The Basilisk Adventure
Through the Eyes of Another
The Journal of W. Wallace Coleman
Sunday, November 23, 1930
Hampton Roads, VA
Clear Cool N.E. Wind
It was quite late when we got to bed last night and equally late when we arose this morning. No observations whatever except if I am ever eager to get pictures of gulls in flight, I shall secure a perch on some fish boat.
The papers predict a N.W. Wind for tomorrow. If we find such upon arising we shall weigh anchor and immediately set out for the Bahamas. Framed my little picture of Esa.
Monday November 24, 1930
Off Cape Henry
Cloudy, S.E. Wind
The great day has arrived, today the trip begins in earnest. Only a picture for comfort for two entire months.
We weighed anchor this morning at sunrise and steered for the open sea.
Off Willoughby Beach we were becalmed and the C.G.C. 186 came over to speak. Upon being asked if they would take a package of mail they answered yes, and would we like to have a tow out to the Capes., what could be kinder or more to our liking, so the mail sack and line were thrown to their ship and thus we were towed at 8 ½ miles per hour for two hours, we were several miles off Cape Henry when the line parted. Whereupon the cutter too slowed down and came about and her officers came aboard for a very short while we were host to the coast guard. Having made his routine report of our little vessel and after an exchange of good wishes we sailed away under our own power or rather wind power once more. I hope I received a picture of us being towed, it was indeed a thrill. Needless to say we did not stop at the pilot boat.
As I write this land is no longer visible, nor do we expect it to be for months to come.
Observed two Sula Bassana and one Gavia immer, loon and many Larus argentatus, Herring gulls.
Our Present course is E.S. and so we shall continue, Later it will be S.E. and then due S.
Sunday November 30, 1930
Cloudy S.S.E. Wind
After a lapse of an entire week it is once more possible by the use of grim determination to attempt to record the past events. As one might suppose we have been through an ocean gale and nothing I could ever write would do credit to the occasion. If you are through it, you speak of a living hell that is no exxagertation. I will try to scribble the happenings in order of their occurrence.
Monday night there was little wind and we were under full sail. After an early supper we set the boat on her course and went below to bed. The sea became heavier and the wind quite shifty so that tricks at the wheel became the order of the night. I took the first trick and at 1.30 A.M. Gil relieved me. I was fearfully tired. At 3.30 Gil called for relief, he was exhausted. At 4 A.M. BOTH WIND AND WAVES had gained considerable violence. The wind was now S.W. and we had put two reefs in the main sail. With fingers nearly benumbed by the icy spray and finger tips becoming more and more tender from having the harsh manila reef points whipped out of them, nevertheless it was done. Sometime after 4 A.M. a mountainous wave broke immediately beneath and a little to the eastward of the stern of the boat with such fierceness that the bowsprit and the jib sail were plunged under water, and then the boat stern was so far out of the water that she would not answer to the wheel soon enough and she jibed. I ducked, the iron boomrest was broken into two pieces but the ropes held, thank God.
I called Gil on deck so we could get her about on the proper tack again. The wind was terrific, seeming to come from first one and then another quarter, Gil was working on the mussed up coil of sheet ropes and the mainsail jibed again. In such inky darkness it was hard to tell just what happened, but appeared that Gil got tangled in the ropes and was thrown to the deck unconscious, and the decks awash. I got Gil and sat on the wheel box holding the boat on her course with one hand on the wheel and holding Gils body in a scissor grip with my feet and head in the hollow of my free arm. If you want a combination to put fear in your heart, try one like that.
Gils was out about five minutes, it seemed like eternity, when he did come to it was hell trying to make him understand what it was all about. After about a half hour explaining he appeared to grasp the necessity for heaving to and getting the sea anchor overboard, which we did and then went below.
Tuesday we ran all day E. and S.E.
Wednesday, Storms continue, decks always awash. Have to have the sea anchor overboard all day. Saw porpoises, fifty of them.
