Publisher: Penmore Press
Formats: Paperback | e-book (Kindle, iBook/Apple, Nook, Kobo)
Pages: 488 pages
It’s 1775 and the American Revolution has begun. In England, The Royal Navy has one eye on the rebellious colonials and the other on their traditional enemy, the French. Two teenagers- Jaco Jacinto from Charleston, SC and Darren Smythe from Gosport, England – become midshipmen n their respective navies. Jacinto wants to help his countrymen win their independence and Symthe has wanted to be a Royal Navy officer since he was a little boy. Their stories take you from the cold waters off Nova Scotia and New England and Scotland to the warm ones in the Caribbean. They learn from good captains and bad ones in the naval school of hard knocks as they deal with politics and the enemy which is sometimes within their service. Jacinto and Smythe are mortal enemies until Smythe is captured by Jacinto and then they become friends. When Smythe is released, they both know that they will be called upon to battle each other.
Taken from Chapter 6 – A FAST SHIP IN HARM’S WAY
On board Sloop Providence, late August 1776
Before Providence could go to sea, the Marine Committee had to agree on its officers and its mission. In a tense series of meetings at Independence Hall, Joseph Hewes insisted, “Performance counts, and Lieutenant Jones has demonstrated the élan the committee expects of Continental Navy captains.” Over the objections of John Adams and Stephen Hopkins, the Marine Committee promoted Lieutenant Jones to Captain.
Providence was tasked to “capture prizes and disrupt English shipping” and left Philadelphia on August 21st. Once into the Atlantic, Jones cruised off the New Jersey coast, drilling his crew. On the 24th, lookouts spotted an easy prize, the unarmed brig H.M.S. Britannia and sent it to Philadelphia.
Jones kept the sloop running close-hauled, heading nor’ east by north. Providence’s bow rose and fell as the sloop knifed through the water off the New Jersey coast.
The call “Sail ho! Two points off the starboard bow” from the maintop caught everyone on the quarterdeck by surprise. Less than a mile away, a Royal Navy frigate was upwind and closing as it emerged from a fog bank less than a mile from Providence.
“Bloody hell!” Jones blurted, as he studied the larger, more heavily armed ship. “The bugger’s lookouts must have been above the fog and they must have been tracking us.”
Over the wind rushing through the sails, Jaco could hear the drummer on the British frigate beating to quarters. Through his spyglass, he saw red-coated Marines climbing the ratlines so they could rain musket fire down on the sloop’s deck. Clearly, the captain of the British ship was preparing for a fight, and it wouldn’t take many 12-pound cannon balls to turn Providence into matchsticks. Everyone on deck could already see the black noses of the British ship’s guns sticking out on both sides.
Jones turned to his officers. “I want all the Marines to get below and have only sailors on deck. We have the advantage because we can tack quicker and sail closer to the wind. We’re going to force the British frigate to maneuver so that by the time he comes around to deliver a broadside we’ll be out of range.”
Captain Jones bellowed, “Break out the colors so that the Royal Navy knows who is about to out sail them.”
Abner Jeffords, a quartermaster’s mate, tugged on a line tied to a cleat at the aft end of the quarterdeck. The large Continental Navy flag with the British Union Jack in the upper left corner and white and red horizontal bars snapped smartly as it streamed out from its stay.
A puff of smoke billowed from the frigate’s bow chaser followed by a dull boom. A spout of water erupted 300 feet from Providence. A second puff was followed by another boom and the screech of a 9-pound cannon ball passing overhead.
Captain Jones yelled, “Stand by to come about. On my command.”
Jaco ran down the deck to make sure the sheet handlers for the jib did their work well.
“Mr. Swain, hard a lee. Come about smartly to nor ‘west by north.”
Swain spun the wheel. As Providence turned, it slowed. “Let go starboard sheets.”
The four men holding the jib and staysail sheets on the starboard side let go of their lines and ran over to the port bulwark to help their compatriots pull in the lines. Behind Captain Jones, two men slackened the boom vang slightly and let it swing from the starboard side of the wheel to the port side.
