If the many diaries kept are to be believed, as many as nine out of 10 captains were incompetent and the promised travel time of 30 days was rarely met. In spite of this, and the unavoidable crowding of travel by sea, 15,000 people took this route in 1849 and investors for the journey were easy to find. Total per-person documented costs ranged from under $600 to over $1,200.
Changes made to ships|
Given the tremendous profits to be made by transporting people to California, entrepreneurs set about converting all types of ships into charter ships. Large and slow-travelling cargo ships like the one below were patched up, given rudimentary make-overs and set to sea. Here are some of the modifications made.
B The size of the aft hatch was increased.
C Circular openings were cut in the deck to improve ventilation.
D The size of the fore hatch was increased.
E Ventilators were added (sometimes)
F Companionways for access from decks to dim, stuffy between-deck quarters.
G Draft vents, which could be closed in heavy weather, were installed on both sides of the bow.
H Tiers of narrow bunks were installed in cargo space. Because there was little planned-for free space, during foul weather people were forced to return to their bunks.
Supplies might include:
Problems with supplies:
Wine turned to vinegar.
Bottles of fruit juice blew up.
Candles melted near the equator.
Rats ate cheese.
Butter and lard went rancid.
Weevils got into flour, rice and hard bread.
There were ship shortages from Panama to San Francisco until 1851.
Crossing the Isthmus
The tip of Cape Horn
Winds were frigid and fierce. Ships were often pulled far south toward the Antarctic.
The Strait of Magellan
The route from China
Many ships came with goods: dried fruit, candied ginger, lumber, brocaded silks, houses shipped in pieces.
Sources: "The Great American Gold Rush" by Rhoda Blumberg, "The Gold Rush" by Liza Ketchum, "The California Gold Rush," published by American Heritage, "The California Gold Rush" by Elizabeth Van Steenwyk, "Hunting for Gold" by William Downie, "Sea Routes to the Gold Fields" by Oscar Lewis, "If You Traveled West in a Covered Wagon" by Ellen Levine, "The East Indiamen" by Russell Miller, Steve and Eric Chrissman of the National Nautical Heritage Society