How Firm A Foundation – Snippet 10

          “Aye, Sir.” Lathyk nodded soberly. The good news was that Scrabble Sound ran almost a hundred and twenty miles south to north, which gave them that much sea room before they ran into the eastern face of Ahna’s Point or into Scrabble Shoal, itself. The bad news was that from their current position they couldn’t possibly clear Sand Shoal at the western edge of Scrabble Pass, the mouth of the sound. . . and even if they had, it would only have been to allow the wind to drive them into Silkiah Bay instead of Scrabble Sound.

          “Go about, Sir?” he asked. “On the starboard tack we might just be able to hold a course across the sound for Fishhook Strait.”

          Fishhook Strait, roughly a hundred miles north of their current position, was the passage between Scrabble Sound and the northern reaches of the Gulf of Mathyas.

          “I’m thinking the same thing,” Yairley confirmed, “but not until we’re past the southern end of the bank. And even then — ” he met Lathyk’s eyes levelly ” — with this wind, the odds are we’ll have to anchor, instead.”

          “Aye, Sir.” Lathyk nodded. “I’ll see to the anchors now, should I?”

          “I think that would be an excellent idea, Master Lathyk,” Yairley replied with a wintry smile.

* * * * * * * * * *

          “I don’t like this one bit, Zhaksyn,” Hector Aplyn-Ahrmahk admitted quietly several hours later. Or as quietly as he could and still make himself heard at the main topmast crosstrees, at any rate. He was peering ahead through his spyglass as he spoke, and the line of angry white water reaching out from the barely visible gray mass of the mainland stretched squarely across Destiny‘s bowsprit. He had to hold on to his perch rather more firmly than usual. Although the wind had eased still further, Scrabble Sound was a shallow, treacherous body of water. Its wave action could be severe — especially with a southeasterly blowing straight into it — and the masts’ motion was enough to make even Aplyn-Ahrmahk dizzy.

          “Not much about it to like, if you’ll pardon my saying so, Sir,” the lookout perched at the crosstrees with him replied.

          “No. No, there isn’t.” Aplyn-Ahrmahk lowered the glass with a sigh, then slung it over his shoulder once more. He started to reach for the back stay again, then stopped himself and looked at the lookout. “Best not, I suppose.”

          “Better safe nor sorry, Sir,” Zhaksyn agreed with a grin. “Specially seeing as how the First Lieutenant’s on deck.”

          “Exactly what I was thinking myself.” Aplyn-Ahrmahk patted the seaman on the shoulder and started down the more sedate path of the shrouds.

          “Well, Master Aplyn-Ahrmahk?” Captain Yairley asked calmly when he reached the quarterdeck. The captain’s valet stood at his side, improbably neatly groomed even under these circumstances, and Yairley held a huge mug of tea between his hands. The steam from the hot liquid whipped away on the wind before anyone had a chance to see it, but its warmth felt comforting against his palms, and he raised it to inhale its spicy scent while he waited for Aplyn-Ahrmahk’s report. The steep-sided crest of Ahna’s Point was visible from deck level, however, which meant he already had an unfortunately good notion of what the ensign was about to say.

          “White water clear across the bow, Sir,” Aplyn-Ahrmahk confirmed with a salute. “All the way from the coast” — his left arm gestured in a northwesterly direction — “to a good five points off the starboard bow.” His arm swung in an arc from northwest to east-northeast, and Yairley nodded.

          “Thank you, Master Aplyn-Ahrmahk,” he said in that same calm tone, and took a reflective sip of tea. Then he turned to Lieutenant Lathyk.

          “The depth?”

          “The lead shows twenty-four fathoms, Sir. And shoaling.”

          Yairley nodded. Twenty-four fathoms — a hundred and forty-four feet —  accorded relatively well with the sparse (and unreliable) depths recorded on his less-than-complete charts. But Destiny drew just over twenty feet at normal load, and the leadsman was undoubtedly right about the decreasing depth. By all accounts Scrabble Sound shoaled rapidly, and that meant those hundred and forty-four feet could disappear quickly.

          “I think we’ll anchor, Master Lathyk.”

          “Aye, Sir.”

          “Then call the hands.”

          “Aye, Sir! Master Symmyns! Hands to anchor!”

          “Hands to anchor, aye, aye, Sir!”

          Bosun’s pipes shrilled as the hands raced to their stations. Both of the bower anchors had been made ready hours ago in anticipation of exactly this situation. The canvas hawse-plugs which normally kept water from entering through the hawseholes during violent weather had been removed. The anchor cables, each just over six inches in diameter and nineteen inches in circumference, had been gotten up through the forward hatch, led through the open hawseholes, and bent to the anchors. A turn of each cable had been taken around the riding bitts, the heavy upright timbers just abaft the foremast, before fifty fathoms of cable were flaked down, and the upper end of the turn led down through the hatch to the cable tier where the remainder of the cable was stored. The anchors themselves had been gotten off of the fore-channels and hung from the catheads, and a buoy had been made fast to the ring of each anchor.

          Under the current circumstances, there was nothing “routine” about anchoring, and Yairley handed the empty mug to Sylvyst Raigly, then stood with his hands clasped behind him, lips pursed in a merely thoughtful expression while he contemplated the state of the bottom.

His charts for Scrabble Sound were scarcely anything he would have called reliable. The sound wasn’t particularly deep (which helped to account for how violent the seas remained even though the wind had continued to drop), but the chart showed only scattered lines of soundings. He could only guess at the depths between them, and according to his sailing notes, the sound contained quite a few completely uncharted pinnacles of rock. Those same notes indicated a rocky bottom, with unreliable holding qualities, which wasn’t something he wanted to hear about at this particular moment. Almost as bad, a rocky bottom posed a significant threat that his anchor cables would chafe and fray as they dragged on the bottom.

Beggars can’t be choosers, Dunkyn, he reminded himself, glancing as casually as possible at the angry white confusion of surf where the heavy seas pounded the rocky, steeply rising beach below Ahna’s Point or surged angrily above Scrabble Shoal. There was no way Destiny could possibly weather the shoal under these wind conditions. She was firmly embayed, trapped on a lee shore with no option but to anchor until wind and weather moderated enough for her to work her way back out.

Well, at least you managed to stay out of Silkiah Bay, he reminded himself, and snorted in amusement.

“All hands, bring ship to anchor!” Lathyk bellowed the preparatory order as the last of the hands fell in at his station, and Yairley drew a deep breath.

“Hands aloft to shorten sail!” he ordered, and watched the topmen swarm aloft.

“Stand by to take in topsails and courses! Man clewlines and buntlines!”

Clewlines and buntlines were slipped off their belaying pins as the assigned hands tailed onto them.

“Haul taut! In topsails! Up foresail and mainsail!”