Thursday, 16th. Moderate breezes at East-South-East and fair weather. A little after Noon saw the Land from the Mast head bearing West-South-West, making high; at 2 saw more land to the North-West of the former, making in hills like Islands; but we took it to be a Continuation of the Main land. An hour after this we saw a reef, between us and the land, extending away to the Southward, and, as we thought, terminated here to the Northward abreast of us; but this was only on op’ning, for soon after we saw it extend away to the Northward as far as we could distinguish anything. Upon this we hauld close upon a Wind, which was now at East-South-East, with all the sail we could set. We had hardly trimm’d our sails before the wind came to East by North, which made our weathering the Reef very doubtful, the Northern point of which in sight at sun set still bore from us North by West, distant about 2 Leagues. However, this being the best Tack to Clear it, we keept standing to the Northward, keeping a good look out until 12 at night, when, fearing to run too far upon one Course, we tack’d and stood to the southward, having run 6 Leagues North or North by East since sun set; we had not stood above 2 Miles to the South-South-East before it fell quite Calm. We both sounded now and several times before, but had not bottom with 140 fathoms of line. A little after 4 o’clock the roaring of the surf was plainly heard, and at daybreak the Vast foaming breakers were too plainly to be seen not a mile from us, towards which we found the ship was carried by the Waves surprisingly fast. We had at this time not an air of Wind, and the depth of water was unfathomable, so that there was not a possibility of anchoring. In this distressed Situation we had nothing but Providence and the small Assistance the Boats could give us to trust to; the Pinnace was under repair, and could not immediately be hoisted out. The Yawl was put in the Water, and the Longboat hoisted out, and both sent ahead to tow, which, together with the help of our sweeps abaft, got the Ship’s head round to the Northward, which seemed to be the best way to keep her off the Reef, or at least to delay time. Before this was effected it was 6 o’clock, and we were not above 80 or 100 yards from the breakers. The same sea that washed the side of the ship rose in a breaker prodidgiously high the very next time it did rise, so that between us and destruction was only a dismal Valley, the breadth of one wave, and even now no ground could be felt with 120 fathom. The Pinnace was by this time patched up, and hoisted out and sent ahead to Tow. Still we had hardly any hopes of saving the ship, and full as little our lives, as we were full 10 Leagues from the nearest Land, and the boats not sufficient to carry the whole of us; yet in this Truly Terrible Situation not one man ceased to do his utmost, and that with as much Calmness as if no danger had been near. All the dangers we had escaped were little in comparison of being thrown upon this reef, where the Ship must be dashed to pieces in a Moment. A reef such as one speaks of here is Scarcely known in Europe. It is a Wall of Coral Rock rising almost perpendicular out of the unfathomable Ocean, always overflown at high Water generally 7 or 8 feet, and dry in places at Low Water. The Large Waves of the Vast Ocean meeting with so sudden a resistance makes a most Terrible Surf, breaking Mountains high, especially as in our case, when the General Trade Wind blows directly upon it. At this Critical juncture, when all our endeavours seemed too little, a Small Air of Wind sprung up, but so small that at any other Time in a Calm we should not have observed it. With this, and the Assistance of our Boats, we could observe the Ship to move off from the Reef in a slanting direction; but in less than 10 Minutes we had as flat a Calm as ever, when our fears were again renewed, for as yet we were not above 200 Yards from the Breakers. Soon after our friendly Breeze visited us again, and lasted about as long as before. A Small Opening was now Seen in the Reef about a 1/4 of a Mile from us, which I sent one of the Mates to Examine. Its breadth was not more than the Length of the Ship, but within was Smooth Water. Into this place it was resolved to Push her if Possible, having no other Probable Views to save her, for we were still in the very Jaws of distruction, and it was a doubt wether or no we could reach this Opening. However, we soon got off it, when to our Surprise we found the Tide of Ebb gushing out like a Mill Stream, so that it was impossible to get in. We however took all the Advantage Possible of it, and it Carried us out about a 1/4 of a Mile from the breakers; but it was too Narrow for us to keep in long. However, what with the help of this Ebb, and our Boats, we by Noon had got an Offing of 1 1/2 or 2 Miles, yet we could hardly flatter ourselves with hopes of getting Clear, even if a breeze should Spring up, as we were by this time embay’d by the Reef, and the Ship, in Spite of our Endeavours, driving before the Sea into the bight. The Ebb had been in our favour, and we had reason to Suppose the flood which was now made would be against us. The only hopes we had was another Opening we saw about a Mile to the Westward of us, which I sent Lieutenant Hicks in the Small Boat to Examine. Latitude observed 12 degrees 37 minutes South, the Main Land in Sight distant about 10 Leagues.
