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William Strachey's Account of the Storm

William Strachey's Account of the Storm

During all this time, the heavens looked so black upon us, that it was not possible the elevation of the Pole might be observed: nor a Star by night, not Sunbeam by day was to be seen. Only upon the Thursday night, Sir George Summers being upon the watch, had an apparition of a little round light, like a faint Star, trembling, and streaming along with a sparkling blaze, half the height upon the Main Mast, and shooting sometimes from Shroud to Shroud, attempting to settle as it were upon any of the four Shrouds; and for three or four hours together, or rather more, half the night it kept with us, running sometimes along the Mainyard to the very end, and then returning. At which, Sir George Summers called divers about him, and showed them the same, who observed it with much wonder, and carefulness: but upon a sudden, towards the morning watch, they lost the sight of it, and knew not what way it made. The superstitious Seamen make many constructions of this Sea-fire, which nevertheless is usual in storms: The same (it may be) which the Grecians were wont in the Mediterranean  to call  Castor and Pollux, of which, if one only appeared without the other, they took it for an evil sign of great tempest. The Italians, and such, who lie open to the Adriatic and Tyrrene Sea, call it (a sacred Body)  Corpo sancto: the Spaniards call it Saint Elmo, and have an authentic and miraculous Legend for it. Be it what it will, we laid other foundations of safety or ruin than in the rising or falling of it, could it have served us now miraculously to have taken our height by, it might have strucken amazement, and a reverence in our devotions, according to the due of a miracle. But it did not light us any whit the more to our known way, who ran now (as a do hoodwinked men) at all adventures, sometimes North, and Northeast, then North and by West, and in an instant again varying two or three points, and sometimes half the compass. East and by South we steered away as much as we could to bear upright, which was no small carefulness nor pain to do, albeit we much unrigged our Ship, threw overboard much luggage, many a  Trunk and Chest (in which I suffered no mean loss) and staved many a Butt of Beer, Hogsheads of Oil, Cider, Wine, and Vinegar, and heaved away all our Ordnance on the Starboard side, and had now purposed to have cut down the Main Mast, the more to lighten her, for we were much spent, and our men so weary, as their strengths together failed them, with their hearts, having travailed now from Tuesday till Friday morning, day and night, without either sleep or food; for the leakage taking up all the hold, we could neither come by Beer nor fresh water; fire we could keep none in the Cookroom to dress any meat, and carefulness, grief, and our turn at the Pump or Bucket, were sufficient to hold sleep from our eyes.

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Utter darkness.

Light on the Shrouds.





No sleep or food from Tuesday till Friday.