23rd May (1919)

Tuesday and Wednesday were wet and rough – spent most of the time playing euchre and sevens (or Rickety Ann, as we used to call it).  After Serbia, read a book by Col. Younghusband called “The Story of the Guides”.  Am now reading one called “The Newspaper” on the history, functions, production etc. of newspapers generally.

At last the back of the long Pacific run is broken, disembarking arrangements are in progress, and we should reach Wellington by Thursday next.

Tonight we were entertained by a mock-candidature for the Mayoralty of the City of Kaitoke – quite amusing too.

19th May (1919)

Ship making good time now, but I want some water giant to give it a terrific thousand-mile push from the stern.  Third birthday on active service – my 35th.

The officers and entertaining committees have spared no pains amusing us, and every day concerts, sports, competitions etc. have been held.

Read a book on Serbia by one (Miss) Waring – a striking testimony to the long martyrdom of a heroic race.

10th and 11th May (1919)

Two calm dull days in succession, concluding with a beautiful sunset over a glassy sea glimmering with a hundred different tints.

We had a deck concert, and for the first time in many days, the stars were visible.  There was the old Southern Cross well up in the sky – Laus Deo!  During the day we sighted several mountainous islands, one of them a great wedge-like rock towering out of the ocean, with almost perpendicular sides, like an island in a fairy tale.

Well across the line now.  Good old Pacific – calm-cool (comparatively) – birds both great and small – whales spouting, and, occasionally in the distance schools of porpoises pouncing out of the water in glee.

Thursday, 8th May (1919)

On Tuesday we reached Colon, and in the evening were let ashore.  The heat was terrific.  It is a curious tropical town – the European quarter, Christobal, being separate from the native and larger part.  The buildings are all large wooden two-storey places: usually open shops below, and living quarters above.  Shops, cafes, etc., are all open, or with wire gauze instead of glass.  Magnificent coconut and banana palms grow everywhere.  We bought cool drinks, fruit, panama hats.

The first evidence of America’s great work was an immense mole running out for miles, and forming an artificial harbour.  It is made of huge concrete cubes piled higgledy piggeldy into the sea.  A man who tried to take an afternoon stroll along it would need to be an acrobat.  After sweating gallons all over the place, we returned by special train to the ship, which had been taking in bunker coal by the most rapid method – a kind of revolving belt which whirls it like a stream of water into the hold.

At 6 a.m. we moved into the Canal.  After teaming a few miles through jungle, we got into the great Gatun locks – amazing things, working like clockwork.  By this we were raised 85 feet in as many minutes, into the man-made lake which covers more than half the width of the isthmus.  Its arms reach out in every direction, through jungle-clad hills, the tops of the submerged and now dead forests protruding here and there from the surface of the water.

We steamed at a fair pace for some three hours before reaching the Culebra Cut.  Here and there alligators could be seen snoozing in the mud at the edge of the water.  These were greeted with ear-splitting yells from the diggers, which, however, the Saurians ignored.  The luxuriance of the jungle is bewildering.  Magnificent butterflies and giant beetles visited the ship as she sped past their enchanted islands.  We could imagine what lovely gatherings of “Car” and the “Banderlog” were concealed in that prolific vegetation.*

Evidence of landslides in the Culebra Cut: near which are anchored several powerful dredges.  Here, as in several important stages of the work, is a small town of employees’ quarters.  In other places are wireless stations.  A rail-way appears to go right through the isthmus, following the canal in parts, and at one place crossing it by a curious removable bridge.  At the Pedro Miguel lock we got a great reception from a bevy of officials’ wives and their kiddies, who threw aboard papers, fruit etc.

From that lock you steam across a small round lake to the third and last lock, Miraflores, which lets you down to the Pacific level, and another short stretch of canal launches you out once more upon the ocean.

It is a wonderful thing to see a big ship picked up bodily and carried 50 miles across hilly country, out of one ocean into another.

Before reaching the broad seas we had to pass through an archipelago.

* Kaa (python) and the Bandar-log (monkeys) are animals from Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book.

Saturday, 3rd May (1919)

Sighted the Bahama Islands.  The first one was low-lying, set off by a tall lighthouse, built upon a palm-fringed spit.

Continuing to read Mais’ “Studies in Literature” with interest.  He looks upon the present as a great renaissance in English literature, giving many extracts from writers of whom I have never heard, which have filled me with impatience to obtain and read their work.  He also shows the aims of the modern “realistic” novelists who are determined to face facts at all risks, and seek after beauty in the dregs.

Friday, 2nd May (1919)

Yesterday’s and today’s runs have taken us well down into tropical waters.  Flying fish abound, whales and porpoises have been sighted, and today I saw the famed nautilus float by – that fairy fish-boat which sails away, diaphanous and undismayed, on the ocean waters.  A ship in full sail swept past in the morning sun.  All is Digger.