Tuesday, November 18

Cutting out the Cutter

Which the ship's cutter was found to be rotted in the hull and in otherwise poor condition and the Captain commissioned the senior Midshipman, Mr Raley, to take the carpenter, Mr Apple, and go and acquire another one from Brother Jonathan. He let Mr. Raley pick his own crew for the expedition and besides myself he chose Hobbs, Stone, Araiza and Williams. The Frenchman who is the surgeon's mate went along also, I think just because he was the carpenter's particular friend and he wanted to go. We was all right proud to be picked as blockade duty is tedious and the chance to be away made from it made this possibly dangerous chore seem like a frolic.

They took us up the coast beyond a village with a good harbor we had seen in the past. We put out a few miles north from it. We was to take the ship's old cutter and we was not much out of sight of the Acasta before the cutter begins to leak like a sieve. Which we are pumping for all we are worth, and Apple and Hobbs is pounding in oakum to fast to dance to. Araiza says to me that the Old Man is probably sore at Apple for not seeing the cutter was bad off sooner, and sore at Raley for something else, and we are all going to be drowned over it. I know he meant it for a joke, but it looked all to true at the time. After a bit Apple says "Boys, there aint enough oakum in Newgate to keep this tub afloat, we had best slip the spare sail under her".   So that is what we done, and it helped some, but we was still pumping like smoke and oakum all the way to shore.

 Before dawn Mr Raley  put us into a little cove that was hidden, and we was all proud to be there. He had been looking at a chart the whole while like us being about to sink was of no concern. We stuck fast a goodly ways out, on the account of our setting so low for taking on so much water. The bottom was mostly clean sand and not mud, which was a bit of good luck for us. By the time the tide was all the way out she was setting on nothing but damp sand.

Raley set Apple to doing what he could for the cutter, being she was now dry docked after a fashion. He sent Hobbs and Stone down the road, which was just up beyond the dunes, to the village. They was to spy out what was in the harbor that might suite our need. Hobbs had been a whaler, so I figured Raley thought he could talk shop with the Jonathans if need be.

Jas. Apple
Between some of us helping Apple, and other taking watches on the road from the dunes, the day passed lazy playing at cards under a scraggly little tree. The Frenchman found an odd bug he thought would please the Doctor, then he pulls out a little bottle of sprits and pickles it. A sad waste of spirits.  Raley kept going from the dunes to the beach and looking with his spyglass. I suppose with everything being on him he could not really rest easy.

As it was it was near evening when Hobbs and Stone come back. They said that the village was not that much of a going concern, but that there was two cutters at anchor there that would serve.  Which then we loaded back onto the cutter and waited for enough tide to float her.

Apple had done what he could for her, but she was still leaking bad. We was pumping all the way into that port, but it did not seem to attract any undue attention. It was well after midwatch when we got in.  And just like they said two likely cutters at anchor.

Raley directs us to the nearest one and Apple boards her to check her out. "She'll do" says Apple and Raley has us to start transferring everything of value on the double quick, because now she is taking on water even faster than before. I was the last one off and right as I step off the water comes up over the side and she sets on the bottom. On the account of her being settled we had to leave the spare sail under her.

The wind was with us but had turned feeble and it was slow going taking her out. In the road just outside the harbor was a sloop that looked like some manner of privateer. We all breathed easier when we was past her, but it did not even look like there was a watch on her.

So now that we were clear of the sloop and well underway Mr. Raley  looks around - the boat is all cluttered with all manner of things in a most lubberly manner- and says to put the boat in proper order. So we all set to it. Stone and Araiza take hold of a pile of canvas on a little foredeck  and give it a good yank - and out falls a little red headed squeaker no more than 7 years old! We all stand there staring at him like we was struck dumb. He looks around all bleary and says "Who are you?". Then he saveys what is going on and says "Your stealing me Da's boat!" and quick as a cat he jumps on Araiza, who was closest. He is punching, kicking and scratching like a hellion and Araiza's vest buttons are flying everywhere.

So Williams pulls him off and holds him tight. "Britishers!" he fairly spits. "What is your name boy?" says Mr Raley rather stern. "Davy Riley" he says not a bit timid. " You will learn to show more respect Mr Riley" says Raley. "We whipped ya in eighty two and we'll do it again!" he says- you could tell he had heard plenty of that claptrap before. He says it so defiant it even makes Raley smile "That is yet to be determined" he says and goes back to the helm.

