The high seas continued…in 2017

Just as I have trouble imagining conditions of the trip my great grandfather took across the North Atlantic 162 years ago, he would not have believed the experience I had this past week on the Volemdam cruise ship where the biggest hardship seemed to be prohibitively expensive satellite WiFi.

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Our room on the Volendam.

The Volendam is a 785 foot long, 63,000 ton Holland America Lines ship that cruised to Alaska along the inner passage and in the North Pacific.

With 1400 passengers and 620 crew, this ship offered a relaxing week with tons (literally) of food, a casino, pool that sometimes had waves in it as the ship waved from side to side, several dining rooms and bars, a 500 seat theatre with nightly entertainment and a deck boardwalk that allowed me to walk my 10,000 steps every day.  In fact, over the past seven days I have, according to my phone pedometer, walked over 75 km and climbed 125 flights of stairs.  IMG_1399.JPG

We stopped at Juneau, Skagway and Ketchikan and spent one full day cruising around Glacier Bay.  Photos of those excursions will follow. But for today, the photos will be of the boat itself.

Grandfather Porterfield, who likely ate salted meat, beans and rice for five weeks would have been astounded by our ships kitchen and the incredible selection of tasty food available to us.

All in all this was a very pleasant week of relaxation and decadence and I can only say good things about the Holland America Lines ship, crew and holiday experience.

I wonder how my great grandchildren will travel?  A space station vacation, perhaps?

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The elevator mats always reminded you of what day it was.  Otherwise it was hard to tell!

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Crossing the Atlantic in 1855 – 2 – Out to sea.

Excerpts from my great grandfather’s diary as he immigrated to Canada on a sailing ship in the spring of 1855 – continued.  If you missed the start of this voyage it commences here.

April 23

We are going at the rate of seven miles an hour.  The Captain says we are not about 500 miles from Glasgow.  I am about 700 miles from Ardmeallie.  Our “Home” is dancing beautifully across the waters sometimes mounting on a high wave and then down again till i sometimes think she will be engulfed in the might deep. It is now about 7 o’clock , the rest all bedded a while ago and I am the only sound one amongst the steerage passengers.  The only company we have now is a few seagulls.

April 24

Wind still very high…sea was very rough betimes throughout the night, a terrible swing on the ship which makes some of our gear tumble about. We have great difficulty in keeping on our feet above or below. Toward sunset the wind still increased and the spray was splashing in over upon the deck terrible betimes.

April 25

Wind very high throughout the night, it has shifted a point farther west, now right ahead of us. We are coming very little speed today, about 4 miles an hour.  The sailors tell me that it matters little whether we go or stand today as the wind is driving us too far North we are going the wrong way.

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Going the wrong way!

So there they are, a week at sea, God knows where in the North Atlantic,  the wind blowing against them and driving them north  off their course. Nothing but sea around them.  How did they navigate?  Nothing but the stars to guide them on the open ocean.

Water sloshing over the deck and “the ship rocking fearfully betimes.” Trouble staying on their feet.  Gear being bounced around in the hold. No other ships in sight.  “We are very lonely.”  I wonder what the passengers were thinking. 

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It blew a complete hurricane throughout the night, making our water cans tumble about and making a terrible noise, the water dashing in over the deck sometimes with a fearful noise in the silence of the night, driving sleep away from the most of us…This morning I got an awful tumble, the deck being wet and slippery,  but did not hurt myself…much. 

April 29

I was told by one of the sailors that if I had been up half an hour earlier I would have seen a whale.  I have spent this day in reading my Bible and other religious books when not engaged in works of necessity. We are now nearly half way across the Atlantic and have been blessed with a beautiful Sabbath, a foretaste, I hope of that eternal rest which remaineth for those who love and serve God in this world below.  Truly God has been mindful of us all aboard this ship, we are blessed with good health, all of us.”Oh that men would praise the lord for his goodness and for his wonderful words to the Children of Men”  Psalm 107.

Peter does seem to like Psalm 107!

May 1

The captain says if we continue all day (24 hours) we will make 160 miles or thereby. We are going at the rate of 6 1/2 miles per hour.  I heard the first mate say today that we have had a very quick passage so far, but the most difficult part of our passage is yet before us especially when we come to the River of St Lawrence.

