Caribbean Commander (Chapter 20)
After partaking in a glass or two, Moses and I gathered our bits and descended the cliff path to the harbour. We would need to get the ‘Anna’ afloat and berthed in the inner piece of the quayside as soon as the incoming tide permitted. I paused in my stride, looking across the beach at the pair of ships stranded on the shingle and sand bottom. There was nothing more depressing, in my view, than a ship aground, and out of her element. Like a seaman without a berth, a ship was ‘lost’ ashore and out of the water. I studied both ships from my vantage point, thinking a lot of despondent thoughts. In two days time, the tide would begin to drop. Our window of opportunity was decreasing in size at a very fast rate, our next chance to do repairs using this method, would be in three weeks time! Next week would be Neap tides, the following week, the tides would be gaining, but, the next Spring tide, and the full of the moon was another three weeks away. We still had work to do on the starboard side of the ship, then the whole stripping and replacement on the other side. My only thoughts were, get the ‘Anna’ berthed and then we could utilise the whole crew on refitting the ‘Dolorosa’.
We splashed our way out to the ships, wading waist deep. I could feel the tide pulling at our legs as it flowed. Men were working on stretchers, offered over the side and lashed fore and aft to bring them against the ships side. Benney came splashing chest high to meet us.
“Captain!….Captains!…..(he chuckled at his mistake)…..we have canvassed, pitch and pegged the starboard fore planking where she has been stripped. From the foc’s’l waist aft, she has her new garboard….I have stuffed three hammocks, all lashed up, into the gaps between there and the stem, we will man the pumps until the tide ebbs again sir…(he looked at Moses) …but Captain Samuels sir…it will not be enough, we have a lot of manpower, but we will need every man jack of both crews, if we are to succeed in refloating her by Friday afternoon’s tide!”
I felt his concern as he took Moses, chest high in water, to one side.
“Captain Samuels sir….we will have to man the pumps around the clock, which will deplete our numbers…..it will take four men to man the two pumps for each watch. Some will have to be spared for sleep recovery after the night watches! Might I ask what the Captain would like us to do?”
“Missuh Benney! Cap’n…. ‘e ‘as tol’ me, we hab all da crew of da ‘Anna’ when she flo’ wid da tide! She be bert’ in da ‘arbour an’ we can make all crew of ‘er fo’ work! I wud like yo carry on please”
“Aye aye sir! Thank you! All will be needed come low water!”
I smiled at Moses’ dismissal…he certainly was beginning to feel his feet!!
“Mr Benney…how is the ‘Anna’ is she sound now?” I asked.
“Aye sir! Sound as a bell she be! We have the boats ready, and lines out and set, to pull her off as soon as the water is high enough! It’s a good job this wind hasn’t shifted! We’d be in trouble if it dropped and the tide only barely made!”
We had been hoping the wind, which was directly onto the beach, would hold long enough for the jobs to be done! However, the wind is fickle and we have to trust in our judgement and pray!
“Let’s hope it keeps its faith and blows in our favour for the next twenty four hours, or forty eight hours would be better!” I said.
“ I will give you all the crew of the ‘Anna’ bar none, myself included….what time will it be shallow enough to carry on with the repairs Mr Benney?”
“0230 sir! More or less…..depending on the wind!”
“Right…there’s little we can do now for a while, except man the boats and prepare to take the ‘Anna’ off the beach. Once that’s done…we can see what is needed. Keep the men at work scraping and caulking the sides above the tide line on the ‘Dolorosa’, I shall be on the ‘Anna’!”
I pursed my lips and whistled loudly, beckoning for the boat that was on the port side of the ‘Dolorosa’. As I watched, the boat’s head swung towards us and the oars began their rhythmic pull, accompanied by chanting, as she pulled towards us. I wondered what the hours of midnight until four would bring????
(To be cont.............)