People traveling by ship had a choice between two routes. They could travel from the East Coast to Panama and cross the jungle to catch a boat to California on the other side. Travelers who took the longer route sailed around Cape Horn at the tip of South America.
The Journey Around Cape Horn
Many traveled from the east coast of the United States around Cape Horn at the southern most tip of South American and up to California.
The trip could take from three to six months and cost form $100 to $300 dollars. It was a difficult trip with rough storms, seasickness and a lack of fresh water, fruit and vegetables. They ate salt preserved meats, fish, dried beans, rice and potatoes. One of recipes was lobscouse, a hash made of salted meat, potatoes and sea biscuits or dried bread softened with water. To flavor bad tasting water they added molasses, vinegar and spices. This was called switchel. In general the food was awful. After a few weeks the fresh food was gone. One passenger described two bugs for every bean and wormy moldy bread.
Advertisements for ship tickets promised luxury accommodations and hours of carefree pleasure. Many travelers ended up on Whaling ships with people crammed in where the blubber and oil were once carried some were so crowded people had to sleep standing up. More than 500 ships set out for California in 1849. Many gold seekers from Europe took this route once they had landed in New York or Boston.
By Sea, through Panama and by sea again
The route through Panama was faster but more expensive. It cost between $200 and $400 dollars. Forty-niners who traveled to Panama and crossed the Jungle to the Pacific Ocean. Traveling through the jungle meant insects, poisonous snakes, and diseases such as yellow fever malaria or cholera. When they arrived at the Pacific Ocean the travelers often found the ships to San Francisco were full. They may have had to wait days, weeks or months for a ship or pay a bribe to get on a ship leaving sooner. The boats leaving Panama City were very crowded. They "were filled to crammation" as one ships captain said. If they did not have to wait to long for their boat to San Francisco this route could take a little over a month.
Many ships had whole crews head off the the Gold Rush leaving them abandoned in the harbor. These ships were dragged up on land and turned into buildings on land. Read about the a ship called the Nyantic.
Winter storms made it difficult to travel over land and many chose to travel by sea. Between 1848 and 1849 762 ships left Eastern ports for San Francisco. This made San Francisco the third most important port in the Nation after New York and Boston.