The Blow

The Blow

An excerpt from Chapter 23 of the new novel. The girls (disguised as boys) are sailing on Captain Swiftfoot Darkrunner’s frigate Velocity. Erin is known to captain and crew as Aaron Spotsworth; Sophie, as Michael Claude. The day after they’ve been promoted to midshipmen, the ship enters a terrible storm. Mr. MacLeish is the boatswain.

“Well done, Mr. McLeish,” Darkrunner told him.

“Oh, thank you, sir.”

“Is there anything you need?” Captain Darkrunner asked.

“Only a dozen more sailors, Sir,” MacLeish said. “But we’ll do with the ones we have. I don’t wish to give them airs, but they’re the best I’ve ‘ad the honor to sail with.”

“Good man, Mr. MacLeish,” said the captain. “But if you have a deck hand to spare, I think we need two more hands at the wheel. I fear Mr. Short won’t be able to hold her steady alone through his watch.”

“Aye, Sir.” Mr. MacLeish said before descending the companionway.

Erin shielded her eyes from the rain as she watched two men trim the foresail above. “It’s amazing they can hang on in this weather.”

“Sadly, not all do,” he said staring off at the ragged gray clouds advancing from the north. “A boy not much older than you was struck by a loose boom a fortnight ago and plunged to his death right where you’re standing.”

Erin quickly shifted from the spot and searched the boards for signs of blood.

“It was  appalling to see the lad splayed out like a broken doll.” The captain hesitated a moment before he was able to continue. “He was French — a prisoner shipmate of Mr. Petit’s until they joined the mutiny. Poor Petit scrubbed the deck furiously for an hour, sobbing like a child.”

Erin felt frozen where she stood.  She felt uneasy staring down, but didn’t want to look  up into the captain’s face.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Spotsworth,” the captain said swiping his hand across his eyes. “I didn’t mean to burden you with my woes.”

“Oh, no, sir,” Erin said lifting her eyes. “It’s quite alright. I know how awful it is to lose a friend.”

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The Chaser and the Gig

The Chaser and the GigIn this photo are the chaser and the gig of the Lady Washington out at sea. The are NOT, as they would be to landsmen, a canon and a boat. They have different names to sailors.

Nearly everything has is different name at sea. The bathroom is the head. The floor is the deck. Walls are bulkheads. A stairway is a companionway. And people are often known by their title and their jobs rather than their names. A senior officer is addressed, Sir; a junior one, Mister. At least in the stories of 1720, the time period I’m currently writing about.

This blog entry is by way of explaining – at least to myself in this log – that there is an explanation why my story has progressed only slightly since my last entry. I have had to spend several weeks more than I already have in learning not just the parts of the ship, but the language of its inhabitants of three hundred years ago. I must say, it’s been more fun than work. Here are the books I’ve studied:

The 24-gun frigate Pandora by John McKay and Ron Coleman (2003)
The Reverse of the Medal by Patrick Obrian (1986)
Two Years Before the Mast by Richard Dana  (1840)
A General History of the Pyrates by Danial Defoe (1724)
Henry IV Part I by William Shakespeare (1597)

The first two are sources for nautical terminology and war at sea. The third is about the duties of the the sailors. The fourth is about the language of the 1720’s and the lives of pirates (written by the author Robinson Crusoe).  And the last for the flamboyance and immediacy I wished to breath into some of the characters. I’ve used my Nook Tablet to search these books. And the audio of the last for flavor.

Now I will resume once again – with better footing – to assemble those words forged long ago into a story yet to come. Hopefully at a faster pace now. I’m hoping to finish the draft by the end of summer.

And by the way, unlike the heaps of useless stuff we landlubbers surround ourselves with, nearly everything is vital on a ship of war. Though small by comparison to the cannons that provided broadsides, the little chasers bolted to the stern were used at the most desperate moment when an enemy came “under the stern,” as was the term. This was the moment when the foe could, in one shot, render the boat unable to maneuver by shooting the way it’s rudder which is just to the right and beneath the chaser. Without the rudder, the enemy could simply sail back and forth pouring fire into the bow and stern with impunity.

The importance of the boat, in that case, would be elevated as it was the only means of escape save death or surrender. That’s why before the action began, the men tied the boats together in a chain and pulled them into a battle well below the level of fire.

Current Word Count 43,266

Chapter 18 – The Race for Sugar Bowl Island

Erin’s eyes sprang open from a dream of counting. All was black save a flickering slice of yellow light. She was swaying. Something thumped on the roof. Something hissed against the walls. There were bells. Her mind was still counting them from the dream. Three bells … four bells … five bells.

The truth fell on her like a stone on her chest.  It was the middle of the night. The roof was a deck. The walls were a wooden hull slicing through the Deep Blue Sea. She was swinging in a hammock.  In the belly of a pirate ship scudding toward Sugar Bowl Island. To save another pirate ship from being blown to splinters. The year was 1720.

Erin was three hundred years from home.

Current Word Count: 42, 411

Hornblower and the Hotspur

Hornbower and the Hotspur

For background for my sea story I’m reading Hornblower and the Hotspur by C. S. Forester.  The Hornblower series is set in the Napoleonic Wars, some eighty years after the period of my story. The characters are decidedly not pirates.  They’re the Royal Navy side of my tale.  For the pirate side I will read other books.

I read the Forester books to glean the nautical terms, the commands, the ship handling and the battle scenes which would have been very similar to the 1720’s when mine is set.

Apropos to children and sea stories, this series was among my father’s favorites.  He started reading them in 1937 at age 34, when the first two were published.  The last was written in the late ’60s.  Lord Horatio Nelson, hero of Trafalgar, was a boyhood hero of my dad’s.  Clearly he was influenced as a child by sea stories. His youth was at the time when Teddy Roosevelt and the emergence of American sea power were in vogue. You can see his stalwart nature and his passion for the navy in this precious portrait of Judge Wilmer Brady Hunt, my dad, when he was, as he would say, still in short pants.

Judge as a Tike

A few lines from my current project.

Pettiprig's Stern

Admiral Squeamish Pettiprig raised an eyebrow. “My three ships can certainly sink Darkrunner’s one,” he said.

“But what if he’s with Nell Flanders?” Roderick asked wagging a finger at the admiral.

Pettiprig shrunk back for a moment before steeling himself once again. “I have good intelligence,” he replied. “That she’s careened her ship on the beach at Flamingo Petite.”

Minutes later Pettiprig’s flotilla sailed off in a rush to Port Left with Foppy Sniggers, who no one noticed lay unconscious on the floor of the wine locker.