By the time the sheets were dogged down and the wind filled the sails, Swain had Providence steady on its new course. The British frigate captain’s plan to hammer the rebel sloop with a broadside had flown into the wind as Providence headed nor’ west by north and out of range. Through a glass, Jaco read the name Solebay on the stern of the frigate.
The wind carried the shouted commands of the frigate’s captain as he tried to wear Solebay from running with the wind to a starboard tack to bring his guns to bear. Jaco could see the shoulders and heads of sailors pulling on braces as Solebay’s captain tacked his ship.
With Providence sailing 30 degrees off the wind line, the square-rigged Royal Navy frigate couldn’t match its course as Providence sailed away.
* * *
The weather stayed warm as the sloop headed nor’ by nor’east following the trade winds. Right after the close-call with H.M.S. Solebay, Providence’s officers gathered around the small table in the captain’s cabin. In front of them was a French Dépôt des Cartes et Plans de la Marine chart, dated July 1766 of the coast from Cape Cod to Nova Scotia.
“Gentlemen, many merchantmen coming out of the Caribbean and headed to Great Britain will come this way to take advantage of the winds blowing generally from the west. If we take any prizes, they will be sent to Philadelphia, Newport or New London. If those ports are blockaded, make for Norfolk in Virginia.”
Navy Lieutenants Benjamin James and Jaco Jacinto, the Marine Lieutenant John Bentley, and Midshipmen Hedley Garrison and Jack Shelton nodded in understanding.
“Our problem is manpower. We can only spare a few for each prize. So where are we going to find more sailors?” Jones tapped a small town on the northern end of Nova Scotia, just south of Cape Breton Island on the chart. “Right here, Canso, Nova Scotia. This is where we are going. Many of the Canadians living there are poor, and the promise of prize money may cause some to join us.”
The officers studied the map. Jaco picked up the dividers, spread them to measure one degree of longitude, which corresponded to 60 miles. He then walked them along a course from Providence’s position to Cape Breton Island. It was 450 miles, or, with favorable winds, three and a half days away at an average of five knots over the bottom of the Atlantic.
Captain Jones rolled up the chart and put putting it in the rack against the aft bulkhead of the cabin. He filled each officer’s glass from a bottle of Portuguese Madeira.
Holding up his glass, Jones said, “Gentlemen, to our success.”
Each man repeated the word “Success” and looked at their captain.
“Each of you was handpicked to be on Providence. If you do well, you will be promoted and, in time, be captains of your own ships. Mr. Hewes charged me to train naval officers capable of outwitting our enemy, the Royal Navy. As I see it, four words define what makes a great naval officer – leadership, seamanship, tactics, and courage.”
Perfecto! Jaco took a sip of his wine, anticipating an interesting lesson from an officer he admired for his élan and ship-handling skills.
Jones gestured with the hand not holding his glass of Madeira. “The Navy is different from the army. At sea, the crew is alone and must depend on every sailor to succeed. There’s no place to hide, no place to run. We can’t send a messenger back to an admiral asking for advice or reinforcements, because he is weeks if not months away. And, we cannot run away from our enemy. Once we leave port, we have to deal with whatever challenges come our way.” Every junior officer’s eyes were on Providence’s captain.
“Leadership is all about respect and motivating men. Effective captains earn the respect of the men they command by respecting each sailor’s skills and listening when they offer suggestions. Often, your men will give you a morsel you can use. Effective leaders make tough decisions that are in the best interest of their ship and its crew. Over time, they will see the results. If your men respect your skill as a sailor, your knowledge of tactics, and your judgment and courage to make difficult decisions, even though you are not always right, they will follow you through the gates of hell to deal with the devil himself.” Jones looked at each of his officers. Shelton and Garrison had just turned 16, Jacinto was 17. Bentley and James were the oldest at 20.