Thursday upon struggling to the deck, we found the rope to the sea anchor had crossed beneath the chain of the bowsprit and in consequence frayed, so that was lost. It was suicidal, but had to be done, so we got a reef in the jib and a third one in the mainsail, how, God only knows. The day the storm became a gale. Observed a Thalissidroma pelagica (?) Stormy petrel, circled the ship and then flew westward. Friday we tried to take tricks but each of us could only last fifteen minutes at the wheel, all appeared to be up, we were both utterly exhausted, we had done all we could , so if she insisted upon going to Hell, we would make her take the longest route, so we trimmed the sails, lashed the wheel and went below confident that this was the end. We discussed our private hopes for the future, if we existed and then I read over my—————————————–was as erratic as a laboratory shaker. That night a wave must have hit us squarely for we were actually thrown out of bed. Most everything is sloppy and wet inside, cooking has been entirely impossible. During the period of the voyage neither of us have eaten the equivalent of a meal.
Saturday the sun almost came out, but not quite. Gil tried for a sight but admitted he doubted if it was accurate. We let her sail herself again Sat night.
Monday December 1, 1930
Cloudy S.E. Wind
Today marks the end of one eighteenth of the trip —————————reckoning, devouring food again, but nothing hot except a bit of broth made with sterno.
Thursday December 2nd
Still sailing by dead reckoning
Cloudy N.E. wind
Friday, December 3rd
Still the heavy seas and I am sick of them, but I don’t know what it is to be seasick, but I sure am sick of the sea. Still no sun. Gil thought he saw a flying fish today. Sargassum weed is plentiful, no steamers, no birds, nothing but the tossing sea. We have been eating nothing but cold chicken, pre-cooked roast beef and canned fruit and raisins, not to mention the plum pudding which I had meant to save until Christmas.
I have forgotten to mention that all the drawers and compartments of the cabin cabinets have swollen so that access to dry clothing or stationery is impossible. We had to get in the chart drawer and used an axe.
We bore holed in the face of the others hoping enough air would get in to prevent mildew. Needless to say the cabin looks exactly what it is a total wreck.
A place for everything and nothing in its place. So much water has forced its way in through the forward hatch that it sloshes around on the floor. When we feel equal to the task we use the bilge pump. Just a little bit of sunshine would help no end. Waves coming over have smashed the canoe pretty badly but we hope to repair it. We only flew the flag one day, it is a rather small flag and supposed to be strong but after one days flying in such winds as we have had it was reduced to tatters. You don’t know what it is to be awed until you go to sea.
Thursday December 4th
Everything much better today, we even had some sunshine which helped considerable also some showers which wetted all that the sun had attempted to dry. Gil took a sight but its accuracy is doubtful. It was around 29-40 (29 degrees forty minutes)
Sunshine all day
Friday, Dec 5th
We sailed again all night for now there is no doubt of our being in the N.E. trades. I think my down and out feelings toward life was the culmination of an attack of homesickness. But progress is very favorable and with the aid of some warm food, activity and sunshine, matters will be much smoother.
Enjoyed a philosophical chat with Gil for about two hours duration last night, it is remarkable the difference in ideas that three years can produce, we will have to begin knowing each other all over again. Spoke lengthily on the topic of Al and I of the needlessness of it. Al understood me better than anyone else and when he misinterprets my futile attempts at explanation, it is more than useless to expect anyone else to grasp them. Gil said it was a bunch of damn foolishness and we should “Make up”. I wish I knew how.
I tried to photograph the sunrise but I fear I did not allow enough speed to compensate for the ship’s motion.
We even enjoyed some pancakes for breakfast and some hardboiled eggs, the first real cooking attempts that have been successful since we left the Capes. The water through which we are sailing is changing from a dark deep blue to a light and more intense blueness so that it looks like nothing so much as a solution of copper sulfate.
If we continue this remarkable speed, we hope to sight land about Monday.
Saturday Dec 6, 1930
Lat. 26 – 6
The day began beautifully with the sunrise. Gil sighted a large bird far overhead which we declared was a frigate bird, distance being so great the identity could not be certain. This morning I observed both the sun and the moon the same distance above their respective horizons. It gave me a remarkably queer feeling for both of them stood out brilliantly in the seascape.
