| The Cruise of the Snark, by Jack London.
It began in the swimming pool at Glen Ellen. Between swims it was
our wont to come out and lie in the sand and let our skins breathe
the warm air and soak in the sunshine. Roscoe was a yachtsman. I
had followed the sea a bit. It was inevitable that we should talk
about boats. We talked about small boats, and the seaworthiness of
small boats. We instanced Captain Slocum and his three years'
voyage around the world in the Spray.
We asserted that we were not afraid to go around the world in a
small boat, say forty feet long. We asserted furthermore that we
would like to do it. We asserted finally that there was nothing in
this world we'd like better than a chance to do it.
"Let us do it," we said . . . in fun.
Then I asked Charmian privily if she'd really care to do it, and she
said that it was too good to be true.
The next time we breathed our skins in the sand by the swimming pool
I said to Roscoe, "Let us do it."
I was in earnest, and so was he, for he said:
"When shall we start?"
I had a house to build on the ranch, also an orchard, a vineyard,
and several hedges to plant, and a number of other things to do. We
thought we would start in four or five years. Then the lure of the
adventure began to grip us. Why not start at once? We'd never be
younger, any of us. Let the orchard, vineyard, and hedges be
growing up while we were away. When we came back, they would be
ready for us, and we could live in the barn while we built the
So the trip was decided upon, and the building of the Snark began.
We named her the Snark because we could not think of any other name-
-this information is given for the benefit of those who otherwise
might think there is something occult in the name.
Our friends cannot understand why we make this voyage. They
shudder, and moan, and raise their hands. No amount of explanation
can make them comprehend that we are moving along the line of least
resistance; that it is easier for us to go down to the sea in a
small ship than to remain on dry land, just as it is easier for them
to remain on dry land than to go down to the sea in the small ship.
This state of mind comes of an undue prominence of the ego. They
cannot get away from themselves. They cannot come out of themselves
long enough to see that their line of least resistance is not
necessarily everybody else's line of least resistance. They make of
their own bundle of desires, likes, and dislikes a yardstick
wherewith to measure the desires, likes, and dislikes of all
creatures. This is unfair. I tell them so. But they cannot get
away from their own miserable egos long enough to hear me. They
think I am crazy. In return, I am sympathetic. It is a state of
mind familiar to me. We are all prone to think there is something
wrong with the mental processes of the man who disagrees with us.
The ultimate word is I LIKE. It lies beneath philosophy, and is
twined about the heart of life. When philosophy has maundered
ponderously for a month, telling the individual what he must do, the
individual says, in an instant, "I LIKE," and does something else,
and philosophy goes glimmering. It is I LIKE that makes the
drunkard drink and the martyr wear a hair shirt; that makes one man
a reveller and another man an anchorite; that makes one man pursue
fame, another gold, another love, and another God. Philosophy is
very often a man's way of explaining his own I LIKE.
But to return to the Snark, and why I, for one, want to journey in
her around the world. The things I like constitute my set of
values. The thing I like most of all is personal achievement--not
achievement for the world's applause, but achievement for my own
delight. It is the old "I did it! I did it! With my own hands I
did it!" But personal achievement, with me, must be concrete. I'd
rather win a water-fight in the swimming pool, or remain astride a
horse that is trying to get out from under me, than write the great
American novel. Each man to his liking. Some other fellow would
prefer writing the great American novel to winning the water-fight
or mastering the horse.
Possibly the proudest achievement of my life, my moment of highest
living, occurred when I was seventeen. I was in a three-masted
schooner off the coast of Japan. We were in a typhoon. All hands
had been on deck most of the night. I was called from my bunk at
seven in the morning to take the wheel. Not a stitch of canvas was
set. We were running before it under bare poles, yet the schooner
fairly tore along. The seas were all of an eighth of a mile apart,
and the wind snatched the whitecaps from their summits, filling.
The air so thick with driving spray that it was impossible to see
more than two waves at a time. The schooner was almost
unmanageable, rolling her rail under to starboard and to port,
veering and yawing anywhere between south-east and south-west, and
threatening, when the huge seas lifted under her quarter, to broach
to. Had she broached to, she would ultimately have been reported
lost with all hands and no tidings.
I took the wheel. The sailing-master watched me for a space. He
was afraid of my youth, feared that I lacked the strength and the
nerve. But when he saw me successfully wrestle the schooner through
several bouts, he went below to breakfast. Fore and aft, all hands
were below at breakfast. Had she broached to, not one of them would
ever have reached the deck. For forty minutes I stood there alone
at the wheel, in my grasp the wildly careering schooner and the
lives of twenty-two men. Once we were pooped. I saw it coming,
and, half-drowned, with tons of water crushing me, I checked the
schooner's rush to broach to. At the end of the hour, sweating and
played out, I was relieved. But I had done it! With my own hands I
had done my trick at the wheel and guided a hundred tons of wood and
iron through a few million tons of wind and waves.
