Boy Scouts Beyond The Seas
CHAPTER I WEST INDIES AND CENTRAL AMERICA
ONLY four days after leaving the gloomy gray of England in its cold and muddy winter, we reached the Azores, the little group of hilly islands far out in the Atlantic.
St. Michael’s, where the ship stops to land some passengers, is quite a big town— said to be the third largest in Portugal. It is an assemblage of pink and yellow houses, stretched along the brown, rocky shore, with a small harbour in front, and steep hills behind, and everywhere long lines of glass-houses in which pineapples are grown for the London market.
As we drop this island in the bumpy gray sea behind us, we part with Europe, and sail at once into the bluer sunny seas which lead us to the Spanish Main.
As day after day we steam across these endless plains of sea, we begin to think more and more highly of the bravery of those old sea-dogs of the Middle Ages, who, in their lumbering little sailing ships, and with their primitive maps and compasses, were not afraid to venture far across the seas to seek adventures greater than the home seas offered.
Gales had for them no terrors, their ships were tidy sea-boats, their rigging good, and they themselves had stout hearts and strong hands to work them. But what they had to fear far more was the fine, calm weather, when never a breath of wind disturbed the shining surface of the oily sea. There they would be idly rolling on the long, smooth swell without making a yard of progress from day to day.
And they did not carry tinned provisions, or stores of meat in freezing chambers, nor engines for condensing and turning salt water into fresh, as we do to-day; they only had a few barrels of pork preserved in brine, and water stowed in casks.
The danger was ever before them that if a breeze should fail to come in time they had the risk of running out of food, and thus of slowly drifting to death through thirst and starvation.
But the glorious dreams of adventure, of riches and loot, and of green islands and blue seas of the Spanish Main, drew them on to face the risks.
Here, out west of the Azores, in the centre of the Atlantic Ocean, is that part of it which is known as the Sargasso Sea. it is the point where all tides and currents seem to cease. It is marked by masses of yellow seaweed floating in bunches for miles and miles. It is hither that deserted, half foundered ships seem to drift And never to move away again, until they rot and sink into the depths for ever.
As we steamed across this great ocean in our powerful twin-screw liner with its comfortable airy cabins, its great dining-hall and restaurant, its laundry, and its tiled and marble swimming-bath and gymnasium, it seems impossible to bring the past into touch with the present, and yet on the fo’c’sle, half under the awning and half in the blazing sunshine, one sees a group of sailors, lounging and playing cards on the deck, many of them half clad or with handkerchiefs tied round their heads, and one could very easily imagine their forefathers looking much the same as buccaneers aboard the sailing craft in the olden days.
Cabin-boys there were in those vessels, cabin-boys who rose to be great sailors; and to-day there are cabinboys still, and they may rise to be great men if they make up their minds to it.