The bird excitement over, we found we had a visitor in the night, a flying fish flew on board presumably during the night. Curiosity promotes suicide even among fish. Did my level best to identify it as to species but failed. Of the genus I am certain Exocoidae. The total length was eight inches, greatest width one and one quarter inches, maximum thickness—–. There were five indistinct lines running laterally from a midline of the side to the crest. These lines might be described as a dark slaty blue on a lighter slate blue which is the color of the body above the line of the wing fin. The body below this point is the typical pearly white of most fish. The mouth blunt and round like our form of suckers. The eyes extremely large with turquoise iris and black pupil. I made a hurried sketch of it in hopes of future identification. I regret immensely that the lack of films prevent the making of desired record photographs.
We feared to wait any longer on hopes of opening the cabinets, drawers, the swelling apparently not decreasing so we forced them with the axe and none too soon. Mildew had begun to wreak havoc particularly on the cloths and the photographic drawers. We have labored like Trojans in hopes of saving the bulk of the equipment and materials but I know there is going to be a great loss, and no hope from home or Esa till I get to Haiti. If I succeed in getting any pictures at all during the months at the Bahamas I will be a very lucky chap. The few in the tropical tins I believe safe all the others I fear are ruined. Still there is nothing to be done about it, matters could be worse and events considered we were lucky to have got off as easily as we have so far. I almost feel I could go without the cloths, they would wear out anyhow but I know how Esa the folks and Doc are looking forward to the photographs.
So I have been despondent and Gay by turns today, depending on what side of the matter I looked upon.
The weather permits sleeping on decks where we have both transferred our damp mattresses and blankets, so my bed canvas is decorated with the less soggy of my clothes and photographic materials while the upper deck and rigging looks like a Chinese laundry after a holiday. What is so wonderful as ocean sailing I don’t know but I am sure there are many things a heap easier, still nothing is gained without effort and so to bed. Bailed 100 gal out of the bilge, try that as a setting up exercise.
Sunday December 7th, 1930
Lat 24 – 57
Well my bump of knowledge is considerably larger tonight which is a most gentle way of saying I received a terrific wallop on the head from the main boom which would not have been so bad had the wheel not been in the way, one of the spokes caught me beneath the scapular and made a most unpleasant impression on my back. Capt Dave told me that was the only way landlubbers ever learn their way about a boat so having been hit with jib club during the storm and now this I should soon have some knowledge of the boat. Needless to say we afterwards raised the boom so it would clear our heads and the wayward wind would play with it.
Found the source of all water today, a broken joint in the sink drain, that every time the boat dips on that side we take aboard a little stream of water, when it doesn’t dip we just take a few drops. I should guess we take aboard about twenty gallons a day and have been doing it since we left. We probably banged it while storing stuff and broke the joint. Well it too will have to wait to we get to our first port.
Had another thrill this morning, saw a shark, that is the fin of one. It was a rich brown and the triangle protruded about one foot out of the water, that was all we saw and soon disappeared. Been fearfully busy attempting to straighten up.
I believe the clothes loss will not be as great as anticipated. It is a damn soggy experience however no matter how cheerful one may try to be. Colored with crayon my poor hurried sketch of the flying fish.
Monday December 8th, 1930
Cloudy S. W. wind
Latitude 23 – 57
Evidently we are just on the northern boundary of the trades for it is most unusual to have a S.E. wind in this region. If we are not too far eastward we can expect land most anytime. We are making due south sailing close to the wind, which makes it rough going.
Observed many flying fishes, some singly, some in flocks, also saw a bird, probably a petrel. Saragassum weed still common but only small patches of a foot or so.
The deck is all wet from the spray, so what drying is attempted must be done inside.
If this wind would only change to N.E. or E we would make a landing quickly.
Aside from the bruise on my back I feel fine but frightfully dirty. The chronometer is about forty degrees off and is hardly any use to try to work longitude until it is corrected. Gil believes the error was the fault of the man at Newport News.
Tuesday December 9th, 1930
Cloudy S.W. wind
No land today although according to our latitude it should be all around us. In view of this fact we are heading due south in the belief that the storm carried us so far to eastward that we are beyond the Bahamas so by going south we will hit Haiti which unlike the Bahamas is visible for fifty miles out to sea. Two more days of good sailing and we should sight it. Its no great comfort to be where land should be and then fail to see it.