“Next is seamanship. The ships we take to sea are fragile. Misjudge the weather and you can be de-masted, or worse. Your sailors must believe you know how to handle a ship in any conditions. Yes, you can take counsel from your master, quartermaster and bo’ sun, many of whom will have more years at sea than you, but in the end, it is your skill as a sailor that matters.” Jones took a sip of his wine, then put the glass down on the table.
“Tactics and seamanship go hand in hand. Tactics are much more than gaining the weather gauge. They involve planning your maneuvers to give your ship the advantage or negate those of your enemy. Your tactics must be based on the skills of the sailors and marines under your command, as well as the weapons you have. Proper tactics and seamanship can often overcome bigger and better armed ships.” Jones took a deep breath and exhaled with a huff.
“Last on my list is courage, and it is part of leadership. Going into an action, if you are not afraid, then you do not understand the nature of a battle. We are all afraid, but you cannot show your fear. Fear is contagious and saps the fighting strength of a ship. A good captain doesn’t believe he is going to win a battle with an enemy ship, he knows how he will do it because he has thought out his plan as soon as the enemy is sighted and keeps refining as the engagement develops. If your leadership is built on mutual respect, your men will have confidence that you will not waste their lives. Yes, they may die or be maimed, but they will willingly take that chance because they have faith in you as a leader; in your ability to handle the ship; and the tactics you will use to carry the day. If you demonstrate courage as a leader, your men will follow you to their last breath.”
Taken from Chapter 12 – MY ENEMY IS NOW MY FRIEND
On board Schooner Cutlass, December 1776
A quarter inch tall trail of gunpowder snaked from Sorcerer’s magazine to the deck, well clear of the blaze. Bo’ sun Preston lit a torch made from cloth dipped in pitch, carefully placed it at the deck end of the trail, and hurried to the cutter waiting for him.Pushed by the light wind, Cutlass was now a half mile from the burning Sorcerer.
Smythe and the British sailors joined their American counterparts at the railing to watched the sloop’s demise. Sorcerer’s magazine erupted sending chunks of wood and planking into the air. When wind pushed the smoke away, Sorcerer was in two parts and its masts were gone. The ship’s rudder was briefly visible as the stern sank. The ship’s bowsprit pointed to the heavens before it slid slowly beneath the surface, leaving smoldering pieces of wood floating on the Atlantic.
Jaco could not stop thinking that if he had not sailed west, they would have not have had to exchange broadsides with the British sloop. Or he could have avoided the flight entirely if he’d gone farther north before turning west. He felt a pang of guilt. On the other hand, if they hadn’t sighted Sorcerer when they did, the ship sinking might have been Cutlass. He couldn’t imagine what Smythe and the British sailors were thinking.
Jaco insisted that Lieutenant Smythe lead the burial service for the British sailors and Marines. Each body was wrapped in canvas with two cannon balls placed at the feet, then covered in turn by the Union Jack stained with Captain Horrocks’ blood. The Royal Marines fired a volley in honor of each fallen comrade, and survivors from Sorcerer tilted the plank. Each body made a small splash and sank quickly.
To show their respect for fellow sailors, Cutlass’s crew watched from the aft end of the ship. The masts, booms and rigging that normally groaned and creaked when luffed were silent as the schooner rocked gently on three-foot waves.
Jaco waited a respectful amount of time after the last man was buried before ordering his crew to pull in the booms so Cutlass could catch the wind.
Jaco walked to the bulwark where Darren Smythe stood, staring at the sea. The agreement they’d reached on the burning deck of the Sorcerer was that the Royal Navy crew would not be confined to Cutlass’ small hold. Instead, they would bring their sea chests aboard and berth with his crew on the condition that they not attempt to interfere with his running of Cutlass. It was an honor system, called parole to which Smythe readily assented.
On berthing deck, the two officers watched the men of Sorcerer stow their gear. “Mr. Smythe, it will be very crowded down here and that may lead to some fights. I trust your senior men will kept your men in check.”
“Aye, they should. But if they don’t, you are free to flog any Royal Navy sailor who violates our agreement or the Articles of War.”
