A racing start

When we arrived at Falmouth from Jamaica and Carthagena last voyage, we were told that our next destination would be to Mexico. This news was equally gratifying to our commander, his officers, and men. To the former it held out the certain prospect of a good freight home and the chance of passengers – to his officers Havannah in the distance, with its fragrant and inimitable cegars, seemed an object well worthy of being realized by the endurance of a long and tedious voyage – and the views of the latter would be well answered at the different place[s] of our route. In this agreeable delusion we remained nearly a fortnight, when to our dismay an order was received at the Office here from the proper authorities that no Packet should go two times following to Carthagena or to Mexico – and thus our hopes fell to the ground, like the tasteless fabric of a vision leaving not a wreck behind. By this arrangement we were unceremoniously kicked out of the Mexican trip, and obliged to turn back upon the Plover, whose voyage to the Leeward Islands was left open for us, while she not unwillingly, was appointed to proceed to Mexico.[1] It is a good custom to consider that all is for the best. I composed myself for this change, by reflecting that this was a new voyage to me – that it was a very short one, and that it was said to be a very pleasant one. By often turning over in my mind this topic of conversation, I soon reconciled myself to an unavoidable necessity and at the end of a few days, I was even more pleased than if we had gone whither we were originally intended.

Having spent my holiday time in Falmouth in a most agreeable way, I was naturally very anxious to have as much of it as possible. In short I hoped to be detained a few days – and this expectation did not appear to be unfounded, when I considered that the last Packet had been favoured with a weeks grace – and that the state of the West Indies was such that it was not likely our government would be anxious to send out their directions as late as possible. It was well that I left nothing undone under that expectation – for time to the day came the fiat for our departure.

Proceed to Sea with the Plover

Sat.20th July – at 8 a.m. I proceeded to go on board, accompanied by F. Fox and Cuthbert Williams. Our Packet had just moved out into the outer roads, and there came to anchor. Of course we had but to follow her – and in no time at all we were pacing her deck. Beside us was the Plover for Mexico [2], with her Packet signal also flying. The day was louring and the wind variable and puffy. Hour after hour passed away rather tediously, in spite of conversation cegars, and grog – and we were still more impatient to be gone, as the wind blew strong and fair at the time, and we could not tell how soon a foul wind might set in, and keep us for days at sea in sight of land. At last we observed a bustle on board the Plover, betokening immediate preparations for sea. Soon the boatswains shrill whistle announced that the mail was on board, and that they were on the point of starting – shame be it said to the Packet Agents that the Men-of-war Packets should invariably receive their Mail before us. Well off she went in gallant style with a shift of breeze and the strangers on board laughingly told us that she could talk Spanish (i.e. sail fast), and that she would soon leave us far out of sight astern.

To these remarks we said nothing, being ignorant of the Plovers sailing qualities – and were quite easy at the imputation of our inferiority. Nevertheless, I was nervously impatient to be gone. Twenty minutes or half an hour elapsed ere we received our mail. We had then to hoist in the gig, and get up the anchor, with 24 fathoms chain cable out, so that nearly another half an hour was consumed, ere we filled our sails and followed in the track of the Plover.

Trial of sailing with the Plover

By this time the wind was rather slack – & she was about 7 miles ahead of us. Not one on board entertained a thought of coming up with her – at least no one talked of it. It was 12 precisely when we set sail, and by three we could easily see that we were overhauling her fast, or hand over hand as we say. Then the greatest anxiety arose – Every minute many eyes were cast upon the Packet ahead, and observations made that we were gaining upon her. The chase was pursued with increasing ardour and interest – nearer and nearer we approached – and exactly as we struck two bells (7 oClock) we were abreast of the redoubtable Plover, & not distant more than a quarter of a mile. All hands were on deck on board both vessels – but it may readily be imagined that we gazed on each [other] with very different feelings. Whilst we were still some way off, the commander of the Plover stood on the poop, apparently engaged in attentively watching our progress anon as we came pretty close, he walked up and down in a hurried manner, never looking once directly to the place where we were – and when we had come up to be almost abreast of him, he descended from the poop to the deck, where over the lofty bulwarks we saw him peeping at us. Our men were in ecstasies – and we were not a little pleased, considering that the Master of the Plover has in presence of M.r Geach, laughed at the idea of our touching his Packet, and that the Commander himself had in joke said as much to our skipper, as that he would fire at us, if we should pick him up.

Much snighering [sic] and cachinnation prevailed among the Dukes men – and one of them even held up a rope in derision, as if he would have thrown it to the Plover’s men and taken them in tow. These symptoms however of incivility and bravado were promptly put a stop to by the Master (the Com.r being in the cabin) and in silence we passed her and soon left her far behind, having fairly beaten her by nearly a mile an hour. [3]

During the day the weather was very variable and the wind nearly favourable.

Read on …