The wind kept steady throughout the rest of the day. By evening it was between a force 6 and 7. Streaming the log at change over of the watch, confirmed our speed at twelve and a half knots! We were flying along with as much canvas set to catch the wind as we could muster! Our jury-rigged spinnaker set on the fores’l stay and belayed on both sides to pins under the ratlines, was just that, jury rigged! But it was serving its purpose…it was ballooned and full-bellied! I had no doubt it was contributing greatly to our speed, however it was a little tricky as Mr Connors found out midway through the afternoon watch, when the sheet halyard carried away with a bang! When running-free, the spinnaker was easy to handle. However, when the wind was from our Starboard quarter, as it was on this course, it tried to push the spinnaker to Port straining the starboard sheet halyard immensely! I hummed the tune of “Winsome Lass” under my breath, I smiled….it seemed that my whistling might have proven its worth in raising a wind….or perhaps our God was showing favour after we had sent our “friend” to Hell!
I went below at the turn of the First watch, the Last Dogwatchmen had gone below and all was running smoothly on deck. Moses had the watch and our course was East Nor’east. The “Anna” was reaching, surging ahead, eager to be gone! Our Port rails were awash for most of the time, making it slightly hazardous traversing the decks from for’ard to aft…so I tested Moses’ opinion about rigging a safety line from the fore-peak to the quarterdeck….a means whereby crew could make the crossing of the decks in safety.
“Aye Cap’n suh! I t’ink is good! I see to it!……. Cap’n…..??”
“Yes Number One?”
“Cap’n…..(he paused, somewhat reticent to continue)….Cap’n…I like do say…I t’ink yo did good suh! Dat man…’e dead now suh…can do no mo’ ‘urt suh!”
“Thanks my friend! But I shall answer for it I feel! I am going below to freshen up and eat…..I feel a sudden hunger…Perhaps it’s the wind on deck!”
I turned to leave, when I was aware of a slight choking noise, just as quickly stifled….hastily hidden!
I turned back to him….unable to see his face in the darkness!
“What is it Moses my friend?”
“Cap’n suh?……….Cap’n…..yo’ t’ink mebbe Dotty still alibe suh? I……some time ‘ope mebbe she not alibe suh! Den dey not can ‘urt ‘er mo’ suh! Yo’ unnerstan’ suh?”
Dotty was his pet name for his common-law wife Dolores!
“I understand my friend! I completely understand! It might just as easily have been Anna in their hands! If she is alive….by God we will find her Moses! Find her and bring her home! If she isn’t….then by God someone will pay and pay dearly!”
“Aye suh! T’ankyo’ Cap’n”
I placed my arm around his huge expanse of shoulder.
“Have faith my friend! Dolores is a strong woman!”
I just wished I felt as confident as I sounded! I was sure of one thing though…all the other women had been kept alive until their “usefulness” had ended…therefore I was sure that Dolores, the wise young women that she was, would see to it that she remained valuable to her captors! But how traumatised would she be after her ordeal I wondered! I shuddered at the thoughts running through my head!!
I went below and washed and lay down on my bunk. In seconds I was asleep! I awoke to the sound of running feet…the changeover of the watch? I looked out of my cabin vanity windows, leaded glass scuttles high up on the transom where no heavy stern sea could smash them. Through the salt-smeared glass, I could see the stars! Great news…I could get a star sighting!
The night was clear….I could see the Southern Cross well and was able to obtain a star sight fix really well. Returning to the chartroom I transferred the fixing to the chart and measured off the miles we had travelled over the past thirty six hours….Using the chart scale and the dividers, I then measured the distance between our present position and the island…..the distance was….one hundred and eighty six miles by dead-reckoning!!!…..Allowing for the tide, and the wind keeping steady, we could be at the island by the First Dogwatch tomorrow! That…was a little untimely! We needed daylight to find the channel! But the wind could easily drop or increase…so I decided to keep our present course and speed, until things dictated otherwise! If our ETA was 1600 or thereabouts, we could take the extra time making sure we were ready for the assault on Palentenka! There was a lot to prepare! I stepped out of the Chartroom…… Moses had been relieved by Jordan!
I went for’ard to the steering platform to confer!
“Guns…..it looks like we will arrive at the island sometime during the Dogwatches tomorrow…if the wind holds that is!….We shall need the light to make the entrance through the shoals into the channel! That being the case…I shall take the extra time to prepare the men for the fight to come! We need to prepare the boats…..and when we land, do a reconnaissance of the shore….do a scouting of the interior! There might be a chance of bringing our guns to bear if the encampment is close to the shore! I wouldn’t think that our friends would like to travel too far inshore each time they returned would you?”
“I agree Captain! But that will deplete our forces for the shore party somewhat if the gunners have to remain aboard sir!”
“I know Guns! But I thought upon giving some of the easy jobs like being “powder-monkeys” to the women captives….give them something to fight back with so to speak! Think they might like to join in the destruction of their tormentors?”
“Aye sir I do!…..Maybe with a little training they could feed the guns…pass the powder and shot…perhaps sponge-out? It’s worth a try sir! If we could bring the guns to bear….if the camp is close enough to the shoreline….if we can get a spotter ashore to help us lay-on to the target!….If….”
“Hold it there Guns…..enough of the “ifs”….Let’s set about thinking what we CAN do! Have a word with our lady friends…see what they say!”
“Aye aye sir! Now sir?”
“No Guns in the morning will suffice! No need to awaken them from what sleep they are able to get! God knows…..it’s precious little sleep they can get without the recurring nightmares awakening them!”
“Aye sir! I will see that my relief is informed!”
“Who is your relief Guns?”
“Mr Benney has the Morning watch sir and Mr Connors the Forenoon!”
“Ok Guns! I’ll leave it to you! Think on it! If they are camped close to the shore…it would mean we could pummel them from the safety of the ship before attempting to engage them in hand to hand fighting ashore!”
“Aye sir! Goodnight sir!”
There seemed to be a lot of “ifs”……Hmmmm!
(To be cont............)