Beaver in the South Atlantic

Early 1900's sailing ship in a bottle

A Sailing ship in a bottle, from early 1900’s

In this post, the Steamer Beaver, and the HBC ship Columbia, are travelling together on a course to the South Atlantic Ocean and beyond. As the transcribed copy of the Beaver‘s Log has no indication of whether the ships are in the North Latitudes, or the South, I will have to take an educated guess to discover when they cross Equator. I ended the last blogpost at Madeira, well north of that line and some distance from the continent of Africa. To the south of their location is the big, rounded bulge of that continent. Obviously, the two ships will have to take a more Westerly course to avoid ploughing into the African coast, but so many entries in the Log have not been copied out.

But let us see what the Beaver‘s Log does say. On September 12, 1835, the two ships are about sixteen days sailing distance from Gravesend, and not yet at or off Madeira. It will take them something like 7 months to make their way to Fort Vancouver, on the North Pacific Ocean. Obviously they still have a long journey ahead of them.

On September 13, the Beaver‘s Log read: “Made the Island of Porto Santo bearing S.W.W. distant 10 Leagues. At noon made island of Madeira, west point, bearing S.S.W, 8 miles. Read prayers to the ship’s company.” At this point the transcriber of the journal, who has until now been faithfully recording what has happened, begins to skip days: many days in a row. The next journal entry is two days later, and it reads:

September 15. Light breeze throughout. Spoke [to] the Columbia. Sail in sight bound to the S.

September 19. [A gap of four days]. Moderate and steady throughout. Signalized longitude and course to the Columbia. All necessary sail set.

September 20. Moderate trade winds, squally and rain; fine weather. Made Cape St. Antonio, bearing south, 30 miles. Performed divine service.

As it happens, there are many capes called Cape St. Antonio. Happily, one of them lies some distance west of the big bulge of Africa, well out in the Atlantic Ocean! Its proper name, Santo Antao [with a ~  above the small a], is Portuguese for Saint Anthony, and this island is the westernmost island of the Cape Verde group of islands. Santo Antao’s Atlantic Ocean location is at 17.070 degrees N, 25.171 degrees W. As the Beaver‘s position at Madeira was 32.7607 degrees N and 16.9595 W, you can see that the two HBC ships are now sailing south and west toward the South American coast. It has taken them six days to sail from Madeira to Santo Antao, but they have at least crossed the Tropic of Cancer (which was well south of Madeira, their previous location). However, they are still 17 degrees north of the Equator, and nowhere close to sailing into the South Atlantic. The next entries are:

September 22. Light, variable breeze. Took in the royal topgallant sail and the gaff topsails. Light breeze; made all sail. People employed as yesterday. 7 am. Hove to for the Columbia, and at 10.30 bore up to her. 

September 26. [Four days later]. Light breeze throughout. A sail in sight standing to the southward.

September 27. Light airs throughout. Hove to for the Columbia. Heavy rain with thunder and lightning; weather too unsettled to read prayers.

Sometime during this period, the ships crossed the Equator, when newcomers to the crossing of that line were subjected to a tradition of the sea. In his private journal, Thomas Lowe speaks of this tradition and his dislike of it. But this ocean was also alive with birds and fish of various sorts, and so he writes of the wildlife he saw on this part of his voyage. A note: as you will see, in 1841 Thomas Lowe also sailed past the Cape Verde Islands in the Vancouver.  

And so, at long last, the Beaver and the Columbia have sailed into the South Atlantic Ocean.

Of interest to us at this time is the fact that Thomas Lowe said that on her first voyage’s return journey, the Vancouver sailed from Cape Horn to the Equator in 31 days, “but I doubt much if we be able to accomplish it in the same time outward bound, as she is now in much worse trim.” That means that the Vancouver was in worse shape in 1841, than she had been on her maiden voyage. The fabric (canvas?) her sails are made of has stretched and she is not sailing as efficiently as she had done on her first crossing of the Atlantic. The ship which we are comparing to the Vancouver is on her maiden voyage, and her sails should be as efficient as they would ever be. Maybe the Columbia is not performing as well as she should, if she is taking the same time to cover the same ground as the Vancouver did on her second journey to the Columbia District. Perhaps the Columbia should have performed better than she did this year.

