CRUISE OF THE AURORA
FROM PASCAGOULA TO POINT OF PINES.
ON the 18th of January we left the camp of fiery incident
and paddled to the little settlement of East Pascagoula, where we
remained only long enough to give directions about our mail, and then
laid a course for Point of Pines. One of two ways was open to us,
either a passage well out in the Gulf, or a narrow, tortuous bayou into
Grand Bay, across which lay our point of destination. Owing to the
heavy seas outside, we concluded to take the smoother but more
mystifying inside passage. We were not a little influenced in this
decision by the fact that we had been told we could find abundance of
oysters at the mouth of the bayou.
"Well, Barnacle," said I, after we had gone some
distance, "this must be the passage; there is the heap of oyster shells
that were to be left on the port hand, and over there are the dead pine
trees that were to be on the same hand. We were to turn to the right
when within about a quarter of a mile of them. Now we had better take
this narrow thoroughfare, hadn't we?"
"Blest if I know; there are so many ditches that I am
"Well, suppose we try this one, at any rate;" and in we
go. "I say, Barnacle, have you got enough water over there? On this
side I have less than six inches."
"Water? No, I am paddling in the soft, oozy mud. Guess
we had better back out of here the same way we came in, or we may have
to remain where we are all night."
And back we go, not, however, without much difficulty and
hard work, as we were compelled to paddle backward, there not being
enough water to allow of our turning the canoes.
We start in on a new ditch.
"Now we have the right one, Doctor," says
Barnacle; "there is plenty of water here."
But as I have my doubts as to its being the "right one," I
wait to see how Barnacle gets along, and am soon reviling him as he
again gets stuck in the mud. There is a third thoroughfare in sight,
and into this I push the Aurora's bow through some tall, overhanging
grass that lines the edges. Pushing my paddle down, I fail to reach the
bottom, and therefore believe I am on the proper course to Grand Bay,
and calling to Barnacle that I have found the road, he comes in after
me, and together we paddle on for perhaps a mile, when we enter a broad
lakelet, from which there is no outlet save that by which we entered.
There is nothing left for us but to return to the main bayou and again
try one of the thoroughfares that we had abandoned.
Stuck in the Mud.
After a brief consultation we concluded that we
took the right course in the first place, and into it we again push
until we are fast stuck in the mud. I had noticed, while on the
Allegheny, that whenever we got stuck, Barnacle invariably lighted his
pipe and sucked consolation out of it. One thing is certain; we are
stuck in the mud so fast that we can neither advance nor retreat, so we
must remain where we are until the tide rises. Why not follow
Barnacle's example, and have a smoke? As the half-burned match rests on
the water that is not more than three inches deep, I see with joy that
it drifts toward the bow of the canoe.
"Barnacle, I believe the tide is rising, and
before we have smoked out one pipe we will have water enough to float
My assertion is soon verified, and away we go through the
half water, half mud bayou until we come out on to the broad surface of
Grand Bay, across which, outlined against the evening sky, are the tall
trees on Point of Pines, the only spot for miles where one may set foot
on solid ground. It is now clear sailing, and the short distance of two
miles is soon crossed. and the tired voyagers are at their evening
meal, which has been well earned.
So close do the trees grow to the water's edge that a
number of them, which have been toppled over by the washing of the soil
from about their roots, are lying with their branches in the water, and
from them we gather a quantity of fine oysters, thus setting at rest,
to my mind at least, the question, "Do oysters grow on trees?"
The coast was here an almost unbroken wilderness, with no
habitation for many miles. Fifteen miles to the southeast, on the broad
Gulf, lay Dauphin Island, and this we must reach before we can cross
the broad entrance to Mobile Bay.
IN WHICH BARNACLE FINDS DEEP WATER.
THE morning succeeding our arrival at Point of Pines was
one of almost tropical heat, and as we waded out of the mouth of the
bay and hauled the canoes across the bar, Barnacle spied a school of
porpoises fishing in the shoal waters, and a moment after was giving
them chase, with revolver and shotgun lying cocked by his side. Not
having a fondness for such sport, I lay, idly drifting with the
current, convulsed with laughter at his ineffectual attempts to get a
shot. There comes one of the black hogs now, his back exposed above the
surface for a moment, and then disappears. Now Barnacle is going for
him. See him paddle! every stroke causes his canoe to jump as though
some submarine animal had it in tow. But he is too late. Just as he
arrives at the spot where he thought he had him, the porpoise rises to
the surface and blows, three hundred yards distant. For half an hour
Barnacle vainly endeavors to get a snap shot, and then gives up the
chase in disgust, and says "he wouldn't shoot one of them if he could."
