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Rough Seas

Inclement weather on the return trip turned a simple late summer excursion into an adventure.

by Vince Farinaccio

Before dawn on Thursday September 1, 1877, the leisure cruise on the Harry C. that had begun in Cumberland County on the Maurice River two days earlier raised anchor and entered its third day of travel in Delaware, accessing Duck Creek and sailing the waterway to Fleming Landing.

According to the surviving account of the trip by an unnamed female passenger aboard the cruise, a quest for peaches that had commenced a day earlier was rewarded when those on the Harry C. discovered “a large farm in good condition” despite the lack of rain for the past month.

A different route had been selected for the return journey to South Jersey, and the account of the trip reports that “as soon as the tide would permit, we sailed out of the creek and started across the bay…” on a southern trajectory that would hug the New Jersey shoreline. But the Harry C. “had not gone far before we were driven back by the wind. It had been blowing all day and had now reached a perfect gale.”

There was no recourse but to return to Lower Duck Creek, where the ship anchored for the night near the lighthouse. “Here we had plenty of company,” the narrator of the account explains. “One boat soon anchored just beside ours, and another was lying on the opposite side of the creek.”

The passengers entertained themselves with tea and music until the mosquitos “became so annoying we were glad to retire anywhere to get rid of their society.” The passengers sought refuge in their cabins only to discover that mosquitos had taken up residence there. The only solution, they reasoned, was to retreat to the hold of the ship, which proved to be secure from insects but contained another issue the passengers had not considered. “The heat was so extreme,” the narrator writes, “we did not tarry long, but were soon compelled to go back on deck.” The travelers, however, were able to nap there for only a short time.

After a month-long drought, the Delaware location was suddenly granted a reprieve in the form of a thunderstorm, driving the passengers back to their cabins and the awaiting mosquitos. “This about finished our sleeping Thursday night,” the author explains.

When the Harry C. set sail at 4:30 on the morning of September 2, it was clear that the inclement weather intended to follow it, turning a simple excursion into an adventure. “The wind was still blowing, with every indication of another shower,” the narrator writes. The first shower disrupted breakfast, scattering the passengers, with “some eating in the cabin, some sitting on the steps, some on deck, some down the hatchway, and really every corner that the Harry C. possessed was now occupied by a jolly or crazy specimen of humanity.”

The ship made its way across the Delaware Bay in less-than-ideal conditions. Pelted by rain and assaulted by high winds, the crew had hoped to anchor in Sea Breeze but “could not stop as it was so rough.” The Harry C. passed Ship John’s lighthouse at 10:30 a.m. and managed to reach Fortescue, where the passengers managed a brief respite from the raging waters.

The journey continued several hours later and “the fury of the wind and waves greatly increased. Our former dashing seemed nothing in comparison. The boat rocked and plunged, as it was about to be buried in the deep. The breakers dashed over the deck…the boat…tipped, and we were obliged to cling to any stationary object we could find to keep from going overboard.”

Those excursionists “not used to the water” feared for their lives, yet the narrator’s matter-of-fact account indicates this was not her first time on a ship.

The Harry C. arrived safely at Fishing Creek, which provided a haven for the night. On Saturday, the ship was back on the Maurice River and in familiar territory by 1 p.m., and passengers began disembarking in Port Norris. The author of the account arrived home in Menantico at 9:30, calling the trip “a grand success” and elaborating that “the many pleasant incidents connected with it will long be remembered by each one of the party.”

Jersey Reflections