Many an able bodied seaman in the 18th century, found themselves to be no match for the unpredictable weather of the Atlantic. One moment the seas would be calm, the next, swells and gales could swallow a ship whole like a whale swallowing a minnow. For one vessel, the ‘Speedwell’, leaving Charleston for New Orleans, somehow found themselves sinking in the Bahama Channel. With 23 lives onboard, they managed to get into two side boats. When one side boat sank, they all ended up in one. Lost at sea from the 16th of October, they finally made it to New Providence on the 30th. It was noted that they made it to New Providence just in time as they had run out of liquor. They had been mixing the liquor along with some fresh water and salt water for all 23 people.
Here is the account of the terrible adventure.
NASSAU (N.P.) November 3, 1797
The following narrative is handed to the Printer by the late master of the Ship Speedwell.
“The Ship Speedwell, at Charleston, John Brownlow Master, bound for New Orleans, foundered on the 16th of the last month [May 1798] in the Bahama Channel, Lat. 24 D. 30 Min. occasion by the starting of a butt. Saved the long boat and jolly boat, but lost the yawl along-side when first hoisted out: 23 people got into the two boats, and left the ship about 11 o’clock at night, only a few minutes before she went down.
The next day, having fair weather and light breeze from the Westward, steered up for the Bamini [Bimini] Keys, but owing to a strong current from the Northward, could not reach them.
In the night of the 17th a severe gale came on from the Southward, which drove us through the Channel; as, for the safety of the boats, we were obliged to keep them before the wind.
On the 18th the jolly boat foundered it but fortunately being to leeward of the longboat, the people were taken up. Our whole number in the long boat was now 23 of whom three women, and two children; and our whole flock of provisions consisted of one third of a bottle of bread, a few pounds of cheese and about 10 gallons of Lipka the greater part of why and spirits.
In this situation we were driven in a very heavy Gail on the 19th 20th and 21st as far as the Northwood as latitude 31 and much to the Eastwood.
On the 21st, the wind shifting to the Northwood we steered for Bahama, and on the 26th (the 10th day after leaving the ship) got to the Keys to the Westward of the Bahama, we will fortunately found good water and some four oranges, which afforded us great relief as liquor was just out, although we allowed only a gill to each a day, part of which was water, for we used to mix the bottle of wine, one of fresh water and one of salt water, for a company per day. The only food we got on the Keys was for small conchs and a few crabs, which we were obliged to eat raw. On the 28th set for set off for New Providence, and on the 30th at eight in the evening, most providentially arrived in Nassau harbour, having during a voyage lost only two men, one of whom was drove overboard in a gale of wind by an oar with which was he was steering; the other perished with thirst, and was committed to the waves a few hours before we made the land. During the whole period, from my leaving the ship till we made New Providence, we never saw one vessel of any kind.”