Jacinto nodded his head toward the companionway as a signal for them to go up on deck. “Mr. Smythe, I don’t believe in flogging unless there is no other option other than hanging the man.” He saw a flash of interest in Smythe’s eyes and made a mental note to ask him about it later.
Preston approached and said, “Captain, Cutlass is making twelve knots.”
He was grinning, knowing a Royal Navy officer was hearing what he said. “Sir, if we pulled in our sails a bit more and flew both jibs, we might get to fourteen.”
“Thank you, Mr. Preston, that is good news. Let’s leave the sails set as they are for now.”
Preston nodded to both officers and headed aft.
“Twelve knots is very fast.”
Jaco watched Smythe study Cutlass’s sails. “Yes, Mr. Smythe, it is. I suspect that if I spent time tuning her rigging, we might reach fifteen. Until we ran into the fog and the winds died, we averaged close to ten knots crossing the Atlantic.”
Jaco paused while he decided whether or not to ask the next question. “So, Mr. Smythe, tell me about Captain Horrocks. What kind of man was he?”
Smythe told how he had served under two captains, Horrocks and Tillerson, both of whom were excellent sailors and outstanding leaders. Both were promoted based on their abilities, not patronage or family wealth.
As he listened, Jaco thought about how Captain Jones defined effective naval officers. In different terms, Smythe was describing the same concepts.
When the Royal Navy lieutenant finished, Jaco asked, “Mr. Smythe, would you do us the honor of joining my wardroom for meals? We have much in common.”
“It would be my honor and pleasure.”
* * *
The only items left on the table were two glasses, a decanter taken from Sorcerer, and two bottles of port. A brass plaque engraved with H.M.S. Sorcerer and the date of the ship’s commission — July 5th, 1768 — and the ship’s bell, liberated from the Royal Navy sloop, now sat on a shelf in the Jaco’s cabin. Cutlass’s other officers and midshipmen were either on watch or sleeping, leaving Jaco alone with Darren.
“Lieutenant Jacinto, you said earlier that you do not like flogging. I share that opinion and believe it is a barbaric way to punish a man.”
“I agree. We as officers need to earn the men’s respect and set expectations on how we want them to behave. Hopefully, they will police things before it gets our of hand and we have to apply the Articles of War which doesn’t give us many choices.”
“I agree. The Articles of War often force us to be heavy handed.” Smythe took a drink from his glass and brushed back a curl of blond hair. “Lieutenant, may I ask you a question about tactics?”
“Of course. And when we are alone, you may call me by my first name, Jaco.”
“Thank you. That is an unusual first name. What nationality is it?”
“Spanish. It is a derivative of Jacob. My mother wanted my name to be distinctive. Rather like Sean, which can be spelled several different ways.”
Surprise registered in Smythe’s eyes. Jaco noticed, and gestured for Darren Smythe to ask his question. But Darren did not ask about names or family; instead, he asked the question that had been uppermost in his mind ever since the battle between Cutlass and Sorcerer.
“Jaco, I have been on two ships that have fought your navy. Each time, your gunners aimed at our rigging with chain shot and used swivel guns to kill our officers. Are those standard practices for the reb—for your navy?”
“The answer is, it depends on the captain. Some, like me, want to disrupt an enemy or prize ship’s ability to maneuver and put the burden of leadership on the ship’s most junior officers. But we have officers who prefer the Royal Navy’s traditional tactics.” I didn’t want to say we aim to kill or maim senior officers, but that’s what I meant, and I am sure Smythe understood.
Jaco took a sip of wine. “To me, what we did makes more sense than trading broadsides, which cause casualties, damages the hulls and adds an element of luck to the battle. By that I mean a ball could damage a ship’s rudder or set off a powder cartridge or something like that.” He poured more port into Darren’s glass. “Does that answer your question?”
Smythe’s brain flashed back to sailing the Deer to Port Royal. “Yes, yes it does. The French use a similar tactic, but they don’t often succeed because we have a better rate of fire when we are trading broadsides. Our Admiralty opines that rate of fire and the weight of the broadside will carry the day. So far, the tactic has worked against the Dutch, Spanish, and French, and even your ships when we can get alongside.”
