journey? What were the risks involved, and how serious do you feel they were? What is your view of Dana's momentous choice?

2. What do you make of Dana's attitude toward religion, and religious instruction? Do you agree or not? Why? Is his a perspective that is anachronistic, or not?

3. How does social class play a role in the book? Discuss the implications of Dana's background. How did it affect his experience on the ship? Did you find it important, or inconsequential?

4. What is your opinion of the book's stark realism? Does Dana have an agenda in writing the book? If so, what is it? Do you think the experience was a positive one for Dana, or not?

5. What is the role of nature and the outdoors for Dana? How does he view the American West? How does his voyage attest to his view of the outdoors? Does this view change throughout his experience on the ship? If so, how?

6. Discuss the contrasts between Captain Thompson and Captain Faucon. How do their leadership skills differ? Who is more effective, and why? Discuss Dana's book on a political level. What do his portrayals of each captain reveal?

7. Discuss the considerable shift in Dana's perspective as evidenced in 'Twenty-Four Years After.' How do you account for this change? Do you agree or disagree with the author's decision to replace the original final chapter with this later account? Why or why not?

Foreword

1. ?Discuss Dana?s motives for the voyage. What do you feel was the predominating factor in his decision to undertake such a journey? What were the risks involved, and how serious do you feel they were? What is your view of Dana?s momentous choice?

2. ?What do you make of Dana?s attitude toward religion, and religious instruction? Do you agree or not? Why? Is his a perspective that is anachronistic, or not?

3. ?How does social class play a role in the book? Discuss the implications of Dana?s background. How did it affect his experience on the ship? Did you find it important, or inconsequential?

4. ?What is your opinion of the book?s stark realism? Does Dana have an agenda in writing the book? If so, what is it? Do you think the experience was a positive one for Dana, or not?

5. ?What is the role of nature and the outdoors for Dana? How does he view the American West? How does his voyage attest to his view of the outdoors? Does this view change throughout his experience on the ship? If so, how?

6. ?Discuss the contrasts between Captain Thompson and Captain Faucon. How do their leadership skills differ? Who is more effective, and why? Discuss Dana?s book on a political level. What do his portrayals of each captain reveal?

7. ?Discuss the considerable shift in Dana?s perspective as evidenced in ?Twenty-Four Years After.? How do you account for this change? Do you agree or disagree with the author?s decision to replace the original final chapter with this later account? Why or why not?

Customer Reviews

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Two Years Before the Mast 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 38 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Couldnt put it down. The writing is descriptive and colorful. I thought I'd just skim through this book but in the end I didn't want to miss a word . Written in layman's terms for the most part you do not have to understand nautical terms to read this book. I had no trouble reading this on my Nook as someone earlier stated. They must be doing something wrong! If you enjoy history and want a true acvount of what life was like on a merchant ship or in California in the mid1800's you will love this book!
andrew98 More than 1 year ago
This copy only fills top third to top half of the screen. This makes it annoying to read given that you have to turn the page so much more often.
tzelman on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Entirely engrossing account of sea-voyaging to California in 1836 to collect and prepare hides
amerynth on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Richard Henry Dana's book "Two Years Before the Mast" actually did remind me of the ocean -- my interest level in the book ebbed and flowed like the tides. I found much of his tale of sailing to be somewhat mundane, but every once in a while, he'll get into a story about a crew member that is utterly fascinating. I particularly enjoyed reading about his experiences in wild California... which was the very highlight of the book for me. Overall, this book would be best for someone with a particular interest in sailing (as opposed to a general interest in exploration.)
corinneblackmer on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A harrowing tale of the life of a common sailor in 1840. The author, an undergraduate at Harvard, took to the sea because he thought it might improve his eyesight (after a bout with measles). The work is backbreaking; his witness to a flogging and the merciless discipline of the sea unforgettable. He returns two years later and, as he says, just in time before the brutality of the life of a common sailor would have consumed and overtaken him permanently. A moving plea for more compassionate treatment of common workers.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The book is an interesting portrayal of life in California before the Union and the Gold Rush. I’m amazed that the author was able to capture so much detail of the area and of life aboard the ships. I wish I had seen the glossary in the back sooner, however, so that I would have better understood the parts of the ship he described, particularly the different sails that he referenced on the ships he sailed upon. Terry
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A revealing tale of the life of a sailor and the California coast in the 1800's.
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psychmd More than 1 year ago
Appearing on many top 100 must read lists, this book deserves the acclaim. You smell the salt air and feel the cramped quarters of the narrator, a Harvard educated young man who takes on the adventure of a lifetime as a common sailor in the 1830's. A poignant portrayal of nautical life and California's early days as a part of Mexico. A unique personal history that stands the test of time.
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I went on the pilgrim for the book
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