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Voyage to the strait of Gibraltar—Custom of the sailors—Our passage through the strait—A species of porpoise described. The sun-set remarkable—Ancient accounts of it—The cause.
W E embarked at Gravesend on the 9th of June, 1764, in the Anglicana, a ship carrying sixteen guns, and thirty-two men, burden about three hundred tons. The commander was Capt. John Stewart; the price of our passage to Turkey sixty guineas. We had a fair wind; but our pilot, being in liquor, did not sail that evening.
On Whitsunday, early in the morning, we got under way with a brisk gale, and arrived in the Downs about four in the afternoon. The next day we weighed anchor again, and proceeded to Falmouth to complete our cargo. We were detained there from the 17th to the 24th, when we recovered our anchor with some difficulty, and got clear of the harbour. A signal was made for a pilot, but he did not come on board soon enough to be of use.
The wind had been very high while we were in the port of
Falmouth, and the weather was still unsettled. Black louring clouds rendered the morning of our departure uncommonly gloomy and awful. After a heavy shower of rain we were becalmed in the mouth of the channel, the water heaving prodigiously, with the surface quite smooth and unbroken. We were carried along by the current, and land soon disappeared. We now encountered foul weather and contrary winds. The ship seemed but a wherry, and was agitated exceedingly by the sea, pitching and rolling, the waves frequently bursting over, and the swell affecting some of our oldest mariners.
On the 3d of July we made the rock of Lisbon. We had then a strong gale, and sailed at the rate of nine knots, or miles, in an hour. We had run one hundred and seventy knots in the last twenty-four hours. We here saw a grampus or whale spouting up water, which, in falling, formed a mist not unlike the smoke from a flash of gunpowder. It blew hard in the night, and the next evening we could discern Cape St. Vincent.
As we now approached near to the Mediterranean, some of the sailors had got a strong new rope, and prepared it for ducking such of the crew as were novices in this sea. They were to be let down from the yard-arm, with their hands and feet tied to two bars of wood, placed at convenient distances; but when every thing was ready, they all preferred the alternative, which is a small forfeit to be deducted from their pay.
Our passage through the strait of Gibraltar was amusing and delightful beyond imagination. The coast on each side is irregular, adorned with lofty grotesque mountains of various shapes, the majestic tops worn white with rain, and looking as crowned with snow. From one of the narrow valleys a thick smoke arose. The land is of a brown complexion, as sun-burnt and barren. On the Spanish shore are many watch-towers, ranging along to a great extent, designed to alarm the country by signals on the appearance of an enemy. We had Spanish and Moorish towns in view, with the rock and fortress of Gibraltar. Sea-birds were flying, and numerous small-craft moving to and fro on every quarter. We had a gentle breeze, and our sails all set, with the current from the Western or Atlantic Ocean in our favour. In this, the water was agitated and noisy, like a shallow brook running over pebbles; while in the contrary currents, it was smooth and calm as in a mill pond, except where disturbed by albicores, porpoises, and sea-monsters, which sported around us, innumerable. Their burnished sides reflected the rays of the sun, which then shone in a picturesque sky of clear azure, softened by thin fleecy clouds, imparting cheerfulness to the waves, which seemed to smile on us.
Our entry into the Mediterranean is here faintly described, as no words can convey the ideas, excited by scenes of so much novelty, grandeur, and beauty. The vast assemblage of bulky monsters, in particular, was beyond measure amazing; some leaping up, as if aiming to divert us; some approaching the ship, as if it were to be seen by us, floating together, abreast and half out of the water. We counted in one company fourteen of the species called by the sailors The Bottle Nose, each, as we guessed, about twelve feet long. These are almost shapeless, looking black and oily, with a large thick fin on the back, no eyes or mouth discernible, the head rounded at the extremity, and so joined with the body, as to render it difficult to distinguish, where the one ends or the other begins; but on the upper part is a hole about an inch and a half in diameter, from which, at regular intervals, the log-like being blows out water accompanied with a puff audible at some distance.
,To complete this wonderful day, the sun before its setting was exceedingly big, and assumed a variety of fantastic shapes. It was surrounded first with a golden glory, of great extent, and flamed upon the surface of the sea in a long column of fire. The lower half of the orb soon after immerged in the horizon, the other portion remaining very large and red, with half of a smaller orb beneath it, and separate, but in the same direction, the circular rim approaching the line of its diameter. These two by degrees united, and then changed rapidly into different figures, until the resemblance was that of a capacious punch-bowl inverted. The rim of the bottom extending upward, and the body lengthening below, it became a mushroom on a stalk, with a round head. It was next metamorphosed into a flaming cauldron, of which the lid, rising up, swelled nearly into an orb, and vanished. The other portion put on several uncircular forms, and, after many twinklings and faint glimmerings, slowly disappeared, quite red; leaving the clouds, hanging over the dark rocks on the Barbary shore, finely tinged with a vivid bloody hue.
And here we may recollect, that the ancients had various stories concerning the setting of the sun in the Atlantic Ocean; as, for instance, that it was accompanied with a noise, as of the sea hissing, and that night immediately followed. That its magnitude in going down apparently increasedr was a popular remark, but had been contradicted by an author, who observed thirty evenings at Gades, and never perceived any augmentation. One writer had affirmed, that the orb became an hundred times bigger than its common size.*
This phenomenon will vary, as it depends on the state of the atmosphere. It is likely to be most remarkable when west