“Cap’um” a soft voice whispered. Jack barely perceived that his shoulder was being gently shaken. “Cap’um, sir.”
“Wha…” Jack moaned, unwilling to be pulled from his deep sleep.
“Cap’um, there’s somethin’ ya need ta be seein’ on deck, sir.”
Jack swung a leg off the side of his bunk and slowly sat up, involuntarily stretching his arms high above his head. “I’ll be up in a minute” he croaked.
He walked out on deck, squinting and blinking, trying to see in the darkness. The sky was ablaze with stars, and after a few moments, he could make out the silhouette of the masts and sails.
“The weather’s cleared, sir” the voice said to him. A Scottish accent, Jack guessed.
“That’s good news” Jack said in a frog like voice, still not quite awake. “Is there something I can wet my whistle with?”
“Aye, cap’um. William! Go’n fetch the cap’um a mug ‘a sum’pn wet now!”
The sound of feet thumped across the deck, followed by the squeal of a water tight door being opened.
“I know you didn’t wake me to gaze at the stars…. Uh… What was your name?”
“Duncan. What did you want me to see?”
“Why, cap’um, just you have a look around!”
Jack swiveled his head, still trying to blink sticky sleep from his eyes. He surveyed the starry night, 360 degrees all around, still not seeing whatever he was supposed to see. Then, out of the corner of his eye, he noticed that one of the “stars” was moving. Bobbing up and down on the swell. And then he saw another. And another. After he wiped the sleep from his eyes, he saw red and green lights bobbing up and down as well.
“Duncan, do we have any night binoculars?” Jack asked, after taking a long, grateful pull from the mug of coffee the crewman had brought him.
“Aye, sir. In th’ wheel house.”
They walked up the ladder and into the wheel house, and Jack scanned all around with the binoculars. “Shit! It’s a damned armada!” he cried.
“Aye! A bluidy great big ‘un too, cap’um!”
“But they’re… they’re all small boats. All sail too, as far as I can tell.”
“That’s me observation too, sir.”
“Wha… I wonder… What do you make of ‘em, Duncan?”
“I’m not for certain, but if I had ta venture a guess, sir, I’d say they was fleein’ ta Saint Martin. Same as we, sir.”
“You’ve seen no aggressive behavior by any of them?”
“Nay, sir. They be sailin’ a straight course. Come up on us right before I woke ya, then kinda split around us as ya kin see. We’re loafin’ a might slow, sir. Missin’ mast an’ all.”
“Well done, Duncan.” Jack replied. “Sharp eyes.”
“Thank ya kindly, cap’um.”
The wind dropped steadily throughout the rest of the night, slowing the huge fleet of sailboats, but favoring the tall ship, which could reach high above all those small sails and catch the undisturbed breeze. Caribe, overtaken at first by the armada, now kept pace with them. Jack had their running lights lit so the other boats could see them, and not run afoul of the ship. All the other boats had their running lights on, so “stealth” was out the window anyway.
Dawn broke, pink and hazy, and the wind had died almost completely. Caribe’s sails filled, flapped, hung limp, then filled again as the “cat’s paws” swirled about. It was enough to give her steerage, but not much more. About three knots, sometimes four if there was a long enough gust. The small boats surrounding the ship were having much the same experience, and those in the lee of the ship were all but becalmed; some even twirling about in the current. There was a rainbow of color out there as spinnakers flashed out from many boats, their skippers hoping those large, colorful sails might catch enough breeze to get them moving again. Puffs of diesel smoke dotted the fleet, and even the bluish white of outboards as some decided to burn precious fuel in order to get going.
“They’re sure determined to get away from something” Jack observed to the new helmsman, the watch having been changed among Caribe’s sparse crew.
“Dey sure am, cap’m” the coal black helmsman replied.
“And your name is?” Jack inquired, holding his hand out.
“Jerrick, sah” he replied, seizing Jack’s hand and pumping it briskly, bright white teeth gleaming in his dark face, eyes barely visible in the squint caused by a wide smile.
“Pleased to know you Jerrick. How long have you been aboard?”
“Five yeahs, sah. Been bos’un’s mate all dat time. And sometimes bah tendah” he said, still grinning.
Jack noticed the bandage wrapped around Jerrick’s left bicep, visible through his shirt sleeve. “You were wounded in the pirate boarding?” Jack asked.
“’Twas nothin’ but a scratch, sah” he said modestly, though Jack could tell it was much more than that by the way Jerrick favored the arm.
“Well you take care of it just the same” Jack said. “We don’t need to lose you to some damned infection.”
“I will do dat, sah. Miss Emily, de doctah, she fix me up good. Said de bullet pass clean t’rough. Missed all de important stuff mon! I mean sah.”
“We have a doctor aboard?” Jack said, raising an eyebrow.
“Yes, sah. Well, kinda a doctah. Miss Emily was goin’ to school to be a doctah. She ‘ired on ta be da ship’s nurse, to pay for more schoolin’. Before…”
“Right” Jack said. “Before. Well I’m glad to know we have her aboard. It’s a comfort, that’s for sure.
“Yes, sah. A comfo’t she is!”
“Steady as she goes, Jerrick” Jack said with a smile, and patted him on the shoulder as he turned toward the door.
The wind had failed them once again, and Caribe wallowed in the glassy swell. Hundreds of small boats surrounded the ship, all equally becalmed, bobbing lazily up and down. Those that had fuel were slowly motoring on, straight toward Saint Martin. Jack went below to start up the main engine once again, and sent the three crewmen on deck aloft to furl the sails. It took them two hours, even with Jack’s help after he’d gotten the main engine going. Many times he’d hoisted himself up First Watch’s mast in a bosun chair, but that was nothing compared to scaling the ratlines and scooting out on Caribe’s main topgallant yard arm, some one hundred and thirty feet above the deck. The huge deck, which then looked like a popsicle stick so far below. He resolved not to look down any more.
With the last sail finally secured, folded up to it’s yard and tied to it with the gasket, it was with great relief that Jack set his feet on the deck again. He called up to the wheel house for Jerrick to throttle up to half, now that the sails were all in.
“’Alf t’rottle, sah!” he answered, and the ship surged ahead once more.