My day began.
As the warm soft light caressed the sea, I held hope that the day would be glorious. The water gently lapped against my hull and hungry fish glided under and around me in search of a meal. I anticipated the dolphins would join me in the voyage but one could never tell with such liberated creatures.
The sun touched the tip of my gilded truck, which was situated right at the tip of my Main topgallant mast. The light continued down, stroking all the parts that made up my Main, Mizzen and Fore masts. I felt the wood expand ever so slightly in response to the increase in temperature.
Any condensation dispersed into the surrounding atmosphere, yet some tiny droplets of water were still clinging obstinately onto my stays. They would not prevail. Once the Captain gave the order to set sail, the wind would destroy what life they clung to. If any survived after this the heat would surely triumph.
There was movement on my deck and in the cabins. The cook had been up early, preparing a large meal in readiness for the planned activity of this day. I was distracted by a sudden variation in pressure in the sea around me. Ah. It was a large group of gliding denizens harvesting the region for food. I loved their song but despaired when that song turned to pain. I was both jealous of not being able to create such music and yet relieved at the same time. While I may end up scuttled one day, sitting on the bottom of the ocean I could still be a haven for life.
Thinking of animals, I saw that Krok Spiky was up and pecking at my hull. I do wish he would stop that, I have great pride in my ship’s body. Once again, I longed for a voice to tell him off. I knew he would sass me back, but it would give me great satisfaction to see his expression as my voice boomed out from the walls to restrain him. What sort of voice would I have?
Krok pecked away ignoring the hollow sound. Beyond where he assaulted the hull was a tunnel, he had used it at times to escape, go on adventures or spy. Linked to the tunnels were a few hideaways. I was able to convert from a merchant ship to a man-of-war. Today I was a warship. Tomorrow I might be a merchant ship. A very clever Captain, when I was first built, had a dual purpose in mind. When it was appropriate, I could become whatever to achieve a particular goal.
The hideaways came into use when Press Gangs came aboard to take men to use in the wars. This only happened when we were not warned quickly enough to convert to a warship where we would be exempt from having men taken. It was not that my Captain back then was a coward, he simply did not always agree on certain wars. He preferred the freedom to choose and, where possible, give his crew that same option.
It was strange. I was a man-of-war fighting vessel, signifying a male orientation. My Captain called me The Crow, signifying an animal overtone and yet I was constantly referred to as ‘she’, definitely feminine. If only I had a voice.
The wind was building to the east and the water responded to its urging. There were more feet on my gleaming decks. My Captain gave the order to hoist the sails. He looked stunning in his pirate’s suit, all black with some red and silver. The sword was attached and safe for the moment in its scabbard. The crew were sharp and bright-eyed, weapons concealed beneath baggy shirts and pants. The only one who was struggling was the missus. This was a bolt from the blue, but after the previous night, I should have realized. No one seemed to notice however and Krok, who had, at last, stopped pecking, had flown from my Captain’s cabin window to sit on the poop rail and study her.
Krok may be annoying but he had a love for this family. He and I had something in common. Our loyalty was to this odd selection of individuals. If he and I could share our thoughts, we could spend long nights discussing their quirks and virtues. However, Krok Spiky was a bird of limited brain capacity and I had no voice.
The new crewmember, Jim was shaping up well. He was knowledgeable and respected me. I like the way he handled my ropes, cleaned up after himself in the Galley, gave as good as he got from other crewmembers and completed his chores. I never caught him being hypocritical. His poetry was all right but then I had seen some magnificent pieces when I was first built. The end of the eighteenth century was a romantic time for some.
Whenever Mac dragged up his huge telescope, it was Jim, who was always careful about scuffing up my decks. Mac had no respect for anything or anyone, except for his telescope he privately nicknamed ‘big dick’. He never told anyone but muttered it occasionally to himself. I think he was dreaming to name it that. He would say sometimes, ‘Come to big brother,’ but I thought it was doubtful, very doubtful. I was tempted to view the spectacle but I have always prided myself on my discretion. Besides, I had no voice.
