Caribbean Commander ( Chapter 28 )
At four thirty in the afternoon I was able to breathe a sigh of relief and relax. The ‘Dolorosa’ had survived the high tide and the heavy seas. The anchor nest had held her fast against a confused sea, which was now abating. A knock on my cabin door had been the precursor to the good news. Bennett has received a semaphore signal from Mr Carsons. The vulnerable ship was now aground and safe again. Preparations were under way for the repair crews to be at work on her planking and refitting as soon as the remaining tidal depth decreased to a reasonable level. Now came the problem of lighting the area of the work. We needed the work to continue until the flood of the tide happened again. This would mean we would have to scour for wood and timber from the shore to make fires to help light the scene as the daylight waned. Going on deck I stumbled through the hatch leading to the upper deck! I then realised that I needed sleep badly, but so did my crew. Sleep, I was afraid, would have to wait, for every man-jack of us would be needed for the next few hours.
At the turn of the dog-watches we mustered on the beach ready to set about our task with renewed vigour. Wood, dunnage and flotsam, in fact, anything that could burn, was being hastily assembled in a large pile on the foreshore. Torches had been made from hemp, sisal and pitch lashed to poles, these makeshift lamps would need to be able to light the scene enough to enable us to see adequately. The poles were about six to eight feet high, and would be forced into the shingle on the sea bed, then lit from the fires. The unlit ‘fires’ were going to be piled onto makeshift rafts, soaked in sea water, and pulled to the area. We hoped that when lit, they would also supply a great deal of light, until the rafts themselves caught fire, and eventually were swallowed up by the sea. We needed just enough time to fix the remaining planking, held in place by the wooden dowel pegs, then for the job of caulking with hemp and pitch. Finally the whole thing would be covered in pitch, and tarred, as the rest of the vessel was beneath the waterline. We had about three hours to complete the job. Four seamen were already at work on stretchers over both sides, re-caulking where necessary, joints in the old planking.
My mind drifted to the charts we had studied. Four hundred miles was a long way to sail, we had only a hunch to work on. Maybe there wasn’t any island at all! It could all be our fanciful imagination. Yet something made me want to drive on, and find out whether it existed or not. I remembered with horrible alacrity, the sights that had beheld us when we had raided the island of Palentenka. The sad sight of so many abused and starved female captives, especially the heart rending sight of Moses’ ‘Dolly’! Dolores….poor Dolores! Were there even more captives on other islands? Had we only discovered the tip of the slavery iceberg?
I was suddenly plunged back into the present moment with the sound of raised voices.
“Get the fires lit! Light the torches! Let’s get to it men!”
Perkins and Jordan were splashing knee deep towards the ship, ready to check that the huge bracing timbers had good new footings. Men were wading waist deep towards the ship, pulling small timbers with tools lashed to them behind them. Three hours! Could we complete the job and make the ‘Dolorosa’ watertight? Maybe even seaworthy???
(To be cont.......................)