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November 15, 1686


About the middle of November we began to work on our ship’s bottom, which we found very much eaten with the worm: for this is a horrid place for worms. We did not know this till after we had been in the river a month, and then we found our canoes’ bottoms eaten like honeycombs; our bark, which was a single bottom, was eaten through; so that she could not swim. But our ship was sheathed, and the worm came no further than the hair between the sheathing plank and the main plank.


We did not mistrust the general’s knavery till now: for when he came down to our ship, and found us ripping off the sheathing plank, and saw the firm bottom underneath, he shook his head, and seemed to be discontented; saying he did never see a ship with two bottoms before. We were told that in this place where we now lay a Dutch ship was eaten up in 2 months’ time, and the general had all her guns; and it is probable he did expect to have had ours: which I do believe was the main reason that made him so forward in assisting us to get our ship into the river, for when we came out again we had no assistance from him.


We had no worms till we came to this place: for when we careened at the Marias the worm had not touched us; nor at Guam, for there we scrubbed; nor after we came to the island Mindanao; for at the south-east end of the island we heeled and scrubbed also. The Mindanayans are so sensible of these destructive insects that whenever they come from sea they immediately haul their ship into a dry dock, and burn her bottom, and there let her lie dry till they are ready to go to sea again. The canoes or proas they haul up dry and never suffer them to be long in the water. It is reported that those worms which get into a ship’s bottom in the salt water will die in the fresh water; and that the fresh-water worms will die in salt water; but in the brackish water both sorts will increase prodigiously. Now this place where we lay was sometimes brackish water, yet commonly fresh; but what sort of worm this was I know not. Some men are of opinion that these worms breed in the plank; but I am persuaded they breed in the sea: for I have seen millions of them swimming in the water, particularly in the Bay of Panama; for there Captain Davis, Captain Swan, and myself and most of our men did take notice of them divers times, which was the reason of our cleaning so often while we were there: and these were the largest worms that I did ever see. I have also seen them in Virginia and in the Bay of Campeachy; in the latter of which places the worms eat prodigiously. They are always in bays, creeks, mouths of rivers, and such places as are near the shore; being never found far out at sea that I could ever learn: yet a ship will bring them lodged in its plank for a great way.