Jim, Dave and Mac made a team of sorts. They normally worked the night watch. I enjoyed listening to Jim with his Guitar, strumming his breaks away. Sometimes he just wrote poetry. When Dave caught him writing soon after his arrival he had asked Jim if he was a fag. How uncouth. It never improved over the years. Maybe I was of the feminine order, I just could not get used to some of the behaviour of the crew.
Mac was waving a sheet of paper around. It was one of the many checklists that had to be methodically ticked off to make sure Plan 416 went smoothly. Dave snatched it off him and went around the deck with a pen. Jim looked dashing in his pirates’ gear, I had watched as he made it himself. I did not blame him for not going to Cecil. That man was positively the most irritating individuals I had ever had on my decks. Oh, I do not deny his talent as a tailor was remarkable but he certainly lacked a certain pizzazz or something. The three boys looked a little tired I thought, they were used to sleeping at this time.
The sun was well into the sky, the heat had seeped into my masts, sails, stays, hull and decks. There was still some creaking but otherwise, I was fully stretched into my day shape. Ugh, there went Fred. The man lacked character and assertiveness. He had frisked my Captain’s son without a blink of an eye. Orders or no orders, while I did not condone treason, a quiet word in private to the Captain would have been preferable from one that had been a part of the team for over twenty-five years. The man was positively unforgiving. I found it hard to lay blame where perhaps the blame should be laid.
O dear, the missus, I mean, Mrs Buckling tripped, but Krok distracted the crew from seeing it. She certainly would smell the part of a drunken pirate, had I olfactory senses I would have smelt her from bow to stern. Other crew were busy dowsing themselves with alcohol and the missus set a high standard for this job. I was grateful they did not know it was as a result of her excesses the night before and not from dowsing herself to fake drunkenness.
The offices met down in my Captain’s cabin. They hung around the table, discussing the points once more. Checklists were handed in and signed off by the Commander. I found the plan intriguing and listened carefully. I ignored the occasionally bumping on my hull below the waterline. The dolphins had arrived and were keen to play. Irksome creatures.
Come back later. Leave me alone. Damn, I missed that remark. All the officers were nodding in approval at what was said. They broke off and headed out, back on deck. A Lieutenant called one of the crewman.
‘You’re to guard the Captain’s son. Make sure he doesn’t leave the cabin.’
‘Aye, Aye sir.’
The crewman walked past the senior officer and only after passing him displayed annoyance on his face.
I would have worn the same expression if I had a face but for different reasons to the crewman who considered himself above the ‘babysitting’ job.
I checked in on Swank. He was lying on his bunk talking on his Gameman phone again. Even I knew about that phone. Fred really should keep up with the latest technology. Everything looked in order; Swank frowned slightly as the crewmember noisily set himself up outside his room. The frown gave way to some eye-rolling and a finger gesture. If only I had fingers of my own and no decorum, I would have passed Swank’s message on.
I heard the call of my Captain to begin our journey. At last, we were on our way. I loved the feel of my hull slicing through the water. The ocean had begun to swell with force 3 wind speed. The large wavelets were less than one meter. The dolphins swam on each side jumping, diving, and matching speed with me. They at times would leap over the occasional whitecaps as if daring the sea to try to touch their underbellies.
We travelled so for a couple of hours. The crew worked tirelessly on the unceasing adjustments that had to be performed to keep me running efficiently. My Captain was constantly giving orders to his Commander, who in turn gave the orders to his Lieutenant, who passed them to the Midshipman who would yell at the underlings.
My sails were full of wind, the crew were up and down my shrouds making adjustments. Final sheets of paper were gathered and given eventually to my Captain. He eyed them nodding and speaking to his commander who relieved him of the paperwork. They were handed on to those whose job it was to file them away.
Krok was dashing around, sometimes flying, sometimes doing his waddle walk, claw over claw on the railings, and occasionally, deliberately getting in the way. Whenever he walked his head would move forward and then back. I wanted to ask him if this made him feel sick but I couldn’t.
The noises came from his beak according to what was going on. Through long association, I knew that ‘Krok’ was approval and ‘Krow’ was disapproval. His yellow spiky plume was looking stunning, after all, with all the time he had spent on grooming this morning, he should look good.