Stone and Williams set the squeaker down between them. " You gonna sell me for a slave?" he says still all brave. "We Britishers don't have no slaves" says  Williams. "They'll probably make you a ship's boy- a real sailor" says Stone. " I'm already a sailor" he says "an' I don't want to be no Britisher".

Which after that he just sets there quite for some while, then he thinks of something that makes him sad and begins to snuffle. "Me Da was gonna buy apples" he snuffles after a bit. "We get apples sometimes aboard" says Stone, which is no help. "Me Mum would make a pie" he says and really starts to leak hard.

So after that everything is quite except for the sounds of the boat and the leaky little squeaker. It is all right melancholy.

Mr. Hobbs
After some time Raley says to Hobbs, who is at the tiller " Mr Hobbs, she seems to handle rather sluggish". "Ain't nothing wrong with Da's boat" snuffles the squeaker. "Oh, no Sir" says Hobbs "She handles right proper". "Are you questioning my judgment Sir?" says Raley . "Oh no Sir" says Hobbs "Sluggish she is- terrible sluggish, Probably a foul bottom, Sir". "Put her about Mr Hobbs" he says.

So back we go, but now the wind is against us and the tide is almost slack, so it is hard going. The squeaker is still leaking so Stone tells him "No worries mate, we're taking you back" but he just keeps leaking. "I  was spose to be on watch"  he snuffles "Da will know you took his boat with me on watch"
 "Tell him ya fought us off and we brung it back" says Stone. "I can't lie to me Da" says the squeaker. So Apple bends down with  quid of tobacco "Give this ta your Da." he says "Da won't want nothing give to me by a Britisher" he says. Apple squats down on his level. "Punch me in the chest- hard as ya can" he says. So the squeaker hits Apple good in the chest and Apple drops the quid when he does "There now- I didn't give it to ya- I dropped it when ya hit me". The squeeker is pretty pleased at this and he then ups and punches Araiza who has been picking up his buttons. Araiza looks at Apple, who nods, so Araiza drops the buttons back down. "Now him" says Apple pointing at the Frenchman. So the squeaker runs over and kicks him hard in the shin. The Frenchman cusses something in French and gives Apple a dirty look, but Apple just tells him "Go on Frenchy antie up". So the Frenchman drops a little pen knife. And so it goes till the squeaker has fought everybody except for Mr Raley. The squeaker looks at Apple who says "Aint proper for common blokes like us to fight gentlemen". So the squeaker sets back right pleased with things.

So we come back around the privateer and into the harbor at last. By this time it is almost two bells into the morning watch and the eastern sky is starting to lighten up. We come up to the second cutter and Raley says "allright lads on the double quick now" and we scramble to transfer our dunnage and get her underway. "And search thoroughly for children" Raley adds.

About the time we are hauling up the anchor the Frenchman says "reguarde la" and points with his chin. Almost up on us is a dingy with two coves. A big one is at the oars with his back to us, a smaller fellow behind him has his head down. "Damnation" mutters Raley and he crosses over toward them. About that time the smaller cove looks up and says "Bob.." Well Bob glances up, then jumps up with a boathook so sudden it almost overturns them. "Thieves!" he says and looks about to shout.

Real quick Mr. Raley draws his pistol. "Gentlemen" he says" it has been an extremely trying morning already. My patience is worn quite thin. Now, are you men crew or owner of this vessel?". Bob just stands open mouthed like a codfish, but the other fellow says "crew". "Well" says Raley "we are exchanging you that vessel " he points with the pistol barrel to where the mast of our cutter is sticking up from the water " for the vessel we currently occupy. Now kindly throw us a rope." Neither move so he cocks the pistol and the smaller cove scrambles around Bob to toss a line, which Wilson makes fast to our boat. "Now gentlemen please set  quietly while we go about our work." says Raley. Both sets down meek as lambs.

By this time the tide is on the ebb, which is good for us, as the town is coming about by this time. As we pull away from the first cutter the squeaker stands waving Stone's red neck cloth "If you need to steal Da's boat again we should be back in two weeks" he calls.

As we pass the privateer they are about making way. "Friendly as we pass lads" says Raley. So we wave as we pass them. "You too" says Apple and the coves in the boat give then a half hearted wave also.

When we finally get good and out we loose the two coves. A hard pull they had against the tide I am sure.

By evening we had sighted the Acasta. Hobbs pulls a flask and offers me a swallow. Pure American whiskey, so he had done more than spy out cutters while he was gone. "This little venture" he says "was not as I expected."

-James Cullen, Remembrances of Eight years before the Mast, 1834.

No comments:

Post a Comment