Caribbean Commander (Chapter 49)
On, what Franklin told me, was the eighteenth day of my incapacity, the Doc took me out onto the decks for the first time since we had sailed from Tortuga. It felt so good to feel the wind against my face, the damp salt of the spray, being driven across the quarterdeck, stinging my exposed skin. I was light headed, and weak from my prolonged time spent below in the sick-bay. The sun hurt my eyes, the glare glancing off the whiteness of the sail, searing the retina of each. We made our way carefully down the quarter ladder to the chartroom. Jenkins, and the watch-keeping bosun’s mate, were in evidence as we slid the brass bound door open. I asked the watchman, Peters, to fetch Jordan to us please.
Spread upon the mahogany chart-room table was the Admiralty chart for the area in which we were at present making passage. Crosses marked positions across its expanse, periodically spaced, along a mean Dead Reckoning course line. I could see immediately the zigzag course we had had to make, in order to hold this mean course. The wind had obviously been against us and the ship had had to tack its way, tacking firstly to starboard, then to port across the mean course in order to make headway against the winds.
When the winds were unfavourable, as they were at the moment, it could take twenty miles of tacking to achieve a mean-course headway of about four or five miles. It was painfully slow progress, but there was nothing else to be done. Sailing too close-hauled would leave the ship dangerously close to being in irons, with sails flapping uselessly whilst the sea did what it wanted with us. Tacking was the only solution, until the winds changed in our favour. I looked aloft. Men were atop the yards checking, doing minor repair works. Two hands were in the crosstrees keeping a weather-eye out for any sail that may suddenly appear, running at speed, before the wind.
Jordan’s worried, weather beaten face appeared at the chartroom door, peering through the glass with his hand shading his eyes. He smiled when he saw my half-hearted attempt at a salute.
“Captain sir…its nice to see you up and about! How do you feel sir? You look like…ahem……er….well, you don’t look too good sir!”
“I know Number One, but I’m not here to talk about me. How are we doing? This blasted wind is not helping us is it?”
“No sir! In fact, as you can see from the log, in some twenty four hour periods we have been lucky to cover thirty or thirty five sea miles. We need more rain to top up our water supply again as well. The rain we collected was soon depleted sir, even though the officers and men are bathing in salt water, as you can tell by our hair!”
I looked at him in puzzlement, then broke into a smile a he lifted his cap and his hair followed, sprung stiffly like a bunch of land-lubber’s cattle wire. A quick rap of knuckles sounded on the door. It slid open to reveal a sailor carrying a silver flask, which he passed surreptitiously to Jordan.
“Thank you Wilson, that will be all!”
“Aye aye sir” the seaman departed sliding the door quietly on its runner behind him.
“I hope you don’t feel the need to forbid it ‘Bones’, but I have purloined the Captain a little spirit lifter to help with his recovery. The ‘Jaunty’ was saving his ration to celebrate his birthday, but agreed the Captain’s need was much greater than his.”
He reached into his reefer jacket and produced three small tot glasses, placing them in the centre of the chart table, he poured a generous measure of brandy into each glass, passed one to Franklin, one to me and the other to Peters the watchman.
“With respect sir, I decline if you don’t mind. My father is a hellfire and brimstone preacher, with whom I don’t wish to cross swords, even in his absence!” said the tall Welshman.
Jordan smiled at him and kept the third glass for himself. He looked around him before raising his glass in a toast.
“To the Captain of the ‘Anna Baptiste’! Nice to have you back sir!”
“To the Captain!” the chorus resounded around the small chart house.
“Thank you Number One…. men! Its good to be back, although I knew she was in good hands, it is still great to feel the deck under my feet again, thank you for looking after her so well!”
He looked at his feet, his face red with embarrassment.
“So! Bring me up to date then! Where exactly are we? Roughly how far are we from the island group? I’m impatient to get there, I must be feeling stronger….feeling better!”
I knew in my heart that my statement was as transparent as the glass at my lips, I would need to get a whole lot fitter, a lot faster, if I was to be up to the mark against an unknown foe………
(To be cont.........)
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