How Firm A Foundation – Snippet 09

          Destiny‘s double wheel turned to the left as all four helmsmen heaved their weight on the spokes. The tiller ropes wrapped around the wheel’s barrel turned the tiller to the right in response, which kicked the rudder to the left, and the galleon began turning to larboard. The turn brought her broadside on to the seas still pounding in from the south-southwest, but Yairley’s seaman’s sense had served him well. Even as she began her turn, one of the crashing seas rolled up under her larboard quarter at almost the perfect moment, lifting her stern and helping to force her around before the next wave could strike.

          “Off sheets and tacks!” It was Lathyk’s voice from forward.

          Yairley opened his eyes once more, watching as his ship fought around through the maelstrom of warring wind and wave in a thunder of canvas and water and a groan of timbers. The next mighty sea came surging in, taking her hard on the larboard beam, bursting over the hammock nettings in green and white fury, and the galleon rolled wildly, tobogganing down into the wave’s trough while her mastheads spiraled in dizzying circles against the storm-sick heavens. Yairley felt the lifeline hammering at his chest, heard the sound of young Zhones’ retching even through all that mad tumult, but she was coming round, settling on her new heading.

          “Meet her!” he shouted

          “Sheet home!” Lathyk bellowed through his speaking trumpet.

          Destiny‘s bow buried itself in the next wave. White water exploded over the forecastle and came sluicing aft in a gray-green wall. Two or three seamen went down, kicking and spluttering as they lost their footing and were washed into the scuppers before their lifelines came up taut, but the sheets were hardened in as the ship came fully round on her new heading. Her bowsprit climbed against the sky, rising higher and higher as her bows came clear of the smother of foam and gray-green water, and Yairley breathed a sigh of relief as she reached the top of the wave and then went driving down its back with an almost exuberant violence.

          Showing only her fore-and-aft staysails, she could actually come a full two points closer to the wind than she could have under square sails, and Yairley watched the swaying compass card as the helmsmen eased the wheel. It gimbaled back and forth as the men on the wheel picked their way through the tumult of wind and wave, balancing the thrust and set of her canvas against the force of the seas.

          “South-sou’west’s as near as she’ll come, Sir!” the senior man told him after a minute or two, and he nodded.

          “Keep her so!” he shouted back.

          “Aye, aye, Sir!”

          The ship’s plunging motion was more violent than it had been running before the wind. He heard the explosive impact as her bow met each succeeding wave, and the shocks were harder and more jarring, but the corkscrew roll had been greatly reduced as she headed more nearly into the seas. Spray and green water fountained up over her bow again and again, yet she seemed to be taking it well, and Yairley nodded again in satisfaction then turned to look out over the tumbling waste of water once more.

          Now to see how accurate his position estimate had been.

* * * * * * * * * *

          The day which had turned into night dragged on towards day once more, and the wind continued to howl. Its force had lessened considerably, but it was still blowing at gale force, with wind speeds above forty miles per hour. The seas showed less moderation, although with the falling wind that had to come eventually, and Yairley peered about as the midnight murk turned slowly, slowly into a hard pewter dawn under purple-black clouds. The rain had all but ceased, and he allowed himself a cautious, unobtrusive breath of optimism as visibility ever so gradually increased. He considered making more sail — with the current wind he could probably get double or triple-reefed topsails and courses on her — but he’d already added the main topgallant staysail, the main topmast staysail, and the mizzen staysail. The fore-and-aft sails provided less driving power than the square sails would have, but they let him stay enough closer to the wind to make good a heading of roughly south-southwest. The further south — and west, of course, but especially south — he could get, the better, and —

          “Breakers!” The shout came down from above, thin and lost through the wail of wind. “Breakers on the starboard quarter!”

          Yairley wheeled in the indicated direction, staring intently, but the breakers were not yet visible from deck level. He looked around and raised his voice.

          “Main topmast, Master Aplyn-Ahrmahk! Take a glass. Smartly, now!”

          “Aye, Sir!”

          The youthful ensign leapt into the weather shrouds and went scampering up the ratlines to the topmast crosstrees with the spyglass slung across his back. He reached his destination swiftly, and Yairley looked up, watching with deliberate calm as Aplyn-Ahrmahk raised the glass and peered to the north. He stayed that way for several seconds, then re-slung the glass, reached for a back stay, wrapped his legs around it, and slid down it to the deck, braking his velocity with his hands. He hit the deck with a thump and came trotting aft to the captain.

          “I believe Master Lathyk will have something to say to you about the proper manner of descending to the deck, Master Aplyn-Ahrmahk!” Yairley observed tartly.

          “Yes, Sir.” Aplyn-Ahrmahk’s tone was properly apologetic, but a devilish glint lurked in his brown eyes, Yairley thought. Then the young man’s expression sobered. “I thought I’d best get down here quickly, Sir.” He raised his arm and pointed over the starboard quarter. “There’s a line of breakers out there, about five miles on the quarter, Captain. A long one — they reach as far as I could see to the northeast. And they’re wide, too.” He met Yairley’s gaze levelly. “I think it’s the Garfish Bank, Sir.”

          So the ensign had been thinking the same thing he had, Yairley reflected. And if he was right — which, unfortunately, he almost certainly was — they were substantially further north than the captain had believed they’d been driven. Not that there’d been anything he could have done to prevent it even if he’d known. In fact, if he hadn’t changed heading when he had, they’d have driven onto the bank hours earlier, but still . . . .

          “Thank you, Master Aplyn-Ahrmahk. Be good enough to ask Lieutenant Lathyk to join me on deck, if you would.”

          “Aye, aye, Sir.”

          The ensign disappeared, and Sir Dunkyn Yairley bent over the compass, picturing charts again in his mind, and worried.

* * * * * * * * * *

          “You wanted me, Sir?” Rhobair Lathyk said respectfully. He was still chewing on a piece of biscuit, Yairley noted.

          “I apologize for interrupting your breakfast, Master Lathyk,” the captain said. “Unfortunately, according to Master Aplyn-Ahrmahk we’re no more than five miles clear — at best — of the Garfish Bank.”

          “I see, Sir.” Lathyk swallowed the biscuit, then bent to examine the compass exactly as Yairley had.

          “Assuming Master Aplyn-Ahrmahk’s eye is as accurate as usual,” Yairley continued, “we’re a good forty miles north of my estimated position and Sand Shoal lies about forty miles off the starboard bow. Which means Scrabble Sound lies broad on the starboard beam.”