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Although Peter does mention water in barrels rolling around in the hold, there is no mention of food at any point in this diary.  He does say that most of the people were ill during the first part of the journey.  What did it smell like below deck?  Don’t dwell too long on that thought.

They would have to bring along enough food and fresh water for 150 people for 6 weeks with no place to replenish supplies.  Can you imaging making those plans, in a time without refrigeration or power?    

I have read that most of the time the passengers had to bring along their own food.  Here is a list I found of what might be necessary to bring for one adult on a ten week sailing trip in 1870.  The meat would have to be salted or dried or pickled somehow.   And what about fresh water?  It was likely rationed.  They had to presume that they would be at least six weeks crossing the Atlantic and Peter has mentioned that there were 96 passengers on board.  I am not sure if this included the crew.

The following is a list of provisions printed by Det Norske Udvandringsselskap in Christiania (later Oslo) in the 1870s. These provisions were intended to be adequate for an adult for up to ten weeks:

– 70 pounds hard bread (or the equivalent in soft bread or flatbread)
– 8 pounds butter
– 24 pounds meat
– 10 pounds sidepork
– 1 small keg of herring
– 8/3 Td. potatoes
– 20 pounds rye and barley flour
– ½ bushel dried peas
– ½ bushel pearl barley
– 3 pounds coffee
– 3 pounds sugar
– 2½ pounds syrup
– Quantities of salt, pepper, vinegar and onions
Of course, each passenger may take along the type of provisions desired as long as they are adequate for 10 weeks. [Pound = 454 grams, Td. = tønne = keg]

 

Here is a notation made by Ole Ellingsen Strand,  a Norwegian lad of 11 when he crossed the Atlantic from Drammen, Norway to New York in 1851 on a ship similar to the “Home” 

“The first week out their appetites did not require much of any cooking, and the lunch baskets that people brought with them from home lasted several days. But they finally had to get on with it. Then every morning at a certain hour one from each family had to go down into the bottom room or hold of the vessel where the food and water was dealt out to each family for the day. The wood had to be split very fine before they could use it to any advantage, and the water had to be put into jugs or something similar to prevent it from spilling.

And now for the kitchen. Early in the morning you could see the women coming up from below with a little bundle of fine split wood in one hand and a little kettle of some kind or a coffee pot in the other, heading for the kitchen, eager to find a vacant place somewhere on this bed of sand large enough to set their kettle on and build a fire under it. But it would not be very late in the day, if the weather was favorable, till every place in the kitchen was occupied, and there would be a large crowd outside waiting for vacant places, which were generally engaged already. And if you sat outside watching the kitchen door you could in 18 minutes time see perhaps half dozen women come out with their aprons over their faces, wiping tears, coughing and almost strangled with smoke. They would stay outside long enough to get their lungs filled with fresh air and the tears wiped out of their eyes, then they would crowd themselves back in again. Perhaps to find the fire and wood removed from their kettle under somebody else’s. Then, of course, broad hints and sharp words would be exchanged, and the loser would have to watch the opportunity when her next neighbor would have to go outside for fresh air to get her wood and fire back again. And these were not the only adversities and troubles in the kitchen because it was hardly ever so stormy but that somebody tried to cook something, and if it was too stormy for the women to be on deck the men would generally volunteer to steep tea, cook coffee, or even make a kettle of soup. They would start their fire, put their kettles on, and in a little while the cook shanty would be chock full of men. Some would be on their knees, some sitting flat on the floor while others would be standing outside peering in. Then imagine an oncoming big wave striking the vessel and almost setting it on end, and in a wink of an eye every kettle, coffee pot, and teapot is upset and spilled in the fire and hot ashes. This of course made them scramble for the door and you could see that coming out like swirling bees from a beehive. Some would swear, some could laugh, while others would say they might have known better than to try to cook anything this stormy day, but in less than an hour the shanty would be full again and perhaps going through the whole performance. This was how we came to America in an early day. And thus we worried and suffered for nearly 8 weeks until we finally arrived in the City of New York about the 11th of July and everybody soon forgot the troubles and trials they had on the voyage by seeing the beautiful green fields being thawed out by the warm rays of the sun after they had been a constant target for the cold and raw winds of the Atlantic.”

