"Helm, Steer Between Them!" Cover art for Sailing Dangerous Waters
The Diplomatic Voyage
The Diplomatic Voyage
Pierce fidgeted, looking at his watch, anxious for the last members of the official delegation to be aboard. They milled about on the quay, halting the loading of their dunnage as time and time again it seemed, a needed item was discovered to be in a chest destined for the very depths of the hold. At the same time, as members of the group tried to make their way on board, they were waylaid by residents or those being left behind with some sort of authority. In the not so distant future, a future measured now in portions of an hour, they would lose the tide and sailing would have to wait.
Why had he agreed to convey the results of the vote and the island’s representative to the Vespican capital? Why could he not have insisted that Island Expedition sail for England as soon as repairs had been completed? That had been his original plan, but at the insistence of Smythe and others, he had been convinced to remain and make this additional trip to the Vespican mainland. Quite possibly he could have refused the request, even though his orders placed him in service to the British Island Expedition Organization and those in charge on Stone Island. As the delays mounted, and as each small sign of progress conversely brought forth additional detours, he sincerely wished he had followed his initial desires.
Now he would have to make the voyage to Bostwick and wait while the delegates from the newest Independent Land of Vespica proceeded through the ceremonies of diplomacy and annexation. Then there would be a return voyage to Stone Island, against the prevailing westerly winds. More time would be lost before they were ready to sail on their homeward journey.
Exasperated by the endless delays and tired of watching the circus being staged on the quay, Pierce all but gave up hope of sailing on the current tide. He forced himself to stand immobile along the starboard rail and gaze idly across the bay. When his patience could wait no longer, and he was about to check his watch once more, Hotchkiss approached him.
“Sir!” the first lieutenant said quietly. And when Pierce did not respond, he said again, “sir!”
“Yes, Mr. Hotchkiss?”
“I am happy to report that everyone and everything is aboard. With your permission, we may get underway.”
“The tide?” Pierce asked, even as he looked at his watch to check for himself.
“Still time, sir.”
“Well then, let us be at it. Allow Mr. Townsend the honor of taking us out. Quite naturally we shall have Mr. O’Brien as well as ourselves nearby to see that all goes well.”
“Aye, sir!” Hotchkiss tipped his hat in salute and turned to the master. “Mr. O’Brien, we shall proceed to sea. Mr. Townsend is to have the conn.”
“Aye aye, sir.”
“Mr. Townsend!” shouted Hotchkiss, for the midshipman was forward dealing with a last minute problem. “Leave that until later! You are to take us out!”
“Aye aye, sir!” Townsend hurried aft, shouting as he came. “Cast loose fore and aft! In the boats, take up the slack! Put your backs into it now! Pull!”
Because the wind effectively pinned the schooner against the pier, the boats would pull her far enough away to allow a minimum of sea room and permit them to sail on a starboard reach or tack, roughly parallel with the shore.
“All free forward! All free aft!”
“Shove off, lads!” roared Townsend, directing his voice to those hands standing by with spare oars and sweeps. Their push against the quay would help give the schooner an initial impetuous to move away from the dock. That first push would also impart some momentum and make the work of those in the boats just a little easier.
“Damn it, sir! The brow!” shouted Davis, the bo’sun’s mate. In trying to make the tide, the boarding plank had not been detached and set ashore. Now, as the slightest movement came upon the vessel, that walkway betwixt ship and shore twisted in the entry port and drug across the quay’s stone pavement. The lines that secured it to the rail grew taut.
Pierce had been watching the procedures with a certain detachment, confident in young Mr. Townsend’s abilities, and the knowledge that several senior and experienced individuals were there and ready to assist if he should face any difficulty. But with Davis’s shout and his own notice of the problem, Pierce became more attentive. Still, he did not take charge, and for the moment he sincerely hoped that no one else did either. He wanted to see how Townsend would deal with it.
And if you've had a chance to read my short story, Mr. Townsend's Chronometer, this is the same William Townsend. You can find the story on my web-site. He's a bit younger here than in the short story.