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Heavy Weather: April 5-7th, 1811

April 5, 2011

On Friday April 5, 1811, the weather showed signs of deteriorating. Scoresby writes “Fresh breezes the sky became suddenly overcast with clouds and the wind skimmed along the water in heavy squalls. Snow showers quickly followed.” The night had been squally too, and the temperature was low, dipping to 18F, or almost -8C. It is no surprise to find Scoresby noting “frost rime,” which consists of tiny particles of frozen water vapour, rising in a mst from the surface of the sea, and clinging to the rigging of ships. By saturday April 6, as the thermometer dropped further to 10F (-12C), the frost rime was thick, though there was no visible sea-ice.

On April 7, the temperature rose significantly, though squally winds were accompanied by snow. “At 3PM,” Scoresby records, “the Thermometer had risen to 17 [degrees] and at 6PM to 27 [degrees] this remarkable rise of 17 [degrees] in about 9 hours made me suspect a SE wind”. He was right. He “walked the deck somewhat alarmed at the appearance of the sky … At one time a strong light like an Ice blink appeared from NNE ro ESE … though there was no Ice in that Quarter”. Ice blink, caused by light reflecting from a field of light onto the sky, allowed whaling captains to determine whether ice was compact or open, but in this case, Scoresby had no explanation for the sky’s appearance. The wind swung round to the South East very suddenly, so that the sails were blown “flat a back” against the mast, pushing the ship backwards:

The wind had veered to ESE steered Nward 2 hours the wind tho increased so much that we were obliged to raise all hands to take in and reef top sails and Troy Sail till Day light and then wore. At 6 blowing an excessive hard gale furled all sail but M T [Main Top] Sail and Troy sail under this sail lay too. The sea became immensely high the vessel was very kindly and shipped very little water laying quite close to the wind … The cabin smoaking [sic] we could not have a fire.

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