Friday, 17th. While Mr. Hicks was Examining the opening we struggled hard with the flood, sometime gaining a little and at other times loosing. At 2 o’Clock Mr. Hicks returned with a favourable Account of the Opening. It was immediately resolved to Try to secure the Ship in it. Narrow and dangerous as it was, it seemed to be the only means we had of saving her, as well as ourselves. A light breeze soon after sprung up at East-North-East, with which, the help of our Boats, and a Flood Tide, we soon entered the Opening, and was hurried thro’ in a short time by a Rappid Tide like a Mill race, which kept us from driving against either side, though the Channel was not more than a 1/4 of a Mile broad, having 2 Boats ahead of us sounding. Our deepth of water was from 30 to 7 fathoms; very irregular soundings and foul ground until we had got quite within the Reef, where we Anchor’d in 19 fathoms, a Coral and Shelly bottom. The Channel we came in by, which I have named Providential Channell, bore East-North-East, distant 10 or 12 Miles, being about 8 or 9 Leagues from the Main land, which extended from North 66 degrees West to South-West by South.
It is but a few days ago that I rejoiced at having got without the Reef; but that joy was nothing when Compared to what I now felt at being safe at an Anchor within it. Such are the Visissitudes attending this kind of Service, and must always attend an unknown Navigation where one steers wholy in the dark without any manner of Guide whatever. Was it not from the pleasure which Naturly results to a man from his being the first discoverer, even was it nothing more than Land or Shoals, this kind of Service would be insupportable, especially in far distant parts like this, Short of Provisions and almost every other necessary. People will hardly admit of an excuse for a Man leaving a Coast unexplored he has once discovered. If dangers are his excuse, he is then charged with Timerousness and want of Perseverance, and at once pronounced to be the most unfit man in the world to be employ’d as a discoverer; if, on the other hand, he boldly encounters all the dangers and Obstacles he meets with, and is unfortunate enough not to succeed, he is then Charged with Temerity, and, perhaps, want of Conduct. The former of these Aspersions, I am confident, can never be laid to my Charge, and if I am fortunate to Surmount all the Dangers we meet with, the latter will never be brought in Question; altho’ I must own that I have engaged more among the Islands and Shoals upon this Coast than perhaps in prudence I ought to have done with a single Ship and every other thing considered. But if I had not I should not have been able to give any better
account of the one half of it than if I had never seen it; at best, I should not have been able to say wether it was Mainland or Islands; and as to its produce, that we should have been totally ignorant of as being inseparable with the other; and in this case it would have been far more satisfaction to me never to have discover’d it. But it is time I should have done with this Subject, which at best is but disagreeable, and which I was lead into on reflecting on our late Dangers.
In the P.M., as the wind would not permit us to sail out by the same Channel as we came in, neither did I care to move until the pinnace was in better repair, I sent the Master with all the other Boats to the Reef to get such refreshments as he could find, and in the meantime the Carpenters were repairing the pinnace. Variations by the Amplitude and Azimuth in the morning 4 degrees 9 minutes Easterly; at noon Latitude observed 12 degrees 38 minutes South, Longitude in 216 degrees 45 minutes West. It being now about low water, I and some other of the officers went to the Masthead to see what we could discover. Great part of the reef without us was dry, and we could see an Opening in it about two Leagues farther to the South-East than the one we came in by; we likewise saw 2 large spots of sand to the Southward within the Reef, but could see nothing to the Northward between it and the Main. On the Mainland within us was a pretty high promontary, which I called Cape Weymouth (Latitude 12 degrees 42 minutes South, Longitude 217 degrees 15 minutes); and on the North-West side of this Cape is a Bay, which I called Weymouth Bay.