The gale does not abate: if the Beagle was not an excellent sea-boat & our tackle in good condition, we should be in distress. A less gale has dismasted & foundered many a good ship.
At noon the storm was at its height; & we began to suffer; a great sea struck us & came on board; the after tackle of the quarter boat gave way & an axe being obtained they were instantly obliged to cut away one of the beautiful whale-boats. — the same sea filled our decks so deep, that if another had followed it is not difficult to guess the result. — It is not easy to imagine what a state of confusion the decks were in from the great body of water. — At last the ports were knocked open & she again rose buoyant to the sea. — In the evening it moderated & we made out Cape Spencer (near Wigwam cove), & running in, anchored behind false Cape Horn. — As it was dark there was difficulty in finding a place; but as the men & officers from constant wet were much tired, the anchor was "let go" in the unusual depth of 47 fathoms. — The luxury of quiet water after being involved in such a warring of the elements is indeed great. — It could have been no ordinary one, since Capt. FitzRoy considers it the worst gale he was ever in. — It is a disheartening reflection; that it is now 24 days since doubling Cape Horn, since which there has been constant bad weather, & we are now not much above 20 miles from it.
At three in the morning of the 13th, the vessel lurched so deeply, and the main-mast bent and quivered so much, that I reluctantly took in the main-topsail (small as it was when close-reefed), leaving set only the storm-trysails (close-reefed) and fore-staysail. At ten, there was so continued and heavy a rush of wind, that even the diminutive trysails oppressed the vessel too much, and they were still farther reduced. Soon after one, the sea had risen to a great height, and I was anxiously watching the successive waves, when three huge rollers approached, whose size and steepness at once told me that our sea-boat, good as she was, would be sorely tried. Having steerage way, the vessel met and rose over the first unharmed, but, of course, her way was checked; the second deadened her way completely, throwing her off the wind; and the third great sea, taking her right a-beam, turned her so far over, that all the lee bulwark, from the cat-head to the stern davit, was two or three feet under water.
For a moment, our position was critical; but, like a cask, she rolled back again, though with some feet of water over the whole deck. Had another sea then struck her, the little ship might have been numbered among the many of her class which have disappeared: but the crisis was past — she shook the sea off her through the ports, and was none the worse —excepting the loss of a lee-quarter boat, which, although carried three feet higher than in the former voyage (1826-1830), was dipped under water, and torn away.
From that time the wind abated, and the sea became less high. The main-topsail was again set, though with difficulty, and at four o'clock the fore-topsail and double-reefed foresail were helping us towards False Cape Horn, my intention being to anchor in Nassau Bay. When the quarter-boat was torn away, we were between the Ildefonsos and Diego Ramirez: the wind varying from W.S.W. to S.W.
This gale was severely felt on all parts of the coast, south of 48°, as I afterwards ascertained from sealing-vessels: and at the Falkland Islands, a French whaler, called Le Magellan, was driven from her anchors and totally wrecked in that landlocked and excellent port, Berkeley Sound.
Some persons are disposed to form a very premature opinion of the wind or weather to be met with in particular regions, judging only from what they may themselves have experienced. Happily, extreme cases are not often met with; but one cannot help regretting the haste with which some men (who have sailed round Cape Horn with royals set) incline to cavil at and doubt the description of Anson and other navigators, who were not only far less fortunate as to weather, but had to deal with crazy ships, inefficient crews, and unknown shores; besides hunger, thirst, and disease.
Before midnight we anchored under shelter of the land near False Cape Horn.
* It was well that all our hatchways were thoroughly secured, and that nothing heavy could break a-drift. But little water found its way to the lower deck, though Mr. Darwin's collections, in the poop and forecastle cabins on deck, were much injured. Next to keeping a sharp look-out upon the sky, the water, and the barometer, we were always anxious to batten down our hatches in time—especially at night, during a gale, or in very squally weather.
† The roller which hove us almost on our beam ends, was the highest and most hollow that I have seen, excepting one in the Bay of Biscay, and one in the Southern Atlantic; yet so easy was our little vessel that nothing was injured besides the boat, the netting (washed away), and one chronometer.
On the 13th, lost the Captain's gig, which was occasioned by the sea breaking over our quarter and poop, and likewise sprung our bowsprit etc. Anchored in Wind Bound Bay in the evening.