Caribbean Commander (Chapter 53)
The sound of the beating drums, carried to us upon the wind, sent a tingle of apprehension running up and down my spine, terminating at the collar of my shirt and making the fine hair at the nape of my neck feel as though it was standing on end. I took the telescope passed down from Jordan and tried to focus on the fast approaching ship. The pitch and roll of the ‘Anna’ was making it difficult, even with my elbows braced firmly on the upper bulwark rail. Ah! There she was, and she was definitely not the ‘Dolorosa’! She carried a strange sail pattern unknown to my eyes, consisting of a low triangular fores’l, a much larger mains’l of the same style, with a mizzen that looked more like a square sail, than a mizzen running fore and aft as in the normal set of sail we were accustomed to.
I worried that we were going to be fighting this ‘enemy’ with a short-handed crew, we had split the full crew of the ‘Anna’ into two halves in order to put into service the newly acquired ‘Dolorosa’. This could have been a very dangerous decision indeed in hindsight. Our one blessing was that the original gunner in the crew was Jordan who had stayed as my Number One now.
Rumbling from between decks was telling me that more shot and powder was being fetched from the magazines and placed, by the powder monkeys, alongside each of the guns on our starboard side. Orders were being whispered quietly between Jordan and his assembled gunner’s mates, assembled for their pre-action words. With a hop and a run, the men disappeared below at a pace.
“Captain sir, I shall have my hands full for a while, will you be commanding the ship sir?”
“Whatever is required Mr Jordan. I feel fine!”
“Very good sir! I intend to fight her starboard to starboard….”
He paused, took the glass from me and peered ahead.
“She’s running up her colours sir…I can’t make them out! Looks like a white ensign with a green tree of some sort in its centre, definitely not a friendly, and….she has her ports open! Permission to leave the deck sir? I’ll go below take control of the gun crews”
“Aye Mr Jordan, and good luck”
He smiled, turned about, and ran across the decks to the companionway ladder leading to the gun deck.
The strange ship was now about two miles distant. I crossed the sanded deck to the steerage platform, and informed the watch that I would be commanding the action from this point. I looked aloft. A precious few marine shooters were in the main rigging, far fewer than I would have liked at this juncture. Only four topmen remained aloft ready to change any sail pattern, although I felt it was too late to change anything now!
A whistling, cracking, tearing sound filled my ears, followed by a hollow boom. She had opened fire! The shot fell to our starboard side, almost abeam and about fifty yards off. My God! She had our range already. I expected the next shot to fall to our port side as she would try to straddle us with her next shot
“ Bring her ‘round two points to starboard helmsman, course 015!”
“Aye aye sir, course 015!”
This would blind Jordan and his gun’s crew for a short while, but I had guessed that the next fall of shot would be to our port side and therefore I turned away to make sure we were shortening the range for our opponent. I counted off the seconds in my head, thirty, forty, one minute, two minutes…the booming crack of her guns echoed across the water just after the ripping sound passed overhead, and, true to form the shot fell well away from us on our port side, erupting in a huge water spout. She had heavy guns!
“Hard a’port helmsman! STAND BYE TO JYBE!” I shouted as I ran for the gun deck hatchway.
“She’s yours Mr Jordan!” I bellowed to the gun crews below.
The few seamen that were available were manhandling stays and halyards as the ship came about, urging her sail into a new set pattern for the new course.
The enemy ship appeared from around our bow as the ‘Anna’ came about, she slipped down the starboard side until she was nearly abeam at about two hundred yards distant.
The ‘Anna’ shook from stem to stern as our guns opened up with a full broadside, the din was shocking, I could feel the shock waves of the charges hitting me on my face.
“Try and keep her steady helmsman!”
The order was repeated back to me, the ship was turning under full helm now and heeling to starboard. The enemy ship was hit! I saw, just before she disappeared under our counter, part of the top mast and mains’l slumping towards the deck.
I ran for the gun deck hatch.
“Two minutes and your port guns will bear Mr Jordan!!”
“Keep her hard over helmsman!”
The tearing sound of ripping canvas came from overhead and splinters of timber rained down onto the deck, she had opened fire blindly, but had made a lucky hit aloft somewhere!
“Steady helmsman ….steady….steady…..wheel amidships!”
A few moments and as the ‘Anna’ straightened on her new course the enemy vessel was running down our port flank, the heeling was coming off her as she settled and I whispered to myself….”Wait Mr Jordan….wait”
With a tremendous crash the port side broadside opened up and I was immediately deafened and choking on the cordite whipping back in the wind! I couldn’t see, my eyes were full of tears brought on by the stinging smoke. I heard a distant splintering sound, followed by a flapping roar…then, lights seemed to explode behind my eyes, and my head seemed to implode….I knew no more!
(To be cont.......)
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