Found another flying fish on board this morning. I feel rather certain it is Parexocoetus mesogastor. It was smaller than our previous visitor and the lesser fins were much more developed. It was much more beautiful than the other this one showing a two inch black band on the pectoral fin upon being spread. The ventral fins were also capable of offering support while traveling over the water.
PRAISE YE THE LORD
The above notes were written at midday. I was below lying on the floor reading, Beebe’s Acturus Adventures when Gil came up for a last look at 6 P.M. before turning in and then came the most welcome words in the world, Land. I hit the deck but I know not how, I do remember ascending the stairs. There it was, lots of it, all in hunks and spread over the western horizon. The deck was being lashed with spray but what is spray compared with a glimpse of land? In bare feet, pants and undershirt, I went up the mast as far as possible, but could not stay put because of the violent gyrations of the ship. So I came down by the fast route and manila rope is hard on the hands. Down into the cabin for a note book then back on the boom by the mast to make a rough outline of one of the best sights I have ever seen. If anything deserves a place of honor in my journal it is this rough sketch.
There will be no sleep for us this night, the wind is dying down and clouds are rapidly obscuring the sky, so I suppose we will have to be content to stay put till daylight and a breeze comes up. That glimpse of land sure looked good.
SHIP WRECKED BEFORE DAWN
Friday December 12, 1930
Great Inagua Island
How can I ever hope to put on paper the happenings of the last seventy two hours, so much has happened, I even drowned only to have fate save me for further adventures. An explanation is probably first in order, that is easy. To begin with the weather had made it impossible for us to determine just where we were and the glimpse of the land we had suggested Caicos Islands so we decided to keep this good distance off and run back and forth during the night. The clouds had made this night dark but a slight breeze had sprung up after sunset, so we put our plan in action, but we were ignorant of the current that flowed through this area. Just before dawn we heard an ominous crunch and we both rushed on deck, it was still too dark to see but we know what had happened. The boat was grounded on a reef.
A frantic rush to the pin rack and the down haul to drop the sails as the wind would only carry us on further. The sails down and the great oar out we attempted to push our craft off, impossible, we were beginning to tilt at a terrible angle. Day was beginning to break and the delinquent trade winds were rapidly freshening and we were being carried further and harder on the pitiless reef. We could see land now about a quarter of a mile away. The wind was getting stronger and waves would break over us and the boat. Then without warning the boat gave a great lurch and Gil taken unawares streaked across the deck just in front of the boom and left the deck in a perfect dive into the sea. I was standing beside the mast and so was flung against the stay to which I clung and then threw a loose line to Gil who disdained it, preferring to come aboard by the jib chain. Deciding had to be done fast and accurate. With strength we did not know we had we loosed the rowboat from its lashings and then what had been our home gave another lurch, this time to leeward. Somehow we righted and launched the rowboat and then down below to save to save the cameras above everything, then the chart and sextant. It was full daylight now which was a great help, the waves were pounding now in earnest and the boat was steadily crawling up on the rocks. We made five trips ashore with what seemed the most imperative. We had no idea what we were up against. After the fifth trip we had to rest and then having eaten something we ascended the forty feet of bank before us. You have no idea of the Robinson Crusoe feeling until you have had a similar experience. We topped the crest and beheld my first glimpse of tropical landscape. A gorgeous lagoon before us and strange new plants on which were countless snails. Huge bees buzzed about a flower which looked ever so much like a morning glory at home.
There was no sign of human habitation as far as the eye could reach. So we decided to erect our tent, get our supplies, or at least those of most value over the hill on the site. This we did and then having eaten again we set out for a brief walk ere it became dark. The first bird we observed was a tobacco dove which lit within ten feet of us while we were making camp. Upon walking around to the lagoon we were preceeded by a pair of oyster catchers, sea pilots. The coral rocks were literaly covered with the shells of Bleeding Tooth and crabs of several different species went scurrying out of our path.
