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The Convoy Heads South: July 16th-18th, 1811

Over the next ten days the little occasional convoy consisting of the Resolution, the Aimwell, Volunteer, Lively, and the Peterhead whaler Enterprize, made more steady progress south from their position at Lat 71 deg N. On the 17th a gale sprang up, and with rain predicted Scoresby ordered all hands to bring in the whale lines, which had been drying on deck.

In his journal on the 17th Scoresby also notes his habit of allowing 2.75 to 3 points of variation in the compass, to compensate for the magnetic attraction of the ship. His work on magnetism, and theorising about the effect of ships’ ironwork on the compass, would continue until his death, in March 1857.

By the end of Wednesday, Scoresby estimated that they had covered 87 miles to the SW. On the following day he reports “various courses were steered and little progress made.”

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Ship of War: July 15th, 1811

As the fog cleared a strange ship was spotted astern of the convoy, and Scoresby mustered “all hands to quarters loaded up the guns” while shortening sail to bring the convoy into closer formation. This was an alarming development, since an enemy ship might attempt to capture the whale ships, while an English ship might try to take members of the crew:

The Ship in Chase fired several Guns. At length we hove too took in Top Gallt Sails Stay Sls &c. She proved to be an English Frigate [the Niobe] stationed in high Latitudes to protect the Greenland Ships. We alone were boarded by a Lieut. in a jolly Boat he particularly enquired after the number of Ships left in the Country &c. They had seen my Father 18 Days ago with 16 Fish Chock full the Henrietta the Lion and James they had also seen. They had no intention of impressing men.

Scoresby reports being entrusted with letters to take home, and that after this visit they completed the new Top Gallant and Royal masts. He reflects that the ship was “much improved in appearance by it”.

Interestingly, before their departure, the naval officers gave Scoresby their estimate of their position. Scoresby disagreed quite strongly when it came to Longitude, and said so in his journal. The officers of the Niobe thought they were at Lat 72 deg, 59 and Long 5 deg 28E:

I continue my Longitude from my former estimation since I suspect the Niobes Reckoning to be too far Westerly they having had no Lunar observation or Correction of the Timekeeper since they saw the North Cape.

Scoresby’s own estimate of position was Lat 72 deg 17N and Long 6 deg 57E. Jackson notes that at 72 deg North, “the difference of almost 3 degrees of longitude [from Scoresby’s estimate on July 14th] … is equivalent to about 55 nautical miles (100km)”. Scoresby concludes his account of the day with a rueful comment that as the Niobe had left England in May, there was “little or no news.”

Two Strange Sail in Sight: July12th-14th, 1811

Between Friday and Sunday the Convoy made progress to southward, travelling from Lat 74 to Lat 72. The ice began to dwindle, though occasional large pieces had to be avoided. By Saturday morning, however there was “no Ice to see” and the crew continued their maintenance and repair of the ship:

… washed and scrubbed the sides with sand and urine then soap and water. Rigged the TG [Top Gallant] Masts and sent up Royal Masts. Aimwell Enterprize Lively and Volunteer in Company.

Thick fog followed on Sunday, and as the ‘Sky Scraper‘ sail was set for the first time, Scoresby made the ominous note: “Two strange sail in sight”.

Skyscraper

According to W.H. Smythe’s Sailor’s Word Book, Skyscraper sails were triangular sails set above the square Skysails, which were themselves set above the main sails. On the journey homeward Scoresby describes erecting royal masts above the main masts to accommodate more sail, since the Resolution needed to return home as quickly as possible.

Where the royal masts were tall enough, such as on a clipper ship, a further square sail, known as a Moonraker or Moonsail, could be added above the Skysail.

Placing the Guns: July 11th, 1811

On Thursday the Resolution was still around Lat 74, but as the convoy moved southward, it would come under threat of attack from both French and American frigates, and Scoresby thought it prudent to place the guns as a precaution. Work was underway to stow the whaleboats in the hold, and to “scrape” the ship’s sides: “Carpenter employed making new Top Gallt. Masts Crosstrees, Royal Masts and Poles”. The sea was still strewn with ice, and Bottlenose and Fin whales were spotted, but Scoresby was delighted with his role as commodore, and the way the convoy followed his lead:

At 8PM having passed several disseminated pieces of Ice and seeing much loose Ice a head (NWd) tacked our example was followed by all Ships in sight (viz. 7 in sight) as well as our Convoy.

 

Heading the Convoy: 8th-10th July, 1811

On Monday July 8th, the Resolution was still amongst ice when strong winds blew up which “rendered the sailing very dangerous”.  By now though, at Lat 76, the edge of the ice was near. There was still work to do flinching and making off whale tails, which were spread “upon the Casks as far aft as possible”. And the re-rigging continued: “rigged the long TG [Top Gallant] Masts Mizen Top Mast &c.”

By Tuesday the Resolution was in company with the Enterprize and Aimwell at Lat. 75. The Aimwell had taken 30 whales, and Scoresby loaned 4 provisions casks (180 gallons each) to help with stowing the blubber. Scoresby must have been proud, on his first voyage as Master, that the Aimwell and Enterprize nominated the Resolution Commodore of the convoy. Work continued on the rigging. The following day, the 10th, he notes that “At noon 5 sail in sight” and, after a calm, “we sailed under all canvas 4-5 knots P hour”.