Posted by: Rob Viens | February 22, 2012

Stuck in the Doldrums

February 22nd and Darwin is still in the doldrums:

“The wind has continued so variable that this morning we were yet in sight of Fernando Noronha.” (Feb 22)

A day and a half after leaving and they can still see the island – ouch. By one calculation that also accounts for refraction, you could probably see the top of the island’s highest peak from about 40 miles away (with no swell).  They were definitely on the slow boat.

So what do you do when there is no wind in the sails – I imagine there is a lot of sitting around, playing cards or dice, maybe cleaning up.  I’m sure Darwin was cataloging specimens, writing letters, or maybe collecting with his plankton net.  If his journal is any indication, he probably complained about the heat, too.  Most of his entries on the 21st and 22nd are about the warm nights:

“During the night it is like sleeping in a warm bath. I am forced to get out & lie on the table, the hardness of which is delightful after the round soft hammock.” (Feb 21)

“The day has been uncomfortably hot & the evening deliciously cool. — The most serious discomfort which affects me, is the difficulty of sleeping: before going to bed it is next to impossible to keep the head from falling on the book, but the instant one is in the hammock all sleep deserts you.” (Feb 22)

Or maybe he just didn’t like the hammock. (Darwin slept in a hammock that hung over the ship’s chart table.) Hey Charlie – at least your not seasickness!

On a side note: As I sat in the dentist’s chair yesterday, I couldn’t help but think about health care aboard the Beagle.  Odd thought, I know, but I needed something to distract me from by semiannually scheduled torture (no offense to my dentist or hygienist).  When we travel today we take medicine, get shots, carry travel insurance, etc.  No such options in 1832.  If a toothache reared it’s ugly head (or worse yet, became infected) you where sort of out of luck.  There was a ship’s surgeon (Robert McCormick – more on him later), but I’m sure the options were still limited (and most likely quite painful).  Ultimately, several members of the crew did not survive the voyage, which, when you add it up, made Darwin’s odds of surviving all five years a little less than 1 in 20. I wonder if Darwin ever pondered these odds – considering the possibility that he’d ever see home again. My odds in the dentist’s chair were far better, so I really can’t complain. (RJV)

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