On the opposite side of the lagoon we observed some sticks which appeared too symmetrically placed to be put there by an whim of nature and that was our goal. We had covered about half the distance when we both stopped spellbound in our tracks, a slight noise overhead had attracted our attention skyward to observe one of the most beautiful sights I have ever beheld, a flock of flamingoes passing in perfect formation. Immediately after this treat, we saw an egret stalk sedately away from us into the mangrove swamp.
And ghost crabs would flit, there is no other word, along the beach before us, while in a shallow puddle off the lagoon stood guard for unwary visitors. For the while all thoughts of shipwrecks were sidetracked. I was lost in a maze of new wonders and secrets. Here we had come to do a bit of herpetology if there was any to do and all about us were lizards of at least three genus.
A form of land snail which you observed on the shrub plants were present in countless numbers while on the ground many of the same shells had been confiscated by hermit crabs.
I was to learn later that the island abounded with these creatures in all sizes some of them carrying about full sized whelk shell weighing at least 10 oz. Although the crabs were active at all times I observed the snails foraged only at night, and was greatly surprised to find them feeding on human excrement, (In company with the crabs)
After a time we reached our desired point and found a few poles and cross boards a most crude affair and undoubtedly native but nevertheless it was a symbol of habitation or at least visitation.
Along the shore were many dead conch and here and there you would see a variety of clam while among the coral rocks were many whelks and countless small shells with which I was unfamiliar. And a glance about the shore showed countless marine forms which were waiting to be delved into. And right here and now I make a vow to return to this neglected wonderland and to make an impression that will go down in history only it will not be alone the next time Esa shall work with me, so we return with that decision.
And we decided that on the morrow Gil should set out in search of help and I would attempt to get the remainder of the equipment over the hill and make a trip to the ship for more supplies as there was no telling how long we might stay on this God-forsaken island.
So early next morning we made up a pack and Gil set out. I repaired to the shore and battled with heavy sea for two hours but it was impossible for one man to get the rowboat out to the yawl so I turned my attention to getting the supplies over the hill. I had just returned to the crest to behold another sight that was the second most welcome in the world, that of Gil returning with two small native boys in tow with his pack. Then information poured forth. I learned we were on N.E. Point, Chrisophe, Great Inagua Island. White men are quite scarce on the island and when Gil first called them they were quite frightened. We learned that the boys were part of a family who had a farm some three hours walk away to the S.W. of our wreck. Gil had also made some arrangements for a sailboat to take him to the farm with a third boy who had come up by that time, so the two boys, Fred and Moses were left to help me and Gil and the third boy started the tramp to the farm. And so I was left to direct Moses and Fred, my first ———–. I had no small amount of difficulty understanding them, however, I did learn they were hungry, it was about 10 A.M. and they had had no breakfast so I inquired what they wished and they requested bread and tea neither of which we had so I inquired if they could cook and they replied that they could to I gave them a couple of cans of soup, a tin of fruit and some eggs and fell to it and as they ate I plied them with questions and those they understood they quickly answered, so much information which was surprising beyond words came out in this short conversation that it is useless to attempt to record it in detail as all of it will come out from time to time in the journal and as my own familiarity with the island increases, so will the authenticity of the notes.
I decided the first thing we wanted to do was get the stuff over the hill. I had no idea how much those natives could carry and having learned that Moses was sixteen and Fred thirteen and such a nasty hill because of the sheerness and loose sand that composed it I did not wish to give them too heavy packs at a time, so I thought about the equipment of one half their weight would be about right. I called Moses to me and clasping about the waist with my hands I lifted him with little difficulty and put his weight at about 120 to 140 lbs. Then I went over to Fred and attempted to treat him the same and I was treated to my first native secret. Despite my best efforts I could not get him off the ground even tho I encircled him. His actual weight was not a pound over seventy-five, of that I am certain.