The missus was gathering momentum as the alcohol’s effect was reduced. She drank plenty of water and subsequently spent a lot of time dashing to go to the toilet. She had vomited at least once, not that I looked, after all, I am a ship of discretion. The sounds emanating were distinctive. I was glad I could not make such sounds. In this case, I am glad I have no voice.
My Captain finally gave the signal for the distress call to go out. Krok was sent out to scope out the innocent victim. We were, in the end, pirates and though I was fitted with the latest technology Captain Buckling always kept in part. I saw Krok come back and land on my Captain’s shoulder. Please do not mess up the smart coat Krok. The egret sat upon the tall man’s shoulder and behaved himself.
The officers were all called in for a final meeting. After they completed their reports, they went back up on deck. My Captain called the crew together and gave a fine speech. It stirred my inner soul, warmed my heart and gave courage in the shadiest sections of my ship body. I could see Jim, Mac and Dave shaking their heads slightly, other crew looked blank but in the end, they all cheered and went about their tasks. If only I had a voice to tell you what a speech had been given. It was such a shame that only a few actually heard it.
Mac peered down a handheld telescope and gave an update on the position of the unsuspecting ship. Dave slapped Jim on the back in encouragement. The missus disappeared one last time. Swank was playing a game on his computer. The crewman stationed at Swank’s door was asleep. Fred was talking at his crew. Cecil, well was being obnoxious. The empty boxes below waited patiently to be filled. On the sides, each had been marked, ‘Buckling Merchant Holdings PTY LTD.’ My Captain stood by the Ship’s wheel with his officers with eyes directly ahead. One officer had his eyes glued to the workings of the ship.
Krok went out for one last reconnaissance mission. He flew swiftly with rapid wing beats. His wings stretched out in flight in excess of sixty centimetres. He caught the odd and glided partway to his destination. I was looking forward to seeing him in action, when he was going to attack someone he would dart forward with his neck outstretched.
Before they got too close to the vessel they hauled up their damaged mock sails and made some rather clever adjustments to the Crow. They slowed considerably in the water almost coming to a halt. The SOS was answered. The vessel shifted its course slightly to come towards them. The dolphins scattered and I could see them under the water playing. They moved off a distance as if to wait and see what was going to happen. There was always action when I was involved.
When the vessel came close, what the innocent saw and read in the message was a drunken group having a costume party had come amuck on an old wooden replica of an eighteenth-century ‘man-o-war’. The sailors on the vessels admired the authentic replica. It was a rare treat. Some laughed at my Captain with the huge bird on his shoulder. The top of the bird towered at least twenty centimetres higher. The fact that my Captain was tall with broad shoulders made it less ridiculous. Some officers joined their sailors for the show. However, experienced eyes noted the stance of my Captain’s group and their smiles drooped a little.
Krok gave a loud ‘Krow’ and launched himself off my Captain’s shoulder. I hoped the rocking of my hull would not cause too many problems. The main, fore and mizzenmasts were oscillating just a little. As soon as we were close enough, my Captain drew his sword from the scabbard, ‘All hands clear the ship for action, ahoy.’ The drum and fife beat could be heard fore and aft. Crew shoved the bulkheads away. Other crew released the guns from their captivity. Everyone was at their posts. The battle began. Silly drunken smirks were instantly replaced with determined, shrewd looks.
As the fight began, the poor souls on the other vessel were stunned by what they saw, I could not help a sigh. It might seem ungrateful, but I longed for the days when the date, fashion and weapon were consistent with the era. My Captain did a good job and I did understand why he made the decisions but his sword was just one of many little details that were not reminiscent of the old days. I had to admit though, I was an oddity and could not, therefore, give any real credence to my own thoughts. Who was I to judge such a setting? So what if my Captain had a sword instead of a cutlass.
The Carronade was loaded, as were the Long Guns. Men avoided the ends of the cannons so that the recoil would not mow them down. The premixed powder was checked for use. It consisted of saltpetre, sulphur and charcoal. Somethings were very reminiscent. As the guns were fired, thick smoke poured out acting as a subterfuge. The crew boarded the modern vessel and proceeded to lay all they found unconscious.
