Sailing Alone around the World was the only book of all the maritime literature I read that involved navigating the Straits of Magellan. In all the other ones the ships sailed around Cape Horn. Richard Henry Dana almost went back to Boston via the Straits, but the squalls—or williwaws, as Captain Slocum calls them—are too bad.

The Straits seem much more easily navigated by a little sloop, even with just one man for a crew, than by a full-rigged ship. Slocum has to make his way slowly, and amazingly he sails out into the Pacific only to be turned around by a gale and actually driven back into another part of the Straits, farther south. He’s forced to double back to the east before heading out west again and successfully reaching the open ocean.

The williwaws make the Straits dangerous, but they aren’t the only thing. The Fuegians were apparently known for raiding ships, even for successfully doing away with entire crews. Slocum is advised to be extremely careful and given a sack of carpet tacks.

I protested that I had no use for carpet-tacks on board. Samblich smiled at my want of experience, and maintained stoutly that I would have use for them. “You must use them with discretion,” he said; “that is to say, don’t step on them yourself.”

One of his encounters with the Fuegians really does consist in their boarding at night and stepping on the carpet tacks, an especially valuable security alarm considering Slocum is alone. But he also ends up trading with them, for tallow. “Yammerschooner” is the word they shout when approaching in a canoe, indicating they wish to trade (or beg).
Fuegians have mostly disappeared now, and they are a people I wish I knew more about. Two isolated languages, along with another related to languages spoken on the Patagonian mainland, were the principle ones spoken on the Grande Isla. Only one remains. And just over 100 years ago they were harrying shipping in their canoes.

3 comments to Yammerschooner!

  • I knew that “yammerschooner” sounded familiar. The Voyage of the Beagle has a chapter on the Fuegians. My favorite part of Darwin’s book, actually.

    Philbrick’s book on the US ExEx includes more, plus a horrific cape-rounding.

    Very much enjoying this series.

  • verbivore

    All the quotes you’ve posted of this book make it seem like a really smooth, interesting read. I would not usually have been so curious about a maritime adventure book, but I’m adding this one to my list.

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