My Apingi Kingdom - Paul du Chaillu

A Difficult Journey


After a short visit to Fernando Po, I thought of going southward toward the equator to meet the Roland, but there was no vessel going there. Nothing was left for me to do but to buy a large boat, a kind of fishing-smack, which the governor of the island wished to sell. This boat was about ten tons burden. My great objection to it was that it had no deck; but, as there was no choice, I had to take it.

After buying the boat, the next thing was to get a crew. I went to friend Fasiko, and asked him to engage me a crew of four men, and sail down the coast with me. I immediately gave the name of GULL to our craft. The next morning Fasiko came with four strong, strapping fellows, all runaway slaves from the island of St. Thomas. They had before gone as sailors on board of vessels whose crews had been disabled by sickness. They said they were thoroughly good seamen—could splice a rope, go up the mast, knew how to cast an anchor, and steer a ship. They had kept their Portuguese names—Pedro, Antonio, Francisco, and Joannes. I named Fasiko captain, Pedro mate, Antonio and Joannes sailors, and Francisco cook, steward, and sailor into the bargain, if it became necessary. The boat was to be theirs when I had done with it, and they would return to Fernando Po in it. I engaged them at the rate of ten dollars a month, with the promise of extra pay if they worked well. Discipline must be observed, and the night watches must be strictly kept.

Seacoast off of Fernando Po


I was afraid that the sailing qualities of the Gull were not very good, for her bow was not sharp, and she was too broad and too short. The first thing to be done was to put her in thorough trim for her voyage, and get provisions on board. So I bought from the natives sweet potatoes, yams, and a dozen fowls. I tried to get some sea-bread, but none could be obtained; but the good governor promised me some loaves of bread. I bought a brass kettle, an iron pot, some butter, two big pieces of salt pork, and two pieces of salt beef for my men, and a dozen boxes of sardines for myself. We also put on board a large quantity of fire-wood. Then I managed to get an old cask, which I sawed in two, and filled one half with sand. This one was to be our kitchen, and our fire was to be lighted on the sand. The other half was to be used as a kind of roof to the galley or kitchen, to protect the fire from the heavy rain and from the wind. This fire was to be kept up all through the voyage. My men being great smokers, I bought a good quantity of tobacco for them. I bought thick sailors' flannel shirts for each man. For myself, I had a thick water-proof cloak and several blankets. The uncomfortable point about the Gull was that there was no special place to sleep in.

As it would not have done to sail unarmed, I bought five trade-guns for my men, and, with my own; we had a formidable armament: I got papers from the governor for fear of being taken for a slave-dealer trading between the Coast and the island of St. Thomas.

Every thing being ready, we sailed. The morning was hot and sultry, and the very light breeze coming from the mountains of Fernando Po was hardly strong enough to move the boat. We sailed slowly past the island. The land-breeze gradually died away, and then the heat became intense. We had no awning, and I had not even an umbrella. There was, in fact, nothing to shelter me from the powerful rays of the sun, which seemed to pour down upon us with greater force than usual. When the land-breeze died away there was no sea-breeze coming to our help, and there we lay, a few miles from shore and from our point of departure, drifting slowly seaward. I had not bargained for this. The day passed away, and the sun began to sink beneath the horizon. Darkness followed, and with it came a certain relief from the terrible heat. During the day I kept three wet pocket handkerchiefs in my hat to prevent me from being sun-struck.

Then came the rub. We must see what could be done to fix a place for sleeping. All that the sailors could do was to sleep on the bottom of the boat the best way they could. As for myself, I would sleep on the seat near the rudder. Before going to sleep I arranged for two watches. Fasiko, Pedro, and Antonio were to be in one; Francisco and Joannes were to belong, with myself, to the other. Happily, my Portuguese friends had learned English at Fernando Po, and could understand my directions pretty well. I said to them, "Boys, we are going to be good friends, but remember that there must be no sleeping when people keep watch, and" (pointing to a stick) "look out for the one who goes to sleep! for you know, boys, that this is the season of tornadoes, and that they sweep with terrible force across the sea, and should we be caught sleeping by the wind we should all be lost. I won't sleep when my turn for the watch comes," I added, in a laughing tone. "You may use the stick also on me if you catch me sleeping." Each watch was to last four hours—from eight to twelve P.M., from twelve to four, and from four to eight o'clock A.M. During the day, those who felt like sleeping could do so. Those whose watch lasted from eight P.M. to midnight were to sleep from six o'clock to eight.

During the whole of the night there was not a breath of wind. The sky was clear, and the stars shone beautifully. Toward four o'clock in the morning a light land-breeze began to be felt, and we commenced to make headway. The first twenty-four hours we had made very little progress from our starting-point, but I had great hopes that we should fare better the second day. But the second day was not a bit more favorable than the first, for we had neither land nor sea breeze. The way to navigate on this part of the coast is to take advantage in the morning of the land-breeze, and tack sea-ward, and in the afternoon, with the sea-breeze, to change the tack and make for the shore. The land-breeze would take us away from the coast almost in a straight line, while with the sea-tack we would approach the coast in a southeast direction; but thus far we had had a good deal more land than sea breeze, and were not successful in approaching the island. The farther we were from land the stronger became the current, which seemed to run somewhat from the southeast.