Each gun had up to nine men working with it. On order, a cloth bag was pushed down the barrel by a ramrod. A round shot followed. This was held in place by a wad. A crewman then used a spike to pierce the powder bag and poured a little fine powder down the hole. The guns were then run out of the gun ports by crewman using the ropes attached to the cannons. Once fired the cannons would recoil back into the ship but controlled by the ‘breeching’ ropes.
My attention was drawn away to quickly check on Swank, who was snoozing, the unwatchful crewman who now was trying to view the action from the hatch. The missus was leading the crew aboard the other vessel giving orders. Krok Spiky was currently charging at some poor young sailor trying to avoid his sharp beak.
The vessel did not have a chance. They were a merchant ship delivering the latest electronic gizmos and gadgets to the mainstream market. It was almost laughable. But when they realized that the warship was not a replica it looked as if their vocal cords had been glued shut.
Even in the old days, I had been a Second Rate vessel, powerful enough, when my Captain deemed it acceptable, to take my place in the line of battle. I had 96 guns and though I was currently undermanned, I could carry up to seven hundred and fifty men…and now women. Something else I had to get used to but I was awe-inspiring.
The Carronade was silent, the Long Guns cooled with final puffs of smoke issuing forth from their muzzles. Yells still could be heard as the crew of the Crow heaped the bodies together and fought final battles. Another team leapt over the old railings on to the ship to coordinate with the missus what goods to take. It took three hours to find the goods, carry them across, and store them below the wooden decks. The bodies were checked once more for vital signs.
The crew proceeded back onto the Crow and my Captain gave the order to sail. The victimized vessel lay in the water damaged but afloat. With the good strong wind, they released all the ropes and headed off. The crew were busy reloading and organizing the packages. The missus oversaw the crew and at times barked harsh orders when they were careless.
As soon as everything was in order, she and the selected crew got ready to categorize the goods and wrote up a detailed inventory. The missus was in control once again of her faculties much to my relief. Her dark straight hair was tied back into a pony, which made her look far younger than what she was. Certainly not old enough to have had three children over the age of sixteen.
Swank could now move out of the cabin again and gave the grumpy crewman the finger. Not out of anger for what was done to him but for the fact that the crewman hadn’t performed his duties with the dedication expected by his father and mother. He decided to stay put until dinnertime and listened to some more music under the earphones.
My Captain looked content with the performance of the crew. He spoke to his officers and they noted any problems or areas where improvements could be made. He stood tall once again by the steering wheel and gave directions to his officers. His black eyes search the seas and noted with pleasure the progress they were making. The attacked vessel was now but a dot on the horizon.
He went below to make a call. When he reached the privacy of his cabin, he placed a call. ‘It’s done.’
He nodded at the response.
‘It was a little easier than expected. I’ll have a detailed report for you. You’ll want to revise the areas I’ll highlight.’
He listened intently.
‘We’ll have comprehensive accounts written up as well.’
‘Sure, I’ll email them by 1700 tomorrow.’
‘Another job you say.’
If only I had a voice as big as my ears to share the conversation.
‘I’d like to give my crew a break….no….urgent…..alright send the details. I have a new crewmember that will come in handy. Swank?….you want him to what?…..’
I did not need big ears to hear the shout.
‘…he has, I don’t believe it. Alright, I’ll ask him….what?… ok, ok, I won’t say anything to him for a few days. You sure you’ve got the right teen?’
He hung up and began the tedious paperwork that followed all the jobs.
Krok Spiky flew in at that moment and sat upon his perch. He was looking very cocky but after his superb performance today in both adding distraction and looking after the missus I felt he deserved it. However, as he headed over to the damaged part of my hull and leaned forward for a pecking session, my Captain stopped him.
‘Krok, stop that.’
It was just as well because I may not have a voice but I do have other mysterious abilities and while I would like to tell you, I cannot. Rather ironic, is it not?
As I surveyed the comings and goings of the Bucklings I knew each one was going through a turning point in their lives. Eventually, they were in bed and I arrived in a moonlit cove surrounded by white beaches and palm trees bathed in a silvery blue hue. My anchor was lowered and fish casually and skilfully swam around the now still beast.
The moonlight caressed the sea and I held hope for a tranquil evening. The water gently lapped against my hull. I could feel my wood contracting ever so slightly now that my work was done and silence surrounded and filled me.