My delight was in that I had done it--not in the fact that twenty-
two men knew I had done it. Within the year over half of them were
dead and gone, yet my pride in the thing performed was not
diminished by half. I am willing to confess, however, that I do
like a small audience. But it must be a very small audience,
composed of those who love me and whom I love. When I then
accomplish personal achievement, I have a feeling that I am
justifying their love for me. But this is quite apart from the
delight of the achievement itself. This delight is peculiarly my
own and does not depend upon witnesses. When I have done some such
thing, I am exalted. I glow all over. I am aware of a pride in
myself that is mine, and mine alone. It is organic. Every fibre of
me is thrilling with it. It is very natural. It is a mere matter
of satisfaction at adjustment to environment. It is success.
Life that lives is life successful, and success is the breath of its
nostrils. The achievement of a difficult feat is successful
adjustment to a sternly exacting environment. The more difficult
the feat, the greater the satisfaction at its accomplishment. Thus
it is with the man who leaps forward from the springboard, out over
the swimming pool, and with a backward half-revolution of the body,
enters the water head first. Once he leaves the springboard his
environment becomes immediately savage, and savage the penalty it
will exact should he fail and strike the water flat. Of course, the
man does not have to run the risk of the penalty. He could remain
on the bank in a sweet and placid environment of summer air,
sunshine, and stability. Only he is not made that way. In that
swift mid-air moment he lives as he could never live on the bank.
As for myself, I'd rather be that man than the fellows who sit on
the bank and watch him. That is why I am building the Snark. I am
so made. I like, that is all. The trip around the world means big
moments of living. Bear with me a moment and look at it. Here am
I, a little animal called a man--a bit of vitalized matter, one
hundred and sixty-five pounds of meat and blood, nerve, sinew,
bones, and brain,--all of it soft and tender, susceptible to hurt,
fallible, and frail. I strike a light back-handed blow on the nose
of an obstreperous horse, and a bone in my hand is broken. I put my
head under the water for five minutes, and I am drowned. I fall
twenty feet through the air, and I am smashed. I am a creature of
temperature. A few degrees one way, and my fingers and ears and
toes blacken and drop off. A few degrees the other way, and my skin
blisters and shrivels away from the raw, quivering flesh. A few
additional degrees either way, and the life and the light in me go
out. A drop of poison injected into my body from a snake, and I
cease to move--for ever I cease to move. A splinter of lead from a
rifle enters my head, and I am wrapped around in the eternal
Fallible and frail, a bit of pulsating, jelly-like life--it is all I
am. About me are the great natural forces--colossal menaces, Titans
of destruction, unsentimental monsters that have less concern for me
than I have for the grain of sand I crush under my foot. They have
no concern at all for me. They do not know me. They are
unconscious, unmerciful, and unmoral. They are the cyclones and
tornadoes, lightning flashes and cloud-bursts, tide-rips and tidal
waves, undertows and waterspouts, great whirls and sucks and eddies,
earthquakes and volcanoes, surfs that thunder on rock-ribbed coasts
and seas that leap aboard the largest crafts that float, crushing
humans to pulp or licking them off into the sea and to death--and
these insensate monsters do not know that tiny sensitive creature,
all nerves and weaknesses, whom men call Jack London, and who
himself thinks he is all right and quite a superior being.
In the maze and chaos of the conflict of these vast and draughty
Titans, it is for me to thread my precarious way. The bit of life
that is I will exult over them. The bit of life that is I, in so
far as it succeeds in baffling them or in bitting them to its
service, will imagine that it is godlike. It is good to ride the
tempest and feel godlike. I dare to assert that for a finite speck
of pulsating jelly to feel godlike is a far more glorious feeling
than for a god to feel godlike.
Here is the sea, the wind, and the wave. Here are the seas, the
winds, and the waves of all the world. Here is ferocious
environment. And here is difficult adjustment, the achievement of
which is delight to the small quivering vanity that is I. I like.
I am so made. It is my own particular form of vanity, that is all.
There is also another side to the voyage of the Snark. Being alive,
I want to see, and all the world is a bigger thing to see than one
small town or valley. We have done little outlining of the voyage.