We were getting in a bad way. Four days had elapsed since we sailed from Fernando Po, and we were still in sight of the island, though far from it. It is true, I had ten days' provisions on board; but, if things went at this rate, we ran the risk of being twenty days on our voyage. I began to feel really anxious, though I did not want to show my feelings to the crew. I was thinking seriously of shortening our food allowance. Happily, we had two casks of water on board, and had plenty of it yet. The days were so hot that I did not know really what to do with myself, and I suffered very much from the glare of the sun. Toward nine o'clock on the evening of the fourth day out, the sky toward the land became dark and threatening, and it looked very much as if a storm was coming. After a while lurid flashes of lightning were seen. The distant mutterings of thunder could be heard, and these were getting nearer and nearer. I kept a sharp lookout on the horizon, and made every thing ready, so that the sails might be hauled down at the first glimpse of a tornado.

At length the thunder began to peal with tremendous force, and the rain to pour down in torrents. The claps of thunder were terrific. The storm lasted about four hours, and after it came a dead calm. Of course we were drenched to the very bone. The only thing to be done was to leave our clothes to dry upon us. The next morning, the fifth day after our departure, the sun, as usual, rose brightly, but there was hardly a breath of wind. As the storm had come directly from the land, it had blown us away from the coast, and, looking in the direction of the land, I saw that the bold outlines of the Peak of Fernando were lost to our sight.

The situation would certainly become critical if it lasted much longer. There we were, out of sight of land, with no breeze, and seemingly in one of those long spells of calm, when there was nothing to counteract the force of the strong contrary currents.

"Boys," I said to my crew, "we have plenty of provisions yet; but, as you see, we have been unfortunate with the breeze. Suppose we do not eat so much now as we did before, so that for sure we may not get out of food." "We will do just as you say," they replied, cheerfully; "we will only eat half of what we ought till we see a fair prospect of reaching the land." "That is right, boys," said I. So we began our short allowance of food from that day.

Quite a change in the weather soon took place, but, I am sorry to say, not for the better. Night after night the storm would burst upon us with terrible thunder, lightning, and rain. In one respect, however, these storms were of benefit to us, as they enabled us to collect water in our sails, and to fill our casks. The days were still intensely hot.

I took advantage of every little breeze we had, but the current was so tremendous that the Gull seemed to lose all the benefit of the wind. I was steering southeast, that is, making for the Coast; and now fourteen days  had passed away, and there was no land in sight, though the last two days we had had a steady, good breeze.

It occurred to me at length that the compass by which I steered might be out of order, though I did not see how this could be, as there was no iron round it, my guns being all forward. The following day, when the sun rose, I took bearings with the compass, and, making due allowance for the deviation according to the longitude, I saw that the instrument was correct. Either the strong currents had put us out of the way, or some of the sailors must have steered badly. So I steered the Gull directly for the land. I was getting weak, as for the last ten days we had eaten very little food, just enough to keep us from starvation. I did not like the looks of an enormous shark that had been following us for three days. At night I could see its wake by the phosphorescent light it left behind it as it swam. He would come and almost touch the rudder. I shuddered at the thought of falling into the water, or of being upset by a tornado.

We all gradually became very weak. Were we to die of hunger at sea? It looked very much as if we were, as there was no more food left on board; happily we still had water to sustain us.

Seventeen days had passed since we left Fernando Po. That night the sky was clear, and the stars shone beautifully. The men were lying at the bottom of the boat, prostrated by heat and want of food. I was steering, for I did not dare to give the care of the rudder to any one. I wanted to make sure that the Gull was going right according to the compass. I had no strength left, as for two days I had taken no food except four little sardines, and my weak arm had all it could do to guide our boat. The wind was fair, and I was making right in the direction of the land. Shall we see it not? As I looked toward the stars, I raised a silent prayer to God. The moon rose, and by its dim light I looked with sorrow on the care-worn, emaciated faces of my five faithful men, who had not even uttered a word of grumbling since we left. The night passed away, and the next morning, just as the sun was rising, I happened to look eastward What do I see? "Land! land! boys," I shouted; "there is the land; look at it!" They all sprang to their feet to gaze at the blessed sight. It was Cape St. John. Joy succeeded sorrow. God had been with us, and had looked down upon the little Gull and its crew.

Toward noon we landed, so weakened by exposure and want of food that we could hardly walk. I tottered like a drunken man, I was so weak. The natives knew me, for, if you remember, we had been before at Cape St. John. The king of the village welcomed me and my men in a very friendly manner. Food was given us, and some chickens were presented to me by the kind African women. I forbade the men to eat much for a while, and that afternoon we had chicken broth. In the evening, also, we ate very little, for, if we had eaten heartily, no doubt it would have done us harm if it had not killed us.

That night I rested badly, for I was sore all over. The reaction had taken place, and all my strength seemed to have gone away with my anxiety. The next morning I was sick with fever, while a violent headache made me suffer terribly. The second day I felt better, and three days after my arrival at Cape St. John I sailed for the island of Corisco, thence down the Coast to meet the Roland.

This voyage from Fernando to Corisco had been fearful, and it required a long time for me to get over it.

In my preceding volumes you have been made acquainted with Corisco "the beautiful," and the countries of the main land; so I will leave you here, and promise to take you with me in my next volume into the country of the Dwarfs, which is situated far away in the interior mountains of Africa. These singular people are, no doubt, descendants of the same race described by the great historian Herodotus. They inhabit a country where, perhaps, some day, my dear Young Folks, one or two of you may follow me, and bring home news of what you have seen that will make the ears of your auditors tingle with wonder.