How Firm A Foundation – Snippet 11

The canvas disappeared, drawing up like great curtains for the waiting topmen to fist it in and gasket it to the yards. Yairley felt Destiny‘s motion change as she lost the driving force of the huge square sails and continued ahead under jib and spanker alone. She became heavier, less responsive under the weight of the pounding seas as she lost speed through the water.

“Stand clear of the starboard cable! Cock-bill the starboard anchor!”

The shank painter, which had secured the crown of the anchor to the ship’s side, was cast off, letting the anchor hang vertically from the starboard cathead, its broad flukes dragging the water and threatening to swing back against the hull as the broken waves surged against the ship.

“Let go the starboard anchor!”

A senior petty officer cast off the ring stopper, the line passed through the ring of the anchor to suspend it from the cathead, and threw himself instantly flat on the deck as the anchor plunged and the free end of the stopper came flying back across the bulwark with a fearsome crack. The cable flaked on deck went thundering through the hawsehole, seasoned wood smoking with friction heat despite the all-pervasive spray as the braided hemp ran violently out while Destiny continued ahead, “sailing out” her cable.

“Stream the starboard buoy!”

The anchor buoy — a sealed float attached to the starboard anchor by a hundred-and-fifty-foot line — was released. It plunged into the water, following the anchor. If the cable parted, the buoy would still mark the anchor’s location, and its line was heavy enough that the anchor could be recovered by it.

“Stand clear of the larboard cable! Cock-bill the anchor!”

Yairley watched men with buckets of seawater douse the smoking starboard cable. Another moment or two and —

Destiny staggered. The galleon lurched, the men at the wheel were hurled violently to the deck, and Yairley’s head came up as a dull, crunching shock ran through the deck underfoot. For a moment, she seemed to hang in place, then there was a second crunch and she staggered onward, across whatever she’d struck.

“Away carpenter’s party!” Lieutenant Lathyk shouted, and the carpenter and his mates bolted for the main hatchway, racing below to check for hull damage, but Yairley had other things on his mind. Whatever else had happened, it was obvious he’d just lost his rudder. He hoped it was only temporary, but in the meantime . . .

“Down jib! Haul out the spanker!

The jib disappeared, settling down to be gathered in by the hands on the bowsprit. Without the thrust of the rudder, Yairley couldn’t maintain the heading he’d originally intended. He’d planned to sail parallel to the shore while he dropped both anchors for the widest purchase possible on the treacherous bottom, but the drag of the cable still thundering out of her starboard hawsehole was already forcing Destiny‘s head up to the wind. The pounding seas continued to thrust her bodily sideways to larboard, though, and he wanted to get as far away from whatever they’d struck — probably one of those Shan-wei-damned uncharted rocks — as possible before he released the second anchor.

Fifty fathoms of cable had run out to the first anchor, and the ship was slowing, turning all the way back through the wind under the braking effect of the cable’s drag. She wasn’t going to carry much farther, he decided.

“Let go the larboard anchor!”

The second anchor plunged, and the pounding vibration of heavy hemp hawsers hammered through the ship’s fabric as both cables ran out.

“Stream the larboard buoy!”

The larboard anchor buoy went over the side, and then the starboard cable came up against the riding bitt and the cable stoppers — a series of lines “nipped” to the anchor cable and then made fast to purchases on deck — came taut, preventing any more it from veering. The ship twitched, but enough slack had veered that she didn’t stop moving immediately, and the larboard cable continued running out for several more seconds. Then it, too, came up against its bitt and stoppers and Destiny came fully head to the wind and began drifting slowly to leeward until the tautening cables’ counterbalanced tension could stop her. It looked as if she’d come-to at least two hundred yards from shore, and they could use the capstans to equalize the amount of cable veered to each anchor once they were sure both were holding. In the meantime . . . .

Yairley had already turned to the wheel. Fhranklyn Waigan was back on his feet, although one of his assistants was still on the deck with an unnaturally bent arm which was obviously broken. As Yairley looked, the petty officer turned the wheel easily with a single hand and grimaced.

“Nothin’, Sir.” He’d somehow retained a wad of chewleaf, and he spat a disgusted stream of brown juice into the spittoon fixed to the base of the binnacle. “Nothin’ at all.”

“I see.” Yairley nodded. He’d been afraid of that, and he wondered just how bad the damage actually was. If he’d simply lost the tiller or fractured the rudderhead, repair would be relatively straightforward . . . probably. That was the reason Destiny carried an entire spare tiller, after all. Even if the rudderhead had been entirely wrung off, leaving nothing to attach the tiller to, they could still rig chains to the rudder itself just above the waterline and steer with tackles. But he doubted they’d been that fortunate, and if the rudder was entirely gone . . . .

He turned as Lathyk arrived on the quarterdeck.

“Both anchors seem to be holding, Sir,” the first lieutenant said, touching his chest in salute. “For now, at least.”

“Thank you, Master Lathyk,” Yairley said sincerely, although he really wished the lieutenant had been able to leave off his last four words. “I suppose the next order of business is –”

“Beg your pardon, Sir.” Yairley turned his head the other way to face Maikel Symmyns, Destiny‘s boatswain.

“Yes, Bosun?”

“Fraid the entire rudder’s gone, Sir.” Symmyns grimaced. “Can’t be certain yet, but it looks to me as if the gudgeons’ve been stripped clean away, as well.”

“Better and better, Bosun,” Yairley sighed, and the weathered, salt-and-pepper haired Symmyns smiled grimly. The boatswain was the ship’s senior noncommissioned officer, and he’d first gone to sea as a ship’s boy when he was only six years old. There was very little he hadn’t seen in the ensuing fifty years.

“Beg pardon, Captain.” Yet another voice spoke, and Yairley found one of the ship’s carpenter’s mates at his elbow.


“Master Mahgail’s compliments, Sir, and we’re making water aft. Master Mahgail says as how it looks like we’ve started at least a couple of planks, but nothing the pumps can’t handle. Most likely stripped a lot of the copper, though, and the rudder post’s cracked clean through. And he asks if he can have a few more hands to help inspect the rest of the hull.”

“I see.” Yairley gazed at him for a moment, then nodded. “My compliments to Master Mahgail. Tell him I appreciate the report, and that I look forward to more complete information as it comes to him. Master Lathyk,” he looked at the first lieutenant, “see to it that Master Mahgail has all the hands he needs.”

“Aye, Sir.”

“Very well, then.” Yairley drew a deep breath, clasped his hands behind him once more, and squared his shoulders. “Let’s be about it,” he said.