Extract from Pam Skelton’s book, First To Go (or The True Story of Bridget Frisby)
Extracted for writers & authors at Rest Less
Crash!! I was woken by a loud bang! A booming sound, which frightened the wits out of me. I was on board the ship “Luciana”, a ship of the White Star Line, and we were in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.
It was August 1898 – I was 18 years old and on my way to a new life in America. I was terrified and turned to John, my companion, saying, “What was that noise?”
John raised himself from his bedroll and we could scarcely see each other in the dark. He put his hand out towards me and held my hand firmly.
“Wait now a minute, Bridget, while I find out.” He stood up, pulled on his trousers and made his way towards the steps.
As he left me I said, “Be careful, John!” I realised the ship was no longer sailing steadily.
The ship was tossing and turning on the turbulent Atlantic waves. John was back within a few minutes. “We’ve sailed right into a storm”, he said. It was very dark where we were on the steerage deck but we could hear the bangs and scuffles as other passengers were flung about on their beds.
Then a member of the ship’s crew arrived to say no one was allowed on deck and all the hatches were being battened down. The ship heaved and pitched and made little headway for many hours. Babies cried and women could be heard praying. The eeriness in that creaking vessel is something I’ll never forget.
The strange hollow sound and the noise of the crashing waves had replaced the happy, joyous party of the previous evening. Luggage began to slide across the decks and belongings of all sorts came crashing down. We didn’t sleep again that night.
Morning was a long time coming, but as it grew lighter people began to move about. I got up and noticed how hot and stuffy it was. There was the stench of vomit in the air which I hoped would clear when the hatches were opened up.
The ship was tossed high on the waves. As it ploughed through the water there were loud crashes each time the bows hit a new wave. Many people were suffering from seasickness and lay prostrate, moaning and crying. Some were very ill and unable to stand the confusion. The poor wee children had been sick many times; they hadn’t eaten and their stomachs were empty so they were continually retching making their throats sore. John and I were lucky as, in spite of everything, neither of us was seasick.
Later that day the storm seemed to abate a little and the hatches were opened up to allow fresh air in. What a relief! It was so stuffy in that confined space. John ventured up on deck and returned to say that the ship seemed to be wallowing in the high seas and we didn’t seem to be making much headway. At one moment we were in a deep trough of the sea with high walls of water all around and then, when the ship rose to the top of the waves, he could see mile upon mile of rough sea and white horses.
Water was continually splashing over the decks so he came down below quickly. It wasn’t wise to stay up there for long although he was grateful for the fresh air. The skies were heavy and grey. The Atlantic storm was all around us. I prayed we would weather it and reach the end of our journey safely. We had heard terrible stories of people being lost at sea and I was afraid.
Then, thankfully, after about 24 hours we left the storm behind. The sea gradually grew calmer and the ship was able to steam on. We were going to be late arriving in New York.
We were now into the fifth day of our journey. The mood on the ship had changed. Gone were the scenes of merriment, the singing and the dancing. Our fellow travellers were sober and those who had been sick took time to recover. It seemed that our adventure was over and the reality of our situation began to sink in and we had time to think about the past and the future.
Sitting on my bedroll I thought about how I came to be there. After months of preparation, I had said goodbye to my native Ireland and to my family and friends at home. I remembered the start of our journey when the ship rolled steadily from side to side as it edged its way out of Cork harbour and into the Atlantic swell. I realised I would probably never see my family again.
It had been a long struggle to reach this point in my life. Preparations for my journey seemed to have taken months. Sitting there, in that damp, dark, hull of a ship, my mind went back to my life in Ireland.
First to Go can be purchased on Amazon.
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