Excerpt

“. . . we had entirely paid the tribute that is due to the sea.”

We left the port [of Lorient, France,] with favorable winds. I began to take pleasure in finding myself on board a ship that sailed quite well, and also in seeing most of the passengers sad and pale and subject to unending dizziness. I was feeling overjoyed not to have their deplorable luck, when, as I lost sight of land and the ship started to move in a more agitated manner, I began to feel certain sensations that made my delight turn to dolefulness. Nevertheless, this passed, while all the others with whom I was traveling just got sicker and sicker. I would have preferred to be in the same predicament as my fellow passengers because of the vexation I suffered from not being able to talk to them and seeing them continuously vomiting in the most awful manner. A few days passed in that way, then a few passengers regained their appetite; the others vomited only rarely and recuperated with the passing of each day. Unfortunately for me, there came a wind that was stronger than ordinary, which put us all in a sorry state, especially me, who had not yet had a bad time of it. For seven days I was unable to drink or eat or sleep and I always had dizzy spells and awful disgorgements. I was assuredly unable to restrain myself from laughing, no matter what state I was in, when I would look alongside of me and observe a line of people all making the same music, which, while we were looking at each other at length, would cause us to renew our efforts until we had entirely paid the tribute that is due to the sea. Thus, each of us having our body new again, we consoled each other, in spite of what we could hear the officers and sailors say. They, far from being sorry for us, behaved as if we were anything but beaten down and very sick. It took me only three whole days to get completely back to my usual self, since my appetite came back again as much as it had been lacking, which allowed me to quickly regain the weight I had lost, and I was squared away as far as that was concerned. It was not the same for everyone, especially for some of the ladies, who had all the trouble in the world to recuperate and remained sick for more than half the crossing.

[. . .]

The Driade—an English frigate—(having run out of provisions, and having decided to put in at the closest port in order to get water at the same time) told us that, upon seeing a huge shark passing alongside the ship, they harpooned it and were barely able to hoist it on deck with two relieving tackles. Notwithstanding its condition, this animal thrashed its tail around so forcefully that it struck an unfortunate pig, which was instantly killed from the blow it received. They were eventually constrained to set six men with axes upon it, in order to cut off its tail, where its life and strength are; afterward they cut it open. As they were getting ready to open its stomach, which was very fat, it split open at the first cut of the knife, enough to allow them to see a hammock in which there was an entire man, whom they recognized as someone they had just thrown into the sea about eight hours previously. They very quickly threw him back in the sea. We gave them the assistance they asked for to help them reach the closest port.

That day our captain announced to us at supper that we had lost ten barrels of water, which had been bitten through by rats, and therefore we would get no more than a pint per day. We did not say anything, and it was necessary to endure this. It was a pity to see the ship’s crew worn out because of the lack of water. As for myself, I could not take it anymore. When I drank wine, it made me feel much thirstier, and brandy even more so. In the end, by luck, I remembered I had four full flagons that I had filled with water in Lorient in order to keep them from getting tossed around in my little wine chest. Up to that point I had a very great disdain for that water, but, finding myself in a hotter climate and this unforeseen cutback in water having occurred, I did not know what to do.

So, I was offering my wine for half as much water, without being able to find anyone who would accommodate me. I believed in the end that I had found a secret, which was to lie down on my bunk to sleep and try in this way to dissipate the extraordinary urge I had to drink. But I was never able to stop thinking about water. In fact, precisely during those moments I pictured streams and beautiful fountains of clear, fresh water, which only increased my misery.

While thus overcome, I luckily remembered that I had four flagons full. Transported, I jumped up to look under my bed and went to my wine coffer, where I partook of one of them, which seemed to me as good to the same degree as it had seemed horrible before. I closed it back up and took care that no one saw me, because these flagons would have been stolen from me. From that shortage, twenty-two of the ship’s crew fell ill with scurvy.[1] The pint of water we received had little worms wriggling in it and was stinking and greenish besides. Moreover, it was very hot, but nonetheless, we drank this nectar with pleasure.



[1] Scurvy has long been associated with those who made their living onboard ships during the Age of Sail. The nutritional disorder first appeared as “red spots in the Arms and Legs” that soon turned “black and then blue.” In its more advanced stages, the vitamin C deficiency was characterized by “an extraordinary Weakness, a Redness, Itching and Rottenness of the Gums, and a Looseness of the Teeth.” Scurvy’s causes were poorly understood, although there was general agreement that nutrition played a role, perhaps because the malady’s most prominent manifestations occurred in the mouth. It was not until the decades following James Lind’s 1754 publication of A Treatise on Scurvy that the addition of citrus fruits to seamen’s diets became a recognized method of prevention. William Cockburn, Sea Diseases: Or, A Treatise of Their Nature, Causes, and Cure (London: G. Strahan, 1736), 11.