The whole surface of the Gulf so far as we can see, is as
smooth as a millpond on a quiet summer's day. Barnacle is in a
particularly happy frame of mind on this brilliantly beautiful morning,
and gives vent to his feelings by singing several sailor "shanties" as
we paddle still to the eastward. No sail is in sight on the bosom of
the sea, but far in the distance we can just make out a dark object,
which I believe to be a steamer, but which Barnacle thinks is simply a
blind erected by duck shooters. A nearer approach reveals a small
steamer lying at anchor. As we come within hailing distance we receive
an invitation to come on board, and five minutes later we are on the
deck of the propeller Twilight, of Mobile, Captain Barnes, master. The
captain informs us that in a few minutes he will start for Dauphin
Island, and learning that the distant island is our destination, kindly
invites us to remain on board, at the same time directing one of his
men to secure the canoes with extra lines, by which they were dropped
far astern, beyond the swell occasioned by the steamer's propeller. The
trip was a very pleasant one, the rapid motion of the steamer creating
a breeze that was delightful, while we sat on the deck beneath the
shade of an awning. The steamer was bound for a raft of logs that had
drifted on the sandy shores of the island and been collected by the
wreckers who live there. As we neared the shore a bank of fog came
driving in from seaward, and in less time than it takes to write it we
were so completely enveloped by it that I would not have known the
whereabouts of the island had it not been for the roar of the surf as
it beat on the opposite shore.
At the earnest solicitation of Captain Barnes we
remained on board all night, he insisting on my occupying his berth
while he lay on the cabin floor. With the arrival of daylight there was
no change in the fog, but by the time we had finished breakfast it had
thinned a trifle and we could make out the shore line. Taking the
course from the chart, we once more committed ourselves to the guidance
of the boat compass.
As we paddled along the northern shore of the island
flocks of ducks got up in front of us, and Barnacle drops a brace of
fine fat ones, which we lay on deck, with the promise that they shall
be made into a stew for our dinner. Some stirring scenes have been
enacted on this low, sandy island.*
*"Here Iberville and his comrades first
planted the lilies of the flag of Louis le Grand, more than one hundred
and eighty years ago. Some of these adventurers here found a mound, and
on digging into it disclosed a huge heap of human hones, which called
forth the exclamation, 'Oh, quel massacre, and the name 'Isle de
Massacre' was given to this sand heap. A few years later a permanent
settlement was made, and the name of one of the Bourbon Princes was
given to it, and to this day it is known as Isle Dauphin. It was here
that Cadillac established his court of chivalry and published edicts
prescribing dress and who should and who should not wear swords.
Dauphin Island has been the scene of attack by Spaniards when it was in
French possession, and by the English when it belonged to Spain, and by
the British since it has been held by the United states. Many bloody
deeds have been enacted by the islanders, noteworthy that of one
Beasely, who murdered and plundered the islanders. He was a desperado
of the most hardened stamp. Having murdered a man in the presence of
his wife and children, he was captured by the officers of a revenue
cutter, taken to Mobile, tried and hanged."
The tall spars of a schooner riding at her anchor rise out
of the fog, and as we approach her we give a hail, but all is still as
death. Now we hear the crowing of a cock, off to the starboard, and
this, if nothing else, proves that we are near the shore. According to
the chart, we should now be near the eastern shore of a shallow bay,
and not far from the house of one Doctor Jack Collins, physician,
fisherman and wrecker. I begin to have renewed doubts as to the
trustworthiness of Barnacle's compass, when the fog lifts and clears
away almost as suddenly as it shut down on us, revealing the
tree-covered shore close on our starboard hand, while directly ahead,
not more than one hundred yards distant, is the beach of Little Dauphin
Island, on which is perched the dilapidated whitewashed house of the
Doctor, who receives us kindly, having been apprised of our coming
through an article in one of the Mobile papers. After a hearty dinner
with the Doctor, we leave our ducks in the hands of Mrs. Collins and
push on toward Fort Gaines, which we can see in the distance. In order
to reach the fort we must pass through a very narrow and shallow
channel, known as Pass Drury. Barnacle keeps to the starboard in
approaching it, believing there is a greater depth of water on that
side; but I, with my usual perverseness, take the port route, and in a
few moments have dashed through the little tumbling surf at the mouth
of the pass and am on the swelling bosom of Mobile Bay. But Barnacle
doesn't come in sight. What can be the matter? I paddle back a short
distance until I can get a sight through the narrow pass.
