Summer Reading: The Easton’s Honeymoon (5)

The storm raged through Thursday night–Friday brought no relief. A defining moment occurred when the Central America “suddenly careened to one side.” It was no longer possible to walk on the deck, and the sails used as back-up for these steam-powered ships were torn to shreds.

According to the San Francisco newspapers, the passengers were startled to learn that the hsip had sprung a leak. The Central America was rapidly taking on water, they were told. The water had flooded the engine room, and the coal-fueled engines had ceased operating.

As sea water flooded the ship, the pumps proved to be defective. The passengers, many of them gold hunters, proposed the construction of box pumps such as those that were used in the California mines–but they lacked the tools and materials needed to fashion the pumps.

Late Friday, Addie heard Captain Herndon’s order: “All men prepare for bailing the ship. The engines have stopped but we hope to reduce the water and start them again. She’s a sturdy vessel, and if we can keep up steam we shall weather the gale.”

Ansel Easton joined the other passengers who grabbed buckets and anything that would hold water. Everybody pitched in, even the women, but the men gallantly rebuffed their offers.

“One touch of shipwreck makes the whole world kin,” observed Addie.

But more water was flooding the engine room than the weary men could bail. Spirits were sagging when Addie Easton, “with great difficulty,” reached her stateroom, and brought back boxes of biscuits and bottles of wine, remnants from her wedding party. She was later praised for refreshing the exhausted men and supporting their waning courage and vigor.

But it was hopeless, and the time to abandon the ship was coming near. The love of gold was forgotten, replaced by the much stronger instinct of self-preservation.

(Next Part 6)