Only one thing is definite, and that is that our first port of call
will be Honolulu. Beyond a few general ideas, we have no thought of
our next port after Hawaii. We shall make up our minds as we get
nearer, in a general way we know that we shall wander through the
South Seas, take in Samoa, New Zealand, Tasmania, Australia, New
Guinea, Borneo, and Sumatra, and go on up through the Philippines to
Japan. Then will come Korea, China, India, the Red Sea, and the
Mediterranean. After that the voyage becomes too vague to describe,
though we know a number of things we shall surely do, and we expect
to spend from one to several months in every country in Europe.
The Snark is to be sailed. There will be a gasolene engine on
board, but it will be used only in case of emergency, such as in bad
water among reefs and shoals, where a sudden calm in a swift current
leaves a sailing-boat helpless. The rig of the Snark is to be what
is called the "ketch." The ketch rig is a compromise between the
yawl and the schooner. Of late years the yawl rig has proved the
best for cruising. The ketch retains the cruising virtues of the
yawl, and in addition manages to embrace a few of the sailing
virtues of the schooner. The foregoing must be taken with a pinch
of salt. It is all theory in my head. I've never sailed a ketch,
nor even seen one. The theory commends itself to me. Wait till I
get out on the ocean, then I'll be able to tell more about the
cruising and sailing qualities of the ketch.
As originally planned, the Snark was to be forty feet long on the
water-line. But we discovered there was no space for a bath-room,
and for that reason we have increased her length to forty-five feet.
Her greatest beam is fifteen feet. She has no house and no hold.
There is six feet of headroom, and the deck is unbroken save for two
companionways and a hatch for'ard. The fact that there is no house
to break the strength of the deck will make us feel safer in case
great seas thunder their tons of water down on board. A large and
roomy cockpit, sunk beneath the deck, with high rail and self-
bailing, will make our rough-weather days and nights more
There will be no crew. Or, rather, Charmian, Roscoe, and I are the
crew. We are going to do the thing with our own hands. With our
own hands we're going to circumnavigate the globe. Sail her or sink
her, with our own hands we'll do it. Of course there will be a cook
and a cabin-boy. Why should we stew over a stove, wash dishes, and
set the table? We could stay on land if we wanted to do those
things. Besides, we've got to stand watch and work the ship. And
also, I've got to work at my trade of writing in order to feed us
and to get new sails and tackle and keep the Snark in efficient
working order. And then there's the ranch; I've got to keep the
vineyard, orchard, and hedges growing.
When we increased the length of the Snark in order to get space for
a bath-room, we found that all the space was not required by the
bath-room. Because of this, we increased the size of the engine.
Seventy horse-power our engine is, and since we expect it to drive
us along at a nine-knot clip, we do not know the name of a river
with a current swift enough to defy us.
We expect to do a lot of inland work. The smallness of the Snark
makes this possible. When we enter the land, out go the masts and
on goes the engine. There are the canals of China, and the Yang-tse
River. We shall spend months on them if we can get permission from
the government. That will be the one obstacle to our inland
voyaging--governmental permission. But if we can get that
permission, there is scarcely a limit to the inland voyaging we can
When we come to the Nile, why we can go up the Nile. We can go up
the Danube to Vienna, up the Thames to London, and we can go up the
Seine to Paris and moor opposite the Latin Quarter with a bow-line
out to Notre Dame and a stern-line fast to the Morgue. We can leave
the Mediterranean and go up the Rhone to Lyons, there enter the
Saone, cross from the Saone to the Maine through the Canal de
Bourgogne, and from the Marne enter the Seine and go out the Seine
at Havre. When we cross the Atlantic to the United States, we can
go up the Hudson, pass through the Erie Canal, cross the Great
Lakes, leave Lake Michigan at Chicago, gain the Mississippi by way
of the Illinois River and the connecting canal, and go down the
Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico. And then there are the great
rivers of South America. We'll know something about geography when
we get back to California.
People that build houses are often sore perplexed; but if they enjoy
the strain of it, I'll advise them to build a boat like the Snark.
Just consider, for a moment, the strain of detail. Take the engine.
What is the best kind of engine--the two cycle? three cycle? four
cycle? My lips are mutilated with all kinds of strange jargon, my
mind is mutilated with still stranger ideas and is foot-sore and
weary from travelling in new and rocky realms of thought.--Ignition
methods; shall it be make-and-break or jump-spark? Shall dry cells
or storage batteries be used? A storage battery commends itself,
but it requires a dynamo. How powerful a dynamo? And when we have
installed a dynamo and a storage battery, it is simply ridiculous
not to light the boat with electricity. Then comes the discussion
of how many lights and how many candle-power. It is a splendid
idea. But electric lights will demand a more powerful storage
battery, which, in turn, demands a more powerful dynamo.
