How Firm A Foundation – Snippet 38

“As you can see, High Admiral, we’ve more than enough to keep us busy until you and Master Howsmyn get around to sending us our new toys,” Pruait said. “I’d really like to get her coppered, as well, but Sir Dustyn’s . . . explained to me why that’s not going to happen.”

The captain rolled his eyes, and Rock Point chuckled. Unlike the ICN’s purpose built war galleons, the Navy of God’s ships used iron nails and bolts throughout, which made it effectively impossible to sheath their lower hulls in copper. Rock Point wasn’t about to try to explain electrolysis to Captain Pruait, and he was confident Sir Dustyn Olyvyr’s “explanation” had been heavy on “because it won’t work, damn it!” and considerably lighter on the theory.

“We may have to bite the bullet and go ahead and drydock her eventually to pull the underwater iron and refasten her with copper and bronze so we can copper her,” he said. “Don’t go getting your hopes up!” he cautioned as Pruait’s eyes lit. “It’d cost a fortune, given the number of prizes we’re talking about, and Baron Ironhill and I are already fighting tooth and nail over the Navy’s budget. But if we’re going to keep her in commission, it’d probably be cheaper in the long run to protect her against borers rather than replacing half her underwater planking every couple of years. And that doesn’t even consider how much slower the prizes are going to be without it.”

Pruait nodded in understanding. The recent Charisian innovation of coppering warships below the waterline did more than simply protect their timbers from the shellfish who literally ate their way (often with dismaying speed) into the fabric of a ship. That would have been more than enough to make the practice worthwhile, despite its initial expense, but it also enormously reduced the growth of weeds and the other fouling which increased water resistance and decreased speed. The swiftness Charisian ships could maintain was a powerful tactical advantage, but if Rock Point was forced to operate coppered and uncoppered ships together, he’d lose most of it, since a fleet was no faster than its slowest unit.

On the other hand, Rock Point thought, we’ve captured enough ships that we could make up entire squadrons — hell, fleets! — of ships without coppered bottoms. They’d be slower than other squadrons, but all the ships in them would have the same basic speed and handling characteristics. Still wouldn’t do anything about the borers, though. And the truth is, these prize ships are better built in a lot of ways than ours are, so it’d make a lot of sense — economically, not just from a military perspective — to take care of them. The designs aren’t as good as the ones Olyvyr’s come up with, but the Temple obviously decided it might as well pay for the very best. We had to use a lot of green wood; they used only the best ship timbers, and they took long enough building the damned things they could leave them standing in the frame to season properly before they planked them.

Charis hadn’t had that option. They’d needed ships as quickly as they could build them, and one of the consequences was that some of those improperly seasoned ships were already beginning to rot. It was hardly a surprise — they’d known it was coming from the beginning — and it wasn’t anything they couldn’t handle so far. But over the next couple of years (assuming they had a couple of years available) at least half of their original war galleons were going to require major rebuilding or complete replacement, and wasn’t that going to be fun?

“While you and Sir Dustyn were discussing why you’re not going to get coppered, did you happen to discuss armaments and weights with him?” Rock Point asked out loud, cocking his head at Pruait.

“Yes, Sir.” Pruait nodded. “According to his weight calculations, we can replace the original upper deck long guns with thirty-pounder carronades on a one-for-one basis without putting her overdraft or hurting her stability. Or we can replace them on a two-for-three basis with fifty-seven-pounders. If we do that, though, we’ll have to rebuild the bulwarks to relocate the gun ports. And he’s less confident of her longitudinal strength than he’d really like; he’s inclined to go with the heavier carronades but concentrate them closer to midships to reduce weights at the ends of the hull and try to head off any hogging tendencies.”

“I see.”

Rock Point turned, facing aft towards one of the distinctly non-Charisian features of the ship’s design. While the towering forecastle and aftercastle which had been such a prominent feature of galley design had been omitted, Sword of God was still far higher aft than a Charisian galleon because she boasted a poop deck above the quarterdeck. It was narrow, and the additional height probably made the ship considerably more leewardly than she would have been without it, but it was also a feature of all of the Navy of God’s galleon designs, so the Temple presumably thought it was worth it. Rock Point wasn’t at all certain he agreed with the Church, but he wasn’t certain he disagreed, either.

“Did the two of you discuss cutting her down aft?” he asked, twitching his head in the poop deck’s direction.

“Yes, Sir, we did.” Pruait followed the direction of the high admiral’s gaze and shrugged. “Cutting her down to quarterdeck level would reduce topweight. That would probably help her stability at least a bit, and Sir Dustyn’s of the opinion it would make her handier, as well. But he doesn’t think the weight reduction would have any significant effect on the weight of guns she could carry, and to be frank, I’m of the opinion that the overhead protection from enemy musket fire for the men at the wheel is probably worth any handling penalty. Although,” he admitted, “some of the other new captains question whether the protection’s worth the reduced visibility for the helmsmen.”

“I think that’s one of those things that could be argued either way,” Rock Point said thoughtfully. “And it’s probably going to come down to a matter of individual opinions, in the end. Funny how sea officers tend to be that way, isn’t it?” He smiled briefly. “But since we don’t have time to do it now, anyway, it looks like you’re going to get the opportunity to experiment with that design feature after all.”

Pruait didn’t exactly look heartbroken, the high admiral noted, and shook his head. Then he indicated the other officers who’d followed him aboard.

“I know you’ve met Lieutenant Erayksyn,” he said, “but I don’t know if you’ve met Captain Sahlavahn and Commander Mahndrayn?”

“I’ve never met the Commander, Sir,” Pruait admitted, nodding to Mahndrayn courteously as he spoke. “Captain Sahlavahn and I have known each other for quite some time now, though.” He extended his hand to the captain and they clasped forearms. “I haven’t seen you in too long, Trai.”

“Baron Seamount and Baron Ironhill have been keeping me just a little busy, Tym,” Sahlavahn replied wryly. “Oh, and High Admiral Rock Point, too, now that I think about it.”

“The reward for doing a difficult job well is to be ordered to turn around and do something harder,” High Rock observed. “And no good deed goes unpunished.” He fluttered his right hand in a waving away gesture. “And other clichés along those lines.”

“I believe I’ve heard something to that effect before, Sir,” Pruait acknowledged, then looked back at Sahlavahn, and his expression sobered. “How’s your sister, Trai?”

“As well as can be expected.” Sahlavahn shrugged and waved at Mahndrayn. “I think Urvyn’s actually had a letter from her since I have, though.”

“I got one a couple of five-days ago,” Mahndrayn acknowledged. He and Sahlavahn were second cousins, although Sahlavahn was more than ten years his senior, and Mahndrayn had always been close to Sahlavahn’s younger sister, Wynai. “From what she has to say, things are getting pretty damned tense in the Republic, but there’s no way she’s going to convince Symyn to relocate to Charis.” He shook his head. “Apparently he’s making money hand-over-fist at the moment, and even though he’s just about the most rabidly Siddarmarkian you’re ever going to meet, his family does come from the Temple Lands. His various aunts and uncles ‘back home’ are already pissed off at him for living in the Charisian Quarter in Siddar City; Langhorne only knows what they’d say if they realized how enthusiastically he was helping violate Clyntahn’s stupid embargo!”