Oh, there he is, tracking his canoe over the bar
that I fortunately avoided.
"Hi, Barnacle! go a little further to the left,
and you will find more water," I shouted.
He found my words to be true; and as he emerged,
spluttering, from the deep water, I truthfully tell him that I did not
know of that deep hole being there.
Between Dauphin Island and the main shore opposite there
is an open ocean inlet of three and one-half miles in width, through
which the tide ebbs and flows with great velocity, and when the wind
blows against these tides a very nasty and dangerous sea is the
consequence. A gentleman at Biloxi had advised me to cross from Fort
Gaines to Mobile Point whenever the water was smooth enough, be it day
or night. Having made a hurried inspection of the fort and the rotten,
tumble-down building of the U.S.A. Engineer Corps, I decided, as the
waters of the inlet were tranquil, to start at once for the opposite
shore, notwithstanding the fact that Barnacle seemed reluctant to leave
the hospitality of Mr. Robert Cruse, who is the guardian of the
Engineer Corps barracks. As we pushed from the shore, directly ahead of
us was the "mariner's guide" shining out from the lofty tower on Mobile
Point, and for it we steadily paddled, now borne on high and anon
carried into the depths of troughs of the smooth seas which roll in
from the broad Atlantic. Landing on the barren sandy beach, beneath the
light tower, I asked permission at the keeper's quarters to sleep on
the floor of a small woodhouse adjoining, that we might not be forced
to unload the canoes and that we might make an early start in the
morning; but this was refused, and wearily we betook ourselves back to
the bleak beach, and gathering a mass of wreckage that had been thrown
up by the sea, we had a fire such as I'll guarantee had not been seen
here for many a day.
"Build it big," said Barnacle, "and see if we
cannot warm the hearts of those people in the lighthouse."
IN WHICH A MULLET DROPS FROM THE SKY.
AFTER a most comfortable night passed beneath the shadow
of the walls of Fort Morgan, and while we were busy preparing our
breakfast, we received a call from Doctor George Fowler, Quarantine
Officer, and the telegraph operator. The Doctor very kindly invited us
to his quarters, but as the day promised to be fine, we declined the
invitation with regrets, and at nine o'clock launched and paddled south
for a distance of two miles, in order to round a sand bar on which the
surf broke in white foam; and as we rise and fall on the seas, which
now have full sweep from the broad ocean, a school of porpoises put in
an appearance, and apparently take full charge of our craft. Ahead of
the Aurora, about three hundred feet, two of them rise and blow
alternately, while on either side of me, not more than fifty feet
distant, are other pairs. These black monsters, with their huge dorsal
fins cutting the waters, act as our convoys until we are well to the
eastward of the point, and then they leave us as quietly as they came.
For a distance of thirty miles, from Mobile Point to the mouth of
Perdido River, the coast is one unbroken wilderness, without a harbor
on the entire stretch of desolate sand. So long as the wind does not
get up strong from off the sea, it would not be a difficult operation
to run the canoes ashore through the surf; but in the event of a strong
wind and heavy sea from east to southwest, it would be an extremely
dangerous and hazardous undertaking, and this was brought forcibly to
our minds after we have paddled a distance (as measured on the Coast
Survey chart) of thirteen miles, when the wind came out from the
southeast, and in a few moments so increased as to become alarming,
while the surf beat on the sands with the noise of thunder. As we were
borne aloft on the huge seas we could see the long line of breaking
surf as it ran along the beach, distributing spume as it went. Barnacle
now hails me:
"Doctor, if we expect to get ashore with whole
boats, we'd better be about it, for if this wind continues to blow in
this way for half an hour longer, it will send in such a surf that it
will be impossible for us to beach, and we cannot hold out much longer
against it with the paddle."
As we cannot possibly reach the distant harbor through the
heavy sea, I call out,
"All right; if we have to choose between drowning
and having the canoes smashed, I say smash the canoes."
We must use all our skill that the canoes may not broach
to and roll over. If they do, all is lost, and we may then serve as
sweet morsels for the man-eating sharks. Barnacle is ready before I am,
and starts on his journey shoreward. As he is borne on the bleak
mountain of water which he has chosen to go in on, I get a full view of
him, but an instant later he is lost to my sight, as I am dropped into
the trough between two immense seas.
Beaching in a Gale.
