Thursday, March 27, 2008

from Through the First Antarctice Night, 1898

(page 62)

At about four o'clock a sharp dark line, like a perfectly straight bar of iron, was seen over the southern horizon. It rose with wondrous rapidity and as it ascended above this central bar there swelled out a perfectly smooth and even roll of weirdly luminous vapour. Across the rounded surface were small, ragged films of intense white and steel gray passing with lightning haste, and this gave the upper line an awe-inspiring appearance. Under the central bar the cloud was of a dark steel gray, but we could at no time see the sky, or even the horizon under the advancing commotion. We were intensely interested in the sight, but it did not seem to us particularly dangerous, nor did it strike the sailors with the terror which I have seen less imposing sky-effects produce. The strangeness of the sight, however, put the officers on guard, and every surface of sail that could be taken in was at once furled. The sea now began to rise and it was strange to watch it. It first boiled, apparently without wind, into short waves. This the following wind straightened out like the wrinkles of a cloth under a smoothing-iron. Then other waves rose too high and too solid for the wind to flatten. These increased in size, and multiplied in numbers, and rushed towards us in huge coils of spray. The Belgica pitched and tumbled in the resulting sea, but as yet no wind had struck her. The water and the air was lighted with a sort of vague pearly glow. At this time the strange line seemed just over our bowsprit, and extended entirely across the heavens from east to west, but only a little draught of air crossed the bridge.

I turned to watch the men who had suddenly left their work and were coming down from the rigging. All at once the bark was struck with terrific force, and stopped as suddenly as if she had struck a stone wall; this was followed by a howling, maddening noise as the wind passed through the ropes and spars as I had never heard before or since. Everybody grasped a bar or a rope to keep from being swept overboard. The bark, after the first thud, raised her bow and drove her stern into the boiling sea, and then righted, seeming prepared for the next assault. After a few other, but lesser, puffs, the wind came with a steady hiss—like steam from an exhaust pipe, and its force was expended with the same rapidity with which it fell upon us. From the commencement to the termination of this strange onslaught occupied but fifteen minutes; but this was as much as I care to see of a hurricane of this sort, though they are sufficiently prevalent in this region to receive the special name of pamperos. A pampero is apt to leave a lasting impression on one's mind, and on the Belgica we date all of our events from the time of its occurrence.

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