Jaco tipped his glass as if to say, Now you know why we don’t trade broadsides, and changed the topic.
Later, Darren asked how Jaco’s ancestors got to Charleston.
Jaco recounted the story, how after living in Spain since the 800s, the Jacintos left in1492 to get away from the Inquisition. Jaco’s grandfather had come to Charleston in 1708 from the Netherlands.
“And how long have the Smythe’s been in England?”
Darren explained that his ancestors had left Germany during The Reformation to get away from priests who wanted his forebears to convert. They’d stopped in the Netherlands, where Joakim Schmeitz practiced medicine, before landing in Portsmouth with a commission as a surgeon in the Royal Navy.
Now, with several glasses of port in each of them, Jaco asked the question he’d wanted to ask ever since the British lieutenant had come aboard. “Darren, what ships did Jodpur or Deer capture?”
“Jodpur nearly took a privateer, the Duke, that tried to run, but it blew up. One officer and six seamen were lucky to survive.”
Jaco could barely contain his excitement. “Do you remember the name of the officer?”
“Yes, he dined with us as you and I have tonight. His name was Eric Laredo.” Darren saw Jaco’s face light up. “Do you know him?”
“Eric and I grew up together in Charleston. He was one of my best friends. Do you know where he was taken?”
“That I do not.”
“I hope he survives the war.” Perhaps Eric was one of those Captain Jones went to rescue.
“You know, Jodpur was sent to find the Providence after you raided Canso and Petit de Grat, but all we saw was ocean.”
Eventually, the conversation came around to the war in which they were both bit players. “Jaco, do you think you can win?”
“I do, because we’re fighting for the same freedoms you enjoy. We’re both Englishmen, but those of us living in America are treated as second-class citizens and are not represented in Parliament. Laws and taxes are imposed on us that you are not subject to.”
Darren Smythe nodded. The rebel captain had a point. Fighting against their fellow Englishmen was stupid. He wondered how many other Royal Navy officers thought the way he did.
Brest, France, December 1776
Even though the Cutlass was in a neutral port, Jaco had Bo’ sun Preston post two armed sailors on the pier at the end of the gangway and two more on the main deck. On the berthing deck, half of his Marines were armed with loaded muskets and on alert.
Trailed by Dupuis, Jaco hurried up the gangway. He’d just come from the British East India Company’s office. Given the animosity between the two countries, he was surprised the firm had an agent in Brest.
He spotted Smythe standing near the bow with his blond hair blowing in the steady wind and called out, “Lieutenant, gather your men and their possessions as fast as you can. You all have passage on a British East India merchantman called Cardamon leaving this evening for London. The French require us to provide an armed escort to Cardamom to make sure none of you slip into the country as spies!”
Darren laughed. “That sounds like the French!”
Jaco joined in the laughter. “I don’t make the rules.”
“Thank you. This is much better than rotting in a French prison waiting for the two governments to negotiate our parole.”
“Aye, Mr. Smythe, that it is. The British East India Company is paid handsomely to bring back Royal Navy sailors. The agent was delighted to book your crew’s passage.”
Smythe brushed back a curly strand of hair. “Aye, it is easy profit for them; and they know we will help crew the ship, and defend it if need arises.”
“Lieutenant Smythe, I wish you the best of luck and hope we meet again after this war is over. My family is easy to find in Charleston, where, by the way, there are many lovely, eligible young ladies.”
“Lieutenant Jacinto, thank you. It was a pleasure. I too wish you the best of luck. If you are ever in England, please stop by my family’s house in Gosport, which is near Portsmouth. I will leave word if I am not there that you be treated as an honored guest.” The two men hugged.
As Jaco watched the Royal Navy sailors leave, he had mixed emotions. On one hand, he was happy because Smythe and he had become friends. On the other, he was afraid someday he would face Darren in combat, and killing a friend was not something he wanted to do.