And now that we've gone in for it, why not have a searchlight? It
would be tremendously useful. But the searchlight needs so much
electricity that when it runs it will put all the other lights out
of commission. Again we travel the weary road in the quest after
more power for storage battery and dynamo. And then, when it is
finally solved, some one asks, "What if the engine breaks down?"
And we collapse. There are the sidelights, the binnacle light, and
the anchor light. Our very lives depend upon them. So we have to
fit the boat throughout with oil lamps as well.
But we are not done with that engine yet. The engine is powerful.
We are two small men and a small woman. It will break our hearts
and our backs to hoist anchor by hand. Let the engine do it. And
then comes the problem of how to convey power for'ard from the
engine to the winch. And by the time all this is settled, we
redistribute the allotments of space to the engine-room, galley,
bath-room, state-rooms, and cabin, and begin all over again. And
when we have shifted the engine, I send off a telegram of gibberish
to its makers at New York, something like this: Toggle-joint
abandoned change thrust-bearing accordingly distance from forward
side of flywheel to face of stern post sixteen feet six inches.
Just potter around in quest of the best steering gear, or try to
decide whether you will set up your rigging with old-fashioned
lanyards or with turnbuckles, if you want strain of detail. Shall
the binnacle be located in front of the wheel in the centre of the
beam, or shall it be located to one side in front of the wheel?--
there's room right there for a library of sea-dog controversy. Then
there's the problem of gasolene, fifteen hundred gallons of it--what
are the safest ways to tank it and pipe it? and which is the best
fire-extinguisher for a gasolene fire? Then there is the pretty
problem of the life-boat and the stowage of the same. And when that
is finished, come the cook and cabin-boy to confront one with
nightmare possibilities. It is a small boat, and we'll be packed
close together. The servant-girl problem of landsmen pales to
insignificance. We did select one cabin-boy, and by that much were
our troubles eased. And then the cabin-boy fell in love and
And in the meanwhile how is a fellow to find time to study
navigation--when he is divided between these problems and the
earning of the money wherewith to settle the problems? Neither
Roscoe nor I know anything about navigation, and the summer is gone,
and we are about to start, and the problems are thicker than ever,
and the treasury is stuffed with emptiness. Well, anyway, it takes
years to learn seamanship, and both of us are seamen. If we don't
find the time, we'll lay in the books and instruments and teach
ourselves navigation on the ocean between San Francisco and Hawaii.
There is one unfortunate and perplexing phase of the voyage of the
Snark. Roscoe, who is to be my co-navigator, is a follower of one,
Cyrus R. Teed. Now Cyrus R. Teed has a different cosmology from the
one generally accepted, and Roscoe shares his views. Wherefore
Roscoe believes that the surface of the earth is concave and that we
live on the inside of a hollow sphere. Thus, though we shall sail
on the one boat, the Snark, Roscoe will journey around the world on
the inside, while I shall journey around on the outside. But of
this, more anon. We threaten to be of the one mind before the
voyage is completed. I am confident that I shall convert him into
making the journey on the outside, while he is equally confident
that before we arrive back in San Francisco I shall be on the inside
of the earth. How he is going to get me through the crust I don't
know, but Roscoe is ay a masterful man.
P.S.--That engine! While we've got it, and the dynamo, and the
storage battery, why not have an ice-machine? Ice in the tropics!
It is more necessary than bread. Here goes for the ice-machine!
Now I am plunged into chemistry, and my lips hurt, and my mind
hurts, and how am I ever to find the time to study navigation?Next chapter |
The Cruise of the Snark, by Jack London. CHAPTER II--THE INCONCEIVABLE AND MONSTROUS CHAPTER III--ADVENTURE CHAPTER IV--FINDING ONE'S WAY ABOUT CHAPTER V--THE FIRST LANDFALL CHAPTER VI--A ROYAL SPORT CHAPTER VII--THE LEPERS OF MOLOKAI CHAPTER VIII--THE HOUSE OF THE SUN CHAPTER IX--A PACIFIC TRAVERSE CHAPTER X--TYPEE CHAPTER XI--THE NATURE MAN CHAPTER XII--THE HIGH SEAT OF ABUNDANCE CHAPTER XIII--THE STONE-FISHING OF BORA BORA CHAPTER XIV--THE AMATEUR NAVIGATOR CHAPTER XV--CRUISING IN THE SOLOMONS CHAPTER XVI--BECHE DE MER ENGLISH CHAPTER XVII--THE AMATEUR M.D.
(Monday, 17 May, 2021.)