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Two Years Before the Mast

Chapter 36: Hurrah for Yankee Land!

by Richard Henry Dana

On Monday morning, the increased depth and dark-blue colour of the water, and the mixture of shells and white sand which we brought up, upon sounding, showed that we were in the channel [Great South Channel], and nearing George’s [Bank]; accordingly, the ship’s head was put directly to the northward, and we stood on, with perfect confidence in the soundings, though we had not taken an observation for two days, nor seen land; and the difference of an eighth of a mile out of the way might put us ashore. Throughout the day a provokingly light wind prevailed, and at eight o’clock, a small fishing schooner, which we passed, told us we were nearly abreast of Chatham lights. Just before midnight a light land breeze sprang up, which carried us well along; and at four o’clock, thinking ourselves to the northward of Race Point, we hauled upon the wind and stood into the bay, west-north-west, for Boston light, and began firing guns for a pilot. Our watch went below at four o’clock, but could not sleep, for the watch on deck were banging away at the guns every few minutes. And indeed, we cared very little about it, for we were in Boston Bay; and if fortune favoured us we could all "sleep in" the next night, with nobody to call the watch every four hours.

We turned out, of our own will, at daybreak, to get a sight of land. In the grey of the morning, one or two small fishing smacks peered out of the mist; and when the broad day broke upon us, there lay the low sandhills of Cape Cod over our larboard [port] quarter, and before us the wide waters of Massachusetts Bay, with here and there a sail gliding over its smooth surface. As we drew in toward the mouth of the harbour, as toward a focus, the vessels began to multiply, until the bay seemed alive with sails gliding about in all directions; some on the wind, and others before it, as they were bound to or from the emporium of trade and centre of the bay. It was a stirring sight for us, who had been months on the ocean without seeing anything but two solitary sails; and over two years without seeing more than the three or four traders on an almost desolate coast. There were the little coasters, bound to and from the various towns along the south shore, down in the bight of the bay, and to the eastward; here and there a square-rigged vessel standing out to seaward; and far in the distance, beyond Cape Ann, was the smoke of a steamer, stretching along in a narrow black cloud upon the water. Every sight was full of beauty and interest. We were coming back to our homes; and the signs of civilisation and prosperity and happiness, from which we had been so long banished, were multiplying about us.

 

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