They were anxious to get out to the wreck but I would have none of it until the present work of getting the supplies safe had been completed. So they “got next to it”, the smaller toting the heavier packs appearing to delight in it. They would talk to each other and I could not understand a word of it. After they had gotten all of it over the hill I opened some fruit and then we launched the rowboat only this time I didn’t work myself to death. I put one of the lads on each side and I sat in the stern with the larger paddle which gave me complete control of the boat. There was four feet of water in the boat (the Basilisk) now and most everything that floated was being splashed about as each wave would break over the deck, the companionway having been washed away the waves would go into the cabin with all their force which was considerable. In spite of the difficulties I got another boat load of materials and got four of the ——-metal tanks up on the side of the house where the waves lack sufficient force to carry them off. I realized that what would float in the cabin would also float in the sea so they were lashed together and dumped in the sea one end being fastened to the rowboat.
The one trip however was enough. I was sufficiently tired to call it a day. So we returned to the camp and the boys pointed out the sail of a distant boat which they declared to be that of their uncle. Then to a woman who was still about a half mile away whom they declared to be their aunt. Whose name I learned was Ophelia. She had taken the overland route to our camp from their farm, a good two hours walk over miserable footing. Neither she nor the boys wore any shoes and only those who are familiar with knife like edges of coral rock can appreciate the degree of toughness the skin must possess to withstand this usage. We did not know each other but she extended her hand in greeting and appeared not at all fatigued despite the eight mile jaunt over coral rock. Gil had left with the intention of going to Mathewtown, the big city, a few days sail away, but instead I saw him out by the wreck in the native sailboat. Tom and David Docson the men who Gil had pressed into service as salvoys had come out to their farm to chase off the wild pigs because during the winter time every bit of the population goes to town. Their advice was to start salvaging immediately while the weather permitted as we still had a week before our folks expected word we took their advice. The flood tide would be at hand in a few more days and after that they promised that very little could be saved. The little sailboat well loaded down with what had been saved the precious cargoes were brought around inside the reef and then into the lagoon where it was landed on the beach. Thus they worked until dark. Having eaten our supper we paid their camp a visit. For them this was winter time although it was difficult to fancy 90 degrees Fahrenheit as the blizzard season. And so they made their camp in a mangrove thicket in a hollow to avoid the wind. So we squatted about the fire with the natives and swapped queries and ate some native bread made of nought but flour and water baked perfectly in wood ashes. It was of irregular size about one and a half hand span and one and three quarters of an inch thick. It was done perfectly and neither sand no ash could be found in the finished bread offered for our inspection with many apologies for lack of implements. But despite the primitiveness of it it was quite palatable for lack of salt, Ophelia had used sea water in its preparation. I inquired when she knew when to remove it from the ashes being completely covered with three or four inches of embers which would not permit inspection, and she said she merely “Judged the time, Suh”. And so bread was my first native food. But the fierceness of the mosquitoes droves us back to our windy campsite and we were soon asleep beneath the stars.
Thursday Dec 11, 1930
Continued salvaging only we took things easier, made moving pictures and also took a number of stills with Gil’s Graflex.
Friday December 12, 1930
Ship Wreck Point
Lord what a night the mosquitoes actually devoured us. However, I made a most interesting observation. We were amongst a most religious group of natives. Having been spending all of my time outdoors had restored my appetite and plenty of rest has put me in normal condition again so that I no longer sleep exhausted and before dawn what I fancied to be some member of our party turned out to be the beginning of a morning prayer, later all of them joined in a recital of the Lord’s prayer and in the dim glow of dawn, just as if I had been treated to some unusual experience. Here was a group of practically illiterate negroes who slept in all their clothes, wet rags, on the bare ground only to arise perfectly refreshed and ready for another day of hard labor.
So they repaired up to our hill camp ready to tote down the lagoon to load up the boat they had there with our more valuable equipment to take us to the farm, so after a three hour sail, I enjoyed my first glimpse of tropical habitation. Disappointed, not at all. They were even more picturesque than I had imagined. Small houses of one or if a big house, two rooms about eight by ten with white walls of coral rock put together with mortar made of conch shells which abound in the locality. They offered to build us one for five pounds not bad, a home for twenty five dollars. The roof is the most fascinating part of the house, the thatching is surprisingly thick, about four inches, from the inside looks like so many fans laid one on the other. The shutters are of solid planks swung on wooden hinges. The doorways were narrow and only eighteen inches wide and just high enough for you to receive a nasty crack on the pate when you forgot to stoop as you enter. I certainly hope some of these films are still good. I took some pictures of them still unloading the boat. It certainly is ironical to think of the boat we prepared for this journey only to finish up by sailing over fifty miles of ocean in a native boat which appeared like a one-hoss shay, the last day out. Later I was to sail fifty miles with land only visible on the horizon in the same excuse of a boat.
