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The Silent Landscape
Chapter 4. Kingdoms of Mud and Lime
Station 19, Western Atlantic, 3 March 1873, 19o30'N, 57o 35'W to Charlotte Amalia, St. Thomas, Danish West Indies, 16 March, 1873, 18o22'N, 64o 56'W

Arrival in the New World

It was squalling heavily from the southeast when Challenger sighted the small island of St. Thomas on March 14, 1873. Rain drove in great sheets across the bow as the ship struggled to drop anchor in the outer harbor.

The bluejackets and officers knew that the crossing should have been brisk with the easy trade winds they'd picked up as soon as they left Santa Cruz, but the pestilential Scientifics had insisted on their stops every 200 miles for sounding and dredging. It was enough—more than enough—to irk a seaman's soul and the sharks that had followed them for the last 1,100 miles of their journey were an unwelcome portent. One, a 20-foot tiger shark, made the bluejackets very nervous. To them he seemed too clever by half, swimming up to the lump of salt pork that the Scientifics dangled overboard, sniffing and nudging it disdainfully before swimming away. But let anything fall overboard and John—as Joe Matkin had named the shark—was there “like a lawyer” devouring the morsel in great, slicing bites. There were those aboard who said that John's untiring presence was a sure sign that somebody would go overboard before they made the West Indies.

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Richard Corfield 2003 in association with pedalo.co.uk