4. Kingdoms of Mud and Lime
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
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.
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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