On June 3rd, 1890, we sailed from Tyne Dock, South Shields. bound for ‘Frisco, with general cargo and, going North-about round the Shetlands, soon reached the Western Ocean. There we were favoured with fair conditions all the wav to Madeira. and sighted that island on the 24th day out. On the 5th July, we spoke the barque Banffshire, outward bound for Sydney, whilst another vessel, apparently homeward bound, away on the horizon had evidently lost her main topgallant mast, but we were unable to ascertain who she was.
Now well into the Doldrums the skipper was quite keen on catching the numerous sharks that followed in our wake. One chap he hooked gave a lot of trouble and required the services of several hands before he was captured. He measured 8ft. 3in. long, and when cut open. had a large bully beef tin in his stomach—a very indigestible meal. By the 3rd of August we were abreast of the rock of Trinidada, [sic] and were experiencing heavy squalls and had a lot of trouble with sails and gear carrying away; first the flying jib, then the fore royal, and fore lower topsail went one after the other, which kept us quite busy.
On the 1st September we sighted land on the port bow, which turned out to be Staten Island, and proceeded later through the Straits of Le Maire, with a fair wind which carried us right down the Patagonian coast to the Horn. On the 5th, the weather became very bad, and we reduced sail to three lower topsails and fore topmast staysail. Next day it was blowing a hurricane from the S.W. and tremendous seas running, the decks being full up to the rails. The wind seemed to blow still harder and there was a loud report, followed by another, and away went the fore and main lower topsails in ribbons to leeward. Fortunately, we had an awning in the weather mizzen rigging so that, with a goose-winged mizzen lower topsail, we were able to keep her head up to the seas, which were roaring down on us from a great height. It was now quite impossible to bend any more sails, so we just had to make the best of things.
These wretched conditions continued without any lull for weeks. One day, however to break the monotony we spoke to the three-masted ship Wolf, 75 days out from Belfast towards Port Oregon, and another day the Corryvechan. a Glasgow vessel homeward bound for Liverpool. Needless to say. how we all envied those aboard her. We were now getting into a fine mess all our lower storm sails blown away, skylight carried away on poop, cabin flooded, and many rail stanchions loosened, deck- house doors and boats stove in and. worse than all, hardly any fresh water to drink. We tried condensing salt, but this was hopeless.
At last came a lull, some fine weather canvas was set, and a course steered for Port Stanley, Falkland Islands, where we arrived off Port William, and sailing with a fair wind up the fairway as far as possible, when the little launch Sissie, came to our aid, and piloted us through the narrows into the Bay of Stanley, where we came to anchor.
Here we found quite a fleet of ships all suffering more or less from the effects of the blow off the Horn. These were the four-masted barque Beechbank, who came in with the crew of a ship that had foundered, the German ship Wilhelm Mene, Penguin, the barque Balkamar, and the Norwegian barque Langstown. In addition to these were H.M.S. Pegasus and Beagle.
During our stay here carpenters and blacksmiths came off every day making good the damage. and most of the hands were put on sewing canvas for the new sails, which kept them busy for a considerable time. We had a passenger aboard with us who, of course, signed on as assistant steward, and he thought he had had enough after his swim in the cabin off the Horn, and did not care to risk his skin any further, so he implored the skipper to let him go home, but the captain would not hear of it; however, after a lot of strong language and threatenings of what he’d do if we ever reached ‘Frisco, the skipper gave in, so when the mailboat arrived the passenger said good-bye to all of us, as he did not expect to ever hear of ship or crew again and. taking his departure, stepped into the boat and was rowed ashore for England !
Port Stanley in those days was a very bleak sort of place, there is little soil, no warmth in the sun, no trees appear to grow and only the coarsest grass; altogether a very wind-swept place, where most of the inhabitants use their time sheep farming. The lads spent a good bit of their time in the boat between ship and shore, and on one occasion were coming off in the boat under sail with a cargo of potatoes for the cabin, the wind blowing in strong gusts off shore, when suddenly we gybed and over went the lot into the none too warm water. Of course we lost the spuds and nearly ourselves, but fortunately the Beechbank chaps had seen our plight and promptly came to our assistance.
On the 22nd November the Beechbank got under way, but it took her three days to reach the open sea, owing to head winds. Later the Langstown and the Balkamar left for Antwerp, and then the Wilhelm Mene tried to get out, but she went aground. However, she got off without assistance, and sailed for Iquique.
By the 30th January we were, except for stores, ready for a second attempt to round the Horn, so shifted from the bay to outside the Narrows, and on the 6th February were all ready to sail; so after heaving up and dropping anchor, and sailing a few yards at a time we managed, after some days’ delay, to reach the open sea, and with a westerly wind our course was set for the Horn.
These conditions, however, did not last long, we soon had to reduce to topsails, foresail and staysails, until the 15th, when we sighted the eastern side of Staten Island; the wind had now dropped and all sail was set. Next day we were well on our way round the corner, or at least we thought so, but at night the old capers began and it started to blow.
Before very long away went the mainsail and fore upper topsail, and then all hands were called to shorten down. The following morning all sail was made, and again we sighted the Horn. This passing and repassing had been going on for quite a long time, and we were getting jolly sick of it; however, on the 4th March, we were rewarded with a fair wind, and with every stitch set, we passed Diego Ramirez, on our port beam, so we were evidently cutting the corner close this time, but no matter, our spirits ran high as the wind held, and we got away to the West and clear from this spot, where we seemed to have spent a lifetime.
We eventually arrived off the Golden Gate without further incident on the 24th Mav, 1900, nearly a year from South Shields. When we finally dropped anchor off ‘Frisco we were besieged by newspaper reporters, doctors, missionaries and all sorts of people, in fact I think our safe arrival seemed to have created quite a lot of excitement.
We left ‘Frisco, homeward bound, on the 23rd July with grain, Queenstown for orders, in company with the Windsor Park, but lost sight of her on the third day out. The 3rd of September we sighted the Island of Claremont Tonnaire in Lat. 18.20 S. and Long. 126.30 W., and five days later Mangur Rewa Island. The Horn was reached on the 21st October, 90 days out, and we went round with a good stiff westerly after us and doing 12 knots, and although she pooped and the decks were full up, kept her going for days and up into finer weather again.
We spoke the barque Ganges, of London, on the 9th November, in Lat. 31 deg. 3S min. S. and Long. 24 deg. 36 min. W. , 75 days out from Sydney to Liverpool with hides. We also spoke the AImida, of Greenock, Captain Greeveson in command, outward bound to Iquique, 71 days out from Liverpool. The line was crossed on the 28th November, 128 days out, a poor performance, but the Blackbraes was not built for speed but to carry cargo. However, on the 4th January, 1901 we signalled our arrival to the Old Head of Kinsale, and received orders to proceed to Birkenhead, which port we reached about two days later after a voyage of 166 days, and we were all jolly glad to be back in the old country once more.