As I am borne aloft again I catch a glimpse -- no
more -- of the stern of his canoe pointing heavenward as she goes down
the steep incline of the sea. An instant more, and I am again
surrounded by walls of water. Again I am borne toward the gathering
clouds, when I am greeted with a sight of Barnacle standing on the
beach, victorious over the perils that are before me. The moment for me
to start in has arrived, and I am caught by the rolling mountain of
water, while I ply my paddle with all the vigor of my strong arms.
Ahead of me the seas are breaking over one another and lashing
themselves into a white, foaming fury. On, on I go, now with the
velocity of the wind; and as the bow of my bonny craft pitches down, I
brace myself for the final plunge, much as one would do on a plunging
horse. An instant later I feel her keel grate on the sand, when
overboard I go and seize her by the bow, while I dig my toes into the
hard sand in order to resist the strength of the receding surf, and
before Barnacle can reach me have the idol of my heart drawn well up on
the beach, beyond the reach of Neptune's dark horses, now shaking their
snowy manes with greater rage as the wind increases in fury.
With the canoes safely placed at the base of the range of
high sand hills which for centuries have been builded and rebuilded by
the action of storm and wave, I ascended to the summit of one of the
sand dunes and discovered at its opposite base a most picturesque
miniature forest of pin oak trees little more than bushes in height,
beneath which is a thick mat of gray moss. What better site could one
want for a camp? While I am off along the beach in search of such
wreckage as can be used for firewood, Barnacle pitches the tent, and
together we hustle the dunnage beneath the shelter, and are prepared
for the storm which is still rolling up, with savage crashes of
thunder, while the great seas are pounding on the beach with a roar
that is so deafening as to cause us to shout our conversation into one
another's ears. Notwithstanding the storm comes up in its awful
majesty, we have time to prepare a simple meal, which we enjoy as the
skirmishing raindrops come pattering down through the thick canopy of
green leaves and drop noiselessly on the elastic moss beneath. With a
crash as though a hundred cannon had burst simultaneously the storm is
upon us, with a deluge of rain, driven by a fierce wind which howls
through the semi tropical forest and then bounds to the sea, to mingle
its fury with the wild, lashing waters which are illuminated by the
almost incessant flashes of forked lightning. For hours its fury is
unabated, and while at its height I protect myself with oilskins and go
to the top of the sand dune, and from there witness a scene that is
grand beyond description. Night has come on, and we can see nothing a
few yards distant, save when the flashes of quivering lightning give
momentary illumination to boiling, foam-crested mountains of water.
During the seconds of light I catch a glimpse of a
vessel far off on the heaving waters, from whose white sails the
flashes of electricity are reflected as she bounds majestically through
the phosphorescent sea.
As the weary, smoke-begrimed soldier falls asleep on the
field of battle, amid the roar of artillery and crashes of musketry, we
yield to nature's demands, and fall asleep while yet the storm rages
and the ever restless sea beats on the shore. The wild night was
followed by a morning of perfect brilliancy, but old ocean still rolled
in and beat with unrelenting force, precluding the possibility of our
launching. The day proved to be one of uncomfortable closeness until
three o'clock, when another electric storm arose, and the rain
descended as only in warm climates. We had run short of water, so this
rain was a blessing. We had erected an awning over our fire to protect
it from being drowned out, and beneath this, where the water ran off,
we placed out tins and water-jugs, which in a few moments were filled
with a supply of the finest water, sufficient to last us two or three
days. The following morning, although a fog came rolling across the
land from Bonsecours Bay, we launched through the surf, which had now
become little more than a ripple, and keeping close in shore, found we
could proceed to the eastward without risk of being drawn to sea by the
offshore current. When we had made eight miles the wind hauled out of
the north into the southwest, and soon the sea was tossing our craft
about as if they had been corks. Now for a rest from the weariness of
paddling, and I prepare to make sail, when I am hailed by Barnacle --
always astern -- who says he has left his mast at Pascagoula. Cruel
fate! I cannot go on and leave the Comfort, therefore I must submit to
the inevitable and again resume the paddle. The day proves to be a
wearisome one. Although the seas roll and carry us on high and then
into the depths, there is no heavy break, and our decks are scarcely
wet save by a little flying spray. All about us there is a flock of
pelicans, now skimming the surface of the blue waters, now taking their
awkward flight skyward, and as their keen eye detects the whereabouts
of a fish, they make their ungainly descent, striking the water "all of
a heap." One, after rising from the water with pouch distended, flew
directly over us, when a well-directed shot brought him, wounded, to
the water. Paddling quickly up to him, I dealt him a blow on the head
with my mast, and put him out of pain. The body being too large for me
to care for, I cut the head off below the junction of the pouch with
the neck. As I did so, I discovered that the pouch contained a living
fish, and pulled out a mullet of twelve inches in length, which
Barnacle took possession of and served for supper. During the evening I
prepared the head of the pelican, and as I write it adorns the bookcase
in my den.