The Beaver‘s log continues, telling of light breezes and of hoving to for the Columbia. On September 30, the Beaver experienced “Light variable breeze with heavy head sea. Hove to for the Columbia, and fired several guns but secured no answer. Made sail; fired three rockets for the Columbia but received no answer. At 3 pm during a heavy squall, lost sight of her when she was about two miles astern; at 8 pm, at which time signals were always exchanged, no answer could be secured.” What went wrong aboard the Columbia, I wonder?

This failure to respond may have worried Captain Home: as far as I know the Columbia was supposed to be available for the Beaver if she ran into trouble, and now she had disappeared into the rain and mist (or had she? The record is unclear when so much of the journal is missing).

Three days worth of log entries were not transcribed by the man who saw the actual log-book, and so I presume the Columbia showed up again. Further entries contain nothing of particular interest, until on October 7 Captain Home writes that “People employed in the engine room with the engineer.” As you know, the Beaver is a steamship rigged as a schooner, and her boilers were in the engine room. What would they have been doing, I wonder?

On October 11, Captain Home wrote in his log that there was a “Moderate trade [winds], squalls occasionally.” He was referring, of course, to the southern band of trade winds, called the south east trades. “Read prayers. Latitude 13 degrees 24 minutes. Longitude 25 degrees, 2 minutes.” The Beaver and Columbia are now in the South Atlantic Ocean, so their location will be 13 degrees 24 minutes South Latitude, and 25 degrees 2 Minutes West Longitude. My atlas tells me they are on the same latitude as Brazil, but well out in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Almost directly in their path lies Ilha da Trindade [Note: not Trinidad] and Ilha de Martim Vaz. 

But more on the trade winds: For your information, the trade winds always blow toward the equator, and because of the rotation of the earth, they always blow to the east. With one small exception, the trades occupied the entire ocean area between 30 degrees N Latitude, and 30 degrees S and that region of the sea is also known as the “Horse Latitudes.” Another thing of interest, and something that would have affected the Beaver and the Columbia, is that the trade winds blew to within five degrees of the equator, when they died. Any ship that was then sailing in that region must sail through the five or ten degrees of latitude called “The Doldrums.”  

So now, at last, the Beaver and the Columbia have reached the South Atlantic and Captain Home continues his log entries. The ships may now be out of the trade winds: on October 15 the  captain wrote, “Light variable breeze. Made the island of Trinidad, bearing S 1/2 W, distance 8 leagues. Longitude 28 degrees 13 minutes S, Latitude 20 degrees 25 minutes W.” The “island of Trinidad” is, of course, the above mentioned Ilha da Trindade — a rocky, volcanic outcrop located in the Atlantic Ocean about 1,100 kilometers, or 680 miles, east of the coast of Brazil. It consists of five islands and several rocks and has an area of 4 square miles. By the next day the ships closed in on the Ilha da Trindade, which was only 5 miles away. After that, there were no entries copied out for eight days, and the next mention was that on October 25, there were “Fresh breeze and fine weather, hard squalls, weather too unsettled to read prayers. Longitude 37 degrees 14 minutes S, Latitude 20 degrees 25 minutes W.” That places the ships due south of Ilha da Trindade, and off the coast of Argentina, not Brazil. Almost directly ahead of them is the Falkland Islands, and the Tropic of Capricorn is now behind them. They are well into the Southern part of the South Atlantic Ocean, and they must be looking forward to rounding the Horn.

On November 11 they “Made the Falkland Islands bearing S. by W.” The Falkland Islands, or Islas Malvinas, is an archipelago or group of islands in the southern Atlantic Ocean, 300 miles east of southern Patagonia coast — the very southern part of Argentina and close to the bottom of the South American continent. The two ships are approaching Cape Horn, the roughest, most violent, and most dangerous part of their journey to the west. As a matter of fact, only four days later, on November 15, the Captain and crew of these two ships will have Cape Horn in sight.

And so, I think it is time to pause this story and leave the rounding of Cape Horn to another blogpost, where we can enjoy the full horror of the bad weather that is to be found there. Do you remember that I told you the Beaver and the Columbia had an easy rounding of the Horn? It did. But the Vancouver did not!

When this new post is written, it will appear here:  

To go back to the beginning of this record, go here:

Copyright, Nancy Marguerite Anderson, 2024. All rights reserved.





One thought on “Beaver in the South Atlantic

  1. John Hansen

    This is like a game show on TV.

    Just as the person answers the million dollar question, and we all wait to see if they were correct, the host says that we must now break for an intermission.

    Ha Ha :-0