The lizard life is quite abundant and I hope I made a picture of one of the Leiocephanus. They could be brought to the camera by tossing stones at them, shortening the distance at each toss, a most interesting note.
Bird life was represented but not in abundance. I should say I observed about twenty species in the immediate vicinity only five of which I could identify. Deserted nests were present but not numerous. However there is no end of work here for those who will come. The natives told me that in the spring there are many more birds that there are in the wintertime. If Esa I and could just return to this island for a stay there is no limit to the work we could do. Lapidopotera is the most common form of insect life aside from mosquitoes, flies and cockroaches.
Sunday, December 14, 1930
We went to a pond about a mile inland and I secured a green winged teal for the table as under the present conditions it will not be possible to take birds skins out of the country. It was the first time I had ever gone ducking and I had the thrill of getting my bird on the wing but Lord he was tough. Gil knocked over several tobacco doves which are about the size of a robin but what there is of them is excellent eating.
Monday, December 15, 1930
The big event of the day was the hunt. Tom took us to a pond where we secured six coots, two ducks and one flamingo, not bad for a days sport. Flamingo were huge birds, with wing spread about six feet and just as we broke through the bush he arose from the border of the pond but I was equally as fast and as he left the water I let him have it. When you stop a bird that size at a distance with your first shell you forgive all sportsman and join their ranks, naturalist or not. Though flight was no longer possible my victim put a goodly distance between us by swimming. And it was a long tiring stalk that brought me within range again. Latter two coots fell for food and I wounded a duck which went to the middle of the pond, far out of range. The pond by the way is of salt water fed by the sea.
Tuesday, December 16, 1930
We were awakened early this morning just at dawn. Both boats were loaded to the gunwales and dressed in the best we could find we shoved off for the fifty mile sail to Mathewtown. That was a memorable sail. We were told it would take us but eight hours but as a matter of fact it took us thirty and it was nine o’clock the following day ere we got ashore. For complete comfort take such a sail in a boat twenty feet on the keel with a five foot beam and the whole of which must be pumped every hour to keep it afloat and whose sail looked like a sieve and have six people aboard. Cooking, if you can call it that, was done in a sand box on deck. Our food was principally bread but not as you know it jam and dried corn on the cob roasted and washed down with muddy rain water.
Wednesday, December 17th
Mathewtown, Great Inagua Island
Our salvoys had spoken highly of a Mr. Richardson, agent for the island. About eight-thirty he came out to the boat a big too-well-fed negroe with a tumor black as ink and with an air that recognized not superior. In less time that it takes to write it we both reached the same conclusion.. Here was the biggest swindler, blowhard, cheat that existed and if this is an example of the inhabitants of the Island, Lord help us. Nevertheless we had breakfast and lunch with him. We were still upset from the recent “Tragedy”. His attempts to have us join him in some liquor were funny but this business demanded a level head and we refused to lessen the bitterness of it with dulled senses.
Later we met Mr. Bartlett the commissioner of the Island, another native but of a much higher type. At first we had no use for him either, but that feeling is passing now, he seems to be a rather decent sort of chap.
1. The following was written by Gil Klingel presumably at the time he transcribed Wally’s journal.
“The garbled nature of the above is largely due to the difficult situations in which we found ourselves and the lack of leisure in which to write the notes in the best rhetoric and grammar. The above days were busy and tumultuous and it is a wonder that Wally accumulated any notes whatsoever.”
2. Wally’s journal was originally transcribed on a typewriter by Gil Klingel in 1934 or 1935. It has been recopied verbatim by Wally’s son Walt Coleman in 2011 in order to provide a more readable copy to scan to place on the Inagua Island website.
3.Wally married Esa, the woman he referenced with affection in his journal, one year later.