Again, as the sun sinks into the west, we prepare for a
trip through the surf. It is mere child's play now compared with the
last beaching process, and we go in together and land on the smooth
sands without so much as getting a drop of water aboard.
Asleep in the Sea Sand.
The day has been an exhausting one, and we seek our
beds in the soft sand at an early hour, and pass the night in alternate
snoring and growling.
IN WHICH THE AURORA AND THE COMFORT DIP BELOW THE HORIZON.
DAYLIGHT discovered old ocean as smooth as a millpond, and
as it is but ten miles to the mouth of the Perdido River, where we can
gain the shelter of Bayou de John and be safe from the dangers of
the outside passage, we hurriedly stow the canoes, and with a push are
launched on the briny deep for the last time on this cruise. Up from
the southeast, at the rising of the sun, came a gentle breeze which, as
the morning advanced, increased in force until quite a respectable sea
was kicked up, rolling in white foam over the bar at the entrance to
our haven of safety, which we can now distinctly see ahead of us. There
are two ways to reach the broad entrance to Pensacola Bay, either to
continue on our course fifteen miles, keeping a couple of miles off
shore to avoid the break of the sea, or to cross the bar at the mouth
of the Perdido and gain the smooth waters of the bayou, and by crossing
the latter reach a portage of three-quarters of a mile into Big Lagoon,
whence is an uninterrupted route to the ancient city of Pensacola.
Between Alabama and Florida.
The fear of becoming exhausted after the long
paddle we have already had, should a stronger wind and a heavier sea
come on, decides us to attempt the passage over the bar. Again we watch
for the big sea, and with its approach start toward the land, each man
acting as his own pilot; and after a brief time, during which the angry
waters hiss and foam about the devoted craft, threatening to submerge
her and drown her skipper, we float tranquilly on the dark waters of
the stream that divides the States of Alabama and Florida. Ere the
bright sun has reached the meridian we have left astern of us the roar
of the surf and the dark waters which flow from the cypress swamps of
the interior, and pass into the Bayou de John, on the eastern
shores of which is the commencement of the portage. We walk across the
neck of low, sandy, dwarf-pine covered land and pick out our trail.
Transporting the heaviest articles of our dunnage to a point half way
across, we build our camp and prepare supper, to which we do hearty
justice, as we have eaten nothing since very early morning.
The meal over, we go back to the canoes, and I haul out
from the stern compartment of the Aurora the little watch tackle that
has lain unused while we have floated over so many hundreds of miles.
It is now of inestimable value to us; with it we can haul the canoes
over the portage without unloading them. Cheerily we go at our work.
First one canoe is drawn a few hundred feet, and then we go back and
perform a like service for the other. So smoothly does our rigging work
that we are congratulating ourselves on the possibility of completing
our task before we turn in for the night; but all of a sudden our hopes
are wrecked by the breaking of a sheave in one of the blocks, and as we
have nothing at hand with which to repair it, we are forced to cast
about for other means of completing the portage. Each man taking from
his canoe all that he can carry on his shoulders, transports it to the
camp, and we turn in for a night's rest. By two o'clock of the
following day we have dragged the canoes to the shore of Big Lagoon,
transported and stowed all the dunnage, and are en route to the broad
bay, seven miles distant, which we reach as the sunset gun booms out
from the parapet of the old Spanish Fort Barancas, and we make our camp
on the glistening sands beneath the tall tower, which every minute,
from sunset to sunrise, flashes out its warning to the mariner.
Barnacle succeeds in finding a piece of broken spar on the
beach, from which he whittles a mast for the Comfort, and on the
morning of the 3d day of February, with a stiff breeze from the east,
we lay our course for the harbor of Pensacola, Fla., seven miles
distant. Gaily we scud along under full sail, each skipper hanging well
out to windward, taking a ducking now and then as a huge sea comes
rolling along. In mid-bay we meet a large vessel with the flag of
Russia flying in the breeze, and we are evidently in her course, as she
bears away a point in order that she may not run down the wee craft and
drown the skippers.
We Sail Grandly Into Port.
On we go, past the naval station, where more than
one glass is brought to bear on us by the crowd of officers and men,
and then through the fleet of vessels at the anchorage, whose crews
cheer us as we glide by and run up to the wharf, where kind friends
© 2000 Craig O'Donnell
May not be reproduced without my permission.