Island Expedition sailed easily through the middle Atlantic. On a starboard reach she cut across the light westerly wind of a pleasant October day. In another day or two, she would point closer into the wind and sail close-hauled to the southwest. Once she neared the bulge of Brazil, she could reach, head south again, and eventually back to the East.
Near the foremast, Jonas Gibbons, schoolmaster, sat with a group of children working their sums on slates or scraps of paper. Two crewmen sat along with them. One, a veteran of decades at sea, had determined it was never too late to learn. The other was not many years beyond those in the class. He understood that his chances for success were better if he could work his sums and read and write on his own.
Harold Smythe had insisted on having a schoolmaster. He wanted the people of this extraordinary expedition to be educated, knowing it was a valuable requirement for anyone attempting to lead a better life. Jonas Gibbons had run a day school near London, but had been unable to support himself doing so. Now he was at sea, teaching a ragtag group of urchins and a varying band of seamen.
Amidships, seamen caulked deck seams. It had been done during construction, but this section had rejected that initial attempt. Or did the quality of the original work not meet the first lieutenant’s approval? With the voyage going smoothly so far, Hotchkiss needed to keep the hands occupied. Opposite the caulking party, the bo’sun instructed several landsmen in the art of long splicing. Some of the attentive students were younger, less-experienced crewmembers. Others were passengers, eager to learn and assist in the daily operation of the ship.
Near the wheel, Commander Edward Pierce strode the deck easily. The windward side was deserted, allowing him the captain’s hallowed sanctuary. He glanced about, seemingly without interest, comprehension, or notice. But he did notice. He saw the various activities and work on deck. He noticed the work aloft, as topmen made routine repairs and upgraded the rigging. He noted the direction and force of the wind and, without a glance at the binnacle, calculated the ship’s course by instinct. Pierce crossed to the helm, looked at the compass, and was gratified to see he had guessed correctly.
“Keep her at that, Mr. Spencer!” he said to the young master’s mate serving as officer of the watch.
“Aye aye, sir!” he replied.
Spencer repeated to the helmsman, “Keep her at that!”
“Aye aye, sir!”
Pierce moved to the taffrail and looked at the wake left by the vessel’s passage through the water. It was straight as an arrow, the way it should be. A steady light wind and an experienced crew would do that. A good hand at the wheel and Island Expedition would sail just as he wanted her to, just as he willed her to. Pierce watched the ripple of the wake as it receded astern. He observed it to gauge the helmsman’s skill, but now he was in his own world, his thoughts many miles and many days away.
This was my first attempt at cover art for this book. Wasn't quite what I wanted, so I went on to try two more times before coming up one that met my need.