Women On Adventure is a blog by K.L. Webber exploring our rich shared history of women's adventure writing. This curated collection of quotations showcases the opinions and experiences of influential female travellers in their own words.

"We must take in sail and yield the race!"

The next morning, we had an amusement which seemed ridiculous enough in the Thebaid, but certainly rather exciting;—a boat race. When I came on deck, the Scotch gentlemen were just mounting the bank, with their fowling pieces; and their crew and ours were preparing to track. I was about to go ashore also for a walk, when I observed that our Rais was getting out the sail, though there was not a breath of wind. It wasclear that he expected to fall in with a wind at the next reach of the river: so I remained on board. Our sail caught the eye of our Scotch friends. I saw the halt of their red tarbooshes over the bushes that fringed the bank. They scampered back, and leaped on board their boat; and in another moment, up went their sail. In another, up went the American’s! Three sails, no wind, and three crews tracking, at a pace scarcely less funereal than usual! At the expected point, the sails filled, all at the same instant, and off we went. For an hour or more, I could not believe that we were gaining ground, though Mr. E. declared we were. When it was becoming clear that we were, he told that, provoking as it was, we must take in sail and yield the race, as we had to take up, in yonder bay, our milk messenger. There he was, accordingly; and quick was the manoeuvre of putting in, and snatching up the poor fellow. Half a dozen hands hauled him in, and helped to spill the milk. Then, what a shout of laughter there was when the Scotchman shortened sail, and took up his milkman too: and after him, the Americans! We could relish the milk now, which we had thought so much in our way before. The race was fairly decided before ten o’clock. We beat, as we ought, from the superiority of our boat: and before noon, our Scotch friends put into Isna (Esneh) where their crew were to bake their bread. This was the last place, north of the Cataract, where they could do so.


Isna, Egypt, 1846


Source: Harriet Martineau, Eastern Life: Present and Past, Philadelphia, Lea & Blanchard, 1848

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