Our good friend, Georges Dodds, sends in this interesting item which he found in an archive. It is a news report regarding a Danish explorer’s attempts to penetrate the Sargasso Sea in 1871. It reads as if it could have been a story written by Hodgson or H. P. Lovecraft. Georges states that he found it “searching in a 19th century British newspapers archive” and we thank him for passing this very interesting item along to us.
Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), Monday, July 16, 1894; Issue 7848
SARGASSO’S SEAWEED SEA
EXPLORER LOSES HIS REASON.
A VENTURESOME AMERICAN
The Sargasso’ Sea is that portion of the mid-Atlantic east of the coast of Florida, about the centre of the triangle between the Azores, the Canaries, and Cape Verde Islands. It covers an area of fifteen degrees of north latitude and ten degrees of west longitude—a space seven times the area of France and larger than the whole basin of the Mississippi. Few ships ever pass near this unknown sea. Along its borders the great currents of the Atlantic meet and turn and swirl, forming great seaweed meadows as far as the eye can reach. Columbus himself skirted along the margin of this great, floating continent of _débris_ and seaweed, and he it was who named it the Sargasso Sea. The centre of the Sargasso Sea has been supposed to be a dead region of almost perpetual calm, without currents. The predominating vegetation, is the _fucus natans_. The only man who is reported to have attempted a visit to the heart of the Sargasso Sea is a Danish naturalist, who died twenty years ago in poverty. In June, 1870, so the tale goes, “he was on a wrecking schooner from Madeira Inagua, and on the voyage the vessel skirted the bank. The sight so fascinated him that he began devising apparatus for overcoming the obstruction of seaweed, earnestly believing that an exploration would settle the question of the island of St. Borondon if not that of the lost Atlanties. In 1871, while botanizing on one of the West India islands, he met an eccentric Englishman named Lisle, owner of a steam yacht. Mr. Lisle became interested, in the subject, and after making preparations the yacht started for the unknown sea. Professor Aukarswards’ apparatus, on which he relied the most, was a drum or hogshead with hoops inside, 10ft. in diameter at the centre and 8ft. long. The frame of the drum was of seasoned live oak, the hoops of hickory were bent with mathematical accuracy, and the planking of cedar was laid on and lapped clinker fashion, and fastened with copper. In the centre was an iron axle, the length of the drum, playing freely in a well-oiled axle at each end. To the centre of this axle was attached a stirrup, to which the water-breaker and provisions could be jung. On the inner surface of the drum cleats were nailed a foot apart. The operator put his machine into the water, and, holding on to the stirrup, climbed up the cleats like a tread-mill horse, the machine rolling forward with every step, propelled through the water by the overlapping of the edges of the drum’s skin. It was the obverse of an undershot mill-wheel. Its draft was only five inches in the water, and it could be worked on land or water. The drum could be balanced, trimmed, and steered with ease, and propelled at the rate of forty miles a day. Lisle and Auckarsward, on February 1 steamed into the sea on the yacht. On the 7th the weeds stopped further progress. The lead sunk only twenty fathoms, and the mast of a sunken ship was in plain sight; so steam was blown off, the fires banked, and the sea balloon or drum was gotten out of the hold ready for a trip, Lisle and the professor made a visit to the sunken vessel, a barqentine, the “Santa Maria de Toledo, of Cartagena, 1817.” The next day, February 8, Auckarsward started for the seaweed banks, Lisle agreeing to wait with the yacht twenty days, and signal rocket every night. He was provided with a compass, a quadrant, and provisions. The report that he made of his journey was as follows: —
”Eleven o’clock a.m.—Ship no longer in sight. Noon.—Sun very hot. Stopped to dine and rest. Legs very tired. Distance travelled fourteen miles and three quarters. Many turtles in sight, floundering about on the grass; grass so thick matted that little water is seen. Put my feet in it and tried to walk, but will not bear my weight. Sea birds (larus rudibundus, porcellaria, and some grallatores of unknown species) digging the seaweeds up with their bills in search of crustacea. How came these
“Six o’clock p.m.—Distance twenty-three miles. Tired out! Best here. Very little wave motion of the grass, but tide motion quite perceptible. Shall have to close my windows tonight. While at supper just now an enormous conger, as thick as my leg, looked in upon me as if he might do battle.
“Feb. 9, 5 a.m.—Rested well. But for the birds these sea meadows would be awfully desolate. Excepting some small pools on the surface of the weeds the water has entirely disappeared. Nothing but an illimitable level green everywhere.
“Three p.m.—Have just stopped to examine the bow of a vessel that protrudes above the weeds. She is sunk stern down, and the bow protrudes almost perpendicularly. I will not be believed when I say that a brass cannon, hanging to her bleached deck, the carriage long since rotted away, has the Spanish crown mark and the date 1625. Was this a galleon returning with treasure from Caracas or Darien, and captured by this treacherous Sargasso?
“Five p.m.—The bottom of the Tiber is thought to contain relics of priceless value and many ages, but this Sargasso Sea, if it could he searched, would yield more curious and valuable things still. Imprisoned here must be vessels of all the centuries from the time when the Phoenicians galleys sailed outside the Pillars of Hercules to the date of the missing brig from Boston to the Cape or to the River Plate. I do not like the looks of the heavens. A storm is brewing.
“7.30p.m.—Distance run, 27 miles; I am tired out and ill-prepared for the tornado that is coming. I wish I had brought a grapnel or even a boat-hook. My harpoon is useless. Heaven help me!
“10th, 1.30 a.m.—The storm about to break. I never saw such lightning, the thunder is awful, and the wind—I know how it will blow! I light my candle to write this. Should anything happen to me and this log be found—not likely—let it be known that I do not regret the end.
The above was the last entry in Auckarsward’s log for many days. In his narrative he said that the hurricane came, and, as he feared, the drum rolled before it with appalling rapidity. He had a light in his lantern. He sprang into the stirrup, lashed himself there, and clung to the axle, while the drum spun before the storm with sickening velocity. He was forced to put out his light. He closed his eyes, and had finally no consciousness of anything but clinging with desperate tenacity to his supports, of hearing the wind shriek and the thunder roar.
A sudden lull in the storm aroused him, after how long he could not say. He tore open a shutter and sprang out. The weeds were firm under his feet, but the storm was rushing up again. He put his shoulder against the drum, seeking to slow it around so as to be endwise to the gale. He lifted it; it came slowly. around, the storm struck him like a flail, the rain smote him—he had only time, as he felt himself lifted off his feet, to fling himself flat on his face, dig his hands and toes in the matted dead fucus, and so keep from being blown away like a feather. At last day broke. The rain had ceased. The tornado only survived in a chill north-east gale. He saw, low down, a clump of trees, four or five miles off. He walked towards them. They were mangroves, short, stunted, with a cocoa palm beginning to grow among them—an island forming in mid-ocean. It grew lighter. Half a mile off Auckarsward saw another and larger grove of mangroves. He approached it, and his heart beat high when he saw dashed at the roots of the tree the wreck of his drum. How he re-embarked and made his way out of the sea again, undergoing a series of hardships and narrow escapes no less exciting than before, is another weird chapter it this astonishing narrative of adventure. Lisle found him a maniac and all but dead. Auckarsward recovered his reason, and in May, 1872, returned to the United States to arrange for a series of explorations of the Sargasso Sea. He believed that there was a solid island in the heart of the Sargasso banks, and that in the masses of external fucus are cushioned the wrecks of ages still keeping their treasures of gold and silver and jewels.