Three bells into the morning watch and we were fast approaching the mystery ship! Still under cover of darkness! I knew not if she was aware of our presence yet! I had heard the rumble of the guns being run out on our port side. I was prepared to fire a pair of shot from our forward carronades. These smaller guns would not have the punch that the big 32 and 60 pounders would, but it would be enough to let the ship ahead know that there was something to worry about astern of her! I was banking on the fact that she would not know we had the armaments we did have, tucked under our skirts!!
Everyone was now on deck. There were no hands or officers below decks except for the guns crews! A low voice came from the foredeck, word was passed back along a chain to the steering platform…the mystery ship was altering course to Starboard!! I heard Perkins order the helmsman to bring us around a point too! Had she suddenly become aware of us in her wake?
“About half a mile sir!” Connors whispered to me!
”Right! Silence on the decks now! No unnecessary movement or noise!! Mr Connors, send below and check if Mr Jordan’s gun crews are ready to engage! Pass the word to him we will engage her on our port side when I give the order! But first we’ll give her the chance to heave-to and surrender herself for inspection!”
“Stand by for’ard gun crew Mr Perkins!”
“Aye sir!” his whispered reply lost in the wind! I heard the faint echo of the order being passed for’ard!
We could now make out the large triangular sail pattern of a large Felucca! This type of Arab vessel was a regular trader in the Caribbean! But why was she not showing lights?
“For’ard guns loaded and ready Captain!” a breathless whisper from Connors, “Mr Perkins is ready to fire sir!”
“Pass the word Mr Connors….FIRE AT WILL!”
I heard the order being passed!
BOOOM! BOOOM!!! The echo of the carronades blasted my eardrums! The stench of the burnt explosive stung my nostrils and my eyes!
“Bring her round to starboard Mr Connors!!! Steer east nor’east…a point east! Look lively now!”
“Get us lit up Mr Perkins!!!” Perkins had tumbled down the ladder to the main deck after his duty at the carronades for’ard!
I heard the echoed shouts reach us faintly across the water from the other vessel! Well! This was it!
“She’s not stopping sir!” from the lookout in the cross-trees. “Seems to be turning away to port sir!”
Damn her! Making herself a smaller target no doubt!
“Three points to port Mr Connors if you please!”
“Aye sir! Three points to port sir!”
We’ll try and come under her starboard quarter! I think we have the edge on her for speed!” I raised the eyeglass to see if I could make her out in the darkness….just the faint outline of a white blob of sail! She was about three or four hundred yards ahead …and yes!…she did seem to be turning away! But we were slowly overhauling her and in about ten minutes would be on her! I pondered on our best method of attack! Should she keep on turning I would have to turn and run out our starboard battery!
BOOOM! BOOOM!! BOOOM!!! Three rapid explosions rent the air! She was returning fire!!!! But with what???
“Port your wheel helmsman!!” I screamed… a ripping sound passed over our bow! I heard a slapping tear as a shot passed through our new fores’l!! Damn!!! He had gotten the better of us! But….….he had made a mistake!! In order to bring his guns, of whatever size and number, to bear, he also had to show us his port side! Steady now! Just keep on that course for a few minutes more I thought!
“Standby guns crew! Full broadside! Try for her masts and waterline Mr Jordan!”
I heard the order being passed below to the gun decks! The word came swiftly that all guns were ready to fire!.
We could not tell if we were really on target…but the heavens were beginning to lighten….dawn would soon break!! One!….two!….three!…..four!….five!!!!
The “Anna” shuddered and was actually thrown to starboard as the guns erupted!!
I could hear the choking coughs of the men on the gun decks as the recoil drew the smoke back into the ship! The acrid stink swept across the decks. I couldn’t see! My stinging eyes were running with tears!!
BOOOM!! BOOOM!! The sudden echo of return cannon fire!! A whistling, ripping roar….followed by a shudder and screams of men as a ball found its mark on us for’ard!!
“Run out sir! Ready to fire!!”
“FIRE!!!! Fire at will now Mr Jordan! She is returning fire!!”
The ship juddered as the next salvo from our guns erupted!! I choked, gagged, blindly tried to find my way for’ard to take in the damage and the casualties! We had taken a hit on the port rail, high up the ship’s side! I approached a sailor aiding another lying on the deck!
“How many injured?”
“Just the one sir! Number Nine sir! I think he will be ok…but might lose his leg!!”
“Mr Franklin!!! Mr Franklin!!! Get up here! We have taken casualties!”
I leaned over to look at Number Nine! His face was screwed up in agony….but he still gave me a smile!! I took his hand and squeezed it….nodded my head to indicate that he would be alright, then swiftly ran back to the main deck ladder!
Our next salvo heaved me off my feet as I was about to step onto the deck! I buckled, and dropped to my knees! Hands were helping me up as the thick black smoke seared our lungs….”I…..”
I was cut off in mid sentence as the lookout shouted from aloft!
“She’s heaving-to sir! I think she’s hit below the waterline! She’s lost her main-top too sir I think!!….but I’ll be sure when we have more light!”
“Very well!……. Mr Connors? A report on casualties and damage if you please! Get some men into the shrouds with muskets and get us reloaded and run-out!!”
“Aye aye sir!”
So….she was hove-to!!! Defeated or just lying in wait??…Damnation!! We needed more light before we could assess the situation! I paced the deck in frustration! Then I had the thought that not many men-of-war would attempt a strike in darkness! We had pulled off just that feat! I made a mental note to address the crew to praise their efforts as soon as we had secured!!!