Crossing the Atlantic in 1855 – 1 – leaving home.

One hundred and sixty two years ago today,  my great grandfather, Peter Porterfield set out from Scotland to come to Canada.   I am trying to imagine this trip, made across the North Atlantic in a clipper ship.  The voyage took five weeks.  Today we do it in a plane in 6 hours.

Fortunately,  20 year-old Peter wrote a diary along the way and it is still in the family.  I plan to follow him along over the next five weeks to reflect on this ancestral voyage and hope you will join me.  I will copy some of Peter’s notes (italics)  as these weeks unfolded for him. I will mainly let him speak for himself.  I will post a few daily journal entries every few days until Peter arrives back on dry land in May 21. Come along on this journey with us.

April 16, 1855

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I bade farewell to Ardmellie*, Parish of Marnoch, this day about 11 o’clock.  Was in Huntley about two o’clock and took the 3 o’clock train and was in Aberdeen about half past 5.

April 17

Left Aberdeen this morning on the 6 o’clock train for Glasgow.  Arrived there about 20 minutes past 3 in the afternoon, got my trunk on board the “Home”** which was to sail next day if things could get ready.

April 18

Went on board the “Home” about 2 in the afternoon.   Slept on her that night for the first time.

April 19

Gloomy…we set sail about 2 o’clock in the afternoon, being pulled down the Clyde by two steam tugs….There are about 96 passengers on board, likewise 3 dogs and more poultry.  Mr Jas. Poole, commander.

April 20

Fine morning…we were lying before Greenock this morning. Must wait until the wind goes around… A chaplain came from Greenock in the forenoon in a boat and distributed books among us, wishing us good passage. The wind still continuing contrary we were again obliged to get a steam tug with came to our assistance about have past 3, led us down the channel a good distance and left us about half past 5.   Between 7 and 8 o’clock the first mate found a bottle of whiskey about some of the sailor’s hammocks.  He gave the owner a good scolding and then threw it overboard into the sea and bade him to get it now if he could.

April 21

Fine morning…now paling between Scotland and Ireland and the land fast disappearing from our view.  Good-Bye Bonnie Scotland –It may never to be seen any more by some of us. In the morning, some of us began to get sick for the fist time and by 9 o’clock we were, with the exception of a few, al on the sick list…There was a strong wind and the ship was heaving a good deal…The sea was very rough throughout the night making the ship tumble about like a cradle, the water betimes coming across the deck. The only land in sight before going to bed was the north west coast of Ireland.

Now, imagine being on this sailing ship with about 100 other people, most of them sick and watching the land disappear into the distance,  heading out to sea for the next few weeks.  What kind of navigation would they use? They had no power but sail.   It was spring in the North Atlantic.

April 22

Sunday.  Slept sound last night.  No land in sight.  Sea very rough.  Our only element now is water, water in whatever direction we turned our eyes.  I have this day seen something of the Mighty Deep like what is described in the 107th Psalm, verses 23-28.

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Most of the passengers are very sick today. I have as yet not been very sick myself.  i have been able to step about today and read a little betimes, though debarred from attending the House of Prayer.  I have been won’t to do in times bast from my infancy till now. Yet I hop my Meditation this day on the Mighty ocean will be blest to me for good.

*Ardmeallie is in Northern Scotland near the Marnoch Bridge over the Deveron River.  The only reference I can find to it now is Ardmeallie House, a privately-owned estate with a lovely walled garden.  The house was built around 1750.  I found a Google maps image of the house (below) and its location relative to the river.  Peter must have lived very near there but his father farmed 42 acres, not the lord of the manor.Ardmellie House, Marnoch.png

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It intrigued me, as well, that train trains were so efficient in 1855.  Peter was able to travel from Aberdeen to Glasgow by train in a few hours.  The railways in this district were relatively new, most being completed in the 1840’s.  It must have been remarkable to get from one city to another so conveniently and quickly.

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**The “Home” was a bark ship – one with three large masts and under wind/sail power only.  Imagine setting out from Glasgow to Canada across the north Atlantic in April on a boat that had no other power but sail.